Have questions about how to write “Letters to the Editor?”

If you’ve ever wondered why some “letters to the editor,” get printed an others don’t, or maybe when is a letter more likely to get printed then today is your lucky day.

Stuart Leavenworth the editor of the Editoral Page at the Sacramento Bee has published a short Q&A answering a few of the most often asked questions.

If Stuart’s name seems familiar to readers here it might be because we wrote about his sabbatical when he was working in a restaurant as an apprentice chef.

Read the Q&A here. One interesting thought I’ve had. In the Q&A it says,”If we get 20 letters that all make the same point about the same subject, we may publish only one of them.” For hot issues it might be interesting to show a “tag cloud,” or some way of showing how or cold an issue is depending on the number of letters received.

Also, if you’re curious, around the holidays they are apparently in need of good topical letters.

A few notes of my own:

  • stay away from tired rhetoric (and yes frequent use of “liberal,” or “conservative falls into this category;
  • have a single thought for your letter, don’t try and solve all of the worlds problems at once;
  • include an action;
  • make it topical, but not hysterical;
  • write like a real person, not how you think a newspaper article should read.
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Public Speaking Tip from Matt Mullenweg

I’m doing quite a bit more public speaking these days. Most of the time it goes very well. Sometimes not as well, like two weeks ago in Las Vegas where my voice completely gave out.  Did it freak me out? Yes, a little bit. Not every public speaking gig is going to go perfectly and when it doesn’t, smile and laugh along with your audience. That last little advice is from Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress and all-around good guy.  I met him three years ago when he was at one of the SacStarts dinners.

Healthcare and Home Prices in the State of the Union

Health care and home prices. Two little things covered in Wednesday’s State of the Union Address from President Obama.

I’m not going to address political issues here as much as economic issues.  Health care and home prices are real issues that impact everyone since they are dealt with on a regular basis and consume a huge portion of personal spending, while also being responsible for a huge number of jobs.  The two points I make below are addressed at both Republicans and Democrats as neither party seems to view these issues as I do.

Health Care

In regards to health care, below are a few of the first paragraphs of the speech that refer to health care:

“I took on health care because of the stories I’ve heard from Americans with preexisting conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who’ve been denied coverage; families –- even those with insurance -– who are just one illness away from financial ruin.

After nearly a century of trying — Democratic administrations, Republican administrations — we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans.  The approach we’ve taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry.  It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market.  It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care.

And by the way, I want to acknowledge our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make kids healthier. (Applause.)  Thank you.  She gets embarrassed.  (Laughter.)

Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan.  It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses.  And according to the Congressional Budget Office -– the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress –- our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.  (Applause.)”

What is the central theme of the discussion here and it seems in all discussions about health care? Insurance.  My question is why?  Why is it only with health care that insurance is billed from the beginning (with the exception of a deductible)?  While watching, my wife brought up several great points in comparing health insurance to auto insurance:

  • We are required by law to have auto insurance but not health insurance
  • If you show up at an emergency room, they have to treat you even if you don’t have insurance
  • Health insurance is automatically billed for check-ups, medicine and everything else when you see a doctor
  • If auto insurance was the same way, it would pay for gas, oil changes, new tires etc.

So the question is, why do we expect health insurance to pay for everything?  If I want a check-up, why is it so hard for me to get one for a cash price?  When I walk in the door of a doctor’s office they ask for my insurance information as opposed to telling me what a service costs. In California an auto repair service provider must provide a written estimate for all repair work. Why don’t doctors do the same thing, with the exception of emergencies, and allow me to choose if I would like to pay cash for that service?

Why not save insurance for big things, like you do with your car?  If I have a cold and go to the doctor wouldn’t it make more sense to pay cash and not involve insurance? The windshield on our car cracked this week. I’m not going to file an insurance claim, I’m going to call the glass repair company, pay $200 and get it fixed.

The crux of the point is that we are trying to reform insurance, and I think we should be trying to reform behavior and the business of health care itself.

Home Prices

There was one line in the SOTU that really hit me about home prices, financial planning and our overall economic priorities:

That’s why we’re working to lift the value of a family’s single largest investment –- their home.

Why do we position homes as an investment? Why can’t we just buy a place to live and raise our family. If the price of a home factors in that people should view it as an investment, aren’t we creating a market that is focused on increasing long-term value as opposed to a market for people to buy a place to live?  This would make me think that houses are more expensive because they are viewed as investments.

I own a house (OK I have a 30 year mortgage on a house where we live) and write a big check every month for health insurance and I think that both of the costs would be substantially reduced if we just changed how we as a society view what they are both for.

Welcome to all of you reading DETS from Florida State College At Jacksonville

Why am I welcoming readers from a college that is 2,860 miles from my house?

Well, it seems that some of the things I’ve written have been shared with students at Florida State College at Jacksonville via their Blackboard system.

How do I know?  Below is a capture of some of the traffic sources for DETS over the last few days:

I’m glad to see that what I write is being read at FSCJ, could one of you drop me a note or leave me a comment and let me know what you like reading here? Always nice to hear from those getting ready to take over the world.

Talking Marketing & Social Media With Folks From the Fair

Last year I spoke with a group at the Western Fairs Association Conference about social media.  For reasons still to be determined they invited me back again to talk with their members about how they can better integrate social media into their engagement and marketing activities.

This group is one of the most fun that I’ve ever spoken with. The industry is full of people who grew up with parents working in the same industry and truly people who love what they do.  At the core of many county and regional fairs is agriculture and entertainment.

A few of the points that came up quite a bit this week for discussion included:

  • Don’t have the “young guy,” run all of your social media.  Find the person who knows more about your group than anyone else. They can answer every question that ever comes up, have a strong sense of the history of your event and know how to get things done. It’s a whole lot easier for this person to learn how to use all of these social media tools than it is to teach someone new to be a true ambassador for your event.
  • Create content that people want to watch, not what you want to show.  This applies to many, many companies that I talk with as well.  People don’t want to see pictures and videos of empty buildings, they want to see what people do at your event, other people having fun and also all of the great things that happen at a fair.
  • Don’t have your content live in silos.  For example, right now Facebook is the hottest thing around for companies looking to tap into social media.  Create your content on a site/blog that you own and then port it into Facebook. You can use Facebook, or Twitter or any tool to directly engage with your audience, but start the content at your site. Then in a few years, if Facebook slows down and there’s something new, you don’t lose all of that content/hardwork.
  • The vast majority of the people I met this week are the epitome of the “people person.” Everyone loves what they do and loves talking to people about what they do.  They are going to do some really cool things with these tools.

Also, there were lots of fun things going on throughout the conference, ranging from dozens of musical acts that performed in hopes they’ll get signed for performances this summer to a live auction with a very talented auctioneer.  Take a look at a short clip of the auctioneer below as he’s helping raise money for the Blue Ribbon Foundation, which is the industry’s intern group (who were a huge help to me for all my presentations). Also, if the woman in the foreground looks familiar, that’s Nancy Riegler, who along with her husband Gil and their camels were recently on Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe.

Thanks again to the Western Fairs Association for having me back and to the rest of you, grab your family and friends and make sure you get out to your local fair.

Know what you do and do it well

I’m a marketing guy and aspiring writer (as my family knows all too well). Another marketing guy and formerly aspiring writer is James Patterson. You might recognize the name as the author of “Along Came a Spider” and dozens of other books.  What you might not know is that before he became one of the most successful writers of all time (1 in 17 hardcover novels sold in the US since 2006  is written by him) he was in advertising. Let me rephrase that. He wasn’t in advertising, he did very well in advertising and was CEO of  J. Walter Thompson‘s North American operations.

So, the man knows marketing. I thought I understood that he knew marketing until I read this New York Times Magazine profile of him. He knows what he does. He writes things people will like. He writes a lot, and he knows how to market the heck out of them.

A few of the marketing ideas, things to learn that I learned from reading the article:

  • “Patterson built his fan following methodically. Instead of simply going to the biggest book-buying markets, he focused his early tours and advertising efforts on cities where his books were selling best: like a politician aspiring to higher office, he was shoring up his base.”
  • When sales figures showed that he and John Grisham were running nearly neck and neck on the East Coast but that Grisham had a big lead out West, Patterson set his second thriller series, “The Women’s Murder Club,” about a group of women who solve murder mysteries, in San Francisco.
  • “Jim was sensitive to the fact that books carry a kind of elitist persona, and he wanted his books to be enticing to people who might not have done so well in school and were inclined to look at books as a headache,” Kirshbaum says. “He wanted his jackets to say, ‘Buy me, read me, have fun — this isn’t “Moby Dick.” ’ ”
  • Patterson then proceeded to tell one of his favorite stories about his mother’s father, who drove a frozen-foods truck in Upstate New York. During the summer, Patterson said, he would occasionally get up at 4 in the morning to ride along with him. As they drove over a mountain toward his first delivery, Patterson’s grandfather, an irrepressibly joyful man, would be singing at the top of his lungs. “One day he said to me: ‘Jim, I don’t care what you do when you grow up. I don’t care if you drive a truck like I do, or if you become the president. Just remember that when you go over the mountain to work in the morning, you’ve got to be singing,’ ” Patterson went on. “Well, I am.”

My favorite thing about the article though is his understanding of what he does. In reference to one his recent novels that was a little rougher than some previous ones he said, “I like ‘The Swimsuit,’ ” he said. “It’s nasty, but I like it. But I think I went a little farther than I needed to. I’m going to tone it down for the paperback.”

Patterson noticed a look of surprise on my (the reporter’s) face; it’s not every day that an author decides to rewrite one of his books. “Look,” he said, “if you’re writing ‘Crime and Punishment’ or ‘Remembrance of Things Past,’ then you can sit back and go: ‘This is it, this is the book. This is high art. I’m the man, you’re not. The end.’ But I’m not the man, and this is not high art.”

James Patterson know what he does, and he does it well.

Side note – I grew up in a family of readers. Not everyone does. Helping your kids learn to love reading helps them in innumerable ways. If you didn’t grow up as a reader, don’t worry, you can still help your kids. Want some ideas how? Patterson has a great site with help. Check it out.

What I’m reading in 2010

Throughout the year when I run across a book I find interesting I copy the name and the author’s name and paste it into an email with the subject, “books.” I then send this email to myself and my wife. Then when I find a new book I like, I respond to that email.  Sometimes I buy the books on the list myself throughout the year, and if I don’t my family has a great list of books for Christmas.

My family got me quite a few books from the list to set me up for my reading in the first quarter or so of 2010. When I find a book I enjoy, I often end up giving it to someone else who I think might like it.  Sometimes, I get them back, sometimes I don’t.  This is part of my issue with e-readers like the Kindle, they don’t let you share. So, this is the starting of my sharing, I’ll let you know how they go.

The books are a mix of history, fiction and semi-fiction.  They reflect my interests of sports, education and US history.  Any of you all read any of these?  I’m through two so far, “Down at the Docks,” and “White Tiger.”