7 things I love (and hate) about
working with copy cubs
I don’t know how it happened.
One day I was minding my own business working solo as a copywriter and the next day — BAM!
I became a “copy mama”!
But not to ONE but 10 copy cubs!
Working with these junior writers on inserts, website landing pages, ezines and premiums has taught me a lot.
And if you’re ever in the position to copy chief a writer, hopefully reading about my trials and tribulations will help you out.
But this issue is really for the copy cubs — the future Clayton Makepeaces of the world.
So if you ever get the opportunity to work and learn from a copy chief — be very aware of these 7 common pitfalls and rookie mistakes.
#1: Don’t take it personal: I hate your copy — not you! I’m actually a very nice person. But, I’ve been told I can be brutal with crits. What can I say — Clayton was my copy chief! Blame it on him. Actually, THANK anybody who’s willing to be completely honest and frank about your copy — you’ll be a better writer if you just learn to take the punches.
So don’t take crits personally. You’re going to hear what’s wrong with your copy and get suggestions on how to fix it. So words like “weak”, “sucks” and “you’re boring the crap out of me” refer to your copy — not your personality.
One time Clayton gave me a crit that said — and I quote,
“You write like a F*%@! GIRL!”
My reply: “I AM a girl!”
My error: I was writing for a male potency product. You just don’t want “girliness” sneaking into that kind of copy! Clayton spotted that weakness in my copy — and brought it to my attention. I made the adjustments — and that package became my first ever control!
#2: I don’t care ’bout no stink’n excuses! You probably became a copywriter because you want freedom to work your own schedule. Flexibility to take time off whenever you want. Hey, that’s why I got into this racket!
However, your copy chief doesn’t give a squat that your kid is the star in the school play and you stayed up all night making costumes for the entire drama class! Especially if that’s the excuse you’re giving for why your copy sucked!
No matter how friendly you are with your copy chief. Remember: She’s still your boss. Don’t cross that fine line — it’ll bite you in the butt!
#3: They don’t call it a DEADline for nothing! Always ask for a deadline — and make sure you beat it! You impress the heck out of your copy chief and client when you deliver ahead of schedule. You tick them both off when you blow your deadline.
If you see a conflict on the horizon and you can’t make your deadline — let your copy chief know immediately!
#4: Don’t over promise! Most junior writers want to get their foot in the door so they promise just about anything to get the assignment (I’ve been guilty of that many times myself.) I asked a cub to deliver one issue of an ezine a week. She told me and the client she could produce two issues a week. She has yet to deliver on that promise — so it looks like she’s slacking off.
A better scenario would’ve been to promise one good issue and THEN deliver two! On the weeks she only produces one issue, nobody’s upset. But on the weeks she turns in two issues — she impresses the heck out of me and the client!
#5: No “pre-drafts” — PuLEEZ! Avoid this “kiss of death” statement: “I know the copy is not good yet, but I want you to take a look at it before I put in the final touches.”
Copy chief translation: You think this is good copy but you’re covering your butt in case I don’t like it.
Bottom line: Don’t send in copy you don’t think is great. Also don’t turn in copy with typos and other blatant errors. You’re wasting your copy chief’s time and she’ll be really mad at you! Don’t worry, if your copy sucks — your copy chief will be the first to tell you about it — and QUICK!
#6: Shut up! When receiving crits, fight the urge to explain yourself unless asked. It’s very annoying. Just shut your pie hole and listen. If you need clarification, wait until an appropriate time and ask for it.
Years ago, I had an experience with a junior writer who is a very personal friend of mine (ok, the truth is, I SLEEP with him). He wrote a special report for controlling blood pressure. Every crit I gave, he felt compelled to explain and rationalize. Well, before that project was over, I FIRED him. I figured it was easier to find another copywriter than another husband!
#7: No one’s out to get you — it really is TEAMWORK! Your copy chief is not the enemy. The goal of your team is to deliver the best copy possible so the client will make lots of money. And then he’ll hire all of you again. If your copy chief does her job right, everybody wins.
One of my cubs, I’ll call him “John” (because that’s his name) sent me a memorable gift after we completed a 12-page insert for a health newsletter. Obviously I used one particular word to crit his copy fairly often.
He sent me a rubber stamp with the word, “LAME!” printed on it along with a “thank you for beating me up” note. By the way, that insert was a major winner for our client and John has a success control to get him more jobs!
#8: I know I said “7” but keep reading – this one’s probably the best advice yet…Find your own style! Imitation may be a form of flattery but imitating the style of ALL the great copywriters in the world in one sales letter is a recipe for disaster!
Develop your own writing style — and master it. For example, some copywriters are experts at going for the jugular — grabbing the prospect by the throat until he says “ok, I’ll buy!”
These guys can slice and dice their words to create the intensity needed for that type of high impact sale. If you’re more of a “warm and fuzzy” writer and you try to emulate the cut throat style — you’re going to sound corny, hokey and fake.
Remember: There are many ways to write convincing copy. Feel free to steal from the master copywriters but blend in their knowledge to create your own style.
Copy chiefing has turned out to be one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done. In fact, I’ve pulled out locks of my hair and swore I would never do it again! However, it’s also been very rewarding. I’ve learned to:
1. Guide copy without destroying the vision of the writer.
2. Better organize thoughts to maintain momentum in the sales
3. Deal with multiple personalities and try to bring out the best in each one of them!
This knowledge has helped me tremendously in my own copywriting projects and dealings with clients. And it’s been great to see by little “cubbies” grow into great writers commanding big bucks — and even having a few cubs of their own!
Until next time,
Yours for stellar results,
Million-Dollar Copywriter & Consultant