You just love writing, right? You dream of being able to earn a way of living that involves writing and being creative and free. And best of all, this is possible in a few ways. Some options include, journalism, technical writing, copywriting, and even fiction writing.
I don’t know about the others so I’ll just talk about copywriting and content writing and how I, as a fiction writer became a copywriter.
What’s the difference between copywriting and content writing?
I define copywriting more as the text that goes on your website, or your ads, or instructional writing. Content writing is more about creating marketing content such as blogs, social media content and email content.
I’ve done a bit of both, but mostly content writing. It’s more of an ongoing thing really. Businesses want ongoing streams of helpful content that might attract potential buyers to their website to convert (buy).
So I’ve made a living as a full-time, paid writer since 2016. About seven years now.
How I became a copywriter
I was hired as an unpaid intern for three months for a marketing company within an accountancy firm. Weird, right? I was then offered a full-time role.
After three years, I was scouted by an American tech company to work remotely as Head of Copy. I left my full-time job for a self-employment model, something I had already been doing a little part-time as well. This job did not go well. I was way in over my head and the company had just different expectations of me, so we parted ways but I had no job lined up.
I went full-time freelance and started pitching. My partner was basically forced to quit his job because his back pain was so bad he couldn’t come into work some days and they weren’t happy about that. So, I trained him to become a freelance content writer. We built a website and optimised our LinkedIn to be open for work as a freelancer writer. Through an old work connection, he got a freelance gig working for a local marketing company. Clearvoice work started coming through, and I was writing about finance and home security mostly.
I introduced my partner to a LinkedIn connection to write for a PC hardware and gaming website. He got the gig and started making a decent monthly. Soon the gaming website needed a new writer and I put myself forward. We both started working mostly with them. Then it went bad. They kept changing the rates so I quit. I still had Clearvoice but then that started to dry up. I had to get a job. I didn’t want to but I got a remote job at least, so yeah we’re okay now and he’s back in work. I’m still doing Clearvoice on the side.
How I got into writing as a career
Before all this, I studied creative writing and film studies at LJMU. As you can imagine, the potential employers were lining up around the corner to get a hold of me…
I did an internship for Liverpool Council to write about and produce educational materials for the Cunard 175 anniversary. I wrote about ships, which it turns out are interesting. My job involved research in the archives. I got to sit in a glass room with the cute little gloves that make you feel like you’re in the 1800s. You can’t even take pens in because you’ll kill the vibe.
Next, I asked for marketing experience and the council are only too happy to take any free labour they could get. So the tiny marketing department gave me some experience with more copywriting and also WordPress experience – which later helped me build my websites.
I was also a Digital Content Producer for LJMU Student Union, but the less said about that the better. I am NOT a filmmaker, turns out.
Can fiction writers become copywriters (and should they)?
So, more importantly after that narcissistic ramble, let’s get to the actual topic. Can and should and how do you become a copywriter if you’re a creative writer?
Yes, you can.
Yes, you should if you want to make a living as a writer and are good at it, can take feedback without crying too much, can write clearly and follow briefs strictly.
However, you should NOT become a copywriter if you’re only trying to sell your own creative writing. No, you can’t become a full-time person who sells their poetry or articles about Fight Club. I’m sorry.
Remember, it’s a business
First and foremost, I think writers should learn to embrace that this is all about business. These people hire you to create results that increase the value and profits of the business. You sell your experience, skill, business understanding and time.
You don’t have to feel grateful to be a writer. These employers and clients aren’t hiring you to be nice. And you don’t have to take shit from them, especially shit pay.
Everything you do as a content or copywriter is to provoke a desired response from the audience – usually to buy something. You are a providing a service to boost the profits of the company.
Does that sound a bit cold and joyless? Yes. Sorry.
But I think the sooner writers start to think about working as a writer as a business relationship with clients, the easier it is to be more objective about your work. This will help you start to get over impostor syndrome and the terror of feedback because you’re less attached to the work – which will help you improve your craft faster and earn more money.
Feedback is awful. I would prefer if everyone just loved the work and never criticised it because I’m sad already. But feedback is an important part of the job and is how you grow and get better. Sure, it will be awful sometimes. You’ll doubt whether you should even be a writer because your copy sounds like vomit. But some of us push through and just do it anyway, because what else would we do?
The problem for fiction writers
You spend all day writing, most of it about the dullest things imaginable, so it makes sense that the last thing you’d want to do when you go home is write more.
So you don’t write or you write in random bursts and swear you’re going to change and write more if only you put it in a calendar or Notion or whatever. But you more often than not don’t. That’s been me for a long time, but somehow I recently started writing more and looking forward to writing, even enjoying it. Wild.
I don’t know what it is, but I’m really trying to give it a go, hence why I’ve started this blog back up.
Overall, I’d say yeah if you like writing and can do it or learn it, yeah give it a go. Just know, like any industry there are highs and lows, and it can be tough for fiction writers to take feedback when they’re used to writing stories they dreamt up. But if you can move past that, I’d recommend trying it.
And no, it’s not about making lots of £5 jobs on Fiver or PeoplePerHour. If you can get experience and a portfolio together, you can start to get decent paid work.
My tips for becoming a copywriter
Find a speciality
I’ve found that you get typecast as a writer. If you have a bit of finance experience you end up with a lot of finance writing jobs. It makes sense. Every client wants someone experienced. I imagine the same is for someone specialising in tech or health or science.
That’s why a lot of freelancer writers out there recommend that you find a niche, get as much experience as possible in it, and start pitching for higher paying clients who will pay because you have that knowledge and experience that most people don’t. Bonus points if you can find something you enjoy writing about.
Get your taxes sorted
Whatever your country’s tax laws around being a self-employed writer, even if part-time or freelance, learn about them ASAP. You do not want to get in trouble with the tax people. `
Read a lot of copy
One of the best ways to learn is to study copywriting. Look at bad copy, trashy blogs, eye-catching headlines, academic research, and perhaps most importantly, pay attention to how people actually talk. Read books on copywriting, both old and new.
Write a lot of content
If you’re in a dry spell, especially early in your writing career, spend this time trying to hammer out different types of copy and articles. Experiment, improve, analyse. Doesn’t have to be for a client, it’s just practice.
If you have access to anyone who is versed in the copywriting world or even someone who writes books about dragons, anyone like them, ask for their feedback on your writing. It’ll mean more than coming from your mum, and you’re more likely to get helpful advice and critique.
Take that feedback in mind and work on improving areas you’re not strongest in. If you can get a mentor to help you improve, grab hold of any advice you can.
Accept that it might not be for you
Copywriting just isn’t right for everyone. I have, more often than I’d like to admit, wanted to give it up and swap to a totally different career. But that’s fine. It’s fine if it’s not for you. It’s fine if you want a break. It’s fine if you love it or slightly like it.
If anyone has any questions about becoming a copywriter, freelancing, balancing it with fiction etc, let me know down in the comments or ask me on Twitter.