Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sixty years on

Today I turn sixty years of age.

So how does it feel to be 60? Mostly thankful and thoughtful. I am happy, healthy, and enjoy my life. But any major life transition is a complex mosaic of emotions, and at the risk of TMI, here is my best effort to capture them:

1) I can’t believe that I am still married to, and madly in love with, the same woman I met when I was 18 years old - and that she is still as beautiful as the day I met her. Our relationship remains my greatest joy and probably always will be.

2) I do not feel the least bit old. My eyesight and my waistline beg to differ sometimes, but at least in the latter case I hope to do something about it this coming year. Still, I honestly feel that 60 is the new 30.

3) I will probably never stop working. Nor do I ever plan to sit, beer in hand, in front of a television for days (or even hours) on end. The thought of a permanent vacation sounds like anathema to me. But I do find myself using the “R” word (retirement) a lot more often now.

Whenever it happens, my idea of retirement will probably be crazier than other people’s. There are things I hope to always do as long as I am vertical, like my psychotherapy practice, my annual teaching gig at Cornell, or writing for my favorite clients. And I will still speak when it is interesting and fun. At times, I will still be extremely busy. But I will consciously start winding down things I do just to make a living.

4) I haven’t punched in at a job for many years now, and am reaching the happy conclusion that I hopefully never will. There are few things I am more proud of than having supported my household entirely through self-employment for much of the past two decades. God has been very kind to me in providing wonderful clients and great opportunities every year, and I am extremely thankful.

So finally, what about the whole question of, you know, getting older?

I probably felt more mortal – and worried more about it – when I was in my 20s and 30s than I do now. I enjoy life more now, one day at a time, than I did then. And I am not alone: studies show, for example, that 85 year olds are among the happiest people.

But I am more aware than ever of our own mortality. For example, my father and his only sibling – two of the most successful and well-connected people I’ve ever known – did not survive the decade I am now entering. So I value time like I never have before.

Of course, I hope to fare better than they did. I often tell my wife our old parish priest’s joke that I have an “un-dying” love for her. But my departed family members have given me a gift: an urgency to not trade precious time for things that aren’t important. For example, I am sure all those articles telling us to keep working and delay Social Security are technically correct – but after watching too many people I love never get to retire at all, I am probably unwilling to trade more sunsets with Colleen for much of their advice.

So overall, what is it like turning 60? I hope it is a way station on a path, and many years from now I hope to be a bit like the late Hedda Bolger – a psychotherapist who, at age 102, was still seeing clients and teaching online training programs. In the meantime, I am very glad to reach this great age.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Online Marketing: How to Make a Pain in the Ass of Yourself

The world is full of online marketing experts. Some of them are brilliant and have taught me a lot (I’m looking at you, David Newman). But others teach and use tactics that annoy the heck out of me, and probably many others. Here are three examples of “worst practices” I still see a lot of:

Squeezing people on your squeeze page
If you are offering me a free copy of 10 Tips for Better Tweets or whatever – and aiming it at solopreneurs like me, not businesses – where did you get the brilliant idea of *requiring* my phone number on your signup page?

You obviously don’t know how busy I am. Or how much I love getting interrupted by cold calls from people trying to sell me something. My phone already rings too often from people who feel I have nothing better to do all day than switch phone companies or whatever. And clearly you don’t grasp that I’ll call you when I want more information. Except I probably won’t call you.

I do need to point out that it is common practice for businesses in the B-to-B market to gather phone numbers and call - that's how they roll. But trust me on this one: if your product or service is designed to help individuals succeed, we really, really, really don't want you calling us.

(By the way, guess what is on my squeeze pages? NOTHING. I never make people sign up for my content. I figure that if people like it, they’ll call me. After years of capturing low-quality leads, I have personally found that simply putting great stuff out there is actually more profitable for me.)

Too much of a good thing
I completely get giving you my email address in return for some kind of perk. And yes, this does give you the right to send me information. But not Every Single Freaking Day. Or even every few days. I don’t care how fantabulous your product is, it doesn’t mean you get to clog my in-box like an infestation of lice. This is the marketing equivalent of someone giving your kids a snare drum for the holidays.

Copping an attitude
Perhaps the worst failing is when people treat me like I am stupid and need to be “pushed.” Act now Rich! Don’t miss this Rich! Did you read this Rich? Last chance Rich! Honestly, many marketing emails sound like they are trying to call a dog or yell at a teenager, rather than connect with a friend.

It isn't rocket science

Ironically, marketing has always been a big part of my success as a writer and speaker. But I’ve never bought in to the idea that good marketing is about bugging people, over-promoting yourself, inundating them with information they don’t want, or breathlessly rushing them to action. To me, it all circles back to things my mother taught me: build a good reputation, help other people succeed, and don’t be a jerk. What do you think?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The LinkedIn Code: An interview with author Melonie Dodaro

MELONIE DODARO is the founder of Top Dog Social Media, a social media agency that helps brands, businesses, professionals and sales teams use social media marketing and social selling to boost their visibility, attract new customers and increase their revenue. Dubbed by the media as Canada’s #1 LinkedIn expert and social media strategist, Melonie provides LinkedIn training to corporate sales teams and speaks worldwide at both industry and corporate events and conferences.

Yesterday, Melonie visited Ton De Graaf's 'Worldwide Coaching magazine' blog at http://worldwidecoachingmagazine.com, where he asked about LinkedIn Ads and how to create a 'virtual presence' in order to stand out from the crowd. Today, I'd like to share with you a recent interview I had with Melonie where I asked her about LinkedIn premium accounts, positive posting and activity levels in LinkedIn groups.

RICH: You put a lot of emphasis - rightfully - on branding yourself with a strong LinkedIn profile. But what if you are a "mutt"? For example, I am a freelance writer, a public speaker on communications skills, and a psychotherapist - and all three are important parts of my livelihood. Or, to use a bigger example, Bill Gates was both a software CEO and a philanthropist. What is your advice to people whose career descriptions use the word "and" a lot?

MELONIE: Like you, I also offer more than one set of services to a variety of different ideal clients. The first thing you need to do if you are in this position is determine if your ideal clients for each product or service use LinkedIn.
Once you have determined which products or services are the best fit for LinkedIn, you need to pick the best two or three of these. More than this will make it difficult to ensure that your profile is optimized well for search and it also becomes too much information for your ideal clients to read through when they land on your profile.
After you have your top two or three, then you need to make sure that you address each appropriately, in your Headline, Summary, Experience and Skills sections.
RICH: How active should you be in a LinkedIn group? Of course you shouldn't spam or post self-serving messages. But is there a point past which you are "too" present in an affinity group, even posting appropriate messages?
MELONIE: Often one post a week is sufficient for each group, with most of your time being dedicated to either replying to people who have commented on your posts or reading and commenting on others posts and comments. The engagement and interaction is often just as, if not more important than the act of posting itself.
As long as you are making positive and helpful comments that make sense, it is unlikely that you could be too active.
RICH: You do a good job laying out the features of LinkedIn Premium accounts. Should most small business owners get one?
MELONIE: Not at all. Most small business owners will only ever need to use the free version of LinkedIn.
Situations where you might consider upgrading would be:
  • If you are sending semi frequent InMails, which are costly if you are purchasing them individually
  • If you have a lot of people viewing your profile everyday and you want to use the Who’s viewed your profile page to see everyone who has viewed it or to better understand the general demographics of those viewing it.
  • If you would like to increase your ability to narrow your searches with the premium search fields as well as to increase the number of saved searches you are allowed and the number of results displayed from each search.
I hope you enjoyed this brief interview with award-winning social media expert Melonie Dodaro. You can find out some of Melonie's TOP SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGIES – along with those of 10 other TOP world-class social media experts – on her FREE 3-Day Telesummit:
Cracking the Social Media Code:
The Masters Speak!
Register FREE at
http://topdogsocialmedia.com/book-launch/pages/telesummit.php

Here's Melonie's stellar guest line up (in order of appearance):
  • MELONIE DODARO - Founder Top Dog Social Media, LinkedIn and social selling expert, author of The LinkedIn Code
  • LYNN SERAFINN (co-host) - Founder 7 Graces Project CIC, marketer, coach, author of The 7 Graces of Marketing, Tweep-e-licious
  • JASON MILLER - LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, corporate marketing manager for many companies
  • JOEL COMM - Entrepreneur, NY Times bestselling author, new media innovator
  • EKATERINA WALTER - CMO of Branderati, speaker, author of Think Like Zuck, co-author of The Power of Visual Storytelling
  • MICHAEL STELZNER - Founder/CEO of Social Media Examiner, host Social Media Marketing podcast, author of Launch, Writing White Papers and others
  • JOHN JANTSCH - Marketing consultant, business strategist, Founder Duct Tape Marketing, author of Duct Tape Marketing and others
  • PATTY FARMER - Marketing and social media strategist, speaker, trainer, radio host and author
  • KIM GARST - CEO of 'Boom! Social', social media marketing strategist, entrepreneur, speaker, author
  • ALLISON MASLAN - CEO of "Blast Off", business mentor, entrepreneur, author of Blast Off!
  • JILL ROWLEY - Marketing expert, social selling 'evangelist', entrepreneur
Over those 3 days, Melonie and her guests will share their top tips on:
·         Building Your Personal Brand
·         Building Your Online Community
·         Monetizing Social Media
If you cannot make the live broadcast, register anyway so you can listen to audio replays.
THEN, when you buy The LinkedIn Code during its official Amazon launch, you’ll receive dozens of valuable free gifts from Melonie and her friends and colleagues. You can CLICK HERE to find out more about the book, and these free gifts.
Be sure to follow Melonie tomorrow on the next stop of her Virtual Blog Tour, when she’ll be visiting Wendy McClelland's blog at http://wendymcclelland.com/blog-2/, where they'll be talking about sponsored updates and the 'relationships' tab.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Who are you calling old?

A video has been making the rounds recently about two “grannies” taking their first-ever flight, one of whom was 71 years old. Later the same night, a newscaster described a gunman in his early 70s as “elderly.” Soon afterwards I was reading an article about health guidelines for “older people over 60.”

What is wrong with this picture? People are rushing us into old age far too soon. I don’t mean from a standpoint of chronological age. Rather, I mean the indescribable social chasm beyond which we become sexless, out of touch, or looked upon with patronizing cuteness.

The video of this 71 year old particularly struck me, because my still youthful, drop-dead gorgeous spouse turns 66 this year. Does she turn into an old biddy in just five years? The surviving Doobie Brothers are around 70 now, and they are still rocking down the highway – in fact, they had a new album on the charts recently. And when I’m 71 and getting on an airplane, it will hopefully be to keynote a major conference, like I often do now, not to gawk out the window about these amazing flying contraptions.

This isn’t the first generation to put up an arbitrary wall around people who are still rather viable. In 1970 a then-23 year old Elton John spun a grim tale of being “Sixty Years On”: your dog died ten years ago, people sympathetically help you shuffle down to church, and he concludes that he has no wish to still be living then. Never mind that he is now 67 years old and touring Europe. I will be “sixty years on” this year, and I can at least tell you what it is like for me: I had a major book release a year ago, am busier than ever, and recently finished graduate school and started a new career. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see an old person looking back.

The reality is that the Baby Boomer generation is much more than an age group – we are a cultural force, and we aren’t giving up our grip on life anytime soon. Try to push us toward the shuffleboard court, and we are likely to push back and write bestsellers. And star in films. And start successful companies. And in the process, make everyone reconsider what age really means in society. We don’t plan to ever go away quietly.

A couple of years ago, people were wondering why Paul McCartney was in tears at the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. I think I know why – it is because he realized that his own song “When I’m 64” took place six years earlier. (Sir Paul turns 72 this year.) But seriously, I would like to propose reserving the term “elderly” for people who are at least 80 from now on. And 20 years from now, God willing, I reserve the right to change my mind again. Deal?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Thoughts from a "book millionaire"

One statistic I have always tracked for fun is the gross sales of my books. (I take actual unit sales figures when I have them, add reasonable estimates for things like foreign rights sales, and multiply them by the list price of my books.) Nowadays, my lifetime gross sales are approaching a million dollars.

Now don't break out the champagne quite yet - or ask me for a loan. I've been writing pretty steadily for over 20 years and have published a lot of books. If you take my average book royalty (less than 10% of net price), and divide it over the number of years I've been at this, I am not about to start the Rich Gallagher Foundation.

But still, wouldn't you agree this is a pretty cool number? I don't know many people whose hobbies turn into a million dollar industry. And it is a nice validation of a craft that now feels comfortable and familiar. Put another way, when I wake up and look in the mirror, I generally see (on my better days) a fairly legitimate writer looking back at me.

So now that I've reached a milestone of sorts, what would I tell other writers? Here are a few things:

Writing is a skill, not an art. I am frankly not the world's greatest muse. But I am a quick study. And far and away, the single biggest reason I succeed is studying what sells, deconstructing other good writers, and learning how to smell like a published author. I've written about this extensively in other blogs. Successful writers are, first and foremost, students of other successful writers. 'Nuff said.

Hard work isn't the point. You might expect me to talk about how much work I put in to become a good writer, and eventually a publishable one. And you would be wrong. Yes, I have done a lot of writing and still do. And I will always put a lot of effort into getting even better. But frankly that isn't the point.

Here *is* the point: I love to write. When you love doing something you keep doing it, keep learning, and keep improving. Even when I write about public health tax policy for clients, I am having fun. I love bookstores and get excited about other people's book projects and book launches. And those rare times when I have a moment to spare, the first thing I start thinking about is my next project.

So my advice isn't to work harder at writing. That sounds miserable. It is to do what you love, and let it pull you where it wants you to go. And if you love to write anywhere near as much as I do, don't ever let anything stop you.

Follow the money. If you want to sell a million dollars’ worth of books – in my case, an average of 3000-5000 copies of most books I’ve written, plus a couple of higher-gross sellers – you need to examine who sells books in these kinds of numbers. My biggest grossing book, for example, is a 1990s computer graphics textbook you’ve probably never heard of – it sells for over $200 a pop, has been in print for 20 years, and had a lot of course adoptions in its day. Conversely, my highest unit sales are for a bargain-book edition of How to Tell Anyone Anything available in every Barnes & Noble in America.

If you haven’t published before, it is a dirty secret that most books sell in frightfully small numbers, once you get past the hottest bestsellers. So while I respect the debate between self-publishing and royalty publishing, if you want to move thousands of books you must either (a) have really good sales channels or (b) become good enough to go the royalty route. I’ve always chosen the latter.

Know who you are. I appreciate the “you can do anything” crowd. But if I listened to them, I’d probably be writing a lot of books that have no chance of ever landing a publishing contract. Your writing style, your platform, and your skills all have their place in the world. Socially, most of us do best in neighborhoods where there are a lot of people like us, and I feel the same is true in publishing.

I have a great literary agent, and one of the best things she does for me is give me feedback about what markets I can’t compete effectively in – because their best selling authors have bigger platforms, the genre is fading, or whatever. And conversely, she lets me know where I *am* competitive, and helps me be successful in those markets. If you can get the same kind of feedback, you are very fortunate.

To sum all this up in one neat package: Love writing, be serious and professional, and become a student of the publishing business, as well as feeding your muse. Do these things, and I feel you have a surprisingly good chance of joining me in the “millionaire’s club.” Good luck!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Eight lousy sentences: a new way to finish your book

Do you have a great book in you that has been unfinished for ages? Perhaps a novel, or a non-fiction book proposal? You know it's good, but somehow you can never make time for it. Or when you sit down to write, you just can't seem to get the words out.

You may even look at this unfinished book as a moral failing. If only somehow you could discipline yourself to work harder, and write more, then you could be the author you know you really are.

After a few years of dealing with people's fears and phobias as a therapist, I actually see a strong parallel between these issues and wannabe writers. And in the end, it all boils down to this belief that you aren't writing enough.

In fact, your problem has exactly the opposite cause: you are writing too much.

Let me explain. Suppose you are afraid of heights. So one day you suck up your courage and force yourself to go to the 40th floor of a building – because you view your problem as a lack of bravery. In reality, however, you are sensitizing yourself to something I want you to de-sensitize to. This is why over and over, I watch people finally get well once they stop being brave and start taking tiny baby steps. By staying in their comfort zone, and gradually expanding it in a way that lets them be fully present in the situation, they get over their fears.

The same thing is true about your writing. You sit down and think, "Ugh! I should work harder on this. So I am going to force myself to write another thousand words, even if it kills me! And it had better be good!" The end result? You start to associate writing with failure, and eventually your subconscious throws up a big red flag when you even think about doing more writing. It starts telling you, "You're not good enough. You never finish anything. And you're always getting stuck."

If this sounds like you, here is what I want you to do. Sit down tonight and write 200 words – about eight lousy sentences. Even if they are complete tripe. Then stop writing. You are done for the night.

If you can comfortably write eight sentences every night, you will accomplish two important things. First, do this for a year and you will complete a 60,000 word book. Second, and more important, you will be feeding your subconscious lots and lots of success. You are only supposed to write eight sentences, and by golly, you are doing it – so this gets chalked up in your memory banks as a win. Your subconscious loves success, by the way.

Best of all, keep doing it and eventually these eight sentences will seem like nothing, and you will write more. This is exactly the same mechanism by which people get over their fears. Clinically, the act of practicing is much more important than how much you practice, so taking small steps eventually leads to breakthroughs. In time, you start look at writing – or things you used to fear – with the warm glow of success and mastery, one easy step at a time.

Now, some of you are saying to yourselves, "Gosh – I can't even write eight sentences. Now what?" No problem. Just lower the bar to wherever you are comfortable, and start there. The goal is to have success every day, long enough for the thought of being a writer to start ringing your "success" chime. Then, trust me, things will expand from there.

I practice what I preach here. I've cranked out a published book, for myself or for ghostwriting clients, every year for close to 15 years now. And as much as I hate to admit this, I don't just write with passion, style, or heart. I write with a calculator. I set a wordcount goal for myself, on comes the word processor, and out come the words.

The same approach can completely change your success as a writer. This is why I am prescribing eight sentences, or the equivalent of talking to someone for a minute or so, every night. Stop straining, start winning, and watch what happens to your writing!

Monday, February 17, 2014

The secret to getting published: study the genre

A couple of years ago I installed a new bookshelf along the wall of our family room - a beautiful, glass-enclosed space that overlooks the hills of upstate New York - and for the first time ever, devoted an entire shelf to copies of each book I've ever written, ghostwritten, or contributed to. And it is quite a big shelf! Including things like foreign editions, second printings, and the like, there are over 40 books there. (The blanked-out ones are ghostwriting projects I cannot disclose under pain of death.) On average, I have cranked out one nationally published book every year or so since the mid-1990s.


So how do you get to be a "repeat offender" like me? Hard work? I wouldn't call it that - I really enjoy writing and it has never felt like work. Born with a silver-tounged pen? Nope, I was a C student in writing at Cornell decades ago. The right connections? Sorry, I live in the middle of nowhere, and was a humble lay middle manager with no agent when I first hit the bookshelves.

But there is one thing I do differently than almost any wannabe writer I know, and it is the single biggest reason I am successful: I study the genre I am writing in.

Go to a bookstore sometime, and you will see most people browsing through books. Watch me and you'll see me pulling one book after another off the shelf, running my finger along the pages, muttering to myself, and occasionally even pulling out a calculator. (Did I tell you I have an engineering degree?) While others read books, I deconstruct them. And when I finally sit down to write, it is a thoughtfully composed performance informed by the style of what sells.

Studying the genre is NOT the same as copying another person's style. I have my own style, thank you. In fact, I have lots of them, having published in genres that include popular business books, social science, and even fictional stories. Rather, I have a good, general sense of the audience I am writing for. Here are some examples of what I look for:

Titles: Your title is at least twice as important as your content. Really. Think about it - what made you pull a book off the shelf or on Amazon? More important, if you had a choice between titling the same book Finding Good Business Partners and Suppliers or The Four-Hour Work Week, which one would sell better? Tim Ferriss certainly figured that one out! Sweat the title first, and make it "smell" like other successful books in your genre.

Opening hook: Open any unsuccessful self-published book at random, and I'll bet it just starts right in talking about the topic of the book. By comparison, the book Just Listen by psychiatrist and hostage negotiation trainer Mark Goulston starts off walking you step-by-step through what he says to the suicidal guy with the gun at his head in the parking lot. Pow! No wonder his book is a bestseller.

There are a small number of very specific types of opening hooks for popular non-fiction business books, for example. There are personal narratives, credentialing examples, and emotional connections. Study them all and then think of them as clubs in your golf bag, ready to thoughtfully choose to fit your project.

Word count: Take business fables, one of my most successful genres. These projects never top 25,000 words, use short paragraphs, and are built around simple ideas. If I write a thick book with lots of jargon, no matter how funny or well-written I make it, I can't play in this market. Similarly, my business self-help books generally tip the scales at 60-70,000 words, have clear reader benefits in each chapter, are written in third person, and use lots of "eye candy" such as sidebars and examples to break up a wall of prose.

Paragraph length and style: Lots of choices here. Do you want to write a weighty tome like James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds, a thought leadership book like Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, or a quick read like Seth Godin's Tribes? Surowiecki runs out his anecdotes over several pages, Gladwell hooks your attention with "aha" moments at the beginning of each chapter, and Godin uses tons of micro-examples written in second person ("You need to be using Twitter. Now."). Each of them "smell" the way they do because of reproducible points of style.

So go out there and break down your favorite books. Study their opening hooks, their paragraph lengths, their chapter structures, and the way they keep your interest flowing. Think of how these things might affect your own unique writing voice, and how you want your own books to be seen. Then get writing. Have fun!