Holly Gonzalez Marketing & Copywriting

Smart, sophisticated copy that sells.

Go Play Project: Day 2 | On Killing the Butterfly

Go Play Project. Creativity. 30 days of collage

Go Play. Day 2. Killing the Butterfly

I’m reading Ann Patchett’s collection of her non-fiction works, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a gift from my ever-so-thoughtful friend Ellen Kanner. In “The Getaway Car,” Ann writes one of the most uncannily accurate descriptions of the writing process I’ve read, and since this Go Play Project about exercising those creative muscles in new, somewhat painful ways, this seemed particularly apt:

During the months (or years) it takes me to put my ideas together, I don’t take notes or make outlines; I’m figuring things out, and all the while the book makes a breeze around my head like an oversized butterfly whose wings were cut from the rose window in Notre Dame. This book I have not written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see.

And so I do. When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down on my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page. Just to make sure that the job is done I stick it into place with a pin. Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing—all the color, the light and the movement—is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book.

No wonder I was drawn to butterflies for today’s collage. Things of beauty, but ready to be killed off, one by one. For those of you who write, or paint, or draw—or any other creative pursuit— what’s your process like?





Go Play Project

collage, go play, 30 days

Go Play Project – Day 1

In 2012, my college friend (and brilliant pianist) Cathy Shefski launched the Go Play Project, where she recorded one new piano piece every Sunday night for a year. It was wonderful, awe-inspiring, and, as it turned out, too much of a good thing. She boxed up her music, turned her students over to a new teacher, sold her piano, and discovered that, hey, there is life after piano. It’s a pretty interesting blog post, and I encourage you to read it in its entirety here.

Which brings us to her new take on the Go Play Project: a sketch a day for the month of August that’s she’ll post on her blog. She’s not an artist. Hell, she admits to not even being much of a doodler, and I think that’s pretty damn brave.

Which got me to thinking. I’ve been a writer, since, well, forever. But at least since I was around eight years old. And I love what I do, but the idea of a little creative project—that’s not writing-related—that I could bang out every day for a month… I’m in.

I used to belong to a Soul Collage group, and while I never really fully embraced the entire process—”each card a mirror of self and soul”—what really appealed to me was playing with images and creating small collages. It’s a way to stretch myself creatively. There probably won’t be any writing to accompany the images… at least for now.

So that ‘s it. August. 31 days. 31 cards. Go play.

I hope this inspires you to “go play” in your own way. And I’d love to hear about it in the comments.



When it comes to luxury real estate, grammar sells

luxury real estate copywriting

I write luxury real estate copy, a ton of it. And I proofread plenty of ads, brochures and email marketing, too. I know my clients sigh deeply when I proofread ads and send back my persnickety comments. It’s a “his and hers bath,” not “his and her.” It’s Snaidero kitchen design, not Snydero. I point out wonky-looking fonts, missing words, misspellings and the fact that you Don’t Need to Capitalize Every Word. You get the idea.

I’m sure they think I’m just a crotchety grammar pedant, but I’m picky because it matters. Buyers of million-dollar homes pay attention to details—including grammar and spelling. And guess what? Now there’s a research study that back me up.

In her recent WSJ article, Sanette Tanaka reports on an analysis of real estate listings priced at $1 million and up, conducted by Redfin, a national real-estate brokerage, and Grammarly, an online proofreading application. Their analysis revealed that good grammar really does pay—listings that were free of spelling or grammatical error sold three days faster and are 10% more likely to sell for more than their list price than listings overall.

And, as you might imagine, the reverse is also true. Those million-dollar listings awash in technical errors stayed on the market longer, and were more likely to sell for below list price.

So to real estate developers and agents everywhere: be kind to your real estate copywriter and proofreader. They know their stuff—and they are earning you more money on every home you sell.

Word to your mother

My mom and me—future luxury destination copywriter—on Sanibel Island

My mom and me—future luxury destination copywriter—on Sanibel Island

Ever wonder whether copywriters are made or born?

No, I hadn’t wasted any time thinking about it either.

Honestly, I thought I just sort of fell into copywriting. It was a zig-zaggy path that started with a degree in psychology, followed by a pit stop in market research, and a good chunk of time in ad and PR agencies. But I had some confidence that whatever copywriting skill I had was honed through years of agency experience.


Behold Exhibit A, my mom’s recent letter to me.

Copywriting gold from a copywriter's mom

Sent in advance of my birthday, she thought a coupon for a frozen dinner (really Mom?) would get me out of cooking on that day.

Here’s an excerpt:

You won’t have to cook on that day using this excellent coupon. By adding an additional $4.00 in cash you will be able to purchase the largest frozen entrée Stouffer offers.

If that is advertising copy gold, I don’t know what is.

But sadly, she wouldn’t be able to hold onto the Stouffer’s account for very long:

Never, never buy Stouffer’s meatloaf. Completely inedible.

So in honor of Mother’s Day, thanks Mom. I think it’s pretty obvious who has the copywriting talent in the family… and where I got my snarky edge.

Love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.




10 Tips to Proofread Like a Pro



First things first: typos happen. They happen to the best of us. And while it’s not the end of the world (usually), you want to put out your very best written work, don’t you? I proofread something—a print ad, web copy, brochure, newsletter, menu—every day. When proofreading is a daily practice, you learn some tips and tricks along the way. Here’s a quick checklist that I hope will help you proofread like a pro.

Read it out loud. You’d be surprised how many errors you miss when you skip this step.

Read it twice. At least, if not three times. And read it from top to bottom and then bottom to top.

Print it out. I don’t do this often, but if it’s technical manual or other word-dense document, I do print it out and mark it up.

Don’t rely on any spell-check program. Just don’t. That’s how I end up finding gems like “men must wear collard shirts in the dining room” (instead of collared) or a spa menu that lists a “callous treatment” (that would be callus treatment.)

If there’s a phone number, call it. Or cut and paste it into Google to check for accuracy.

Ditto with websites. Plug ’em into your browser and see if the links work.

If there are numbers, double-check them. For example, if there’s a floor plan, make sure the square footages add up correctly. Confirm that prices are current, times are accurate, and that dates and days are in agreement—that May 3 is indeed a Saturday.

Get yourself a good style manual. I’m team Chicago Manual of Style, but it doesn’t matter which one you choose. Just pick one and stick with it. For settling grammatical issues and questions about hyphenation (always a sticky wicket), a style guide is invaluable. CMOS has an online version (subscription-based) that’s pretty awesome.

Borrow another set of eyes. Get a second reader to give the document the once-over, preferably someone that hasn’t read it before.

Read the disclaimer. Yeah, it’s tiny type, but read it. You can bet your customer will.

Finally, don’t proofread when you’re tired or rushed. Got any proofreading tips to add to the list? I’d love to hear about them. Oh, and if you find any typos in this post? Let me know about that, too!












Coffee is Serious Business


Gorgeous luxury golf resort just completed a $250 million renovation. Villa rates start at $400 a night, so pretty posh. Guests have fairly high expectations that their experience will be flawless. And the management thought they had nailed it.

Golf course greens in tournament-playing condition? Check.
Amazing spa? Double check.
Luxury suites with gold-leaf details? Hell yes.
Truly lovely and thoughtful service? You got it.

I’ll bet you’ll never guess what the number one complaint was.


That’s right. Guests couldn’t figure out how to use the in-room espresso machine (told you it was posh). The management was using the coffee maker’s instructional diagram, and it just wasn’t cutting it. Here’s the irony: I own the same damn espresso machine. And you know what? The manufacturer’s instructions aren’t intuitive or easy to follow. What does that tiny coffee cup mean again? And why are the lights still blinking? I totally understood the guests’ frustration and why the client wanted clear, easy-to-understand instructions that would fit on a 2″ x 3-1/2″ card. I was happy to oblige. They are couple of lessons here:

1/Coffee is serious business. Really.
2/Your customer experience is only as good as the smallest detail.
3/Respect your customer. The hotel management didn’t dismiss this complaint. They realized that if it mattered to their guests, it should matter to them.
4/Don’t assume that just because the brand wrote it, that there isn’t room for improvement. Is it easy to understand for all users? If it’s not working, fix it.

Off to pour myself another cup…

Dash it all – Part 1


Image credit: Banjo Brown/flickr

I proof a ton of stuff for ad agencies, and it seems that even the best of them don’t always use the right dash in the right place. I figured a couple of blog posts might help when you need to know what goes where. Let’s start with hyphens.

Some, but not all compound words, are connected by hyphens. When in doubt, I check merriam-webster.




When you’ve got two or more words that serve a single adjective, use a hyphen. I write a lot about real estate and hospitality, so I’ll give you some examples that come up all the time:

10,000-square-foot ballroom


10,000 square feet of flexible meeting space

two-, three- and four-bedroom luxury suites (they are really into bedrooms)


luxury suites with two bedrooms

Use hyphens for compound numbers.

I got ninety-nine problems, but a hyphen ain’t one*

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?

Use hyphens to eliminate confusion, as with these words:

I re-sent the email (vs. I resent your implication that I never sent the email)

Could you re-sign this divorce agreement? (vs. I resign this shitty-ass job)

Use a hyphen with certain prefixes, such as ex-, self- and –all, and also between a prefix and a capitalized word, or with figures and letters.


ex-convict (psst, if you have to use both these ex’s in the same sentence, hyphens are the least of your problems)







Sure, there are plenty rules about hyphen usage, but these are the highlights, and the ones that seem to come up again and again.

Next week, I’ll be back with a riveting post about the en dash. Stay tuned.


Before you hire a web copywriter: Do these 6 things first

Retro styled image of an old typewriter

You’ve got a website that needs sprucing up, or you’ve got a new business/app/nonprofit that needs a new site built and written from scratch. That’s great! But before you hire a web copywriter, here’s a little homework that will help you find your perfect match.

Know what you want. Take the time to look at sites you like, writing that makes you say, “That’s it. I want my business to have that same quirky/fun/friendly/buttoned-down style.”  You know your customers, and you know how you talk to them one-to-one. That’s how your site should sound—just like you.

Ask about their approach to SEO. Good content isn’t about algorithms, it’s about writing content that’s original, that you own, and that builds trust and authority. Sure, keywords matter, but make sure you use them naturally to create content that’s interesting and relevant to your customers. However, every writer has his or her own approach to SEO copywriting. It makes sense to find out how they write for search, and what’s included in the project fee.

Get in touch at the beginning of the project. Sometimes I’ll get a call from a prospective client who has a freshly designed website that’s ready to go live, it “just needs the copy.” What that means is that content is an afterthought, and it shouldn’t be. Most writers, including me, want to collaborate from the get-go. When you’re hiring your web designer, hire your writer. When you bring us in together, you’ll know that the design and the content work hand in hand.

More is better. Send me the link to your website, a PDF of your brochure, whatever you have that’s already written about your business. If your business is brand spankin’ new, send me links to sites you like, so I can get a feel for what the voice you have in mind.

Have a budget. I know this is can be tricky, especially if you’ve never hired a freelance copywriter before. But be upfront about how much you’re willing to spend. There are plenty of copywriters, with a range of experience and fees. If I’m not the one for you, I’m happy to direct you to someone better suited to your budget. No hard feelings, I swear.

Have a deadline.  Think flexible but realistic. I’m fast, but I also like to have time to dig deep into your business before I write copy. And if it’s the first time I’m working with you, I’ll probably want to give you a page or two to make sure you’re happy with the writing, before I dive in to the whole site.

That’s it. Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Open the Kimono and Run It Up the Flagpole

Let’s talk about business jargon. More specifically, let’s talk about how we can get rid of this blight on the language landscape. Business jargon doesn’t add anything to the conversation—whether it’s in person, online or in print. How corporate language ended up so garbled and meaningless is anyone’s guess, but, really, can’t we do better than “win-win,” “paradigm shift,” and my all-time favorite, “think outside of the box”? Here’s a nifty little site to help purge those bloated phrases from your business vocabulary: http://unsuck-it.com/. Just plug in your most hated office jargon, and poof, you’ll find the plain English translation. I personally pledge to obliterate “tweak” from my business-speak from this day forward.

I Write Like…

In case you missed this meme, it’s great fun. I Write Like is a website that lets you paste in an excerpt of your writing, and uses an algorithm to tell you which author’s writing yours most resembles. It’s fascinating stuff. Who doesn’t want to be told they write like David Foster Wallace or Kurt Vonnegut? Although some folks are mighty disappointed to learn that their choice of words mostly closely mirrored those of Stephanie Meyer and Dan Brown. And, imagine Margaret Atwood’s surprise when she pasted in a sample of her own writing, only to find she writes like… Stephen King. Interestingly, I plugged in a few excerpts from my “I get paid to write this” copy, and turned up H.P. Lovecraft. When I used a few random posts from this blog, it spit out Douglas Adams. Nice to know I’m part of the society of weird fiction writers. I couldn’t be happier. Just for kicks, I analyzed the lyrics to the Banana Splits theme song. Apparently, Cory Doctorow—science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger—could have written this gem!