It's Mailbox Monday!  That means it's time to answer YOUR questions!

It’s Mailbox Monday! That means it’s time to answer YOUR questions!

Happy (Mailbox) Monday!

I never understand people who don’t like Mondays. I actually like my job. And so I kinda like Mondays. It’s when I get back into the swing of things. Yes, I love my family, and love spending weekends with them. But I also end up spending a lot of time later in the day with them too. That’s the flexibility this whole “work from home” thing can provide when you’re successful.

My advice if you don’t like Mondays is to find work you love to do (even better if it’s flexible or doesn’t require traditional 9-to-5 scheduling). Yes, you’ll still run into items on your to-do list that are a drag to get done. And times when you’d rather be doing something else. But overall, you can learn to love Mondays. Because it’s an opportunity to return to something you like, instead of the dreaded requirement to return to something you hate.

Then you can like EVERY DAY of the week, which makes for a much happier week, right?

On to today’s topic.

I got an email recently from a “Ms. X.”

I’m keeping her anonymous because she asked, because she feared her experience would cast her in a negative light. Fair enough.

In short, she went to AWAI’s Bootcamp last year, and didn’t get all she hoped from it. I’ll let her fill in the details…

Ok, Roy, here’s my question — and it involves an embarrassing revelation, so please make it anonymous.

Here’s the embarrassing bit — last year, at Job Fair, I flubbed it. Big time. Walked up to the people there, smiled, talked, listened and, well, somehow failed. Not really sure how, but got only a few spec assignments, which after a lot of back and forth through October and November dribbled into — absolute rien… nada… zilch. After I though I sent them good stuff…

So, this year, the plan is for something very different at Job Fair — but the question is any time you have an opportunity for a face-to-face with a prospective client, what do you say after, “Hello?”

I’m not a shy person and can usually talk to anyone, about anything. Have in the past had great relationships with editors (as a freelance writer) and had lots of great conversations at Bootcamp last year but… somehow… have to do something a lot different to relate successfully to Marketing Directors. What?

Thanks — and hope you consider this a worthy question for Breakthrough Marketing Secrets.

Ms. X


This actually turned into a bit of an email conversation, so I’m going to reproduce it as fully as possible. While of course maintaining the anonymity.

Here was my reply…

Ms. X,

Thank you for sending this in…

I think it’s a good question. And you’re in a challenging position this year. If Job Fair didn’t pay off last year, it becomes harder to face this year. At least without some significant changes.

I’m going to do my best to dish the straight truth on it for you. What the marketers want, and what they don’t. How they think of job fair. Etc.

Was there a particular industry you were going after? Do you have experience at all in the industry? Are you willing to “take anything” or are you focused on “the one thing”? Tell me more about the specs, too. What was their feedback for you? What did they say about them? Also, how many did you submit? How many did you get responses on?

If you answer some of these questions I think I can flesh it out a little more… All anonymously, of course.

As it stands, I know for the most part they’re willing to try a lot of copywriters, with the hope they’ll find a “diamond in the rough.” They’re looking for someone who has focused on their industry in particular, even better their business. If you know their recent marketing efforts and can ask informed questions about them, that helps. If you can cite recent successes you’ve had with some of their competitors or others in the industry, that also helps.

And ultimately when you submit copy specs or samples, they want to see something they can use with minimal effort on their part. They’re usually very busy, and don’t see it as their job to make copywriters a success — they want copywriters who can bring their own success to bear within the context of the client relationship. YES, they will help you make your copy the best it can be for them. But they don’t want to have to train you as a copywriter.

Also, the more you talk about them and the less you talk about yourself, the better. Ask questions that indicate you’re interested in them, and a good student of copywriting and direct response. And then listen to their answers.

And most of all, don’t sound needy!

There are a lot of folks there who seem like they just need the project fee. That’s not a motivating factor for the client. They care about their own success — not yours. Yes, they will reward you and make you successful if you make them a success. But they will hire you as a result of getting a good answer to their unstated question of “What’s in it for me?”

Looking forward to answering this one!



And then Ms. X dove in with what I could tell was an emotional outpouring… Similar to what so many writers in her situation are facing…

And what I think was a big step forward in mission and purpose for this year’s Bootcamp. It’s long, but I think worth reading all the way through before my answer…

Hi Roy,

You are so kind to really delve into this and not do — (what would be so easy to do) just give the kind of surface answer. I think some of it is pretty specific, and some of it would apply to others in this or similar situation.

I was — have been — [lots of writing background] — for decades. I wrote about everything from general news to features to homes, real estate, parenting, business, personal finance, health… It added to family income — but a pretty slim living. I know a lot about editors and publishers (have written several books as well). I can interview anybody about anything. I can be an instant expert on any topic in a day or two. I can always find the lead if it’s a story to be told. I’ve also taught journalists.

But I burnt out on that kind of writing. Long form emotional sales letters — so different that what I have written in the past — seemed like a refreshing challenge. Really intriguing. But for whom?

Last year I was, frankly, floundering. Flopping all over the place. Didn’t know what to expect at Bootcamp… we chatted for a few moments in the hall — bet you could tell I was pretty much a fish at a rodeo. 

And marketers are a very different horse than editors.

So this year, march right in there knowing more (partly thanks to you — your Breakthrough Marketing Secrets sets my head straight every time it fogs up, pretty much daily, and also thank you for your comments on the Bootcamp call with Rebecca Matter et al.). That’s the plan.

Job Fair last year, I talked to: a publisher. Pitched an idea re a book of theirs that had had modest success and they wanted to really push it — hot topic. They asked for a proposal what I would do to sell more of that title. I returned home, loved the book, submitted the proposal, discovered the woman who asked for the proposal had retired, no replacement, finally got a ‘thanks but no thanks’ kind of email from one of her colleagues. Could just be the colleague had zero interest in pushing that title.

Talked to [one of the health publishers] new marketing manager, lovely person, she said they have a new health-beauty line out, suggested I do a spec. Did it, it went to peer review, did poorly there but Michael Masterson was in the room, guiding them in using peer review. He trounced it — and me. Embarrassing. He was right about how weak my effort was. If I ever have to speak to him again, oh please may I have a bag over my head and say my name is Darlene. Client was angry with me, can’t blame her. Ouch. Entirely my own fault.

Truth is, maybe in a few years I’ll be able to march right up to MM, look him in the eye and thank him, because I learned from that.

Did specs afterwards for [another health publisher] — never heard from. Same true couple of others. So I guess to answer your feedback received question — MM was it.

[Some background specifics…]

OK, this has been brutally — maybe too — honest. Also too long. But the two writer friends I’ve stayed in contact with this year — met at BC last year — neither is returning. Both have also flopped around and floundered this year and though they’ve done specs, and both have had a bit of success with paid assignments — they don’t seem to be really moving forward, either.

It isn’t about picking a niche. All that niche-dance stuff, that’s just plain old procrastination and not looking in the mirror and into your own mind and heart. It seems to be this weird malaise of But I have to do this before I can do that… and you tie yourself up in knots.

We encourage each other, these two other writers, but I am beginning to believe that they don’t want to move forward… But I want to push harder. Not be pushy — I mean push myself in ONE direction and have real, tangible results to be able to point to by next year this time.

I’m watching from afar as you are doing it — making waves — becoming one of the hot new young gurus, getting those dream clients and, frankly, it’s inspiring. Gives me hope.

Am I willing to take anything — yes, I will do spec assignments. I’m in this to learn — and leave editorial-style writing and all my old mindset about mag writing behind.

So I’m feeling much better about Job Fair and taking in your good advice — listen more than talk, present fresh ideas, know them and their prospects, only go talk to the marketers where there could be a good fit and know why, ask leading questions, polish specs till they sing, do everything in your power to be that diamond. I’m making myself a bunch of flash cards of these points to memorize it so it is embedded in my brain by Job Fair.

Thanks, Roy, once again,

Kind regards,

Ms. X

Number one tip for aspiring writers? Don’t quit.


I’m just going to number my comments and go through them one-by-one here…

1. One of the most powerful forces of business is supply and demand…

The late Gary Halbert used to give his “hamburger stand” example to illustrate this. He’d challenge you to operating two hamburger stands, and you could have any advantage you wanted, and he’d take his preferred advantage. Most would ask for better burgers, location, a secret recipe, yadda yadda… And he’d only ask for one thing: a starving crowd.

It was all about supply and demand. You could be running a roach coach with overpriced stale hamburgers, but put it in the middle of a starving crowd and you’d sell out every time. That’s supply and demand in your favor.

Bootcamp’s Job Fair is the opposite. There are a couple hundred current and aspiring copywriters, all trying to make a few bucks at it. And there are 50+ marketers who want to hire only the copywriters who are both easy to work with and will create success for them.

And while every one of those marketers can hire 3, 4, 5, 10 copywriters, they typically don’t expect to.

They’re looking for one. The best one. Maybe three or four to find the one. But ultimately, they expect to find one. That’s the “needle in a haystack” search. And yet they’re faced with a line of sometimes dozens of writers they can’t really tell apart. Their perception is that supply outstrips demand my many multiples. And so they go into the process of filtering out, instead of trying to work with everyone who comes to them. (It’s total human nature — and what you’d do if you were on that side of the equation.)

2. You’re being judged all the time, but not necessarily on what you think…

I said above that they want to hire copywriters who are easy to work with and will create success for them.

Everything you mentioned, Ms. X, indicates you’d probably be pretty good to work with. A smile. Inquisitive nature. Writing background.

All of that tends to make you easier to work with as a writer-for-hire.

And yet, they’re also looking for that other ingredient. They want to know you’ll create substantial SALES success for them. They want to know that you can write copy that generates business results.

Response is the altar at which all direct marketers pray. And just about everybody in the room at AWAI’s Job Fair is a direct response marketer.

This is why I say you should, if possible, mention any and every success you’ve had in response-accountable advertising writing. The writing background MIGHT help you in through the door. And yet you equally risk the potential client thinking, “Yeah, but I’m not hiring a content writer.”

And if you don’t have a lot of success with direct response writing yet, you have two choices. Keep trying at the whole client thing. Or buckle down on selling products of your own, seriously trying to apply these direct response principles there. Make that three choice — you can split your time and do both.

(Also, the outline I point to in the post “[true story] How one piece of paper made me a star copywriter” was very helpful for me in this regard.)

3. You may find your confidence and purpose this year makes all the difference in the world…

Confidence is magic. It really is.

First off, clients can’t really buy your results in advance. And so they default to one of the oldest judgment criteria in the book. Confidence. Does this person appear confident they’ll be able to do what they say they’re going to do? If yes, it goes a long way to getting you the gig.

Second, confidence and focus can really change the outcome of your projects. If you’re writing from a place of timidity, your reader will sense it. If you’re writing from a place of trying too hard (confident people don’t try too hard), you won’t make the sale.

But if your new focus brings about a sense of confidence in yourself and your writing, it will come through and that alone may push you to start having more and more successes.

4. Michael Masterson has also trashed my writing…

Welcome to the club. When I was getting started, I wasn’t where I’m at now. I did get a few chances early on to have him critique my writing. Some of it felt brutal.

And he’s not alone. Many others whose opinions I hold in high regard have torn my writing to shreds.

It can be painful.

And it’s NEVER personal. (Not unless there’s something else going on between you and the critiquer.)

And so you pick yourself up, brush yourself off, learn from it, and use it to improve your next piece, and your next, and your next.

5. There is a path to success there…

And it even starts outside of Job Fair. Every relationship you build, every contact you make, could come back and help you out as you move forward.

While I’ve made contacts at Job Fair that have resulted in work, many of my most important connections have come from who I sat next to, who I was introduced to in the hallways, and so on. And all of those are lower-pressure situations. Take full advantage of them.

And this isn’t just about going to the bar. 🙂 There are opportunities there… But all the OTHER mingling opportunities probably provide even more.

6. Sometimes things are outside of your control…

When a good contact leaves a company, your relationship can evaporate.

Whether or not you’re religious, The Serenity Prayer is great life advice…

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

I’ve always done best for the long run when I’ve had a lot of irons in the fire, and was never too dependant on one. Every time I’ve had a really rough period, it was because I was too focused on a single opportunity. That wasn’t necessarily the case here, but it’s good to remember.

7. Remember, every client there wants one thing…

Sales! They want to be the hero who brings in the new copywriter who can consistently generate new customers, sales, revenue, and profits.

As a copywriter, every waking moment needs to be spent focused on that.

How consistently good can I get at writing sales copy (which isn’t editorial copy)? What understanding can I develop of the marketing process around my sales copy that will allow me to improve sales even further? And so on…

All the niceness and “good to work with” stuff is important, too. But confidence that you can deliver the results is HUGE.

I know early in your career this can be hard to muster. But you have do to anything you can!

Read these emails. Listen to podcasts. Go through books and programs. Attend seminars and workshops. And so on…

Keep growing your ability and getting applies you can take from over here in industry A and apply to your client in industry B.

The more you grow, the easier it is to get those results for clients. And the more results you get for clients, the more clients will come your way. And the easier it will be to start working with them.

8. Bonus tip: an alternate way in the door…

For newer copywriters — especially those with writing experience — there’s an alternate way in the door at many of these clients.

Offer to help with editorial.

I know, Ms. X, you specifically mentioned wanting to move away from editorial.

But oftentimes these clients want entry-level copywriters to write special reports and other similar copy. Still apply direct response principles there, even though you won’t have to make a sale. You do still need to hook the reader, make a big promise, and then pay it off. And often, drive them to take action, such as to take a certain step to improve their health, or to make a certain investment, or so on…

And if you do well on this, it may be a pathway into working with them on landing page copy, or email copy, or display ads, or something else…

And that may pave the way to more work, including the long-form direct response copy.

I wouldn’t do it today. In fact, I started turning down this work a few years ago. However, I did do some of it. And when you’re at the stage of your career where you’re writing specs and doing similar “foot in the door” things, this isn’t a bad way to go.

Final thoughts…

My career has been an interesting one. I seemed like a success right out of the gate. And as a freelancer, I was. However, remember that I also worked a marketing job for nearly five years before that. I made plenty of mistakes along the way. And success didn’t come as fast as I wanted it to.

And yet, I kept pushing on.

Today, one of my favorite quotes along these lines is from the Eminem song Rap God…

Full of myself, but still hungry…

I bully myself ‘cause I make me do what I put my mind to

And I’m a million leagues above you…

I’ve had to push myself when I didn’t feel like pushing. I’ve had to bully myself to get back up and get into it.

I even still do some days.

That’s what happens when you keep pushing yourself.

But it can also lead to some big career breakthroughs, and a path to ever-higher heights.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets