If you have a great message and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

As a writer without an agent – in other words, a writer who has to submit manuscripts to publishing houses on his own – I know what it’s like to write and write and write and wonder if anyone knows or cares.

This blog is helpful in making known my name, abilities, and style…but still, if I only posted once every couple of weeks, it would not be as effective. I wouldn’t have the number of people, like you, visiting, reading, commenting, and sharing.  Conversely, if I was to post more than twice a week, my blog might perhaps gain even more followers, acquire more voiceover or copy writing clients, and pique the interest of an agent or publisher.

I mention this to make a point. No matter what type of promoting you’re doing – marketing a book, promoting your blog, advertising a business – what you say is only important if other people read it. And the only way others will read it is if they know it’s been written.

I know, I know…this is all pretty self-explanatory. But let me explain where I’m going with this…

Image courtesy of ponsulak / FreeDigitalPhotos.netThe necessity of advertising

Many of the folks with whom I correspond hate the idea of advertising. They know it exists and they know I make a pseudo-living out of it, but they feel like advertising is a 4-letter word. That it’s somehow subversive, mind-altering brainwashing that I’m involved in.  They hate Facebook ads and Google ads and TV & radio commercials and billboards – and act like they’re above it all because they don’t fall for any of corporate America’s ploys.

They’re too cool to be influenced or swayed by a message provoking them to turn over their money.

They don’t realize how ubiquitous advertising is, nor how effective it is, even on people like themselves.

No matter who you are, advertising affects you. We wake up in advertised beds, brush our teeth with advertised toothpaste, drink advertised coffee or tea before we leave our house or apartment (which was advertised before you bought it), and head off to work wearing advertised clothes while driving advertised cars, advertised bicycles, or walking on advertised shoes.

Nearly everything we own in our lives has been advertised, and we choose one product over another because of the benefit(s) we perceive from that product.

(Keep in mind, also, that advertising doesn’t necessarily involve money. Jesus advertised everlasting life, and never asked for a penny.)

Psychological egoism and why we’re all looking out for #1

hobbes
English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), a proponent of psychological egoism

Psychological egoism is a richly debated theory that states that every voluntary action one undertakes is done for that individual’s self-gratification. In other words, everything that each of us does is done for our own self-interests (you can learn more about the specifics of this doctrine here).

Why do we buy a red car instead of a blue? Because we like red more. Why do we choose the steak over the haddock filet? Because we like steak more.

Why buy Colgate instead of Crest? Because of the perceived benefit of using Colgate.

Of course, some folks will argue that selfless acts of kindness or sacrifice negate this theory; however, one can argue that engaging in a selfless act of kindness is also done for one’s own gratification. For example, if I have $100, I could pay some bills, donate it to a local food shelter, or go to a strip club for a few hours.  The choice I make ultimately depends on which option brings me the most satisfaction or happiness.

And if donating the money to the shelter brings me the most happiness, that’s what I’ll do – for the benefit of Number One.

Ultimately, I’d be paying for products or services that were advertised, donating money to a food shelter that had been advertised (perhaps via a news article or Public Service Announcement), or going to a strip club that was advertised.

Now, about that message…

It’s not what you said, it’s how (often) you said it

Getting back to my initial thoughts, what if you had a great message and no one knew?  You could create the world’s greatest widget and develop a unique, effective commercial ad campaign…but if no one hears or sees it, you might as well not have bothered, right? That is where frequency comes into play.

In radio and TV, the more often you air your commercial, the better – because the more people will see or hear it. Run one commercial a day on radio and a few solid potential customers might take notice, but run it several times throughout the day – at various times in the morning, midday, afternoon, and evening – and then you’re really connecting with lots of potential customers.

But that many commercials costs a lot of money, right?  Well, let me give you a real-life example of how running on a low budget doesn’t mean you can’t attract big-budget numbers of people.

Many years ago, when I was working in Vermont as a radio producer, our sales manager met a restaurant owner who wanted to advertise but didn’t think he could afford ID-10068993 (sound mixer)4 or 5 spots (commercials) every day. So we suggested doing something unusual: we would run 10 spots one day a week – Friday. While this wouldn’t give him the weekly exposure of a more expensive schedule, he would pretty much own the airwaves that one day, with his commercial airing almost every hour all day long.

Within just a few weeks, he told our manager that customers were telling him they not only heard about his restaurant on our radio station, but they were telling him they were hearing him all the time!

“I’m always hearing your commercials!” one person told him.

“I hear you every day!” said another.

In the battle of perception versus reality…perception won, again.

Get your message out there!

Are you selling cars, furniture, or fertilizer? Are you selling yourself, your abilities, your experience? Whatever it is – whether you realize you’re selling something or not – spend some time determining the best way to promote your message. If you’re a business, a writer, a job seeker…you have to let people know you’re there!

And if you’re the type who doesn’t like promotion, advertising, or marketing…enjoy your obscurity!  You might think your message is awesome, but it’s only awesome if someone hears it.

Your product might change the world, but only if the world knows it exists.

========================================================

Purchasing personalized signed copies ONLINE? Yes, it’s true!

I’ve teamed up with the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH to present an option for people who would love to have a personalized signed copy of one of my books but don’t live anywhere near me!
Just log onto my website and click the cover of whichever book you want, and MainStreet BookEnds will get it to me to sign and send it off to you. Try doing that with those big online booksellers! (Plus, you’ll be helping to support local book-selling – and wouldn’t that make you feel good?)

=========================================================

Thank you so much to all the librarians, bloggers, and parents who are still discovering “Flashlight Night!” 

=========================================================

Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post once or twice a week – usually Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)
 .
Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Poetry Friday: “My Book Report”

I thought I’d go waaaaay back in time for today’s post – back to the fall of 2000!

poetryfridaybutton-fulllThis is one of the first few children’s poems I ever wrote (I started writing for children in ’99, I believe), but when I read it today, it doesn’t feel that old, if that makes sense.  Sometimes when you’re developing a skill – whether it’s writing, singing, painting, whatever – you can tell the older, unskilled work from the newer, more polished stuff.  Personally, I can tell it’s not new…but I’m not embarrassed by it, either (and yes, there are plenty of poems that will never see the light of day for that very reason).

Since the school year is winding down and graduations are ubiquitous these days, I thought a little school-themed poetry might be nice. Hope you like it! And for all of today’s Poetry Friday offerings – including some delicious Mango Bread and a poem by Lesléa Newman – visit Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup!

“Book Report”

My teacher said I have to write
a book report for class –
at least one hundred-fifty words,
or else I will not pass.

So here I sit with pen in hand
and nothing in my mind;
if I don’t get this handed in
I’ll be in quite a bind.

There must be some creative way
I can begin the text:
I know my name, I know the date,
I don’t know what comes next.

Come on, now, brain, you’ve got to think
and help me get this done!
It’s due tomorrow morning, and
I’ve not even begun!

But wait – that’s it – I’ve got it now!
I know just what I need!
The first thing that I’ll have to do…
is find a book to read.

– © 2000, Matt Forrest Esenwine

ID-10052692 (books)

Commercials: The little things are starting to pile up

Last week, I wrote about details in writing – whether it’s for commercials or creative writing. I spotlighted a couple of commercials that I thought could have been improved and one that I felt was well-done.

And because there seems to be no end to the number of TV commercials that annoy me…I present ‘Part 2.’

I hadn’t planned on doing another post on commercials today – or even on advertising in general – but soon after I had finished writing last week’s diatribe, I felt another one welling up inside me.  So please forgive me for indulging in a second little rant; heck, it’s my blog, after all!

Of course I hope, as always, that some of points I make about copy writing and production can be directly correlated to other types of writing such as poems, stories, and books.  Continuity errors, misleading untruths, and confusing messages are hardly confined to the advertising realm.

Which unravels faster: the clothes or the message?

Some things get better with time: wine, cheese, friendships. A sales message should not be one of them. In the case of the following commercial, it took repeated viewings – and an explanation from my wife – for me to understand just what’s going on. This is a perfect example of a message getting lost in creativity:

Here’s your trivia question: what’s with the yarn?? Why is this car unraveling all these clothes? If you don’t know, go ahead and watch it again and see if you can figure it out.

Now then, if you have the answer, congratulations – you did better than me.  I had seen this TV spot innumerable times and never knew what was going on.  It took my wife at least seven viewings before she suddenly announced, “I finally figured it out!”  She explained that the clothes are unraveling because winter is over and the car is bringing spring to the world. In actuality, after I paid close attention to it, the commercial is advertising a sale.

No prices, no features, no Unique Selling Proposition…just an announcement for a sale.  This commercial basically takes half a minute to say, “We’re having a sale.”  I could be way off base here, but wouldn’t it be nice to know why I should care about the sale – or why I should want an Infiniti? Is it too much to ask for a few little details? Perhaps, if one can afford to own an Infiniti, one already knows all about the features of the Infiniti and therefore one needn’t concern oneself with the price of an Infiniti.

But that negates the need for a sale now, doesn’t it?

Fun with science

Every time this commercial comes on the TV, my wife sighs. Not because of the commercial itself, but because of my reaction to a mere 1.5 seconds of it:

This isn’t a bad commercial…but it is misleading. Check out what’s happening :15 in. See those little yellowish critters, squiggling around in the sewage? Those are supposed to be enzymes, breaking down the waste.  Well, guess what?

Here’s a news flash:  enzymes are MOLECULES, folks!

They are naturally-occurring chemicals – not living creatures that scoot around inside your septic tank, chewing up your poop like Pac-Man chasing after a cherry.

This is what drives me nuts.  I know this dramatization has nothing to do with the true efficacy of Rid-X, but when I see this blatant error (or misleading animation – I’m not sure which), it makes me wonder what else I’m being misled about.  Be true to your subject! Whether you’re writing a commercial, poem, or novel…remember that suspension of disbelief only goes so far.

A good commercial, made better

This spot, by contrast, is a fine example of a clear, compelling message:

Zero Water TV spot: ‘The Waiter”

Zero Water filters are so good, they can filter out wine from tap water! I have no idea if that’s true, but it only took me one viewing of this commercial to understand that message. Like most good commercials, it’s a story: wine is poured into tap water, tap water is filtered, the Zero Water filter filters out the wine while the competition fails. And the genuinely surprised reaction by the man in the audience is a nice touch – a small detail, like we talked about last week – that makes a big impact.

But the commercial wasn’t always this good. Here’s how it first appeared:

The two biggest changes the ad agency made were the most important. First, they took the focus off the waiter; his goofy expression takes away from the straightforward, realistic style of a more-or-less-serious spot. And the reaction of the woman was, well, uhh – almost a non-reaction. She’s just sort of…there.  The gentleman in the newer spot appears to be honestly surprised and impressed, and that air of realism is important to the overall tone of the spot.

Be honest, be clear!

Don’t muddle your message with some cutesy ‘hook’ – like pulling strands of yarn off people to sell a luxury car in the spring. “Spring” is not the message, and “yarn” certainly isn’t, either.  And don’t assume your potential customers are too stupid to know what you’re telling them, such as enzymes that go chomp-chomp-chomping around your septic system.  Be honest, be clear, and make sure viewers (or listeners, if you’re in radio) know what you’re selling and why they should care.

Those two things – the product/service and the benefit of that product/service – should be first and foremost in your mind.

I’ll take “highly effective” over “highly creative” any day.

“Love means swallowing your heart” – and eleven other things you would have learned at the 2013 NE-SCBWI Conference

This past weekend was a long one. I spent Friday through Sunday at the New England chapter of the SCBWI’s (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) 2013 conference in Springfield, Mass, catching up with friends and fellow writers and filling my cranium with knowledge and inspiration. It was a fun time, but very educational, as always; unfortunately, three days of picture books, chapter books, and YA novels goes by extremely quickly.

Against this backdrop of serious discussions and goofy conversations, slick PowerPoints and old-fashioned pens & papers, door prizes, open mics, and wine & cheese socials…all of us who attended learned a great deal about the industry, our craft, and ourselves. Listing everything I gleaned from the conference would be impossible; however, I thought I would share a few choice tidbits that stuck in my mind.

Here, then, are one dozen of the many things I either learned – or was reminded of – at the 2013 NESCBWI Conference, “Word by Word: The Art of Craft:”

nescbwi13-logo-H1) It’s OK if your first draft sucks. Yes, we all know that first drafts will go through innumerable changes before they ever become final drafts…but this is good to remember. Just because you don’t like your first draft doesn’t mean it’s destined for the circular file; revise, revise, revise!

2) Having an intimate knowledge of the rules is important if you want to break them. Author Chris Eboch (The Eyes of the Pharaoh, The Ghost on the Stairs) taught a workshop titled, “The Elusive Voice” and outlined some ideas and methods for giving your characters their own unique voices.  During the course of this 2-hour intensive, she reminded us  that once one learns the rules, understands the rules, and masters the rules…one can break the rules. Good advice for poets, too!

3) Every story has a voice. Chris said that it doesn’t matter who the narrator is.  It might be a strong voice, a poetic voice, or an awkward or clunky voice – so remember that just because your story has a ‘voice,’ doesn’t mean it’s a good one!

4) If you realize you forgot to bring your business cards 20 minutes after you leave for a conference that is 2 1/2 hours away…take the time and turn around and get them! Still kicking myself over that one.

5) Becoming an overnight success takes a lot longer than you might think. So many published authors had such similar stories: it took five years to land the first contract, took 10 years to write the first manuscript that was sold, it took over 50 rejections before getting an acceptance.  Knowing this doesn’t really make things any easier for people like me, but it is a little reassuring to know I’m not the only one beating my head against the wall, trying to find an agent or publisher.

6) Bacon is like sex. Even if the bacon isn’t all that good…it’s still bacon! (This came from one of those “goofy conversations” to which I alluded earlier. And no, we weren’t drinking.)

chinese_translations_for_peaceful_9981_6_184

7) Love means swallowing your heart. This was perhaps the coolest thing I learned all weekend, thanks to author/illustrator Grace Lin (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Ling & Ting).  She explained that the Chinese language – which, of course, consists of characters representing complete words – is actually made up of multiple words or concepts. For example, the Chinese character for “peaceful” is a combination of the characters for “house” and “woman,” and literally means “woman in the house.”  Similarly, the Chinese character for “love” is made up of characters representing three separate concepts: “to swallow,” “heart,” and “person walking.” Literally, love means swallowing (or taking in) one’s heart. Very poetic, yes?

chinese-symbol-for-love-blaukai

8) It’s OK to sell your soul to corporate America to pay the bills. Well, Grace didn’t exactly say that – I’m paraphrasing – but that was the takeaway. She admitted that, while she was struggling to make her path as an illustrator, she designed kitschy products like coffee mugs and T-shirts that declared, “World’s Greatest Dad!” and that sort of thing. She said she was simply doing her part to help keep America’s landfills full!

9) It’s also OK to not write poetry in syllabic verse. Aspiring writers like Yours Truly are constantly being told to write poetry in perfect meter and rhyme, but that’s not necessarily true. Children’s poet/author Leslie Bulion (The Universe of Fair, At the Seafloor Café) shed light on this during her 2-hour intensive workshop, “The Art and Craft of Poetic Form.” Perfect rhyme…yes. Unless you have a really good reason for a slant rhyme, it better be perfect. (See Rule #2, above!)

Universe_of_Fair-front_(1)-330Meter, however, is something else. Leslie writes in accentual verse, meaning she concerns herself with the stressed beats per each line, but not the specific meter. This means that, for example, a line she writes in trochaic tetrameter may or may not have four precise metrical feet of two beats (stressed/unstressed) each. I’ve always tried to be very tight with my metrical syllabic verse…but thanks to Leslie, I feel I can lighten up a little!

10) Just because hotel beds are uncomfortable doesn’t mean you won’t oversleep. I tossed and turned all Friday night, yet I still woke up with barely 15 minutes left before breakfast ended. I made it there with 5 minutes to spare, not because I was wide awake and full of energy – but because no one messes with my breakfast.

11) Verse novelists are not mentally unstable. If you are a verse novelist, this may or may not come as a surprise to you.  Padma Venkatraman (Island’s End, Climbing the Stairs) had one of the best lines of the conference when, during a panel discussion on historical fiction, she announced that verse novelists, like many writers, hear multiple voices in their heads. The only reason they are not clinically diagnosed with schizophrenia, she said, is because they only listen to the voices and don’t start up conversations with them.

12) If a hotel is going to serve lunch to hundreds of people all packed into one large ballroom, serving black bean soup is probably not the best choice for an appetizer. Good thing they opened the doors. Just sayin.’

My thanks to everyone at NESCBWI for their hard work and success with pulling off another terrific conference, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s! I had a chance to chat with old friends and meet new ones, and am eager to get working on a couple of new projects…which I’m predicting will be written in accentual verse. Thanks, Leslie!

Poetry Friday: “Wildflowers, for Jane”

poetryfridaybutton-fulllToday is the first day of the annual New England SCBWI Conference in Springfield, Mass., and that’s where I’ll be most of this weekend – so if I don’t reply to your comments or chat on Facebook or Twitter much, it’ll be because I’m busy stuffin’ my brain.  The other reason I mention the conference is because today’s poem would not have turned out the way it did, had I not gone to the 2012 conference.

You see, last year I had the pleasure of meeting the one and only Jane Yolen.  We chatted about poetry, the conference workshops, and books, and I came away from our two separate conversations with some unexpected inspiration!

For months, I had been struggling with an idea for a poem that just would not gel.  I wanted to write something about wildflowers – lady slippers, in particular – but nothing worked.  Then a few days after I had gotten home from the conference, I came upon a poem of Jane’s that had just been published, titled “Tenth Avenue Highline.”  Even though it had nothing to do with wildflowers, it triggered something and I came up with the closing stanza.  Then the opening stanza.  And after a few days of working at it, I had finished the first draft!

It’s gone through several revisions since then, of course – but I’m pretty happy with it. Some folks have noted it has an old-fashioned sort of feel to it, which was my intention. I liked the idea of a pretty outdoor scene in the old countryside, almost like something out of American folklore, if that makes sense.

By the way, I was going to title it simply, “Wildflowers,” but I thought I should add ‘for Jane’ to the title, to give credit where credit was due…and fortunately, Jane liked it!  I hope you do, too.  And for all the Poetry Friday happenings, be sure to visit Liz Steinglass’ blog!

.

“Wildflowers, for Jane

Lilies of the Valley hang
Like silent little bells
That neither sang nor ever rang
Of welcomes and farewells.

Red clover, small and softly sweet,
Stands proud despite its size;
White daisies, with their nectar-treat,
Court bees and butterflies.

The Queen Anne’s Lace is in its place,
The buttercups are set,
A pitcher plant provides a vase –
And woeful fly’s regret.

While milkweed, with its many mates,
Sways nobly to and fro,
One tender Lady Slipper waits
For one fair, dainty toe.

– © 2012, Matt Forrest Esenwine