Four Marketing Questions You Must Ask First

Whether you are writing a brochure or a newsletter or a website, there are four key questions you need to ask to help you organize your marketing message. Some of these seem obvious, but my experience with a variety of clients is that often no one asks them directly or answers them in enough detail. Continue reading

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Three Steps to Producing an External Company Newsletter Efficiently

Nothing focuses the mind like starvation, and that’s exactly what happened in a marcom department where I once worked. For a variety of reasons, the business was failing, and we were slowly starved of resources via layoffs. About halfway through this agonizing decline, we had to come up with a way to continue to produce a monthly company newsletter with almost no staff. The techniques we developed in desperation can help you produce a newsletter efficiently, whether your company is new, mature and awash in cash, or slowly going down the drain.

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Five Good Reasons Writers Stay in Dead-End Business Jobs

I have a talented, experienced writer-friend who looks like she is in a dead-end job, but she is having a difficult time moving on. Layoffs have been occurring every quarter, the company stock price is trending down, and no one has gotten a raise or a bonus in years. Is she crazy? With her situation in mind, I’d like to talk about five very good reasons why a writer (or any employee) might stay in a job, in good times or bad. You should be aware of these very good reasons why you might be hesitating to leave an obviously bad situation.

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Three Long-Term Employment Strategies for Business Writers

Today I will describe three things a writer should do to survive in business if they have a full-time job. The object is to contribute to the success of the company and become a valued employee while keeping your sanity and a reasonable amount of free time (especially if you want to do other types of writing after hours). Yes, many workplaces are grim these days, but a lot of people are still finding challenges and having fun.

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Writers – Beware of Managers Who Never Sleep

Many writers who work in business full-time want to do a good job, but also want to have the energy left to do something else. Human Resource departments talk about “work-life” balance, but this well-meaning philosophy can easily be thwarted by the infamous “manager who never sleeps.” Luckily these strange creatures usually don’t manage writers directly, but you need to be aware of them to make sure you avoid them whenever possible.

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Procrastinating Writers: Three Articles of Advice (One Hilarious)

Like most writers (well, maybe most people), I like free stuff, and recently I have been getting newsletters from Script magazine, possibly because I use Writer’s Market online (see Script history here). Although I am interested in film, I have only written scripts for podcasts and for executive presentations at kickoff meetings, so I was surprised when I found myself reading (and enjoying) the articles about writing in this newsletter, which apply to writers in general and not just screenwriters. I’d like to share three in this post.

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Five Requirements: What Makes a Great Critic?

Great criticism cannot take place in a vacuum. A great critic needs great art to write about and a public excited about the art form and eager to read opinions about it. For example, New York was an international center of classical music performance and consequently of criticism several decades ago. I want to make some observations about the circumstances under which criticism flourished then, and I will apply these “requirements” to what’s going on in today’s blogosphere in a later post.

A Way to Make a Living

Unless you have a trust fund and/or indulgent parents, you need a way to make a living. Although it is hard to believe today, once upon a time the New York Times employed four or five opera critics – and they reviewed both new productions and performances in which there was a major cast change. Music reviews appeared almost every day. Today the Times basically has one critic who reviews almost everything (opera productions, symphony concerts, lieder recitals, etc.).

New York also had two COMMERCIAL classic music radio stations, and the one that is now a rock station (WNCN 104.3 FM) actually published a glossy magazine every month called Keynote, which included articles, reviews, and a program guide.

The bottom line is that there were enough opportunities to allow a lot of talented critics to make a living writing criticism – maybe not a great living, but a living.


The second circumstance was that a substantial audience of all ages cared – and bought opera tickets and new opera recordings and also bought newspapers and magazines to read reviews. People argued passionately about who was the better soprano or tenor, or the better conductor.

The critics had passion too, and argued among themselves and with the audience about who was the best and why. In the end (at least to me), this was a matter of taste, but it was fun anyway.

Encyclopedic Knowledge

A friend of mine was one of those four or five opera critics who used to write for the Times, and he still spends a lot of time listening and sometimes blogging about classical music. He has a huge collection of recordings, which he listens to day and night, in the office and at home. Sometimes I will ask him for advice about whose recording to buy of a particular piece and am astounded by the thoughtful suggestions that I receive.

Taste and Opinion – and an Ability to Express Them

I once had a college professor whom I swear had read every novel ever written (yes, that’s probably impossible, but it seemed that way). There was only one problem. Although he knew all the plots, he never liked one author better than another, and he never made interesting connections between various novels. Talk about dull and boring!

Critics need taste and opinions, unlike that college professor, and the ability to make connections and argue about them in prose.

Realism, Compassion, and Understanding

Last but not least, critics need to know the history of the art form they are writing about, whether they are discussing novels or musical performances or paintings (or rock concerts, movies, or graffiti). Critics also need to know something about the lives of the artists (and how hard it is to do what an artist does), although that need not change their judgments but perhaps temper them.

I guess in the end I would also like critics to be decent human beings, and to show some compassion and understanding at the same time as they tell the truth as they see it. Is that impossible?

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Perry Mason for President: The Writing Life among Businessmen and Lawyers

Clint Eastwood’s address at the RNC made a distinction that hit home with me – would I prefer to be ruled by a businessman or a lawyer? As a writer in business, did I prefer working with the business types (executives, salespeople, managers) or the lawyers who reviewed my writing for “legal issues” and set down strict rules about what I could say and how I could say it? Read on for a slightly tongue-in-cheek writer’s point of view of the sharks (lawyers) and piranha (business people) that will nibble on your writer’s sensibility if you dip it into the business world.

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Critical Observations on Critics

In this final post about reviews, I am going to talk about writers and criticism. I am still mulling over the NY Times article about buying positive reviews for $99 each, especially the comment in it by a writing coach that “nobody likes to hear their baby’s ugly.” My answer to that is “grow up.” Some critics are destructive, but others are invaluable. Even in business, writers get torn apart almost daily, more from ignorance and ego than from anything else. You should listen, but you should also not let it destroy you either.

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My Secret Sources for Choosing Mystery Fiction

I was disheartened but not surprised on Sunday to find an article in the New York Times called The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy. I wasn’t surprised at this latest example of “entrepreneurial spirit” on the web because the availability of legitimate book reviews has been shrinking for years. This got me thinking about how I choose mystery novels to buy. This post is about my secret sources.

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