AWAI Review: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

After writing for a number of years, the publishing scene changed.  The internet and e-publishing reshaped the way books and literature come before the public.  No longer are publishing houses gate keepers… On the other hand, the quality of material is more varied while the quantity is unquestionably more massive.

I decided to check out the writing possibilities in copywriting. You can find many books on the subject.  Bob Bly has some good ones out.  I decided to go with AWAI—American Writers and Artists Institute—and enroll in their Michael Masterson’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting. I had seen a copy of his program several years ago and been impressed with its thoroughness.

AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting
Six Figure Copywriting

 Here’s the good:

  •  The course is directed to the novice and takes baby-steps to get you to a professional level.
  •   Part1 throws a whole lot of material at you, but the next sections take each aspect of the copywriting skills and break them down into manageable chunks.  If you follow the program step-by-step, at the end, you have a polished sales piece.
  •  They cover, IN DETAIL, the skills needed to write selling copy.
  •  They are very encouraging.  You have a cheering section within each chapter.
  • You join the AWAI members area with a forum for support and with daily emails giving you more information on the writing life, the tips, skills, methods, and goals of copywriters.
  •  You get up to 4 editorial reviews on copywriting you produce and turn in.  This is extremely valuable and something you just can’t get from a book!
  • Y0u are exposed to the wide field of copywriting
  •  AWAI posts a jobs section where you can search for jobs in your area.
  •  You learn how writing sales copy differs from other kinds of writing.

The Bad:

  • You are immediately sold to!  Every email is encouragement to sign up for another course.  Every email says… well, maybe you don’t know enough, if you REALLY want to make big bucks, sign up for this… and this… and this.
  •   Jobs will not just fall into your lap. (Well, okay, so I was excited enough to talk about my copywriting… and leads did come easily.)  But no one walked up to me and said, “Please write for me and I’ll pay you 6 figures.”

 The Ugly:

Here’s what I wish I had known:

Michael Masterson’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting is excellent and outstanding at teaching you how to write sales copy—most especially direct mail.  If you want to write letters to people explaining the desirability of a product and driving clients to want to buy what you offer—this is the course you need… and you CAN make big bucks doing it.

I am more attracted to persuasive writing—soft selling, encouraging.  The copy writing field is WIDE OPEN!  There are massive areas for making money!  You can do search engine optimization (SEO), writing white papers, e-books, reports, newsletters, online copy that’s simply informational, blogging, speeches—the list is mind boggling.

You can choose your niche according to format: Online or print.  You can pick whether you want to write to the consumer or business to business.  And most important, you can choose your niche according to  field, career or hobby.

For example you might decide to write in a specific field: finance, health, food, automotive.  And to specific consumers: dentists, attorneys, realtors.  And to people who enjoy a hobby: hiking, golf, travel, antique cars, quilting.  And the highest paid copywriters may narrow their fields down further: financial planning for dentists, travel for realtors, or attorneys who specialize in dental legalities.

This kind of niche marketing makes Masterson’s program a stepping stone.  Yes, you need AWAI’s Six Figure Copywriting course as an introduction.  (This is an affiliate link.) You need to understand the structure of a “sales letter,” what motivates people to want to buy, headlines that capture attention, why guarantees are important-- even if it appears as copy on a web page.

But most likely, as you progress, you’re going to want to choose a niche that appeals to you and focus on that.  Then you will need additional courses or books.

In the next few emails, we’ll cover some of the other courses they offer and why you might… or might not… want to take them.

In the mean time... take a look at Six Figure Copywriting and decide if it's for you.

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Keep your options open

My military husband moved our family to Okinawa early in my writing career.  It was a great move for writing! I was finishing up a middle grade novel and planning my next fiction.  And there were so many new ideas, places, stories, and events to explore.

I found US children’s magazine hungry for authentic foreign stories.  One of my early articles was on Japanese Girl’s Day (Hopscotch Aug/Sep 1998).  I saw a fantastic photo I wanted to use for my article on the front cover of Okinawa Today so I called the magazine to see if I could connect with the photographer.  When we met and talked, he asked if I’d be interested in writing for Okinawa Today.

I had thought of myself as a children’s writer.  I wanted to write fiction… did I want to write for adults and nonfiction?  I know you’re thinking, Duh!  Jump on the opportunity!  And in that way, you’re smarter than I was.  I did agree, but it took a little thinking.

It turned out to be a great decision!  It was fantastic practice writing LOTS of beginnings, middles, and ends.  Nonfiction has a story arc of its own.  And my writing skills increased with the practice and the variety.

Matsui-san would say, “Go make nice story about dam.”  Oh really?  You see in Okinawan culture, there were lots of exchanges of favors.  If Matsui-san’s magazine had a nice article about someone, then, somewhere down the line, something good would come her way. So my challenge was to write something that would please the publisher AND be of interest to my English speaking audience.  One of those interesting facts was that 90% of our drinking water came from the dams that collected rainwater… and if it didn’t rain for 6 weeks… we were likely to be on water rationing.

I learned about the bushido way of doing business that exists today, of gorgeous hikes to waterfalls, ruins of castles, and of high class resorts. I was to write about each in such glowing terms my readers would jump at the chance to go there.  And it was easy to do.  They were fun, exciting, interesting, and inviting.

Writing for Okinawa Today started my love of interviewing people and sharing what I learned with readers. I loved unscrambling the complex and making it understandable. In all ways it broadened my writing and my career choices in writing.

So, when you are faced with new choices—with a writing career path that might not be like the one you envisioned… take a chance.  Risk.  Try it on for size.  And see what you can learn from that experience.  Likely, there will be times it stinks.  But more often, you’ll look back and say, “Duh!  That should have been a no-brainer.  This was a GREAT experience!”

If you’ve had a time when you tried a new writing path- will you share with us how it went for you?

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Writer’s Digest Magazine

I wrote stories as a kid… none of them brilliant….and I was an avid reader.  I loved words.  The nuances, the shades of meanings, the coloring of a topic by the way it was addressed.  I loved how you could influence people’s thoughts and decisions and feelings by the kinds of words and the phrases.  People could create worlds… and escape to those worlds… and even invite others to come along.   I discovered  amazing facts—coral reef fish, how to make cardboard boats, mysteries of the Aztecs, or what courses to take to become a radiologist—by the connection of words in nonfiction.

And I thought I want to DO THAT!

So I studied what it took to be a writer.  First I subscribed to Writer’s Digest Magazine.  I have to tell you, it was a good step.  I felt like I’d joined a community of like minded people.  Instead of people saying, “You can’t make money doing that.”  I saw evidence of people who did!  And those people were kind enough to take me by the hand and say, “If you do this, you can become successful, too.”

What I liked about Writer’s Digest, was its blend of topics.  I found how-to articles and articles about successful writers.  They exposed me to different genre.  I’d try on each genre.  Did I want to write mystery?  Romance? SciFi? Biographies? Did I want to write books?  Magazine stories or articles?  What age did I want to write for?  Ohhh.  The possibilities were so exciting!  And the articles encouraged.  Try it.  Take a risk.  Rewrite.  Polish again.  You can do it.

At my solitary desk, I had friends whispering from the pages of Writer’s Digest.  And because of the confidence and skills I got from them, I did submit.  And I sold my first piece under their tutelage.  I continued to subscribe as I began to publish more.  And to this day, I have faded, yellowed pages ripped from the magazine that hold treasured bits of information I refer back to.

There are a variety of writing magazines out there.  But if you’re starting out, I’d recommend Writer’s Digest Magazine as your first go-to magazine.

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Writing for Children: A Bunny Eat Bunny World

Writing for children has sometimes been called a “bunny eat bunny world.”  It is a gentler, kinder world than the adult writing world.  I think there is more help and collaboration among writers. Seasoned writers are often more willing to help new writers. Editors tend to respond a bit better. The shorter texts allow for more beginnings, middles, and endings and help hone a writer’s skills faster.  Children’s writing is full of competition and publication is still tough, and the trend is becoming more commercial.   But for now, more houses are open to over the transom submissions than in adult publishing.

Make no mistake.  Writing for children is not a junior version of writing for adults.  It is not easier, nor does it take less skill.  Perhaps it takes more.

Sometimes authors who write for children are asked when they will write for adults.  It’s as if writing for children is a stage or phase or a training ground and when you mature, you write for “real” people.  This is wrong on several fronts.

First, writing for children has more limits and parameters. It takes a great deal of skill to write effectively within those structures. Second, it takes writers who can feel and remember what it was like to be six or sixteen or any place in between.  That is, they must remember the feelings and emotions of their childhood, and then marry them with the situations, context, and lives of children today. Third, since writers for children cherish the innocence, creativity, spontaneity, and intensity of feelings and beliefs of their readers, and they frequently have no desire to write for an adult audience.  They value their skills and their craft and equate it to other professions.  When would someone ask a pediatrician when they will “grow up” and become a “real” doctor?

Would writing for children be a good niche for you?  Here are some things to consider:

  •     Do you like children?  Do you like to be around them?  Do you value them as “real” people with thoughts and ideas worth learning about?
  •      Can you remember what it was like to be a certain age—the things you worried about, the friends and relationships you had, what worried you, what made you happy.  Often a children’s writer will say, “Mentally, I’m 12.” And they will be most comfortable writing for middle graders.  Some will really key into the thoughts and feelings of a 4 year old and feel most comfortable writing picture books.  So you need not feel you must understand every age.  It’s most important to understand one age well.
  •      Can you “speak” with a voice of a child?  If your character is 8 years old, you must have the world view of an 8 year old, the vocabulary of an 8 year old, the sentence structure of an 8 year old, the thoughts of an 8 year old, and the understanding of the reality of an 8 year old’s world.  This is what creates believability when the 8 year old reader begins your text.  You can’t fool a kid.  They’ll spot a phony.
  •    Are you willing to write on a “canvas’ of sometimes rigid parameters?  A picture book is typically 32 pages and a few hundred words long.  If you think YOUR picture book demands 50 pages and a thousand words, chances are, picture books are not your strong suite.  There are valid reasons for the rules of children’s writing.  They work.   They fit the interests and attention spans of the readership.  Occasionally…very occasionally…they can be broken.  But you’d best know the rules first.  Know why they work.  And then determine that breaking the rule in THIS case, will be effective.

I love writing for children.  I love it!  I get to have wild adventures and escape the bonds of reality in a way that’s impossible in adult fiction.  I love reading children’s fantasy and adventure.  There’s a cleanliness of plot line that appeals. I can revisit my childhood and finally get even with the bully or find a better resolution to that terrible awkwardness.  I love it that the good guy almost always wins in the end.  I love to recapture the delight of learning and exploring and discovering new things.  I love explaining the world in a way that is meaningful to kids. I find joy when they “get” the jokes or their eyes light up as they understand something new.

In teen literature there’s room for in depth handling of most difficult issues—some really edgy and tough stuff.  But I like middle grade where there is a sensitivity and an oblique way of addressing hard things.  And for the most part, editors cherish the innocence of children and limit topics and kinds of conflicts.  For me, it’s challenging and rewarding to write under those parameters.

If you choose writing for children because you think it will be an easier path to publication, evaluate yourself against the list above.  If you can’t find your child’s voice, it definitely WON’T be easier and you’re better off in another field.   There are many to choose from.  We’ll discuss more options in future posts.

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How to Get Happily Published

You've had that perfect story dancing in your head.   Or that powerful how-to you're sure will make you millions.  Now, you're ready to go for the gusto.  I want to recommend one of my favorite books.  It's sensible, thorough, and packed with information.  I know, I've made it sound pedantic.  But actually, it's a good read.  It's especially good if you really want to check out your manuscript and see if it's truly ready for publication.  Then it helps you navigate the publishing field-- chose a house, write a query letter, send it in proper format, and in total-- look like a professional write while you do it.

Writing for publication is much different than simply writing... or writing for your (or your family's) enjoyment.  There are treasured places for that kind of writing, however writing for publication requires you consider the audience: first of the editor and the house he or she represents, and second the audience of the publisher.  You must take into account their goals, wants, and needs and make sure your writing exceeds those goals.  Published writers understand and love those readers.  They charm and delight them.   They speak with a voice so unique it can't be dismissed.  Judith Appelbaum, author of How to Get Happily Published, helps you review your manuscript with an eye to these ultimate readers.

Once you've determined your audience and insured you will, indeed, charm them, it's time to connect. It's SO important to make a good first impression.  You only have one chance.  How to Get Happily Published helps you make that good first impression.  Judith walks you through the steps of a proper introduction.  She guides you through the formatting process so your manuscript looks polished.  She covers different publishing options so you can be confident you are choosing the best one for you and for the material you are presenting.  You will feel like you've got a friend with you during this sometimes daunting process.  I encourage you to get to know her.

Judith Appelbaum has extensive experience in nearly all phases of the publishing industry.  She's spent many years asboth editor and author. You can check out more about her and her helps at: http://www.happilypublished.com/  (Affiliate link.)

 

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Published in Marketing, writing aids

Your Canvas

Some people feel their creativity is cramped when their writing is restricted or channeled into a specific market.  This could not be further from the truth.  You stretch and challenge you creativity when you focus your writing.  You have freedom to create, but within certain perimeters.  This is true of other arts as well.

For example, when an artist considers a work, she first chooses the medium-- oil, watercolor, mixed media, etc..  Then she chooses the canvass size-- 1''x1'' , 12"x24", mural, etc..  Within those perimeters, she brings her art to life.  In the same way, writers choose first their market-- children ages 3-4, homeowners, people trying to put together this gizmo, businessmen seeking to invest in gold, and so on.  The more specific the market, the more likely you will be to resonate with them. To be able to connect and bond with your readers.   Then you choose the canvass-- a 300 word article, a manual, a 2 page letter, a book, a post card, web page, or whatever your employer chooses.

Within those confines, you have the freedom to write and create.  To reach out and touch, change, motivate, or enlighten your reader.  It's an exhilarating experience to stretch and try writing small and direct.

Challenge:  choose a market and format and have fun! Hint:  If it's your first time, imagine someone you know that fits into your market choice (your dentist, your uncle the investor) and write directly to him.

Share with me how you were able to be creative as you worked under these new restrictions.

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Published in intro to writing

The Fun, The Lifestyle…. The Money?

What makes us love the written word, play with words, cherish and value them?  I wonder if it’s innate—some inborn instinct that drives us to put words to paper.  And then, is it a romanticized version of a writer's life that pulls us into writing as a profession? Writing on the beach, or from the comfort of your bedroom slippers.  Having the freedom to make your own schedule.  It's possible you and I can work together to make this happen if your heart shouts "yes!" to these statements.  I'm looking to connect with someone who says:

  •             I’m driven to write.
  •             I’m committed to make this work.
  •             I’m willing to learn what I need to learn and do what I need to do to be successful.
  •             I can take direction and criticism and learn from it.
  •             I am willing to write to and for a specific market.
  •             I can change how I write and limit my parameters of expression for a purpose.
  •             I’m willing to write something other than my “favorite way” in order to earn money.

Because the truth is lots of people DO make money with their writing.  As we go along, we’ll explore the vast variety of ways of making money with writing. We’ll go beyond the rosy glasses of picture book, novel, and magazine writing (although we will visit those) to writing for hire, ghost writing, business to business writing, copywriting, direct sales copy, internet copy, directions, recipes, how-to's and writing manuals.  I’ll share my opinions—or the opinions of others—about different books, courses, and methods of writing.  We'll discuss skill sets necessary for each kind of writing. We’ll talk pricing and marketing.  We’ll cover where the jobs are and how to find them.

I guarantee you, brilliant writing, correctly marketed does pay… and it pays well.

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Published in intro to writing