How good of a WRITER do you really need to be to be a successful copywriter?
It’s a fair enough question, and one I’m happy to dive into in today’s Mailbox Monday.
Remember, if you want YOUR most pressing question about copywriting, marketing, selling, business-building, or whatever else answered here, just email it to me at [email protected].
On to today’s question…
Here is a Mailbox Monday question, should you choose to use it, from an AWAI course member who is struggling with certain personal aspects of moving forward. This question relates to my circumstance in the course presently, but has much bigger implications as I progress into the world of professional copywriting.
I am entering this field because I want a career change for various personal and financial reasons, because I love sales and marketing, and because I consider myself to be an adequate writer. I enjoy writing and feel that I can connect the dots as prescribed in the course to become a good working copywriter.
But I hit a wall of discouragement, feeling that there is only so far I can advance without becoming a great writer. I read eloquently and succinctly expressed material from writers like Joshua Boswell, Doug D’Anna and yourself, and realize that I will probably never to write in such a compelling and sometimes beautiful manner. It appears that all of the really successful copywriters have this ability, or at least the visible ones. So it is both encouraging, and discouraging at the same time.
I know you will have some wise input here, and my intention is to coax you to respond with something that I (we) can reference into the future to get back up and keep swinging in the face of hitting my own limitations, and just dealing with the tough situations that occur in business life in general.
So, you wanna be a well-paid copywriter, but you ain’t Shakespeare?
Well, maybe not in those words exactly, but I get it Richard.
Here’s the thing.
In any endeavor, any skill, any group, there’s a HUGE amount of variability.
In wealth distribution, there will ALWAYS be a top 1%. And a top 1% of the top 1%.
In hockey, there is a top 1% of players, starting as soon as kids start lacing up their skates, and continuing through adulthood. And there is a top 1% of that 1%. And an even smaller elite that actually make it to the pros.
Same with writing. There’s a definitely a top 1% of writing ability in our population. Probably that top 1% are people who are paid to be communicators in some way, shape, or form. And there’s a top 1% of that top 1% who make up the celebrities of the writing world. And within that, there’s an even smaller group who are considered to be the real A-list.
In fact, I think “A-list” gets thrown around way too much when it comes to copywriters.
Any time I hear “A-list,” I think of Eugene Schwartz’s testimonial for Gary Bencivenga.
“There are, I’d say, only four or five ‘A-level’ direct response copywriters in the country, the true masters. There are as many as 60 or 70 ‘B’ and ‘B+’ writers, but just a tiny handful of ‘As.’ Gary Bencivenga is on the short list, as am I.”
There is a very natural distribution of talent, skills, and abilities in any endeavor, including writing in general and specifically in our little world of copywriting.
Like it or not, it’s — as far as I understand it — a natural law.
Believe it or not, it’s GOOD news that there are very, very few at the very, very top…
When we got started in this biz, we all turned to look at the top.
It’s natural. The top writers are held up as the pinnacle of success. Something we should all aspire to. A greatness we all desire to achieve.
And to some degree, I think you should aspire to raise yourself up toward that greatness.
Because it’s only in the constant pursuit of greatness that you will pile improvement on top of improvement, and continually better yourself and your skills.
Very intentionally, early on, I made it a goal that I would aim for that pinnacle — that I was heading for the top.
And I’ve spent over a decade now focused on that pursuit, and start to feel like I’m finally leaving base camp.
If it weren’t for constantly looking up, constantly aiming for improvement, I wouldn’t be half the copywriter I am today.
I’ve actually made a “living” as a marketing copywriter for a decade now, long before I ever started making progress up the mountain of copywriting greatness.
And that’s something you need to understand…
Even if you NEVER reach the top, you can still have a great career as a copywriter…
We can all dream. Maybe we do all want to be great some day. There’s really nothing wrong with that. But you don’t have to be great to start making a real income as a copywriter.
As soon as I discovered copywriting, I applied for marketing jobs. I had basically no qualifications. Admitting as much, then promising in my cover letter to overcome my lack of experience with hard work landed me my first marketing job.
I was a total novice, and I’d cringe if I read some of the “copy” I was writing then.
But I managed to land a job earning $36,000 per year doing marketing and copywriting. Having no experience at all. And within 5 years, I doubled that.
At the same time, still a total novice, I jumped into freelance copywriting.
I started doing projects here and there. Some successful. Some horrible train wrecks. I always did my dang best to create a success for the client.
And, I started making an income as a freelancer.
I did pretty well for a side gig. It was extra income, and it was momentum. Something to build on. I still wasn’t that great of a copywriter. Maybe a bit better than the average “newbie” but still a long, long way from where I am today.
But I had a vision. I was going to keep getting better. One day at a time. I was going to keep writing, and keep figuring this copywriting thing out.
And I had something to keep me going. I was actually making a living doing this, even as a relative novice.
Eventually, my copy improved more. And more. And more. Mostly a result of writing — a lot.
My income also improved. Today my fees are higher and I’m in more demand than ever before. I’ve probably moved from the top 1% to approaching the top 1% of the top 1%.
I’m still nowhere near Gene Schwartz’s A-list, even if others are more generous with that title.
But here’s the thing — you don’t have to EVER come close to how the A-list writes, or even how I write, to make a great living at this…
There will always be a small handful of writers who are demigods. A bit elevated above the rest of us. Whose prose is like magic that works its way into our hearts and pocketbooks, and gets us to fumbling over ourselves to give them our money.
And those writers will, naturally, get the spotlight. From adoring fans. From wannabes. From clients who sing their praises as they write huge royalty checks.
There’s nothing wrong with aiming to be one of those writers. But you don’t have to be if you simply want to make a great living at this.
While that fraction of the top 1% of the top 1% will take home a similarly disproportionately large income from copywriting, there’s a TON of money being spent on words.
Some of it tries to reach half the height of the greats. And some of it is just good communication.
There’s all kinds of copy that needs to be written.
Articles. Case studies. White papers. Web pages. Order forms and supplemental copy. Product descriptions for physical products. The list goes on.
Most of that doesn’t need to be art. Or, at best, needs only a slight touch of artistry, and a whole lot of craft. Get good at crafting clear, compelling (but not necessarily masterpiece) copy and there will be demand for your skills.
Maybe you do that on your way to greatness. Maybe you’re simply content to be good, and be paid well as a result. Foregoing the highest peak because you recognize there are good views all the way up.
Remember what I said at the beginning of my answer? In our entire population, maybe 1% have some level of writing proficiency that qualifies them to be paid to communicate. If you’re even there, you can make a reasonably good living as a writer. And once you’re making that good living, through practice and repetition and intention, perhaps you can keep rising up and up.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,