So, here I am in a place I adore, writing of it as Thug City.
Almost all of the new Boss MacTavin novel will be centered in the notorious part of town known as Third and Pike. Aka, The Scourge of Seattle. And the crime here is horrendous: drive-by shootings, stabbings, beatings with ball pein hammers, muggings, corner drug deals, rape....and theft, theft and still more theft.
My forced research on the area involved my working for six months in a retail store at Third and Pike. I saw it all in my six months: petty theft, grand larceny, rumbles at the entrance, bloodied women weeping that they'd just been raped, security guards beaten and thrown to the ground...And this was in our store alone. Over and over, armed cops would do one freelance security gig--and swear never to return. One very large veteran cop warned me: "Man, your job's more dangerous than mine is. Get out."
Get out I did, and as fast as I could. I'd transferred here from a store location in Charlotte. Now that I had a studio and had gotten on my feet, I vowed to write of what I'd learned and seen. I also swore to learn still more about retail theft.
I have and I've got a strong book in the works, one based on real experience. It's something new and exciting, I think. At the same time, however, I feel an obligation to do right by the city. Doing right would entail finding something between two classic visions of New York:
Scorcese's hellish Taxi Driver vision:
And Woody Allen's romanticized Manhattan:
For a tight thriller, the challenge is daunting. The focus must be Third and Pike, the horrors I saw daily. The blood and degradation. Yet it's not enough to plunge our hero into this pocket of pus, pretending that it is the city. It's not. Undercover, Boss may grow more sickened with each chapter. But he must catch scattered glimpses of the beauty of Seattle. And at some point he must seek them out to counter the poison that's flooding his soul.
I've no plans to hold back on Thug City. But if balance is all, then let's have it here too: the city as a character that's flawed but lovely nonetheless.
In the past couple of years I've done a lot of Reb Van Winkling. And I'm of two minds about it. Waking up to things you've missed over the course of your life can be sad:
My own Winkle-ization went something like this
-- A somewhat wild Canadian decade after college, with beer-drinking playing a prominent part. No interest in music at all through those years. No interest in anything except writing and the bar scene and getting back home to the States.
--My return to the States in 1980 and a bold move to San Francisco. There I stopped drinking and began working out and committed myself more seriously to writing as a career. I knuckled in, moving on to New York, determined to conquer the city. There I finally succeed in publishing my first novel, began the second...and married badly. Really badly. Crash. No time for anything now but writing and recovering from the divorce.
--Onward to Atlanta in 1988, with hopes to start over again. No music, no TV or workouts. Working, writing and recovering,
--From Atlanta to San Francisco again to Atlanta again and on to Portland, then on Charlotte for six miserable years. I yo-yo'd and ran and reacted, and did nothing but work and write, even after my career in traditional publishing had ended.
Whoa, dude--glum stuff!
I know, I know. And I wouldn't have started this blog post if there hadn't been a turn.
It's tough enough being Van Winkle. But the tougher part comes when you learn that you've slept--and realize the time that you've lost.
Two years ago my awakening came after summoning the courage for one last cross-country move: from Charlotte to a city where I'd never been. And Seattle has been both good to me and for me. The first truly great adventure since my positive moves to San Francisco and New York. Here old Reb Van Winkle awakened more each day. And while learning ruefully how much I'd missed, I learned to rejoice in my late in life discoveries.
Allow me to share a few.
1) Last night I discovered--God's truth, I swear--a DVD I'd bought but forgotten: Wayne's World. From 1992! Yes, Reb Van Winkle 'discovered' this classic 24 freaking years after it's release.
2) I 'discovered' this great band approximately 46 years after it began:
3) After working two job for most of my life--many of those years in retail--I cut back to one job...with a boost from Soc Security. Better yet, the job was clerical, M-F, weekends and holidays off. Time to write!
4) I graduated from a flip phone to a smart phone, no longer reliant on free Wi-Fi to access the Web or my emails.
5) I checked out and fell hard for Uber, decreasing my morning commute time at a reasonable price...and buying still more time for writing.
I've awakened in so many ways that my general facial expression is one of a wonderstruck kid. And while it's true that I wish I'd not slept for so long, it's also sweet in later life to take pleasure in daily discoveries.
You haven't closed any sales with the eye-catching front of your two-sided card. You've compelled your card recipients to have a look at the back. And that's where the real magic can start to occur.
Now, that's not a card but it gives sound advice. No business card, even the greatest, will in itself close any sale. That can only be done by you writing, your art or your service. But how do you persuade folks to try you? By planting strong thoughts about wanting to have a relationship with you and that special thing you do.
And you've got 3.5 x 2 inches to do that. Has your jaw dropped yet? It should have, for the challenge is formidable. And the reverse sides of many cards prove it by looking too cluttered.
The absolute essentials are:
1) Your real mojo manifested in only 4 or 5 words. Put this at the top or the middle or the bottom, depending your taste. As for me, I say the top. And this is one of the most difficult things you'll ever do in your life: nailing what's different about you or your work, what should take our breath away, in just handful. It can be done--and must be done--neatly placed on a 3.5 x 2 inch card.
Graduate of (Famous Writing School)
2) A small photo taken by a pro
4) Email address
5) Professional links: Facebook/blog/Amazon Author Page
You may wish to add your address and/or phone number, depending on your business. In general, though, I'd avoid offering that till contact's been first made through email.
Remember: you aren't closing anything with your business card. You're planting seeds of wonder. And you want folks to wonder increasingly how cool it would be to enter a relationship with you: reading your books or using your service for many years to come.
Don't place the order for your cards until your mojo's smoking.
Take the test today. Don't wait: how, in 4 or 5 words, can you stand apart from the pack?
A two-sided business card gives you the chance to make your case and to strut your stuff creatively. But you'd be wrong to think that the front and the back are two different affairs--or that the front is your carte blanche to say anything that gets attention. (As in Now that I've got your attention...)
I say see the front side as your opportunity to shine your light on the back. Here are two examples that show what I'm getting at.
The wrong way:
If you Google, you'll see that there's nothing distinctive about this: there are scads of links to this same I'll shoot you style of card. And you don't really need to see the back to know that this common cop-out shock effect represents unoriginal work, lacking depth and confidence. Deleting the Don'rt worry line does nothing to improve it: clearly, what the photographer wants isn't to shock us but to get a hug.
The right ways:
1) The design suggests the artist's style or spirit.
This is distinctive, tasteful and classy. And if it represents the designer's work, then I know what I'm getting--and I already want it. I'm eager to turn the card over for further contact information or key selling points.
2) The front design is seriously clever.
We may in the past have been put off Yoga because we think of it as painful or boring. Yet we know it could be good for us. This card is far beyond cute in the 'I'll shoot you' way. This is seriously clever because it suggests that this place would be fun. Yoga made less painful and more the masses. I want to see their contact information so I can give them a call.
3) The front design gives us a sample.
This card takes us in a useful direction for writers. I scrolled hundreds of author business cards, most wasting precious space by listing the name as both 'author' and 'writer', with phone and other contact information, maybe a boilerplate image of a typewriter as well. Here the author has given the front side to his book cover, sure to appeal to fantasy readers. Another author might choose to show his cover and a very brief quote from the book. Still another might actually offer a short sample of his prose. In all cases, the back side is reserved for contact and author information, After you've captured our interest, that's stuff we might like to know. Only then.
We'll cover the back side next week. For now, in summary:
1) Two-sided cards are most useful for those who aren't quite There yet.
2) If we aren't There, then our names and phone numbers don't mean a thing to anyone.
3) Avoid the cutesies at all cost and offer compelling instead.
4) Your card not about you, its's for us--and what can you offer that others cannot.
5) The front of the card exists to compel us to turn the card over,
6) The back of the card exists to convince us that you are the bomb.
7) The two sides add up to one--as in you're the one for me.
Only one side of a card is required if people actually want it. And they may want it for various reasons.
Your name and/or your position
All three of these are fine. I warm most to the attitude of the first and the simple gravitas of the third. But the cards provide the contact information that the recipients crave. We don't need to know the names of Arnold's movies. Of the three examples, more is only more with the cheeky attitude displayed in the first. That comes across as something like the soul of Facebook. And if Obama's card looks too cluttered, remember this: he was trying to convey complete accessibility.
Look closely and you'll see the perforated line down the center. Contact info on both halves. A tearable divorce lawyer card is more than simply clever. It tells us how this lawyer works. The steadfast, conventional lettering conveys professionalism and reliability. And the ingenious tear design tell us this lawyer knows how to think outside the box as well.
Your other major selling point may be the breadth of your experience:
--Twenty years' experience
--99% acquittal rate
--Formatter/editor of 700 books
--First agent of Lady Gaga
Whether you show at a courtroom or an accident site or a literary convention, your card will open many doors if you're a proven pro.
But what about the rest of us?
Sad to say, when we're just starting out next to no one really needs us. Or at least they don't know that they do yet. Our names are unknown. We lack movie star mugs. Half the seats in our new indie business are empty at all times. Or we find ourselves desperately struggling to stand out in a wilderness of signs.
If your card tries too hard or it's cluttered...you're toast.
If it fails to at least suggest a compelling Reason Why...you're toast.
If it lacks pizzazz and personality...you're toast.
If it fails to give contact info...you're similarly toast.
No need to despair, though. A two-sided card can help you reach the high plateau where only a one-sided card is required.
Consider this yoga studio card, whose contact info's on the back:
This is the first in a series of posts about a new subject close to my heart as I prepare to order a batch of business cards.
As we go, I'll explore why my last card failed years ago...and what goes into a great card. But let's keep these posts short and simple, easy to digest. There are so many things to consider--from card stock quality to finish to layout to fiendishly difficult copy--that today we'll start with just three basics. Here are the cardinal No-Win, Show-Win and Show-Lose rules.
The No-Win Cardinal Rule
You must have a great business card that represents you and your work. Your situation is No-Win without one. You have too many rivals, all screaming for sales and all handing out their cards. Professionals have business cards. We don't patronize losers who scribble their names and phone numbers on napkins. You're in a wilderness of signs and you will sink without a sound unless you heed this first Cardinal Rule. You don't need just a card but a great card that generates interest and heat...gives a sense of who you are and why you are different...and makes it easy to check out your work.
Accept this first rule and you're set to proceed. Go with no card or cheap card or amateur card...and you'll weep as you listen to this guy:
The Show-Win Cardinal Rule
In most places the next advice would be served as the finale. But it's something you should be thinking about from the get-go, from the very first thoughts of your card:
The way that you'll present your card is part and parcel of the show. If you've got a gold Cadillac among cards, you still won't get much mileage if you have to fumble to find it...or pull a battered specimen from your shirt pocket or purse. If your card is the winner it must be, then present it with casual, confident flair that people are sure to remember.
Easy does it, though. Beware of seeming to strain for the high notes. I once knew an artist who handed out cards as if they were hosts at a Catholic mass. First came the pricey card case which he delicately opened. Then he held the case in both hands with a reverential look. Within the opened case you saw different versions of his card, each with a different photo. And you were invited to take one...his eyes saying to swallow it whole but don't chew.
A more offhanded manner and an engaging 'Help yourself' would have turned that scene around
The Show-Lose Cardinal Rule
You must know your core card audience. Handing out your business card is a form of direct mail. In a blind direct mail campaign--e.g., sending Tweets to all your followers--the 'conversion rate', the percentage of those who will actually buy, is said to run somewhere from one to five percent. You can certainly better your chances with a terrific business card and a dynamite presentation.
But let's repeat: know your core card audience. Many people love collecting cards or are too shy to refuse one. By and large, you'll be wasting your money handing your cards out at random. Worse, you'll be wasting both money and time, if you're an ebook writer, debating with paper book snobs.
One final form of Show-Losing: if you have produced a classic card or have a cool, unique campaign, overcome the temptation to share it online. For pirates sail among us. And those who'd gladly sit on deck and watch you drown will plunder you without any sign of remorse.
Screw the pirates.
And know who your real friends are.
That's it for now. See you next week with further thoughts on business cards.