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Why copywriting is a craft, not an art

Why copywriting is a craft, not an art

Obviously, we want you to believe that copywriters are magicians. You send us a brief, we summon the Muse, and persuasive words pour forth. The prosaic truth, however, is that copywriting is a craft, not an art, demanding old-fashioned tools and plenty of hammering and polishing. How does it work in practice? This recent real-life example shines a light on the craft.

“Blurb” is the all-important back-cover text that helps you decide whether you want to buy a book or not. The Listening Space by Tamsin Hartley is a self-help guide that combines two techniques (mindfulness and clean language) to help people “change the way they listen”.

Tamsin asked me to take a look at the very rough-draft blurb she wrote:

This practical guide will change the way that you listen to yourself so that you can:

  • come to know what feels right to you in the decisions that you make;
  • become clearer about the directions you want to take in life;
  • feel more at ease with yourself and have more enjoyment in what you do.

The tools in this book will also change the way that you listen to others, helping you to understand them better and connect with them in richer, more fulfilling ways.

With easy-to-follow activities you will develop the ability to provide a truly resourceful space for someone to hear and explore their own thinking in which they can:

  • come up with their own insights and solutions; and
  • generate new and creative ideas. 

This book describes a streamlined process that can be applied to any problem or situation that you would like to explore, both in your work and personal life.

So let’s get the writing tools out. The first thing any commercial copywriter worth their salt does is to read the words from a potential customer’s perspective. If I was in the market for this, would I buy it? Why, or why not?

In this case, I wasn’t sure. “Change the way you listen to yourself’ and “change the way you listen to others” are intriguing thoughts. But “come to know what feels right to you in the decisions that you make” is a tough phrase to unpick. Why should I care about it?

At the same time as trying hard see things from a customer’s point or view, the copywriter should be grinding away at another important task: hunting the benefit. Asking: “What will this thing do for me?” Again, I wasn’t clear. Is this book mostly going to help my life? Or help me help others? Or both? If you “change the way you listen”, intriguing though it sounds, what does that mean for you?

After a few reads and re-reads (and a short call with the author) it became apparent that the book helps you do two discrete things – listen to yourself and to others in new ways – each of which has its own clear set of benefits.

Having sorted out the message, it’s now time to look at the style. How does it read? A book blurb needs to be high-impact and very easy to grasp. I found that some of the sentences in this first draft were more complicated than they needed to be. Also, blurbs mostly need to be short. Is there anything in there we don’t need – for example phrases that don’t add any value or words that aren’t pulling their weight?

Here are some of the things that had to go because there were either a) unnecessary or because b) they left ideas or questions hanging:

Easy-to-follow exercises – because all exercises should be like that
Streamlined process – because all processes should be like this
Truly resourceful space – can a space be resourceful?
Their own insights and solutions – for what?
New and creative ideas – what sort of ideas?

I cut some other stuff too, just because. And finally, I felt we needed a headline. Not all blurbs need headlines. Some are just made up of gushing reviews. Others are long and detailed. But this book is selling an abstract concept. And it’s launching in a very competitive space (check out the packed self-help shelves at your local bookshop). A headline for the blurb could help grab attention.

So, we’ve identified the benefits and the “what’s in it for me”, chopped out some unnecessary words and thought about a headline. All that remains now is to give the copy some more impact. Copywriting tools used here involved injecting bit of rhythm and repetition, and using a mix of sentence lengths.

Here’s the edited blurb.

Listening differently can change lives.

Change the way you listen to yourself and you can make better decisions, imagine your future more clearly and take more pleasure in what you do.

Change the way you listen to others and you can understand and connect with them with more richness and depth, to mutual benefit.

This book gives you the tools to change the way you listen. In doing so, it provides valuable new perspectives and solutions for your own life and the lives of others.

 

Tamsin loved it. Let’s hope book buyers do too. (There’s some preview info at The Listening Space). And of course, if you’re struggling with some unruly copy and this process feels too much like hard work, give us a shout at [email protected]

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