Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My worst nightmare

No offense to the producers or actors(?) here, but I think the worst thing that could happen in my career AND personal life combined, would be appearing on national television dancing like a fool in a spot like this.

This thing is on ALL the time, and I always think, "There but the grace of god ..."

I occasionally get called into auditions where I have to dance. I hate it. And I often think of "throwing" it. But I'm not sure exactly how that would be done. The point is to dance as stupidly as possible. So what's the opposite of that? Dancing really well? Which, in the context of an audition room, either with or without music, is pretty much impossible.

I guess the worst thing you could do is just barely move. But I'm not comfortable being that bad.

God I hope I DON'T get it. I hope I don't get it!

PS: I did not call these poor folks crackheads -- that's just some YouTube person.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Working Boy 2

So this corporate project I'm working on involves these guys.

I've loved airplanes since I was a kid, and airlines are ridiculously interesting from a management and even general business standpoint. So many aspects to them -- labor issues, unions, widely dispersed employee population, government regulation, crises aplenty. Good times.

So the merger is a years-long process, with many milestones, from U.S. and foreign government approval to board votes to a vast array of operational issues that have to be worked out any time you make two companies into one -- technology, policies, equipment, branding, etc., etc., etc. Thus a big need for communicators.

Right now I'm in a bit of a holding pattern, as it were. I'd been prepared for it to become all-consuming last week. Well, half-consuming, since 15-20 hours is about all I can spare with other responsibilities. But that's plenty busy enough when you add in the other stuff.

In an effort to clear the decks last week I worked all day Sunday on the book, then every night, Monday through Friday, on this other client's stuff. Plus all the days.

As it turns out, I only spent about 8 hours at the airline. We're still at the scoping out and ramping up stage. But I'm really glad I got all that other stuff done. At least this wave of it -- there will be more.

And it's a good thing, too, because this weekend I received the first 95 pages of the latest version of this book I'm editing. If the airline holds off a few more days I can make some headway on that. (Not to mention finish the latest draft of my own book.) That'll be this week's obsession.

This weekend I actually got to relax a bit, catch up, clean house, and even did a little shopping for some better business casual wear, partly pictured above. (Waist down. The shirt's several years old and, in my mind, might as well be pleated pants or a shoulder-padded jacket for how out-of-style it feels.)

Secret: in spite of the craziness last week, I really, really like hard work. It feels great. Feeling vital.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I think I've always been a little bit absent-minded. I get preoccupied with something and sort of forget what's in front of me -- the Starbucks kid saying, "Can I help you?" I'm terrible with proper names -- "I was with whatshisname at that place with the thingy." Etc.

Tonight, after working two hours outside in the heat on the last (which now will actually be the first) chapter of the book, I stopped at the ATM. I swiped my card and the screen came up and it was different -- just two options and a weird cursor arrow on the screen, which I don't think I've seen. And I didn't know what to do. I couldn't figure out what button on the panel to hit to make the cursor move to the option I wanted.

So I canceled and started up again with the ATM next to it. This one had the full slate of usual options. And again, I was confused. How do I make that cursor move? There's no track pad. Obviously, no mouse.

Then I realized. Touchscreen.


I remember reading a review of the iPad, where the guy said after using it a while you'll forget all computers don't operate by touchscreen and you'll be tapping away futilely at a laptop screen. This was, I guess, the opposite of that.

I guess. It was a long day. It was hot, I was tired. I'm pretty immersed in the book.

I am a little terrified.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

iPhone Naked

With all the work I've been doing I was thinking about rewarding myself with either an iPad or a new iPhone. Or both.

Then it was pointed out to me that my little iPhone has been through so much. A five-second dunking in the chilly waters of the Kenai River.

Last photo, before the dunking.

A humiliating 36-hour nap in a bag of rice.

And it LIVED! It came out the other side. A slight bit worse for wear, yes. It's a tad wonky now. Apps don't quite close when they're supposed to. Things sorta "happen" on their own. But whatever. This thing is 99% workable.

So how can I kick it out the door? That's like divorcing your wife after she's slightly disfigured or brain-addled in a car accident. Dishonorable, right? Right.

But to give it a newish feel, I made a decision. It's always sucked that I had to have that big ugly plastic cover over it to protect it. Because I'm Senor Butterfingers. I drop it often. So now I've made the decision to let it go naked. It's already come back from death, so every day it's still alive is a gift.

If I drop it and kill it I'll get a new one. And it won't even hurt because for 36 hours in Alaska I was fully mentally adjusted to the concept of getting a replacement.

I will be shocked if it makes it to Christmas. But duly reverent.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hold My Life

I started this week with a potential 87 hours of work to do. Not including the book and life stuff and other things.

Luckily, the big looming corporate on-site project has been delayed a little as they get their ducks in a row. I just went in for a couple of hours today and will be back tomorrow afternoon. But in anticipation of it, I've been cranking away to get this other huge project off my plate.

It's a ridiculous project. Not terribly challenging intellectually, but exhausting mentally. It's the one doing web copy for this giant property management firm that owns apartment complexes all over the country. Doing one or two properties is kinda hard and doesn't pay a lot. But they've got 17 total on the agenda -- 7 of them this week. Together it's very good money. But, again, exhausting.

These past three days it's been this: up around 5:30, breakfast, work until lunch, work until dinner, work some more until Daily Show, work another hour or two before bed. Repeat.

Everything else has been back-burnered. Apartment's a mess, errands are undone, workouts un-worked (okay, I've done two this week so far), social life abandoned, book neglected (though I was ahead of schedule on that), 50+ political stories and blog posts a day unread, message boards un- messaged, etc.

It's killing me, but it's worth it. In the next six weeks I stand to make a third of a year's normal income. Or more.

Amazingly, I'm not delirious yet. Which kinda makes me feel guilty for my plan to knock off and go to bed at 11 tonight ...

Monday, August 23, 2010

What's it for?

I worked my butt off this weekend to finish up this round of edits on the book, taking a piece of Saturday and all Sunday afternoon, just plug, plug, plugging away.

Then when I got through with Chapter 25, it was around 6 on a beautiful late-summer day and I closed up my laptop and was feeling really, really accomplished. And I looked around and realized I had nobody to really celebrate with.

I've been so focused on this book, so possessive of the time I need to spend on it and, frankly, so distracted sometimes in situations where I'm not able to focus on it or think about it or talk about it (and I want to talk about it not because I think it will impress anyone, but because it's all I can think about), that I've kinda been a bit of an asshole. Making my bed, as it were.

So the good feeling lasted only a little while, partly because of that realization and partly because another day means another chapter and I'm not sure when I'll be able to really focus on it.

It looks like I may have a bit of reprieve for a few days on the on-site work project, but that's only making me more insistent on getting as much as possible done this week on this other damned project. So I've still got an hour or so of work tonight and I need to get up tomorrow around 5 to do some more, then work all day on it, etc., repeat for the next 4-5 days.

And so tonight I was at Argo cranking away on the client work because it was my only opportunity to be outside today and a friend from the 'hood stopped by. A friend who's been nothing but encouraging and insightful and supportive, but she could tell I was edgy and gritting my teeth and distracted.

So once again, driving people away. And it makes me think, as with past mini-obsessions, like the shows I did and other things I wrote, if it's worthwhile when I look up at the end of the day and realize I've alienated those around me.

I'm very sequential with everything. The way I write, the way I conduct my life. I always think, "I'll take care of this now, and worry about that other stuff later." And you really just can't do that ...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Working Boy

It felt so odd today, pulling on my business casual clothes, getting on the train and heading to the office.

Yes, I do plenty of client meetings, but this felt different. This is the place I'll be going to and spending a lot of time over the next six weeks at least. Today was simple. Just a few hours, meeting the clients and attending a webex conference call. We're going to figure out a schedule of some sort next week.

It's a beautiful place to go, at least. I'm not sure what's confidential at this point (need to read that confidentiality agreement I signed), but this is the merger of two big companies, one headquartered here. The merger was announced a while back. This is the part where the two companies are made into one -- a long, long, complex process. With tons of stuff to communicate. Pretty interesting, actually.

The problem is this other little project. Well, not so little, but it's making itself especially big next week. I'm writing copy for this series of websites. It's about 15-20 pages per, and it's been stalled for a bit while the client made up their mind. And now we're going full steam ahead. I have 7 conference calls next week to hash out copy for each of the next 7 sites.

So I should be able to work these in, but getting the actual writing done is going to be a serious chore. Each site takes about 8 hours, and I certainly don't have an extra 56 hours to spare next week. I foresee a lot of long nights and weekends in my immediate future.

Luckily, I continue to make progress on the book and its marketing. I've emailed and Facebooked and LinkedIn the world. I filed a copy today with the copyright office -- not a necessary step at all, but an abundance of caution thing. Just want to have a record of it somewhere official. And today I revised the 23rd chapter. Just 3 to go, though they each need a good bit of attention.

Where was all this work in March or February? That's a good time to be extra busy -- not summer!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Opportunity Knocking

I'm not so good with surprises and new ideas.

I like my ideas just fine, because I stew on them for a while, so by the time I decide I'm pretty much on board. But when somebody else suggests something, it takes me a period of adjustment to warm up to the idea.

A new business project came in -- an opportunity for 15-20 hours a week of work through September. That itself was an adjustment, figuring out how to do that work plus my existing client stuff, plus the book, plus all that general life-stuff.

But then when I learned I'm going to need to be on-site for much of it ... well, that threw me for a loop. That's a whole other animal, figuring out how to fit it all in. (I think probably 7-day-a-week workouts will be the first thing to go.)

On the other hand, it's downtown, it's a fairly defined timeline, it's a good, reliable income stream, and it'll probably be a good experience and opportunity.

Yeah, opportunity. I really need to make sure I do that more often. I'm excellent at filtering things -- analyzing, weighing, and identifying potential obstacles. That's a valuable perspective, because a lot of people don't have that skill. But I need to not go overboard.

My grandfather once told me (and I may be repeating this story), "Never turn down an opportunity." Of course, he also told me, "Always be the first one in and the last one out of the office," so wisdom from a couple of generations ago isn't always reliable.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

And away we go!

The marketing of the book is officially underway.

I put up a fan page on Facebook, which I plan to use not to overtly promote the book, but to provide a platform for dialogue on issues of communication and language and other themes from the book. So I'll be trickling out various wisdom nuggets (today I went through the chapters and harvested seven pages' worth of material) and commenting on things in the news and reposting and linking to relevant content.

Tomorrow I do an email blast to clients, colleagues, old friends and others who aren't on Facebook. Then I'll also notify people in various professional groups and message boards I belong to.

Finally, I published the new blog. I will probably start posting all book-related stuff over there instead of here.

And I put together some marketing language:
What can business people learn from actors and playwrights and screenwriters?

* How to express ideas more visually and with greater impact.

* Harnessing the power of emotion to break through to audiences.

* Using stories to convey meaning.

This forthcoming book, HIGH-PERFORMANCE COMMUNICATION, takes the best lessons from the world of theater, TV and film and applies them to business.

For writing that really performs, learn to communicate like an actor.
Finally, I edited two more chapters today. That's 22 of 26. Just the hard ones left.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Official Business

Somebody I barely know pointed this out to me by email the other day. It's from that job I did a while back in very small referee's shoes and very tight pants. (Must have been carrying some winter weight.)

I hadn't checked their site in a while, and there it was, right on the home page. I think you have to actually register or sign up in order to see me hopping around and pointing and juggling and stuff.

So if you're in the market for a pre-owned car, this is the place to go. Take it from me.

Monday, August 16, 2010

It couldn't have been the Q

Think it's time to get this fixed. I popped the E key off the day I left for vacation and it's been a little difficult, to say the least.

UPDATE: All fixed!

And it only took three tries at the genius bar.

I initially lost the E key in an overly-vigorous cleaning session on the way out the door to vacation. Popped right off, couldn't get it back on and worked for 10 days with a little plastic nub where the E key should be.

Took it in and the first genius tried and failed to repair it and said the whole keyboard had to be replaced. At my expense -- cleaning accidents not being covered. So we scheduled an appointment for me to drop it off later that week.

And when I got to the appointment, the second crafty genius started fishing through drawers of spare parts and eventually jammed the E key back on there. It was crooked and unsightly and a little ungainly, but functional.

Two days later, it popped back off. Another week or so typing on the little nub, often having to hit it several times, as it's a small, spongy target.

Then today the nub came off. And without it required 2, 3, sometimes 5 hits to get the E to work. So once again I backed up my vital files, both online and to a stick drive and prepared to be computerless for a couple of days and agonized over having to try and get client work and book work and other stuff done at the corner Internet cafe.

And I took it in and the third genius? She also fished through some spare parts, showed me what the others had done wrong and popped that key right back on there.

And now I sit here and methodically unspool all my various contingency plans and prepare for a normal day like any other tomorrow.

"Thank you, genius lady," he types (gently).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chug, chug

Took a step or two forward, and then one back.

Or maybe it's not back. On Saturday I thought of a new chapter on a ridiculously obvious topic I can't believe I overlooked: LISTENING. Which just happens to be the #1 rule for communications, acting, and pretty much all life in general. Duh.

So I managed to put together a respectable 1200 words on it today and have a decent first draft done. But that interfered with my revising of the other chapters. Only got one done, but the good news is, it's better now than it was yesterday.

Now I'm at 19 out of 26. I should be prepared for other chapter ideas to crop up. And for my taste for existing chapters to turn. This is not my strong suit. I may take a while sometimes to make decisions, but once I do, it's kinda full-steam-ahead, with blinders on to boot.

I believe they call it "a bias for action." And I much prefer it over thumb-twiddling. But I need to step back and really make sure I've covered what I want to cover.

Though on the other, other hand, I know that you can go on revising and picking apart something forever. I could probably do 10 drafts of every chapter, but I'm committed to limiting it to three.

I looked over what's left and think I've got two or three chapters that only need light editing. Meaning the last three or four are gonna need some work. Or some excising. There's always that ...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Content with the Contents

I've gotten some great feedback so far from people who have reviewed select chapters. Two comments were centered around the Table of Contents, which I hadn't given a lot of thought to.

The first suggested I categorize them. I had sort of ordered them vaguely in groups that I thought might go together best. (And other than two chapters there is no necessary chronological order that's called for.) But I initially resisted something more formal.

Categories are pretty arbitrary when you come down to it. And what if I had outliers? Chapters that didn't belong? Or categories that seemed weak? And do the categories suggest a more comprehensive approach than I've been going for?

Finally, I just decided to take my own advice from one of the chapters. Just try writing it down. You never know until you actually put it on paper. So that's what I did. (Starting with cutting them up individually and shifting the pieces around on the floor.) I haven't decided yet whether I like it, but it does relate to the second comment I got.

Someone said that some of the content descriptions made her want to read more and others less so. Also some showed a clear connection with my theme, and others did not. I then realized that the contents page is a key part of the marketing and packaging of the book. It should help frame and sell the thing. To potential readers, publishers and others.

(And I also found a good use for the language from my alternative titles, which is cool.)

So I've taken another crack at it. It still needs work but it's on the right track.

Communicate Like an Actor

1. Show, Don’t Tell
What we can learn from David Mamet and Jon Hamm.

2. The Power of Emotion
In acting, emotion is everything. In business, it’s a dirty word. But there’s a reason facts are described as “cold” and “hard” – they’ll only get you so far.

3. Tell a Story
From the cave painters to Tony Soprano, everybody’s got a story.

Playing to the Audience

4. Stand Outside Yourself
Getting trapped in corporate-speak is like a verbal Stockholm Syndrome. As Denzel Washington said, “Explain it to me like I’m a four-year-old.”

5. Where’s Your Audience?
Before stepping onto the stage – literally or figuratively – think about your audience’s expectations, mood and interests.

6. Using Humor
Want to know the secret to comedy from real professionals? Being funny is an outcome, not a goal.

Writing That Really Performs

7. A Strategic Approach
In acting it’s called “playing the want.” We all want something – let’s be clear about it.

8. Getting from Point A to Point B
What sketch writing can teach us about discipline and focus in our writing.

9. Staying on Message
Achieving continuity of intent. Just don’t drop your gig.

10. His Master's Voice
Writing authentic dialogue. Tips for capturing the tone, rhythm and style of the speaker.

It All Starts with the Script

11. Plainly speaking
Is your company a Laurence Olivier in a Bobby DeNiro world? Communicate like a human, as if you're talking to another human.

12. Language Matters
Here’s an offer you can’t refuse: nine ways to make your writing sing.

13. Grammar Peeves
When it comes to enforcing the rules, we are all “The Simpsons” Comic Book Guy.

Get Me Rewrites!

14. Slash and Burn
Take it from Tommy Lee Jones: less is more

15. This Ain't Art ... and You're Not Shakespeare
Don’t be the Sean Young of corporate communications. Learn to compromise with clients over edits and changes.

16. Be an Editor, Not a Jackass
Be the type of editor you always wanted to have.


17. Barriers to Communication
Do you live in a van by the river? The fears, assumptions and lawyers that keep people from communicating.

18. Blocked? Get Over It
You don’t have to be crazy to write without inhibition. But it helps. What Second City taught me about turning a brain cramp into writer’s cramp.

19. Pitch It
As writers, we expect our work to speak for itself. As introverts, that approach suits our style. But that’s not the way the world works, whether in business or in Hollywood.

20. Find Your Own Process
Hemingway wrote standing up. Who cares? The only “right” way to write is the way that works for you.

The Big Picture

21. Creating Cathedral Builders
Are your people principals or extras? Ten ways to transform the organization through communications.

22. Communications Drives Strategy
Imagine a play without a script. Wait, you don’t have to. It’s called “improv,” and it can sometimes be as unwatchable as a group of corporate executives pulling strategy out of the air.

23. Meetings Drive Productivity
SNL’s Lorne Michaels famously said that they don’t go on the air because they’re ready, they go on because it’s 11:30. There’s nothing like the specter of a good public shaming to drive productivity.

In the Spotlight

24. Is This Thing On?
Life is an audition, and you’re always “on.”

25. Screw Your Fear
Believe in yourself. If you don’t, nobody else will. And if you can’t, take it from improv legend Mick Napier: learn to fake it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Houston, We Have a Name

I think I've got it. The name of the book will be:

Lessons for Business Communicators from Theater, TV and Film

Though I've got a backup:

Business Writing that Really Performs

The second one's catchier, but less inclusive/accurate. The first one is supposed to be a double-entendre on "performance," but doesn't really come through without the subhead. And even then, not much.

Maybe I'll put it up for a vote. I've actually reserved some Facebook pages under various names and created a blog as well. The blog is right now just all the book-related posts I've done here. When and if I decide to publish it (the blog), I might delete the book posts from this one and do all future book-related posting over there.

Maybe. It's all kind of fluid for now.

Got some good feedback from my fourth reader and sent chapters out to two more, including one of my old Second City instructors/directors, to make sure I've got some of that stuff right.

Tried to work on some of the remaining chapters and didn't make a lot of progress. My intent all along was to have a mix of longer, more comprehensive chapters and shorter, more focused ones. But each time I get to one of the shorter ones I find myself looking to expand it. I might be editing just for the sake of editing.

I don't think I'll know for sure how it all hangs together until I get everything printed out and laid out on the floor so I can see what goes where and how it should all flow.

Oh, and I put a plan together -- nothing elaborate, just three pages for now. Just to get some of these details and ideas out of my head so I can use it for other things.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

17, 18

Two more chapters revised today, making four for the week. And it's only Tuesday. (Oops -- had to edit. Turns out it's Wednesday. Okay, fine.)

On some of these I'm doing some serious overhauling. I know that's a trap that you can fall into -- endless edits. There are any number of ways to write anything, and they often all can be justified.

But I think I'm actually making them better, and not just spinning my wheels. Especially, again, some of the earlier chapters.

One of the ones I worked on today was the chapter on disciplined writing, where I talk about the Second City sketch process. I looked for and found this great old Steve Carrell sketch online.

I have no idea whether I'll be able to have hyperlinks in the electronic version of this, but I've been using them anyway for now.

And I'm at 23,500+ words. I imagine with the way my additions are going I should be able to break 25,000 which, depending on a ton of factors, would be around 100 pages.

Finally, I think I had a little breakthrough on the title. Could be very good. And I got the idea from an old contact who's got a really good thing going. His book (which was published by Wiley, a name that comes up over and over), has a really powerful title.

All right. Exhausted now.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Kachemak Bay, Alaska

One of the many benefits of travel is that it connects you to the places you've been and therefore to the lives and the problems of the people there.

I have fond feelings for most of the places I've traveled to, from San Juan to Santa Fe, Portland to Prague. You get back, and one of these places is in the news and you feel more affected by it than you would about some random place. And you even understand it a little better.

So the news about Ted Stevens is sadder than it otherwise would be for a retired Republican politician. But for better or worse, the Stevens name and legacy is HUGE in Alaska. Like the Kennedys in Massachusetts. From the moment you step off the plane at Ted Stevens International Airport, his name is everywhere.

Even more ubiquitous are the seaplanes and other small craft that constantly buzz overhead and are parked on the edge of every lake and pond. To get around the huge and rugged country, they use planes like we use cars. Alaska has the highest number of pilots per capita of any state -- 1 of every 78 people.

Then, of course, there's the unpredictable weather -- rain, mist, mountain-hiding fog.

All of these came together in the news of the past 24 hours, and as a result of my trip I'm better able to understand the circumstances and events and their impact on the people there.

Be strong, Alaskans!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Three more down - 16/25

A Saturday Cubs games kind of interrupted my flow, but I went into social hermit mode this afternoon and, together with some work on Friday, have managed to revise three more chapters. That gets us to 16. Just 9 to go.

I think at some point my count got a little off. I see now that before I went on vacation I was saying I had 13 chapters edited. I've done 4 since I've been back, which should get me to 17. What I did was, on my spreadsheet I had checkmarks by each chapter that's been revised. Additionally, I had the titles highlighted in yellow.

But one of the checked chapters didn't get a highlight because it didn't quite pass my smell test. That is, before figuring out which chapters to send to my first set of readers, I gave them all another look, and one of them I didn't feel was good enough to share. So that one got a second, harder look.

All four of these chapters have required a little more extensive editing than expected. Some were done very early in the process. Some I thought were a little too light in terms of substance. One had "show-biz" intro that seemed a little too contrived and another was missing that part altogether.

So I'm feeling much, much better about the content. I've definitely got 16 very solid chapters. Of the remaining 9, half are in pretty good shape, and I feel confident, based on how things have gone so far, that I can get the others whipped into fairly good shape.

And it only cost me most of my Sunday. And a chunk of my Friday.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Taking a Stand. And Falling

I always think I'm the last actor they're gonna call in for "average" dad, though if they shave my face, take away my glasses and dye my hair, I suppose anything's possible.

So this callback audition I went to (after missing the first round while in Alaska) apparently went well. It was just a single line and it had to be super natural and simple and I think I've gotten pretty good at just going in there and delivering the line like I'm talking to a friend and not ACTING.

They put me on hold and I was good with that but not exactly doing cartwheels. It was pretty low pay. And the days they were shooting included Sunday and all I could think of was the union job where I got double (or was it triple?) time for that. And then my agent noticed something a little funny about the terms for one aspect of the usage.

So we had a talk about it and decided to take a stand and ask for more. She let me know there was a good chance they'd release based on that, but I was glad she seemed to be leaning that way. She really felt like I've reached a level where I have a certain worth. I'm not some chump beginner.

And so they released me this afternoon. That's $1,200 or so dollars I won't get back. But you can't put a price on dignity, right?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Book! Gah!

I got a chapter edited -- the one I first put together on the plane from pieces of two chapters. I feel good about it, and good about getting back into the swing.

That's 13 chapters revised, 12 to go. I've pretty much cleared my schedule tomorrow, so I hope to knock out at least 2 others. Hmm, I was thinking it shouldn't be any problem getting the rest revised by the end of the month, but now that I think about it, my last goal was to have them edited by mid-August. I don't think that's gonna happen.

And it probably shouldn't happen. I need to get it done well and right more than fast. And I've been spending a lot of time in the past few weeks thinking about the marketing. Seth Godin has some really interesting things to say about the publishing industry. Basically that they're in the same position the music industry was in 10 years ago, and if they don't get on board they're going to end up like them -- dead in the water.

He argues that the whole paradigm, if you will, is going to change. Right now, authors throw themselves at publishers trying to get published and the publishers spend their time (other than curating) trying to find audiences for those authors.

What publishers should be doing, he believes, is serving the audiences first. Creating groups or "tribes" of like-minded people interested in a subject, give them a forum to pursue and share that interest and interact, and then the publishers should go out and find the writers to serve those audiences. That's bad news for the writers, of course, because then they'll be paid like low-level freelancers.

In any case, some lessons I took away. First, if you wait until your book is done to let people know about it, you're almost irretrievably behind the eight-ball. Second, instead of spamming people -- "check out my book," "buy my book," etc. -- "permission marketing" is the way to go. People opt in and express their interest by agreeing to follow your blog or liking your Facebook page. And finally, again, you create this place where this tribe can meet and get together and share information. Pushing the book is not the point -- it's an extra, an add-on.

The way it might manifest itself is, I'd create a Facebook page or LinkedIn group or some other such thing. Maybe it's on business writing or the language or something. You start with industry friends, get them interested and involved, it grows and builds, with everyone feeling like they have a stake and a share -- they're commenting and interacting. It's more their place than yours. And down in some little corner it's like, "Oh, by the way, there's this book ..."

I don't know. That's the ideal. And it's all dependent, as he says, on creating something really extraordinary to attract these people. I don't have any pretense that this is extraordinary.

And I don't even know if I want to sell this thing. I might just want to get it designed, pdf'd and put up on my website. As I've said before, as a calling card and credibility builder. And really, the book is just a platform. It's the content for presentations and articles and speeches and other things. I don't expect to make much money off it at all.

Anyway, a friend over at Argo this evening suggested I not hurry things, which is smart. At least in terms of the marketing. But also maybe the content. What if I go out and starting doing presentations and things and learn stuff -- about what works and maybe even additional ideas -- from audiences and others?

Still, I feel a need to give clients/business contacts an early heads up. But again, I feel like they should have something to do. Just informing is not enough. They need a blog to follow or a Facebook page to like. I've already set up a blog for it. But I'm still not settled on a title. But if I had this place, a Facebook page, a gathering spot for this tribe, I could crowdsource stuff like the name. And even the content ...

Ugh. SO much to think about. So two things I can do now. Continue to edit, and just keep gathering information and advice. Okay, three things. Start creating articles and presentations and booking speeches.

So that's where my head's at ....

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Catching up

Before going on vacation, I did the right thing with my agents -- "booking out" for the time I'd be away. It didn't seem to make a difference. I got called/e-mailed for three auditions last week. It was kinda funny to say, "No, I can't be at the casting agency in the morning -- I'm in Alaska."

So I missed out on the callback, which is fine -- it didn't pay that great and I'd much rather have a trip to Alaska. One of the two others they called me in today for the callbacks. In fact, it seemed every guy there was attending the audition for the first time, so I guess they're having trouble finding what they're looking for.

Real trouble, because they checked my availability, and also asked if I could shave and dye my hair.

I've been a little bit slammed with work since I came back. There was this small project -- writing for a website. Very, very basic. I won't say beneath me, but not a super-big challenge and very different from the stuff I normally do. Well, it turns out they liked it and now we're trying to crank out 13 others.

NOW we're talking about some pretty good money. Volume, volume, volume.

Anyway, I got the second one done pretty fast because I'm worried about getting inundated. And I suggested I could get them all done in August, which will be tough since each is taking 8-10 hours. That wouldn't leave me much leftover time for other work, not to mention acting stuff and the book. (On the bright side, there's probably no way they're going to be able to get me all the info I need and adhere to this aggressive schedule anyway.)

Speaking of the book, I did some work on the plane on the way out. Good work, actually. There was a chapter that's been bothering me because it seemed pretty insubstantial, and I got the idea to combine it with a piece of one of the longer chapters and I'm really liking that direction. I also got positive feedback from two of my four readers.

But I need to jump back into the editing, which I hope to do tomorrow and the rest of the week. It's not like I'm sitting around -- I chose not to go out last night and worked until 9 pm. But need to stay on the horse ...

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Not quite fit to print

It's funny -- I write a chapter in my book about how business communicators need to watch what they say and not do anything to possibly alienate clients. And then I fire off a letter to the editor to the Trib.

But I couldn't help it. This stupid story they published Sunday ticked me off. It perpetuated this whole myth of Ronald Reagan being Teflon coated, when he was actually very unpopular in the first couple of years of his first term when the economy was in the shitter. (Sound familiar?)

Anyway, I sent it, it's done and they posted it in their online edition. I'm a bit insulted it wasn't deemed good enough for print, but it's probably for the best.

Can’t compare Obama and Reagan – yet

August 3, 2010

The analysis of President Obama's popularity rests on a fundamentally misleading comparison of the Obama and Reagan presidencies ("Obama, the Velcro President?" August 1, 2010).

The article states that "through two terms, Reagan eluded much of the responsibility for recession and foreign policy scandal" while "Obama has become ensnared in blame." But a true apples-to-apples comparison would look at the two leaders at the same point in their administrations.

When you do that, you find that in his second year in office, with the country mired in recession, Reagan suffered job approval ratings that were consistently several points lower than Obama's current rating, according to Gallup. The GOP went on to lose 26 seats in the House that year, and by January 1983 Reagan's job approval fell even further, to 35 percent, which was lower than Jimmy Carter's at that point in his administration.

It wasn't until the country had climbed out of the recession that Reagan's numbers improved and he began to acquire his much-vaunted "Teflon." Whether Obama's approval ratings follow a similar course as the economy recovers remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: comparing a small slice – less than one half of one term – of Obama's presidency to a full eight years of Reagan's offers little insight into this president's political fortunes.

In fact, it's amazing Obama's approval ratings are as high as they are, given all the challenges he's had to contend with. The only lesson to be drawn from Obama's job approval ratings is the one we learned during President Clinton's first campaign: it's the economy, stupid.

-- Rob Biesenbach, Chicago
I'm a bit crazed right now with work and the book and thinking about how to market the book, but this is another thing that points up that while I have a decent social media presence in my regular life and acting life, I haven't built an adequate platform in my business life. LinkedIn doesn't do enough. So I've got to work on that, in tandem with the book marketing ...

But for now, I have some client work to finish up.

Monday, August 02, 2010

10 Surprising Facts About Salmon

I learned so much on this trip. Here's what I learned about salmon:
  • Salmon spend most of their lives in the ocean. They only come up the rivers to spawn -- returning to the place where they were hatched to lay their eggs.
  • The spawn lasts just a couple of weeks, during which time anglers can be lined up almost elbow-to-elbow in what they call "combat fishing."

  • Salmon are guided on their journey, which may span years and thousands of miles, partly by their heightened sense of smell. According to one science writer, if the oceans and streams were martinis, they could detect one drop of vermouth in 500,000 barrels of gin.
  • The earlier you catch a salmon in its spawn, the better it will taste. As it spends more time in the river, its flesh begins to break down. If you catch a salmon that's red on the outside, instead of silver, it's not going to be any good. So the closer you fish to the mouth of the river, the better the quality of your catch. (The inside, of course, is always red.)
  • Salmon don't eat during the spawn. Experts believe they strike at lures out of instinct.
  • There are two basic ways to catch a red (or sockeye) salmon. They may strike at your lure or fly. If they don't, you have one last chance to snag them in the mouth before taking your line out of the water. You do that by casting a little upstream, letting the fly float down past you, following it with your rod tip, then just as the line gets perpendicular to the river bank, giving it a sharp yank. Ideally, the hook will come sideways and catch a salmon in the mouth. Anywhere else -- the head, the back, the fin, the side -- and you have to throw him back.
  • Unlike other types of fishing, you don't have to worry about making noise. The salmon are focused on the spawn and are rushing past you anyway.
  • You don't have to go in deep or cast far out to fish for salmon. We stood in knee-deep water on a sandbar, casting just 10-12 feet in front of us. The salmon were running right up alongside of us like on a highway. When you hook one, you back them into the shallows and net them.
  • When they get to the end of the spawn and successfully lay their eggs, salmon die of exhaustion, flopping up on sandbars and riverbanks to be eaten by bears and eagles and other predators.
  • Salmon fishing is serious business in Alaska. People fish not just for sport but for subsistence. Over and above the fish they catch on a line, every head of household in Alaska is entitled to take 35 salmon via "dip netting," where they scoop them from the water with large nets. It's not just the native people who do this -- tons of everyday Alaskans stock their freezers full of fish for the winter.

Sunday, August 01, 2010


Kenai Peninsula, 11 pm

That was some trip. Still sorting out my thoughts. I might do a few blog posts not so much about what I saw and did, but just on various topics -- whales, glaciers, salmon fishing, the Russians, etc. I learned so much. It was both intellectually and spiritually stimulating, if that doesn't sound too ludicrous.

For now, though, a few observations:
  • I love the midnight sun. I've always loved staying up late, and with 18 or so hours of daylight, and the rest of it basically twilight, the people there extend the day well into the night, heading out for more salmon fishing after dinner, lingering by the campfire, and just exhibiting a ... I don't know ... a childlike sense of excitement. Though I may be projecting.
  • It's like the Chicago summer on 11. I thought people here went crazy and made the most of our short summer, but Alaska in July is like Mardi Gras. I guess a much less lewd Mardi Gras.
  • I do love fishing. It's been a long time. The last time was a decade ago with my father. And the times before were a couple of decades earlier, also with my father. He would have enjoyed this trip.
  • I love the frontier spirit. It reminds me of the eastern Upper Peninsula, but again on 11. Interestingly, the UP got its bridge from Michigan around the time Alaska became a state. There's just a very improvisational sort of spirit to things there. But also a very serious kind of attitude -- because it's all so much closer to the bone there. Danger versus safety, life versus death. The stakes are very high. People have friends who have died in bear attacks or moose collisions.
  • The people aren't jaded. They see moose ALL the time. Along the road, by the bike path, in the backyard. But so many natives pull over and watch and even take pictures like it's the very first moose they ever saw.
  • I thought I knew everything about glaciers from my trip to the Canadian Rockies. Hell, I wrote a poem and even a sketch about them. But those glaciers are not like these glaciers. I've got a video of the glacier cracking that sounds like a thunderstorm.
  • I continue to lament that people need more damned reverence. Waiting for a glacier to calve is like "watching paint dry?" This is not a time for one-liners. To paraphrase myself, you're standing there watching ice that fell as snow centuries ago. Show some respect. For whatever you might believe in -- God, or mother nature or just awesome forces that are bigger and more powerful than yourself.
  • Orcas. I really wanted to see orcas. And I did. The boats hadn't seen any for a while, but a pod showed up the day we were there and one of them swam right under our boat.
  • They have a law where if you have five cars following behind you, you must pull over and let them pass. Go, Alaska.
  • The majority of the native Alaskan people are Russian Orthodox. It's a fascinating story. More later.
  • I became acutely aware of how dependent I am on the Internet, especially during the 36 hours my iPhone spent in a bed of rice drying out from a clumsy dunking in the river. On the bright side, I watched almost no TV at all for 8 days.
  • I had almost no allergy issues at all in Alaska. And right now I'm already starting to itch.
More to come ...