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Copywriting: Difficult or Easy?

May 19th, 2009 by Bob Bly

On 5/15/09, Susanna K. Hutcheson said on this blog that copywriting is a skill that takes many decades of learning and doing before one is truly a master at it.

On the other hand, many of the superstars in Internet marketing — a key skill of which is writing (of both copy and content) — are barely out of diapers.

Which would lead one to conclude that copywriting is fairly easy and can be learned rather quickly.

I am increasingly ambivalent about this question.

At times, I read copy by the top pros (Clayton Makepeace, Frank Joseph) that dazzles me and turns me green with envy — and I conclude that copywriting is a skill that, after 3 decades, I am just starting to get the hang of (and that I have so long to go in my training!).

On the other hand, I have also seen writing from younger folks that has me pretty damned impressed (and also some that makes me cringe, which I almost never see from the masters).

So what’s the truth here?

A–Susanna is right: it takes decades to master the skill of copywriting.

B–Copywriting is easy. Any idiot can do it.

C–Copywriting is a skill that can be learned. Yes, it takes practice. But it’s not brain surgery.

D–Other (fill in your answer here):__________________________________________

My view is that writing in general and copywriting in particular is like learning to play the piano: easy to do poorly; exceedingly difficult to do well.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 at 4:28 pm and is filed under Writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

55 responses about “Copywriting: Difficult or Easy?”

  1. Fiona Fell - websitePROFITS said:

    My vote is for….

    C–Copywriting is a skill that can be learned. Yes, it takes practice. But it’s not brain surgery.

    I can see that many people can and have turned their hand to copywriting and have been able to produce good results.

    Producing GREAT results is something that I feel would take even more practice and repeated implimentation and monitoring.

    I have had a go at writing for some of my website copy, and have had varying success.

    I would certainly not feel right if I was to go out there and become a ‘copywriter’ and do that same activtiy for other businesses. I feel I would be cheating them out of potential sales.

  2. Greg said:

    I vote for all of the above.

    Since becoming interested in copywriting, I have been looking closely at all the copy that comes across my desk. Most of it is horrible to average, imho, so I think the real answer is compared to what.

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  6. AnnaLisa Michalski said:

    C is close, I think. But my first instinct is D – Copywriting is work. It’s like any other kind of writing: you can learn to do it IF you enjoy it enough to persevere through the rough spots. But easy? Not if it’s going to be good. I’m sure there are great talents who are the exception, but for most of us…uh uh. Writing is pleasant, satisfying, but nonetheless work.

  7. dianacacy said:

    I vote C.

    But to be good, you must love doing it. If you don’t, it will show, no matter how good of a writer you are.

    And everyone learns at their own pace. Some get it quickly, others need a time period of study and a mentor to get where they can be called a good copywriter, and then a master.

    (And the masters are still learning something new each day.)

    In my opinion, for writing in general and copywriting, if you feel you’ve learned it all, it’s time to give it up. (And no one should ever reach that point in just one lifetime.)

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  9. Marjorie Bicknell said:

    Dianacacy made an excellent point – if you feel you’ve learned it all, it’s time to give it up.

    Still there’s one thing no one has mentioned – talent. Some people take years to learn to write excellent copy, while others can do it out of the box.

    It’s true that by following the “rules” anyone with the ability to write a complete sentence can eventually learn to be a solit copywriter, but some people have a gift. That gift isn’t necessarily as a writer. That gift is the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and truly understand their wants, needs, desires and opinions. If you can do that, time after time you’ll come up with copy that really sings because it really touches the reader’s emotions. That’s what separates the great from the good copywriting and that’s why some people can do it right away, and other writers take years to master the technique.

  10. Marjorie Steele said:

    I vote C and D: good copywriting comes with with a solid helping of innate talent – although, just like playing the piano, practice and learning can fine-tune that talent into a great skill.

    The promotional craze to become an internet freelance copywriter – for the money – I find disingenuous. If writing is not something you’re already far above average at, you probably shouldn’t attempt freelance copywriting. And, like dianacacy said, you have to love it to be good.

    Then again, maybe I’m just trying to scare off competitors…

  11. Peter Lunn said:

    I agree, copywriting is easy to do poorly; exceedingly difficult to do well. The problem is in our instant coffee culture, people don’t like paying the price of something done well, either in the price of time spent learning a skill or the price of paying someone skilled.

    Scratch out copywriting and in its place write all manner of other skills. I run a business providing website design, photography and video production and for each one of those services it is true to say that these days they are easy to do poorly and more difficult than many imagine to do well. Ditto graphic designers, interior designers etc etc.

    With so much accessibility to cheap equipment and cheap (even free) software tools, the world of DIY has opened up to much more than home improvement and I think, by and large, we are better for it. But along with these changes, I think it is true and sad to say that the skills of many people have also been down-valued.

  12. Sheri said:

    Isn’t it the results that count the most in copywriting? I think this is what determines whether someone has mastered the skill or not. It’s like the batting average of baseball players really, isn’t it? Who has proven his or her talent for the game? Which copywriters get good response rate numbers? Which ones don’t?

  13. Gbenga Alaran said:

    The answer is C. Anyway, I was just wondering…can a good writer also be a good copywriter, and vice versa?

  14. Bob Bly said:

    You can be a good writer without being a good copywriter, but all good copywriters are also good writers.

  15. I.A. said:

    Great interactivity device.

    I would say that Copywriting, I think, is
    something that takes years to master.

    Anything worth having doesn’t come free.

    I’m sure those newbies whose copy you are
    impresed by had their time in the trenches

    People who are making big bucks online:

    Frank Kern: Didn’t start last year, or the
    year before, I think he’s been around for more
    than 5 years.

    Eben Pagan: Same dude I know BEFORE he came
    onto the IM scene, was a writer too. Took
    years before he stepped onto the IM stage.

    Mike Filsaime: Also started years ago.

    Who Else???

    Everyone took years to hone their part of IM…

    “Barely out of diapers”… would not be a
    right classification for them.

    –> On top of that, there’s freelancers whom
    those in the IM community go to for copy.

    Bottom line: Copywriting takes years to master,
    months to learn, weeks, if you want to destroy
    your conversion.

  16. Sheri said:

    So…what does “mastering” copywriting mean then if it doesn’t mean the response rates a copywriter gets? And how could it not mean that?

  17. Bob Bly said:

    Sheri: a master copywriter is one who has a track record of consistently beating controls – meaning his promotions generate more orders than other promotions tested for the same products.

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  19. Sheri said:

    Thank you, Bob. Some copywriters can and have beat controls consistently after only 4 – 6 months as a copywriter — so there goes the theory that copywriting absolutely must take years to master.

  20. krille said:

    I would say C, with practice anyone can write. I’m Swedish and I wrote for Jeff Paul and Joe Vitale a couple of years ago. So if I can write copy in english which is not my native language, then I think anyone can learn to do it fairly well. By the way, how is Frank Joseph? I’ve never heard of him but I’m curious about who he is since he is a master copywriter.

  21. Richard Smith said:

    Ok, so where does a newbie start? I’m attending the AWAI Boot Camp in November and before I jump in with both feet is this a field I want to get into? The one thing most people seem to agree on is this, it takes years of practice to make it in this field.
    Where does that leave the older worker, myself for example? I can’t afford to get into this field and not have it work for me. I’m going to be 58 years old in a few months and am currently living in my brother’s basement and do not have a job to fall back on. So I can only look up and keep charging ahead. I will make it work and it won’t take years for me to get there.
    I don’t have any other choices. I will make and will see y’all at the top!
    Bob doesn’t realize it yet, but he is going to hire me for one of his promotions! Please remember my name, Richard Smith.
    Thanks for letting me respond,

  22. Stephanie said:

    A harder question to answer than one would think. I’ve looked back at many of my years-old copywriting projects. Was surprisingly impressed with some, considering how new I was to the field. Cringed at others that had glaring rookie mistakes.

    Some characteristics that I think help make for a good copywriter:

    – Being an avid reader/a lover of good storytelling
    – Innately curious about how things work
    – Not too much ego…maybe even a little insecurity…so that you strive to produce your best
    – Some experience in sales, even if brief

  23. Stephanie said:

    On the other hand, ego can play a part in deciding to be a freelancer! 🙂

  24. Ellen said:

    My vote is also C. I agree that copy writing is a skill that can be learned. I am new in copy writing business, and I study to learn it. I am not good also in English and not know the effective way to do my write readable by most readers. I know that practice is really helping me a lot to be well on this type of job.

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