Today is a monumental moment in the history of Rough Draft because we are going to break — for the first time ever — the monologue mold of Rough Draft.
In fact, we’re going to do it all week.
See, I have four short interviews for you from four superb web writers. People who will teach you fabulous lessons on overcoming obscurity, finding your voice, choosing the right words, and rapidly expanding your audience.
Today you’ll hear from the lovely James Chartrand. A single mom with two kids who built a world-class design and copywriting boutique called Men with Pens.
But her ride wasn’t pretty. Her story is one of intrigue and forced anonymity. And downright sexism.
It’s one of unfair competition and writing $2 articles. But there are also inside jokes about dressing drag and being Canadian, and ultimately, a happy ending that culminated in a blog post on Copyblogger that blew all of our collective minds.
I speak in superlatives because this story demands superlatives. And it demands your attention. Particularly if you feel alone and forgotten and like no one will ever notice you. Because the lesson is if this single mom can win the attention battle with these odds, so can you.
So pay attention …
Because in this roughly 19-minute episode you’ll discover:
- Fab advice about getting noticed from a woman who chose to remain obscure
- The icky environment James found herself in when she got started
- My favorite blog post on Copyblogger (and why James HAD to write it)
- What she thinks of the current state of affairs for women web writers
- The ugly results behind a pricing test she ran as a woman, then as a man
- What you have to do when you must control a public conversation
- Learn James’ real first name (she won’t reveal the last — I begged)
Listen to Rough Draft below ...
The Show Notes
The Oddest Story About Overcoming Obscurity You’ll Ever Hear
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Demian Farnworth: Welcome to Rough Draft, your daily dose of the essential web writing advice. I am your host Demien Farnworth, the chief content writer for Copyblogger Media. Thank you for sharing the next few minutes of your life with me.
Dear listener, today is the monumental moment in the history of Rough Draft because today we are going to break, for the first time ever, the monologue mold of Rough Draft. In fact we’re going to break it all week. See, I have four short interviews for you from four superb web writers. People who will teach you fabulous lessons of overcoming obscurity, finding your voice, choosing the right words, and rapidly expanding your audience.
Today you will hear from the lovely James Chartrand, a single mom with two kids who built the world-class design and copywriting boutique called Men with Pens. But her ride wasn’t pretty. Her story is one of intrigue, forced anonymity, and downright sexism.
It’s one of unfair competition and writing $2 articles, but there are also inside jokes about dressing drag, and being Canadian, and ultimately a happy ending that culminated in a blog post on Copyblogger that blew all of our collective minds.
I speak in superlatives because this story demands superlatives. It demands your attention. Particularly if you feel alone, forgotten, and like no one will ever notice you, because the lesson is: “If this is single mom can win the attention battle with these odds — so can you.” So pay attention. And now onto the show.
All right state your name.
James Chartrand: I am James Chartrand of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words.
Demian Farnworth: I don’t know if you know this, but you and I got history.
James Chartrand: We do?
Demian Farnworth: Yes. You’ll always have a special place in my heart because you were the first high-profile person to hire me. I don’t know if you remember this, but I think I wrote a blog guest post for Copyblogger …
James Chartrand: You had some obscure little blog that nobody knew about. You were just a nobody back then.
Demian Farnworth: Absolutely! This is back in 2011 too, so we’ve really known each other for a very long time.
James Chartrand: Forever.
Demian Farnworth: You sent me an email shortly after I guest posted on Copyblogger. The subject line said, “Just Kicking the Tires.” Do you remember that?
James Chartrand: I don’t. But that sounds like exactly something I’d write.
Demian Farnworth: I went nuts when I got that email.
James Chartrand: I kicked the tires so far you went and worked for Copyblogger, didn’t you?
Demian Farnworth: Well you did eventually hire me so it was … I don’t know if you remember this too, but I rewrote the sales letter for the Brick and Mortar Blogging eBook.
James Chartrand: You bet.
Demian Farnworth: I went nuts when I got that email from you because I was new to freelancing. I didn’t care if you ended up hiring me or not, but just to be noticed in that sort of capacity.
James Chartrand: It feels good, eh?
Demian Farnworth: Yeah. Just having James Chartrand asking about rates made me feel like a man all messed up on cough syrup, which is a good thing. Of course, at that point I knew you were a woman even though you were using a man’s name. Like I said, this was back in 2001.
There was a time when I admired you but thought you were a man with a man’s name. So that’s really why I brought you on this call, to talk about that special case of anonymity that you had. Why don’t you tell the audience about those early days of anonymity and why you had to remain anonymous?
The Icky Environment James Found Herself in When She Got Started
James Chartrand: All right I’m going to give you the nutshell version because I can make this a very long and drawn out story. But for the purposes of this call, what happened was I got my start in an early 2006 under my own name as a woman. And that was great. People were paying me $2 to write 500 word articles. I thought I’d just found the pot at the end of the rainbow.
However, along with that came a lot of comments that I didn’t appreciate. People would say things like, “Well I know you’re just a single mom with 2 kids hanging off your legs, so you should really be grateful to be able to work for me.” Another thing that happened is when I would propose an idea to clients that I knew was really good and would work, it was always like, “Yeah, well maybe I’ll think about that. I really know what I’m doing here.” So the level of respect wasn’t great. The level of pay rate wasn’t great either.
Demian Farnworth: Do you think people were taking advantage of the fact of being a single mom?
James Chartrand: Oh yeah, for sure. That was very, very clear from a lot of the comments that I got from clients. It was clear that that was part of the situation. Another thing is that I knew in that industry — and other female writers who got their start early on will probably agree with me — females can be really catty, female writers even more so.
The industry was very full of backstabbing women. And at one point I wanted to grow my company, grow my stable and hire some writers, but I didn’t want that level of cattiness in the negotiating process, in the hiring process. I figured, “Well I’m going to take a pen name. I’m going to do this anonymously and I’m going to pick a name that I think will generate some respect. I’ll be my own client.” My clients were male business people, so I became a male business-person and chose the name James Chartrand.
Demian Farnworth: Why James Chartrand?
James Chartrand: James because I like that name. Chartrand because it’s the tip of the hat to my French roots here in Quebec.
Demian Farnworth: Nice.
James Chartrand: The level of respect that I received hiring those writers was interesting. It was, “Yes sir. Yes Mr. Chartrand. Absolutely, here are my rates,” and I thought, “Well that’s interesting I’m getting a whole new level of respect that I wasn’t getting as a woman.”
I took it one step further and I started pitching myself to clients as a male writer. The level of respect was phenomenally different than when I was a woman.
Demian Farnworth: Let me ask you a question.
James Chartrand: Yeah.
Demian Farnworth: An obvious question. How did you handle that on phone calls?
James Chartrand: I didn’t do phone calls.
Demian Farnworth: You just stuck to emails?
James Chartrand: I just stuck to emails. It was email all the way. On the rare occasions where I did have to have phone calls, my secretary would handle the phone calls. I was just far too important for these things.
Demian Farnworth: Nice.
James Chartrand: It worked out well.
Demian Farnworth: Okay good.
The Ugly Results Behind a Pricing Test She Ran as a Woman, Then as a Man
James Chartrand: I just took it and I figured, “This is working. This is working.” I was a single mom. I did have two kids. I only had myself to bring in the money. “Why fight about this? I’m just going to run with it, it’s great.” I didn’t think twice about it. I did test side-by-side. I did some quotes as a woman and some quotes as the male pseudonym just to make sure that this wasn’t a perception thing on my part, and so I ran with it.
Demian Farnworth: Very interesting. Okay, so at some point — I think it was pretty early with Copyblogger — you started guest posting for them correct?
James Chartrand: I did.
Demian Farnworth: I remember because I’d ran into Brian early on too, and was reading his blog and was very intrigued by what he was writing. But then this person named James comes along and is posting. Which again, just adds further to the Copyblogger mystique. Headlines like, “Are You Talkin’ to My Generation?” which was a nod to The Who, and then this headline, “Old-School Marketing No Longer Working, Blame Canada.”
James Chartrand: Exactly.
Demian Farnworth: Here’s this fun, self-effacing Canadian — a great writer though. Then there was, “How Three Drag Queens in a Bus Leads to Better Blogging,” which was again a nod to the movie, “The Adventures of Priscilla, The Queen of The Desert,” and of course there was, “Why Parents Write More Persuasive Copy.” I’m like, “Whoa, this is great!” because I was a parent at the time. I was like, “Yeah this person has a multi-dimension to them,” and I thought, “Hey, here’s a kindred soul here.” But then it became, over a course of one or two years following you, becoming a fan, and then the global event like —
James Chartrand: — I blew your mind!
Demian Farnworth: Yes! You blew my mind. There was the headline to end all headlines — and this was by far my most favorite story on Copyblogger. The headline says, “Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s underpants,” so why don’t you describe that article and why you had to write it?
James Chartrand: It was interesting, because once upon a time I did have to have a call with Brian Clark. At that time my secretary couldn’t call Brian Clark. Brian Clark was far more important than I was. So I made the call. The minute he answered, and the minute I began speaking, he burst out laughing and laughed and laughed.
What You Have to Do When You Must Control a Public Conversation
James Chartrand: We got to talking and he said, “You know what if you ever want to tell your story you let me know.” Which was very smart of him from an SEO perspective — getting traffic. And the time did come when I needed to tell my story. Someone else had started to leak it and I was getting a lot of people coming to me saying, “Is this true? What’s going on? I’m hearing rumors,” and it was like, “Okay it’s time to grab the biggest microphone I can find,” and that would be Copyblogger.
Demian Farnworth: So these people who were leaking it, were they doing it maliciously, friendly, or just for the spotlight, or were they clients — who were these people?
James Chartrand: I can’t really say why they were doing that, I’m not in their heads. But the person was my business partner at the time.
Demian Farnworth: Interesting.
James Chartrand: So we’re no longer business partners.
Demian Farnworth: Very interesting.
James Chartrand: I wrote that article and posted it up, and it basically blew my world apart in a major way. I think it really shook up everyone else’s perception of the world as well. A lot of good feedback, a lot of bad feedback. I can’t take the credit for the headline by the way, Brian totally wrote that.
Demian Farnworth: Is that right?
James Chartrand: That was his right to do, so there you go.
Demian Farnworth: Love it! We’ve since reset all of the social media so unfortunately you can’t go there now to the article and see the number of Tweets, Facebook … It just went phenomenally well. The comments alone though, were absolutely amazing. I think they eventually shut them down around 760 or something like that.
James Chartrand: Yeah, or I’m sure it still would be going today if they were on. It was crazy.
Demian Farnworth: It was unbelievable. By far my favorite story because it was a complete and utter surprise. Came out of left field. Now we are probably … two, three, four, or five years since then?
James Chartrand: Let’s say five to make it a round number.
What She Thinks of the Current State of Affairs for Women Web Writers
Demian Farnworth: Five, okay. Do you feel like things have changed for women in this world, whether it’s blogging or copywriting, in the freelancing world?
James Chartrand: That’s a good question. I certainly have my opinions on this and I really don’t want to be roasted over a fire for them. I don’t think it’s changed that much. The really successful people that I see making bank are men. I still see that the copywriting industry is dominated by men.
There are a lot of woman freelance writers, there are a lot of woman copywriters and that is great, but they all seem to get struck at a certain level. A far better level than what I was stuck with, so yes, we’ve advanced. There are a few woman that have really gone big and that’s great for them but they are few and far between.
They seem to be the ones who have very … what we would call male traits. They’re bold, they’re aggressive, they’re unafraid, they speak their mind, they’re straightforward.
Demian Farnworth: Do you feel like you’re a success because you clearly have a very successful agency and company, you yourself are doing quite well, and a person who is highly looked up to? Do you feel though — even after you came out?
James Chartrand: That all sounds amazing!
Demian Farnworth: Right! But do you feel in some way your success could be higher if not for being a woman?
James Chartrand: I don’t know. I have people who come to me today who still don’t know that I am a woman even though my picture is clearly posted everywhere. It’s like, “How could you even miss that?”
Demian Farnworth: Do they think it’s a joke or something?
James Chartrand: I’ve had people say, “Oh my gosh, you forgot to take down the place marker photo on your website!” and it’s like, “No, that is me.” There are still people who still don’t know. I still get a lot of the same types of clients coming to me, so who can tell? I do attribute a lot of my success to who I am, what I can do, my services, my quality, my brains. Because I had that before the story went big.
Demian Farnworth: That’s right.
James Chartrand: When the story went big I did get some more fame from that, but I don’t see any lasting effects from it to be honest.
Demian Farnworth: So the reason I wanted to talk to you in this interview is that you faced two challenges — that being obscurity and neglect. Once they find it will they actually read it?
So that obscurity part for you, though, it’s a special case because not only were you anonymous — I mean we all start at the bottom — but you were anonymous by choice, and you had to remain anonymous by choice. As you were doing that did that grate on your nerves? Was there a part of you that resisted that? How long would you have remained anonymous if there wasn’t the risk of being leaked?
Learn James’ Real First Name (She Won’t Reveal the Last — I Begged)
James Chartrand: I probably would have taken it as far as I could. Just to see how far it would go. It didn’t grate on me. It didn’t bother me. I find it bothers me more today, five years later, because I’ve grown as a person. I’ve evolved. I’m in a different phase of my life. Now I find it a little annoying to have to call myself James as opposed to my given name, which I’m not going to tell you.
Demian Farnworth: You knew that question was coming right?
James Chartrand: Everyone asks me that.
Demian Farnworth: Please.
James Chartrand: I will say my first name is Louise. Enough people know that. That I can let out.
Demian Farnworth: That’s awesome.
James Chartrand: I find it annoying today to have to explain the story. I find it a little annoying that I can’t just be me. That said, I’ve always been me. I have only changed my name. I’ve never changed my personality.
Demian Farnworth: Yeah, that’s right. And in some circumstances too … It’s like one of those names that you can get away with I think with as a man or a woman.
James Chartrand: I think so right.
Demian Farnworth: I do.
James Chartrand: It would be different if I’d called myself Richard. That would have looked all wrong.
Demian Farnworth: Right, or George. There’s George Elliot right? Let’s close with this: what do you tell people who are frustrated that they are anonymous? They are at the bottom. And clearly we all start there. What do you tell people who are at that place and feel frustrated?
Fab Advice About Getting Noticed From a Woman Who Chose to Remain Obscure
James Chartrand: The only thing I can say is to get yourself known. If I was to start over today under my given name, I would be anonymous like anyone else. I’d be starting at the bottom — like anyone else — and I would be doing the same things I’m doing today: talking with people, exposing my business, blogging a lot, making connections.
I would be doing the very same things that I am doing now, at my level of success, and for all the people who know me. So that’s all I can say. If you’re frustrated by anonymity, if you’re frustrated by being hidden, by not being known — get yourself known in any way possible.
Demian Farnworth: Get yourself known in any way possible. That’s a statement if there ever was one, particularly coming from James. I hope you enjoyed hearing her story. I always do, and it was a real privilege getting to finally speak to one of my heroes. You can find out more about James at Men with Pens.
If you are getting any value from this podcast jump over to iTunes and leave me a rating and a review. Let me know how I’m doing. I love hearing from you, and it always makes me want to work harder.
Don’t forget to share this episode with someone who might benefit from it. Shoot them an email to link to the show, drop it on Facebook, or whatever your social media site of choice is. Please encourage someone today with James’s story.
Tomorrow I’ll introduce you to the princess of profanity and her keen advice on finding your voice. I am totally serious about this. It’s an episode you don’t want to miss. Until then take care.
I’m curious if James watched Remmington Steele, because her story is very similar to the backstory for that tv show. Inspiration?
I really liked this episode. You always have great tips, but it’s fun to shake things up sometimes.
Demian Farnworth says
Thanks Arianna, for the vote of confidence. I occassionally like to shake things up a bit. I’ll ask James if she watched Remmington Steele. 😀
James Chartrand is the best. Just wanted to leave a comment to say it!
Demian Farnworth says
I have to agree. 😀
Luved this Q & A, so much so that I’m “actually” leaving a comment. Dislike shellfish, selfies and commenting on blogs, b—u—t , I was deeply moved by the chemistry between you and James, and her inspiring journey.
Demian Farnworth says
Thanks Susana, not that means a lot. I really enjoyed doing this interview. Privilege to finally talk to one of my heroes.
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Really fun interview, Demian! I’ve been enjoying your “interview interlude” series — I love your monologues (and your “surfer dude” voice), but I’m so glad you let yourself expand outside of the monologue format, too!
I have to confess, however, that I was really disappointed that you let James’ anti-semitic slur slip by without comment. I was shocked when she said something about letting people “Jew me down,” and even more shocked that you didn’t call her on it, or edit it out.
James may not have intended her comment to be a slur; in fact, she may not have even realized that it *is* a slur — I only learned in the past 10 years or so that “I was gypped” is a racial slur, originally a very direct insult against Gypsies, casting aspersions on an entire ethnic group as cheaters.
“Jew me down” is a slur, too: it’s a very direct insult against Jews, casting aspersions on an entire ethnic group as cheap moneygrubbers.
Not fair, and not cool. Words have power, and in this case they have the power to harm.
And what a shame that you let a wonderful opportunity to educate someone slip by!
Ethnic hatred and racism will not disappear on their own. It is the responsibility of each of us to do our small part. Keeping racial slurs out of your podcast (or, alternatively, calling someone on it and engaging them in an open dialogue when a racial slur slips out) seems to me the ethical thing to do.
I hope you receive this in the spirit in which it is shared. My intention is not to slam you — I love your work, and have been a fan of James’ for a long time. I’m sure neither of you want to inadvertently contribute to racial hatred, however, and hope that my pointing it out might increase your awareness so you can use the power of your words for good.
Thanks for reading, and keep on doing great work!
PS – I just listened to your episode with Belle Beth Cooper (great stuff! super helpful as I’ve lately started doing more syndication of my own work on Huffington Post and Medium. I’ve been wondering, though, how long I should wait between posting on my own blog and syndicating. I was hoping you’d touch on that with Belle Beth Cooper, but didn’t hear you mention it. Any thoughts on the subject? Thanks!
Demian Farnworth says
Hey Melissa, I apologize. I missed what she said during the interview, and I missed it the 20 times I re-listened to it while editing it. It even got by our production team. It wasn’t until after it was published that I listened to the interview again and I heard it and said to myself, “Did she just say what I thought she said?”
We’ve since edited the comment out. I know James didn’t mean it as an ethnic slur, and would be horrified to think she might be disparaging someone.
Trust me, we are all a little more sensitive to our language after this one. Thanks for your comment, and sorry for letting that one slip through.
mary mccarthy says
It’s unfortunate how many weaknesses and gaffes there are on James’ websites–from grammatical to stylistic (some subjective, but a good truly writer would know better).
As what she’s doing is admirable and means well. And obviously works hard at it.
But as an editor, it’s almost painful. Then again, 98% of the population does not know the correct usage of “Who” (when referring to persons/possessive). People wrongly use “that’ instead.
The 40 character world we’re living in. No one has to read the greats anymore. So there are none. Or few.