In theory, copywriting is the simplest job in the world: writing words with the intention to sell – but it isn’t easy. Companies pay top dollar for proven copywriters, and they continually tweak their copy via A/B testing to see which version returns the better result.
So, how do you get started as a copywriter?
When I decided I wanted to be a copywriter, I read a blog post telling me to copy some classic sales letters by hand, word for word, with a pen and paper. It sounded a little wacky — but it works. You get a feel for the writer’s thought process and you see what makes their letter so effective.
Once you’ve copied a few letters, read up on marketing/copywriting.
The best books to learn copywriting
The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert W. Bly
This is the perfect starting point for a rookie. Rob Bly covers it all, from direct mail to email subject lines. Some things may seem quite basic, but mastering the basics is important – so get ‘em down.
The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert
Gary Halbert was a legendary copywriter who made lots of money — only to lose it all – and then he made it back again (a few times, apparently). The Boron Letters is a collection of letters he sent to his son — from prison! (I’ve Googled extensively to try and find out why he was sent to prison but I can’t find out what he did.)
In these letters, Gary teaches his son (Bond Halbert) how to make money from the written word, how to work smart, how to be a master of markets, and “how to be a man.” Each letter has been revised with notes from Bond, too, which is a nice touch. You can buy the book or you can view these letters for free on his website. (Be warned, it’s pretty old!)
My life in Advertising/Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins
Two classics for the price of one. Claude Hopkins wrote Scientific Advertising in the 1920s, but don’t let that put you off — this book is still as relevant as ever; advertising may have evolved since then, but human behavior doesn’t seem to have changed. In My Life in Advertising, Hopkins shares his stories — from selling oats to toothpaste, you’ll learn what worked for him and what didn’t.
And the final tip… Start!
I recently watched a brilliant TED Talk by London Real’s Brian Rose. This quote angered me at first, because I believe it’s true, and I was guilty of it:
“99% of research is procrastination in disguise.”
You just need to start. You can read all the books and practice all you want, but you need to put yourself out there, otherwise you’ll forget what you’ve read and you won’t improve. So get in touch with companies, apply for jobs, or start your own website and go down the freelancer’s route.
If you need further inspiration, enjoy this classic photo of Hunter S Thompson writing on the beach. (I’m aware he wasn’t a copywriter, but still… this is a great photo.)