Writing Your Way to Western Saddle Success

It’s interesting that graphic designers can easily manage to convey to clients that the designers create innovative beauty costing big bucks.

And yet, writers generally have to justify, defend and explain their rates continually.

So what makes the difference? What makes creative design command more money than that creative copy? Is it vision? Skills? Imagination? Tangible goods that clients can perceive? Beauty?

All that and more. It’s perception, plain and simple – and writers are unfortunately stuck dealing with what their clients perceive.

“But I write great work!” I can hear the cries now. “Surely my client can see that. Just take a look at my outstanding portfolio and my blog. It’s clear that I’m an excellent writer. My work speaks for itself. Why can’t they see that?”

Because people who aren’t in the industry can’t. Period. And you really can’t blame them for it, either.

Writing the Western Saddle

Horsemen are pretty proud people, and western riders love all the bling they can get. Shiny buckles, braids, accessories, and carved leather make a western saddle a beautiful thing to behold. A quality saddle costs more than a car.

I know nothing about western saddles beyond leather storage and care. I know how to saddle up a horse and I know what makes for a comfy ride.

But I couldn’t tell you if that intricate rose-work pattern was hand-carved or stamped in by a machine. I wouldn’t know if latticework is tricky or scrolling is more difficult. I couldn’t tell if those laces were well set in or whether the braids are better choices.

Present me with 10 western saddles, and I couldn’t tell you which one was better than the next. My perception is simple: it’s a western saddle. You strap it on, you sit, you ride. Hopefully, you don’t get too sore in the process.

Good Looks or a Better Ride

So if I’m in the market for a western saddle, I’m going to choose based on personal preference. This one looks pretty. It’s got extra bling. It feels nice. It’s comfy and the price is reasonable. The sales rep keeps saying the plainer saddle over there at four times the price is the better saddle, but I’m not convinced.

My perception is that the saddle I’ve chosen is a good one – because I don’t know any better. I’m shopping based on my budget and my needs. I also think I’m too smart to take someone’s word for granted. Hey. I’m an educated person, after all. I’m smart enough to know a great deal!

That’s the problem with writing. Unless you’re a saddlemaker or someone steeped in the industry, you couldn’t tell much beyond what you perceive as quality. Your decisions are based on trying not to look like an idiot and trying to fit the expense into what little money you have.

Same thing goes for writing. People try to buy within their budget (while trying not to be shocked at the cost) and they try to appear like they really know what they’re talking about. But unless they fully knew what quality writing was, unless they’d tried writing or seen poor and good results compared, they couldn’t tell the difference if the letters smacked them in the head.

Be a Nice Salesperson

I see too many writers working hard to defend themselves. They get snotty too. What’s the point in making someone feel stupid with snarky comments, though? “Well, you get what you pay for…” or “Do you even know what quality is?” or even “If you think cheaper writers can do a better job, then good luck to you!”

Oh come on; you know who you are. There’s a massive group of arTEESTes out there making lofty cries right now.

The best shopping experiences I have? They’re the ones when I ask a clerk a question, he answers, and then he allows me to choose not to buy. He smiles, thanks me for my looking time, and lets me do what I want to do.

He doesn’t make me feel small. And want to know something? I think better of him – and I come back to shop at his store for something else.

People aren’t stupid. They know quality from crap. They aren’t trying to put down your work or get your dander up by offending you. They’re just not writers. They don’t know. They’re choosing the pretty saddle – doesn’t matter if it’s not the most comfortable ride. They’re making decisions on what they feel is best for them.

“We need to educate people then!” I know. Of course we do. The world could use more education on the value of words. But as writers, we can do it in a way that educates people and makes them feel good without attacking their ignorance.

So empower people. Teach them the differences of quality. Let them know how long it takes to write (and write well). Show them what more you can give beyond common words, and explain to them how you propose to do so. Invite people into your world, and help them explore it.

Don’t make them feel unwelcome.

And if they do end up choosing the pretty saddle over the better one? Let them. Wish them well with a cheery smile and some understanding. They’ll come back when they’re saddle sore.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Ooh, pretty shiny words… must buy them…


  2. James,

    The hand-carved rose in this post:

    They try to appear like they really know what they’re talking about.

    Watch for that, it’s a doozy in every creative industry. Something you have to acknowledge and find a way to work with.

    I have to disagree with the notion that graphic designers can “easily” convey their value. The biggest competition is “do nothing,” and 80% of folks are willing to go with that, just as in writing.

    To me, the writer’s dilemma is as simple as this. We can all write. That makes it hard to sell writing, because we all think we can write well enough, until we learn about the benefits of better writing.



    Kellys last blog post..Happy Small Business Friday: The Merriment Post

  3. Great analogy! My daughter is a horsewoman, whose favorite graduation present was a brand spankin’ new Western saddle. Some special kind of Western saddle that I really don’t know too much more about, except that I’m sure it cost more than I want to know. They have a mysterious world, these horsepeople, and lots of them spend lots of money in that world.

    Good customer service delivery doesn’t mean you need to know everything about their world. Instead, you instinctively refine the skills that assist you with the particular customer you are serving. It’s that thing people who make you feel you are the most important person in the world at this moment do so very well.

    Most people know what they want and need. For us to presume that we know is, in their minds, well…presumptuous. Better to introduce the ideas in a smorgasbord and let them choose. That way they own the process, too, and voila! A collaboration is born and you’re partners! It’s far harder to go back on a partnership than it is a transaction.

    Betsys last blog post..NO FARTHER THAN FAIRBANKS

  4. Bill Kanapaux says:

    Are there really people out there who get bent out of shape because someone doesn’t recognize their awesomely artistic writing skills? If somebody has success writing copy that I don’t consider that good, I’d be more likely to want to know what they’re doing right to sell themselves to those clients.

    If they’re bottom-feeding at what they charge, then forget it. If not, then you could say that their copy is better than anything I’m producing because it fits the needs of the client. I’m pretty non-sentimental about my writing. It either works or it doesn’t. And ultimately that depends on how people / clients respond to it.

    It may be true that a lot of good writing talent goes neglected, but it’s up to each of us to make sure ours doesn’t.

    Bill Kanapauxs last blog post..White devil in Caprivi: an outsider’s tale

  5. The nice salesperson is important. I would add, casually nice. People who are testy, obviously need the work more than those who are cool. If they need the work, then they’re probably not as good.

    Writer Dads last blog post..A Breath of Fresh Air

  6. Most people are lazy by nature. A graphic designer will give you instant gratification, a visual orgasm without any effort on your part whereas a writer, however great the text is still requires intellectual effort to fully appreciate the value of the work.

    Urbane Lions last blog post..Gas light? What gas light?

  7. Excellent topic, James. This is so rampant it’s no wonder copywriters have inferiority complexes.

    Kelly is right. I think one problem is that everyone thinks they can write and, so, writing is undervalued. In our dynamic biz duo, my partner (and husband) is the designer and his magic is always needed. Me, the copywriter? I often hear one of two things:

    – I can write my own copy. (Translate: I don’t want to pay for it.)
    – I’ll write it, if you could just “clean it up.” ( Translate: It’ll need a complete rewrite.)

    In the instances where a client does hire me, I find myself an educator at the same time. Because they don’t know how to write to sell, I include notes on why I did what I did. It’s not so much that I’m defending the content as teaching them, so they’ll begin to recognize good, effective copywriting techniques. It takes more time, but it’s worth it. Next piece, they understand a little more and it just gets easier to work with them.

    Besides, it’s fun when they start getting more sales and orders from a brochure or sales letter.

  8. Urban Panther says:

    Oh, there is a line in your post I am dying to run with. It’s killing me, but I’ll just leave to everyone to play Where’s the Line? instead.

    People tell me they love my stories, and they ask me how long it takes to write them. When I give them my answer I give them the time to a) dream it up b) muddle it around in my brain c) put it to paper d) edit it e) edit it again f) have the Lion read it g) post it the website. They are always shocked at the amount of time a 3 or 4 paragraph story takes.

    I smile politely, but the arTEEST in me is silently screaming “That is why you like my stories. I don’t just slap them off, ya know!”

    Urban Panthers last blog post..Cut and run

  9. @ Panther – So if I told you I wrote this post in 15 minutes and edited in five, would you tell me I just slap ’em off? Or I am just special? 😉

  10. Heheh… actually, it shows I wrote the post in 15 minutes. Whoever picked up on that lovely sentence that both has an unclear pronoun AND an extra word at the end gets twenty points!

    (And it’s gone now. All fixed!)

  11. Hey James, Allena. You know I don’t visit as often as i should, but I just could not resist the equestrian reference. And I COULD tell saddle quality- both literally- I competed for 20 years, and figuratively (it’s the one that gets the job done).

    Allena Tapias last blog post..Now Read This: Stephen King’s "On Writing"

  12. @ Allena – Ahh, but see? You knew the difference because you KNEW. Anyone who didn’t know by experience wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

    And if you want horses, I have a kick-ass series idea in mind.. been hesitant on it because… well, it’s horses. *I* like horses (20 years as well in the saddle, only mine were English ones), but do other people?

  13. Umm, I don’t know about in Canada, but here in the US we have plenty of stupid people. I could give you about a billion examples. LOL.

    It seems to me the reason the graphic designer could charge more is because it’s something so completely foreign to a client they think, “Oh, that must be hard and take lots of hours.”

    On the other hand, they write in emails and in other areas all the time – so writing isn’t all that foreign to them (and is free) so it can’t be all that expensive. Plus everyone hears of “graphic design schools” but you rarely hear “content writing schools”. So again, there’s a perception out there that one takes more schooling over the other – more of a subconscious thing.

    Like you said, you have to educate them and hopefully they see it’s not that black and white.

    John Hoff – eVentureBizs last blog post..Securing Your WordPress Blog: Post 4 – Setting Up .htaccess

  14. Oh, and I just noticed the feed counter. Cool!

  15. @ John – Yeah, we finally broke down. It was time.

  16. Uh, James…Ya got me scooting over to look at Hermes saddles this am….now there is some copywriting and you can test ride the saddles at Dover Saddlery …course they had me at the stylish leather.

    I have to disagree with the Urbane Lion…just because it is non verbal, it doesn’t mean there is no intellect involved in a visual orgasm….but I get your meaning.

    It is the passionate few and the impassionate masses, that place where they intersect. There’s an opportunity. For the tailor to show his seam in a bespoke coat, or a cobbler to pass along some polish that he uses on those custom shoes. The buyer….he wants that coat to fit, and wants his shoes to shine…if they endure a little better… get him the girl…he’ll be back again. No need to yell.

    Janice C Cartiers last blog post..Send More Godiva

  17. James,

    Slap, dash!

    “It’s interesting that graphic designers can easily manage to convey to clients that they create innovative beauty costing big bucks for. ”

    Gaw, this is the only way I can get any attention anymore. No love for Kelly. None at all.



  18. The arTEESTe thing always gives me a giggle. It’s SO true. Love this post.

    Amy Derbys last blog post..What’s Your Dream Gig?

  19. I think 2000+ is quite an accomplishment. That’s a lot of people. And the good thing is, many of these people came to you in a very short amount of time, which means hopefully they are interested (am I assuming?).

    It’s been less than a year since you switched themes and as I recall, you lost a bunch of subscribers because of the move and had to rebuild.

    Congrats 🙂

    John Hoff – eVentureBizs last blog post..Securing Your WordPress Blog: Post 4 – Setting Up .htaccess

  20. When it comes to making sales, I find that it’s best to get customers talking. Find out their wants and needs, then effectively communicate that you understand. Sure, you can’t assume to know what they need, but you do have to anticipate what would be a good fit. If you let the customer wander through all her choices, she’s likely to get overwhelmed and leave.

    For example, I sell shoes. When a customer comes to my department, I try to find out if she has foot or back problems. If she has severe overpronation and needs a dress shoe, I know that she’ll no longer trust me when I show her 5 inch heels. Instead, I would bring her 5 different shoes with better support. I can give her specifics on how each shoe will combat the problems associated with her condition.

    If I communicate specifics relating to a customer’s problem, I will almost always make the sale. All customers want is good service and understanding 🙂

    RL Davids last blog post..A very short hiatus…

  21. “I see too many writers working hard to defend themselves. They get snotty too. What’s the point in making someone feel stupid with snarky comments, though?”

    This is a good example of behaving in a way that leads to getting results that are opposite of what you want.

    If you want to make a sale. Use techniques that work. Pissing the customer off never does.

    Bamboo Forests last blog post..How to Make a Better Future for Yourself

  22. Urban Panther says:

    @James – what? You mean to say, you whipped this post up, and you didn’t cleverly, and on purpose, build a double entendre into “You strap it on, you sit, you ride. Hopefully, you don’t get too sore in the process.”? (sorry, it was really killing me and totally ruining the start to a nice long weekend)

    Urban Panthers last blog post..Cut and run

  23. @Urban Panther – LMAO! I didn’t catch that!

    RL Davids last blog post..A very short hiatus…

  24. I think the reason most people don’t appreciate good writing is that, when something is well written, it doesn’t call attention to itself. To the reader, the words simply flow off the page. Because it takes so little effort to read and understand it, they assume that it’s easy to write, as well.

    Thus, a writer’s own talent can become his or her undoing. Not a happy thought.

    Debbis last blog post..Top 10 Blogs for Writers Contest

  25. Can’t read your post today, James… sorry… too busy ogling that gorgeous saddle. Try for less attractive illustrations next time, will you? 😀

  26. Okay… you knew I’d read it.

    Part of what we sell as freelance writers – and a large part, I’d say – is peace of mind. Our clients know they don’t have to worry about looking foolish or underprepared or inept, because we’re taking care of them.

    And for those who can’t tell the good saddle from the Naugahyde knock-off, we’re selling them a security blanket as much as whatever the writing is supposed to do for/with/to its audience. They must communicate. They phone us up. We make it happen. And they feel the warm fuzzies that everything is taken care of, that the job will be done and done well and done on time.

    Maybe not all clients can appreciate the fine points of diction or the sheer breathtaking beauty of that wake-at-midnight inspired turn of phrase, but they can appreciate the calm quiet confidence of the craftsman taking charge…

    Or so I fondly believe.

    Of course, I may be talking through my ten-gallon hat… but it’s been a long time since I did anything more with a horse than shovel out the stall behind it.

  27. Haha, nice post. I actually covered something similar recently with http://www.snappysentences.com/writing-for-the-web/take-note-web-writers-graphic-designers-are-on-to-something/

    Working in a web team at the moment, I am surrounded by many dev guys earning many $$$ per hour. Trying to convince management that content writers are worth the money can sometimes be tough.

    Keep up the good work.

    Sally – Snappy sentencess last blog post..A great refresher for all the grammar nuts out there

  28. @ RJ – Now, see, that’s very well said, and I agree – but shouldn’ t that quiet confidence and take charge attitude (gently, of course, with a blanket) occur in any business? (Can you believe I *miss* cleaning box stalls?)

    @ Sally – Hm, yes, that’s a challenge I doubt you’ll win, especially if the management is in dev.

    @ Debbi – Hehehe, I always thought my words kind of jumped up and sabotaged the reader by holding his head and saying, “LOOK! LOOK AT THIS!” Of course, I can see what you mean, too 😉

    @ Urban – If the saddle fits, honey… Kidding. No, that was honestly the extent of my experience with western riding. Where I worked at the trail ranch, there wasn’t any more finesse than that. And let me tell you that the first day on the job, when I rode 12 hours without pause – and I am not kidding – sore was an understatement.

    @ Bamboo – Yes! That’s right! And incredibly, writers don’t seem to want to sell their work! (But we’re a needy bunch. You have to love us. If you don’t, it’s no good.)

    @ RL – Overpronation sounds just nasty, whatever it is. You have a very good strategy going on for a few reasons, too. People love to talk about themselves, so they’ll like you for asking. People love choice, so they’ll like you for those five pairs. People love personal attention, so they’ll love you were considerate enough to consider their comfort. Plus they get great shoes that fit well. Good deal!

    @ John – We launched our overhauled theme in February. We’d been blogging for a year or so previously, I believe. But correct – the theme and launch was the trigger.

    @ Amy – Giggles are good 🙂

    @ Kelly – It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…

    @ Janice – They most likely have a Hermes saddle, you know.

  29. “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”

  30. @ James – I’m sure your writing does jump out. I keep reading this blog, don’t I? 😉 I’m just thinking, esp. when it comes to copywriting, you don’t want your reader to be conscious of the words themselves–I’m thinking you want them to feel their effect, without even knowing why. As writers, of course we appreciate the work this takes. Readers may not. (How often have you heard a non-writer say, “I could have thought of that?”) But clients do appreciate it, I think, based on some comments I’m gotten on my work. I’m being ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek in suggesting otherwise.

    One thing clients can understand is money. And our writing is both a product and a service. If it would take your client three times as long as you to write something that will probably not be as good, you have value to them as a writer. You can be writing something excellent for them, while they’re using that time to do the work they’re good at (and get paid for). Further, as a copywriter, you’re providing them even more value, because your writing can increase their income. So you’re not only saving them money by doing the writing for them, but you’re helping them make more money in the future.

    So you see–all is not lost. 🙂

    Debbis last blog post..Top 10 Blogs for Writers Contest

  31. @ Deb – Oh, I agree, but unfortunately, the kind of financial impact good copy can have on a person’s life is not always immediately perceptible. They can see for themselves how a rockin’ design might create impact – they have trouble seeing how 200 words can have that same impact and more. Telling people that good copy gives them a better chance is a standard comment – but also one that doesn’t really go far in the client’s mind, because they can’t see it. So the onus falls on us to prove it 🙂

  32. I just read the Thursday edition of Early to Rise (earlytorise.com), and these points jumped out at me, and made me think of this post:

    “Knowing how to sell is one of the most financially valued skills you can possibly have….Once you’re an expert at selling, the sky’s the limit for how big you can grow your own business.”

    It doesn’t matter how well you can write if you can’t or won’t effectively sell your writing services.

    James, your point about educating people without attacking their ignorance seems to be a large part of successfully selling one’s writing.

    Jesse Hiness last blog post..Too Much Reading Can Destroy Your Life

  33. @ James – I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve seen this phenomenon with my own eyes — people ooh-ing and ah-ing over great design, but failing to appreciate quite as deeply the copy.

    I’ve learned about the need to explain your value when you market your services. Not only from writing, but from working as a librarian and information specialist. (Librarians are always trying to explain to people why they serve an essential function. They lose a lot of funding by not doing so.)

    Debbis last blog post..Top 10 Blogs for Writers Contest

  34. @ Deb – Wait… Wait, are you telling me we *need* librarians?! What’s the world coming to??

    @ Jesse – You’d be surprised how many writers get extremely defensive with potential clients and then wonder why they don’t have business. Sad, really. Makes the job harder for the good ones out there, too.

  35. @ James — to quote Michael Moore (FWIW), “Librarians see themselves as the guardians of the First Amendment. You got a thousand Mother Joneses at the barricades! I love the librarians, and I am grateful for them!”
    (said after outraged librarians saved his book “Stupid White Men,” when publisher HarperCollins insisted he rewrite it to be less critical of President Bush)

    Say what you will about Michael Moore, but you gotta love that sentiment.

    Um, not to sound like a dolt or anything, but does Canada have a version of the First Amendment? (Sorry, almost everything I know about Canada comes from watching “Corner Gas.” 🙂 )

    Debbis last blog post..Are We Our Own Worst Enemies? (How Writers Need to Sell Their Services)

  36. @ Deb – Would you believe I had to look up what that was to answer you?

    In our Charter of Rights and Freedoms (otherwise known as the Constitution of Canada), we have Section 2(b) of the Charter, which states that “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: … freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”

    This has a wide-reaching scope and covers freedom of religion (amongst other things), which is what I believe the First Amendment covers.

  37. @ James – Very interesting! I never knew that. Thanks for looking that up.

    Yes, the First Amendment covers freedom of speech, religion, the right of people to peaceably assemble and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. And, believe it or not, I know that because I have a pocket-sized copy (of all things) of the U.S. Constitution that I picked up back when I was covering the U.S. Supreme Court for one of the Dow Jones newswires.

    Most of the lawyers I know (from my past life in the legal profession) can’t make that claim.

    Debbis last blog post..Are We Our Own Worst Enemies? (How Writers Need to Sell Their Services)

  38. I am so glad I’m catching up on my reading and came across this post. It’s awesome! I’m told all the time that I’m too nice. I just don’t think so. I know we shouldn’t allow folks to just trample us to our deaths but I have a strong, strong conviction that we should be that kind, smiling clerk. My gut instinct has paid off many, many times as I’m reading the e-mails telling me I’m the nicest person my editor/client has dealt with all day! That makes me feel so good – and it’s helping me keep writing the cyber highway!


    Michele L. Tunes last blog post..Pulling the Reins: On Myself?


  1. […] fears involved with posting rates, but I’d say that those five sum it all up nicely – and only one has to do with clients. The other four all have to do with the perception of our peer […]

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