Friday, February 25, 2022

Can you give me a job writing copy?

Often writers in the early stages of their careers ask me if I have any work I can't get to that they could write for me. Sometimes they offer to work for free for the experience.

Copywriter: Will Work for Free

Typically, I don't have extra work for them. 
And I would never expect anyone to work for free.

Not the response they're hoping for. 

However, I do have advice. 

Such as this 6-step challenge:
  1. Target a few businesses.

    NOTE: If possible, start with a friend or family member who needs customers (dentist, personal trainer, massage therapist, chiropractor, hairstylist, etc.).

  2. Learn about them by digging through their websites, getting on their mailing lists, reading their social media posts, etc. 

  3. When you feel you understand their target audience and their voice, identify a piece or two of their current copy you feel you could write better. Rewrite it. Then edit and polish it until you are proud to put your name on it.

  4. Send it to them with a well-crafted cover explaining that you are willing to give them the copy at no charge to either update their website or use in an A/B test with the hopes that if they like it, they will hire you to write more.

    NOTE: Even better if you can make an appointment and present it in person.

  5. Follow up.

  6. Return to Step 1 and repeat.

This exercise has 3 primary benefits to a copywriter who is new to the craft:
  • It's a framework for practice. Practice in researching/understanding businesses and their customers. Practice writing copy. Practice selling. Practice working with established businesses.

  • It's a portfolio builder. There's nothing wrong with spec copy in a portfolio.

  • It can generate paying clients.

If you're in the early stages of your marketing writing career, keep asking folks like me for work. 

You don't ask, you don't get. 

But if you're not picking up work through this channel, consider this 6-step approach.

Then, when you get to the point you have more work than you can handle, sub it out to me.


Improve your skills, check out:

16 Free Copywriting Courses

17 Books Writers Must Read

Friday, February 18, 2022

17 Books Writers Must Read in 2023

I could easily come up with 50 books to recommend for writers who want to improve their craft, but I've boiled it down to 17.

It's painful to leave some incredibly good ones off this list. But 50 is an intimidating number. A big number to commit to ... and a long enough list to make it difficult to know where to start. 

But 17 is a reasonable number. A number you can see yourself reading over the next year or so.

So pick a book off this list today. 

Just one. 

Start reading it as soon as you get your hands on it. Not only will you enjoy it, but you will also be a better writer for it. 

And you'll be inspired to pick another one.

Recommended Reading List - Scott Frothingham

The first 9 are for writers. The type of writing they want to specialize in doesn't matter ... fact ... fiction ... marketing. I believe every writer can benefit by spending some time with these books.

  • Everybody Writes – Ann Handley

    “Good writing serves the reader, not the writer. It isn't self-indulgent. Good writing anticipates the questions that readers might have as they're reading a piece, and it answers them.”

    NOTE: Any edition is worth your time, but the latest was published in October 2022

  • On Writing Well – William Zinsser

    “Look for the clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly. Be grateful for everything you can throw away. Reexamine each sentence you put on paper. Is every word doing new work? Can any thought be expressed with more economy?”

  • Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott

    “If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days--listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you've taken in, all that you've overheard, and you turn it into gold. (Or at least you try.)”

  • Wired for Story –  Lisa Cron

    “Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution—more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to.”

  • On Writing – Stephen King

    “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.”

  • How to Write Clearly – Tom Albrighton

    “Whatever new information you give your reader, it has to fit with their existing knowledge, or it will be harder for them to understand. At the same time, you don’t want to waste their time by telling them too many things they already know.”

  • You Are a Writer – Jeff Goins

    “But beyond that, really, stop trying to be good. People’s definitions of “good” vary. What one person loves, another hates. So stop obsessing over being a good writer. It doesn’t matter. Too many writers are caught up with insecure thoughts of whether they are any good. It’s crazy. Enough with this neurotic behavior. Time to be confident in your craft.”

  • The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

    “If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), ‘Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?’ chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

    NOTE: Turning Pro is Pressfield's follow up to The War of Art. It's focused on the transition from amateur to professional.

  • The Elements of Style – William Strunk & E.B. White

    “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

    NOTE: The 4th edition (2000) is the latest edition.

For marketing writers, here are another 8 to be added to the list above. Not to replace the list, but to add to it.

  • Ogilvy on Advertising – David Ogilvy

    “Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process.”

  • The Copywriter’s Handbook – Bob Bly

    “Instead of creating aesthetically pleasing prose, you have to dig into a product or service, uncover the reasons why consumers would want to buy the product, and present those sales arguments in copy that is read, understood, and reacted to—copy that makes the arguments so convincingly the customer can’t help but want to buy the product being advertised.”

    NOTE: The most recent edition is the 4th from 2020.

  • Influence – Robert Cialdini

    “The idea of potential loss plays a large role in human decision making. In fact, people seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value.”

    NOTE: Originally written in 1984 there have been a number of updates with the latest being May 2021.

  • The Adweek Copywriting Handbook – Joe Sugarman

    “So your first sentence should be very compelling by virtue of its short length and ease of reading. No long multisyllabic words. Keep it short, sweet and almost incomplete so that the reader has to read the next sentence.”

  • Cashvertising ­– Drew Eric Whitman

    “Listen: Your goal is not to create new fears, but to tap into existing fears, either those on the forefront of consumers’ minds, or those that require a little digging to uncover.”

  • The Ultimate Sales Letter – Dan Kennedy

    "The goal is understanding. To persuade someone, to motivate someone, to sell someone, you really need to understand that person."

    NOTE: The 4th edition from 2011 is the latest version.

  • Commonsense Direct & Digital Marketing – Drayton Bird

    “Once you’ve worked out what benefit you deliver better than others write it down in plain language everyone understands. Then think how you can convey it in a way that’s hard to forget. Prove it’s true, with examples. Then hammer it home, repeatedly.”

    NOTE: This book can be difficult to find. If you can't get your hands on a copy, here's a replacement (not for the book itself, but to keep this list at 17): A Self-Help Guide for Copywriters – Dan Nelken "You have to think before you write because great headlines aren't great sentences – they're great ideas expressed in words. Remember, you're a creative first and writer second."

  • Copywriting Made Simple – Tom Albrighton

    “Copywriting is like a bridge. On one side is the person who will read your copy. On the other side is you, along with whatever you’re selling. Your job is to get the reader to cross the bridge and give it a try.”

I should've made this an even 18 by adding: Instant Inspiration for Copywriters – Scott Frothingham ... but I'm trying to be humble.

A Final Note

Don't just read books on writing. Read novels and essays and poetry and short stories. Immersing yourself in good writing is one of the best things you can do to become a better writer. 

For some books (not about writing) that I think are worthy of your time, check out: 12 Books (not about writing) Writers Should Read.


For some thoughts from famous authors about reading to improve your writing,

Sunday, February 13, 2022

I Wasn't Always a Writer

 Hard work in the hot summer sun

As a kid, I worked as a laborer.


In the hot summer sun.

Hired for my back, not my brain.

Good experience for a kid. 

At least it was for me.

I learned about hard work ... 

pushing myself beyond expected limits ... 

dealing with difficult bosses ... 

working beside people with different life experiences and goals ... 

coming to terms with how much tax the government took out of my wages ... 

being grateful for how nice it is now to be working in an airconditioned environment while sitting in a comfortable chair ...

Take a minute to think about your early work experiences.

I’m not asking you to comment. Just to think about it.

What did you learn from them?

What about the memory of that work makes you grateful for your current job?

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

The Value of Expertise

The Value of Expertise

I tightened it as far as I could by hand, but the drip continued.

There was a leak, and I couldn’t shut off the main water valve.

I grabbed a wrench. Then I thought twice and called the plumber.

With a grunt, the plumber forced the valve another half turn and said, “that’s all she needed.”

“I was afraid to do that,” I said.

“Understandable. I’ve done this a thousand times and have a feel for how far to push it. If you’d taken it too far, you’d have gotten a face full of water and a $350 bill from me to fix it.”

I tell prospective clients:

In either lost revenue or lost time, 
weak copy will cost you far more 
than paying me for excellent copy.

Most of ‘em understand.

Cause they’re dealing with the results of copy without that necessary half turn of the valve.

The Parking Spot Next to the Front Door

“You could sell sawdust to a lumber mill,” said my boss as he threw his arm around Byron’s shoulders. The team applauded as Byron held up th...