What Is Copywriting?

Unlike other types of writing, which are meant to inform, entertain, or persuade in a general sense, copywriting is writing designed to make a reader take action and buy. Sometimes the price of the item being “sold” is nothing more than a reader’s email address (how many of your firms have website sign-up boxes offering free email newsletters?), but the goal of all copywriting is to make a reader say, “I want that.”

If you’re new to the idea of becoming a writer, you may have given copywriting little thought, other than mild annoyance when you’re confronted with too many ads. But even if it’s not your dream career, you should give it some thought, because it’s the most lucrative kind of freelance writing there is – and it can fund your transition out of the law and into the writing you really want to do.

Some types of copy that are often written by freelancers:

–Websites, particularly home pages

–White papers. A “white paper” is usually a lengthy, somewhat self-serving report released by an organization to help establish the organization as a leader in its field. My working theory is that calling it a “white paper” rather than a “report” tends to make it sound more British and therefore more credible.


–Newsletters (both e- and hard copy)

–Email promos (those ads you receive in your in-box whenever you sign up for a free ezine)

Because it’s businesses – often with staggeringly large budgets – that need these things written, they have they money to pay you well for this kind of work. Plus, if you get very good at writing in a way that sells effectively, you have even more power to name your own price – and the most efficient copywriters can and do earn more on an hourly basis than you bill out as a lawyer.

The downside is that most lawyers have no clue how to write this way. Legal writing is sometimes designed to persuade, but just as often designed to obfuscate, pontificate, or cover one’s behind.

So if you want to be a copywriter, you’re going to have to learn how to do it. The good news is that once you know the tenets of copywriting, all of the rest of your writing will be stronger, from your fiction to your magazine queries, because good writers know how to hook readers in.

Two very good resources for new copywriters are anything by Bob Bly, and Persuading on Paper by Marcia Yudkin. (Neither Bob nor Marcia is giving me any kickbacks; they’re just excellent copywriters and effective teachers.)

Next week I’ll discuss how to find people willing to pay you to use your fabulous new copywriting skills.

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