Ok, this isn’t Mount Sinai, and I’m no Moses, but I’ve spent a while with my giant stone tablets and trusty chisel. The results were poorly carved, to say the least, so I decided that a blog post would be a much more efficient way to pass down these;
The Ten Commandments of the Copywriter*
Selling is your goal, you shall have no other goals before this
Copywriting isn’t all about selling. It’s also about creating trust, getting good Google listings and a host of other things. But if your copy doesn’t sell, it’s not doing the job your client is paying you to do. Forget this at your peril!
You shall not consider Don Draper an idol
Sure, we all love Mad Men. And there’s probably not a man reading this that doesn’t want to be Don Draper. But does consuming huge amounts of Scotch really increase your writing prowess? I’m willing to bet that the answer is no, but if you do write drunk make sure you follow Hemmingway’s advice: Edit sober.
You shall not recycle
Yes, you can still recycle your tin cans and plastic bottles. You can even get away with returning to unused ideas. But strap lines? Stock phrases? Probably best that you leave them be once you’ve finished with them. Nobody likes to see the same tired sentences over and over again – least of all paying clients. You’re selling them a tailored suit, not a second-hand sweater.
You shall not steal
I’m not pointing any fingers here (*cough*Sub-Continental “SEO and Copy Wrighting Gurus” who scrape content from UT and post it on their own blogs verbatim to try and steal traffic from me*cough*), but sadly this commandment needs to be etched in stone above the computers of many writers. Don’t steal other people’s copy, posts or articles. If you need me to explain why, then you need to turn this off and think about your life.
Steer clear of the content farm
We’ve all been desperate for cash. But do you think that selling yourself for tuppence a word is really the way to go? We all know that it’s hard to start charging for something we’ve earlier given away for free, but it’s just as hard to convince someone you’re worth more than the pittance you’ve previously charged. When it comes to content farms, you might be better off selling a kidney.
You shall not bear false witness against your fellow copywriter (or leave nasty comments on her blog)
Maybe you disagree with something someone’s said? Maybe they’re currently shacked up with a client you thought would be best man at your wedding. Whatever the circumstances, be professional. Slinging mud and crying isn’t going to endear you to the next paying customer that comes your way.
You shall not covet the Web Designer’s percieved status
Yes, the designer’s flashing widgets and eyecatching drop shadows are going to draw oohs and aahs from the audience while we sit in the corner, at the back. But we all know that it’s the copy that sells, not the crayon work. So don’t start to get jealous of your designer comrades – they’re the delivery system for your content after all. (Note: It’s not a sin to mock them on Twitter. This guy’s a good place to start.)
You shall not commit murder (when the client rewrites half your copy)
We’ve all got horror stories. A client deciding your strap line would read better as “Relax of Chill” [sic], or someone passing editing duties onto a teenager with a GCSE in English Language. But is going round with an ice pick really the solution? No. No it isn’t. And if you said yes, you need to seek help.
You shall always edit your copy thoroughly
I hate editing my own work, but it’s necessarry in order to avioud typos and spelling mistakes. And they make you look foolish.
Remember the Sabbath (or Saturday afternoon, or whenever) and keep it holy
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And it didn’t help his copy much either. Whether it’s a Saturday spent screaming abuse at sportsmen or a Sunday relaxing in the park with a picnic, take some time away from the pen and keyboard. If you don’t take time to get out there and have some fun, just where do you think you’ll find your inspiration?
So there we have it. The monolithic guide to the copywriter’s craft and conduct. But I daresay that it’s unfinished. So running the risks of schisms, crusades, jihads and all-out holy war, I’d like to put this question out to the faithful. What needs to be added, and what’s about as relevant as the commandment warning against envying your friend’s prize ox?
*If you really want to follow them. I mean, do what you like. This post just seemed like a fun thing to write. I’m not the messiah.