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K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Stupid!

We are all authors. We are all salesmen.

Vol. 6, Issue No. 16 | August 24, 2010 By Denny Hatch
9
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IN THE NEWS

Jurors Fault Complexity of the Blagojevich Trial
CHICAGO — As the jurors in the corruption case against Rod R. Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor, entered a 25th-floor conference room here, one problem was instantly clear: They were overwhelmed.

The judge had handed them instructions that ran to more than a hundred pages. The verdict sheet was as elaborate as some income tax forms. And many of the 24 counts they were being asked to consider came in multiple parts and were highly technical and interconnected.

“It was like, 'Here's a manual, go fly the space shuttle',” Steve Wlodek, one of the jurors, said Wednesday ...

In the end, the jurors convicted Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat elected to two terms as governor, on one charge of giving a false statement to federal agents, but reached a conclusion that is rare in criminal cases: that they could not agree on the 23 other counts, including the most serious ones.
Monica Davey and Susan Saulny
The New York Times, Page 1, Aug. 19, 2010

Stop.

Look right and read “IN THE NEWS.”

I’ll wait for you.

What was hotshot federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald thinking? In December 2008 he crowed that Blago was nabbed “in the middle of what we can only describe as a public corruption crime spree. The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.” For the prosecution, it should have been a slam-dunk conviction of charges that included bribery, extortion, racketeering, conspiracy and lying under oath.

The verdict: guilty of one count out of 24.

A Failure of Salesmanship
Fitzgerald’s team spent months untangling evidence and apparently bollixed it up into an incomprehensible mess. The whole sordid saga may have been perfectly clear to the prosecutors, but they failed miserably when selling it to a jury made up of non-lawyers.

We Are All Authors
Whether creating a letter, memo, e-mail, legal brief, special report, proposal, press release, advertisement, article for publication or a full-blown book, we are all authors.

And being an author means being a salesman.

Quick Story
“What do you do?” a guy at a cocktail party was asked.

I’m a brain surgeon,” was the reply. “What do you do?”

I’m a writer.”

"Ah,” said the brain surgeon. “I’ve often thought that when I retire I’d like to try some writing.”

And when I retire,” said the writer, “I’m going to try a little brain surgery.”

'Life Is One Long Sales Pitch'
“In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative original thinker unless you can also sell what you create,” wrote advertising legend David Ogilvy. “Management cannot be expected to recognize a good idea unless it is presented to them by a good salesman.”

When words are committed to paper or to a computer screen and are meant for others―like it or not―we are selling.

What’s being sold is not insurance, computer supplies, jewelry, automobiles or trips to exotic lands.

Instead we are selling the reader on continuing on to the next word, next sentence, next paragraph and next page, all the way to the end.

Takeaways to Consider

  • Below are four rules I follow when I start to prepare copy.
    1. Clear your mind. For some persons, this might mean lying down for a few minutes before going to work. For others, it could mean jumping in the pool or jogging around a track. Frolic, spend time with someone you love or go dancing. Do whatever comes naturally to you in order to have a clear mind for creative purposes.
    2. Never write when you're tired. You're not going to try to drive or operate machinery when you're tired. Don't try to write if you're fatigued.
    3. Never write when you're busy. If there are other demands pressing on you, tend to them first. I don't think anyone can write well when they are watching the clock. Don't try to write if you have appointments later in the day or errands to run.
    4. Don't write in bits and pieces. Once you've turned on your creative energy, you need to keep it flowing. I don't stop until I complete a draft. I try not to stop even for meals.Ted Nicholas, “The Golden Mailbox,” legendary direct marketer, publisher, copywriter, teacher
  • When Ernest Hemingway finished writing a novel, he would stick the manuscript in a drawer and go deep-sea fishing, hunting in Africa or attend bullfights in Spain. On his return several months later, he would be able to read the book with fresh eyes and immediately see where he went off the track and what needed work. Most of us under deadline do not have this kind of time. However, not looking at a piece of writing for 12 or 24 hours or longer and then going back to it for edits and rewrites can be beneficial.
  • “I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.” ―Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), “A Moveable Feast”
  • "I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything, I hoped; learning, I hoped; and I would read so that I would not think about my work and make myself impotent to do it.” —Ernest Hemingway
  • "[Hemingway] has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." —William Faulkner (1897-1962)
  • "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.” —Ernest Hemingway
  • "If you read Hemingway, you will notice the effectiveness of a maximum of thought and a minimum of words.” ―Earl Nightingale (1921-1989), motivational speaker, co-founder of Nightingale-Conant
  • "Use short words, short sentences, short paragraphs.” ―Andrew J. Byrne (d.2006), freelancer, author of “21 Deadly Mistakes for Advertisers”
  • “I don't know the rules of grammar ... If you're trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.” —David Ogilvy
  • “Your best lede is somewhere in the middle of page 2 of the first draft of your letter.” ―Pat Friesen, Target Marketing magazine columnist and freelancer
  • "How long should the letter be? As a sometime angler, I get a better sense of length by remembering a fishing trip to Maine when we used dry flies with barbless hooks. Unless you kept up the tension all the way to the net, you lost the trout. Try it. You should feel the same sort of tension when you write and when you read a letter. If not, reel in the slack.” ―Malcolm Decker, freelancer
  • Know your readers, and only go off-message with personal digressions if you are sure they love your work and are delighted with everything you write.
  • Ruthlessly self-edit, because most folks in business do not have a professional editor to look over their shoulders and tidy up their work.
  • Always put your work through spell check before releasing it. In the world of the Internet, a typo is forever.
  • "It takes hard writing to make easy reading.” ―Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer

 

Companies Mentioned:

9

COMMENTS

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Most Recent Comments:
JBlair Brown - Posted on August 30, 2010
Once again, we're are kindred spirits. LOL. (Okay, totally kidding with the "LOL," but I had to insert one text thingy.)

Quite frankly, I don't get it with the whole Blagojevich incident. It's as if the prosecutor didn't have the guts to put in his resignation and instead fumbled a "touchdown" with "Please, Dear Lord! Fire me!" idiocy! This was nothing short of arrogance run amok...or what the former governor himself suffered from.

Talk about irony.

Keep 'em coming, Big Guy!

JBlair Brown
www.thejblairbrown.com
Bear Kay - Posted on August 26, 2010
As a reader of all of Hemmingway's works as a college student, I couldn't agree with you more and enjoyed your blog. I hate veggies, meds, frig, and all the rest of the words that have slipped into our language in the past years. KIS is my guide, forget the "stupid," as it only slows down reader.

Thank you.

bear kay
Bear's Rules of Business--a work in progress. I had been teaching the seniors course in advertising at CU/Boulder for 11 years and KIS was my motto/guide.
Brent D. Gardner, CLU, ChFC - Posted on August 24, 2010
Denny,

This is why I love reading your column, Denny. 'Life Is One Long Sales Pitch' - I've been saying something similar to my students and mentees for years. My mentor was always saying "Everyone is a salesman, we're all selling something to somebody."

The priest is selling something in his sermon. The mother is selling something when she's trying to get her infant to eat baby food. The politician is selling something when he campaigns for office.

Another axiom in my business is that "in every sales interview, a sale is made." Either the salesman made a sale, or the prospective client sold the salesman on why he shouldn't buy.

I know I'm guilty of using longer words when shorter words will work. In my defense, I think Americans should be learning the language better, although maybe I'm setting the bar too high. Color me crazy, but I get a kick out of reading when I have to pull out a dictionary because I find a word that I don't know. Maybe I just love the language.

I'm sure that I've wandered a bit in some of my longer literary efforts. I go back and read them a year or two later, and cringe. Writing is clearly a learned skill, and I think it can improve with practice; we just don't practice enough anymore. We have so many alternatives - Email, SMS Text Messages, Instant Messaging - all different mediums with different rules, most of which are routinely broken.

Reading articles and blogs, and the comments on those articles and blogs, I believe it is fair to say that most people need more practice at writing.

The worst offenders, in my opinion, are those who think it is okay to use SMS Text Message abbreviations in any other medium, like email or regular correspondence. For example, the SMS Text abbreviation for people: ppl.

Just last night, I saw "ppl" where "people" should have been in scrolling text at the bottom of the screen during a TV news broadcast, and I just shook my head.

Is this where we are today with the English language? I try to avoid abbreviations, acronyms, and jargon, unless I know for sure the reader will know exactly what I mean. That is relatively rare.

Thank you for writing this. I'll be sharing it across my networks.

Brent
rich - Posted on August 24, 2010
bol·lix   [bol-iks] Show IPA
–verb (used with object) Informal .
1.
to do (something) badly; bungle (often fol. by up ): His interference bollixed up the whole deal.

• “[Hemingway] has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” —William Faulkner (1897-1962)

Yes, writing is very hard.
Valerie Lambert - Posted on August 24, 2010
Denny –

We’re on the same wavelength this week. I just blogged about this very topic, from the non profit sales point of view: “Make Acquisition Even MORE Difficult – Construct Roadblocks At Every Turn!” http://bit.ly/aRfeu6

It is indeed frustrating. I feel the pain of the jury member who was told to fly the space shuttle!

-- Valerie Lambert
Bilou Enterprises
http://Bilou.info
Frank C. Dickerson - Posted on August 24, 2010
Denny,

C.S. Lewis corresponded with his fans in longhand in the 1950s. His letters are available in a book aptly titled, Letters to Children. In 1956 here is what Clive Staples wrote to Joan, a teenager from Florida, who had asked him to critique a sample of her writing:

The Kilns,
Headington Quarry,
Oxford
26 June 1956

Dear Joan—

Thanks for your letter of the 3rd. You describe your Wonderful Night v. well. That is, you describe the place and the people and the night and the feeling of it all very well. . . .Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn't mean anything else.

1. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don't implement promises, but keep them.

2. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don't say “Mortality rose.”

3. In writing. Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”

4. Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

Thanks for the photos. You and Aslan both look v. well. I hope you’ll like your new home.

With love,
Yours
C.S. Lewis (Letters to Children, 1985, p. 64)
Joe Barcia - Posted on August 24, 2010
Denny, thanks so much for addressing this subject. The lack of clarity, brevity and economy in communications is one of my pet peeves. Bad writing, I suggest, is the product of a lazy mind along with a fatal arrogance that believes one's reader is hanging breathlessly on every word the writer says and will instantly comprehend everything the writer says regardless of how he or she says it.

For writing jobs, the lazy, the arrogant and the self-centered need not apply. While there is no "I" in "team", there are two of them in "writing". And both of them must be focused outward, squarely on the reader.
Paul Kiewiet - Posted on August 24, 2010
Denny,
Writing is hard work that many think they can do and only few do so well. Good writing must touch people with an authentic voice, with passion and emotion.
Your passion for the written word and for selling comes through in everything you write.

Paul A. Kiewiet
BrandKiwi, LLC
www.paulkiewiet.com
Craig Valine - Posted on August 24, 2010
Denny,

Great article. I teach my members and clients every single day that no matter what business they're in, they are in the sales, marketing, and advertising business - first and foremost!

I think it was Claude Hopkins who said something like, "Advertising is nothing more than salesmanship in print." Well, I would also add, "writing is nothing more than salesmanship in print."

Great takeaways this week, too! :)

Craig Valine
Glazer-Kennedy Insider's Circle
Los Angeles Area Local Chapter
Click here to view archived comments...
Archived Comments:
JBlair Brown - Posted on August 30, 2010
Once again, we're are kindred spirits. LOL. (Okay, totally kidding with the "LOL," but I had to insert one text thingy.)

Quite frankly, I don't get it with the whole Blagojevich incident. It's as if the prosecutor didn't have the guts to put in his resignation and instead fumbled a "touchdown" with "Please, Dear Lord! Fire me!" idiocy! This was nothing short of arrogance run amok...or what the former governor himself suffered from.

Talk about irony.

Keep 'em coming, Big Guy!

JBlair Brown
www.thejblairbrown.com
Bear Kay - Posted on August 26, 2010
As a reader of all of Hemmingway's works as a college student, I couldn't agree with you more and enjoyed your blog. I hate veggies, meds, frig, and all the rest of the words that have slipped into our language in the past years. KIS is my guide, forget the "stupid," as it only slows down reader.

Thank you.

bear kay
Bear's Rules of Business--a work in progress. I had been teaching the seniors course in advertising at CU/Boulder for 11 years and KIS was my motto/guide.
Brent D. Gardner, CLU, ChFC - Posted on August 24, 2010
Denny,

This is why I love reading your column, Denny. 'Life Is One Long Sales Pitch' - I've been saying something similar to my students and mentees for years. My mentor was always saying "Everyone is a salesman, we're all selling something to somebody."

The priest is selling something in his sermon. The mother is selling something when she's trying to get her infant to eat baby food. The politician is selling something when he campaigns for office.

Another axiom in my business is that "in every sales interview, a sale is made." Either the salesman made a sale, or the prospective client sold the salesman on why he shouldn't buy.

I know I'm guilty of using longer words when shorter words will work. In my defense, I think Americans should be learning the language better, although maybe I'm setting the bar too high. Color me crazy, but I get a kick out of reading when I have to pull out a dictionary because I find a word that I don't know. Maybe I just love the language.

I'm sure that I've wandered a bit in some of my longer literary efforts. I go back and read them a year or two later, and cringe. Writing is clearly a learned skill, and I think it can improve with practice; we just don't practice enough anymore. We have so many alternatives - Email, SMS Text Messages, Instant Messaging - all different mediums with different rules, most of which are routinely broken.

Reading articles and blogs, and the comments on those articles and blogs, I believe it is fair to say that most people need more practice at writing.

The worst offenders, in my opinion, are those who think it is okay to use SMS Text Message abbreviations in any other medium, like email or regular correspondence. For example, the SMS Text abbreviation for people: ppl.

Just last night, I saw "ppl" where "people" should have been in scrolling text at the bottom of the screen during a TV news broadcast, and I just shook my head.

Is this where we are today with the English language? I try to avoid abbreviations, acronyms, and jargon, unless I know for sure the reader will know exactly what I mean. That is relatively rare.

Thank you for writing this. I'll be sharing it across my networks.

Brent
rich - Posted on August 24, 2010
bol·lix   [bol-iks] Show IPA
–verb (used with object) Informal .
1.
to do (something) badly; bungle (often fol. by up ): His interference bollixed up the whole deal.

• “[Hemingway] has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” —William Faulkner (1897-1962)

Yes, writing is very hard.
Valerie Lambert - Posted on August 24, 2010
Denny –

We’re on the same wavelength this week. I just blogged about this very topic, from the non profit sales point of view: “Make Acquisition Even MORE Difficult – Construct Roadblocks At Every Turn!” http://bit.ly/aRfeu6

It is indeed frustrating. I feel the pain of the jury member who was told to fly the space shuttle!

-- Valerie Lambert
Bilou Enterprises
http://Bilou.info
Frank C. Dickerson - Posted on August 24, 2010
Denny,

C.S. Lewis corresponded with his fans in longhand in the 1950s. His letters are available in a book aptly titled, Letters to Children. In 1956 here is what Clive Staples wrote to Joan, a teenager from Florida, who had asked him to critique a sample of her writing:

The Kilns,
Headington Quarry,
Oxford
26 June 1956

Dear Joan—

Thanks for your letter of the 3rd. You describe your Wonderful Night v. well. That is, you describe the place and the people and the night and the feeling of it all very well. . . .Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn't mean anything else.

1. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don't implement promises, but keep them.

2. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don't say “Mortality rose.”

3. In writing. Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”

4. Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

Thanks for the photos. You and Aslan both look v. well. I hope you’ll like your new home.

With love,
Yours
C.S. Lewis (Letters to Children, 1985, p. 64)
Joe Barcia - Posted on August 24, 2010
Denny, thanks so much for addressing this subject. The lack of clarity, brevity and economy in communications is one of my pet peeves. Bad writing, I suggest, is the product of a lazy mind along with a fatal arrogance that believes one's reader is hanging breathlessly on every word the writer says and will instantly comprehend everything the writer says regardless of how he or she says it.

For writing jobs, the lazy, the arrogant and the self-centered need not apply. While there is no "I" in "team", there are two of them in "writing". And both of them must be focused outward, squarely on the reader.
Paul Kiewiet - Posted on August 24, 2010
Denny,
Writing is hard work that many think they can do and only few do so well. Good writing must touch people with an authentic voice, with passion and emotion.
Your passion for the written word and for selling comes through in everything you write.

Paul A. Kiewiet
BrandKiwi, LLC
www.paulkiewiet.com
Craig Valine - Posted on August 24, 2010
Denny,

Great article. I teach my members and clients every single day that no matter what business they're in, they are in the sales, marketing, and advertising business - first and foremost!

I think it was Claude Hopkins who said something like, "Advertising is nothing more than salesmanship in print." Well, I would also add, "writing is nothing more than salesmanship in print."

Great takeaways this week, too! :)

Craig Valine
Glazer-Kennedy Insider's Circle
Los Angeles Area Local Chapter