Archive for December 7, 2015

© 2015 G.N. Jacobs

I’m not just about ruining werewolf mythology with a basic middle school understanding of science. I also try to steer writers away from the many unscrupulous attempts to separate us from our money. For the moment, I will assume that you’re fully aware that the West African prince or rather his banking representative is a Nigerian scam artist pulling a modified Spanish Prisoner. I will also assume that you know better than to take a cashiers check for a Craigslist sale. But, these scams affect everybody, not just writers, so what sorts of things are targeted specifically at writers?

Until very recently, I would get a email from Script Magazine, an e-zine associated with The Writers Store, touting a group called American Writers and Artists, Inc. The email and website promises to set me free by teaching me how to be a highly skilled copywriter of those emails that I pretty much shunt from my spam folder to the trash folder barely reading one in a 1,000. They have recently added education for writing resumes and other types of freelance writing to their suite of educational materials on their site. So far, I have refused to sign up and I will explain why.

First off, strict adherence to the niceties of defamation law suggests I shouldn’t use scam, unscrupulous, or any other words of the same ilk when crafting a sentence that specifically refers to AWAI’s business activities. I will get away with the words in the header paragraph because I will argue they refer specifically to the Nigerian fuck sticks who are an easy punching bag for an introduction and are widely known as unscrupulous scam artists. Or I will argue “highly opinionated hyperbole protected by the First Amendment.” Depends on how loud their lawyers and supporters get.

The reason for me talking out of both corners of my mouth is that officially AWAI is not a scam. Sometime last year, I checked them out with the local chapter (Delray Beach, Florida) of the Better Business Bureau and found that they had the highest rating possible. They have money back guarantees that they appear to honor religiously. But, I do have the right to express doubt based on oversold promises and expensive materials.

The pitch says that they want to help you, the writer, get in on the $2.3-trillion dollar direct response marketing industry. Basically, they will teach you to write emails that directly pitch products and services to the consumer. The writer gets paid upfront for the original email text and a percentage of future sales.

The percentage of future sales is the key part of my dubious feeling. This is what business school wonks refer to as passive income, money or some other asset that makes money for you while you’re off doing other things. A guild actor gets residuals from film and TV performances that repeat. As do screenwriters that pay their dues. Trust fund brats have passive income because the fund manager makes the financial decisions and doles out the money sparingly (or not) to keep their clients stylishly alive.

Writers want more sources of this passive income. We want to fund our writing life with a quick direct response email dashed off to buy us two weeks or a month, while we bash our heads in because we missed a common story beat in Act Two. Create a need, someone will fill it.

In my first pass at doing my three minutes of research, I looked at the prices of the books, downloads and what have you. I looked at them again five seconds ago. The entry-level product is $79. The Ferrari-priced books are $497 (What?). Sometimes they have sales.

In my older pass through AWAI’s pitch, I also discovered that the program included several monthly subscriptions designed to give the writer the most up to date information to stay employed. Sounds good, you can think of the main services as the bartender school seen on TV and the monthly subscription as the add-on job placement service. I’m naturally suspicious of monthly subscriptions. I know what I’m getting when I pay for HBO.

All of this sounds good, buy a book or program, pay into the monthly job placement/skills refresher plan and make the money we feel we deserve. But…

Shouldn’t the writer in need of a steady source of passive income shop around to get the best price on the information he or she needs? A quick check of Amazon’s section on Direct Response Marketing brings up a plethora of titles both in paper and Kindle formats. A few are free or nearly so. Many are $25. The average appeared to be $10 or so.

Compare to AWAI’s $79 basic book or the $497 Ferrari book or program. If the $10 book (or let’s be realistic three or four $10 books bought at the same time) provides the same skills and opportunities as the $497 book who buys the Ferrari?

Choosing the books to read does depend on the trust factor placed in the author of the book. Does the author have a business degree with experience in the specialized field of Direct Response Marketing? Does the author have relevant experience gained outside of business school? Did the author and/or publisher price their product so that more people could afford to buy the information? Essentially, the Law of Averages says at least some of the many $10 books on Amazon will be as effective a teaching tool as AWAI’s $497 product.

Most of these books don’t have subscription plans. Buy the book, read and apply the techniques that make the most sense, then evaluate the results. Buy another book if you discover the first one didn’t help you. The direct response copywriter trying to stay employed will cold and warm call all kinds of people, companies and organizations regardless of the ongoing tips gained from the monthly plan. And the contact information of the people acting as point of contact is not some highly classified secret like nuclear launch codes. A phone call will do…most of the time.

Another concern I have is that AWAI’s language seems to assume a continuously expanding labor market. They assert that the market is growing. That more and more companies and organizations need direct response emails written. But, I’ve noticed that AWAI has been in business at least ten years.

The $64,000 Question: could there be a time when AWAI (and the other authors on Amazon for that matter) reach a point when they’ve trained all the direct response copywriters needed for the entire year? Once too many workers enter a certain field fees for service decrease, or they go nuts drumming up new business.

Case in point: lawyers. We have had more lawyers than there has been true legal work for decades. Some law school graduates never get hired and become something else. Others chase ambulances drumming up the spurious lawsuits that conservatives love to attack come election time.

Similarly, the nascent direct response writer could run into years where someone else got the gig due to being first, faster or playing golf with people who can say Yes. The upfront fee would decrease as would the negotiated back end percentage. The writer getting 5-percent loses out to the equally skilled writer asking for 3-percent.

Additionally, AWAI doesn’t seem to make allowance for the possibility that over time service providers will want to put skilled direct response writers on salary and eliminate the back end agreement altogether. A client wants to pay for service, but not endlessly over the lifespan of the contracted email text. And the larger clients also want the message of the direct response email to match the message of their video and online advertising. Eventually, advertising and marketing firms will hire the direct response email writers on salary and turn it into the 9-5 grinder that writers say that want to avoid. It certainly would cease to be passive income.

Unlike the physical universe no market continuously expands. Pretty much all the American real estate good for houses and businesses are filled in. So property goes up until people can’t afford the square footage and then the market corrects wiping out the weak and strengthening the large players.

Similarly, there are too many screenwriters chasing approximately 300 or so new movies every year. Stock markets peak, tumble and resume the upward climb. Smart people know when to get in and get out based on being truly educated in the market. A story went around Wall Street for years that Joseph Kennedy Sr. got a shoeshine and the shine boy blathered on about his portfolio leading Mr. Kennedy to sell all of his position a week before Black Friday.

So if this is how other markets work, why does AWAI assert in their communications that the prospects for direct response email writers remain perpetually rosy? Maybe they are, I’m not actually in that market right now.

My last point of suspicion is that finding freelance work tends to be more work than some people think. I have occasionally posted to the jobs offered on freelancer sites only to spend hours sifting through jobs I didn’t want in the first place. I just bought the most recent Hollywood Screenwriting Directory, thick phonebook with thousands of leads that all need an email or letter. Sure to eat up time that should go into writing a script or novel. Why would my job search as a direct response email writer be somehow magically different?

American Writers and Artists, Inc might actually help some writers. They do pick up all kinds of glowing testimonials on their site. But, I remain suspicious.