Monday, December 01, 2014

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour Both Astonishes and Frustrates

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars on Goodreads, please join me there!

I started this book with trepidation given the widely varying reviews here and elsewhere --everything from groundbreaking, to boring, to "why bother," with more then a few readers commenting on the specific audience required to appreciate this novel. I found the latter to be not of major concern. So, here goes:

The set up (courtesy LA Times)
"Paul O'Rourke is a quintessentially contemporary protagonist — of a certain sort. He's a dentist, and a good one, with a practice on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and a condo overlooking the Brooklyn Promenade. He's a Red Sox fan, wrestling with the unexpected letdown of his team having won the 2004 World Series, a victory that, in some essential way, has left him bereft.
"I didn't want my team to lose," he notes; "I just didn't want my team to be the de facto winner.... The days of trembling uncertainty, chronic disappointment, and tested loyalty — true fandom — felt vitally lacking." As to why this is important, it's an expression of identity, framing Paul as part of "a cursed and collapsing people," scorned, neglected, their very purpose one of degradation and of loss.
Paul is, like so many of us, lost in modernity, surrounded by choices but unable to connect. His relationships are fleeting, overly idealized; they end as soon as they get real.
This posture of rootlessness, of drift, occupies the center of Joshua Ferris' third novel, "To Rise Again at a Decent Hour," which Paul narrates with an offhand grace. He is, like so many of us, lost in modernity, surrounded by choices but unable to connect.

What I Loved
Ferris is clearly a talented writer, so I had enough motivation from the crispy dialogue and "dance" of sad-funny-satirical moments at the dentist office Paul presides over to keep reading.

The originality of the characters, story, and plot, deserve merit here. When everyone else is writing about disappearing spouses and relatives, the idea of Paul being taken over by an online identity that suddenly provides him with a website, as well as Twitter and Facebook profiles, and posts all kinds of commentary and religious dogma, is pure techno genius, and so right-on in the era of digital reliance. I also felt the dialogue rang true for the most part, and Ferris does a great job interweaving New York City and the Brooklyn promenade, not to mention dentistry and imaginatively fabricated religious secs, as key vehicles for his story.

On the Challenging Side:
The long religious passages were tough to stick with, and may lose readers who weren't prepared for them. I see why Ferris felt he needed to do this, as his religious identity is one of the key plot points, but they were just too long and I found myself skimming them so as to get to the relationships and faster moving sections.

I wanted to be rooting more for Paul, but in the end I don't think I was as excited about his self-discovery as the author wanted me to be, nor did I end up feeling that religion was necessarily what Paul needed in the end, although his Rothian breakdown and frustration with modern times is convincingly rendered. I tend to read more women writers with women protagonists then men, so perhaps I just didn't identify enough with Paul's "guyness," baseball obsession and all.

Summary: if you are a patient reader and like a lot of philosophy and religious curiosity mixed into your fiction, this book is for you. It's also worth the read for probably one of the best extended descriptions of a woman putting her hair into a ponytail that I've ever read. The inclusion of life's little touches like this one help counterbalance the frequent not-for-the-squeamish dental "extractions."

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Virgin America In-Flight Marketing Fail

In June, I flew Virgin America to New York. What was apparently billed as a "special" flight, ended up being a marketing ploy to get passengers to buy into Virgin's new credit card. Except for the cute and admittedly tasty Virgin logo cupcakes we were treated to at the gate, the whole thing was a big letdown and, in my view, a marketing fail for Virgin. Passengers were given a $10 off promotional card upon boarding, but on reading the fine print, you of course had to open an account to benefit from it. The so-called inflight goodies included a dumb trivia game, where guessing right to questions about--guess what--Virgin's new credit card--got you a bag of potato chips, and I think a discounted flight, but the winnings weren't clear. Really? Passengers were systematically photographed while reviewing the credit card promotional video on their individual screens (a bit Big Brother if you ask me), and in other poses, with frantic looking marketing staff running up and down the aisles, as if their jobs were on the line if nobody signed up. And by the way, no photo permissions obtained. Did boarding the flight mean consenting to promotional photos...where did it say that?

Virgin, here's a few things you could have done differently:

  • Cool swag like caps and t-shirts would have made the difference here. I happily would have posed for a photo with said cap and t-shirt, worn them out in the real world, tweeted and facebooked as well, both during the flight since I was online, and afterward. This would have doubled and even tripled their marketing efforts -- even if only a handful of passengers had been encouraged to do this. (Note: when I asked one of the Virgin reps about swag, he merely shrugged and said,"we don't have this." Really?
  • Free snack plates for everyone. The Virgin protein meal is a pretty tasty offering, that I frequently order in flight. It's only $8. If Virgin had treated all the passengers to this or similar, along with a little promo on the credit card tucked into the plate, it would have gotten my attention more. And if I could have gotten a discounted meal by tweating about the credit card, I'd have done that too.
  • How about an inflight photo booth concept? Take photos of all the passengers (who consented) having a good time on the flight, then email it to them later with a link to the credit card offer, with a Virgin logo snd backdrop framing the image. Great branding, right?
  • In-flight Bingo, with winners getting a preloaded Virgin gift card, with no strings attached.

Generally speaking, I prefer Virgin America to the other airlines and fly it when I can, and even complemented them on their marketing here 2 years ago. What I like is the variety of online entertainment, safety record, and OK, the purple interior lighting that's a welcome break from harsh fluorescents and makes me feel for at least a moment or two, like I'm not inside a plane. But let's face it--an airline that can put together a rockin' safety video like this one, should get its marketing act together on the credit card.

On my next flight, I'm ordering the protein meal and maybe a premium movie, but sorry, Virgin, I won't be paying with your credit card.


Friday, October 31, 2014

The Amazingly Simple Anatomy of a Meaningful Marketing Story

Couldn't resist reposting this gem, via Copyblogger. Hope it helps with your marketing stories! The Amazingly Simple Anatomy of a Meaningful Marketing Story [Infographic]Like this infographic? Get content marketing training from Copyblogger Media that will give you an unfair business advantage.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Trying to Write? 21 Tips for Inspiration

For a while, whenever I got stuck in my writing I'd stare at the empty page or screen, thinking it would help. After about 20 minutes, I inevitably realized that this was a complete waste of time, and that almost anything else was better--if we're talking practical--and not even divine--writing inspiration. With the crisp fall chill in the air, and NANoWriMo month quickly approaching, you may be itching to write, but still feeling stuck or that you don't know where to begin. Here are 20 tips that have worked for me over the years... give them a try and share in the Comments if any of them worked for you!

1. Read your inbox. Inevitably, reading blogposts, ebook ideas, and enewsletters from others always gives me ideas of my own.

2. Take a walk and observe, then write down your observations. Observing cloud formations may sound nerdy, but it works.

3. Look through your or someone else's old photos and create scenarios for those pictured.

4. Explore Pinterest and Instagram, including new boards by those in your circles. Pinning and favoriting them will not only give you an online boost, but will give you an organic archive of inspirational ideas.

5. Speaking of Pinterest, start your own board of inspirational ideas for writing, add to it whenever you see a new idea, and invite others to Pin. Refer to it when you're stuck.

6. Write about your last plane flight, taxi ride, phone call, wedding, funeral, argument, or reconciliation.

7. Allow yourself to be a bad writer for 5 minutes. Write what you consider a lousy sentence or paragraph, and then go about revising and fixing it. This might put you in the mood for more.

8. Reread or re-watch your favorite book, film, or tv show, and jot down why it's your favorite. If you're a blogger, this could be a blog post.

9. Take advantage of the season, holiday, or special occasion for ideas, such as birthdays, anniversaries, National Ice Cream Day, whatever. Use this as a jumping off point for reflections, humor, anecdotes, etc.

10. Cook a meal and describe everything you did.

11. Keep an ideas notebook handy, so whenever inspiration hits, you're ready. I also like to use my iPad notebook feature, so everything is searchable via email and an index.

12. Go to a museum. Everytime I visit a museum, I get ideas, whether it's from the names of paintings or sculptures, or funky items from the museum shop. Sometimes I think about the artists, and when and where they were when they were creating.

13. If you're procrastinating, write about everything you're doing that is not writing. Presto! Then you'll be writing.

14. Get physical. Try a hike, bike ride, or run to get your creative juices flowing. Many famous entrepreneurs have coined the phrase "walk and talk." Try it on your own, or with a friend.

15. Write about someone you love or hate.

16. Write about someone you just met yesterday, and someone you haven't seen in 10 years.

17. High school, college, summer camp, "firsts" of any kind, can be fertile ground for ideas.

18. Eavesdrop on a conversation and reconstruct that person's life based on what you heard.

19. Bloggers ( and their readers) tend to like lists like this one, but lists can work in any kind of writing, and fiction as well. What kind of lists do your characters keep? Passwords? Groceries? Party or dinner guests? Daily activities or rituals?

20. Get in touch with your inner "meme" or vernacular. Most of us have catch-phrases and thought snippets we say to ourselves, sometimes without even realizing it. Some of mine are: "Back Atcha!" "Shows to go ya," etc. These are a great way to access your writing voice, and find what's unique about it. I just read Tom Hanks' New Yorker story, "Alan Bean Plus Four," and it's a great example of this specific language and its relation to character.

21. Think Windows. Real ones. Airplane windows, car windows, train windows, kitchen windows. It's impossible to stare out the window and not see something worth writing about.

Now, over to you...what are your best tips for writing inspiration?


Thursday, October 23, 2014

10 Truths About Listening


1. You can't listen to someone when they're yelling at you.

2. You can't listen to someone when they're interrupting you.

3. Listening goes both ways--to want to listen you need to feel listened to.

4. Looking away from someone probably means you're not listening, but closing your eyes probable means you are.

5. I'm probably not going to want to listen to you if it looks like you're just waiting for me to stop talking.

6. Talk quickly and I listen less.

7. Talk slowly and I listen more.

8. If we walk while we talk, I'll probably listen more.

9. Criticism can be listened to if done in a kind tone.

10. Loving words can be listened to if they are genuine.


Monday, August 25, 2014

15 Common Nonprofit E-News Mistakes

E-newsletters, when done right, are one of the most powerful communications tools out there for reaching your target audience and growing your online visibility. And yet, one of the most challenging areas in nonprofit communications is the (sometimes dreaded) e-newsletter. Over the last 10 years, I've seen so many misunderstandings of how this communications tool should be used, that I've finally organized this "top 12" list of the most common errors. Check it out and see if you're making any of them. Not only could you be wasting your time using a communication that isn't optimized, but in the world if high tech and marketing automation, you could leave your audience thinking you're in The Dark Ages when it comes to e-news publishing.

1. Standard subject line without customization

Using a boring subject line like "September E-News" each month is not going to help your open rate. Try to be creative when deciding your subject line, by either finding a fresh way to describe your content, or naming your newsletter with something catchy that will arouse your readers' interest enough to click on the link.

2. One size fits all approach

Not all your organization's members are the same, and this is true of your readers as well. Some of them may have been donors or sponsors, while others volunteered or had internships. Others still are on your Board of Directors or staff. Segment your list so that the appropriate content is aligned with your audience.

3. No personalization in the salutation

Statistics show that personalization in enewsletters has a great impact not only on your audience being more likely to read through your enewsletter, but to a greater response to calls to action. I know when "Dear Carrie" appears in an enews, I'm going to pay more attention.

4. Sharing only your organization's news

Newsletters are a great place to share a variety of content, not just your own news and events. Why not share a variety of links on articles and resources about your industry?

5. Not linking to your blog

Many nonprofit publishers often forget about the symbiotic relationship between blogs and enewsletters. You can use your newsletter to grow your blog subscribers, and your blog to grow your enews list. Both have different purposes, depending on how you want to use them. Consider a recurring department in your enews called "From the Blog," so you remember to link to that content in each issue. Better yet, name your blog, so you're linking to something catchy.

6. Asking for money only once a year

Enewsletters are a great place for fundraising, and most nonprofit audiences expect a solicitation or quarterly appeal. If you rely on a one-time publication such as an annual report to accomplish all your online fundraising goals, you're going to be disappointed, since you haven't been nurturing your potential donors all year long. You should be educating your readers year round on what your fundraising goals are, and who your donations benefit. The more you integrate storytelling into your content, the more powerful and impactful your "ask" will be.

7. Not growing or purging your list

Lists need to be maintained in 2 key ways: list growth, by publicizing your enews whenever you can, and purging subscribers who consistently don't open your emails. By keeping your lists clean, you're insuring that you don't get flagged for SPAM, and you can show off better metrics. The better your open rate, the more confidence you can have that you're meeting your readers' needs.

8. Using Gmail or Outlook Instead of Dedicated Program

Programs like Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, Cooler Email, and Aweber, are specifically designed for e-news communications, providing templates, forwarding features, subscriber graphics, etc. Using a regular office email program is cheating yourself out of these features, as there is no automation, interactivity, or metrics. Not only that, but using email when you are sending to 50 or over recipients is considered SPAM.

9. Too few or too many images

Some publishers use no images at all, as a tactic for mobile optimization. Since the typical reader looks at images first, headlines second, and body copy last, this approach is basically taking a gamble, even on mobile. You want to have at least 2-3 small images to add visual interest. Conversely, you don't want numerous oversize images taking over your newsletter either --this is time consuming and unnecessary. One of the latest trends is to use responsive design, which adapts to whatever technology your reader is using.

10. Over or underpublishing

Some organizations think once a month is enough frequency, while others publish once a week, or even daily. Whatever works best for you is fine, but typically monthly is too infrequent, particularly if you're relying on your enews for event promotion, or deadline sensitive content. My observation, both as as reader and a publisher, is that bimonthly (once every two weeks) is about right.

11. Ignoring metrics and tracking

Too often, we press the publish key and forget that the behind-the-scenes tracking of our newsletters is one of the most important things about it. Make it part of your editorial calendar to review your open and click through rates about a week after you publish. What links did your readers click on the most? The least? If you see repeated patterns of low readership or click through rates, you should consider changing your contest, and the style you use to deliver it. Better yet, survey your audience to get their honest feedback on your enews.

12. Ignoring social marketing

Just publishing your newsletter and leaving it at that is only doing half the job. You should be sharing links to the entire enews throughout the week you publish it, using a different lead each time, and linking to your landing page for subscription sign ups. You can also repurpose enews stories into blog posts if they aren't already published there. Taking advantage of your blog post images on highly visual sites such as Pinterest (I have a blog Board on mine here) and Instagram, with a link to your blog, to add visibility. You can also highlight your social channels by linking to unique promotions or content there, such as e-books, giveaways, or specific campaigns, and encouraging Likes, Follows, etc. Just asking for the connection for the sake of doing so isn't as effective as highlighting the specific content you're publishing there. Starting November 5, Facebook will no longer allow Like-gates, so the pressure to produce even more interesting content there and on all your organizational platforms will be that much greater.

13. Not using an autoresponder

Taking advantage of your enewsletter program's autoresponder feature is a great way to enhance your brand, familiarize your audience with your offerings, and differentiate yourself from competitors. Some brands like to publish a mini e-course or "how to" in order to establish authority, and keep reader interest. Whatever you decide, be sure the content is relevant to your audience.

14. Not mixing it up

Publishing just text with images every issue is going to become monotonous after a while. Make an effort to include a variety of media links, such as videos, podcasts, photo galleries, etc., to keep readers interested.

15. Forgetting to cross promote

You should be cross promoting your enews sign-up on all your other online platforms, as well as in your print publications and at live events. Include the sign-up link on your e-mail signature, on your organization's flyers, in your videos, and on your business cards.

What tips can you share for e-news success? What did I leave out? Share in the Comments...