Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Resolutions Revisited

Today is the last day of January. 2006 is one-twelfth over. How are those month-old resolutions, made when '05 became '06, faring?

Amazingly, this writer's year remains on track. So far.

* I want to have my three-year old Percheron working well under saddle by the end of the year. January's milestone was to have him wearing the saddle -- something that he's been doing comfortably while practicing his groundwork for over a week now.

* I want to conduct at least one teleseminar per month all year long. I actually had four scheduled this month, but three had to be cancelled due to a vendor's unforeseen open-heart surgery. But one got done. And the other three are on deck for February.

* I want to return to my pre-pregnancy level of physical fitness (exacerbated by doing more sitting on my ever-widening butt and writing, and doing less getting outside and riding, for the past three years). Part of that includes dropping 10 pounds and keeping it off by the end of the year. My goal for the first 10 months is to lose a pound a month. January's pound is gone.

* I am under contract to deliver Dr. Warson's book manuscript by October 1. I wanted to have all preliminary notes typed and organized by the end of January. That's done. Which leads into February's goal of finishing a rough draft of the project.

There are a few other little things that need checking off my list of Things To Do today, but they'll happen. And then January can be put to bed.

This run-down is by no means to be construed as a gloat fest. I'm not listing things here for bragging rights, but for the purposes of accountability.

If you made resolutions 31 days ago and have already tossed them by the wayside -- it's not too late. You had a plan! You had goals! What's stopping you from digging the Plan out, dusting it off, and charging into the fray again with purpose? Eleven months remain! Just think of the possibilities! Here's to you as you revisit your resolutions -- and wave January "bye bye!"

Monday, January 30, 2006

Cover Judging

This past weekend, my husband and I were all set to go and enjoy a night out at the movies. We had a babysitter lined up and everything. The only problem was -- there was nothing worth seeing within 40 miles. (With the notable exception of "Brokeback Mountain," a film I've already seen an embarrassing number of times, which my husband has no wish to see, and which, frankly, is not a date film, no matter how wonderful it is on a literary or cinematic level...)

I voted for "Casanova," another Heath Ledger vehicle that several friends have said is worth the admission price. But it hasn't showed around here yet, and there's no indication that it will any time soon. Robert and I both want to see "The New World," (He: Historical story looks good. Me: Colin Farrell and Christian Bale in one film? Rapture!) but it hasn't made it to the area yet either.

Both of those films have been out for WEEKS. What is showing at the many screens near here, you ask? "Underworld," "Syriana," and "Cheaper by the Dozen 2." Vampires, the Middle East, and unnecessary Disney remake. Not anything I'm dying to spend money on.

So we stayed home and rented DVD's. We watched two: "Two for the Money," a sports-betting-is-bad flick with Pacino, Russo, and McConaughey. And "Cypher," a 2002 sci-fi release starring Jeremy Northam and Lucy Liu. Both films were ok. I actually prefered "Cypher," but that may be because my expectations for it were lower.

The reason I bring this up, however, is to comment on the cover copy that caused us to pick up the DVD's in the first place. You know the drill: Wander up and down the aisle of New Releases. Look for something that catches your eye (that you haven't seen). See if they have it in widescreen. Flip it over and read the back. Make a decision on whether or not to watch something that Hollywood spent millions of dollars to produce based upon a few short paragraphs of text.

In both cases, the cover copy on the DVD's, while interesting, was inaccurate. "Two for the Money" is touted as a "con versus con" story. It's not. It's the story of a self-destructive, barely recovered gambling addict who runs a sports betting advice service. It's a character study -- not at all plot driven. "Cypher" was billed as a foray into the world of corporate espionage, but it's more of a spy thriller.

Makes you wonder if the people writing the copy have seen the movie.

They probably haven't. On many, many occasions, I've been on the other side of the cover text coin. I've written marketing copy and cover text for scores of videos that I've never seen. In some cases, I've written the promotional materials for projects that weren't even completed. I just have to take the producer's word for what the project will be about, and try to come up with something that accurately describes what they've produced.

I spent some time this morning talking to Geoff about the cover that Trafalgar Square has proposed for his book. A large part of the day was spent itemizing our concerns and explaining why we thought it would be worth changing a thing or two.

Ultimately, however, the decision is the publisher's (or, in the case of films, the producer's or the distibutor's). Those who are responsible for writing the words, or acting out the roles, are in no position to approve or edit the marketing copy that goes on the finished product.

This just goes to show how dangerous it is to judge a book by its cover. But what's the alternative? When choosing my Saturday evening entertainment, I'm as guilty of "cover judging" as the next person. When it comes to deciding how I'm going to spend my money, what I'm going to read, or what I will watch, I am at the mercy of the cover text composers. As Geoff's book is poised to head to press, that's a sobering thought indeed...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Oprah For President

Or, A Small Victory for Truth

I spent some time this morning doing a personal consultation with a woman who wanted some advice on querying publishers about acquiring her young adult novel. She has two books finished and is working on a third. It was so refreshing talking to her. She's not delusional about the publishing business. She doesn't take the thought of rejection personally. And she can really write.

I told her that all of my advice should be taken with a liberal sprinkling of salt because I haven't cracked the young adult novel market yet. I haven't cracked any fiction market -- non-fiction is currently paying the bills. But I was more than happy to help her with what I know. Hope it helps.

Speaking of cracking the fiction market, Oprah Herself called James Frey ("A Million Little Pieces") on the carpet today where she quizzed him about the fiction masquerading as reality in his book. During the interview, Frey admitted to fabricating or embellishing aspects of every character in his book. And Oprah even apologized for calling in on Larry King and defending Frey.

"I made a mistake," Oprah said. "I left the impression that the truth does not matter and I am deeply sorry about that. That is not what I believe."

Who wants to see Oprah interview our elected leaders? Show of hands anyone?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Animal Intuition

On January 21, the New York Times ran an editorial titled What the Nose Knows . It cited new scientific evidence that dogs can tell the difference between breath samples from people who have lung cancer and from people who don't. The dogs are right nearly every time.

This news will give pause to almost anyone who lives with a dog,the editorial stated. We tend to forget the extraordinary powers of the animals we live with simply because we live with them. We tend to humanize them, which means, if nothing else, that we tend to reduce them - in terms of their sensory powers - to our muddling level.

Wilson was our first dog when my husband and I got married. He was 4 -- a full-grown Dalmatian -- when we got him. He was a wonderful dog (not without his idiosyncracies, mind you, but a good dog nonetheless). And he hated a friend of ours. He hated this guy so passionately that whenever the friend visited, Wilson would start to tremble and drool and growl uncontrollably. We had to physically restrain him and shut him up in a room, or he would go after this guy in a heartbeat.

We were friends with this man and his family for years. His wife and kids could visit and Wilson was his normal self. But he became the were-Wilson anytime our friend came near him.

Then came the day our friend had a psychotic break. It took 6 armed policemen to escort him from where he worked. Within a matter of weeks, he attacked his family, tried to kill himself, spent some time in jail, and spent even more time in the psych ward of the local hospital.

And while we all shook our heads and said, "We never saw this coming. Who would have thought?" I couldn't escape the conviction that Wilson had known all along that our friend was dangerous.

Horses, dogs, birds, mice... It doesn't matter which end of the food chain a creature is on, the fact remains that animals often know things that we don't even know about ourselves. They are masters at reading body language. They can tell when we're lying, depressed, volatile, timid, miserable, scared, or playful. They don't have to ask. They just know.

When we are responsible for feeding, watering, mucking up after, vetting, and petting our animals, it is easy for us to forget that these are wild things. They don't care if the wind brings down the power or phone lines. They don't worry about what their friends will think of their hair style or their new clothes. They are much closer to nature than we are. They have an afinity with the world that we, in our sophisticated domesticity, have lost.

Though the editorial addresses only dogs, I think its point easily encompasses the entire animal kingdom. Man takes his superiority over nature as a given -- as his right. But domination or subordination does not make one species greater than or less than another. It merely widens the gap between them and encourages the "superior" being to discount what the creatures under his care know.

Then, one day, we discover that the secrets we hide so well from one another -- even things hidden from ourselves -- are plainly broadcast to those we thought were somehow beneath us...

More from the N.Y. Times:
Not that this will change the dynamic of our relations with man's best friend. For a while - remembering the cancer-sniffing dogs - some of us will wonder when we see our pets cock their heads, "What are you looking at?" But time will pass, and humans will be humans, and we will forget, at our end of the leash, that the beast we are walking with may already know things about us that we will discover only too late.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Jackstraws Marketing

When I was a kid, I had a game called "Jackstraws." It was essentially "Pick Up Sticks," but a little more difficult. The little plastic pieces were all sorts of little tools and implements from 4 to 8 inches high. Shovels. Picks. Crutches. Swords. Hoes. Canes. Lots of things with hooks and nooks and crevices and crannies.

To start the game, you'd gather all of the little pieces in a bundle in your hand, stand them on one end, open your fist, and let them fall to the table.

To play, you had to remove one piece at a time without moving any others. The person who lasted longest without moving another piece was the winner. It wasn't easy. Often, the pieces were hopelessly intertwined, and moving one had unexpected repercussions deep within the pile.

Lately I've been working on a marketing consulting project that calls to mind a game of Jackstraws. Some of the ideas I want to suggest that my client implement are so simple, so easy, so inexpensive, and so needed.

But certain parameters within the company's current set up preclude a simple implementation. Before anything new can be done, the marketing environment must first be tweaked to support the change. And before that can happen we must determine whether or not that tweak will irreparably compromise the current system.

If it sounds confusing, that's because it is. Every time I say to myself, "Here's a great, easy thing you can do," I learn that what might be great for marketing would be disastrous for another department.

And so I pick my way carefully, wondering if shifting a shovel here will cause a far away ladder to tremble. And I hope that this strategy is non-invasive enough to the existing marketing architecture that we can implement it right away for immediate results.

If you are in the process of building your own writing business, remember to plan enough autonomy into each new aspect of your work that you can safely try something in one area without compromising the security, structure, effectiveness, or efficiency of another.

Consciously create an environment that lends itself to testing new approaches and new theories. Because without a safe way to try out new things in order to see if they might help your bottom line, you'll eventually discover that you've just been playing Jackstraws... the pile of pieces is tightly packed... and it's your turn to move.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Beware of "Brokeback"

This weekend I finally saw Brokeback Mountain. I say "finally," because -- though the movie has been released since the end of last year, is one of the best-reviewed movies in a very long time, and is racking up awards left and right, it's still only playing on a handful of screens.

Last week, the film led the nation's box office in ticket sales for at least two days (Tuesday and Wednesday), even though it was playing in only 682 theaters. Presumably, the fact that people actually want to see it encouraged the Powers That Be to release it to more venues. King Kong opened on 3,568 theaters. This past weekend, "Brokeback's" release practically doubled. It's now showing on nearly 1,200 screens nationwide.

Amazingly, one of those 1,200 is here in Benton Harbor.

I almost fell over in shock. I thought I was going to have to travel to South Bend or Grand Rapids to see it (and was seriously considering making the trip). So before the theater owners changed their minds, I went.


The movie is remarkable in many respects. For instance, it is bullseye true to E. Annie Proulx' original short story.

(The story first appeared on Oct. 13, 1997, and earned the "New Yorker" the National Magazine Award for Fiction. It was featured in "Prize Stories 1998: The O. Henry Awards." It’s also available in “Close Range: Wyoming Stories,” and as a self-titled novella which, as of today, is ranked in the top 50 bestsellers on Amazon.com and moving up.)

Evidently, the New Yorker posted the story online for awhile at the end of 2005, but I couldn't find a reliable link at newyorker.com. However, the original short story can be found online if you look.

The film's text has an impeccable pedigree. Proulx won the 1994 Pulitzer for "The Shipping News." Fellow Pulitzer winner Larry McMurtry ("Lonesome Dove," 1986) was the seasoned screenwriter who kept the original prose largely intact while he translated it to the big screen. Rarely in Hollywood do words have such capable caretakers. And rarely is the source material treated with such reverence. [I predict an easy Oscar win for Best Adaptation to McMurtry and his screenwriting partner Diana Ossana.]

The movie mesmerizes rather than entertains. It's achingly sad without being depressing. Though every character is miserable, each is sympathetic.

The film has gotten a lot of press for its subject matter. But calling "Brokeback Mountain" a gay cowboy movie is like saying "Romeo & Juliet" is a play about teen suicide.

Far from being a narrowly-defined genre film, I find it a wide-reaching drama. I've never seen anything that so clearly illustrates the fact that we don't really connect with many of the people we meet. In other words:

I never knew you were missing from my life until I met you.

I met my husband when I was 17. I'd never given a great deal of thought to getting married. It was never an important goal in my life. My plan, upon graduating university, was to go to Europe -- probably France -- and find work as an ESL teacher. But Robert changed all that. My original plan was a good one. I just never knew Robert was missing...

In the same vein, having children was never a huge priority for me. We tried for years. As time passed, we figured that it just wasn't meant to be. When our daughter was born (after 14 years of marriage), it was as if the fabric of life had somehow changed. She literally adds a whole new dimension to my existence. All those years, and I never knew she was missing...

"Brokeback Mountain" explores what happens when you meet the person you never knew was missing from your life -- and choose to lose. It asks, "What happens when you discover too late that your worst fears weren't what you thought?" It reminds you that every choice counts. Every decision comes at a price.

Beware of "Brokeback." If you prefer your movies mindless, stay away. It's sobering, difficult, and melancholy; hardly the usual popcorn fare. It makes you think -- long after you've read the last word, or watched the credits begin to roll.

Of course, if you like that sort of thing (and one of the 1,200 screens happens to be in a theater near you), you're in luck. Besides, judging by the previews of upcoming releases (MI:3 anyone?), who knows when something this well-written, -crafted, -acted, and -directed will come our way again?

Friday, January 20, 2006


That's the subject heading of an e-mail my husband received a few days ago. At first, because it had an attachment, was from an unknown source, and was so poorly constructed, he nearly deleted it as spam. (You know those e-mails telling you that you've just won the Zimbabwean lottery? Literature compared to this.) But he's the webmaster for a few small sites for friends, and the text of the e-mail made him pause before hitting the "delete" button.

I won't print the original e-mail text here. I thought about doing it, but don't want to be cruel. The point I'm trying to make is a plea for professionalism. I don't want to do it at the expense of a friend's business partner.

Ah, but I want to make my point. So let's assume that my friend is an ice skater named Jane Smith, and this came from a new sponsor. The text of the e-mail ran something like this (with punctuation, spelling, spacing, and presentation preserved):

Goodevening,I am the sponsor company for jane.I am putting a link to jane's sie from ours which is being redone little by little.(nameofoursite.com)The highlights from Her Recent competition (jane's highlights is at all affiliate cable television networks as of today.Here is a logo of ours.She will be getting a pretty good bit of press shortly from iceprincess.com(really cool entertainment).If you need any thing,just let me know. NAME OF PERSON WE'VE NEVER HEARD OF.

With great trepidation, I went to the website mentioned. A great deal of time and attention had been spent on graphics. Not so much love had been bestowed on the text.

My friend defended the website and the business partner. "He doesn't have a lot of money to work with right now." "He's a little bit dyslexic." "He's doing the website himself and doing the best he can."

To which I say, "No he is not."

I'm sorry. If you have a computer, chances are you have a spell checker. Use it. Use it before sending out any communication to people with whom you hope to build business relationships. Use it on any text you intend to post on your website. Spell check is free. So is the dictionary at your library.

If you are dyslexic -- fine. I've taught several people with severe dyslexia. Dyslexia doesn't mean unprofessional. If words are not your thing, run what you've written past someone who has an easier time with the printed language. Or skip the text entirely and record or video what you have to say and post that.

If you are doing something that is new, that is not your area of expertise, and that is outside your comfort zone -- first of all, congratulations! You will make mistakes. That is to be expected. The important thing is that you learn from them and fix them as quickly as possible. Compress the learning curve. Do not flaunt your ignorance to those that you hope will someday send you money or pay your bills.

I feel very strongly about this. It's one of the reasons that, when I teach at writer's workshops or conferences, I stress professionalism in all areas of the writer's craft.

Of course no one is perfect. I realize that. But sloppiness and laziness are not the only other alternatives to perfection. I later learned that the e-mail originator had someone offer to edit his on-site text for free. He didn't think it was necessary...

A high standard of excellence quickly demonstrates to those who don't know you that you are competent, dependable, and trustworthy. Besides -- if you allow a plethora of errors to plague an e-mail or a website, how will your prospective customers ever be able to see past the dross in order to get the "ifo" they need?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Cover Story

It's official. Here's the cover of Geoff's book. Though the book doesn't officially exist yet, it had a big day today:

1.) The cover got set in stone,

2.) It got listed in the new Dover Saddlery catalog, and

3.) It got green-lit as a Book Club main selection.

Very exciting to see things coming together so quickly on the project. I can't wait to see it in print.

I also learned that Geoff may be featured in a TV show on Animal PlanetHorsepower: Road to the Maclay. Those of you who read "Horse Illustrated," will notice a press release about the show in the February issue. It looks like a reality sort of show about the Maclay Finals. It's scheduled to air the first week in February.

Geoff said that at one point he was filmed walking a course, but that's it. He says he figures he ended up on the cutting room floor. Further updates as events warrant!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- One More Reason to Ride!

I've been working with Dr. Warson on "The Rider's Back Book," and received this e-mail from him earlier this week:

Thought of another item: Why is it that your back hurts when you dismount, usually not before?

Answer (believe it or not, neurophysiologically it's true): riding a horse is neurophysiologically somewhat like mini-intercourse. The perineal stimulation results in endorphin release which masks the pain.

Do we put this somewhere, expand on it, or do you tell me where to get lost with it? 

I responded that since he's a doctor, I certainly won't quibble with his understanding of neurophysiology. All I (and millions of other women) needed, however, was ONE MORE REASON for our husbands to be jealous of the time we spend with our horses!

I also told him that I'd include this little tidbit in today's blog and see if it gets any sort of response. We haven't decided if it merits inclusion in the manuscript, however...

Considering Geoff's Book Cover

We received the preliminary cover art for "Geoff Teall on Riding Hunters, Jumpers and Equitation" today. I always feel a little presumptuous when I weigh in with my opinion on such things. It's not that I don't have an opinion. (I have opinions on nearly everything.) It's just that my opinion may not be the most informed one out there. Graphics and design aren't my thing. I'm aware of that. And so anything I venture must be taken with a liberal dose of salt.

I gave my two cents' worth -- it was certainly nice to be asked what I thought. But it's really up to Geoff and Trafalgar Square to make the final decision. That's fine. That's as it should be. I don't have to have the final word on everything in the project...

Things Could Be Worse
I had two teleseminars scheduled for yesterday (one with Terri and one with Geoff). Another one was scheduled with Dr. Warson this afternoon. We ran into unforeseen difficulties, however. Gary -- the guy who runs the bridge lines and does the recording -- was supposed to have angioplasty last Thursday. Unfortunately, he ended up having open heart surgery instead.

Amazingly, his wife called us from the hospital to apologize for the inconvenience! Poor guy. So, what was a mild glitch to me and my clients was literally a matter of life and death to him. We told him not to worry. He needs to focus on getting better, healing quickly, and not stressing. He'll contact us when he's up and running again.

I'm not in any hurry to find a new vendor or to do the teleseminars without him. I know what it's like to have medical issues interfere with work. I like this guy. We can wait.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Learning Curve

I have not one, but two teleseminars scheduled for today. One is with a good friend and a great writer, Terri Gordon. It's titled: "The A.C.E. Up Your Sleeve: Getting Started in the Writing Game." The second is with Geoff Teall, hunter judge and trainer extraordinaire. It explores "Top Ten Tips for Winning in the Hunter Ring."

I am extremely grateful to both of them for allowing me to learn and to practice on them. There's nothing like jumping into the ring to learn the ropes. The cool, unexpected bonus for me is the excitement with which I'm looking forward to these calls. They are far more fun than I dreamed they would be.

In Monday night's teleseminar class, Alex Mandossian talked about having goals and taking charge. Initiative works best, he said, before you meet the challenge head-on. In other words, it's better to anticipate potential problems and take steps to solve them before the emergency arises.

Alex also mentioned the following quote from Dr. Martin Luther King:

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

I found myself thinking on that for several hours afterwards...

As a participant in the teleseminar class, I have signed up for a contest evaluating the "most improved newbie." I doubt that I'll win (I've listened to the MP3 file of the teleseminar I did with Denise. Though what she has to say is great, I say "uh" far too often to win any contest...), but felt that I might as well enter. I believe it's good to participate in a class wholeheartedly, and one should practice what one preaches.

Besides, in order to meet the deadline to enter the contest, I had to do a teleseminar before January 16. That was the impetus to doing the call on "Top Ten Questions New Puppy Owners Ask" last Wednesday. So, whether or not I move up in the ranks of the contest participants, entering has been good for me already -- I got the first one done!

In order to enter the contest, I had to write a 250 word essay on why I feel I should be considered as a winner. Writing it made me isolate and identify my reasons for taking the course. I realized that the primary reason for my involvement was my clients and not myself.

I mentioned that my clients are world-class experts in their fields (with specialties ranging from horse and dog training to publishing to neurosurgery). They have a vast knowledge base that really deserves exposure to the greatest numbers of interested people possible. I’ve written books for them. But even a bestselling book can’t compete with the power of the spoken word when it comes to immediately connecting with an audience.

I told them that I believe teleseminars will become an important component of my clients’ marketing plans. Right now, however, I’m the “teleseminar ambassador,” because my clients aren’t yet convinced of the power of the phone. That’s about to change.

I explained that my first teleseminar was on January 11, 2006. It was a learning experience designed to culminate in an information product. Because my client was skeptical about the whole process, we didn’t even allow registrants. We simply conducted a short live interview and recorded it. By the end of the day, it was available on-line for downloading – and my client had enthusiastically begun planning a series!

Finally, I told them that in the next 48 hours, I have three teleseminars scheduled with three other clients. I want to learn everything I can about the medium in order to present my clients in the best, most professional light.

It's all a part of a huge learning curve. Right now, we're working on figuring out how to have people enter their names and e-mail addresses before they download the free MP3 files. We'd like to build a database of people who have visited the site and who have evidenced an interest in what we have to say. But we don't want to scare them or make them think they've signed up for something they don't want. Right now, I'm not happy with the way the database is working, so we don't have a means of building a list of people interested in what's there. But we'll figure it out... Eventually.

Monday, January 16, 2006

It's Outtahere!

It's done! That huge, months long transcription job is finished. I'd have done the Happy Dance, but I was too tired.

I really, really, really wanted to get it done before today. It was on my list of Things To Have Done by the end of last week. But it didn't happen. I was up till midnight, but my brain shut down and I started forgetting where the keys on my computer were. So I couldn't wrap it in a bow and send it until today.

The great, overweening problem is, of course, that since it was transcription only, with no (repeat, NO) editing allowed, there was no euphoric feeling that accompanied finishing the job. Just an enormous sense of relief.

Learn from this, I tell myself. No more "word hooking." Have some pride.

Ah, but a lack of pride is paying the utility bills this month. It's a cruel world...

Friday, January 13, 2006

A Million Little Sales

Have you been following the flack about James Frey and his book "A Million Little Pieces?" Evidently, the book is a "non-fiction" selection that Oprah featured in her book club. Frey went to school in St. Joseph, Michigan, in the mid 80's, and wrote about stuff that happened here -- including the deaths of two high school girls (Jane Hall and Melissa Sanders) in 1986.

Frey says he was involved. The police reports and others who remember the incident say otherwise. Even Miss O herself has gone public on Larry King and other places, defending Frey.

But he now admits that he embellished certain incidents. (In my book, "embellished" means "made up," which is the definition of "fiction.")

The book has been out since 2003 and sold well, as I understand it. But numbers are skyrocketing since this "scandal" erupted. This week, the AP covered the story and it made headlines (literally) in area newspapers from St. Joseph to South Bend, Indiana.

Frey's doing ok -- the book is being turned into a movie, scheduled for release later this year. Laurence Dunmore (who directed 2004's "The Libertine" with Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton, and John Malkovich, among others...) is attached to direct. No cast has been named yet, however.

The cynic in me (who, if she were a real person, would look exactly like Estelle, Joey Tribiani's chain-smoking agent from "Friends") wonders just how much of this furor was manufactured. The book's been out for 3 years without causing such a ruckus. But there's a movie coming. Gotta get name recognition any way we can. There is NO SUCH THING as bad publicity! And nothing sells like controversy.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A First Time for Everything

Yesterday, I conducted my first teleseminar. It was strangely exhilarating and much more fun than I thought it would be. In it, I interviewed Denise Hettig who, with her husband Marc, owns and operates Whistler Farm, a Labrador breeding and dog training facility in Southwest Michigan. Denise and I talked about choosing and training a puppy, and answered "The Top 10 Questions New Puppy Owners Ask."

It went very smoothly, after we dialed in on a second phone line to rid the line of an annoying electronic buzzing. We cracked ourselves up -- we were all set in her kitchen. Coffee. Computer. Notes. House-wide mandate of silence.

As the time for the teleseminar approached, I called in to the bridge line and we did a few practice intros. Then Gary, who provided our bridge and did our recording, broke in and told us about the aforementioned buzz.

After disconnecting, reconnecting, and trying every phone in the house, we ended up hanging up and going to the den to see if their second phone line, usually reserved for the computer, was any better. The buzz was gone, so we hastily re-set up shop in the den, and we were off and running. Whee!

It's so cool -- not only does conducting a teleseminar give me nearly the same "high" as teaching in a classroom, but Denise can now see the enormous possiblities the medium opens up. What a great way to disseminate what you know and share your knowledge with people who can use it.

I'm still jazzed about the whole experience. Three more teleseminars are scheduled for next week: one for writers, with Terri Gordon, on "Making Money Where You Live," One with Geoff Teall: "Top 10 Tips for Winning In the Hunter Ring." And one with Dr. James Warson on how to match a horse's conformation to your body type in order to have the most comfortable ride possible. I just know that great things await...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Halting Horse Bites

In Maine, last February, a man stopped along a road and fed carrots to a stallion (not his) on the other side of a fence. The stallion bit the guy in the face and even took off part of his ear. Then the genius sued the horse's owners!

I've looked on-line, but haven't been able to find the outcome of the lawsuit. I certainly hope that the judge had some sense and not only threw the case out of court, but also heavily fined the moron for something -- frivolous lawsuit... trespassing onto private property... animal abuse -- something.

The fact remains, however, that a biting horse can be a serious problem, if not an outright liability. A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a friend wondering if anything could be done about her 4-year old gelding with a confirmed biting problem.

When you walk past his stall, the horse will stand there, pin his ears back, glare at you, show you his teeth and generally act disagreeable.

I think he has three issues, to be honest, she said. He was low man where he was and got by with that agression towards humans. Plus he gets jealous when you give other horses attention. Plus he's establishing dominance in his stall.

Now when you put a halter on him that "almost" goes away. (Not quite, but a lot of that goes away.) It's a broken record. You get on him and ride him and he pretty much does what you ask of him. When you round pen him he does good until you ask for the canter and he pins the ears flat but does what's asked without any tail swiching or kicking out. It's an everyday thing. That's the only bad habit he has that I can tell.

This person knows all about Clinton's theories on groundwork and respect. She says that the gelding does the exercises just fine.

He may do them, but he's only phoning it in.

I believe that you can absolutely cure biting. Some thoughts on the problem:

Obviously biting is aggressive behavior. When you say "Oh, he's a biter," you generally mean that the problem is with biting humans, and not necessarily other horses. However, that may enter into the scenario as well. In any case, a horse that bites is not a horse that feels comfortable with you in charge. He wants to be in control -- at least of what he considers "his space."

Thought horses are not naturally aggressive towards people, they do thrive in a herd. And every herd needs a leader. If a horse is your horse herd's natural "leader," or if he is a herd of one (and, therefore, at the top of the pecking order) he may be loathe to relinquish his control when humans get involved.

If the biter is not the natural leader, he may be biting as a means of finding out where he fits in the pecking order. It may be his way of trying to establish that, while he may not be at the top of the horse herd, he can certainly try to be above the humans...

(I have to say that a bad attitude towards humans is one reason I am ABSOLUTELY AGAINST breaking horses too young. I don't believe in riding a horse until it is at least three. That's just me. I think they need time to grow, to be babies, to mature, and to be horses. Starting them in school too early, in my opinion, is like sending a bright 3 or 4 year old kid to all-day kindergarden. It hardens them too quickly. But I digress...)

One way to cure biting is with a remote controlled electronic collar. The horse wears the collar constantly for two or three days before anyone ever "zaps" him with it. Then, someone nearby holds the zapper, while someone else starts to work around the horse. When the horse goes to bite, the person working around him does nothing. He just continues doing whatever he was doing. But the person holding the zapper zings the horse.

This way, the horse doesn't associate the zap with the person who is working around him. He associates it more with the attempt to bite. Clinton is a big fan of these electronic collars. They can do the job, but it takes some timing, and an investment of time.

If you have a horse that bites, however, I would suggest you first try something much less extreme. The horse probably bites partly out of habit, and partly out of insolence. He's done it for so long, that he has very little respect for anyone on the ground.

Think of the battleaxe broodmare that no one in the pasture dares pin their ears back at. She doesn't put up with bad manners. She runs those upstarts away from their food. Then she leaves them alone. If someone gets snakey or displays bad manners, she runs him off again. Then she leave them alone again. In other words -- don't go near a biting horse looking for a fight. But be willing, ready, and able to use a dressage whip or lead rope to vigorously get them moving if they get snippy.

The "fix" for habitual insolence is, of course, groundwork. Lots of it. Get the horse moving in a direction that you indicate. Get him listening to you. Show him that you are worth paying attention to, and worthy of following. DO NOT respond to his biting by whacking on him. Respond to it by making him work.

In Praise of Small Opportunities

"Small opportunities are often the beginnings of great enterprises."

On Monday night, during the teleseminar course I'm taking, Alex Mandossian used Oprah Winfrey's early career arc to illustrate how grand things can come from inauspicious beginnings. Perhaps I'm the only person on the planet who didn't know the story of Oprah's entry into the talk show world. But if you don't know it either, here, in a nutshell, is what happened:

As I understand it, when Oprah was 19, she was the first African-American hired as a news anchor for a small network. The ratings were good, and she moved up to a larger network in a larger market. There, the suits complained that her delivery was "too emotional." So to get her out of the anchor's chair, they moved her and had her host a local talk show. Oprah took what was essentially a demotion and ran with it. The numbers of talk show viewers skyrocketed.

She later went to Chicago and hosted another local talk show that soon decimated the national shows (like "Donahue" and others) in the area ratings. After 7 years of consistent, hard work, the Powers That Be decided to rename her show "The Oprah Winfrey Show." And the rest is history.

Oprah is credited with saying, "Sometimes you don't choose your career. Sometimes your career chooses you."

Alex pointed out that there are little possibilities all around us. Too often people focus on getting one big score that they are blinded to the many smaller opportunities that present themselves -- and lose out.

It was like listening to someone else read my words back to me.

My friend Terri Gordon (who is also a writer) and I have had many conversations about this very thing. Terri is a self-described "slow builder." She has steadily been building a name for herself as a writer for local publications. She's a dedicated, committed, professional, and talented writer. I keep telling her to start querying and writing for national magazines. She's had some success with the national periodicals she contacts. But her bread and butter is in her writing for the local market.

It's not that she doesn't ever want to "go national." For now, however, she has more work than she can handle right here in her own little corner of the world. And she's happy honing her craft while slowly increasing her sphere of influence.

Just yesterday, Terri and I were talking about this very topic as we discussed doing some teleseminars together. In the near future, I'm going to be interviewing her about "Writing Close to Home" and "Finding the Paycheck in Your Own Hometown." It's a topic that I enjoy speaking about at writer's conferences and live seminars. It's something I did for years. But it's something that Terri's doing right now. And she's willing to share what she knows to help others find their own opportunities.

Small opportunities. A single teleseminar. A local writing gig. A little talk show on local television. With a little vision and a solid work ethic, great enterprises will soon result.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Continuing Cat Quest

We went to some friends' house for dinner tonight, and the conversation took an interesting turn...

It seems that several people in the area (one an immediate neighbor, as far as property lines go) have recently seen what they call "a big, black cat." Big. As in "bigger than a dog," "big as a cougar," big.

* Our neighbor's wife was walking her dog when she saw it. She came back and told her husband, who didn't take her seriously.

* However, a few days later, some friends of his who didn't know about the wife's experience, told him about seeing a big black cat run across the road in front of their car.

* Another neighbor -- a hunter who knows the area, and who is familiar with the sounds around here -- was walking his dog on the "back 40" when he heard a strange snarling. Whatever it was ran away from him as well, and made quite a bit of noise when it did so.

All of these instances happened within a mile of where the horse was attacked at the end of November. They may have actually occurred, with more than one witness, but none have been officially documented. No photographs. No prints or casts of prints. No scat. Interesting.

Just for grins and giggles, type in "big, black, cat, cougar" into your favorite search engine and spend some time on the sites that pop up.

It appears that this type of story isn't all that unusual. Lots of people, with nothing to gain by making up a story, will swear that they've seen a large, black, cougar-sized cat. Lots more will respond by pointing out that there is absolutely no hard evidence to support the stories.

Then, every so often, someone will mention an exotic species like a Jaguar or a Jaguarundi, and suggest that the sightings might be an escaped exotic that someone was keeping on the shady side of the law. If you're keeping something that's illegal to own in the first place, chances are you're not going to be in a hurry to sound an official alert if the thing gets away from you (or if it gets to be too much to handle and you set it free).

The "escaped exotic" angle is an interesting, and increasingly plausible, possibility in the Berrien County Cat Caper. It is widely known that several illicit and illegal dog fighting rings operate in the area. Last year, a badly mauled Pit Bull that was used to bait the fighting dogs made the local news when she was rescued by some good Samaritans. Several years ago, a large exotic animal fight club was in existence just across state lines. It, too, featured dog fights. The losers were literally thrown to the lions -- exotic big cats kept onsite to discourage visitors and dispose of the evidence.

According to what I read online, illegally, privately owned lions, tigers, and other big cats are a particular problem in Michigan, where they are used by drug dealers to protect their merchandise. In November, 2002, a dead tiger that had been clubbed to death (there is a special circle in hell for some people...) was found in a field in Detroit. Closer to home, late in October, 1995, a "pet lion" attacked and killed a woman in nearby Allegan, while her 9-year-old daughter watched.

Also interesting is a news story from Feb., 2005, from Winfield, IN (about 90 miles southwest of here). Video and still photography captured images of an extremely large (between 25 and 35 pounds) black cat that raised more questions than it answered. They don't know what it is, but strongly suspect an escaped exotic. Big cats can cover a lot of territory...

Regardless of what attacked the horse in late November, it's quite clear that big cats are in the area. I'm certain that the story is far from over. At the very least, it makes for fascinating dinner conversation.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Underpromise. Overdeliver.

Lately, as I've been talking with Geoff, Dr. Warson, and a few others who I hope to do teleseminars with in the near future, I've been stressing the concept of overdelivering on our content. Fortunately, I don't have to do a hard sell of the concept. All the experts I'm working with understand the importance of going "above and beyond" what's expected.

Alex Mandossian, who is teaching the teleseminar course I'm taking, talks about "overdelivering" a lot. And I have to say, he certainly practices what he preaches. I've easily gotten 10 times the material that I've paid for in bonus e-books, audio files, .pdf files, and bonus teleseminars. It will keep me busy learning for years.

Though giving away more than you promised may seem counter-productive to a culture that believes in putting a price tag on everything, I think it's an important part of any well-run, above-board business with a desire for longevity. It's simple: satisfied customers return. Unsatisfied ones don't.

So, to my esteemed experts, my advice for our first foray into the audio information age is to keep our audience in mind and give away as much information as possible in our allotted time. Each teleseminar is only 60 minutes. You can't possibly tell people everything you know in 60 minutes. But you can get people to love hearing your voice as they realize that you deliver lots of content, rather than teasing them with bits and pieces.

In my opinion, offering a little bit extra is one of the fastest and easiest ways for writers and othe professionals to build a dependable, loyal client base. (Incidentally, this does not mean that if an editor requests a 1500 word article, you turn in 2500 words. It could, however, mean turning in a tightly edited, well-crafted 1500 word piece, with a relevant 1000 word sidebar included just in case there might be a use for it.)

Case in point: I contacted one of the vendors recommended during the course of the teleseminar -- a very nice guy named Gary who provides phone bridge lines and call recording services, among other things. I requested his rates for recording three simple calls.

What I need him to do for me is on a very small scale, compared to some of the complex multi-line teleseminars he handles. He hasn't seen one dime of my money yet. Yet he immediately got back to me, answered my questions, and directed me to a FREE bridge service -- even though he operates fee-based bridge lines.

Furthermore, as we started talking about times and dates, it became clear that the times that would work best for me and my clients just happen to be very slow times for him. So he offered to make matters easier by adding an extra service that he normally charges for at no extra cost.

I haven't even conducted a single teleseminar yet, and already I know I'll use Gary's services again. I know he comes highly recommended. I know he'll give me the time of day. And I don't feel like he's out to take my last penny.

Underpromise. Overdeliver. That's all it takes to have more work than you can handle!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Defining Moments

Geoff and I have been talking about our first (test) teleseminar. I want to get some experience with the medium and the format. And there's no sense in waiting the months it will take for the book to be released to start making Geoff's expertise available to the people who can use it.

Our first teleseminar will be as much practice for us as anything else. But that doesn't mean it won't contain useful information. We intend to record it and make the audio file of the teleseminar freely available as a downloadable MP3 file, while we play with the presentation and start building awareness of what Geoff has to say.

Since Geoff is an "R" Hunt Seat Equitation judge, he thought that a seminar explaining what judges look for in the showring would be useful. I agree.

Too often, people approach an event from a limited perspective without realizing what things the person or persons evaluating them are looking for. I almost always find this to be true when speaking to writers who are just beginning their writing career. Instead of asking what editors or publishers need, they think only of getting their words into print. More often than not, such a limited view actually keeps them from achieving their goals.

The same sort of problem is common in the horse show world. Many riders (and too many instructors) set their sights on riding in a particular class or division without ever considering how the judge will see their performance.

Settling on the topic was relatively easy. Now what we must do is narrowly define our presentation. I've suggested coming up with a list of either 7 or 10 things to illustrate whatever topic we decide upon. Timewise, those numbers lend themselves well to an hour of discussion. From a marketing point of view, they also work well ("7 Deadly Sins..." "7 Secrets of..." "Top 10...").

Some of the narrowly defined topic ideas that I've come up with for a 1 hour teleseminar on Judging Hunt Seat Equitation are:

* Common Hunt Seat Equitation problems. How to identify them and eliminate them from your riding. Possible titles:
"Seven Deadly Sins of Hunt Seat Equitation (and how to avoid them)"
"Top 10 Hunt Seat Equitation Faults (and how to correct them)"

* Demystifying the judging process. How to know what the judge is looking for and evaluating. Possible titles:
"You Be the Judge: Seven Simple Steps to Evaluating Your Own Hunt Seat Equitation Skills"
"The Judge's Card: Top 10 Secrets to a Winning Round"
"The Unbeatable Ride: What the Hunt Seat Equitation Judge is Dying to See"

* Tips for improving Equitation over fences. Improve accuracy, consistency or presentation. Possible titles:
"Seven Secrets of Fault-Free Fences"
"On Course: Top Ten Tips for Hunt Seat Equitation Success"

What I find fascinating is that though they're all really just variations on a theme, each would yield a very different hour of conversation. We haven't decided on a particular approach yet. Any preferences?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Emergency Planning

Our New Year's Eve -- a quiet evening spent at home with a few friends -- was put on hold when a mildly inebriated gentleman knocked on our door and informed us that "there was a really big horse" running all over the road.

From his description, I knew it wasn't one of my boys.

"It's big! And white! With spots. Kind of like those."

With the last comment, he indicated my Dalmatians, which got me wondering who in the area had a leopard Appaloosa. But then the man reconsidered my dogs... "Only bigger." (A Paint Horse, perhaps?) "And... the other way."

"Could it be a darker horse with big white spots?" I asked him.

He thought it could. Whatever it was, he assured us, it was a horse. And it was BIG.

It turned out that our neighbor's Percheron gelding had gotten loose, along with their pony, so we put our visit on hold and set out to look for them. After some fruitless driving around, we finally found them at the corner of our field, more than ready to go home.

And so all's well -- no one got hit on the road or otherwise irreparably injured. Happy New Year indeed!

Having a horse get loose and cause havoc on the road, however, is one of my greatest fears. I have been known to wake up in the dead of night, certain that I have A.) heard hooves on the asphalt, B.) heard the screech of brakes, and C.) become the new defendant in a liability lawsuit.

As we sat in my living room waiting for 2006 to arrive, we discussed the need for proper emergency measures should something similar ever happen again (God forbid!). Some results of our brainstorming session:

* Have a list of nearby people who know horses, who you can call on to help recapture the lost. The list should include cell phones and home phones.

* Decide how you are going to stay in touch while searching. If by cell phone, make sure everyone has everyone else's number. If by walkie talkie (our choice), be sure to specify a channel. Ideally, do a sound check before disaster strikes.

* Have a "designated caller" who gets on the phone, tells people of the situation, and coordinates calls from a central location. Ideally, the location is the missing horse's home. If that's not possible, it should be in a place where the missing horse can be temporarily stabled if and when he is caught.

* Have the "designated caller" contact the local sheriff or police department and alert them that a large animal is loose. Give a contact number for if the animal is sighted or involved in an accident. (Unfortunately, many officials don't take this seriously. "If we find him, can we ride him home," local emergency personnel joked. Ha, ha. Ever see what happens to a car that hits a 200 pound deer? Imagine what could happen if it hit a 2000 pound horse.)

* Have the emergency contact numbers of several large animal vets. If the situation turns grim, you may not be able to get through to your vet of choice. Sometimes any vet will do.

* Have a portable horse first aid kit packed in a backpack or duffel bag. At the very least it should include the afore-mentioned list of vet numbers, bandages, polo wraps, disposable diapers (especially good for covering large leg wounds), an extra halter and leadrope, a small can of pellets or grain for rattling, a twitch, and a flashlight with reliable batteries.

* Wear reflective clothing if you will be anywhere near a road. Vests with reflective tape on them are invaluable. The small blinking lights used by trick-or-treaters are also great aids to staying visible.

* Have access to several powerful (at least 1 million candle power) spotlights. Have them charged and ready to go. If driving, have a passenger in the car use a spotlight to sweep the roadsides and fields.

* When the horse is finally caught, remember to contact the local law enforcement and let them know that things are under control.

Here's hoping that you never need to put your emergency measures into action. But if you DO, having a plan could save you valuable time. It could literally save your horse's life.

Happy Birthday, Little One!
Today my little girl turns three. Where does the time go? You blink... It's over, and they're babies no more.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Next "Goal" Post

For many, coming up with the Grand Plan -- a big, over-arching goal -- isn't a problem. In fact, a lot of people (myself included) can easily come up with a plethora of solidly good, important, and necessary goals. For us, stating what we want to do isn't difficult at all. What can rob us of achieving our dreams is deciding how we're going to do it.

In other words, the end is in sight. We just don't know what road we're going to take to get there.

In his book, Geoff dedicates an entire chapter to goal-setting. While at first, such a thing may seem esoteric or out of place in a book about improving one's riding, the reader very quickly realizes how important the chapter is. Because without knowing what you want to achieve -- and having a plan -- you are literally just riding your horse around in circles.

One of the things that Geoff suggests you do is take your Ultimate Goal and determine the first milestone you need to reach on your way. If you want to ride in a major invitational horse show, for instance, figure out which shows you'll need to qualify in. Then work only on doing well at the first one. That becomes your new focus. When you have passed that milestone, then you can set your sights on the next thing that has to happen on the way toward your Ultimate Goal.

In the world of writing, if your Ultimate Goal is to have your novel become a bestseller, you must first find a publisher for it. (Actually, you must first have a novel. Really. First things first.) Once you have a publisher, the next milestone is to plan a marketing campaign specifically targeted at increasing sales at a particular place for a particular time frame. When a solid plan has been made, the next milestone is to implement it.

The smaller goals along the way prepare the foundation that you will need to climb upon to reach your dreams.

Teleseminar guru Alex Mandossian (Whose class is changing my life. Literally.) also believes in breaking larger goals down into smaller, more manageable bite-sized pieces. He advocates articulating your Ultimate Goal for a 12 month period. Then he suggests that you divide the goal into 12 parts. Get out a calendar and actually come up with a plan for how you will achieve one part each month. If you follow your plan, at the end of the year, you will have met your goal.

Now, the whole "break the goal into small pieces and then plan how you will master each piece" philosophy that both Geoff and Alex espouse is pure common sense. It also sounds deceptively easy. But it's taken me the better part of the last 4 days to actually do just that for all the things I want to accomplish this next year.

Stating the things I want to do is easy. Looking at a calendar and coming up with an actual, honest-to-God plan of what I will do was much more difficult than I imagined. But it's done now. And I can comfortably say that going through the exercise has cleared away a lot of the haze that hung between where I am and where I want to be. "Oohh! So THAT'S how to get there from here!"

I challenge you, while the year is still young, to think about what you want to have accomplished by next year this time. Analyze it. Determine what you'll have to do in order to achieve it. Get a calendar out and make a plan -- a do-able plan. Then commit yourself to doing only what's on your plate for January. It's much more plausible and possible (not to mention a whole lot less intimidating) than looking the Ultimate Goal in the eye and aiming for it.

Good luck! And here's to a success-filled year!