What a whirlwind!
So… Thursday someone breaks into my house… Sunday my web host breaks all my websites…
And — if you’re superstitious and believe in the law-of-threes, I’m overdue for another catastrophe!
Good thing I’m not too superstitious!
Today I’m finally feeling mostly recovered…
So it’s time to catch up — and do yesterday’s Mailbox Monday!
Today, a question about copywriting — with an unconventional answer!
Remember, you can get YOUR questions on marketing, selling, business, life, whatever answered…
All you gotta do is send ‘em through to my mailbox at [email protected].
I’ll add you to the queue and answer your question in an upcoming Mailbox Monday column.
Here’s today’s question — about reviewing your own copy, and catching your flubs before they happen…
As an aspiring AWAI copywriter, and sometimes self assigned, I am tasked with writing sample direct response letters, and web packages. It is both a chore and a labor of love.
The problem I am having is that I will work on a project until I feel I have it just right. Reads good, sounds good to me and others, fits the required structure, and i’s dotted and t’s crossed as well. On to submission for review.
When the review comes, the inevitable suggestions to improve it arrive as well. And many are great suggestions. I end up saying to myself “Durrr, why didn’t I see that? Or think of that? Or express that? Or sequence that?” You get the idea.
It’s not as if the concepts are foreign to me, or they are outside my own mode of expression. I just don’t seem to take it far enough in my own final reviews. And that could be disastrous in my first and subsequent paying gigs. I agree with their comments (and yours in the past) and can make the changes to make the piece shine, hum and flow really well.
Any suggestions on how to preemptively snag and develop these improvements before submission?
You’re not alone, Richard!
Before I answer your question, I want you to understand that. If you’re serious about learning any new skill — including copywriting — you’re going to make a lot of mistakes.
Even “I shoulda known better” ones.
There’s going to be cases where you should have known you needed to do something… But you didn’t do it.
And cases where you knew NOT to do something else… But you did do it.
And someone points it out to you. Sometimes, after a very public failure. And you feel really, really stupid.
If this DOESN’T happen to you, it means you’re not doing nuthin’! That is — the only people it doesn’t happen to are the people who aren’t moving, aren’t doing things, aren’t putting their neck on the line in their quest for success.
So it’s actually a sign you’re doing SOMETHING right — you’re taking action!
Keep that part up.
Now, I’ll address the rest of the question…
First… Understand that these so-called “mistakes” might not matter at all — they may be irrelevant!
In 2010, I got a chance to sit down with Bill Bonner, founder of the half-billion per year consumer publishing giant, Agora, Inc.
Bill is a copywriter that nearly every copywriter who knows, looks up to.
He founded a direct response company that’s now making multiple hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
He wrote a sales letter for one publication that launched it — and has lasted decades, unbeaten by the top writers in the biz.
His company is directly and indirectly one of the biggest forces behind the “copywriting as a career opportunity” movement today, as many of today’s top direct response copywriters and copywriting teachers have at least some experience working with Agora.
And Bill’s thinking — along that of with Mark Ford (aka Michael Masterson) and a number of other Agora copywriters — are what went into all the original AWAI products on copywriting.
If it weren’t for Bill, I probably wouldn’t even be writing this right now.
Here’s what Bill told me about copywriting — and all the “rules” of good copywriting…
He once knew 5,000 rules for what good copy needed to be. Now, he’s forgotten them all. And instead, he simply tries to tell a story that will compel his audience to take action.
Now, he hasn’t REALLY forgotten all those rules. Many of them have been internalized. They’re part of his writing.
But he doesn’t try to fit them all into everything he writes. He doesn’t try to “check the boxes” that a copy reviewer might look to check in looking at your copy.
Instead, he focused on the most important idea behind copy — connecting with your reader and moving them to action.
This is what A+ copywriters are concerned with.
None of the gobbledygook of making sure your headline is Urgent, Useful, Ultra-specific, and Unique. Or making sure they hit every possible sales angle or objection.
Are those important? They can be.
But there have been countless sales messages that have “ticked all the boxes” and fallen flat on their face.
There have also been countless sales messages by rank amateurs that have succeeded beyond the wildest imaginations of their creators, because they succeeded in connecting with the reader and spurring them to action. (An under-celebrated book in this regard, that I recommend often, is Method Marketing by Denny Hatch.)
You can’t simultaneously be concerned about “ticking boxes” and getting extraordinary response!
It’s very common with novice copywriters — and even some that have made a good living at it for a long time — to be preoccupied with form over function.
They have templates they want you to follow.
They have rules they want you to adhere to.
They have a set of best practices that they’ve come to believe represent “good” copy.
And you know what?
They do represent “good” copy. But usually not “great” copy.
I get in this argument all the time. “Good” copy and “great” copy often look very different.
In a peer review situation, great copy often gets pulled down to being merely good. Bad copy can also get pulled UP to being good. So peer reviews have their place. But their focus on certain details can cause a statistical phenomenon called “reversion to the mean” — everything gets pulled toward the middle, for better or worse.
And that’s absolutely the case when it comes to the majority of copy review situations, in my experience.
Everybody comes to the review with their own set of “best practices” they want you to adhere to.
And a lot of times, those best practices are pretty good.
If you rank markets on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being unsophisticated markets that are easy to sell to, and 5 being A+ players only… Most peer reviews will tell you a lot about what it takes to get in line to compete in markets up to 3 or 4.
But if you want extraordinary response or to compete in a level 5 market…
You have to learn to recognize when to push back and fight the box-tickers…
And instead proclaim…
“Let the market tell us!”
When it comes down to understanding how good your copywriting is, it’s impossible to figure out without putting it in front of potential buyers.
No amount of copy reviews can tell you.
I can’t tell you.
Your peer reviewers can’t tell you.
Your boss can’t tell you.
Your staff can’t tell you.
Other copywriters can’t tell you.
Even a focus group of your best customers can’t even tell you how the copy will do.
The only vote that counts is buyers — and the way they cast their vote is with their wallet!
It can feel like crap if you’ve got someone reviewing your copy, and telling you all the ways they would do it differently.
But you have to understand it in that context.
It’s how THEY would do it differently.
They’re a reviewer — not a customer.
You can look for ideas and inspiration. But you have to remember not to feel shame yet.
The time to feel shame is when you put your copy out in the market and it bombs! 🙂
But no matter what that reviewer tells you, remember that they could be wrong…
With all this said, remember that MOST copywriters do still rely on reviewers — including me!
I do a lot to put the whole idea of a copy review into its right place.
But I still count on reviews all the time.
And — I often miss things — and have them pointed out in a review!
First and foremost, I want clients to tell me if anything I’m saying or claiming is inaccurate or illegal. That’s the most critical aspect of a review. And anything flagged as such needs to be changed, no question.
Then, you get into all the “optional” changes.
Sometimes I just missed something. It happens — even to really great, highly-experienced copywriters.
Sometimes the client knows something about the market or their audience — through testing — that I didn’t know and they didn’t think to tell me until they see my draft. These are usually changes I try to accommodate.
Sometimes the client sees something that their opinion suggests could be done better another way. I consider it, but if I disagree, I fight my battles. And — in some cases — will fight for a test if they aren’t budging.
Sometimes a client is flat-out wrong. Or, if your client is doing a peer review with a bunch of staff writers — often, they don’t get it. Most of my clients bring me in to do something substantially different than what they’ve been churning out so far. That’s how breakthroughs are made. Staff writers will fight this tooth and nail, because they suffer from the “but this is how we’ve always done things” virus. In this case, you have to be “the adult in the room” and explain that “this is how I do things, and that’s why I was brought in, and so I’m going to do it my way otherwise you just wasted your investment in me.”
And then sometimes, the client just sees things from a different perspective, that you didn’t recognize from the isolation of your writer’s head. This is perfectly normal. If they open your eyes to another way, and it suggests changes that you feel make your copy stronger, go for it.
I just want to do a quick recap…
First and foremost, remember that good copywriting isn’t writing that ticks off all the boxes. It’s writing that hooks the reader and gets them to take action.
Second, remember that copy reviews are useful, but have a ton of limitations. As the writer, you need to take charge and take responsibility for your final draft — fighting for anything you need to fight for.
Third, in light of the last point, be flexible. Even if your copy is great and unique and represents a total breakthrough, sometimes a review can point to opportunities to improve.
But wait — there’s more! One last point: not all reviewers are created equal.
I have a short list of copywriters and marketers who I would likely hang on their every word, if they reviewed my copy.
I have a bigger list whose input I’d seriously consider, but also seriously consider going against if I disagreed.
And the far, far bigger list is of all the copywriters whose review I’d pay attention to, but be willing to totally disregard if my gut or experience disagreed.
In all things, consider the source.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,