Paul Hollingshead and the Barefoot Writer's Club (part of American Writers & Artists Inc., which sells courses that promise to help you "Learn How You Can Become a Six-Figure Copywriter"). To be honest, I've been hesitant to write this post, because Barefoot/AWAI advocates are vigilant about responding to discussions of their products, and likely will show up here to extol the virtues of the program (to see what I mean, take a look at this long-running discussion on Writer Beware's Facebook page). But judging by how often writers ask me whether the Club is worthwhile and/or legit, it's pretty active in soliciting members--and I think it merits a caution.
Right on the homepage of The Barefoot Writer, you can see what it's all about. "Discover 9 Ways You Can Make a VERY Good Living as a Writer!" "Making a Living as a Writer Has Never Been Easier!" "Get paid to write and build the freedom-filled life you’ve always wanted!" The promise, in other words, of the ultimate writerly pipe dream:
The Barefoot Writer opens the door to the world of paid writing opportunities. You’ll read about ways to dramatically improve your lifestyle as a writer — for the better. Fascinating projects … luxurious lifestyle … inexpensive ways to get up and running, fast. Rewarding writing exercises. A community of supportive, like-minded writers. Ways to let your imagination and creativity soar.To reap these astounding benefits, all you have to do is join the Club. The cost? Just $49 (but hurry! This is a "limited time price offer that may end at any time"). Your payment gets you a subscription to 12 issues of The Barefoot Writer's Magazine...and wait, there's more! You also receive access to several free Special Reports with titles like "The Secret of the 1-Hour Work Week" and "The $500 Email Secret."
No, you don’t have to be rich, or even have a degree to enjoy a dream lifestyle as a writer. The Barefoot Writer shows you that all you need is to be pointed in the right direction to appreciate all the writer’s lifestyle has to offer.
So where's the harm, you may be wondering? $49 isn't a huge amount of money. If you're looking to transition to full-time freelance writing, or to supplement your income from your existing job, mightn't The Barefoot Writer help you improve your skills and learn some worthwhile things?
Ah, but what if The Barefoot Writer's Club isn't so much a how-to-write-better club, or a how-to-learn-about-great-writing-opportunities club, as a how-to-get-you-to-buy-more-stuff club?
No sample issues of The Barefoot Writer's Magazine are available online, so I couldn't check it out. But I did download the "FREE Guide to Barefoot Writer Living" advertised on The Barefoot Writer's homepage, and it's little more than an advertorial for AWAI copywriting and other courses. Ditto for The Barefoot Writer blog, where nearly every puff-piece post ends with a pitch for an AWAI workshop, course, or other product (even if the post purports to be about something else). And now that AWAI has my email address, I'm getting a email every couple of days urging me to buy an AWAI product.
Is it a stretch to suppose that the magazine is more of the same?
The Barefoot Writer's Club, in other words, belongs to the category of enterprises that are designed to sell you things under the guise of helping or instructing you. The Internet is rife with such schemes: "experts" offering courses or webinars that are really vehicles for pimping their own products, "authorities" whose only claim to knowledge is that they've written whatever ebook or coursepack they want you to buy. There may or may not be useful information involved--but the information isn't the point. These are commercial enterprises, and their primary goal is to make a profit--from you.
As for the American Writers & Artists copywriting courses, there are mixed reviews online. Many of the positive reviews read a lot like AWAI's own promotional material, which suggests they should be taken with a large grain of salt. Somewhat more critical reviews can also be found, such as this one and this one; and this discussion thread includes a number of comments--both satisfied and not--from people who've actually used some of the courses.
The general consensus seems to be that the course materials are solid overall (though not everyone agrees on this), but that they're aimed at beginners, include some padding, and require a substantial investment of time and energy if you want to get the most out of them. Some users also report being aggressively solicited to buy other AWAI products.
What's lacking in all these discussions and reviews is persuasive evidence that AWAI's florid promises of high income and a leisurely lifestyle actually materialize for the average customer. When you try to pin AWAI boosters down on this issue--as I did in the discussion on Writer Beware's Facebook page--they tend to change the subject or avoid specifics. People who really do write for a living know that it's a hardscrabble life that doesn't allow for a lot of poolside lounging. I don't doubt that there are some people who've parlayed AWAI courses and their own hard work into profitable careers--per many of the testimonials on the AWAI website--but I see nothing to suggest that they are anything but outliers.
If something sounds too good to be true...it probably is.