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Is the New

Is it time to retire “X is the new Y” yet? Editor Mattie says: Yes! It has gone past cliche. The only way it can be used is self-referentially (Black is the new Black!) or in comedy ala Josie and the Pussy Cats (OMG Orange is the new Pink!)

Otherwise, cut cut cut.  Remember kids, editing is the new sandwich. Or something like that.

First ten pages of Google:

Pink is the new Blog

Small is the new Big

Fake is the new Real

Vegetarian is the new Prius

Blood is the new Black

Green is the new Red

Blue is the new Green

Facebook is the new AOL

Republican is the new Punk

Euro is the new Dollar

Water is the new Oil

Trillion is the new Billion

The Blog is the new Resume

Bitch is the new Black

Square is the new Round

Class is the new Black

The Location Field is the new Command Line

Unqualified is the new Qualified

Yellow is the new Black

Brown is the new Green

Self-publishing is the new Real Publishing

Solis is the new Daschle

Sex without Condoms is the new Engagement Ring

Sketching is the new Black

Fugly is the new Pretty

Big is the new Small

Flat is the new Up

Dead is the new 90

Mobile is the new Desktop

Privacy is the new Black

Gay is the new Black

Limbaugh is the new Bush

Pace is the new Peril

Geeky is the new Cool

Old is the new New

Self-publishing is the new Blogging

Customer Service is the new Marketing

Home decor is the new fashion

Hyperconnectivity is the new Reality

Green is the new Blah

Fringe is the new Lost

Michelle O is the new Jackie O

Food is the new Sex

The Web is the new Hollywood

The Truth is the new Lie

Uncertainty is the new Normal

Yellow is the new Pink

Fat is the new Black

Frugal is the new Black

Lifestyle search is the new Black

Cash is the new Black

Vietnam is the new China

David Price is the new Joba Chamberlain

Awake is the new Sleep

Less is the new More

Pussy is the new Black

Zombie Dog is the new Spaghetti Cat

image source: http://webdelsol.com/DIAGRAM/6_3/leisurearts.html

How to write like Seth Godin

How to write like Seth Godin

1)      Tell some folksy anecdote or recollect something about the day

2)      Ask a generic question about customers, staff, marketing, etc

3)      Close it up with the point of what you were saying but still be a bit vague about it all

Let’s take this post: Mowing the Lawn

SethGodinWritingStructure

 

 

Now to follow the formula:

Scaring the cows

I used to scare cows.

Growing up on a farm meant that I had to spend my time moving cows from one paddock to the next so they’d eat down the grass. The paddocks were surrounded with barbed wire that the cows quickly learned to keep away from and there were gates connecting the paddocks. One gate was small and when I opened it, the cows would keep back until I walked further away. Then they’d trot through. One gate was enormous and the cows would happily walk through with me standing at the end of it.

Sometimes I had to scare the cows to push them through a gate and they’d run.

I wonder how your customers feel?

Does it show?

If you are too close to your customers as they move around your business then they’ll shy away or bolt through and disappear. Open up the gates they move through and look for any areas that are particularly spiky and painful for them to encounter. Directing customers is a good thing – making them panicked or using spiky deterrents like high fees, small print and the like is bad.

Anecdotes are not Evidence

I’ve been entertained and educated and informed by Seth Godin for a while now and I often agree with what he is saying but lately I’ve been getting the feeling he’s phoning it in with this-by-the numbers structure. His style of writing has the ring of truth about it, the feeling of being true but it’s mostly anecdotal.

Applying Science to Godin

How about attempting to transform his blog posts into testable hypotheses? For the Mowing the Lawn post I think the main point is: Customer service people get a lot of useful information directly from customers about your product/service and it doesn’t go to marketing, sales, product design or other jobs that influence customers directly therefore if you want that information, these groups need to do the customer service job.

This suggests to me the following areas to investigate:

1)      Customer service suck at passing on information or are prevented in doing so

2)      Customer service are good as passing on information but it is ignored

3)      Nothing can replace direct exposure to customers so if you want good results you need direct exposure.

To go a bit deeper into it, I think this post is really suggesting that direct exposure to customers can’t be replaced by any other method. So there is our experiment: testing direct exposure vs. other methods.

Experiment:

Divide marketing, sales, product design into three groups who will in one week present suggestions for improvements to product/service/system.

Group #1 will not talk to customer service or customers but will only talk amongst themselves and come up with ideas.

Group #2 will talk to customer service and ask questions but cannot have direct customer contact.

Group #3 will have direct customer contact but will not talk to customer service.

My prediction?

Group #1 will come up with cosmetic changes to the product/service/system.

Group #2 will have some very specific solutions, some of which will be based around making your staff happier, rather than your customers happier. Some of the suggestions will do both.

Group #3 will have some specific solutions but because of their short exposure time to customers will have less useful answers than group #2.

Analysis

Where I think Godin falls down in his original post is that it doesn’t take into account the sample of customers that the marketing, sales, product designers, etc would be encountering. I think there would be a significant bias toward annoyed/angry/frustrated customers calling customer service. If you’re a Telco with tens of thousands of customers then if might be perfectly fine to receive 150 annoyed/angry/frustrated customer calls per day. If you’ve only got one hundred customers than clearly even one or two a month is unacceptable.

So if you follow Godin’s advice and get your marketing people talking to angry customers will they forget that you’ve got 98% satisfied customers and 2% unsatisfied customers? Will they blow the problems out of proportion and alter your service so suddenly you annoy 30% of your customers?

Contradictory messages

If you read Godin long enough you’ll start to notice that some of his advice appears to contradict other bits of advice.

See this post “The Customer is Always Right

It talks about firing the 1% of customers who cause 95% of the pain. Focus on those who you can keep happy. If I mesh this post with Mowing the Lawn I get a clear instruction for everyone to have direct contact with customers presumably to make changes to product/service … but fire customers who complain too much or with whom your business is always in the wrong.

What should you do? Listen to those customers or get rid of them?

How about “Treating different customers differently

Sprint will cancel your service if you call customers service too much to complain. Message: get rid of complaining customers and spend your time focussing on the ones you can keep happy.

By suggesting sales, marketing, product design get on the phones with customers, it seems Godin is saying that changes should be made in your service/product/system based on the direct contact with these customers. But what about ignoring them or firing them? Where does that fit in?

The Guru is never wrong

Some wise person says some vague things and all the novices nod and smile and then head off to action. The Guru has spoken so vaguely that if it doesn’t work then you must have misunderstood it and if it does work, well, that’s why they are the Guru and you’re the novice.

Godin as Guru

One of the good things about being a Guru is that you don’t have to provide evidence for what you say. You trade on experience or status in one area which allows you to make statements in that area and others. A quick examination of Godin’s posts finds some statements that could do with some evidence:

“In most endeavours, a small increase in risk can double the reward. It’s the second doubling of reward that brings serious risk with it. But the first leap is relatively painless.”

Um … evidence? How would you test that a small increase in risk can double reward? How would you test that a subsequent doubling brings serious risk with it?

“There is always a gap between the short-term results of a well-polished system and the first results of a switch to a more efficient one.”

Evidence? How would you test this?

“The best marketing strategy is to destroy your industry before your competition does.”

How the f*ck do you test this? You’re selling software everyone wants so you’re making a giant pile of money. There are some free software people edging into your area. Some time in the future they may destroy your industry by offering excellent software for free. So … Godin says … destroy your current business before you are destroyed. Hmm. How about … they won’t destroy your industry for five years so make money while the sun shines? How about work on making such an amazing paid product that no one will use the free product?

“Big marketing breakthroughs always come from doing something that everyone else says is off the table.”

So I should hire a team of tattooists to kidnap kids and tattoo my competitor’s brands across their foreheads before letting them go? How would you test Godin’s claim? What evidence would you gather to test that breakthrough can come from following quite standard processes?

The Answer to Gurus

Try to transform what they say into a testable hypothesis. Imagine trying to build an experiment to actually test out their ideas and get hard data. In doing this you’ll see through the shallow and may be able to extract the good, if there is some of it there.

And finally …

This post is a bit harsh on Godin but as I said before I have been educated, informed and entertained by him and I generally think he’s doing a pretty good job. He’s prodding people to think which is very good. As for all those tools I run into on Twitter who style themselves as Gurus … fuck off. Just fuck off now please. Your ham-fisted attempts to copy Godin are so utterly stupid and you should quit.

(Oh yeah, I realise that Godin actually has a few formats for his posts but this is the one I decided to pick on because it is the one I see most copied. Ah, but is it? Evidence anyone?)

Noises from Next Door – picture book manuscript

A little introduction. I wrote this back in about … 2004 I think.  The formatting shown below is how you should set out a picture book manuscript if you wish to have it taken seriously by a publisher. Some people will tell you not to write anything about the art but they are wrong wrong wrong and should be taken outside and beaten with a dictionary. A picture book isn’t just about the words so why not mention the illustrations? The cleverness of the illustrations matched with the text is what makes a picture book so very brilliant.

Remember that you start your book with page 1 which is a right-hand side page (known as recto).  You turn the page and pages 2 and 3 form a double-page spread. This means the pages face each other and you can stretch an illustration across both of them if you wish.  A left-hand side page is called verso.

Anyways, please find the complete manuscript to Noises Next Door below.  Any comments or questions, send me a message via the about me page.  The illustration was done by my friend, the very talented Katrina Hill. Hire her!

Page 1
Noises from Next Door
Art: Half title

Page 2
Imprint

Page 3
Full title
Noises from Next Door

Written by Mathew Ferguson
Illustrated by

Page 4
Art: Small image of an open moving box. Yellow tape is hanging off the top of box.

Page 5
Someone moved into the house next door over the weekend.

Art:  show house, show two kids, a boy and girl, looking over at it. The girl is pointing at the house.

Page 6
We haven’t met them yet … and now there are weird noises coming from their house.

Art: Two kids peaking over fence at scary looking house. The kids are now closer to the house.

Page 7
There’s BANGING and CLUNKING.

Art: the kids are standing there looking like the ground is shaking. Their outlines have gone a bit fuzzy.

Page 8
There’s CRASHING and SMASHING!

Art: this image is a bit more zoomed in than the previous page.  The crashing and smashing effect has spread out a little from the kids – now the letterbox looks a little blurred.  The flowers are bending away from the noise.

Page 9
Maybe it’s Monkeys …

Art:  show ordinary monkeys sitting there, looking bored. Show boy looking at girl –
excited look on his face.

Page 10
Ninja Monkeys!

Art: show monkeys dressed in ninja gear doing a lot of tricky ninja stuff – nothing dangerous though! Some are practising camouflage techniques, dressed as trees, and letterboxes. Others are doing backflips.

Page 11
It’s a family of beautiful ballerinas …

Art:  Girl looking at boy, dreamy look on her face.  Show pic of beautiful ballerinas in various poses.

Page 12
Who are secret agents!

Art: Ballerinas – then same ballerina’s with James Bond gear.  They look happy and smiling in first pic – then crafty and devious in second. We see grappling hooks, a laser pen, ballerinas wearing earplugs like special agents.  They are looking directly at the reader, as though posing.

Page 13
Maybe … maybe they’re secret agent monkey ballerinas!

Art:  show monkeys dressed in ballerina costume doing crafty James Bond stuff.  Mimic previous images … but use monkeys.

Page 14
What’s with you and monkeys, anyway?

Art:  girl with arms crossed looking at kid, who is shrugging.  Girl rolling eyes at boy.

Page 15
Cowboys!

Ghost Cowboys!

Robot Cowboys!

Art: boy talking. Show cowboys, grinning, salt of the Earth. They are dressed in cliché cowboy gear.  Next to them we see same cowboys, but now see-through, looking a bit confused at being made into ghosts … one had his hands on his body like he can’t believe he is now see through.  Next to ghost cowboys show robots dressed in same cowboy gear, doing all sort of cowboys stuff – using lassos, wearing line-dancing kind of clothing.

Page 16
A city of tiny little people …

Art: girl talking, show close up of ultra modern metropolis – but in back ground show kids faces as they peer at it from behind. This is a double spread, beautifully detailed futuristic city. Think hover-cars, robots, and people dressed in weird clothing combinations.

Illustrated by the very amazing Katrina Hill

Illustrated by the very amazing Katrina Hill

Page 17
Their entire city could sit on the palm of your hand!
Art: continuation of double-page spread.

Page 18 & 19
Scientists building a top-secret supersonic street racer …

Art: boy talking. Show interior of house, like a massive lab – people in white lab coats, wind tunnel.  Schematics and measuring equipment everywhere. This is a double-page spread.  This page is trying to show how large the interior of the lab is – so large in fact that the outside of the house would have to be much larger than it actually is. On the schematics we see a three-seat pedal go-cart.  In the centre of the lab suits a huge supersonic street racer. The racer has a yellow lightning stripe down the side, and a number 3 in a circle.

Page 20
It’s the training centre for the Egyptian Fighting Snail …

Art:  show Egyptian fighting snail in a tiny gym, next to a punching bag.  He is wearing a headband.  Looks like a boxer … but Egyptian colouring. On the shell is a hieroglyphic of a boxer.

Page 21
Art: second page of Egyptian Fighting Snail spread. We can see posters of previous great snail fighters adorning the walls.  We can also see other Egyptian Fighting Snails engaged in various other training exercises.

Page 22

Cows doing Yoga!

Art: Boy talking.  Show a lot of very holistic looking cows doing Yoga.  This is a double-spread. The cows are sitting on grass mats, in various contorted poses. Some are real yoga poses; others are in crazy contortions.  The view, again, suggests that the inside of the house must be larger than house could possibly be.

Page 23
Art: double-page spread.  Over here we see some cows involved in other holistic activities. There is a small ‘Lentil Bar’ on this side.  Some cows are eating lentil patties.  There are various foods up on the board – all with Lentils, including Lentil Milkshake. One of the cows is evidently drinking a lentil milkshake, and not enjoying it much.

Page 24
What’s that noise?

Art:  Kids looking at each other.  Rumble rumble rumble – show art all triple image as if is shaking.

Page 25
The door’s opening!  Hide!

Art:  show garage door rumbling it’s way up.
Kids peaking out over fence.

Page 26
Secret agent ballerinas …
Ninja Monkeys …

Art: show little thought bubbles with each of these things above their heads. Girl is saying secret agent ballerinas. Boy is saying ninja monkeys.

Page 27
Top Secret Super Sonic Racer!

Art: Show garage with front wheels of go-cart coming out. Kids looking at each other totally amazed.  Can you believe that one of the things we imagined is actually true?

Page 28
It’s the new neighbour!

Art: show new neighbour kid pushing out this three-seat pedal go-cart.

Page 29
Hi I’m Tom, want a ride on my go-cart?

Art: A bit closer up – the go-cart mimics the design of the supersonic racer from earlier. It has a yellow roughly painted stripe down the side, as well as a number 3.

Page 30
I heard some weird noises from the house across the road. I think it could be pirates…

Art: three kids are sitting in the pedal cart. Tom is pointing across the road. It is clear that Tom is talking.

Page 31
Monkey Pirates?

Ballerina Pirates?

Art: the two kids are super-excited, guessing what could be across the road.

Page 32
The End

Art:  show kids sitting in three-seated pedal go cart, racing off down the road, it is a top down, angled view.
As they pedal off, show other houses in the area — show some monkey ninja’s in the backyard having a barbecue with some ballerina top-secret agents.  Show two houses over the scientists working on super sonic rocket racer.  Show Egyptian Fighting Snail hitting a punching bag.  Across the road, we can see some pirates peering out from behind curtains.

Rediscovering your writing (and a bit on the creative process)

While looking through short stories to post up here I came across some stories I hadn’t looked at for a loooooong time. In one case it was at least two years.

I found an incomplete story that was clearly under construction. There was even a note in there saying *man I’m tired zzzzz* in the middle of text. If this story were a physical thing it would be a few pieces of wood held together with tape and various partially constructed bits lying around it. At a glance you can see what it is meant to be but you can’t quite see how it’s going to come together. There are too many leftover parts and random bits of wood and metal piled up.

Anyways, I had completely forgotten that I had written this story. As I read through it was like reading it for the first time. This could have something to do with how very tired I apparently was when I wrote it. The time between then and now is clearly a factor.

I laughed a true and honest chortle at one of the sentences.

Wow.

Sometimes I laugh when I’m writing – often because whatever the writing bit says to me is unexpected and I’m the first person hearing the joke. This makes me sound like a mad person but it’s probably the best way to describe the creative process. For me it is this: I hear me who is the one writing this post. This is the one the world meets. Then there is the other me which is the writing part. That voice, for lack of a better term, is a chattering idea-producing dynamo. When I reach into the dark it is the one with the words waiting. And always with the freaking ideas, all the time, even when I’m trying to sleep, which can be really annoying. Then there is the other me who is also an idea generator and has debates with the idea dynamo. It’s like two characters who are madly enthusiastic and build on what the other has to say.

“Wow! That’s great! What if we add x, y, z and then a, b, c and how COOL would that be?”

“Then we can twist this part and then we can connect it to that other-”

“Yeah! And after we twist that we can tie this other bit around to-”

And on it goes as I sit there listening to all this and sometimes contributing my own bit to the process.

There is another part as well – a slower deep thinker who listens to it all and ties deeper structures together. This is the part that speaks up when I’m in the shower and it says “Hey Mat – you know that bit of the story you’ve been stuck on for six months? How about this?”

Then out will come some amazing package that has clearly been worked on for a while and it is divinely beautiful.

Let your stories rest

To improve your writing you need to give it time to rest. Time for you to forget all about it while that deeper part works way in silence. Long novels in particular need time for you to step back and consider the structures you’ve built. To go back to the building simile, you’ve hammered together a magnificent towering marvel of words but you need to leave it for six months to see which parts fall down because they were only held together with tape in the first place.

Forgetting your writing allows you to see with a critical eye the weak parts that need to be cut or strengthened.

A little more on writing and the creative process

Imagine you watch a football match. There are players running around, the ball is flying around the place, all kinds of crazy patterns and plays are occurring and there you are in the stands writing it all down. Now if someone gets their nose broken in a burst of blood and violence it would be ridiculous for anyone to say to you “why did you do that? Why did you break his nose?” Your answer would be “I didn’t break his nose! Another player broke it. I was simply recording what happened.”

This is how some of the best writing happens. The characters have a life and spirit of their own and you are writing down their actions. If you attempt to force them to do something against their nature then they will refuse to move.

Now imagine a stage show where you are playing all the characters. You put on the “Dad” costume and come out on the stage under the searing lights and clumsily read out Dad’s lines. Then you go offstage, change into the “Mum” costume and come back out on stage again. You read out Mum’s lines. Then you change into the dog costume. Then the policeman costume. Soon you are hot and sweaty and hating every labourious moment out there. The whole process is hard and there is no flow and you start thinking about killing every character right then and there.

This is how some really terrible writing happens. The characters don’t have a life and spirit. It’s just you, attempting to shove and pull and animate the cast but you can never ever know what they would say or do in response to anything because they are dead puppets.

You’ll hit these hard bits sometimes. Yes, you should power through because in many ways it can be like a rehearsal for better work. During the writing some of the characters may start to come to life and you don’t need to jump into their costume. There may still be some empty costumes out there but as the cast come to life they may too.

Lesson: let stuff rest (for a looooong time if you can).

Lesson: take yourself out of pushing and pulling and animating. Let the characters come to life and simply observe them.

Lesson: (although not in article) – good writing is closely connected to blood sugar level and sleep. Rest well and remember to eat at regular times! No athlete would exercise with no food that day – no writer should attempt to write whilst hungry or low in blood sugar.

Freelance Writer – you will be screwed!

If you work as a freelance writer then it is guaranteed that you’ll be screwed out of money at some point.  I have been – twice.

The first was on two proof-reading jobs. They didn’t pay the first invoice and I stupidly agreed to do a second job for them. They didn’t pay that invoice either. I eventually gave up and lost about $400 I think (can’t really remember).

Second was a ghost-writing job for a guy who fancies himself as a bit of an entrepreneur.  Did preliminary work on his book, couldn’t come to agreement on fee (I have this weird thing about being paid, yeah, crazy I know) so project ended. He agreed to pay $1000 for work done so far.  He didn’t pay anything.

What can you do?

Now, when you get screwed you have some options. The first thing to do is print out your invoice on paper and ring the company and ask to speak directly to their accounts department. Get a name and post the paper invoice directly to them.  This may get you paid.

If that doesn’t work then don’t be afraid to send a reminder letter stating that you expect to be paid for your work. Are you worried about burning bridges? If they won’t pay you then you don’t want them as a client.

If that doesn’t work then a phone call and a hint of “I know a lot of freelancers and it would be terrible if they became aware your company doesn’t pay invoices”.

I just heard an intake of breath there.  Yes, you may need to talk very bluntly to people who owe you money and you may need to threaten the reputation of their company.

There are many people who simply don’t understand how difficult they are making your life by not paying you. You can ask them to imagine what it would be like if their employer simply decided to stop paying them for months at a time. Could they make house payments, car payments, pay bills and buy food?

Depending on the amount owed to you, the next step is Small Claims Court.  It’s not hard to apply and there is a lot of information on government websites walking you through it. Just make sure you follow the steps.  Send the invoice by registered mail (proof they received it).  Send some emails. Don’t harass but be firm with dates and expectations. Then send a letter of demand.  You can download free copies on the web.

Don’t threaten anything. Simply state the facts.

Once you’ve done that – then you need to make a decision. Is the money worth pursuing it in Small Claims Court?

I’ve been pondering this myself over the $1000 owed to me.  I don’t have much power over this guy apart from telling the world that he doesn’t pay invoices.  This guy’s name is his brand so telling the world about him not paying would be pretty bad for him.  He doesn’t seem to care so far from his utter lack of response to my requests for payment.

A contract only offers limited protection

Really, a contact is still a friendly agreement and the only benefit later is if you go to court. The main benefit up-front is to get your client thinking about money and accepting the basic premise that they have to pay you for your work. It seems a bit ridiculous that you need to get this out in the open but freelancer writers and editors seem to be one of the few classes of jobs where employers will say things like “work now for free and get paid jobs later!”.  Or the “the experience is the payment!”.

Or far more insidious is the … never talking about money. Just inching along through the project and they never bring it up and when you attempt to they brush it aside.

Remember: if you work for free then you have set your future market price for that client at ZERO.

Always get some money upfront

Learn this phrase: “Sounds great! Let’s sign a contract and I’ll get started!”  In your contract there needs to be an advance payment that is made upon signing. No work starts until that first payment is made.

This one step will cut out about … 80% of the people who will never ever pay you and were only stringing you along for whatever reason. You will encounter people who agree to this, sign the contract and then just can’t seem to make that initial payment. They may give you every excuse in the world as to why they can’t pay right now and can you just get started and we’ll get it sorted out mate, c’mon, it’ll be okay …. NO!  No it won’t be okay.  Hold firm.  Simply say “I’m sorry but I can’t start work until payment is made as per the contract.”

But I’m burning bridges …

The big worry for freelance writers is that a lot of work comes from referrals and if you become known as a hard-ass then you won’t be hired. Or that once you publicise non-paying clients on your blog (like I am here) that new potential clients will assume you must be bad or they would have paid you.

I do sometimes wish there was a registry that writers could list clients on as bad debtors.  Perhaps one day someone will start one and we could know ahead of time the bad clients to avoid.

The truth is that you simply don’t list these bad clients on your resume. Businesses don’t talk to each other as much as you might think and businesses who screw freelancers out of money don’t advertise it.

In the meantime, you can tell your freelancer friends who hasn’t paid you and then they’ll tell people and they’ll tell people and one day that company won’t be able to find anyone to hire.

If you want any contract advice send me a message and I can help you out.

cheers,

Mat