Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fitness Blogger Boot Camp

Between baking sugar cookies for my kid's kindergarten class, slapping together tonight's dinner (tuna sandwiches) and finishing off a client's bio, I blog. 

Honestly, right now I'd rather be flaked out on the couch like that guy in the photo above. 

But I'm blogging because I said I would. 

It was one of the last things I talked about in my session on fitness blogging at the Can-Fit-Pro conference in Vancouver. 

I said something like, hey, let's all sign up for a blog or post to our existing ones THIS WEEK! It'll help set the stage for a lifetime of happy, healthy fitness blogging.

So here I am. And, yes, this post does have a point. 

My "let's all blog!" declaration reminded me how much it helps productivity to have someone relying on you for something specific. That's how I get my fitness articles written - I've got editors expecting them from me by a certain date. 

If you're really stuck at the point of perpetually intending to blog without ever doing it, try this: Tell your most valued fitness clients that you're about to blog on X topic and you'd love their opinions on whatever you write about. 

There. Now you have a reason to blog. 

A deadline. 

And a pre-established audience. 

That should whip you into blogging shape.   

Point made. Can I go lie around now? 

P.S. Kudos to Mia Sutherland and Josh Neumann (both in my Can-Fit-Pro fitness blogging session) for following through so fast on that "blog this week" pact. Inspiring! If you blogged in the past week, let me know with a comment here and I'll comment back on your blog.

Monday, October 25, 2010

That's Not a Blog Post!

The photo above cracks me up. I imagine a bunch of people without a lot of exercise experience saying, "Hey everyone, let's take some fun fitness-y shots now!" And what we get are silly pink mini-weights (the kind known to set me off on a rant), leg warmers (and are those wrist warmers?) and fake fitness poses that don't resemble actual exercises.  

But whatever. At least they make fitness look oh-so-carefree.

The "fake fitness" photo reminds me of how fitness pros might view blogging at the onset.

With the benefits and popularity of social media, a lot of marketing experts and fitness pros insist that you've got to have a blog. But that kind of advice tends to drive me crazy because the result is fitness pros--and, yes, major fitness companies--rattling around online with a blog that, frankly, doesn't feel or look very "blogg-y" at all. Its posts are as "fake" as the cheesy poses in that photo above.

Take the several fitness companies I can think of off the top of my head whose idea of a blog is to drop previously published articles into a post and call it blogging. ("Hey everyone, we've got a blog up and running! That wasn't so hard.")

Is it so wrong of them?

Maybe not. But when the article is written in boring academic language and appears as one 1,500-word block of text, then, yeah, it's veering away from the essence of blogging.

I can't authoritatively say all that a blog is, but I know what it probably shouldn't be: impersonal, dry, a copy/paste job from another publication, longer than my Master's thesis...

That's why when someone suggests that people who don't get around to blogging are just plain lazy (as did a commenter in my previous post), I get to thinking about blogging as an exercise in being thoughtful and informed, not just prolific. 

Without considering the craft involved, blogging becomes about as effective as flailing around a couple of one-pound hand-weights and calling it a workout.  

Don't you think?   

FOR MORE ON FITNESS BLOGGING AND HOW TO DO IT: Come to my session, Sunday, November 21, at canfitpro Vancouver, Session 3211 (10:30am-12:00pm), Blog Your Way to Fitness Business Success.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fitness Blogging: Time Well Spent

Why You Do Have Time for a Fitness Blog

When it comes to fitness blogging, I hear a lot of excuses from fitness pros about why they don't do it.

The primary reason?

"I'm too busy. I don't have time to blog."

I heard it back in September at the BCFIT '10 conference in my session on fitness marketing with social media.

I'll probably hear it again in November, when I present on fitness blogging at canfitpro's Vancouver conference.

It's just an excuse, though, and here's how I know: I have the same problem. I don't blog every week (or even every month sometimes--oops).

And why not? Uh, I don't have time? 

Meaning: When I'm not on deadline with an article or writing/editing project, I manage to find other things to do instead.  

Like Facebooking. Or chatting with a colleague on the phone. Or catching a movie (last night it was Canada's own FUBAR II). 

Isn't it the same excuse people use for not exercising?

No time. Meaning: They don't feel like using the spare time they do have for working out.    

As for blogging, here's why it makes sense to at least set up a blog so it's there when you can get to it.

Blogging and other online pursuits (Facebook!) are part of the new way to market fitness. The old way is setting up a brochure-style website then ignoring your online presence.

If you're a fitness pro, what do you tell clients about how to carve out time for exercise? Could any or all of those strategies work for your own blogging pursuits? Whether you blog or not, share your tips and ideas here! 

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to get back to Facebook.

For more on jump-starting your fitness blog, come see me on Sunday, November 21, at canfitpro Vancouver, Session 3211 (10:30am-12:00pm), Blog Your Way to Fitness Business Success.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Writing Web Exclusive Articles for Popular Magazines (Part 3 of 3)

At last! Here's the final post in a 3-part series on how setting your sights on a magazine's website instead of the magazine itself can help you succeed with writing articles - fitness-related or otherwise.

To get answers about what web exclusives mean to writers, I turned to in-the-know web editors from three major Canadian women's magazines: Best Health, Chatelaine and Homemakers.   

They weigh in on my third question below. Or, you can head on over to Part 1 of this series here, and Part 2 here.

Is it easier or harder to break into writing web exclusive pieces for top women’s magazines?

KAT TANCOCK, senior web editor at Reader's Digest, former web editor at Best Health and Canadian Living and blogger at Magazines Online.

KT: Just like with print, web editors often already have a stable of writers that they are used to working with - and you need great ideas to break in. And web editors have a lot less editing and fact-checking resources and therefore are pickier about receiving publishing-ready copy.

However, because the pay tends to be lower, web editors are often more likely to take risks with new writers. And remember, a lot of established print magazine writers have few to no web skills, so if you're a new writer that excels at web writing, that will give you a leg up.

VANESSA MILNE, editor of Chatelaine Walks and former assistant editor at MochaSofa.

VM: I believe it’s easier to break into writing for the web; the pay is worse (although, in my opinion, fair, since there’s often not a second draft, the stories are shorter, and the pieces aren’t fact-checked) and there’s less competition.

That said, like print, most people have a roster of reliable writers they use. Good pitches are the key, I think – tailored pitches, to the magazine’s readership - as well as persistence in following them up. (Asking the editor which sections need articles never hurts, either.)

And good writers are hard to find: People who submit well-researched, clean copy that reflects the assignment letter, on time, and do second drafts and answer questions nicely and quickly, will inevitably be used again.

JENNIFER MELO, web editor at Homemakers.

JM: It can be easier to break into web writing because it’s still a relatively new market — that means many established writers haven’t saturated the online writing market. They’ve built up their contacts in other traditional media and may tend to stick to the contacts they’ve made rather than querying new online publications.

On the flipside, it can be difficult to break into web writing because the online market is still proving itself as revenue-generating medium — that means editorial budgets for web content can be tight and online editors have a limited number of assignments to go around.

Futhermore, online editors aren’t typically working with a large team of staff and may be especially selective about assigning to writers who can be counted on to turn in publish-ready web content.

What's your take? Do you write web exclusives, or want to give it a shot? What do you see as the pros and cons of this new avenue for magazine writing?  

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Writing Web Exclusive Articles for Popular Magazines (Part 2 of 3)

Looking for a new way to make money and get your name out there as a writer? Try web exclusives: short (400- to 800-word) articles that only appear on a magazine's website, not in the print version of the magazine. 

Recently, three web editors from major Canadian women's magazines shared their advice on breaking into and writing web exclusives. The editors:  
Here's Part 2 of my interview with the above editors. Missed Part 1? Go here.

What are your tips for writing web-friendly articles for women’s magazines (i.e., what format works best, SEO considerations, web-friendly packaging, etc.)?


1. Stay on track. Don't meander off the point of your article.

2. Be literal. The web isn't the place for overly creative headlines.

3. Visualize your piece on-screen. Will it be easy to read?

4. If you know SEO, include it in your pitches and point out your keywording to your editor. (If you don't know it, consider picking it up.)

5. Suggest related links from the site you're writing for. (This will impress your editor.)

6. Stay within word count. If you write 1000 words instead of 600, your editor will just have to cut - or they'll turn your article into two.

7. Include links for interview sources (i.e., if you interviewed a dietitian, give your editor a url for their site if they have one).

8. Use (clear and understandable) subheds and don't be afraid of bullet points and numbered lists. Titles that start with numerals are immensely clickable.

9. Spell-check and proofread your work. Few web teams have copy-editors and it will just annoy your editor to have to fix obvious mistakes, like sloppy cut-and-paste jobs. (Although this is true for all writing.)

MILNE: Online, people read differently, scanning for relevant information rather than reading stories start to finish. It’s important to have clear subheads or steps to every story – and nothing too punny or vague - so readers can find the paragraph or point that interests them quickly. That also helps with SEO, as does writing very straightforward headlines that clearly state the point of the article (that also helps when the reader does a search, and a list of headlines show up.)

Linking to other articles in your own site (we often do it with Chatelaine recipes in health) is also helpful. I think the most important thing is the same as writing or pitching the magazine, though – to have a good sense of the readership of the magazine, what those readers would be interested in, and where the story would fit. (I get a lot of story pitches that just aren’t Chatelaine, for example, about exotic travel, etc.)
MELO: Keep your lead short and engaging and make sure the purpose of your story is clear early on in the piece. Your body copy should be solutions-oriented and conversational (helpful and friendly). Hyperlink to strong sources of additional information and ensure appropriate keywords are used throughout to help readers find your story via search engines.
Favour clear, simple words the average reader would type into a search engine rather than ambiguous words you think are clever. Write “3 best ab exercises” rather than “Ab fabulous.” Reasoning: A reader who is looking for ab exercises probably wouldn’t type “ab fabulous” into a search engine. Writing “ab exercises” helps readers to find your content but it also helps your writing to remain more conversational and appealing to the most expansive readership.
Stay tuned for Part 3.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Writing Web Exclusive Articles for Popular Magazines (Part 1 of 3)

Web Exclusives: A New Gig for Freelance Magazine Writers

With the web being where people go first for information--and talk in the magazine industry about how it will survive in the coming years--the opportunity for freelance magazine writing has expanded to include web-only articles. 

Magazines used to throw whatever content was in print onto their corresponding website (offering writers a small or no fee for additional online rights). They still do that, but now there's more opportunity online.

Web editors are also hiring freelancers to hammer out web exclusives--short, SEO-minded articles that only appear online, not in print. 

I've been writing a lot of them.

The upside? They're quick to write, and getting these assignments can be less "fuss" than the usual process for receiving print assignments.

The downside? The pay--the per-article rate for web exclusives is less than what you get for print (but going back to the upside I mentioned, the pay can work out to be a decent enough hourly rate).    

I caught up with three web editors at major women's and lifestyle magazines in Canada who generously agreed to share the scoop on writing web exclusives:
In this three-part series, I'll post each editor's response to three important questions about web exclusive content on magazine websites and how it can help you succeed at freelance writing. 

Here's Part 1. 

How is web exclusive content generally different from content that appears in the print magazine first?

TANCOCK: Readers online are generally looking for quick fixes and easy solutions, rather than a "good read." Therefore web content needs to be a lot more to the point.

Also, most people find reading on-screen more tiring than reading on paper, so web content needs to be oriented toward that experience: this is why bullet points, shorter paragraphs, frequent subheds and selective bolding within paragraphs is often used.

Finally, the web is, well, a web: articles don't appear in isolation. It's important to make use of the web by cross-linking, both within the site and to other sources. For instance, in a nutrition article that discusses sweet potatoes, we would add a link to some sweet potato recipes; or, in an article on the importance of strength training, we would cross-link to some arm exercises.

MILNE: In my experience, web-exclusive content is shorter and snappier: under 500 words, often lighter in tone (quizzes, lists, how-tos or recipes), and, above all else, something that you might Google.

The subjects are also different. At Chatelaine, much of our online content is health and recipes, and there’s less style, etc.

Oddly, online is often written in a more “evergreen” style, since it’s not often dated and normally stays in the archives. In terms of art and display, there are far more stock photos online than there are in the magazine, and the display tends to be more straightforward.

MELO: Web exclusive content needs to be more concise and more easily scanned than magazine content.

Subheads, bulleted lists and bolded words for emphasis work best for easy scanning for the web reader. Be clear, concise and compelling. Always serve the reader first.

Up next: Stay tuned for Part 2, where I'll post our editors' responses to my next question: "What are your tips for writing web-friendly articles for magazines (i.e., what format works best, SEO considerations, web-friendly packaging, etc.)?"

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Learn to Blog: Three Books Show You How (Part 3 of 3)

The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) asked me to review a handful of books on blogging.

Here's review number three (review one: Problogger; review two: The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging).

Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers. By Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, John Wiley & Sons, 2006, 251 pages, $24.95.

If your corporate clients are having trouble seeing the value of hiring you as a blog writer or consultant, consider citing one or more of the case studies in this book.

Naked Conversations is all about convincing businesspeople why they should blog. The authors (Scoble runs the enormously popular use real-life examples to illustrate the business-related benefits of good blogging and the perils of bad blogging.

While some case studies went into more detail than I needed (Microsoft: I’m glad blogging helped you elevate your public image), I particularly liked the chapter on why blogs go wrong. For example, inauthentic blogs cause companies to quickly lose credibility among customers online. I’m glad I missed the McDonald’s Lincoln Fry blog, which the company quickly canned after members of the blogosphere labeled the blog about a French fry resembling president Lincoln as incredibly lame.

This book reminds readers that blogging is two-sided communication, where businesses engage and respond to customers compared to the traditional marketing model of talking at people.

Use the lessons in Naked Conversations to both build your own blog community and help your corporate clients create a more meaningful and powerful connection with their customers.

Also reviewed: Problogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income (I hear they just came out with an updated edition.)

Also reviewed: The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Learn to Blog: Three Books Show You How (Part 2 of 3)

My previous post explains why I recently reviewed three books on blogging for the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA). Here's book review number two.

The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging. By the Editors of The Huffington Post, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2008, 230 pages, $15.00.

Sure, this book offers helpful hints on what to blog about and a Glossary of Blogging Terms (troll: “a disruptive commenter bent on making trouble on a site”), but it stands out as the most entertaining of the three books I reviewed, partly because it contains actual blog posts--political rants, funny observations--from the famed HuffPost.

The book also points to multiple examples of how blogging has advantages over mainstream media because of its immediacy (instant publishing), shared community, personal nature and platform for covering or uncovering stories that mainstream media ignores or, even better, doesn’t know about.

While this book offers basic advice for launching a blog, there’s not much detail on the nitty-gritty technical side of actually getting started and running a blog. Instead, pick up this title for an enlightening, entertaining and inspiring look at how the blogosphere is reshaping the media, and why you should start or keep blogging.

Up next: Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing The Way Businesses Talk with Customers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Learn to Blog: Three Books Show You How (Part 1 of 3)

Blogging is becoming increasingly important—and profitable--on the internet landscape, where anyone can publish anything, anytime. Successful bloggers even get book deals!

If you want to be part of the blogging revolution, get on board with these three hallmarks of successful blogging: Learn to write well (and regularly), hook readers and shape a story (or post).

In addition to the Fitness Writer blog you're reading, I also blog at Fitness Test Drive. And I'm now steering my freelancing services toward blogging on magazine websites and helping corporate clients thrive in the increasingly competitive blogosphere.

To that end, I agreed to review three books on blogging for the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), of which I'm a member.

The three blogging books I reviewed dole out much of the same advice:
  • blog often,
  • make it about the conversation,
  • build your posts around authenticity, and
  • encourage and respond to commenters.

However, each title tackles blogging from a different angle. Here's my take on Problogger, with two more reviews to come.

ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to A Six-Figure Income. By Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett, John Wiley and Sons, 2008, 220 pages, $24.99.

Problogger is a useful resource for blogging newbies who want to learn the nuts and bolts of getting started. For example, the authors cover which blogging software to choose (they favor self-hosted Wordpress, no big surprise), how to write effective blog titles and how to measure--and boost--a blog’s success. This book even includes html code for customizing a blog template.

What about the promise of a six-figure income? Realistically, I’m not sure how many “secrets” in this book would lead to a six-figure revenue stream for most bloggers. But the book covers how to monetize your blog through direct and indirect means, such as selling advertising space and freelance blogging.

Plus, if you’re serious about making money, you can join a blogging network or sell your blog (I had no idea you could “flip” blogs like people “flip” houses!).

Problogger is the kind of resource you want on your desk as you muddle through setting up a blog for the first time or stare at your computer screen wondering what to blog about (reading the section on 20 types of blog posts can help).

Up next: My reviews of The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging and Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fitness Marketing: A Lesson in Originality from the Vancouver

With the 2010 Olympics in full swing, there's a party happening here in Vancouver. The downtown streets are packed, and it looks as if every second person is wearing one of those CANADA hoodies from The Bay. If not the hoodie, then the oh-so-cute maple-leaf mittens.

In addition to Olympics fashion, we Canadians celebrate every medal with extreme excitement and even surprise. That's because it's not a national given that we kick butt and dazzle the world like some other countries do (hi, America!).

That's What I'm Talkin' Aboot
It's interesting to see your country and city through the eyes of those who are watching the Olympics on TV from afar.

Amid the international party here, it's more ridiculous than ever when people drudge out the same old tired Canada jokes. It sounds funny when we say "about." (What aboot it?) Canadians are polite with good manners. (No shit.) We've got Canadian bacon. (Yawn. How is Canadian bacon different from regular bacon anyway?)

What does this post have to do with my blog's theme of fitness writing, marketing and publicity?

Well, I'd like to make one mild-mannered suggestion: Be careful not to fall back on lame cliches with your marketing and publicity endeavours.

Ensure that whatever idea or concept you're promoting to others--whether it's in a brochure or a publicity pitch--is as fresh for them as it is for you. Otherwise, your efforts come across as uninspired as a Canadian-bacon joke.

And if you really want to poke fun at Canadians, razz us about our national adoration for Tim Hortons coffee. Or how curling works.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Is Your Blog Really Promoting Your Fitness Business?

I just launched a new blog over at (my first self-hosted Wordpress blog!), where I review assorted fitness products, such as books, DVDs, clothes, gadgets and gym equipment.

I thought I had my goals for setting up the blog all sorted out until I got an email that stopped me in my tracks.

Just after I'd written the About page for Fitness Test Drive, a blog post landed in my inbox from Copyblogger. It made me kick myself for overlooking such an important and obvious element on my blog.

I forgot that I had a business first and a blog second. Oh yeah ...

I'd been focusing pretty heavily on the blog's design (the green header looks good, eh?) and what kind of writing style to use. Along the way, though, I'd forgotten to reinforce what I wanted this blogging endeavor to ultimately accomplish.

Fitness Test Drive is meant to share vital information--in a lighthearted tone--about the scores of fitness products on the market. It's there to help fitness consumers and fitness pros cut through the hype and quickly size up what's new.

From a purely business perspective, however, one of the driving goals of Fitness Test Drive is to build on my platform as a fitness authority and writer. Why? To generate more interest in what I offer as part of my "real" job: magazine writing, book authoring, consulting, ghost writing/blogging, fitness presenting and instructing.

After reading the advice in "Could Your Blog Be Ruining Your Business?" by James Chartrand, I quickly logged back into Wordpress and sprinkled in a few "nudges" toward hiring me, as the author suggests.

What about your blog? Is it clear to readers what products and services you're in business to sell? What techniques do you use to communicate that information to readers?

If you're ready to get a blog online (or you have one but you're not sure how to make the most of it), send me an email. I offer consulting services for new fitness bloggers and ghost writing services for reluctant bloggers.

Friday, January 15, 2010

My Life As a Ghost (Writer)

My name is Amanda Vogel, and I'm a ghost writer.

Ghost writers are called ghost writers because everyone is supposed to pretend the person (often a celebrity) with his or her name on the cover actually wrote the book. The real author is invisible.

Psst, see that book pictured above, Transformative Yoga? I wrote it.

My friend Wade Morissette is cool and laid-back, so he lets me tell people I wrote his book for him. He instructed me on what to put in each chapter, and I made it sound all pretty. Add his sister Alanis's foreward to the mix, and you've got a rockin' little yoga book!

"What's In It For Me"?

My friends and family don't fully understand why I'd write a whole book just so someone else can get the credit for it. Well, I didn't do it for free!

But apart from that, it's fun--and, I think, necessary--for self-employed people in particular to test out new career opportunities.

It keeps things fresh, fun and moving forward.

For example, being Wade's ghostwriter means I've asserted myself as a member of his entourage to all book-related gigs.

There's the time I tagged along to Raincoast Books, Transformative Yoga's Canadian distributor, where one of my fave authors David Sedaris also happened to be that morning (a surprise to me). I met Sedaris and scored a signed copy of his new book When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Sweet!

This week, I invited myself to the set of Shaw TV's Urban Rush, where Wade sailed beautifully through his guest appearance on the show and I got tips for how to advise fitness pros on TV-related publicity (a future blog post).

Back in the green room at Urban Rush, I helped myself to an unreasonable number (for a fitness instructor) of butter-based pastries and reflected on what I'd learned from my ghost writing experience. Maybe these thoughts apply to your career, as well.

Expect the Unexpected
Every new career move has the potential to lead to other perks and opportunities you might not have predicted but fully enjoy. It's good to avoid always expecting the same outcomes at work.

Enjoyment Is In the Experience
I enjoy making money and getting recognition. I really do. However, the very best career opportunities are made of more than that, yes? They're fun. They're unique. They're exciting. They're an experience, not just a job.

Your Success Lies with Others
The measure of your success isn't solely about what you do for yourself. It's how you help others to be successful alongside you. Fitness pros who assist clients with becoming fitter and healthier experience this kind of success every day.

As for Transformative Yoga, Wade has a cool book, and I've got a new job skill and a signed Sedaris book. Everyone's happy. Are you? What has helped you be successful in your own career?