Every so often, I look back over the last few years and see how far I’ve come.
From the days when I knew nothing about copywriting and just fumbled my way through some early projects without much clue as to what I was doing.
I didn’t get everything wrong in those early days. My instincts were usually correct, and I’ve been writing since I was a kid.
But I did get a lot of it wrong.
And when I think about how I was able to grow so much in such a short period of time, I realize it’s really due to one thing.
It’s copywriting 101:
Nobody wants to hear you talking about yourself.
They want to know what’s in it for them.
Even entry-level copywriters swiftly learn the importance of stressing benefits over features. Instead of talking about what your product does, you talk about how it can help your customer. What pain does it alleviate? How does it make life easier for them?
It’s a simple tactic, but it’s powerfully effective.
It’s also grossly misunderstood.
A lifetime ago, I sat in a career counselor’s office, explaining why I couldn’t imagine a job I would succeed at. I had no skills, I explained. I knew nothing about anything.
The counselor asked me to prove it. “List your skills,” he urged me.
I shrugged. “Very well,” I replied. I was intelligent. I was analytical. I was reasonably organized. I knew how to be patient and how to listen. But so was everybody else. I only had general skills; I didn’t know anything specific.
The counselor shook his head. Those skills, he said, that I had so derisively labeled as general skills—those were the most important skills I could ever learn. Anything else—marketing, design, data entry—were simply extra skills that I could learn.
But all the skills in the world wouldn’t get me anywhere if I didn’t have the basics.
Copywriting is a pretty broad field. It includes blogging, newsletters, social media, articles, emails, advertising, even screenwriting—but for my first year as a full-time copywriter, all I did was write product descriptions.
I’ve already written about my initial frustration with that job, and how I eventually came to see it as an opportunity to develop my writing voice, test new techniques, and fine-tune my style.
In this post, I’d like to share the 9 tactics I learned that guided my approach to writing product descriptions over that year—with some examples.
Here we go.
You’re browsing for books on Amazon and hit the Look Inside button. How long do you give an sample before you move onto the next selection? Ten pages? Five? One?
In bygone days of traditional publishing, many authors thought it was downright unfair for an agent or editor to reject a submission after reading only five or ten pages. They didn’t realize most manuscripts are like digging in a dumpster—it rarely gets better as you go deeper.
Today, I suspect we’re lucky if a browser reads more than the first page. We must hook them in seconds. Given the choice between a great story that glides like ice cream over the tongue, or a great story with bits of nut shells to spit out, guess which one the reader will pick.
Here are ten self-editing tips so readers will glide through your prose straight to the Buy Now button:
There are two jobs paths out there that tend to get confused. One is technical writing. The other is copywriting.
They are not the same.
If you were to ask me for my number one stance on copywriting, it’d be this:
Dry, boring, technical jargon has. No. Place. In. Copywriting.
Technical writing is about providing facts. It offers details but leaves the ultimate decision to the reader.
Copywriting is about persuasion. It does everything it can to prompt the reader to make the decision you want them to make.
And you can’t persuade if you don’t write in a communicate tone.
Why not? Well, I could tell you . . .
But I’d rather just show you.
The foundation of good copywriting is good storytelling.
There’s a reason John Caple’s article They Laughed When I sat Down By the Piano, But When I Started to Play! is still considered one of the most brilliant pieces of copywriting of all time.
Caples didn’t simply make a pitch. He told a story. A story that spoke to his readers—their desires, their hopes, their dreams. And that allowed him to turn those readers into customers far better than any pitch could.
And that, in short, is the essence of copywriting.
There’s an ancient fable (as in, one I definitely did not just make up on the spot) wherein a young lad, foolish yet daring, seeks out an old, wise man for help.
Eventually (feel free to fill in here chapters of challenges, suffering, and brushes with death) he finds him. He collapses by the wise man’s feet and looks up at him with wide eyes.
“Answer me, wise man, for I have sought long and hard. How do I know how much description is too much and how much is too little? Where do I draw the line?”
The wise man, following in the footsteps of all wise men before him, raises a frail hand and slowly strokes his beard. “That’s a good question, my son. Fortunately, I know the answer.
“It’s all about intuition.”
I’m going to be honest with you.
I was very apprehensive about creating RE: Writing.
Even though I pitched it as my journey as a writer . . .
Even though I clarified that I’m still in the middle of that journey . . .
In the end of the day, I would be posting writing tips. Tips I would share with other writers. Tips I would advocate as being crucial to know.
And yes, RE: Writing has other things, too. Musings. Personal stories. Inspiration. Whatever this was. But it also has tips.
My apprehension wasn’t because I felt I didn’t have the right to share those tips. The things I write, I whole-heartedly believe. They’re things that I have used over and over again to shape my own career.
I was concerned, however, that my wellspring of tips would eventually run dry.
And after I shared everything I’d learned, what else would I have to post?
I first “met” Tom Starita several weeks ago on LinkedIn. He shared with me that he’s a two-time novelist—that his second book, Growth and Change are Highly Overrated, came out in December, 2016. Recently, Tom and I sat down to talk about his books, his experiences, and the lessons he’s learned.
This is his story.
Eli Landes is one of those weird writers who just can't get enough. A marketing writer by day and a fiction writer whenever he can squeeze in the time, he spends his spare time working on his novel, writing short fiction, or daydreaming (I mean, researching). His main genre is Jewish fiction, but he's been known to dabble in the weird, the absurd, and the truly dark.