I’m going to get some hate for this one…
I know a lot of people who consider themselves to be writers. Including many Breakthrough Marketing Secrets readers. And most of them will disagree with what I’m about to tell you.
In fact, some of them will very much want to scream at me for this.
(But on the other side, the highest-paid copywriters I know will be nodding their heads in agreement — and laughing…)
Okay, here goes…
Grammar is a low-value skill…
You might think grammar is important.
File that under “personal belief.”
In the academic world, you’ll find a ton of people who share this personal belief.
In the traditional publishing world, too — because that’s the other common spot people with writing degrees end up after graduating.
But most jobs that require impeccable grammar are, at best, median income jobs.
You don’t find a lot of rich grammarians.
(And it’s okay if you want to get judgy and say “money isn’t everything” — it’s not. The point I’m making here is about the monetary value of the skill.)
Having good grammar won’t make you a lot of money.
Here’s why this is important to marketers…
While copywriting has the word writing in the name, that’s really an unfortunate coincidence.
Because being a good writer won’t make you a successful copywriter. At least not in the traditional “I can write with good grammar” sense.
Understanding grammar has nothing to do with copywriting.
And, in fact, it’s often a hindrance.
If you want to be a great copywriter, you have to know how to sell.
And here’s a dirty little truth about good salespeople — even people that sell with the written word…
They often have bad grammar!
Unless you’re selling to the grammarian set, you don’t really need good grammar.
The average person couldn’t tell you — off the top of their head — what a preposition is. Much less, how to use it.
I can’t either. I just had to look it up.
And neither could most great salespeople.
Because knowing grammar and selling are completely different skill sets, with completely different results.
You could write 10,000 words with perfect grammar, and they could end up in a book in a library that is never read.
Or 10,000 words with mediocre grammar that get a market salivating, that go on to sell millions of dollars worth of product.
If you’re a prideful grammarian, maybe you’d prefer the former to the latter. Fine.
But in sheer terms of monetary value — what will actually earn you the most money — the 10,000 words that sell millions are the most likely to make you rich.
I occasionally get trashed for my grammar…
I had someone comment on one of my ads for The Copywriter’s Guide To Getting Paid that putting two spaces after a period was bad grammar. Insinuating that I wasn’t getting paid what I could be, because I type with two spaces after my periods.
First off, I don’t care.
(Apparently I kind of do, because I’m writing this. But I actually care far more about correcting this misconception for YOU than trying to deflect the passive-aggressive attack on me.)
Second, if two spaces after a sentence does anything in terms of sales, it likely increases them. I do it because it breaks between sentences become more obvious to the eye. So what I write is more readable. And readability is directly correlated with sales results.
Third, unless you’re selling to punctuation Nazis, there is nobody in ANY market that would choose not to buy a product that would solve their problem simply because the sales copy included two spaces after each sentence rather than one.
It literally doesn’t matter.
Anyone who thinks that would make a negative impact on your ability to get paid as a copywriter has their head so far up their own ___ that they don’t know up from down.
Most other grammar rules are just as irrelevant when it comes to copywriting…
Now, I’m not saying you should write with terrible grammar.
I’m also not saying you should write with great grammar.
What I’m saying is that it’s your ability to sell that will determine your value and income as a copywriter, NOT your grammar.
That said, here are some recommendations as far as how to write if your #1 goal is to sell more…
— Your language should match your market…
If you ARE selling to grammarians, you should probably have really good grammar. If you’re selling to truck drivers, you should probably have kind of messy grammar.
It’s far more important to understand how your market speaks and to sound like one of them than it is to follow some prescriptive rules from the ivory tower when it comes to writing style.
— Your language should be conversational…
I once sat at the bar in a hamburger joint inside a fancy hotel, talking investments and politics with a career economist. How he talked in that situation — on a barstool, in casual conversation — was the exact kind of language that works in selling.
It wasn’t carefully constructed prose. It was loose and colloquial. Yes, there was absolutely some jargon and big concepts mixed in, reflecting his expertise. But they were peppered through much simpler language than they would’ve been if they were in a white paper, book, or journal.
— Your language should be clear…
I’ve read writing where the bad grammar makes it hard to understand. If your writing isn’t readable, it won’t sell. No matter how good your proposition is.
Both perfect grammar and terrible grammar can fall prey to this trap. A technically-perfect sentence can be just as incomprehensible as one that’s a sloppy mess. Either way, if it’s not readable, it won’t generate response.
— Your writing should be concise…
Academics are the worst at this. They pack too-big ideas into too-big sentences using too-big words. To the point that you often can’t tell what the heck they’re talking about. And you’re not even sure they know, either. (I used to be guilty of this, too.)
Yes, you can say a lot of things in long copy. But don’t mistake that for not being concise. A 10,000-word sales letter is often densely-packed with ideas, information, and supporting points. But each idea needs to flow into the next at a rapid pace, never lingering too long on anything.
— When all else fails, KISS…
Keep it simple, stupid. I wrote about this yesterday, so I won’t spend too much time on it. But in every market, lower-grade readability scores and simpler language tends to be read and responded to more. Your language should be easy enough to read that the most-illiterate segment of your market still gets it.
If you want to have great grammar, go for it…
… Just don’t confuse that with actually writing in a way that will generate sales, or a way that will increase your value as a copywriter (with the exception to writing to the very specific and tiny markets where it matters).
On the other hand, if you want to know what’s actually important to making a great income as a copywriter, the fundamental principles are in that book, The Copywriter’s Guide To Getting Paid.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,