Keeping Promises

Alert readers will remember “Yogurt Extreme” from last Friday’s post.

Here’s the problem with Yogurt Extreme. The shop’s name writes a check the product just can’t cash. Short of putting razor blades in the product, you’re just not going to get extreme results out of that shopping experience.

Which brings us to the subject of promises. As freelance writers, it’s important to keep our promises. Depending on what kind of writing we do, we’ll make and keep different kinds of promises — but they’re always there, spoken or unspoken.

In Fiction, your early action makes promises to the reader about what will happen next. If you bring up a plot thread, you need to tie it off if you want a satisfying ending — or describe circumstances under which it will be intentionally and interestingly unresolved.

In Marketing Copy, your promises center around telling the truth in as attractive a way as possible. Tepid copy breaks your promise to your client. Making unrealistic claims breaks your promise to the reader.

In Nonfiction, you make a promise to do solid research and report only facts. Veering off into opinion, or “cherry-picking” data to suit your expectations breaks that promise.

Promises to Your Client can involve working to deadlines, honestly reporting your hours and handling editorial requests professionally.

As freelancers, we’re only as good as our reputations. Keeping promises we make is key to keeping that reputation spotless.


Friday Fun and Contest #3

So I was at the mall this morning, and passed a shop called “Yogurt Extreme.”

Yogurt. Extreme.

At first, I thought this nonsensical. How, exactly, is a food Terry Pratchett describes as “cheese that’s not trying hard enough” extreme? Don’t most people eat frozen yogurt because it lacks any kind of dietary extremity?

But then I got to thinking.

Yogurt does contain colonies of live cultures. It’s a living organism. Maybe it’s a living, thinking organism. Maybe it’s upset about the treatment its received from us. Maybe it’s a hive intelligence.

Your mission, and I hope some of you choose to accept it, is to write a brief premise — or a whole story — about extreme yogurt.

I’m eager to see what you come up with. Winner gets published on this very page, and as a guest on my new fiction blog.

Speaking of my new fiction blog, I’ve posted a new story you can enjoy over the holiday.


Book Review: Snuff

So here’s the thing about Terry Pratchett. If Douglas Adams and Jonathan Swift were a two-daddy family who raised a child made from the DNA of Virginia Woolf and Mark Twain…and that child grew up reading the best of fantasy, detective fiction and journalism…Terry Pratchett would be the guy that kid wished he could write like.

Snuff is the latest (and sadly, likely the last) installment in Pratchett’s Sam Vimes novels. Sam is a copper, head of Ankh Morpork’s City Watch, who struggles under the weight of being a far better man than he imagines himself to be. This particular novel has him solving a murder in the countryside while quite accidentally freeing an entire species from enslavement.

The action and humor of Pratchett’s books are liberally seasoned with philosophy and biting social commentary. Snuff is no exception, this time aiming mostly at ideas of class, status and privilege.

In the spectrum of City Watch novels, Snuff falls between Thud and Jingo. In the spectrum of fiction I’ve read this year, it lands between The Bobby Gold Stories and Bite Me — placing it at #3 on the list.

If you’ve read Pratchett before, you won’t be disappointed. If not, you’re in for a treat — and not just because of how good Snuff is. Pratchett has turned out dozens of books, all of which are worth an afternoon or two of your undivided attention.

Friday Fun: New Project

Hey all,

Friday fun today is a little shameless self-promotion.

A Nice Place to Visit

is my new fiction blog. I have two stories up right now, and plan to post a short story a week. Please check it out — and let me know what you think.

I’m interested in feedback about the structure and appearance, strengths and weaknesses in the stories — anything at all.

Thanks and have fun.


My fiction can be intense — cussing, violence, drug use, sexual situations. Stephen King, Joe Lansdale and Josh Bazell are inspirations. If you’re a youth who knows me from karate, check with your parents before clicking that link. If you’re a client — or potential client — rest assured that I won’t insert any of that into your ad copy.

The Competition

Writers write, but they also read. We read good writing and bad writing to help us hone our craft. We also read news, advice and information about our profession. At the risk of sending you all running for other — often slicker and more highly produced — sites, here are a few that I visit every week.

Fuel Your Writing has columns for every kind of writer, from NaNoWriMo advice to actionable tips for getting business writing assignments. The biggest problem is the sheer volume of the information — it can be hard to decide what to read.

Make a Living Writing is a simple, well-produced blog with “practical help for hungry writers.” Writer Carol Tice is an experience copy writer, and has the same attitude as I do about writing professionally: write where the money is, which lets you write the stuff you want.

Query Shark will make you laugh or cry, depending on how bad your query letters are. The author takes (presumably) real query letters and subjects them to a detailed, often brutal, analysis. Entertainment for some, powerful advice for the rest of us.

Writer’s Market is a fixture in the writing community, especially the community of aspiring fiction writers. I haven’t decided yet whether it’s mostly a cynical attempt to tap into that market — but occasionally they come out with some solid advice. The good stuff requires an annual fee, which comes complete with weekly emails asking you to buy more stuff.

 Men With Pens is not an 80s band. It focuses on “working writer” topics like copy writing and blogging, but also includes advice about writing novels and simply handling the life of a writer.

Seth Godin requires little introduction to many copy writers. He’s considered one of the best in the world. Not all of his posts are specifically about writing, but almost all of his ideas are relevant. At the worst, his copy is a great example of clean, clear and insightful writing.

Check these out. They’re worth your time.

Thanks for listening.