Hey there Rainmaker — it’s time to answer YOUR questions!
It’s Monday again, which means it’s time for me to dig in the ol’ mailbox and see what your most pressing question, challenge, or roadblock is… And pontificate, prognosticate, and masticate on it for a bit, from my experience and to your benefit.
If you have a question or challenge related to marketing, copywriting, selling, business-building, life, whatever… Send it in to have it answered here! [email protected] does the trick. And I’ll throw it in the queue.
Now, to today’s question…
I really enjoy your daily emails and find them full of great insight – thank you!
I’m not sure if this is something you’ve covered before but I’m struggling with a writing dilemma: copyediting and proofing my own work.
I’m able to create some good, engaging content but I find myself struggling with proofing and editing my own work. I’ve used copyeditors before (very costly and eat into the turnaround time) and online programs but they don’t catch everything. I’ve also done the process of putting my work aside a day or two and then trying to proof it with fresh eyes but I (and sometimes my clients, yikes!) still find errors in the final stage.
Am I unique in finding myself in this quandary? Do you have any good suggestions or advice on how to tackle this challenge? Any online programs you use or find useful?
One of the biggest productivity and copywriting secrets I learned from Dan Kennedy: The “GE” Spot…
Like most folks getting into copywriting, it wasn’t long before I came across Dan Kennedy’s work. That means I’ve probably been studying Dan since 2005 or 2006, and have read most of his books, gone through a few of his programs, and have even seen him speak live multiple times.
When I wrote the copy for Brian Kurtz’s Titans of Direct Response event, I even got a copy review from Dan, who was a headliner (among headliners!) and important part of the event.
Well, back in 2009, I got to see Dan Kennedy speak when I attended my very first AWAI Bootcamp.
There were a couple things Dan said/showed us that I distinctly remember from his talk.
The first was his check for $35,000, that was his first of three equal checks for a copy project that he said would take him a couple weeks.
The second was his use of “templates” for sales copy, to significantly increase his speed. In particular, for that project he showed a “find yourself here” booklet that showed a handful of different target customers for the offer, and showed how each one benefited from the product. The idea was that this rode along in the direct mail package, and gave a wide swath of the target audience the ability to look in there, see someone like them, and logically and emotionally conclude that the product must be for them, too. (I’ve since developed quite a few copy mechanisms that are basically mental templates for how I accomplish an important part of the selling job.)
And the third was the “GE” spot. I’ll explain.
Part of the reason Dan is so successful is that he’s been as prolific as anybody in this industry in recent memory. The prolific part comes from being okay with not being perfect. To get things to the “good enough” — GE — spot, and be okay with that.
Here’s how he put it. To get something to somewhere between 95% and 98% right might take X hours. To take it those last 2% to 5% requires your time invested to go from X to 2X. Double your time invested, and yet the results will, at best, increase 2% to 5%.
Not only that, doubling your time takes away that time from doing the next project. To get that extra 2% to 5% improvement, you’re effectively cutting the number of projects you can take on in half.
There are certainly projects where you make the exception. But the more you practice taking things only to the GE spot and no further, the more you realize that the exceptions should be few and far between. In most cases, it’s not worth it.
This is a long way to tell you that in self-editing and self-proofreading, you need to establish a GE spot and be okay with that.
Yes, turning in something rife with errors that should be caught by a spell-checker is NOT “GE.” Spell-checkers are built into nearly every piece of writing software, and even your internet browser (mine, at least, Google Chrome).
But the occasional grammatical, spelling, or punctuation flub that is missed in a couple editing passes is nothing to beat yourself up over.
It’s almost impossible for ANYBODY to catch all their own errors, and still be productive. The process of editing your own work requires tremendously more mental energy than editing someone else’s. It’s because you know what it’s supposed to say, so sometimes you miss what it really does say.
If you’re reading someone else’s work, and it has an error — even an obscure one — you may catch it. But a much more obvious error in your own work is missed even after reading the same passage 10 times.
(By the way, I totally practice what I preach with this. Most issues of Breakthrough Marketing Secrets take an hour or less to write and publish, and if I didn’t accept errors, you wouldn’t be getting these essays.)
One more thought, and then I will get into some practical recommendations for editing your own work, that will help you get your work to or past the GE spot faster.
The right kind of copywriting clients will be completely okay with some grammatical errors…
This is likely to be a bit controversial.
Within the copywriting world, there are two kind of writers.
There are the ones who will be prone to success, who believe that copywriting is a SELLING functionality. Even if you’re writing SEO content, you believe that your role is to sell the reader on the next logical action toward doing business with you or your client.
Writers and clients who think about copywriting in this way will not be overly concerned with grammatical or spelling errors, as long as the copy is doing what it needs to do in terms of generating business results. Yes, you’d prefer not to have them, if possible. But you recognize that copy that has a grammatical error or two can still be a highly-effective sales tool, to just about everybody but a Grammar Nazi (or “pilkunnussija” and don’t click that link to the Finnish to English translation if you’re sensitive to adult language).
The other kind of writer (and associated client) thinks of copywriting not as a sales functionality, but as a writing functionality. That is, selling and effective communication take a backseat to writing style and form, including grammar and spelling.
They will, no doubt, point to studies that say that copy without misspellings is more effective. That readers prefer grammatically accurate copy. And so on. But they miss the point. Perfect spelling and perfect grammar isn’t worth a damn if what you wrote doesn’t move people emotionally and logically to make a purchase.
If you’re a writer in the second camp, you will probably have to try to write grammatically perfect copy. Your clients will demand it. And, you’ll get paid less, because the copy won’t generate business results. So they won’t be able to value it as highly — thus there will be natural price suppression. And you’ll be forever stuck in the Catch-22 of expensive editors and low fees taking all the fun and profit out of this business.
If you’re a writer in the first camp, however, you’re going to naturally be drawn to and want to work with clients in the first camp. They’ll be more forgiving of errors, as long as your message is right.
The best clients — in fact, nearly every client I’ve ever worked with — have some kind of proofing or editing function in-house.
I try to turn in good copy that’s mostly free of errors. Then there’s at least one or two people who go through it, at least in part, looking for any lingual hiccups or grammatical slip-ups, and places where clarity is fuzzy, or conciseness could be made shorter and a little less long.
But mostly, they want to know, “Will it sell?” And even if I let a few too many errors slip through but the results are great, they may even leave it in the market with the errors, for fear of hurting results by fixing them.
Now, here are a few shortcuts I’ve used or recommend for getting copy mostly error-free…
Nearly everything I write is written, then rewritten, then rewritten again. I take pass after pass over it, checking for language, logic, emotion, and yes, grammar.
It works for me, and it probably will work for you if you try it. I read copy that I’m writing quite a few times, looking for any spots where I can improve. In the course of this (especially the second pass), I often find errors to fix.
If you’re concerned about editing, you’re probably already doing something similar — but it’s worth doing consciously, or starting if you do not. Even going back to read the last sentence you typed can help with flow, and allow you to catch errors you might of missed as it was pouring through your fingers.
Change the screen.
I find this to be highly-effective for me. I do most of my writing on my laptop. I also do most of my editing on my laptop. But when I’m looking at my laptop for hours on end, it can be hard to notice errors, even when they’re clear as day.
And so I will often send the document to my phone or iPad, and look at it there. The formatting is often different. The text size and sometimes font is different. The context is usually different.
This is usually just enough to make the errors stand out that might not have stood out otherwise.
Change the media.
By this, I mean print out the dang copy, and look at it on paper.
Have you ever driven somewhere that you regularly drive to, and at the end of the drive realized you didn’t think about driving the whole way there? It can be a little scary, as you wonder if you would have been awake enough to avoid an accident.
Here’s the thing. Our subconscious mind is processing millions of signals throughout the day, that we can’t afford to make conscious or our brains would fry. A big part of that is ignoring the familiar, to leave attention resources for the novel. It’s how we ignored wind-rustled bushes in the jungle, but could spot the tiger fast enough to get away.
What you have to do is “hack” your brain to turn off that subconscious filter, and tell it, in a sense, that your copy is a “new” stimulus worth giving your full attention to.
If you’ve been working on it on your computer but suddenly you’re looking at it on paper (especially if you change the font, etc, to make it look even more different), this can be just enough.
Give it time and space.
You mentioned this. I’ll repeat it. If you can give your copy a day or a week to become a little less familiar, this helps to bypass the subconscious filters, too.
Even just sleeping on it, and giving it one last pass before you send it to the client the next day can be enough to catch an error or two you might otherwise miss.
Read it out loud, marking errors as you go.
I like this one, especially if my copy is going to be delivered as a VSL or spoken in other media anyway.
Sit down with the copy and read it out loud. Preferably, on paper, with a highlighter and a recorder.
The recorder forces you to keep going. There’s something about being recorded that tells your subconscious to charge ahead.
The paper (versus computer screen) is for the same reason I mentioned before, plus one more.
The highlighter allows you to mark the errors, without feeling the need to correct them immediately.
As you read into the recorder, you should highlight anything you stumble on. Not just spelling or grammatical errors, but anything that might be confusing, too complex, to tricky to say or read, or anything that slows down the consumption of the copy.
Your copy must be easy to read and understand. And this goes well beyond grammatical or spelling errors. You want to accelerate your reader to the end, and to responding. Being able to read it out loud without stumbling goes a long way toward making that happen.
Find a “copy partner” and offer to split the duties.
A lot of people work well with finding a partner to review their copy. I mostly have never done this, but I definitely see the value if it works for you.
It’s like having an editor on call, and the only cost is you having to return the favor. If it’s a copywriter who is as good and dedicated to improvement as you are, you can even ask them for ideas to improve on the copy.
Build a peer review into the copy review process.
Many of my clients have had multiple peer reviews throughout the process of getting copy out the door.
Because my clients have been focused on sales (see above), it’s been mostly about improving the selling effectiveness of the copy. However, get a bunch of writers together looking at a piece of writing, and some grammatical and spelling things are going to come up.
If you have a client who is producing a lot of copy, it can sometimes be helpful to have that copy go through peer review. This is just another benefit to that…
Final takeaway idea…
In my part of the copywriting world, which I happen to believe is the BEST part of the copywriting world, selling ability trumps grammar every day.
We try to get our grammar and spelling right. At least, right enough that it doesn’t damage sales to our particular target audience.
But ultimately, we don’t measure success by the lack of typos. We measure success by business results.
If you have the ideas right and your grammar and spelling has a few errors, you are easily forgiven in the copywriting world.
If your grammar and spelling are perfect but your ideas fall flat, are not compelling, and don’t generate the desired response, you’re not a good copywriter.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,