Thank you for your wealth of information on writing. I’m an aspiring copywriter, and on top of my day job, dabble in freelance writing for brochures and corporate websites. The thing is, I occasionally encounter clients who change my copy so much (admittedly, for the better) that it makes me doubt my writing talent and potential. My numerous job applications have also been rejected by ad agencies – both big and small.
How do I know if I have what it takes to be a good copywriter? I know I have the passion for advertising copy, but when do I draw the line between passion and reality – that I should just stick to my 9-6 job and leave the writing to the pros?
Appreciate your time and advice, John.
First off, lets dispose of this, “do I have what it takes?” question. If you’re still in there trying, you have what it takes. Once you decide that it isn’t worth your time, then you don’t. I’m sure there are many better copywriters than you, and I’ll also assure you that there are worse ones than you who are making a great living. Don’t let the rejections get you down. The market is flooded with writers but it is also flooded with opportunities.
Your main concern seems to be that people are rewriting your copy. You need to understand that rewriting is part of the process. Your clients, because they are usually much closer to their product than you, will often have input into whether your copy will work for them. Often, their decisions will be best, but sometimes they don’t know what they’re talking about. Either way, they are the clients and your first job is to make them happy.
Here are a few ways to improve your chances of getting through the editing process unscathed:
Make sure you are clear on what the client wants
Don’t be afraid to ask questions as part of the process. Get the job requirements down in writing and if you are unsure of something, check. The more work you do at the front end of the process, the less work you’ll have to do at the back end.
Write carefully and edit carefully
I could recommend a dozen books to you, especially those by Robert W. Bly, but I don’t want to overload you so start with Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing. This is a great resource for learning to fix your errors, and I don’t just mean bad grammar or spelling. This book covers the whole process of getting your documents right.
Take the time to have others, not just your client, review what you have written. You can use other writers, or just friends who have any perspective on the product. Have them look over what you’ve written and ask them questions. Test to see if you have gotten the response you are looking for. Is the document persuasive? Does the document leave them with unanticipated questions? Are any instructions easy to follow? Do they understand what the desired result is? Your questions may vary depending on the document. The most important requirement is to listen to what your testers have to say.
Study and Practice
If you want to be a better copywriter, then dedicate yourself to improving. Study other advertising copy. Create a library of quality copywriting, both to study and to give you ideas when you set out to create a new document. Rewrite other copywriter’s materials in your own style. Study books on copywriting AND visual design. Take classes. In other words, make an effort to get better.
Copywriting is a learnable skill. Some people have more to learn than others, but if you are already getting clients, then I think your chances are pretty good. The question is whether you feel the career is worth the work.
Here are some sites about copywriting and web writing that are must-reads.
- Copyblogger: You could spend a year reading all of their articles about copywriting.
- Men With Pens: Great articles on copywriting and the writing business.
- Copywriting Maven: Good information about the business of copywriting.
- Remarkable Communication: A great site for marketers.
- Writing White Papers: Michael Stelzner specializes in white papers, one of the highest paying specialties in copywriting.