Many moons ago, a science fiction author by the name of Theodore Sturgeon had a flash of brilliant insight and coined a phrase that sums up a critical law of business.
Sturgeon – an award-winning author and the man behind one of science fiction’s greatest novellas of all time, according to the Science Fiction Writers of America – was tired of having to defend the sci-fi genre against attacks by naysayers. In Sturgeon’s day, “serious writers” and “serious editors” were staunchly against genre fiction, including sci-fi. Sci-fi is too plot-driven and escapist to be considered real literature, purists argued, and therefore 90% of the science fiction genre is crap. (At least, that was their line of thinking.)
But then, in 1958, Sturgeon grew tired of defending against these criticisms for two decades. He writes:
“I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc is crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.”
Sturgeon’s eloquent rebuke – and the resulting Law – can essentially be summed up in the phrase, “90% of everything is crap.”
That means no matter where you go, you’re swimming in crap.
(Sorry about the crappy visual. ←Not sorry about that awesome pun.)
Now, I’m a writer, but I’ve also worked as an editor – I’ve been on the other side of the fence. I’ve evaluated dozens of writers, and I’ve cleaned up hundreds of documents. I’ve seen writing that sings and I’ve suffered through writing that grumbles, shrieks, mutters, stutters, mocks, or screeches.
I’ve had clients bring me on board to fix another writer’s screw-ups on more than one occasion. I’ve heard horror stories about writers failing to turn in assignments on time, using the wrong voice & leaving a poor impression of the client’s business as a result, or simply dashing through a piece so fast that they completely misunderstood the intended topic of the piece.
I’ve had writers create copy that consciously and actively discourages buyers from getting in touch with the client. Seriously. This is really some amateur hour Craigslist writer level crap going on here.
There are far more crappy writers in the world than there are good ones – and that’s something Linda Formichelli addresses in great detail over at The Renegade Writer.
But it’s not just a problem for the writers of the world.
The truth of the matter is that a good (insert job title here) is hard to find.
Nowadays, anyone can go on Fiverr, oDesk, Elance, or some other gig site and find hundreds of freelancers willing to do jobs for pennies.
There’s absolutely no shortage of businesses in this world.
But you know what there IS a shortage of?
People who know what the hell they’re talking about.
People who actually give a damn.
People who aren’t so wrapped up in their own affairs that they forget clients’ important details.
People who take the time to give a job the proper attention it deserves.
People who use tactics that are proven to work instead of wasting time on what’s new or hot.
Over at one of my favourite blogs – The Middle Finger Project – Ash Ambirge writes that “Putting out crap work is for crap people.” And I simply couldn’t have said it better myself.
These days, it seems like everyone’s trying to work an angle instead of trying to work a job to perfection.
But chances are, if you value what you do, at some point or other someone will try to lump you in with the crappy providers.
See, the thing is that a lot of people DON’T want quality work – they want cheap work.
Rant time: One thing that pisses me off to no end is when people label me as a “content writer.”
The title “content writer” was once used as a title for “content marketing writers”. It once implied quality. But no longer.
(There’s a big Blogostorm of controversy in the writing industry about this. Nandini Jammi over at Medium does a great job of outlining the negative connotations of the term “content writer”. Meanwhile, Brian Clark and Jay Acunzo only needed two lines to illuminate another big problem with the term.)
Nowadays, the term “content writer” refers to someone who cranks out grammatically incorrect 300-word eHow posts that are stuffed to the brim with links. And it’s exactly this kind of writing that Google is trying to steer you away from.
The content jig is all but up.
People have caught on. They know that your 300-word posts are basically just mini-ads. They’re now demanding real value from the content they consume. They’re now demanding intelligent, sophisticated – one might say magazine-quality – content from their service providers.
Because clearly, the garbage articles aren’t cutting it anymore. Which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense. After all, one of the cardinal rules of living as a human in this world is: Garbage in, garbage out.
I’m also completely floored that people will gladly pump out garbage content that THEY ARE USING TO REPRESENT THEIR OWN BUSINESS, THEIR OWN BRAND, THEIR OWN PERSONALITY, THEIR OWN IDENTITY.
I, for one, refuse to attach my name to anything that isn’t my best work.
I once had a news outlet assign me an advertorial project where the business being promoted had final say over the copy.
I worked hard to craft a compelling narrative that would engage with readers, but the business in question had a completely different idea of what ought to be published.
After six days, four completely different drafts, and more than a few unkind words with regard to my character, I received something from the client that bore zero resemblance whatsoever to my original article.
I could’ve had a byline with that piece – after all, I did contribute to it – but when I saw the final product, I was horrified at its poor quality. It was self-important puffery. Everything was written from the business owner’s point of view. There was no narrative, no compelling lead, and no reason for buyers to be interested.
So I told my editor to put the client’s name in the byline, not mine. Because I don’t want my name associated with anything that I don’t think is quality work. If I can’t get behind a project, if I can’t take ownership of it, if I can’t proudly state that I delivered the very best work I’m capable of, then I want zero part of it.
But I digress.
Anyhow, my point is this:
The world is absolutely full of garbage. Literally and metaphorically.
And there’s a limit to how much money people are willing to pay for garbage – especially when they finally get a taste of the quality stuff.
That’s why the people who really know what they’re doing – the people who invest in the 10% of stuff that’s actually good – are going to strike it rich.
You know how you build a successful business?
Instead of wasting time doing what’s easy, you do what works.
Instead of following the crowd, you find ways to set yourself apart.
And instead of blindly flailing around trying to make things happen and flying by the seat of your pants, you do your homework, figure out a strategy, and then commit to it.
You commit to providing the very best solutions, the utmost quality, in everything you do.
Because the reason it’s so hard to build a successful business?
Is to ensure that only the people committed to quality work will survive.