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The Right Words Can’t Fix The Wrong Strategy

A colleague keeps asking for my thoughts on promoting his book and I haven’t had the courage to tell him I could not get past the first chapter.

In my defense, the book is already published, so my feedback at this point isn’t mission-critical. If the man wanted true feedback he’d have sent it when it was a draft. But to ask for feedback on a published piece that’s already in bookstores is a moot point.

The thing I would have told him, had he asked me at the appropriate time, was the book is confused about what it is.

That happens when an author is confused about who he is.

This author has a strong story – there is not a plot problem, there is a heart problem. The author is trying to be something he is not: evolved, self-aware, inspirational. But I know the author and that is not his disposition. He is cunning and sharp, entitled and competitive. Each page I turn I cannot find my colleague. I see him posturing as who he thinks he should be.

The writing, as a result, falls flat. What could have been a poignant moment of self-reflection reads trite and forced.

When you pretend to be something you’re not, it doesn’t work.

There is no amount of editing, word-smithing, or copyedits that can fix this man’s book. This is an internal problem. One of identity and self-awareness.

Without the awareness to know what reads, “flat, trite, and forced,” we can’t fix it.

We have to learn to see.

Tuesday I wrapped up conversations with 16 Copy Workshop graduates who said that the thing that affected them the most from the workshop was the peer feedback. The respect, trust, and time spent on helping them identify their own blindspots and make the work stronger – blew them away.

It blew me away, too.

There are two people in my life who’ve done this for me – had the courage to tell me what wasn’t working, where my words fell flat, where I was hiding, and where I was lying (mostly to myself).

That generosity did more for me than anyone who edited grammar or copyedited a headline. Because even if you copyedit a headline to make it “perfect” it won’t work if it’s trying to be something it’s not.

Without the ability to see your blindspots, to see what is not working, to see who you are trying to reach and what they need to hear – it doesn’t matter if you have the right words.

There are no right words for a wrong strategy.

That is what I teach in It’s not tips, tricks, and hacks, though we have those too, they just won’t help you if you can’t see.

for the January 2022 session. If you want to write more effective copy that inspires people to take action, come join us. Our peer-to-peer cohort-based learning model means you will be surrounded by people who will be giving you generous feedback and helping you learn to see.

By the end of the workshop, you will feel comfortable in front of a blank page, confident about what strategies to use, and clear about what to say (and smart about how you say it).

Most of all, you’ll have a tribe of people who will have the respect and courage to tell you when something isn’t working and to help you see why.

Class starts Jan 24th, doors close Jan 17th.


PS: I run in partnership with Akimbo, which you might recognize as Seth Godin’s old stomping grounds 😉 The folks over at HQ are doing something they’ve never done before — they’re getting rid of discounts. To pay homage to this strategic shift, they’re running their VERY LAST discount for The Copy Workshop, using something called the purple circle 🟣. From now until early-January, you can click on that purple circle and it will take you to a checkout page with a discount.


Each day (or week) the discount goes up. They won’t tell me when or by how much – I just know that progressively each day or week until early-January, the price goes up.

So if you’re interested in The Copy Workshop and you’d like to spend less than $1,200 on it and click the purple circle.

PPS: Also there’s Wanna see me and Seth Godin and the other Akimbo teacher all-stars live?