What pain and suffering are you willing to endure to achieve success?
If you won’t stick it through — if you can’t cut it — maybe you should bail now.
Go get a job digging ditches.
Or making widgets in the factory.
They may be mind-numbing and physically-grueling.
But at least you know what to do. And when you clock out, you can forget about work until you clock in again.
Copywriting and direct response, on the other hand, consume you.
And sometimes, they consume you with pain and agony and regret and depression.
In fact, there are long periods of time in most good-to-great copywriters’ lives when there’s more suffering than pleasure.
We kind of live for it. Knowing that if we go through it, the rewards on the other side more than justify the pain.
Rewriting the promo — over and over again…
If you think copywriting is genius flowing from a pen, you should know it’s anything but.
My friend and colleague Henry Bingaman wrote an excellent essay about this recently.
He called it “The #1 Trait of ‘A-List’ Copywriters.”
I’m just going to quote him here…
My first drafts are garbage.
I’ve seen early stage copy from some of the “biggest name” copywriters in the world.
Their first drafts are garbage too.
The difference is, in the direct marketing behemoths I’ve worked with, like Money Map Press and Natural Health Sherpa, there’s a team of really smart people who work with you to make the copy better.
There’s obviously some talent factor involved in copywriting.
But the biggest difference between the “A-listers” and everyone else is much simpler.
The A-list copywriters don’t give in to copy fatigue.
He went on to describe copy fatigue as that desire to give up on yet another rewrite of your copy. To just dial it in to get it out the door.
Pro copywriters know the feeling all too well.
You’re tired of people telling you that what you wrote is uninspiring garbage.
And you have two choices. You can ignore their best advice and try to force it. Or you can accept their advice and keep rewriting.
The difference between the best and the rest is that the best will rewrite. And they’ll rewrite. And they’ll rewrite. John Carlton talks about his 18 rewrites of the first ad he wrote for Gary Halbert. The 17th was trash. The 18th made them and the client a ton of money over the next few years.
If you need 18 drafts and you give up at 5, you’ll never write that great ad. If you give up at 10, you won’t get it either. Even if you give up at 17, you’re not 17/18ths of the way there. You’re just coming out of the starting gates. You have to get to 18 to get the win.
I know the pain!
I’m working with a junior copywriter on a client project.
We have all the right ingredients for a really powerful promo right now.
But we’ve had them in the wrong order. Organized in the wrong way.
And we’ve been finessing them.
Rewriting where necessary.
Still, it wasn’t clicking.
Then last week, we realized that everything was upside down.
What we needed to put first was last, and what we needed to put last was first.
That’s a simplification, but it’s close enough for the story.
And so this week, we’re working through how to rearrange the entire story upside-down from where it had been.
Reorganizing where we can. Rewriting where we must.
Aiming to get ever-closer to the promo that “sings.” That — in this case — grabs a hold of the prospect’s greed glands and doesn’t let go until they’re fully bought into in the investment idea we’re selling.
It’s not easy.
The emotional toll is high.
But if we truly want this to work, we know this is what we have to do.
I actually learned this from the world’s first billionaire copywriter…
If you don’t know who Bill Bonner is, you should.
Today, he’s majority-owner and (I believe) CEO of The Agora, the parent company of Agora Financial, Stansberry, Money Map, Oxford Club, Palm Beach Research, and a whole pile of additional financial and health publishing companies — all of which thrive thanks to direct response copywriting.
The Agora companies’ publications are read by more investors than The Wall Street Journal.
Their revenue is not public information, but it’s somewhere north of $500 million, likely closer to (if not more than) $1 billion.
And it all started with a sales letter Bill Bonner wrote in 1979, to sell subscriptions to his International Living magazine.
That letter spawned a variety of publishers that became Agora, and grew into the company we know today.
And if you learned anything about copywriting from AWAI, you should know that they’ve long been an unofficial “Agora Training School” as most of their copywriters have at least some experience inside Agora.
Today Bill Bonner’s net worth is very likely somewhere north of $1 billion. Which makes him, to the best of my knowledge, the world’s first billionaire copywriter.
And I still distinctly remember how he opened his AWAI Bootcamp keynote a few years back.
“I really don’t know why you’re all here, or want to be copywriters. I’ll tell you, if you do decide you want to be a copywriter, here’s how you get started. You get a fifth of whiskey, and put it in your left-hand desk drawer. Get a loaded revolver, and put it in your right-hand desk drawer. Then get out a pen and paper, and prepare to suffer. Knowing that you may have to use either or both of the methods of escape you’ve prepared yourself with.”
Grim, I know.
Some of the newer copywriters soaked it in with a deer-in-headlights look.
But it’s the truth. Based on now four decades in the business.
This isn’t easy.
Sometimes, it’s incredibly difficult.
Sometimes, it’s pure agony.
Constantly having to figure out what the market wants, and how you can actually present it in a way that people will care about.
Constantly facing rejection and failure.
Constantly being challenged by the next guy or gal who is trying to drink your milkshake.
And then, getting up the next day to do it again.
You can try to do it better. You can try to avoid past mistakes.
For example, on another new project I’m starting with another junior, we sent the roughest of rough drafts of the first few hundred words and an outline to the client, to get a first reaction before digging in more. Hoping to avoid some of the rewriting issues of this other project.
But this is the reality of this business.
You can’t avoid it. You can’t face it unprepared. You must be willing to welcome the adversity and suffering, knowing it is inevitable.
Then with that attitude, you can move through it and to the breakthroughs on the other side.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,