Tuesday, June 22

Writing A Book: 50 States by Richard R. Becker


Two years ago, I started writing short short stories — so short that I sometimes called them scraps. And since I didn’t belong to any writer groups, I started sharing them on my Facebook author page. 

It wasn’t the first time short fiction appeared there (or longer stories on this blog, for that matter), but two things changed. It was the first time in my life I started treating my short stories like an assignment, with equal weight to any advertising/marketing deadlines I might have. Second, it was the first time I was committed to publishing fiction with consistency so people could anticipate a new story every week on my author page. 

Experience had already taught me both habits needed to happen if I ever wanted to add fiction writing to my repertoire. These were among the habits I adopted to become a freelance writer (which quickly evolved into Copywrite, Ink.), several publications (Key News * Las Vegas, and Liquid [Hip], and even this blog (which took off in 2007 when I made it daily). You have to be in it to win it.

Immersion is a critical key to creativity.

What I didn’t expect was how immersion opened up inspiration. After sharing the first few stories, I fell into a creative rhythm, and an overarching idea began to crystalize. 

I was inspired to write about seemingly random events happening or having had happened to different people in different places — stories that could stand on their own but were also left open to be continued in unexpected ways or possibly intersect with one another. I felt so strongly about this concept that I adopted some guidelines: each story would be set in a different state, and each would touch on a different psychological state as people face or cope with different life-defining events.

Once I formalized this idea, I applied lessons learned from two friends and colleagues to keep me going. One told me to always work for myself first. The other provided a proof of concept to be disciplined. One of his projects, The Daily Monster, was an exercise in illustrating a new monster every day, no matter what. 

I knew I couldn’t write a daily story, but I did feel confident I could write one a week. For a while, I was so motivated by the immersion of writing that I would sometimes write two in a week, scheduling the additional story in advance. It was a good thing I did too. Like many creatives, last year was very disruptive to the process. Having a few scheduled in advance kept me on track when I needed an extra week for some. 

The outcome was better than I could have ever imagined. 

50 States: A Collection of Short Short Stories was an exciting project because I didn’t always know where each story might come from or go. Most often, I would work on three story concepts simultaneously, mulling over the details until one of them solidified. Other times, the story might grow out of my research. It was really important to ground even the most speculative stories to a time or place.

For instance, I knew the story I wanted to tell about two runways meeting at a Greyhound bus station in Tennessee, but I didn’t know much about the Jackson transportation system, circa 1977. Research is essential for set dressings. 

Conversely, that story about a middle-aged man and a young basketball player in Chicago isn’t as reliant on location. I could have set this story in almost any midwestern urban center, and it would have worked. However, I thought name-dropping the short-lived Chicago Zephyrs lent a nice touch for a story taking place in 1963. 

The third story I call out on the back of the book's cover didn’t have to be tied to Oregon either. But once I decided Oregon could become a home for it, I researched wildfires in Oregon so I could use it as a reference for the fictional one in the story. Now, I couldn’t imagine this modern story playing out anyplace else. It belongs there.

Intersecting stories and paths that cross, divide, and double back. 

To keep track of what states were complete, I used to color in the state shape on a line art map every time I finished a story. I also added them to a project table list. The table includes: the title of the story, the state, the date it takes place, the word count of the first draft, the date of origination, and how many actions (likes, shares, etc.) were taken on the story once I posted it to Facebook. While it didn’t influence my writing, it was nice to see how some stories resonated relative to the number of people on the page. 

I have yet another document I’m using to track every character too. Knowing some details at a glance will help me later as every character could appear, connect with, or intersect with other characters or stories in the future. Some stories already have connections in 50 States, but it’s not apparent.

I did publish a longer short story (3,600 words) on Facebook about the Diamond family from the story Shine On You Crazy Diamond that appears in 50 States. It's called The Shut Out. Unfortunately, the story was removed from Facebook when it disabled a blog-like feature called notes. The feature never really took off, but I loved it and shared several longer stories there — some of which are being slated for another project. 

However, I am sharing some new short short stories on Facebook. This new project, 50 Threads, has obvious connections to the stories in 50 States. The very first short I shared was called The Beige Door. It is a direct continuation of the story The Blue Door, which can be found in 50 States. 

Keeping tabs on various projects and what’s next. 

My company, Copywrite, Ink., partnered with Blurb on the production and distribution of the project. Anyone interested in the book can track the 50 States by Richard R. Becker page as the book is added bookstores and booksellers. I’ll also post links to booksellers on the 50 States page hosted by my company Copywrite, Ink. 

I am publishing a newsletter with exclusive “first look” content and other news. The next newsletter is out in October 2021. I am also answering questions on Goodreads. I will no longer be sharing 'first look' content on my Facebook author page, but I will post announcements there (as well as on TwitterLinkedIn, and other social networks) so you know where to find it. 

Bookmarking this blog wouldn’t be a bad idea either. I see this space as in transition, with a little more focus on life, fiction, and writing. Who knows? We’ll see. Good night and good luck.

Monday, June 7

Erasing Content: The Future Of The Internet Is 404

It goes by many monikers: HTTP 404, 404 not found, 404 error, page not found, file not found. All of it refers to content that has been erased, moved, renamed, or otherwise missing from where it used to be. 

Some people consider fixing this issue among their staple services — they troll the web looking for broken links that lead nowhere. Then they contact the site owner and ask them to insert a new, often very loosely related link, to some content destination that might benefit their client in the short term. 

The service is sold as a win-win because most site owners don’t like broken links. But it isn’t a win-win because the new connection can never capture the source material the author linked to 15 years ago. So mostly, bloggers and journalists ignore those requests and let the 404 stand. Or, if they are actively managing their content, they will look for a better-suited link.

As for the lost source material, it’s anybody’s guess what happened. While site redesigns can move things around, destination 404 is more often the result of dead content. When blogs and magazines die, they leave Swiss cheese-like holes of nothingness. When bands break up, publishers give up on books, or writers decide they don’t like an article anymore — it’s all destined to become 404. So much for dreams of immortality. Digital data is temporary. 

The Internet is awash in dead service providers.  

Of course, this explanation only addresses 404 on a small scale. The truth is that the Internet is awash in dead social networks and content services. When one of them goes by the wayside, they take thousands of accounts and hundreds of thousands of content creation with them. 

I’ve known it for a while now. Geoff Livingston and I hosted a series of communication columns on a platform called Bumpzee in 2007. We called the series “BlogStraightTalk” and billed it as a weekly discussion on the best and worst of blogging content practices, presented in a contrarian format (e.g., Ebert & Roper or Kornheiser & Wilbon). 

When Bumpzee folded, so did BlogStraightTalk. Error 404. Bumpzee wasn’t the only one. Geoff sold his first blog, The Buzz Bin. Blogcatalog, which was once a prominent social network for bloggers, is long gone. So is RecruitingBloggers, which I mentioned in the article.
 
There are other examples too. A platform that grew out of Blogcatalog had its day too. BloggersUnite used to promote social causes and did well enough to attract the interest of CNN and the Wall Street Journal. One campaign even changed foreign policy in Darfur, Sudan (2008). Today, there are only hints that such a campaign occurred, fragmented content surrounded by 404 emptiness. 

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. FriendFeed is gone. iTunes Ping dead. Google Wave, Google Buzz, Google+ are barely remembered. Friendster, Vine, Utterz, and Merrkat. MySpace is still around, but not most of the content that once made it a major social player. Technorati, too, which was a blog search and ranking site that most early bloggers relied on, left us in a lurch sometime in 2014 (if you can Digg it). The Internet is littered with the ghosts of a past no one really cares about — and that may include your content too. It certainly includes mine.

One unfair decision by a social network can cost all your content. 

A few days ago, I noticed my Facebook account acting a little wonky. I didn’t overthink it. Wonky is par for the course. 

Eventually, the wonkiness turned into something a little more than an inconvenience. Facebook had disabled my account, turning years of memories into 404 content. It didn’t just happen to my account. It happened to everyone’s account I know — every share, tag, or comment I ever made was erased. If I wished you happy birthday, you won’t find it. No warning. No appeal.

And if that wasn’t damaging enough, every page I was listed as a solo admin on was taken down with it — including an author page with 1,400 followers and two nonprofit softball pages. I have another page for Liquid [Hip] that I cannot access. It was spared being shut down because there were two admins listed. Unfortunately, the other admin has been awol for four years now, so I cannot access it. I’ll explore how to salvage the page when I take care of bigger issues. 

So what happened? It’s a question I get pretty often now. The short version is this: I provided consultation to a few Facebook groups last year, gratis. When a family emergency involving my grandmother distracted me, I forgot all about those groups (and plenty of other unimportant things). Unfortunately, these groups went sideways over the last six months (some people even claim sabotage), and Facebook decided to take the groups down. 

Anyone listed as a moderator saw their accounts restricted. Anyone listed as an admin, which included me, saw their accounts disabled. No warning. No appeal. Ironically, I almost left those groups a few weeks ago, but my family had tested positive for Covid. Then we had to travel to southern Arizona to clean out my grandmother’s property. You know. Real-life priorities. 

I was fortunate in that I could revive an old account that had been dormant for more than a decade. And now, I am in the process of rebuilding everything that was lost while providing my friends and colleges a cautionary tale. 

Your content exists at the whim of whatever network you use. Facebook can delete everything you’ve ever written, shared, or contributed to. Everyone you are connected with will be affected. They just won’t know it. The only evidence that something is missing will be lost in the lack of some reminder that used to pop up from time to time. Those reminders won’t happen.

There is a bright side, but only because I choose to see one. 

When I joined Facebook in 2007, I did so at the urging of fans from a canceled television show called Jericho. So I joined reluctantly and set up Facebook to repost my tweets for lack of having better content. Of course, as Facebook evolved, so did my content and connections in a sprawling, haphazard way — leading to an account with thousands of people I didn’t know. 

While I know hundreds of people, adding them back has placed friends and family first, which has changed my feed for the better. I also have a clean slate to work with and will remake my account with almost 15 years of experience none of us had when Facebook first hijacked our social connections. 

I won’t be penny smart and pound foolish either. Losing my account cost me scores of personal quips and family stories that I shared about my kids growing up. Those are all gone now. So, I won’t leave anything to chance. Copy any content that matters to you from time to time. You are the only one who cares about it. Facebook certainly doesn’t care about it.

I already knew this to be the case. Facebook used to sport a feature called stories, where I used to store longer short stories. Then one day, Facebook decided to put that feature on ice. While they did provide a little warning it would happen, a little notice doesn’t fix all the broken links associated with content removal. Lesson learned then. Lesson learned again. 

Here are two more takeaways that might spare you some future heartache. 1. Always have multiple active admins on every page you manage. If Facebook targets one admin, the other admins should be able to preserve the page. 2. All those advertising dollars you invested in your page are only as good as the service provider, which means marketing there is a necessary evil with no real value. My author page grew to 1,400 followers because of great content, hard work, and smart ad campaigns. The network erased it in an instant. Oh well. 

If you would like to help me restore my author page on Facebook, please like or follow it today. I am only weeks away from publishing my first book, a collection of short, short stories. Facebook will be one of the places I intend to promote it as long as possible (or you can subscribe to my future newsletter). Along with book updates, I will share more first draft short stories there, curate author-related content, and post progress on some other exciting projects from time to time. I really do hope to see you there. It’s already growing again. 

Goodnight and good luck.

Friday, June 19

Chasing Names, Part 1: My First Family Mystery

"I would have answered you sooner, but your last name confused me," she told me the first time we talked on the phone. "I couldn't see how we were related."


Meeting my Aunt Roxanne for the first time marked the end of an enduring mystery for me, one that I had actively tried to solve over two decades ago. At the onset, I had more misinformation than anything concrete, trying to chase down a presumed grandfather who was a "British soldier of Irish-Spanish descent, serving in World War II."


Separating Myth From Mystery


The British soldier myth was an upgrade from the original story. My father, who died at 19 in a car accident, was described as a "dark German." The story changed for me about the same time it changed for my father. We were both about 14 years old when we learned the truth. His father wasn't his father. My grandfather wasn't my grandfather.

My step-grandfather's name was placed on my father's birth certificate in Germany as a matter of convenience. When she was two months pregnant, he met my grandmother and loved her enough to propose and claim the child as his own anyway.

Since I was estranged from my father's family during my teens, it took another 15 years before I learned that my second set of clues was also a myth. I reconnected with my grandmother after my son's birth, and she gave me a new set of fuzzy facts.


My grandfather, she told me, was not a British soldier. He was an American soldier she met during the Berlin Blockade. She couldn't recall his name but remembered he would get in fights because he looked Mexican. His name may have been Oscar, she said, but he didn't go by that.


DNA tests were just emerging at the time, but I decided to try one. The first one, DNA Tribes, helped refine my search. My grandfather was less Mexican and more Native American, including genes exclusive to the Quechua tribe (part of the Inca empire). A significant number of potential family members could be found in Texas.


While DNA Tribes provided some detailed findings, it had few members, so I expanded my search with 23 and Me (a MyHeritage partner at the time) and ancestry.com.

Putting DNA Tests To Work

There are plenty of stories about lucky people. They find people right away. I wasn't one of those. My plan was built on meticulous research. I searched the databases for all Texans named Oscar, who served in the armed forces. I would then cross check them (and any brothers) with those who served in the armed forces between 1948-1949 and people who were potential DNA matches. 


Unfortunately, not all people with close DNA matches build their family trees on these sites. So, I often looked up weaker DNA matches with more robust family trees and searched for any reference to one of the Oscars I had found. I must have searched through hundreds of family trees, looking for my needle in a haystack of needles.


When I felt like I was narrowing in on a close match, I would send out in-service messages to the people managing those family trees. And, given there was a chance my biological grandfather did not know about my father's birth, I was as sensitive as possible.


We have such a good DNA match, I was hoping you might be willing to share some family history with me. My grandfather was an American soldier who served in Berlin abt. 1948-1949. He may not have even known he had a son. Do you have any relatives who this might be? I would love to know, and finally find the missing link.


On genealogy sites, patience can be a virtue. It's not uncommon for inquiries to go unanswered for years if they are ever answered. Some sent messages are still sitting in the inboxes of people who never revisited the site, couldn't reconcile my acquired German name with their surname or weren't interested in verifying an illicit relationship.


Making Sense Of Family Ties


Sometimes it takes more than your own ability to connect all the dots. While I had written and corresponded with several people, I had to write my most promising DNA match twice. The first time she didn't respond. The second time took six months.

She decided to respond because one of her daughters had tried another service, and my name appeared again. She reread my message, then we started writing, texting, and then talking to each other on the phone. We knew there was a connection, but we weren't sure where.


All five Navejar brothers had served in the armed forces. She had to make several phone calls to find out which brother was stationed in Germany at the time. It wasn't the brother named Oscar. It was Baldemar, who always went by Sonny, and he happened to be her father.


Roxanne taught me about the father my father never knew. And while he had not raised her, she knew him, who he was, and was connected to the Navejar family. They were early Texans, Native Americans, and descendants of the Quechua. They inspired my sketchbook project at The Brooklyn Art Library.

She taught me something else, too: how to welcome lost family members into your own. It was a lesson that would come in handy twice more in the year that followed —two stories that I'll share in part two. The lesson was simple enough. New family connections always start with an open mind, empathy, and a big heart.

"I want you to know you will always be part of my family," she told us. And my Aunt Roxanne will always be part of ours. Good night and good luck.

Monday, April 20

Failing To Plan Is Planning To Fail: Nevada Needs A Plan

On April 7, I wrote a well-reasoned letter to Nevada State Governor Sisolak and shared that letter with several elected officials and representatives. All of them, except Governor Sisolak, responded.

All of them, except Governor Sisolak, acknowledged its merits.

In sharing this letter, An Open Letter To Governor Sisolak Regarding COVID-19, almost 2,000 Nevadans also took the time to read it. Many of them also acknowledged its merits while several asked that I might write a letter for them. I am sharing a second letter (below), one that outlines what has gone wrong and why Nevada needs a plan.

 While some might say this is a heavy-handed letter, it's purpose is far simpler. I would encourage anyone who wants to write the Governor to copy this letter as their own and remove or add any points they would perfect over those I've included below. Email the letter to the Governor (email here) and make sure you also send a copy to your State Assemblyman/woman, State Senator, Country Commissioner, and City Council member (find them here). These representatives want to help, but they need to know you stand by them and want them to help. God bless and good luck.

Dear Governor,

A crisis is like a glass of water. The longer you hold it, the heavier it gets. While you claim to be the only person who can hold it up, all Nevadans now feel the full weight of it. It is crushing us.

The time for you to relinquish exclusive oversight and allow local leaders to step up and hold up the weight is now. The time to acknowledge the following errors in judgment is now.

• You have refused to protect civil rights as afforded to all citizens of the United States, calling for the State of Emergency but failing to set reasonable parameters that define the end of that emergency. *

• You have failed to provide equal representation and have neglected to call the Nevada State Legislature to meet for a special session during an emergency. *

• You have created new offices and task forces, hoisting up unelected decision makers who meet in forums devoid of any public record. *

• You have disavowed the good faith efforts of local leadership to alleviate the mounting pressures of uneven, unfair, and arbitrary state mandates. *

• You have closed businesses that are capable of meeting CDC guidelines and cut off our trade, thereby disrupting supply lines and sending people into poverty. * * *

• You have encouraged residents not to pay their rent or mortgage, but failed to provide them a remedy to pay back deferred payments and/or be protected from future rent spikes. * *

• You have turned local police departments against us, putting them into a position to release criminals while seeking out and fining otherwise law-abiding citizens. * *

• You have encouraged the closure of public parks and lands, denying all access, which negates the purpose of those public assets. *

• You have disrupted the court system, thereby denying the proper pursuit of civil and criminal justice. *

• You have failed to recognize that while at-risk people are dying in Nevada, so too are those who are losing their savings, businesses, fitness, and mental health. *

• You have turned neighbor against neighbor by further polarizing and politicizing the pandemic — claiming it to be a choice between money or lives when it the fact is the unfortunate choice between lives or lives. *

• You have closed schools but failed to provide remedies for all children to have equal access to a complete education. *

• You have inadequately provided for the mental health of citizens who are forced to live in relative isolation. *

• You have failed to provide responsive unemployment for those who are forced out of work by your mandates, largely because you did not plan to accommodate for the tens of thousands you put out of work before putting them out of work. *

• You have resisted any semblance of a recovery plan that would provide citizens hope, business owners the ability to survive, and students an opportunity to enjoy their best years. *

• You have conspired to rewrite voting laws, making it easier to fake and defraud upcoming elections.    *

• You mocked Nevadans by posting pictures of yourself getting a haircut while people go hungry in their homes and fear for their future. *

• Your inaction has resulted in a growing number of protests, which further puts Nevada in jeopardy as protestors express their right to peacefully assemble out of frustration for your inadequate leadership. *

• You have not demonstrated any agility in mitigating the medical crisis, forcing members of our medical community to be furloughed. *

In every stage of your oppressive actions, myself and many Nevadans have petitioned for redress and your response has only been that failure to comply will result in more punishment and greater injury with harsher mandates. Such actions can only be characterized as the definition of a tyrant, one who is unfit to lead the free citizens of Nevada alone.

Governor, I and my fellow Nevadans call on you today to release the reins of oppression and begin to move in a manner becoming of the office.

We call on you to restore our representative government. We call on you to develop a recovery plan that minimizes the risk to at-risk people (not just a testing plan) while also affording healthy people the ability to resume their lives. We need a plan that recognizes that there are businesses beyond our resort corridor (although many resorts are stepping up too). We call on you to allow local leaders — counties and cities — to better manage our recovery starting today. We call on you to adopt the guidelines set forth by the White House and being enacted by many states across our great nation.

Governor, set down the crisis. Nevada needs a plan.

Respectfully, [Your Name]

Tuesday, April 7

Writing: An Open Letter To Governor Sisolak Regarding COVID-19

Red Rock by Richard Becker


Dear Governor Sisolak,

As the parent of a softball player, the story of Jo’VInni “Jo” Smith really hit me today. Jo Smith was a young softball player who died from stress issues related to COVID-19 in California. She committed suicide.

Her story truly underscores the mental health issues taking hold in our communities as everybody handles isolation differently. It’s also the reason I decided to write to you today.

I appreciate the stay-at-home order and several things you are doing in the face of the coronavirus, including the COVID-19 Task Force, BattleBorn Medical Corps, and request for the National Guard to assist our state with logistics. I have even promoted these initiatives and plan to lend more support in those areas. So yes, I understand the seriousness of the situation and can appreciate, if not imagine, the challenges you face as Governor.

However, the time for our state to have a plan for recovery based on clearly defined parameters is NOW if for no other reason than to give people hope. Yes, I know there are many variables, but an “if this, then that” plan could provide people with a light at the end of this tunnel, which is so badly needed for so many Nevadans, especially those with mental health issues.

I also believe this plan should be created before any budget cuts as it could provide insight into possible revenue projections before they are necessary, especially with the consideration of something like a state lottery. In addition, a plan before cuts would allow Nevadans a breath between what has been a constant barrage of negative "not-good-enough" announcements.

Once the plan is announced and the defined parameters are met, the state could begin to loosen the stay-at-home order, in stages, for manufacturing, limited store visits beyond groceries, limited seating in restaurants, etc. This creates a positive, forward motion that people can get behind and will alleviate some stress and mental health issues.

Likewise, in the interim, I think talking more about how well Nevadans are doing great would be more effective than highlighting only the ones breaking the order with threats of increased punishing restrictions, which only amplifies the growing tension and mental stress of the crisis. Evidence suggests Nevadans are following the order better than most states. I respectfully encourage you to talk about what we are doing well, as most people are staying home for Nevada.

Please also know, while I appear critical of your performance during the crisis, my criticism of your performance (or the performance of any previous Governor for that matter) has never outweighed my love for Nevada. This has been my home since the 1970s, and I have served in many public and private leadership positions within our state for more than 30 years, in addition to teaching and building a small business.

That said, please do take care, keeping in mind that the best messages transform “you” and “them” into “we” for Nevada. Nobody wants to see people die of COVID-19 in Nevada, but neither do we want to see children commit suicide because of stress related to COVID-19.

Please do the right thing. I know you will.

 Sincerely,
 Richard Becker

Wednesday, December 11

Writing The Iceberg: Advertising And Content Marketing Depth

I was a junior in college when I took my first formal copywriting class. It was taught by the creative director at what was then one of the three largest advertising agencies in Nevada. We never hit it off.

We never hit it off because he always presented himself as cool and aloof, even showing us the couch where he would nap away the afternoon at the advertising agency where he worked. The nap idea was a remnant of how advertising agencies worked during the golden era of advertising. Whatever got the creative juices working was all right by the account and accounting side of the house.

I wasn't bred to be that kind of creative. I was more of a workhorse, spinning clever ideas out of nothing (a few of which he riffed for his own work). Half the time, I didn't think he noticed my work. He and everyone else always praised the kid who would turn every ad a motocross analogy. Boring.

It wasn't until my final that this professor left me a cryptic half compliment on my final assignment (we were asked to produce advertisements for ten different organizations, most of which were real-life accounts for his agency). "Rich. You're the only one in this class who will make it as a copywriter, but only if you learn that clever is not enough. Advertising is hard work. These ads are just clever. A+" Maybe you can see why I was happy to be done with him at the time.

Advertising And Content Marketing Needs Depth 

It wasn't until years later that I understood what he really meant. Had I known then what I know now, I would have appreciated the depth behind his cool facade and recognized his persona was an analogy for the work. Advertising and content marketing doesn't have anything to do with being clever, even if the deliverable — the concept, creative, copy, content — seems to prove otherwise.

I would have better understood this point had my teacher had the tools to explain it better. He might not have known it, but he was talking about Hemmingway's Iceberg Theory.

“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows," said Hemmingway. "And the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them."

While Hemmingway's words are generally confined to creative writing and not business writing, the observation is transferable, if not even better suited to advertising and content writing. The clever headline or image you see in an advertisement that works is only the smartly distilled tip of an iceberg.

Below the surface, there resides a massive collection of customer research, organizational history, brand value, reputation management, mission, vision, values, testing, measurables, competitive analysis, core message, and scores of crumpled paper balls (most of them virtual nowadays).

So if you are wondering why marketers who jumped on the bandwagon to produce variations of Maurizio Cattelan’s “masterpiece” of a banana taped to a wall (which sold for $120,000 and was then eaten by another artist in the name of performance art) get a failing grade, now you know. All those in-the-moment social media mocks are akin to being cliche because it's all surface ice with no substance beneath it. Maybe it's worth a chuckle, like, share, or whatever. But beyond all that, it's just another message that distracted from whatever you want consumers to know.

Tuesday, November 19

Marketing Integration: Times Are Changing; So Is Education

Integrated Marketing Communications
Total global advertising placement is projected to exceed $716 billion next year, with as much as 70 percent of that total (exclusive of production) is being spent in North America. Marketers are investing more than 25 percent of this mix in digital advertising and social networks, and almost half invested in websites, branding, and strategy. 

These were the same kinds of numbers I considered a few years ago as enrollment in the Public Relations Certificate Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) began to evaporate. Fewer and fewer working professionals were interested in a certificate program that seemed to exist within a vacuum, especially as public relations worked overtime to "own social" and thereby became owned by the strategic arms of marketing and communications.

While some saw the decline as waning interest in communications, I saw it as an inevitable shift away from public relations and toward integrated marketing communications‚ a field of study that was better equipped to address the challenges presented by digital advertising, social networks, shifting media patterns, and divided consumer attention. Yes, public relations in its purest form can still be invaluable, but continuing education students need to consider something more practical.

Retooling Integrated Marketing Communications at UNLV

For the better part of a year, several respected communicators in the field have been working with UNLV to develop what the next generation of integrated marketing communications might need. The resulting pinpointed four core classes and a variety of electives that could introduce or upgrade new skillsets for working professionals and small business owners.

Fundamentals of Integrated Marketing. Examine the core elements of integrated communications, including marketing research, segmentation, positioning, branding, analytics, and promotions.

Digital and Social Media Marketing. Learn key concepts of on- and offsite SEO, paid search marketing, online advertising, web analytics, email marketing, social media marketing, and online reputation management.

Consumer Behavior & Market Research. Examine why consumers behave the way they do and understand the practical marketing implications of that behavior. Use advanced market research methods to inform decisions.

Writing & Content Creation for Marketing. Communicate effectively by mastering the varied skills necessary to write for departments, businesses, and organizations across a variety of media.

While there about a dozen electives to support these core classes, these four provide enough of a foundation for those hoping to enter the field, those keeping up with trends, or those attempting to define their marketing budget. (The average successful company, by the way, invests 6-12 percent of their revenue into marketing.) And it's my hope anyone who enters the program will learn how precise, consistent, and persuasive messages to the right audience at the right time.

Once they have a foundation, professionals are always in a better position to discuss where technology intersects marketing and communication. In fact, just by looking at the twelve skill sets that are now in high demand for 2020, it becomes crystal clear where the brightest minds want to take communications  — a place where analytics reimagines messaging and technology reimagines message delivery. It's an exciting time. Goodnight and good luck.

Friday, November 1

Marketing Content: If You Write It, They Will Not Come

Art by Jenna Becker
Some people will likely tell me that my headline is all wrong. Maybe they're right. Why would anyone want to read an article about why content marketing doesn't work? And if they did want to read an article about that, then why wouldn't they pick something pithier like "10 Common Reasons Why Content Marketing Isn’t Working for You?" These are two very good questions.

The truth is that content marketing does work. It works extremely well. And the dividends content marketing pays will likely benefit your business far longer than you'll enjoy contributing to it.

What won't work, outside of the ten tips Neil Patel points out, is producing content for nobody. Yet, that is what most content marketing campaign startups attempt to do. They provide content before anybody is listening and then step back and act surprised, especially if it's really great content.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, nobody cares. 

Most people have heard the philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and perception. The problem, as posed by Scientific American, was: If a tree were to fall on an uninhabited island, would there be any sound? The exercise usually leads people to speculate that sound is reliant on something's ability to pick up its vibrations.

In other words, if a speaker delivers an amazing speech ten times to an empty room, no one will know what they spoke about. And while we wouldn't expect any measurable results from an audience that doesn't exist, that wouldn't make the speech any less amazing. It simply means the ratio of ten speeches over zero listens is still zero responses.

If both of the above sentiments are true, then it stands to reason that content marking works the same way. If nobody is around to consume the content or even knows you produce content or even knows who you are, then chances are even the best content will go nowhere because nobody cares. Or, more precisely, nobody is around to care.

The simple truth about content marketing is you need an audience. 

In the last decade or so, I've worked on hundreds of content marketing campaigns (including some that were covered by CNN and the New York Times) and I've come to the conclusion that having an audience in place (or not) is the number one reason content marketing campaigns succeed or fail. The problem most small business owners or startups have is that they don't want to invest in the objective to build an audience before the objective to have an audience read and respond to produced content.

It doesn't even matter what industry or market. An author hoping to market a self-published book, an entrepreneur who wanted to start a Kickstarter campaign, a Shark Tank startup that wanted to launch a new niche social network. All of them were advised to share short content and curate topic-related content, but all of them resisted because they don't believe building an audience leads to direct conversions. News flash. Producing content for no one doesn't lead to conversations either.

If you or your small business is hoping to have a successful content marketing campaign six months from now, the time to start building an audience or a community is right now. That way, in six months or three months or however long you have, there will be people waiting to respond to the content, listen to your speech, or hear a tree fall in the woods. Goodnight and good luck.

Saturday, October 19

Rekindling Creativity: Live, Learn, Leap

When automaton drives marketing, creativity can take a back seat. There is only one problem with it. A world run by algorithms is impossibly predictable. You look up product support, and you're subjected to a series of advertisements for a product you already own; only it’s broken. 

Predictably isn’t only inherent in computer programming. It becomes part of our daily routines. We wake up, get ready, exercise, have coffee, take breakfast, commute to work, check email, work on priorities, have a meeting, eat lunch, take another meeting, wrap up deadlines, transport kids, have dinner, watch television, go to bed, and then do the whole thing all over. 

Sure, everybody’s routine is probably a little different, but you get the point. You have a routine, and the better it goes, the more likely you feel content. The price you pay is not being present. 

The less your present, the more predictable our reactions when exposed to programming. The busier we are reacting to stimulus and situations or policies and politics, the less likely we are to take actions that move our lives forward. Sure, routines can be useful but they can also cause paralysis — in both marketing and our daily lives. The only problem is that some people grow so accustomed to contentment, they forget how to rewrite an increasingly scripted world.

Live. 

The first step toward rekindling creativity is to live with intention. Much like animals, people are hardwired to filter out unimportant details. Since we are bombarded by neural input, our brains tend to ignore the expected and notice the unexpected. This is the very reason even fitness trainers tell people to keep your fitness routine fresh

Life is exactly like that. You have to keep changing the stimulus so your brain doesn't slip in and become stuck in sameness. Make time for weekend retreats, walk somewhere new, drive a different route, skip your daily routine once a week (e.g. don't open email until noon or try a no-meeting Monday, have lunch with an old friend, perform a random act of kindness, or flip a coin to make some choices. You get the point. Do something different. 

Learn. 

I have always been a lifelong learner. I read books. I go to events. I listen to speakers. I take online courses. My lists for inspiration are endless. You don't have to start with any of them. But I did want to share that it was through one of the venues that I discovered the genius of David Lynch. 


He ties living and learning together perfectly. His concepts of capturing ideas literarily changed my life. The two-and-a-half minutes I'm sharing here will introduce you to a sliver of his understanding of consciousness. I'm calling out the time for a reason. Most people tell me that time famine is the number one reason to avoid learning. You have to find the time. I listen to audiobooks when I drive anywhere. Most Ted talks are only 18 minutes long. The very notion that you cannot afford to invest five or 20 minutes to improve yourself should be an indication that you probably need to more than anyone. 

Leap. 

Creativity isn't only about input. It's about output. In fact, the root meaning of the word “creativity” is “to grow.” To truly benefit from creativity, you have to turn new and imaginative ideas into reality. The idea doesn't only apply to arts or marketing. It applies to education. It applies to science. It applies to IT. It applies to business. It applies to finding a sense of purpose in our lives. 

One of the recent changes I've made in my life is to finally set time aside to work on writing fiction. I originally set a goal of writing one short-short (a story of 50 to 1,500 words) once a week and a short story (3,500 words or more) once a month. The leap to do so came from author Joyce Carol Oats whose class reminded me that feedback helps fuel writers. Right now, I share these stories at byRichBecker on Facebook. 

More importantly, the infusion of creativity in my life has awakened a passion to produce great things. While I've always enjoyed being on the leading edge in my field, writing fiction has elevated my work in advertising and marketing. It's made me more open in observations and making connections within the world. It's increased my sense of purpose and added excitement in everything I do.

And the reason I want to share this has very little to do with me and everything to do with providing some evidence for you. If you really are looking to rekindle your creativity, start by turning off those distractions and making small changes in your life, learning more about those things that interest you, and then transforming the ideas that start to come your way into action. Give a try. Try it for two weeks (or a month). And if you wouldn't mind, drop me a note and tell me how it worked out for you. I'd really love to know.

Saturday, August 17

Sharing Shorts: Screen Door


Squirrel Lake


Screen Door
by Richard Becker

Every summer we migrated north with the birds, flocking to a family lake cottage deep in the woods. My Grandfather built most of it: thick logs fashioned into a home and painted green; big bay windows on the west side to catch the reflection of the sun off the waves; a screen door on the east with a squeak that said welcome home.

It was a retreat where family members gathered to remember some things and forget others, caught up in all the charm and challenge of living the moment. Who would win at penny-ante poker? Who would pull in the biggest fish? Who was old enough to claim their right of passage by plunging into the water and swimming a mile to the other side of the lake? Who would lose their marshmallows in the bonfire made from an old boat that had outlived its purpose?

It was a place with backwood rules. Flush for two but not for one. Flip the bail closed on the spinning reel before the lure touches the water. Never buy bait because it’s easy enough to dig up nightcrawlers in the morning or net minnows in the early afternoon. Expect to clean what you catch unless it’s a Muskie. Never let a screen door slam, and expect someone to call after you if you do. “Don’t let the screen door slam.”

The last time I shut it quietly behind me, my Grandfather was half the man I remembered. Lymphoma had stolen most of him. We didn’t take the boat out or pick wild berries or climb the watchtower. There were no accidents on my uncle’s radio to run to or trails to mark or gardens to tend. We settled on telling each other a few good stories before he lifted a broom above his head for exercise.

It was the last time I ever saw him, and the last time I ever walked through the front door again. The cottage was sold by his second wife a few years later, compounding everyone’s sense of loss with reoccurring emptiness that comes around every summer. Looking back, I should have slammed it.

***

Screen Door was not so much a short as it was a scrap — the first draft of a story that eventually made it into 50 States. For more first look shorts, scraps, and classes, follow my page byRichardBecker on Facebook or, better yet, subscribe to my quarterly newsletter. Goodnight and good luck.

Thursday, January 18

Reassessing Direction: Ask Yourself What’s Important

What’s important? It’s a question we have to periodically ask ourselves.

For the better part of 12 years, writing content that centered on communication was important to me. It made sense. Marketing, communication, public relations, and journalism was migrating to a digital landscape as people who didn’t necessarily have much experience in the field opened up new dialogues, discussions, and channels.

I knew something about marketing and communication and entering into discussion with content creators — professionals migrating to the digital space or people in the digital space who were learning communication and marketing skills — was an exhilarating experience. As an educator, it still is from time to time, even if many of those conversations have migrated to places like Facebook and LinkedIn (for now).

I’m glad I did. This blog houses a considerable amount of content that chronicles the evolution and growth of communication. The best of it, those posts that have a certain timeless quality, are still used in my classes today — both those at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and some private classes that I’ve taken to teaching from time to time. In fact, I do have a few new ideas I want to sketch out and share in this space in the near future too.

I may have done it by now, but somehow I was overwhelmed by attempting to reconcile what I know works online (writing niche subject matter expert content) and what’s important to me (which is a bit broader in scope). I’m not the first communication strategist to struggle with this idea and I am sure I won't be the last. Most of us know that toggling back and forth between personal interest and professional prowess isn’t the right formula to attract eyeballs, engagement, and reciprocal action.

Then again, what’s important? 

While the social media measurement models we establish for business make sense (aside from the over emphasis on eyeballs perhaps), there is always that other side of the coin. The best posts are those that tap into what’s important to you as a person — because the spark is more important than whatever formula or standard you set. 

Right now, there are a number of topics that are important to me. After seeing some shake ups happen at the City of North Las Vegas and City of Henderson, I am considerably more attuned to what is happening not only in my community, but also the communities around me. When you combine these stories with continued reports that our education system is still broken, it becomes clear that communication alone, or lack thereof, is not the answer.

We need solutions, ones where communicators in those government entities can support them by serving their organizations and the public and not whatever agenda has been drawn up behind closed doors. Reputation management, after all, is not about hiding what has happened. It's about making it right.

Along with my community, the work where most of my time is invested is important. In addition to my own firm, I am assisting the Council of Multiple Listing Services in support of its mission to build a better marketplace and developing content for an integrative oncology site to help people cope and better care for themselves before, during, and after cancer treatment, among other things.

I’ve also considered drawing more attention to where my interest in youth sports intersects with personal fitness, and the psychology behind it. And then there are those short stories I write from time to time, and my desire to develop courses beyond the university setting. I plan to launch one online pilot class this year.

So, at the core of it, I have been spending more time feeding my passion to work only with those who serve people, aspire to make the world a better place, and/or seek to advance humankind. And, in answering my own question, that is what is important. It seems to me that these are the words, concepts, and strategies I should explore more often. How do we do things better?

Maybe all we have to do is kick a few hurdles out of the way. Maybe all we have to do is ask what's important. Good night and good luck.

Friday, July 14

Writing Across Communication: Writing For Tomorrow

The writing you read today won't be the communication you need tomorrow. In a world where content can appear on any surface or no surface at all, providing consumers with real time intuitive assistance to find the right product, improve performance, or manufacture reality will require a different kind of thinking, planning, and promoting. The boundaries and barriers are gone.

Content will need to be versatile, portable, multimodal, and improve the consumer experience. Storytelling alone won't be good enough. Many stories will have to be told by the consumer, drawing upon a non-linear array of data capable of delivering visual, aural, written, kinesthetic content based on the platform they are using and their preference for learning, experiencing, and making purchases.

Logical or emotional, solitary or social, the words we write tomorrow will be blueprints that appreciate no one person is really the same — even if there are a few things that never change.

A sneak peek into the future with a predictive deck. 

When I needed a new deck to wrap up my final Writing Across Communication class last spring, I set an objective to help my writing students to appreciate the future as well as a few constants in that have always been part of human communication. It made for a worthwhile exercise in bringing consumer psychology and strategic communication together. They really do belong together.



While many writers spin their wheels trying to find the right way to spin their story, relatively few remember that most communication aims to motivate people. So if you don't know what motivates them, you are only operating with one-half of a two-part equation between the sender and receiver.

Three primary drivers for motivation. 

• Intensity of need or desire
• Perceived value of goal or reward
• Expectations of individual or peers

In order to start reconciling these drivers, it's generally a good idea to remember that humans are the only creatures on the planet that form perceptions based on objective and conceptual realities. We're also the only creatures who possess a capacity for cooperation that is both flexible and scalable.

As technology continues to blur the lines between these two realities, people will likely become increasingly responsive to conceptual influences, making the communication of tomorrow especially potent if the message is sent across multiple delivery methods, repeated across a multimodal spectrum, and delivered as non-linear content that allows the user to self-select the experience.

When done right, it will provide even more opportunities to change behavior, change perception, and change attitudes toward just about anything that doesn't oppose individual or cultural core values. Although even those are subject to change when communication is created from precise objectives.

Writing Across Communication will be available again at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas this fall. The class includes eight sessions from Sept. 21 through Nov. 9. I am currently developing an online version of the course for people outside Southern Nevada, independent of the university.

Thursday, June 1

Considering Education: More Choices Mean More Chances

The next couple weeks are a whirlwind. My daughter is graduating from elementary school this week. My son is graduating from high school next week.

Next year, he will be headed to the University of Nevada, Reno while she looks forward to starting her middle school years at Legacy Traditional School in Las Vegas. We’re grateful she was accepted by a charter school, as it seems like it will provide a suitable transition from the private school she has attended for the past six years. We never had to consider such a transition for my son. He attended public school from kindergarten through high school.

She might have attended private school from kindergarten through high school too, but school choice, a.k.a. Educational Saving Accounts (ESAs), continue to stall in Nevada. So while I helped campaign for ESAs, writing columns and comments, we also toured and applied to several charter schools where selection is determined by lotteries and waiting lists.

After she was accepted at Legacy, some people wondered why I continued to donate my time in support of ESAs even though my family would no longer benefit. My answer was simple enough. My support of ESAs isn’t about just about my family. It's about all families because I know school choice works. An early version of it changed my education experience and my life.

Affording more parents school choice will course correct more kids.

As one of those students who was mislabeled by the public system in first grade, I had already been ushered off to the school’s portable classrooms, dubbed the “barracks.” Out there, away from the other students, education was optional. Most kids so assigned would bide their time, failing forward.

My grandmother wanted more for me so she intervened. At the end of third grade, she pulled me from the public school system and enrolled in me a private secular school to repeat. While we were too poor to afford it, she somehow managed to secure a hardship grant. I’m grateful.

The new school reassessed the public school system’s perception that I wouldn’t amount to anything and discovered something different. I was only struggling with most subjects because I couldn’t read. They also determined I was gifted in math and art and provided advanced placement curriculum so I wouldn’t become bored with the standard lessons.

The change in classwork changed my outlook. Within the course of one year, I rose from the bottom percentile to one of the top in my class. And as my performance improved, my sometimes unruly behavior — the by-product of being teased in public school for being raised by grandparents and having a visible handicap — dissipated. School choice gave me a chance.

After that school year, my grandparents were no longer able to raise me so I was returned to public school in a different state. The foundation that the private school provided me, despite not being ‘held accountable’ by the state, placed me well ahead of my peers. This never changed.

Sure, I had some ups and downs across the entirety of my educational experience, but my love for learning always persisted. Not only have I become I a lifelong learner, but I also share my passion for education as a part-time continuing education instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas — an outcome that would have been an impossibility had some version of school choice not existed for me.

At the end of the day, no matter what political arguments people raise, ESAs come down to one thing. Different students excel in different learning environments. Knowing this, we should be doing everything we can to make it easier for them to be enrolled in the right environment and without any of the pervasive socio-economic and faith-based labels on students or the bureaucratic requirements that frequently restrain public schools from better performance. More choices mean more chances.

Friday, March 3

Writing Across Communication: An Introduction To Writing

Anyone who has ever been introduced as a writer already knows the most common question that follows. In the thirty some years I've been introduced as one, it has never changed. It's timeless.

"So, you're a writer," they say, in admiration and sometimes skepticism. "What do you write?"

"Words," I would tell them. "And on good days, sentences."

I'd immediately follow up with a litany of audience-tailored examples that could be easily understood before settling on the umbrella concept as a commercial writer (copywriter isn't readily understood by people outside advertising and marketing) and occasional journalist. Later, I turned in the nouns for stylistic adjectives that ranged from strategic and interactive to gripping and zippy. I still do at times. 

Nowadays, I'm more likely to tell people that how we define writing really depends on whom we ask. Whereas Walter Lippman might define it as an opportunity to tell the truth and shame the devil, Stephen King is more likely to say that it's "the truth inside the lie." They're both right for their craft.

Bigger than that, writing is the process by which we translate our desired perception of objective and conceptual realities into a form that others may see, adopt, and act upon. It's one of the ways we exploit our extraordinary cooperative capacity as humans — agreeing or disagreeing that certain ideas, thoughts, and concepts have greater value than the objective, physical world in which we live — even if we don't personally know the person or group of people who put the words together. 

Regardless of what "kind of writer" someone is, the fundamental core of it remains unchanged, which is why I invested some time to design a class that could provide students with an understanding of how writing could be applied across communication — disciplines such a journalism, public relations, content marketing, advertising, and multimodal integration — with tremendous impact.

Writing Across Communication: An Introduction To Writing

This deck serves as an introduction to the class as well as some of the fundamental skills that can be learned by different writing disciplines. It also introduces writers to the changes taking place within the occupation as writers are being asked to specialize and generalize at the same time. So instead of learning how to write from within the silo of one discipline, they can learn from all disciplines: 

• Editors understand organization, structure, and universal ideas. 
• Journalists know how to find and define news and source information. 
• Public relations practitioners serve both organizational and public interest. 
• Crisis communicators possess empathy while managing a crisis and bad news. 
• Content marketers are experts in developing content that has customer value. 
• Copywriters are masters at developing creative stories that speak to people. 
• Writers of the future understand non-linear content, multimodal interaction, and UX design. 

The skill sets for modern writers don't end with journalism and commercial writing. Beyond the four primary approaches to effective communication (journalism, public relations, content marketing, and advertising), writing literature can help someone become more adept at storytelling, learning poetry more masterful at alliteration, and understanding psychology more attuned with the impact we impart on audiences. 

From script to screen and everything in between, getting it all right can be profoundly rewarding. The words and, on good days, sentences written for ourselves or our organizations have the potential to reshape how people see the world in small, almost unnoticeable ways and in grand life-altering ways that have shaped the course of world events. Nothing else is so important. 

What do you think? Where are the writers of tomorrow headed in terms of skill sets and craft? Are they really destined to be replaced in part by automation? And as an aspiring or working writer, would you want to take a class like the one being taught at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas?

Friday, January 13

Writing Occupations Are Changing. Are You Changing With Them?

As much as 75 percent of marketers may be increasing content creation, but the average job growth rate for occupational writers isn't keeping pace. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, job growth for writers averaged 2 percent, with exception to some specialized fields such as technical writers.

As more and more content is produced, organizations are relying on other occupations to produce material for their communication channels, including blogs and social media, while occupational writers are simultaneously being asked to specialize while overseeing generalized content being produced by their non-occupational peers. Specifically, it's not uncommon for a writer (or communication manager) to be assigned specific projects but also serve as an editor for the organization.

Likewise, other companies are growing content while charging occupational writers with other titles, such as coordinator or manager, and then making them responsible for a broad range of advertising, marketing, and public relations tasks. Interestingly enough, however, the integrated communication specialist track hasn't taken hold as an occupation path even if it has been adopted in practice.

Writers are being asked to review content well beyond their scope. 

Nowadays, it's not uncommon for marketing managers to write news releases or for public information officers to be tasked with writing advertisements. Both tracks ought to expect a heavy load of proofreading, editing, and rewriting too as more employees, managers, and executives write content.

There isn't anything wrong with the shift in work loads, aside from obvious time famine, but it does require professionals self-assess their abilities and continually strengthen their skill sets in areas where they are less familiar. Ergo, most copywriters are not familiar with news release writing and Associated Press Style guidelines, and most journalists or public relations specialists aren't always prepared to relax their desire to write with a certain literalness. (Some even struggle with relaxed blog content.)

The outcome can be found everywhere, as advertisements become boring and marketing puff pieces attempt to masquerade as news. As they do, ironically, outcomes begin to wane with the only solution offered up by some is to double down on the investment. There is only one problem with that. More lackluster communication doesn't produce results with luster. It exposes dullness to more people.

Stop trying to wear different hats and start writing from the inside out. 

One of my biggest issues with clients and so-called brainstormers who want steal everyone else's work is that it never produces anything that elevates the conversation. It's writing from the outside in, and only contributes to the communication overload suffered by more and more consumers today.

They don't need more content. They need the right content, written in a way that meets organizational goals and best suits the medium.

This is also why I transformed Writing For Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas into Writing Across Communication. It's a better way to expose writers to different styles, formats, and techniques that used to be associated with specific fields. You see, I believe we have to start  teaching occupational writers how to write differently given we live in a world where copywriters are asked to write blog posts or white papers, public relations specialists are asked to write advertisements and 140-character tweets, and journalists are asked to be adept with social media and broadcast — all the while proofreading and editing everyone else's contributions too.

So rather than teach writers to form professional perspectives, they really need to understand the core communication components of an organization and various processes used in creating effective communication. After fundamentals, they can learn four primary approaches to effective communication: journalism, public relations, content marketing, and advertising.

While many writers likely find they are more suited to one approach over another, diversification also strengthens specialization. Even fiction writers can benefit from learning different writing approaches. Many fiction writers begin as journalists or copywriters before transitioning to the arts.

Friday, January 6

Hey Writer ... Why Do Think Your Words Are So Special Anyway?

As mind boggling as it seems, we will be exposed to more than a million words today. No, we won't see all of them, but they are there — framing webpages, breaking up social media updates, decorating walls, accompanying us to work on the horizon, and tucking us in when we go to bed.

Even those who didn't pick up a book this year — their lives are overflowing with words. In fact, this overwhelming volume of messages might even explain why the number of book readers has dipped in recent years. With as much content as people consume, voluntarily and involuntarily, it becomes increasingly difficult to fathom why anyone might want to add a few thousand more.

If you write, it ought to make you think too. What makes your words so special?

It doesn't even matter what kind of writer you might be. Literary writers have the seemingly impossible task of targeting voluntary readers to add more words to their lives, which is precisely why most authors never break more than $10,000 per published novel. Content marketers and copywriters have a seemingly impossible task too.

They target otherwise involuntary readers, using interruption, distraction, and attraction as tools of the trade. But even if they are very good at it, even great at it, most of them know that the number of times a reader has to be exposed to a message before it sticks has increased from three times in the 1960s to somewhere around 300 times today.

Even if it does stick, awareness is fragile. One typpppo, intentional or not, and even the best written message suddenly evaporates as our minds are attracted more to mistakes than best intentions.

Sure, some people argue that typos have become okay. They really aren't so okay when you realize they tend to attract more attention than the message.

Sure, we can all appreciate that the quantity of communication (how much we write) and the speed of communication (how fast we are asked to write it) has certainly contributed to the diminishing rate of quality — so much so that forgiveness is given much more readily than it once was. But does that make it right?

It depends, I suppose, on our expectation of outcome. Do we want people to remember our message or our mistake? If you want them to remember your message, then the error acceptance rate is zero.

If you want people to take the time to read your work, then take more time to write it.

In a few weeks, I'll be teaching Editing & Proofreading Your Work at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. There are several takeaways from the class, including a better measure of how much time — from research to layout revisions — writing projects require (even if very few have such luxury).

It also includes some fundamentals on proofreading (the final polish) the work, start to finish:

1. Read the content out loud, slowly, with special attention paid to alliteration
2. Break up the content with a ruler, allowing you to see a line instead of a page
3. Start from the bottom up and backwards, seeing each word to check spelling
4. Print the content and, if you cannot print it, then change the font size and style
5. Set the work aside for a few hours or a day between writing, editing and proofreading

If you noticed that each of these techniques is tied to tricking your brain to see the content differently, you are right. The phenomenon that makes other people's writing errors stand out is the same phenomenon that makes ours so hard to spot. It's likely related to the Troxler effect, an optical illusion where unchanging stimulus away from a fixation point will fade and disappear.

Becoming a better proofreader of our own work often means changing the stimulus so our brain doesn't fill in details that don't exist after we've fixated on the work. Conversely, readers tend to spot errors much more quickly because the error disrupts the unchanging flow of content and our brains are programmed to see disruption. Never mind that our perception of authorship is the only change.

This isn't the only area where perception affects our writing. The value we place on it is based largely on perception too, unless we invest the time it takes to elevate the reader instead of merely informing them. Why bother? An article of 750 words is .00075 percent of the words someone will see today.
 

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