To hold or not to hold on?

March 4, 2021 § Leave a comment

We live in times when it’s rare to phone a company and speak to a person – and if you finally get through to someone it’s because you’ve been prepared to hold for ages and ages.

So when we make a call and it seems hopeful that if we hold on we might, eventually, speak to a human we’re then faced with the dilemma: are there enough hours in our life to do that?

I called my bank yesterday about a new debit card they’d sent out. Got through straight away – to a message which told me that their teams were very busy helping customers with the most urgent queries or in ‘vulnerable situations’ and telling me I should only continue to hold if my query was urgent. I thought it was urgent but I wasn’t in a vulnerable situation so went for the option of leaving my number so they could call me back. To be fair, they did and within an hour at that so, all in all, not a bad experience.

A bit later I had to call my doctor’s surgery whose operators were also very busy. The answer message told me, over and over (in the most boring of voices), that the surgery was operating a full triage service and it might be quicker for me if I completed an online form. I didn’t want to see a doctor, didn’t need their triage service, so had to hang on until a ratty receptionist answered and gave me a minute of her precious time. Ok, they may have to put up with timewasters but I don’t think I was one of them.

Thames Water was also busy this morning (busier than normal, according to the message) and I had to press button one, then button two, then button one again, with a message all the while telling me that I would probably find the answer to my query on their website (which I had visited before having to call because I couldn’t find the answer.) Finally I was put on hold to actually speak to someone but soon hung up because the wait was being made worse by devil hold music!

In the past when people have moaned to me about their telephone experiences, one of the top criticisms has been the message which tells you where you are in the queue. I don’t mind that because I enjoy the progress of moving from number 10 to number eight and so on. (Agreed, getting from number two to number one always seems to be the longest wait.)

I’m very definite on where I am in the hold music debate: I can’t stand it and appreciate the holding systems which allow you to choose whether you want the music or not: silence for me every time.

Then, of course, there are companies which outsource their call centres to other countries. I don’t like this calling experience even though it means I’m speaking to a real person. I know this is a huge generalisation but often either I don’t understand all that they’re saying or they don’t understand exactly what I’m saying. It takes the shine off the ‘personal touch’ experience.

Is it that companies don’t value the telephone call anymore so they feel they can cut costs, slash their call handling team and continually direct customers and potential customers to their website.

It’s come to something when even cold calls take the form of automated messages – I get quite a few of those.

Get to the point if you want to be heard!

January 15, 2021 § Leave a comment

My husband’s broken back isn’t mending well and he needs to see the orthopaedic consultant again because months after the injury he sometimes can’t walk – at all.

That’s it: the story in a sentence.

Anything else I tell you is detail that you may not need or want to know. It will almost certainly detract from the ‘story’ which is the main issue here. We can get to extra information when I know I’ve got your attention.

The physio who referred him back to hospital clearly didn’t know that trick. He’s not a writer, true, but I would have thought he’d know how to prioritise cases. Face-to-face, he told my OH that it was important he got an appointment as soon as possible because seizing up wasn’t what the back injury should be doing now.

That’s what he SAID but what he WROTE was long and dreary with the most important point dangling at the end of the letter.

It’s a salutary lesson for anyone in any kind of business:

  1. Put the most important point first.
  2. Use language you’d use if you were talking to somebody.

That’s it! Get to the point if you want to be heard.

Your copy’s a reflection of your company. Make sure it does you credit.

October 29, 2020 § Leave a comment

Your copy is a reflection of your company and how you work.

If your website is littered with mistakes, potential customers will worry that your work is slapdash too.

The same goes for anything else you use to spread awareness of your company – sales letters, social media posts, ad campaigns. It’s vital to iron out any problems with punctuation, spelling and typos.

People will judge you on your copy, make sure it does you credit.

Why write ‘your’ when you mean you’re…

October 9, 2020 § Leave a comment

Why would you do that! Why would you write your when you mean you’re? It’s a grammatical crime and it’s not too difficult a rule of the written language to get right – so get it right!!

Your = belonging to you. You’re = contraction of you are. I’m pretty sure most people know that. I’m aware that a lot of people get it wrong, though. Why? Stuff like that matters to your reputation.

Many of the potential customers of a company will have spent the seconds it takes to learn the difference between the two spellings. So imagine what they feel when they see a company telling customers: ‘Your welcome’.

Your/you’re is a particular bugbear of mine – as is: to, too and two. It annoys me when people get them wrong because we’re hardly talking the subtleties of the written language here. They are regular, everyday words that you can’t be forgiven for getting wrong.

Also, for good measure, I’ll throw in there, they’re and their. ‘Over there, they’re looking at their shopping.’ The words have different meanings, different spellings but just happen to sound the same…

If people see you making sloppy mistakes in your copy, they’ll straight away wonder what sloppy mistakes you make in your business. It’s as simple as that (and not its as simple as that!)

Why a copywriter doesn’t need a copyeditor

October 7, 2020 § Leave a comment

Take a break and come back to your work later

I tell people time and time again that the worst person to read and check copy for mistakes is the person who wrote it. It’s good advice and I’ll always stand by it.

However it does beg the question that if I’m writing copy – one of several services I offer – who checks it for me?

The quick answer is: nobody.

So do I employ the advice I’m happy to hand out? Honestly…no.

There are reasons for that though

Number One: I wrote this blog the day before I posted it! As random as that sounds, it plays a big part in getting words right. It’s an absolute fact that, as you write, you tend to read what you think you’ve written. However if you take a break and revisit the words an hour or a day later, you’ll spot errors you wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Today I didn’t see mistakes in the blog but edited sentences that I realised were unnecessarily long.

Number Two: Writing is my job. It may sound obvious but, of course, it’s true. While you may have spent years training to be, for example, a counsellor, I spent years training to be a journalist and many more years honing my skills to edit other people’s work. The written word, grammar and punctuation is what I’m an expert on. Using the counsellor example again, I may be able to dish out advice but there’s no way I could ask for payment for it in the same way a trained counsellor could.

Number Three: I know (among other stuff!) to check little words. The likes of ‘in/it/is/if/on/has/had’ are some of the tiddlers that often get away. They’ll pass a spellcheck because they’re spelt correctly – it’s up to you to make sure they’re used correctly.

If you’re 18 and starting out you could have a go at Number Two. More helpful to more people will be Number One. Whatever stage of your career you’re at, Number Three is essential.

A day in the life of a spellcheck

June 25, 2020 § Leave a comment

Teddy bares – or is it teddy bears? A spellcheck wouldn’t know

A client gave me an ebook to proofread the other day. In one sense there was NOTHING wrong with it. In another, there was SO MUCH wrong with it.

I could see straight away that it had gone through a spellcheck. There were tons of mistakes but each one, in itself, wasn’t a mistake.

For example, there were THREE Chapter Twos. ‘Chapter Two’ was spelt right every time so the spellcheck had done its job. The spellcheck doesn’t care that you’ve made a massive error, repeating the same chapter title three times. It cares that you’ve spelt Chapter Two properly. The spellcheck isn’t worried that your mistake has made you look amateurish and impacted on the index, knocking all pages out of order.

Customers will make up their own mind about you when they see the quality of your copy – even if writing has nothing to do with your business.

There was a variety of its and it’s, sprinkled throughout the text, randomly used wrongly – but, as far as the spellcheck was concerned, the words were spelt right every time.

Then there were the theres, theirs and they’res and the you’res and yours.

Most plurals were denoted by apostrophes – as in ‘client’s’ when it should have been ‘clients’. An apostrophe never, ever, ever – no exceptions – pluralises a word.

All language was Americanized even though this was a London-based company wanting to appeal to London-based customers. That’s also down to the spellcheck because many people use it without setting it to the right language.

I could go on but let’s just say punctuation and grammar left everything to be desired. There were few spelling errors but words were used in the wrong contest (I know that last word should be ‘context’ but I’m giving you an idea of where the spellcheck says ‘OK’ because it is OK as far as spelling is concerned.)

When I talked to the client about the extent of the damage, he said that it was probably a result of staring at the copy for so long to make sure the message was right.

I get that. The last person you should rely on to check and knock your copy into shape is YOU.

April 24, 2020 § Leave a comment

A personal touch in no-touch times!

April 7, 2020 § Leave a comment

Talk and write – you’ve got plenty of time

In difficult coronavirus times the personal ‘touch’ is more important then ever, although ‘touch’ is almost certainly not the right word. ‘Thought’ is probably better.

Technology is doing a fantastic job of keeping us in contact with family and friends – although not all of us. My elderly uncle is 85 (plonk in the at-risk group) and doesn’t own a computer, smartphone or tablet. He hasn’t a clue what wifi means. My aunt, his late wife, died five years ago and he hasn’t got used to living on his own, let alone given any thought to exploring technological opportunities.

Auntie Elsie was the glue in their marriage and used to invite us all round for the most fantastic roast or high-tea a couple of times a month. Uncle Ben slipped into the shadows after she died and we had to remember to call him – he never thought of phoning us.

The other day my brother and I were talking about buying him a tablet and getting wifi installed so that we could at least FaceTime him. But then we realised he’d need to be shown how it all works – there’s a lot to go through when you’re an absolute beginner – and we can’t visit and explain.

So – we’re continuing with phone calls and he’s happy with that. He likes to hear a friendly voice and, as it happens, we’re making more effort than we used to and are calling more often anyway.

But the whole Uncle Ben issue made me think about how we communicate these days.

Friends can whizz you a message by text, email, Facebook, Instagram and so on…in minutes. They don’t need to send birthday cards, postcards – or even Christmas cards to some extent- because a note on Facebook will do it for them.

I have no choice but to send Uncle Ben a proper birthday card because of the lack of wifi and it’s fun choosing a card that in some way touches on his life or personality.

Then there are letters. It used to be exciting to get a letter – sometimes challenging depending on the handwriting – but exciting all the same. The only letters I receive these days are from companies trying to sell me something and they’re typed, so in every way don’t count. Generally our first thought these days when we want to send a letter is to email it.

For as long as the post manages to keep going in these unsettled, unreal days I’ve decided to revert to letters and phone calls. (Ok – and blog! And Tweet sometimes…and text occasionally – but I am going to build letter-writing back into my life.)

Although I’ve grown up surrounded by electronic communication, I totally believe that the personal thought has to have a positive impact on these negative times.

If not now – when?

April 6, 2020 § Leave a comment

There’s never been a better time to do what you’ve always wanted to do

We’re in a horribly horrible situation. Coronavirus is hurting each and every one of us. By now we all have stories, either of lost loved ones or of loved ones lost – those living on their own and battling the pandemic alone.

So what to do? The answer has to be: not nothing!

When this chapter in history finally closes, let’s not have people saying ‘If only I’d used the time to…[whatever it is they suddenly realise they have always have wanted – to do]’

Now is the time to start thinking about all the things you’ve always wanted but never had the time to do, as well as the things that you know need to be done.

Suddenly we have too much time and we should make the most of it. You’ll never get that time back. Life hasn’t been given a pause button that you can neatly rewind to catch up on the stuff you haven’t been able to do.

The danger, for many people, is that the less you do the less you’ll want to do – which reminds me of the Benjamin Franklin quote: “If you want something done, ask a busy person.”

It’s too easy, when you have no deadlines or structure, to fill up on daytime TV – and that’s if you’re out of bed in time for daytime TV because lie-ins have apparently also become hugely tempting.

Social media has been flooded with cartoons and quotes about people wearing pyjamas all day and possibly, just possibly, if they find the motivation, migrating from daytime to evening pyjamas.

On behalf of freelancers and home-workers everywhere, I’d just like to say: that’s not how we work!

The blog I recently wrote about writing the book you’ve always wanted to write talks about using your day to give it a go. But writing a book may not be your thing.

Perhaps you’ve always fancied learning magic tricks, or baking, or picking up the crochet project you thought you’d never finish or writing music. Writing a screenplay might interest you – or there may be some DIY jobs that you know need doing.

If you’re ever going to do any of these things, now has to be an ideal time to do them. And if not now – when?

Ok, the time’s not right if you want to improve your swimming. Or learn to drive or move house. Shelve those dreams for the time being.

Instead concentrate on what you can do and not what you can’t do.

Now’s the time to write your book

March 30, 2020 § Leave a comment

There’s never been a better time to publish

Are you one of those individuals who’s always been meaning to write a book but never had the time?

Suddenly you have loads of time – and plenty of potential readers who also have loads of time.

Never in history has there been a more ideal moment to get going on the literary venture you’ve been thinking about for ages. And never before has it been so easy to publish.

Starting at the very beginning:

  1. ‘Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay’ Nobody’s actually sure who said that. However it’s a worthwhile saying and you need to put your words to that test when you get them down on paper.
  2. If you believe they pass, give your manuscript to a trusted friend to read, a friend who isn’t going to say what you want to hear but what you need to hear. If they feel your book is a good read, it’s time to progress to the next step.
  3. Get a professional to proofread and copyedit it. I’m not going to say much about that because it’s what I do and this blog is not a sales pitch. You need a professional because they’re good with words and can also spot what you’ve actually written not what you think you’ve written. Don’t rely on a spellcheck: there, they’re and their can all get past a spellcheck even though they have different meanings.
  4. Now you’re at the publishing stage. It’s never been easier to get published and gone are the days when you had to wait for an agent or publishing company to consider your manuscript. You can upload it instantly. In theory.

There are plenty of publishing companies to choose from: Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo. Lulu, Smashwords, BookBaby, Blurb, Google Play Books – I could go on. But here, I would suggest, is your first real problem if, like me, you’re a writer but not a technical wizard.

Which of those are you going to choose?

I know KDP is a market leader but when I just looked at the website it’s told me I have to format my manuscript and create a cover. So if your strength is in writing, not formatting and design, will you be ok?

An author’s review of Lulu doesn’t give me much confidence either – I write my book, design the cover and upload everything. It doesn’t cost me money, but time and experience. If there are typos in it, then I wrote them and I didn’t notice them. Yes – but your readers will notice your typos.

I honestly don’t get what this Smashwords review is talking about – Smashwords (sic) web-based interface is specifically intended for the upload of files, metadata and book project management. What does that even mean?

If I were you I’d concentrate on writing your book and get someone else to do the techie stuff.

For one thing, I’ve been told that the cover is everything in the crowded world of ebooks, so I’d definitely want someone to do that. For another thing, I don’t talk ebook publishing language or feel confident formatting and uploading files. So I’d ask someone who understands to do it properly.

Bad formatting is like losing all the structure of a regular letter. So instead of seeing ‘Dear Whoever’ on one line and all the rest appearing in paragraphs starting on different lines, it will all run on into one fat chunk of text. I’m not going to risk that sort of mistake happening.

I don’t want to have spent ages and ages writing a book that I really believe in, only to trash it with a cock-handed effort at self-publishing. That is definitely a skill in its own right.

The ebookdesigner (John Amy) is one of many companies who will take the techie stuff off your hands AND design you a great cover, specific to your book. He recommends sticking with Amazon, the market leader and biggest distributor for your self-published ebook. John says that good design can make you more money simply because you come across as a professional. If money isn’t the main aim of your game, but the message is, you still need to get reader attention and the cover is integral to that.

He thinks it’s a good idea to also release a print version – something he can help you with. That makes it more accessible to ‘real book’ lovers and, again, makes you appear a more professional author. It’s also an opportunity to sell more, of course.

For the time being, just get some words down on paper/screen and see where they take you. It’s an interesting break from the TV and a welcome rest from cleaning stuff that doesn’t need cleaning or decorating walls that don’t need decorating.

Set aside an hour or two daily to write, it will add some structure to your day. And if it doesn’t come easily at the beginning, think of the Jodi Picoult quote –

You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.