It's Monday -- that means it's time to open up the mailbox and answer YOUR questions!

It’s Monday — that means it’s time to open up the mailbox and answer YOUR questions!

It’s Monday!  That must mean it’s time to open up my ol’ inbox and see where it takes us…

And remember, if you would like to have YOUR question answered in an upcoming Mailbox Monday issue…

Well, go ahead and send it in to [email protected].

I’m happy to cover questions on marketing, selling, copywriting, business, and all those good things.

On to today’s question…

Hi Roy,

Since I’m a complete newbie, after 30 years of writing editing and photographing for magazines and nature books, my biggest challenge is knowing the best first steps to take (where to start, where to position myself)… and whether I can make a modest living at it… at my age (71).

I can get the AWAI advanced course for $197 (I read your sincere and diplomatic critique of it, that’s how I found you), but not convinced that’s the way I should go.



An important note, before we get started…

This question actually came when someone signed up for the Wait List for my Story Selling Master Class.  (Which you are encouraged to do by clicking here, if you have not already.)

And here’s what I want to recommend about that.  If you’re brand new to copywriting (as in, you haven’t even invested in at least a few books or programs), this is probably not for you.  At least not as a “getting started” in copywriting course.  I’m not saying “no beginners.”  In fact, I’m teaching Story Selling from the ground up.  It’s simply a different topic.

The Story Selling Master Class is about how to sell with stories.  Which is not a “intro to the copywriting business” class.

But since the question was asked for me, I thought it relevant to cover here.

On to the main event: how to get started with copywriting…

First and foremost, there are a few books that I believe are really relevant to getting started with copywriting.  These cover the ABCs you should know.

  1. The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman. This is where I started. So I will always have a soft spot for it. The guy doesn’t even like to call himself a copywriter — and he doesn’t really write advertising copy.  Instead, he writes corporate communications, and calls himself a freelance commercial writer.  I figured I’d never be happy in that space, but there’s so much good info about the copywriting business in this book that I’d be remiss to not mention it.  If you want to know how to make a good living (aka, be “well-fed”) as a writer, this book is a great start.
  2. The Copywriter’s Handbook by Bob Bly. The basics of copywriting. And the basics of the copywriting business.  Bob’s work is perfect for the copywriting beginner.  I think this was the second book I read on copywriting, and although I don’t refer to it much anymore, I still think it’s a great intro to the craft and business.
  3. Scientific Advertising (and, My Life In Advertising) by Claude Hopkins. This is a very old book about marketing. But the thinking behind it is so crucial to modern marketing that I’d really be doing you a disservice if I were to leave it off the list.

There’s a whole library of books I could begin to list here.  And it really doesn’t stop.  If you want to get GREAT at copywriting, that’s a whole different list.  This is about how to get off the start line though, so I’ll stop at those three.

And besides, the question simply asked how to make a modest living — not get great or get filthy rich.  So we’ll just stick with those three as the start.  After that, keep reading other issues of Breakthrough Marketing Secrets, or follow whatever sparks your interest for what you add to your reading list next.

But what about the AWAI program?

Well, go for it.  Or, don’t.  There are a ton of people who count AWAI as a crucial springboard for their success.  Other copywriters have gotten along fine without ever taking a single AWAI program, thank you very much.

There’s more than one right way.  AWAI provides a great path for many folks.  It is A right way.  But even the AWAI folks didn’t have AWAI when they got started.  Again, there’s more than one right way.

While I have a great professional relationship with the folks at AWAI, I’m not morally, ethically, or professionally obliged to shill their program.  What I say comes from my own beliefs and experience.  Nothing more, nothing less.

One thing I do believe about AWAI, that I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else.  While they’re in it to make money (they are a for-profit company, after all), they are as dedicated as anyone I’ve met in the industry to their members’ success.  When you take an AWAI program (or go to Bootcamp), they want to see you succeed.  They’ve put together a lot of tools and resources to make that happen.  And it’s definitely far, far more than you’ll ever get in a book.

(When I first got started with AWAI, I used to get enough gigs to more than pay back the cost of the program — making the education I got from them free.  You don’t get this anywhere else.)

The most valuable learning opportunity for new copywriters…

…  Is experience.

Plain and simple.  The best way to learn is to go out there and do it.

If you’re new, read a few books first.  But don’t let reading books get in the way of getting started.  Once you’ve gone through the three above (which could be within the week, or a month tops), dive in.

Get started, and try to get gigs.

And don’t hesitate to use your experience!

Jim, my dear friend, you mention having 30 years’ experience writing, editing, and photographing for nature books and magazines?

Wowie!  When I got started in this biz, I was literally starting with zero experience.  I worked in call centers.  I sold newspapers, answered “fraud suspected” credit card processing calls, and took peoples’ phone payments for their gas bill.

If you want to simply make a good living (and not get rich), you don’t even have to constrain yourself to advertising.

Go to the camera makers, and ask who hires writers to produce their communications materials.  Reach out to similar magazines’ ad departments, and ask if they have any overflow work they need a copywriter’s help with.  Reach out to book publishers, and offer to help with cover blurbs.

These aren’t necessarily the work you have to do, but they are illustrations of the kind of work that may be available in the industry.  Anything you see with writing — particularly writing meant to inspire the reader to take action — is probably written by a copywriter.

The key is to find out who is hiring, and what they’re hiring for.  Find what sits at the intersection of stimulating work and well-paying work.  And offer to do it!

Most failure in the copywriting business is a result of the copywriter not taking enough action…

And mine is included in here!

We all fail.  We all fail for many reasons.  But usually, taking action and doing the work (especially when it’s difficult, or when there are road blocks in the way) is the single-best way to overcome failure and experience at least a modicum of success.

Wanna make a modest living?  Get to work!

Plain and simple, there’s no course or program that will be the magic pill that makes money start to flow automatically.

There’s a learning curve that you can overcome with books.  But the bigger and more important learning curve can only be addressed through getting out there, offering your services, and seeing the response.  Then, when you have clients, doing the work, and seeing how it resonates.  Lather, rinse, repeat!

There’s a ton of money moving around out there.  Every day, there are (at a minimum), hundreds of thousands of people who are being paid to write something.  Many of those people who are being paid to write are copywriters.  And many aren’t much better than you (if at all!).

The only way to find you way in the world is to go out there, and do the work.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr