lighted tree

When I began copywriting for websites, I started by searching through some how-to articles for pointers. I was aggravated and disappointed to find everyone recommending simple, direct, and action-packed. Not that I have a problem with engaging content, it’s just that all the classics of literature take the time to establish the setting and characters. The most reputable authors wrote from a totally different perspective than authors today.

Who else can we blame except the expanding media channels? With the advent of information access came the simultaneous dilemma of information overload. An author 200-500 years ago had no television, radio, Internet, or telephone for news and information updates. They had word of mouth, some newspapers, pamphlets, letters, etc. The pace of life was such that the literature produced reflected a life of contemplation, observation, and stillness. There was no sense of frantic suspense or blistering action to be found.

Traveling was so inconvenient that many people only traveled into town once a month. They stocked up on supplies and news and headed back to the family farm. Of course, there were city dwellers who had weekly access to gossip. Still, cultures worldwide knew nothing of the mind boggling pace we endure in the 21st Century.

I blame the Internet and the television for poor writing skills. First, the television sucked up the hours of daily life previously spent on reading and communication with family and friends. Then came the Internet, Instant Messaging, and Text Messaging. With the advent of the Web, we have access to billions of information soaked pages, yet we have to choose a minuscule percentage of information available that we will actually give any attention to. This leaves authors and marketers around the globe scrambling to liven up available content. Competition is fierce (as in the publishing industry), and the selection is so plentiful that people don’t have to spend time on lengthy descriptions and soliloquies. With thousands of voices vying for our attention every day, we give time to those few that are most compelling and immediately accessible.

The art of writing has largely been lost as we fight against the clock to absorb and distribute unprecedented volumes of information. It seems that nothing short of a return to agrarian society could deliver us from our ADD-based writing and reading skills. In other words, either choose to read hyper-focused drivel or remain oblivious to the world today and return to the classics. Or live in the wonderfully frustrating tension of balancing the relevant with the artistic.

Karen, a virtual friend of mine whom I met on MySpace, asked me a while back for some suggestions on how to become a copywriter. I’ve put it off because to answer that question means to actually take more than the usual 5-10 minutes I spend writing each post. I’m not lazy, just busy. In addition to a very busy schedule at my search marketing agency, I also have a pregnant wife to spend time with and a few side projects already in progress. Blogging is usually the first to be sacrificed.

But since I’m rarely asked for tips and advice, my ego demands that I respond (hey, why not be honest?).

Tip #1: Determine within yourself that it will take 2 years to establish yourself, and that you will do what it takes during those first 2 years.

That doesn’t mean that you won’t have job opportunities before then. Obviously, that will vary from person to person. But be willing to work another job while you write part-time or be willing to work full-time for minimal pay. Each year of experience you get raises your dollar value. But the goal is to take 2 years and create quality work that you will be proud to display to future employers during the initial interview.

Tip #2: As long as the company or content doesn’t violate your morals, don’t turn down any opportunities to write.

The obvious exception would be if you managed to have so many opportunities that you would tear your hair out trying to finish every project on time. These first 2 years are your foundational stage, so look everywhere for opportunities. Volunteer at church, professional or charitable organizations, friends’ small businesses, local businesses, guest writing on other people’s blogs (I’ll let you get your feet wet right here), writing your own daily blog, etc. Whether it’s a one page ad, copy for a website, or text for a brochure, pursue and accept every opportunity. If you don’t make a dime for the first six months, don’t worry. Just get some writing under your belt.

Tip #3: Keep your ego in check.

I learned this lesson the hard way. After six months of professional writing experience, I was acting like hot sh*# to every potential client I spoke with. I ended up losing most accounts before I even got started due to my attitude. The truth was, I was so insecure about my ability to produce quality material that I overcompensated by acting like a professional who didn’t need to negotiate at all. I had an overpriced take-it-or-leave-it attitude that got me nowhere. Most people won’t succeed using this tactic because you get the privilege of being picky by first developing a reputation of excellence and credibility. It’s the people in demand for the reputation as a copywriter who get to turn down work or refuse to negotiate pricing. Granted, there will always be clients who treat copywriting like manual labor. To these people, just politely refuse and move on. As I have learned, you never know how the impression you leave today might open or close future doors for you.

Tip #4: Network, Network, Network

It’s one of the most common pieces of advice because it’s simply that important. I hated the thought and the sound of networking from the beginning. As a person with no substantial work history or street cred, I felt like a fake just thinking about talking to people in the industry. I will tell you this secret: the amount of success I have enjoyed is directly proportionate to the amount of networking I have done. In other words, I’m doing fairly well right now, but I could already be making twice what I make now had I been more productive initiating relationships before taking a full-time position.

Wondering how to get started networking? Three pieces of advice: 1) start a blog and write in it every day; 2) get some business cards printed that include your web address (i designed mine easily online); 3) visit and/or join every local metropolitan writing, marketing, artistic organization that meets monthly, meet people, and hand out your cards. My card was simple. It had my name, blog name, address, phone, email and web address on the front and a bulleted list of services on the back. I like the services part because professionals get so many cards that it’s easy to forget why you should keep a card after a few days.

Tip #5: Develop a specialty

At the beginning, you won’t want to limit yourself by only doing one style of writing. Take notice of what you enjoy doing the most, and always jump at the chance to do more of what you enjoy. Remember, the first 2 years are your foundation. 95% of all copywriters don’t make serious money until they reach 5 years of experience, so you have to know in your head that you are going to have the right attitude and maintain it through your probationary period. The big time head hunters don’t accept any applicants with less than 5 years of experience. But once you’re there, you have the opportunity to break into six figures if you’ve developed a specialty or two.

Right now, I do mostly website copy, press releases, and corporate blogs. I’ve done brochures, the emails, sales sheets, case studies, and several other types of documents I can’t think of right now. Given my choice, I’d probably stick with blogs, given that they’re such a natural method of communication to me. But blogs still have a ways to go before they are valued as highly as they should be in corporate America.

There you have it. My first five tips to becoming a copywriter. If you’d like me to add more specific information, drop me a comment and I’ll take you as deep into this as you want to go. I will add as much or as little information as you need to make it as a copywriter.

Comments are always welcome.

It’s true… It’s in the works. I announced this to my friends and family a few months ago on MySpace, but I thought I’d go ahead and mention it here. I’ve given myself until January of next year to complete this book, though God knows I’d love to finish early and start shopping it around.

The hardest part of writing a book is not the actual writing. Not even close. The hardest part of writing is narrowing down the topics to one final storyline or topic. There are so many possibilities. Some are only substantial enough to be short stories. Others require more life experience before the subjects are approached.

I’m not going to give away any details just yet. One must properly exercise the art of The Tease in order to woo the public. Or so I’ve heard. After a year and a half blogging here on CultureFeast, it was time to move to the next level. Blogging is nice, and I will continue to post my randomness here. It doesn’t pay the bills, however, because I’m not OCD enough to blog 10 times a day on one topic in order to draw readers to click on my AdSense or other blog ads.

I’m excited about this venture because it is something I’ve talked about and toyed with these past ten years. I’ve even despaired to the point of eternal surrender upon realizing that I’d already lived longer than John Keats without a single shred of literary accomplishment to my name. Then again, I should be grateful for not dying at a young age, so there is that.

show me one
just a glimpse
that which all things stretch
an infinite distance towards
with hungry hopes to apprehend
walk with me
speak of things unnoticed
when last we met under the tree
glance outside
long enough to catch a star
hanging lowly like a branch
above the window
make a wish
or make believe
your star is some other lonely planet
one on which we face each other
eye to eye and breath to breath
think of me often on your gleaming island
your planet of hope
your isolation
and brush the leaves gently
from your soft wool coat as we drift
in and out of consciousness
barely able to complete this dream.

*inspired by the motion picture, Shopgirl

There are two totally hip communities for writers which have sprung out of MySpace communities: Urbis and WritersCafe. I’m a member of both, but I spend more time on Urbis. Writer’sCafe has done what every good community should do: they created buttons for members to post on their blogs/websites that both advertise the site and link back. Lots of people like to boast or show off their memberships like gold stars.

Visit Urbis.com and you’ll see what I mean. The participation concept is brilliant. You earn credits for every time you write a review of someone else’s writing. You can post your own writings as well, but you can’t view reviews of your work without spending some of your credits. Everyone wants feedback, and this encourages writers to consistently review others in order to earn the feedback they want.

There is still room for improvement on the site. In order to keep visitors longer, the site will have to eventually incorporate additional community features. That’s okay. It’s a relatively new community.

Check it out today. Tell when you post your own writings and I’ll review them for you.