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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Friday, October 27, 2006

writing for dollars

More copywriting.

What is copywriting, you ask? My favorite definition: "writing for results". That is, it is writing intended to persuade people to do something specific. Usually it refers to advertising: getting people to buy something, or call someone, or visit a website. It is one way for a writer to earn money from writing.

I became interested in it one day in September 2003 while I strolled up Lonsdale Avenue in the afternoon sun. Passing the window of McGill's Stationery, I saw the title Start & Run a Copywriting Business in the rotating book-rack. I stopped, thought, then decided to go in and take a look at it. I picked up the book, written by Canadian copywriter Steve Slaunwhite, and published by the Self-Counsel Press, a small press located here in North Vancouver. The book seemed serious and sincere--not a come-on about how to make $$$ in your spare time. If you can write, and are disciplined enough to be self-employed, you can be a copywriter. Intrigued, I bought the book and started reading.

Slaunwhite makes copywriting seem a very reasonable, doable thing. I became mildly excited at the possibility of having an income-generating business that I could pursue without having to actually return to the wage-labor force. I started buying other books on copywriting and taking still others out of the library. I researched it just as I research anything else, typing up notes and creating folders on my PC.

Following the advice in the books, I started putting out feelers among people I knew. I became derailed somewhat when my friend Harvey died and I became involved in administering his estate, but eventually one of my contacts, a Vancouver copywriter named Patrick Cotter, when overloaded with work one day in 2004, referred a job to me. A U.S. client of a Vancouver web-development firm needed copy for their new franchising website. I sent some writing samples to the client, and was hired. I wound up writing all the copy for the website of Archadeck of Richmond, Virginia (go ahead--check it out).

I enjoyed the experience very much. I never thought I would be interested in writing ad copy or promotional copy; I had always hated ads and made endless satirical attacks on them when I was a kid. Plus the advertising industry is notoriously sleazy--even worse than television, supposedly. I can't stand sleaze.

But the best copywriting authorities point out that the typical high-profile "Madison Avenue" ad is not really representative of most copywriting, and indeed does not represent good copywriting for the most part. High-priced ads tend to be clever and slick, but they don't necessarily sell. They're about image: the image of the client, and even more the image of the ad agency. Think about car ads on TV: has any of those ever made you want to buy one of their cars? They certainly haven't with me. Narcissistic displays, full of sound and fury--and we all know what that signifies.

In fact, some part of me positively likes advertising--as a concept, an industry. When I read about how the new mass-media technologies of radio and television were made possible by advertising, I was excited. It seemed like a fantastic fit between technology and the means to make it commercial, viable. I even like the idea of that progressing further: I really like the concept of "product placement"--drama productions receiving money for placing products in the show. Some people regard that as cheesy, but not me. That way you can have heightened realism and no commercial breaks. From the advertiser's side it's a dream come true: Harrison Ford might drink a Coke while playing a character, whereas he would probably never do an ad for Coca-Cola at any price.

When I've mentioned copywriting to TV-writing colleagues, I've expressed it this way: "Instead of having lots of writers chasing a few dollars, as in TV, you have a few writers chasing lots of dollars."

Works for me.



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