Monday, September 7, 2009
After reading Nathanael Green's lucid blog post 6 Reasons Why You Need a Copywriter, I confessed that my idea of what a copywriter does had only become clear--or clearer--quite recently. He suggested that it might make a good post here, and whether or not it proves interesting to others, I did want to think about a kind of tangle of words that I was somehow caught up in, a situation which I'll assume is not unique to me, because, for better or worse, nothing ever is.
As Nate says on his blog, copywriting has nothing to do with copyrighting, which may seem obvious now it's spelled out, but perhaps is part of the problem. It's not that I thought copywriters were people who sat around crunching out copyrights all day, but I do believe that this second twin word lingering in the back of my mind may have lead me to think that copywriting was a more esoteric craft than it is.
(What it is I thought copywriters did I can no longer pin down, anymore than I can pin down a dozen other vague assumptions that I don't trouble to define.)
Copywriters write copy. Period. They write texts for others, often to help them sell something, though not always. (Hmm--perhaps the real word of ignorance here is simply "copy".).
At any rate, it's not hard to be a copywriter. If you can write, or more likely, type, you too can be a copywriter. Comforting, isn't it? Something to fall back on in these tough economic times. But there's a catch. (You knew there would be.) Writing copy doesn't make you a good copywriter. And if you want to get paid for your troubles, you'd better be a damn good one.
What does it take to be a damn good copywriter? Well, let me take my analogy from another medium--television. And not just television, but cable television. And not just cable television but a channel like QVC or the Home Shopping Channel.
I love these shows. I don't buy anything. I'm not even tempted to buy anything, because in my heart of hearts, I am not a shopper. But I love watching the host, or more likely the hostess, take one in a long line of very similar things--handbags, maybe, or jewelry, dolls, whatever and confer distinction upon it by their powers of description. "Look at these cute buttons!" she'll say, or "Doesn't Tanya look stunning in those peridot earrings?" (And, no, I don't know what peridot is--I only know that it is highly desirable--at least, I know it for the length of the show.)
It sounds easy, but you try it sometime. I once saw a hostess lovingly describe the front of a portable radio. If you think it's easy to lavish attention on a black plastic box capable of AM-FM reception in a new and inviting way, think again.
However if you think you could do that, and do it in the cold and less visually helpful medium of print, then, yeah, you should probably think of becoming a copywriter as one of your options.
If it works out, you can buy me a peridot ring to thank me. I know just where you can look for one.