You Can Earn a Living as a Writer

I’m a writer. I’ve been at it for as long as I can remember. Although you probably don’t know me, I’ll bet that you’ve read some of my stuff.

Growing up in the suburban wastes of Kansas City in the 1970s, most kids I knew spent their free time playing softball on the schoolyard lot off Mission Road. Others went fishing down at the lakes between Manor Road and Meadow Lane. Me? That wasn’t my thing. On a hot summer day, I loved nothing more than to stretch out on the carpet of my living room floor near the air conditioning vent and scribble all over the pages of a Big Chief tablet with a Flair pen until my fingers went stiff. I wrote all kinds of junk. The earliest piece I can remember writing was a fake brochure for some kind of rocket ship / Chevy van hybrid. I was eight years old at the time. It was a bi-fold brochure with color illustrations. I was pretty proud of myself then. Still am.

Although much has changed over the decades – my writing skills have improved, I think – I still write commercial copy. During the daylight hours, I write about lawn mowers and deburring machines and satellite TV. As I said before, you’ve probably read some of my stuff. Planned a trip to Louisiana for Mardi Gras recently? You’ve read my work. Frequent a popular dating website? That’s me too. Spend any amount of time online researching orthodontists, equestrian supplies, building materials, self-storage facilities, or high fashion? I wrote some of that stuff.  I run my own little “content development” company. We’re writers and bloggers for hire. After hours, I write supernatural horror and science fiction. The commercial copy pays the bills, and that’s what this article is really all about.

Since I subscribe to a number of writer’s magazines, I get a lot of junk e-mail about books, DVDs, and seminars where you can quickly learn “how to make a six-figure income writing advertising copy.” Let me say – right here and now – that some of you can. Most cannot. Sure, if you can string together words and phrases and clauses with a fair grasp of sentence structure, punctuation, and grammar, you have a talent that can command a fair income – if you know what you’re doing.

In this age where text-speak has spread like Ebola from cell phones to term papers to casual conversation, many under the age of twenty-five appear to be incapable of putting a convincing argument for one thing over another to pen and paper (my personal opinion, not that of anyone else here at BookLifeNow). And since most marketing – whether in print or online – is driven by written content, there’s a great need for those who can write well. But you have to know the rules – those rules above words and phrases and clauses. Marketing copy is not written like fiction or journalistic articles. I won’t go into deep detail here, simply because there isn’t enough room to spell it all out in a single blog article.

But I’ll give you a peek. Here we go.

1. If you’re writing copy that sells window treatments, roofing supplies, invisible braces, air handling units, bug and tar remover, party supplies, liquid face lifts, or financial products, you have to first identify your audience. Ask yourself: WHO would want this? If you can come up with an answer, you’re well on your way to some compelling copy.

2. Always write to the business purposes at hand. Your client wants to convince the market that they need to pick up the phone or fill out a form or set up an appointment. What you write must gently nudge the readers toward acting on this suggestion.

3. Keep it interesting, engaging, and brief. Most people can read about 350 words (a single page from a paperback novel) in about a minute. They read whole pages because they’re invested in the characters and story. As a writer of commercial copy, you have none of that to your advantage. The average time a reader will spend on any page of content on a website is a whopping 33 seconds. Interesting, engaging, and brief, yeah?

4. Sell! If you’ve never sold anything in your life (cars, computer software, shoes, whatever) you may not have the experience needed to craft compelling sales copy. Selling is more than listing features, advantages, and benefits. It’s about creating an emotional connection between your reader and the product. In sales, we talk a lot about building commonalities, discovering needs, leveraging pain points, and overcoming objections. And it all works beautifully – with practice. Lots of practice.

5. And you must sell without selling. If this sounds like some twisted Kung Fu technique, you’re right. You must strike without being seen. Truly compelling copy leads the reader to believe that their needs are in direct alignment with product features, advantages, and benefits. You can almost see them nodding their heads in agreement as they ponder the words on the page.

6. Learn to write for robots. Pick up a book on the basics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Online, everything is driven by search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!). Every piece you write for a website is going to be seeded with keywords and phrases and links. Why? Every search engine employs search bot software to scan every web page for its content and then adds that data to a searchable index. This is how the web works. If you’re writing a page about chocolate chip cookies, you’d better mention “chocolate chip cookies” a few times in the copy.

You can earn a living as a writer. Like many, I’ve had a number of cube farm jobs. Long ago, I decided that I was unsatisfied with corporate life and made a decision to bail. I spent years building a book of business for my content development company. I’m a full-time writer now. It’s a sweet gig but it has its drawbacks. When 5pm rolls around and you’ve been killing yourself to crank out 10,000 words for a plastic surgeon, it isn’t easy to switch gears and be creative. Somebody once said that the worst day job for a writer is as a writer. Some days, I fully agree.


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