Copywriting Tips #1

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For those who might not know, I work as a copywriter. Though words and grammar are employed, I don’t consider it to be creative in the same way writing a novel or piece of journalism might be. It’s a commercial art with different goals. It can be done well or poorly, just like any job.

I don’t think it’s something anyone could do, though. In addition to having good grammar (this blog is full of chronic violations of the rules) and above average writing skills, you have to be pretty quick thinking, organized, original, and thick skinned. It also helps to have a good understanding of marketing, graphic design, and whatever category the product you’re working on is in.

Hiring a copywriter can be expensive, but you know what’s more expensive? Losing sales because your spelling eats a dick and it looks like your company is run by paint huffing juggalos. There are lots of tricks that can help you get better at it, though.

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The first thing is to get your grammar pretty solid. It doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect, there are times when a break from grammar can make sense, but you should be fairly close to perfect unless you have a compelling reason not to be (Apple’s Think Different, for example). For that, there is no better resource than the classic The Elements of StyleThe Elements of Style by Strunk & White. If you’re allergic to books, the Purdue University Online Writing Lab is great.

The second thing is to get your writing tight. There are all kinds of books on efficient writing out there. One I thought was pretty decent is How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark. In my opinion the best writing on this appears in George Orwell’s  Politics and the English Language.

The last thing that’ll get you moving in the right direction for copywriting is knowing how to sell something. There are innumerable sales books out there, including a few written specifically for copywriters. None of them are as good as Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s not really about sales, though. It’ s about how to listen people. When you listen, you find out what people want. When you find out what people want, there is opportunity to get it for them. When you can get things for people, you can make money.

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Anyway. That’s just a quick little blast of copywriter wisdom. I realized earlier today that by the end of my year of blogging my collected advice columns and pep talk entries will be long enough to be the length of a small book. My plan is to edit it, have my friend do some illustrations, and release it as a very cheap Kindle book. The working title is Be Advised.

In that spirit, I’ve always wanted to put together a book about copywriting based on what I think works and doesn’t. I figure if I do one or two copywriting related entries a month, I’ll have a good base for that project. I might even do a regular weekly “ask a copywriter” feature if people are interested.

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