The life of a picture book: celebrating ONE YEAR for “Flashlight Night”! (Plus GIVEAWAY!)

I make a living using my imagination.

Whether it’s a poem, a picture book, or even a blog post, I love to stretch my mind and see what kinds of unusual, surprising, and creative stories and images I can come up with.

But I have to admit…it is very, very hard for me wrap my head around the fact that my debut picture book is ONE YEAR OLD today!

Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills Press) was officially published on Sept. 19, 2017 – and I could never have imagined the response it would receive nationally. I knew I liked it, of course; I knew illustrator Fred Koehler had done a phenomenal job on his end, and I knew our editor, Rebecca Davis, had performed an amazing juggling act between the two of us – balancing my story with the story Fred was telling via his illustrations.

I also had no idea, once I completed the final draft, that it would even get picked up by a publisher; nor could I possibly fathom how long it would take to produce, once the contract was signed. It might be the book’s one-year birthday, but the idea for the book is four years old now! So to give you a little perspective on the life of a picture book, I thought I’d present a timeline of the life of Flashlight Night:

  • August, 2014: Staring at my car’s headlights while driving home late at night from an SCBWI Meet-Up in Westford, MA, the words, “Flashlight opens up the night” pop into my head. As I toss this phrase around in my head I eventually come up with the opening and closing of…something. A poem? A book? Nothing??
  • Sept. 9, 2014: After a couple of weeks of writing and revising, I complete the final draft of Flashlight. (That’s right, no “Night.” It looked a little different then…
  • Oct. 7, 2014: With a hope and a prayer (and crossed fingers) I send the manuscript off to Rebecca Davis, the editor at Boyds Mills Press. Rebecca had seen some of my previous poetry but had not purchased anything up to this point. Before I email the manuscript to her, I change the title to Flashlight Night, so that there is no confusion with another book, Flashlight (Chronicle), which had just been published the week before I wrote my own flashlight book! How’s THAT for timing, huh?
  • Dec. 2014: The Flashlight Night manuscript is awarded the New England SCBWI’s Peg Davol Scholarship for unpublished authors and receives a critique from an established, published author.
  • Jan. 16, 2015: Five days after my critique, I receive a call from Rebecca, telling me she and her editorial board all love the manuscript. I am elated – not just because I had finally sold a full-length book manuscript, but because, had I followed the critiquer’s suggestions, the book would not be the book it is today. Indeed, it might not have even gotten published!
    This is why critiques can be helpful, but only if an author takes the advice that makes sense to him/her. If you have read Flashlight Night, compare my notes with the book itself, and note how far it deviates from all the recommendations I was given:
  • May 18, 2015: I sign the contract for Flashlight Night!
  • June, 2015: After seeing his concept
    Image © 2015 Fred Koehler, all rights reserved, reprinted with permission (click to enlarge)

    for the book’s sub-narrative, which includes the flashlight beam illuminating the children’s adventure, Rebecca signs Fred Koehler to illustrate our book. She shares with me Fred’s initial sketch of what he’d like to do with the book, and we agree it’s ingenious. (By the way, Rebecca and I have already gone through four text revisions at this point – and more are on the way!)

  • Spring, 2016:
    (click to enlarge)

    Fred takes a 2-week trip to the United Kingdom to sketch and photograph the countryside, the shipyard, the ocean, and museum artifacts in preparation. Much of what he sees – including the trail into the woods, the clipper ship, and the rocky arch where the Kraken hides – ends up in the book. I tell Fred that I should have taken the trip first, THEN written the book – what a sweet tax-write off!

  • July-Dec. 2016: Dummies of the book continue to be put together and taken apart, revised and edited. By early Dec., we realize that my original ending,“all is still within, without,” is simply not going to work with Fred’s illustrations, so I change the line to “adventure lingers, stirs about.” (It’s called “collaboration,” folks!) By Dec. 14, we have what we believe is the final dummy version of the entire book, text and illustrations.
  • March 2017: And now we have a cover! The colors are a little bolder than they will eventually be, but it looks great:

  • March 6, 2017: I am asked to fill out a questionnaire with social media contacts, bookstore info, and other folks I know who might be able to help in the promotional effort. (Wow, I thought. Things are gettin’ real…)
  • April 12, 2017: F&G’s arrive.
    (click to enlarge)

    Short for “folded and gathered,” F&G’s are printed up following approval of a book’s final proofs. They look exactly the way the book will look once it’s bound, yet allow publishers’ marketing and sales teams to mail the books to buyers and trade journals without the heavy cover…shipping costs can get pretty hefty, as you can imagine!

  • April-May 2017: Promotions get underway: full-page display ads in industry catalogs, inclusion in the Boyds Mills Press’ catalog…things are DEFINITELY getting real now. It feels like there is a new surprise everyday!
  • May 26, 2017: We receive our first review, and it’s a whopper. Kirkus calls Flashlight Night a “rousing read” and awards it a coveted Starred Review. As blown away as I am at this news…I am now eager to learn what others think of it!
  • May 26, 2017: Flashlight Night flashlights arrive, to be distributed to librarians and book buyers across the country! Yes, May 26 was a good day.
  • June 2, 2017: Representatives of Boyds Mills Press attend Book Expo America, where just about every book publisher is showing off their upcoming catalog. I nearly fall over when I see the banner:
  • June 26, 2017: Two days after my birthday, my author copies arrive. It was the best non-birthday birthday gift ever, in the history of ever.
  • July-August 2017: The industry reviews start coming in! One after another, they sing the praises of our little book:  Publisher’s Weekly states that my text and Fred’s illustrations “don’t just lobby for children to read—they show how readers play;” The Horn Book calls Flashlight Night “an old-fashioned, rip-roaring imaginary adventure; and Booklist describes it as “imaginative,” “surprising,” and “fantastical.”
  • Sept. 1, 2017: The School Library Journal reviews the book, calling the verse “incantatory.” The reviewer’s final verdict is glowing: “A simple idea that’s engagingly executed and would be an excellent, atmospheric read for sleepovers or backyard campouts. A good choice for most collections.” I’m particularly proud that the text is referred to as a poem…which is how it first came to be and the genre that got me into children’s writing in the first place.
  • Sept. 7, 2017: The National Book Launch takes place at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA – just
    Photo courtesy of Josh Funk (click to enlarge)

    outside of Boston. Although the book doesn’t officially come out until Sept. 19, this date had been arranged earlier in the year, when we thought the book was going to be released earlier. It is a dual book launch with my friend and fellow author Carol Gordon Ekster, who was also celebrating the release of her new book. The event is well-attended, we sell lots of books, and I breathe a sigh of relief! It is the fist of many signings, and I can’t wait to continue the book tour throughout southern NH and northeastern MA.

  • Sept. 19, 2017: Flashlight Night makes it debut in the world!! (And on International Talk Like a Pirate Day, no less – how more perfect could that be?!?) A huge blog tour helps support the promotional effort with interviews, giveaways, and lots of great press – including an appearance by Fred Koehler on KidLitTV. (Book signings, readings, and school visits, oh my!) More than THREE YEARS after I first started tossing words around in my head to create my story, anyone and everyone who wants to have a copy, can buy one anywhere. It still feels surreal.
  • Sept. 22, 2017: Three days after its release – yes, a mere THREE DAYS after its release, Flashlight Night shows up on Amazon’s “Best Books for Kids” list:

    (and “Flashlight Night” is ON SALE right now!)
  • Sept. 26, 2017: Unbeknownst to the publisher, we receive a tremendously positive review from Shelf-Awareness, in which the reviewer compares our book – favorably! – to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Talk about compliments that can humble a person.
  • Sept. 27, 2017: More publicity! This ad
    (click to enlarge)

    was for an email blast for the online book retailer Mackin. With so many positive reviews, our publisher wanted as many potential customers as possible to see them.

  • Oct. 7, 2017: Illustrator Fred Koehler informs me that The Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, FL is installing an exhibit featuring his original artwork for Flashlight Night. Each piece is to be framed and mounted on the wall, along with my text, in such as way as to allow a viewer to follow the story page-by-page:

    Photo courtesy Fred Koehler
  • Nov. 2017: I discover that Flashlight Night is one of Amazon’s best-selling children’s books about libraries and reading…and my head swells a wee bit more.
  • Dec., 2017: Another review and another (major) list! The review is by the School Library Connection, which also favorably compares the book to Wild Things, praising its “poetic rhyme” and “creative illustrations.” The list is the New York Public Library’s “Best Books for Kids 2017,” which also includes titles like Dan Santat’s incredible After the Fall (Roaring Brook Press) and the Margaret Wise Brown Prize-winning Things to Do (Chronicle Books) by my friend Elaine Magliaro. Shortly thereafter, Flashlight Night shows up as a NY Public Library Staff Pick, as well!
  • Jan. 2018: Boyds Mills Press learns that the Kansas chapter of the NEA has selected Flashlight Night to be included in its 2018 Reading Circle Catalog, an honor I do not take lightly. We also continue discovering positive reviews from random kidlit, parenting, and educational bloggers, and I make a point to leave a comment on each one of them, thanking them for their support.
  • March 20, 2018: One of the aforementioned bloggers, author Jen Betton, uses Flashlight Night as mentor text for discussing the interplay of text and illustration. The fact that anyone would use something I wrote to teach others how to write is an indescribable honor.
  • March 23, 2018: I deposit my very first royalty check!
    That’s right…makin’ bank, baby!

    Well, ok…it wasn’t QUITE this much. But I was thrilled – not just because I had made some money, but because of what it meant…
    You see, many picture books don’t even make back the advance a publisher pays the author. To explain, an advance is against royalties; it’s like getting an advance on your paycheck. The publisher pays you up-front, then once you have sold enough copies to cover the advance, you begin receiving royalties. So the fact that we not only made back the advance, but made it back and then some within 5 months was astonishing. Keep in mind, compared to highly-successful, well-established authors like Jane Yolen and Mo Willems, I’m a relative unknown – so the book’s success is significant. I was so grateful to editor Rebecca Davis and Boyds Mills Press for taking a chance on Flashlight Night.

  • Summer 2018: Our little book starts popping up on Summer Reading Lists! You can learn more at my blog post HERE.
  • What’s next: The book continues to be discovered by parents, children, librarians, and teachers. I am always delighted when I see a new review or hear about the book showing up on a reading list. While I continue to do book signings for Flashlight Night, Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books, 2018), and the poetry anthologies I’ve been a part of (see below for all the covers), I also love visiting schools to talk about the writing process, poetry, and how writing & illustrating go hand-in-hand when creating picture books.
    We tell our kids to read and write for 12+ years in school, yet rarely do we tell them they can actually do it for a living…that they could be an author when they grow up. Well, I’m here to tell them they CAN! So if you are interested in having me visit your school, please email me at matt (at) mattforrest (dot) com and we can chat! (You can get more info HERE)

Thank you for following this blog and for supporting Flashlight Night. I never knew how many people would see it, read it, love it…and its success has made an immense impact on my life. I’m genuinely grateful to every single person who has read it, purchased it, shared it, or somehow promoted it. From teachers and librarians, to parents and bloggers, to book sellers and reviewers – there are just too many people to thank individually for their support.

So please know that you are a part of this timeline I’ve shared – at every point along the way. And this goes beyond Flashlight and Dinosaur and all the other books yet to come. None of what I do can been accomplished without the help and encouragement of folks like you. And I hope you’ll remain a part of this author’s journey on which I embarked 8 years ago.

Because I have a feeling we’re only getting started!


“Hang on there just a second, Matt –
where’s this GIVEAWAY you told us about??

Ah, yes – the giveaway! I have THREE personally-signed copies of Flashlight Night I’m going to give away, in three different ways:

  1. Leave a comment below and let me know you’d like to be entered in the drawing! I’ll pick one name at random on Thursday, Sept. 27 and announce the winner on my Poetry Friday blog post the next day.
  2. Share this post on Facebook or Twitter! Just be sure to tag me, so I know…and I’ll pick another name at random on Thursday, Sept. 27.
  3. Leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads! Now, before you start talking trash and calling me out for fishing for compliments, let me state this clearly: if you don’t like Flashlight Night…leave a review, anyway! I am by no means offended by negative criticism. Not everyone likes every book. While most reviews have been positive, there are some readers who have been completely underwhelmed by our effort. And that’s ok; we can still get along. (Why you would want to leave a negative review in the hopes of getting a free copy is beyond me, but to each his own.) Out of all the reviews posted from today through Sept. 27, 6pm EDST, I’ll pick one name at random – and will leave a comment on your review, so you’ll know you won. So be sure to check your review on Friday, Sept. 28!

Oh, and if you’d like to have TWO MORE CHANCES to score free stuff, Laura Sassi is featuring an interview with Fred Koehler and Yours Truly on her blog today – she’s giving away a free signed copy of Flashlight Night AND a package of cool swag from the fine folks at KidLitTV!


Ordering personalized signed copies online? Oh, yes, you can!

  (coming Sept. 25, 2018!)

You can purchase personalized signed copies of Flashlight Night, (Boyds Mills Press, 2017), Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books, 2018), and nearly ALL of the books or anthologies I’ve been part of!

Just click the cover of whichever book you want and send the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH a note requesting the signature and to whom I should make it out to. (alternatively, you can log onto my website and do the same thing) They’ll contact me, I’ll stop by and sign it for you, and then they’ll ship it. 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 to everyone for your support!


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!

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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)
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Rejection: all part of the business

I received two rejections for two different picture book manuscripts last week. And just yesterday, I received a third! Three in two weeks, a new record!

Has that ever happened to you? If so, what did you do?

Me, I deleted the messages and sent the manuscripts off to other publishers!

Oh, and I started working on a brand-new manuscript, which has been taking up a significant portion of my free time, which is why I wasn’t able to post anything last Tuesday.

Accept it and move on!

Everyone has a different way of dealing with rejections, for manuscripts, voicework, or otherwise. Some folks – usually those new to writing – take a rejection notice to heart and anguish over it, deciding right then and there that it was foolish to ever consider sending something out and they swear they’ll never do that again.

Those poor souls never get published because they quit.

On the other hand, some folks save every rejection letter they’ve ever received, and joke about plastering their living rooms or bedrooms with them once they hit it big. These folks may also never get published – but at least they’ve got the right attitude. You can’t get a deal if you’re not in the game.

Still others, like Yours Truly, discard rejection letters as soon as they show up.

Early on in my career I had considered holding onto them as a sort of badge of honour…but I quickly decided I didn’t want any kind of negative energy around! Occasionally, I’ll get a very positive rejection – an editor or agent who can’t use what I sent them, but are encouraging nonetheless – and those I’ll hang onto for reference.

But if it’s a form rejection, sorry, not interested, doesn’t fit, not quite what we’re looking for, blah blah…it’s in the circular file!

Oh, and another rejection, of sorts

My baby!I also learned from one of my voiceover clients that one of their clients (for whom I voice monthly radio commercials) wants to go in a different direction – i.e., wants to use a voice other than mine.

Again, this goes with the territory. It’s not that they didn’t like my voice, didn’t like me, didn’t like the quality of work I was doing….they just wanted something different. So I don’t wring my hands over it; I simply continue on, doing what I’ve been doing.

The term, “You win some, you lose some” was created specifically for writers and actors.

Full disclosure: I have no idea if that preceding statement is true, but it seems to make sense, so I’m sticking with it.

Honestly, I’ve been rejected by women for reasons a lot worse than “I’d like to try something different.” (Although, now that I think about it, I actually have been rejected by a number of women for that very reason…but I digress…)

But that’s the reason most of us in these businesses get rejected: the people we’re dealing with simply want something different. Not necessarily something better – although that certainly could be the case – just something differentAnd all a person in my position can do is say, “Ok, best wishes!” and then move on.

In my case, I’m moving on by wrapping up a new children’s poetry collection, starting a new picture book manuscript, and jotting down ideas for three other books I haven’t gotten to yet. I’ve also been in touch with a potential new voiceover client, so we’ll see what happens there!

What is your attitude about rejection?

How do you deal with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. We all feel differently about it and deal with it in very personal ways, so perhaps your nugget of wisdom might help someone who is struggling.

I look forward to reading your opinions! Right now, though, I have another cover letter I need to write…


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!
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When people stop trying

I’ve been noticing something a lot lately. I’ve been noticing spelling errors made by people who are supposed to know how to spell things. I’ve been reading errors in grammar made by people who are supposed to know how to write.

I’ve been hearing things spoken incorrectly by people who get paid to speak.

Is the world becoming more and more full of folks who just don’t care enough to bother, or am I becoming a curmudgeon?

Thankfully, I’m still an exuberant, virile, young man…so the answer appears to be the former.

Poor little guy had no idea he was going to be the basis for a blog post.

Lack of communication in the communications industry

Seriously – what is going on these days? Everywhere I turn I’m bombarded with mistakes made by precisely those people who should not be making these mistakes.
A few examples:

– A radio news reporter was relating a story on-air about a domestic dispute involving a man, his girlfriend, and his dog. When the woman doing the reporting made reference to the man’s “dash-hound,” I had no clue what she was talking about until it occurred to me she apparently had never heard of a dachshund. Granted, the average American might not recognize that word as being pronounced “DAHK-suhnd,” but one of the first lessons in radio I ever learned 25 years ago was, if you don’t know how to pronounce something – ask!

– A local TV news outlet shared a news story on their Facebook page recently, recognizing the anniversary of the discovery of the bodies of two young girls, whose killer is still unknown. The headline noted that the girls have never been found. Now, not to be insensitive, but if their bodies were discovered some 15 years ago, I’m pretty sure the girls aren’t going to pop up anytime soon. Who writes this stuff??

– The other day, I heard a radio commercial I almost couldn’t stand listening to. The audio was thin and distorted, the person speaking sounded completely unenthused about whatever he was talking about, and I can’t even remember what they were selling because I just kept waiting for it to end. The commercial sounded like it had been recorded over a telephone…because it probably had been.

Make an effort, people!

Granted, you may be prone to a malapropism from time to time. You might use less-than-perfect grammar when leaving a Facebook comment. Heck, even I find spelling mistakes in this blog sometimes months after I’ve posted!  But these are examples of glaring errors made by people paid to not make these mistakes.

The person who didn’t know what a “dash-hound” actually mispronounces words all the time; it became a nearly daily occurrence before I stopped listening altogether.

TV news departments have large staffs of people who are paid good money to communicate the news, so grammar and syntax should not be a problem area.

No radio commercial should ever be recorded over the telephone…ever. Even the ones that are written to sound like they’re telephone conversations should be recorded in-studio. The particular commercial in question is either the result of a lazy producer or a sales rep who was given way too much control over the production process.


Human error…or something worse?

We all make mistakes. As I said, I understand that. But the preponderance of examples such as these leads me to wonder if something else is going on…something much worse.

In each of the three cases I shared above, a simple solution would have been to take one extra step. The radio reporter could have asked someone how to pronounce this word she’s never seen before. The TV news headline writer could have had someone proofread the post first. And the business owner who recorded the awful commercial could have come in to the studio.

But instead, that one extra step was neglected. It could be called laziness or ineptitude.

I prefer to call it apathy.

…and apathy IS worse

Laziness is a human condition, a state of being. Ineptitude is a lack of skills capable of completing a task.

But apathy is a lack of concern for that which one should have concern! Apathy, as inactive as it may seem, is actually a very active thing. It prevents people from producing good work not because they are lazy, inept, or otherwise incapable. It prevents them from performing because they just don’t care.

So whether it’s your job, your marriage, or any kind of project of which you find yourself involved, don’t be apathetic.

Don’t not care.

And if you recognize that you truly don’t care about the project, step back, step aside, or step down – and let someone who does care do the job.


This just in: I had not even had a chance to hit “post” when a Facebook friend shared this ridiculous headline about an “amphibious” pitcher!  That’s right…he doesn’t just pitch with both hands, folks, he can live underwater, too! Once again, where’s a proofreader when you need one??

SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)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!
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I appreciate the help…but you’re not really helping

ID-10084724 (Mic)I wasn’t planning on a follow-up to last week’s post about the need for information when doing voiceover auditions. I figured I’d covered just about everything – what to expect from voice talent, what not to expect, how to help them help you get better auditions.

But as I thought about it, it occurred to me I had so many great examples of what not to say or do…I had to share some of them. These auditions weren’t lacking direction, necessarily; however, they were lacking the right information!

If you read last week’s post, you’ll recognize many of the points I made. These are all 100% completely real, too…so don’t think I’m embellishing anything here!

If you want me to audition, a script is helpful

Earlier this year, I came across an audition I had to look over 3 or 4 times, just to make sure I was reading it correctly. The request was to take a swear word and “make it funny.” The voice seeker was creating a “funny product” and wanted to use sound bites that would eventually have music and sound effects added.

Fortunately, I wasn’t being asked to provide the post-production for the audition – which is something voice actors rarely, if ever, do- but I was being expected to spend my time trying to think of funny ways of saying a vulgarity, just for the possibility of getting the gig.

Yep, I’d say there was definitely something “funny” about this audition.

I passed.

If you expect me to audition without a script, make it worth my while

About the same time that previously-mentioned audition came through, I saw another one requesting “funny, true stories.” The recordings needed to be original, at least 3 minutes in length, and then as I read the request I noticed they said that they will pay for recordings they like, so to therefore not submit ‘audition’ recordings.

It took me a moment to realize this company, which features podcasts and videos of real-life stories online, was looking for freelance contributors – not voiceover artists. There is a difference folks.

You wouldn’t ask a certified ASE mechanic to wash your car. You wouldn’t ask a licensed plumber to pour you a drink of water.

Not trying to sound arrogant here or anything…but if you want to get people to submit something for use on your website, that’s great! I hope you get plenty of submissions you can use! But please – know your audience. Understand that what people like me do is a profession, not a pastime. Very few of us will record, edit, and mix down 3 minutes of audio for a mere $100.

Please give me voice direction that makes sense

I once saw an audition for what I could only imagine was a humorous project…but which still made no sense. The producers were looking for a colonial-era American voice who sounds like a Boston Red Sox fan.

Ummm…right. Well, as someone who IS a Boston Red Sox fan – and who grew up around Boston Red Sox fans – I’m not exactly sure how any of them would have ended up in colonial America. Conversely, I don’t know how anyone in colonial America would even have a Boston accent, since we were all still speaking the Queen’s English at the time.

Perhaps I was missing something.

Like better instructions.

If you want me to add music, give me an adjective I can work with

ID-10032444 (grandma)
“Excuse me, dear, is that the Slade version, or Quiet Riot?”

Years ago, I was producing a radio commercial for a restaurant. I was asked to use some “nice Mother’s Day-type” music underneath.


Well, I could have used “Mama” by Genesis, “Mama Told Me Not to Come” by Three Dog Night, or my favourite, “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” by Slade…but since I figured I’d run into intellectual copyright issues with all of those, I used a soft, sappy acoustic production music track and sent it off.

They approved it. Apparently, moms love soft, sappy acoustic production music.

Know what you want before you ask

It comes down to understanding what you’re asking for. Before you write up the audition request, stop and ask yourself a few questions: Is this request reasonable? Am I expecting too much from someone who hasn’t even been hired yet? Does what I’m asking even make sense? Are these instructions clear enough?

Trying to put yourself in the position of the voice actor will not only help the voice actor, but it will help you in preparing for what you’ll receive for auditions. If you receive an inordinate number of auditions that are not what you were looking for, it might not be the fault of the voice talent.

It could be a confusing, unclear, mixed-message audition request – and all that will get you is a bunch of recordings you probably can’t use.

And probably more than a couple of swear words that won’t be very funny.


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!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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!

Hiring voice talent: I can’t help you if you don’t help me

You’re hungry. It’s almost 1pm, and you realize you haven’t had lunch yet. So you walk into a local sandwich shop where you’ve heard they have great food, and say,

ID-100204903 (sandwich)“I’d like a sandwich on bread.”

The guy at the counter looks at you questioningly and asks, “Umm…what type of sandwich?”

You reply, “Well, I’m not really sure – why don’t you give me a bunch of different ones and I’ll let you know which one I like.”

Preposterous? Ridiculous? Unrealistic? Perhaps…but in the world of voiceovers, this sort of thing happens all the time.

Knowing what you need

I see a lot of auditions every week, and one thing that strikes me is how often the people seeking voice talent do not know what they are looking for. (Or if they do, they keep it a secret) Many times the auditions look something like this:

“Looking for a male voice for corporate narration.”

Is that a young male voice? Middle-aged? Upbeat? Conversational? Urban-cool or mature-professional?

Now, I’m not going to try to audition for something that is not at all suited to my voice or delivery – like pretending I have a growling, textured voice instead of my smooth baritone – but I can provide a number of different style reads, depending on what a potential client prefers. You want serious? Happy? Energetic? I can do that. You want an emphatic whisper or a jovial next-door neighbor? I can do that, too.

I can’t do “husky,” “hip,” “or “urban.” I’m not opposed to those types of deliveries – I simply can’t do them. So knowing what you’re looking for helps me determine if I should audition for you. There’s no sense in me wasting time recording a sample script if I don’t have the voice you want. And there’s no point in wasting your time making you listen to something that isn’t at all what you need.

Speaking of wasting time…

Another common request from voice seekers is to provide several different takes…which is fine, as I normally provide at least 2, sometimes 3 takes of the same script when I audition (depending on how long the script is).

"What if?"But when I see a request to provide multiple takes in different styles because the seeker isn’t quite sure what he or she wants…that indicates to a voice artist that the person they may end up working with is probably going to be very difficult to please.

If you don’t know what you like before you get my audio, how do I know you’re going to like my audio when you get it?

It comes down to having at least a general idea of what you need, and understanding the ramifications and parameters of that need. I once received an audition for a pre-colonial southern American soldier, and the directions stated to include a southern accent, if we could. I didn’t. I read the script with a British accent and explained that our common American accents hadn’t developed at that point in history. Before the Revolutionary War, we were all still British citizens. with the Queen’s English fully intact.

Fortunately, the seeker agreed and I got the part!

Help me to help you

I’m more than happy to provide assistance like that.

I’m more than happy to inform a voice seeker that there is a grammar error or syntax error that should be corrected, if I feel it’s appropriate to do so.

I’ve even partially improvised a few auditions when requested to do so.

However, I skip over auditions that expect me to actually write the script when that’s not part of the project. Seriously – I’ve seen auditions for radio liners, DJ drops, and even games that ask me to make up “funny” lines and be creative with it. Keep in mind, this is for the audition, not the gig itself. I’m sorry, but having to write my own audition script is pure laziness on the part of the voice seeker. I’ve written plenty of scripts in my life and it is one of the services I offer – but I’m not doing it for free.

Ham & cheese or pastrami on rye?

You wouldn’t walk into a deli and ask for some meat on bread. But that’s what you’re doing when you ask for a “male voice” with no other information.

Do you want smoked turkey or oven-roasted? Swiss cheese, American, or cheddar? Whole wheat, white, or sourdough bread? There are as many variations to your sandwich as there are voices. I can provide some of those variations; I can’t provide all of them. Perhaps you’ll like what I do; perhaps you’ll prefer someone else.

Either way, the next time you need a voice, stop and consider what type of voice you think will work best. You’ll save yourself time – and money, too – by narrowing your search.

As for sandwiches…I’d suggest the Reuben.


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!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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!

More opportunities to lose customers (a sequel)

Earlier this year, I shared my thoughts on how a company (or individual) can disappoint customers in two easy steps. Those steps were, in a nutshell, “Don’t care enough about the customer to do anything” and “only care enough to do the bare minimum.” Well today, I’m going to make things even easier for you folks who are trying to find new ways to lose business.

It’s a ONE-STEP process that is so easy, anyone can do it. It’s called…

“Don’t be an idiot”

Fortunately, this guy was down by the brook, nowhere near the house. You can’t tell from the picture, but he was about 4 inches wide – what I’d call mind-bogglingly-massive.

Shall we begin with an example? Yes, let’s. Last week, I had to search for an extermination business. We live in a 100-year-old house, and although I really don’t mind spiders, we’re getting overrun with them this year. Really, I like spiders; they eat all the bugs I hate. But when you hang up a denim jacket in the laundry room and within a week there’s a spider nest inside – well, that’s a problem.

So I went online to find a local exterminator. I found 3 or 4 who I called and talked with – but one website took me by surprise.  CLICK HERE to see what I found.

As far as I can tell, there isn’t any actual business called “Absolute Exterminator.” At least, not an actual exterminator. This website appears to be designed to list local exterminators, even though the average consumer wouldn’t know that at first glance. The thing that really annoys me about these folks is the way they use web-browsing cookies (I assume) to know where I live, so they cut-and-paste a tailor-made home page for me.

With ridiculous lines like, “New Hampshire insects can damage your Merrimack County home” and “The 3,005 people of Warner know there are some annoying bugs in New Hampshire,” it was pretty obvious to me that the website simply plugged my location information into their premade webpage and hoped I would be impressed enough to learn more.

On the contrary, I was utterly UNimpressed, and had learned enough just reading that one page.

“Don’t be an idiot” – while driving

A second example is something I see  – and you probably see – far too often.

Inconsiderate drivers cut you off. They run stop signs, merge into your lane with no warning, and honk their horns at you because they think they own the road. Happens all the time, right?

Well, if you’re driving a company vehicle, it should NEVER HAPPEN. I used to work for a number of radio stations, and whenever I drove one of the station vans, I always made sure my driving was impeccable. I always used my directional, never cut people off, always drove the speed limit. And if some moron did something stupid, I would never beep at him or make rude gestures…I just sucked it up and kept driving.

Yet, I am amazed at the number of rude, selfish drivers using company vehicles. Nary a week goes by where I don’t find myself being cut off by some dude from Rusty Rim Hole Plumbing, or being angrily honked at by a very impatient driver for Stubby’s Towing Service. What do they think happens when they tick someone like me off?

It certainly won’t be to patronize their business anytime soon. More likely, they’ll get written about in my blog – and NOT in a happy, gumdrops and lollipops kind of way.

Either people like this don’t care what other drivers think, because they’re just employees and don’t have any vested interest in doing what’s right…or they’re simply idiots.

“Don’t be an idiot” – so just don’t open your mouth

ID-100209955 (preg)
“Pardon me, but are you…?”

A third terrific way to get customers miffed at you is to say insulting things without even realizing it.

My wife and I were at a large department store earlier today (I won’t say which one because I wouldn’t want the store to be ‘targeted’), and as we were going through the checkout one of the employees stopped by and started talking to our very chatty 1-year-old baby girl, Phoebe. All was well and good, until the employee said…

“I see a sweet little girl who loves her grandpa!”

I bit my lip, because I knew that what was about to come out of my mouth was inappropriate in the check-out line. When we left the store, my wife tried to reassure me I really didn’t look that old…but this employee had just ruined my morning.

Seriously, who says that?? Isn’t that one of those things you never say to people? Isn’t that like going up to a woman with a belly and asking how the pregnancy’s going??

Now, I realize that plenty of people my age (47) have young grandkids, so it’s not like I was offended because of that. But the fact is, I was there WITH MY WIFE – who is not only 7 years younger than me, but looks like she’s at least 5 years younger than that. So this employee did one of two things:

She either a) thought my wife was a grandparent, as well (which, if you’ve ever seen my wife, you’d know is highly doubtful), or b) she thought I was there with my daughter and HER daughter! I’m sorry, but at 47, I’m pretty sure I don’t look like the father of a 35-year-old. And it’s not that I’m vain – but I already know that I look older than I am, so this employee underscoring that fact for me was totally unnecessary.

Making the world a happier place

let it go - B&RI try to let things like these examples go, I really do. It does no good to hold onto animosity or negative feelings. (That’s why blogging is so cathartic!)

But sneaky, rude, or stupid behavior is so rampant these days, it’s hard to leave it behind; chances are, something new and insulting will just pop up the next day.

I try to be understanding, though. Human beings are fallible, and we all make mistakes now and then. Often, the person doing the offending doesn’t realize it, or perhaps is having a bad day, or is preoccupied with their workload, or has stressful issues on their mind.

Then again, some people are just idiots.

Please don’t be one.


Log on now and nominate your favourite children’s book from this past year!

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!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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!

Matt Forrest, Dream-Killer

Sweet, loveable me…destroying dreams?

Alas, it appears so.

I am often asked how one starts a career doing voiceovers or writing children’s books. As someone who has been doing voice work and audio editing for 25+ years, I’m happy to share advice, tips, and some guidance.

As someone who has yet to accomplish the feat of getting a children’s book published, I can only offer a few suggestions – like practice, networking, and critiquing. I have had numerous adult poems published in collections over the years and will soon have about 6 or 7 children’s poems published in various anthologies within the next year or two…but that’s a far cry from getting a book deal.

Be that as it may, much of the advice I give can be applied to either industry – and many more.  The reaction I get after giving the advice is often the same, as well.

Notice I called it an industry

Voiceover work and writing children’s books and poetry are similar in that they are both creative pursuits; however, it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that they are, in fact, industries. Businesses. Professional careers that require all the time, effort, and skill that most other professional careers require.

ID-100232154 (water pipe)
Other than turning off the water, I wouldn’t have a clue as to what to do next.

You wouldn’t decide to become an astronaut on a whim. You wouldn’t think that by buying a socket wrench you can pass yourself off as a car mechanic.

You wouldn’t decide to open a plumbing business simply because you once unclogged a drain in the upstairs bathroom and it seemed like easy money.

Unfortunately, there is something about creative media that makes people think anyone can do it. And to be honest, many people can do it – but don’t really want to.

Or rather, they don’t want to hear about the reality of it.

This is where the dream-killing begins…

The first thing I tell folks who ask me how to get into voiceovers or break into children’s publishing is this: learn about the industry. Read blog posts, seek out professional web pages, and get a feel for what is truly involved. There is more to voiceovers than speaking into a microphone, and there’s more to writing children’s stories than “See Spot Run.”

When I tell these well-meaning people that the industry (either one!) is difficult to break into, they first look at me as if I’m trying to keep them out of a secret club or something. Then when I tell them a few of the things they are actually going to need to do, I get the feeling they think I’m trying to scare them away.

I have to implore them not to misunderstand me – that I’m just trying to be honest and blunt with them.

Blunt honesty, it appears, is not popular.

The frightening facts

Some of the nuggets of advice I offer – while not particularly unique or even insightful – are certainly solid for either industry:

– It may be fun, but it’s work, and you need to treat it as such.
– It’s also enormously competitive. The good news is that most of the other folks in the industry are surprisingly supportive!

– If you want to be a professional, understand what that means and what is expected of you.
– It doesn’t matter if you have a “great voice”; what matters is if you can read well and bring a script to life.
– It doesn’t matter if you love kids; what matters is your ability to write and your willingness to revise, over and over.
– Understand that not everyone can do what you are attempting to do. If it was so easy anyone could do it, everyone would.
– Understand that this is a skill requiring training, perseverance, and talent (not necessarily in that order).
– Understand that rejection is a way of life. There is a very, very high likelihood that you will fail multiple times before you even begin to succeed. You might get passed over dozens of auditions before getting that first gig, and you might send out a hundred manuscripts before an agent or editor thinks you’ve got what it takes.
– Tenacity, perseverance, skill, communication abilities, a thick skin, and a sense of humor are your best friends.
– Egos will get you nowhere.

There are plenty of other industry-specific things I might share when chatting with folks about voiceovers or children’s publishing, but I usually lose them at “enormously competitive.”

I’m really not trying to kill dreams…it just sort of happens

Honestly, I’m not sure how many dreams I’ve killed. I know that many of the folks who have emailed me or spoken to me in person over the last few years are not currently pursuing the vocation they had asked me about in the first place.

SCBWII can only make some broad assumptions.

Either they a) got scared and decided to stick with what they were doing; b) thought I was trying to scare them and decided to do it their own way and failed; or c) are still trying to find the time to be able to engage in an industry as competitive as voiceovers (or children’s writing).

These days, I refer voiceover questions to fellow voice artists like Paul Strikwerda, whose book, Making Money in Your PJs, provides as much insight, advice, and blunt honesty as one can handle, or Dave Courvoisier, author of More Than Just a Voice, a book that details the nuts-and-bolts of the industry like marketing, coaching, and equipment. The professional organization World Voices is good place to learn what being a professional voice talent is all about.

For questions about children’s book publishing, writers like Katie Davis, Julie Hedlund, Tara Lazar, Dr. Patricia Stohr-Hunt, and many, many more are all willing to help teach, guide, and inspire. And of course, there’s always the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), which is a great resource.

So if you happen to be wondering what it takes to get into these industries – or any of the creative arts – don’t let hard work and the fear of rejection stop you from realizing your dreams. Just do the work necessary and plan to stick with it for the long haul.

I’m not really a “Dream-Killer,” after all…just more of a reality-checker.

But hey, if Abe Lincoln can be a Vampire Hunter, why can’t I have an ominous-sounding moniker, as well?


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!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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!

In copy writing, it’s all about the details

Last week, I wrote and produced a short video commercial for my wife’s business.

There are two problems with that statement.

ID-10021920 (Times Square)
Advertising: These folks know how to do it right.

First, I’ve never produced a video commercial before, ever. I’ve written hundreds of commercials – and produced thousands of radio commercials – but never produced a video commercial. Second, if you have no experience doing something like that and it’s going to have a big impact on the impression people get about your business, I always say it’s best to have a professional do it.

If you’ve never patched a roof before, you’re going to call a roofer. If you need your car repaired and you don’t know the difference between a carburetor and carbon dating, you’re going to bring it to a mechanic. So if you need a commercial or corporate video produced, seek out someone who has more experience than you do. It’s your livelihood, and it should be important enough for you to have it professionally handled.

As I said above, I didn’t do that. I did have some good reasons, though…

Understanding what I wanted to accomplish

Unlike many folks who have never written commercials before, yet decide they need to be the ones to write, produce and/or voice the things themselves, I knew before I even began how the commercial was going to be used and what I wanted to accomplish. This was not going to run on television – it was to be used via the internet (social media, etc.) only, and it was to garner the attention of a specific group of people who were unfamiliar with the specific benefits of the products my wife sells.

I also had 25 years of copy writing and multi-track audio production knowledge behind me (along with some basic video editing experience), so even though it probably wouldn’t be perfect, I suspected it would be suitable for her purposes. And trust me, I’m my own worst critic, so if it was even slightly subpar, I would’ve scrapped it and gone a different route.

Oh, and due to my ACL reconstruction surgery back in March, a major car accident in late winter, and a leaking roof (see above!), I had a zero budget.  So a one-man DIY project was born.

It all starts with the script

Like a novel or short story, there are several things a good commercial script needs to do. In chronological order, they are:

  1. Attract the listener’s or viewer’s attention
  2. Connect on some emotional level
  3. Develop interest
  4. Create desire
  5. Compel action

A commercial should also showcase the product’s or service’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP) – the feature or benefit that makes the product or service stand out from all the others. And in the case of a television commercial, it should be able to get its point across even if there’s no audio. Doctor’s offices might have the sound turned down and sports bars are often so noisy one can’t even hear the person they’re with, much less the TV – so visuals are extremely important.

Knowing the benefits and USP of my wife’s products, I put the script together and realized I wasn’t going to need to provide a voiceover. (Ironic, isn’t it, that a voice guy produces a video commercial he doesn’t even get to voice?) But it didn’t need it, so I didn’t do it.

The commercial and the breakdown

First, let me show you the commercial and then I’ll break down some of the details I was particular about…

As I mentioned before, I knew the specific audience I was after: health-conscious folks who are not opposed to the vegan lifestyle. Of course, one does not need to be a vegan to appreciate botanically-based products that don’t test on animals, but the word “vegan” is so well-known these days that if you hear or see the word, you immediately understand its connotations.

So after attracting the attention of people who can appreciate veganism, I list other facets of Arbonne’s product’s USP: they are gluten-free, kosher, botanically-based. Then, rather than telling the viewer they need to buy something or they need to improve their lives or they need to do something else, I ask a simple question. Having just seen the benefits of the products – without me telling the viewer these are the benefits – the viewer can now make that connection on their own.

And when you can encourage a viewer or listener to draw their own conclusion and subconsciously take part in your commercial…it’s much more powerful than you telling them this and telling them that and hoping they believe you.

No need for a voiceover; the sounds of nature worked quite well on their own.

Just like most commercials, I show a problem (your health & wellness products are not vegan/gluten-free/etc. even though you are) and I offer a solution (try Arbonne) – but I do it subtly. The call to action is subtle, as well – I don’t command the viewer to buy now, save now, limited time, blah blah…I simply suggest they learn more.

I wanted this video to be almost like a conversation, and being too heavy-handed with my approach would have been counterproductive. That’s why I opted to use some light sound effects of a natural setting rather than a voiceover; I didn’t want the commercial to feel like a commercial.

Three more details you didn’t even notice

One comes immediately after the words “botanically-based.” From the moment the commercial begins, there is a rhythm to each of the words that flashes on the screen…but then there’s a pause before I ask my question. I deliberately did this to allow the viewer to consider what these words have to do with each other and where I’m leading them. If I posed the question too quickly, the USP – those benefits I listed – would not have had a chance to sink in quite enough.

Remember, it’s a conversation – and I didn’t want it to appear the commercial was doing all the talking. As I said previously, I wanted to allow the viewer some time to process the information and become a “part” of the commercial, and “part” of this conversation.

Another detail is that I did not mention the product name until slightly more than halfway through the spot. Some folks will tell you the name has to be front-and-center right from the get-go – but those are the folks who feel advertising is done best when it’s a one-way conversation. The way I look at it, if I’ve been able to keep you compelled long enough to view the commercial, you’ll stick around for the payoff.

The third detail is the little child and mother at the end, which I didn’t include just because it’s my son and wife. The Arbonne company sells its products via independent consultants who are often moms and daughters – and even dads. I wanted to evoke a familial feeling to the spot to underscore not only the Pure-Safe-Beneficial tagline, but the fact that families are buying, selling, and using these products to make their lives better…and a little child with a mom is about the best representation there is of that!

Pay attention to the details

So when you’re writing – whether it’s a commercial, short story, whatever – don’t lose sight of the details. Some might be superfluous (I could have included another word at the beginning and crammed too much info), some might not be on target (I could have listed products, but that wasn’t the point of the spot), and some might just be too wordy.

Know when to leave those out.

But other details – like knowing who you’re writing to, understanding what you want to say, and spending some time determining the best way to connect with the viewer/listener/reader – are imperatives.

If you write a picture book, short story, or commercial in less than one day, you’re either really lucky or you’re doing it wrong.Please don’t do it wrong.

If you don’t know how to do it, hire a professional. Your commercial and your roof will be better for it.


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!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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!


Someone spent a lot of money promoting their competition

I think I’m a fairly low-key, easy-going guy. I tend to take things in stride, but every now and then something will get me all worked up to the point where I’m jumping around, hollering like an idiot.

It’s usually due to moron drivers and bad commercials.

In this case, I felt compelled to share my discontent because we’re dealing with a bad commercial featuring people driving! And really, it’s not that bad a commercial…it’s just advertising the wrong business. (Which I guess makes it a pretty bad commercial, after all.)

Check out this commercial for Fiat:

Oh, wait – that wasn’t a commercial for Fiat. That was for Lexus! Oh, stupid me…my bad. You see, I just spent 60 seconds looking at fine sports cars and seeing the sleek “F” logo popping up in my face. Can you blame for mistaking this for a Fiat commercial?

Seriously, Lexus: the viewer only gets a few quick glances at the Lexus “L” logo on the cars…and unless the viewer’s attention is completely focused on the commercial, he/she will never realize those are all Lexuses (Lexi? What, exactly, is the plural?).

Here’s how I presume it all went down:

– Someone at the Lexus corporation said, “Let’s call our new model the same letter that our competition’s name starts with.”
– Someone at the ad agency said, “Let’s flash the first letter of the competition’s name throughout the entire commercial – and be sure not to show anyone the Lexus name or logo until after they have determined it’s an ad for the competition.”
– A whole bunch of executives said, “We agree! That’s a great idea!”

I’ve written before about what happens when a good story goes bad, and this is one of those times. And as always, I critique these spots not out of displeasure with or dislike of ad agencies – heck, I’m a voiceover guy, I LOVE ad agencies! – but out of love. Tough love,

So now that I’ve had my rant, I’m going to go take a rest. But be forewarned – if Ford Trucks comes out with a TV commercial featuring a male sheep, I might need to write another blog post.


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!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on 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!

How to disappoint customers in two easy steps

Have you ever had a problem with a product or service, brought it to someone’s attention, and had the issue resolved?

How did you feel afterward? Pleased, satisfied, impressed?

Or did you still feel pangs of disappointment?

If, after the problem had been resolved, you continued to be annoyed or irritated at everything that had transpired, well congratulations…you just learned how not to treat your own customers.

Disappointment: anyone can do it!

agreements,business concepts,collaborations,collages,commerce,communications,concepts,data,exchanges,Fotolia,ideas,information,internet,laptop computers,meetings,networking,technologiesLetting down a customer or client really is so easy, one can do it without even realizing it. After all, it’s simple to be presented with a problem, take the path of least resistance and correct it, and expect the customer to be happy. This is what young folks new to the workforce seem to get taught.

“If a customer is unhappy, say ‘Sorry about that.’ If they’re a pain about it, give them a refund and send them on their way.”

Seriously, that’s what it feels like teens are instructed to do these days, isn’t it?  But fixing problems (ie, keeping your customers happy) is not that simple. Sometimes, fixing a problem is not enough. Sometimes – in fact, oftentimes – you need to fix the problems created by the first problem.

And unless you actually have genuine concern for the person you’re dealing with, you won’t be able to properly deal with a problem and make amends the way they should be made.

What am I talking about?

Example #1:

Last month, I planned a surprise birthday dinner get-together for my wife at a local restaurant. Started decades ago by a few Greek business partners, this place has become a landmark in the area for good food and casual dining. Having been their innumerable times since I was a kid, I knew the menu would have something for everyone’s tastes. I also knew they didn’t take reservations.

If you get there on a Saturday night, chances are you’ll have an hour wait, minimum, so I called about a month beforehand and asked how they handled large dinner parties. “Oh, we can take reservations before 4pm,” the nice lady on the other end told me. I told her how many people there would be and that we’d like tom plan for 3pm, and she said they’d set aside an area large enough for the whole group.


Imagine my surprise, then, when we didn’t get seated until nearly an hour later.

Apparently, they don’t take reservations – they have something called ‘priority seating,’ so that once a table or area becomes available, it can be used by the party who “reserved” it. Consequently, some of our guests, who had travelled from out of state, had been standing around waiting in the foyer for nearly an hour and a half before we were seated.

When I called a couple of days later to express to the manager my absolute disbelief and disappointment, I was given a refresher course in priority seating and was told that he was very sorry for the confusion. He would definitely make sure the staff know not to refer to priority seating as reservations.

And then we hung up.

* First step: Do nothing!

It’s one thing for a regular employee with little to no training to basically say, “Sorry we ruined your wife’s birthday party – hope you come back again!” It’s another thing for a manager who’s supposed to understand customer service to say that.

I doubt we’ll ever be back, thanks.

Example #2:

tomato pasteA couple of weeks ago, I was making spaghetti sauce using a recipe. (I NEVER use a recipe, but in this case, I needed to – long story).  Anyway, I opened up a can of tomato paste and discovered that half of it was missing! The way it had been poured into the can had left the center completely hollow, so I ended up with only half the tomato paste I needed.

Being a fairly proficient cook, I made the sauce with no issues; however, I did make a point to call the customer service number on the can. You might think missing half of a 69-cent can of tomato paste is irrelevant and not worth your time, but the Yankee in me knew that I had not fully received that for which I had paid. Granted, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t even annoyed…but I did feel I deserved a full can, since that’s what I had paid for.

The customer service rep was polite and friendly, apologized, took my information, and said he would make sure I received something for my trouble.

He was right, too. I received a coupon for a free 69-cent can.

Ironically, that made me more annoyed than I was to begin with! Why?

* Second step: Do something – but only the bare minimum!

Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m not the type who thinks he deserves the moon and stars just because of a tiny issue with a 69-cent can of tomato paste. But why only compensate a customer for the monetary value of the product, when the problem created more issues for the consumer? I had to use up another can of tomato paste, which I  had to find in the pantry, which made me take longer to cook the sauce, and then I had to take the time to call the company and explain the problem…all for them to compensate me 69 cents?

Again, I’m not saying this because I want all kinds of free stuff – but providing a bare minimum of compensation (especially when it’s a mere 69 cents) makes it seem like a company is placating a customer rather than helping them.

Satisfaction vs. Loyalty

Back in 1998, business trainer and author Jeffrey Gitomer wrote a book titled, Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless (1998, Bard Press).  The title is based on Gitomer’s belief that “satisfaction” is the lowest level of quality a business can provide before heading into negative territory.

And he’s right! If a customer is less-than-satisfied, you have a problem! So why aim for the low rung on the ladder of customer happiness? The thrust of the book is that one shouldn’t aim for mere ‘satisfaction’ – one should do anything and everything possible to ensure that customer remains loyal. Show genuine sincerity and concern…go above and beyond what the customer expects you to do…rectify the problem and make the customer want to tell people what happened!

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have a happy customer tell people how I fixed their problem, than have an unhappy customer tell people they’ll never patronize my business again.

Do you want someone providing you bare minimum assistance? Do you want to deal with a company that appears more interested in doing what is ‘expected’ rather than doing what’s right? Do you want to work with someone who expects the empty phrase, “Sorry about that,” to be their go-to response?

Then don’t be that company! If you have a customer who has a problem, look at it from their perspective and don’t just fix the problem. Make them happy.

Make them loyal!


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