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Authors need copywriting skills these days – whether it's writing the description for your book sales page or effective blog posts, it's important to be able to communicate effectively.
In today's podcast, I interview Mindy McHorse who is a successful freelance copywriter who doesn't believe in the myth of the poor writer shivering in the garret. We discuss her tips for improving your copywriting as well as building a business.
In the intro I talk about some of my insights from the FutureBook conference, my NaNoWriMo experience and the upcoming release of Exodus.
Interview with Mindy McHorse: Copywriter
Mindy McHorse is a freelance copywriter and marketing specialist as well as the editor of The Barefoot Writer Magazine.
- Mindy always wanted to be a writer but not a starving artist, so she went into management and “real” jobs. But she didn't fit with the traditional model of commuting and office work, so she decided to become a freelancer. She found out about AWAI – American Writer's and Artist's Inc which has a lot of information and training for copywriters.
- She researched copywriting and found it was a viable career option with a considerable potential for income. It seemed like the best-kept secret in writing for a living. Of course, her business didn't take off immediately and she had to do some training around what effective copywriting was and also start networking with other copywriters. She also needed to acknowledge it as a business, which was a mentality shift. It's been five years now and Mindy loves it!
What is copywriting anyway?
- Copywriting is persuasive writing that includes a call to action. It is writing with an end goal in sight e.g. people buy your book, or subscribe to your list.
- Persuasive doesn't mean it has to be fake and ‘salesy'. It's about writing a message that connects with the right person, and gives them something valuable and the action they take is something they want to do. Yes, there is an element of hype in some copywriting but it is dependent on the niche you're writing in and what is appropriate. I mention hyperbole, which is a kind of hype, that we all use in the book blurb. There are many levels of copywriting and it's about what you as the writer wants to focus on.
Tips for copywriting
- Speak to the reader, rather than focusing on yourself. Using the word ‘I' is a red flag.
- Go beyond the features and look for the benefits. The reader doesn't want a 246 page paperback, they want a story that will transport them to another world and give them an emotional rollercoaster.
- Include a call to action. Direct the reader to buy your book, or download a sample, or click to subscribe. People actually take more action if you tell them to do it. Saying “click here now” will actually increase your conversion rate.
Why your author blog isn't working
- The headlines on most author blogs are pretty bad. There is an art to headlines and means the posts are more likely to be read and shared on the social networks.
- Use benefits and keywords in the headline e.g. the headline to this post is “Copywriting and making money as a writer” – isn't that more interesting than “Interview with Mindy McHorse” which doesn't say what is in the article.
- Think: Useful, ultra-specific, urgent, unique
- Don't be clever with headlines. This is not a fiction book title. Use words that are obvious, not obscure. You are giving a promise to the reader.
- Write your post first and then your headline.
Copywriting as a business
- If you start writing as a business in any form, there will be people who are on the journey with you, so connect with others.
- Anything can be improved. Editing is a way to improve our writing. In the same way, we need to improve our online presence over time, BUT you need to get started and improve over time. Don't wait until everything is perfect based on your fear of judgement and failure.
- #1 recommendation: Setup a profile on LinkedIn. [ I'm not sure this is so effective for fiction authors, but for non-fiction it is definitely a must-do ~ Joanna] Include things that make you unique, showcase where you are with your writing. Don't include your employment history unless it relates to your writing. Connect with people in your industry and other writers.
- Other writers are not your competition. There is such a great need for paid content writing, there will always be enough to go around. This is not a ‘zero sum' game. Writers are your support group and your community. This is co-opetition. Be generous and help each other and this benefits everyone.
- #2 recommendation: Setup your own website so you have a base for people to find you on the internet. Start your email list so you have people to talk to, and market to over time.
How to make money with copywriting
- Decide on what your writing goals are, and also what your income goals are. Many people who want to write don't do it for the money. But if you want to make an income, you need to find the best way to do that.
- Become connected within the community – use your online platform to showcase your writing. Go to conferences and meet people. Understand who to approach. Magazines and newspapers don't pay well, sites that cater to the lowest bidder don't pay well either.
- Decide on your niche. You'll make money money, more quickly if you pick a topic as you can be a specialist. e.g. Business to business, health, pet industry etc. You can then target companies and sites within that. They also need to understand the value of good copy, which means they will pay more.
- The Barefoot Writer is a magazine from AWAI that Mindy edits. It is for a magazine and community of people wanting to make a good living with copywriting. It includes info on choosing a niche, how to get business and features of successful writers.
You can find Mindy at MTM Copywriting where she has great blog articles and tips for copywriting. She is also on twitter @MindyMcHorse
“Speak to the reader, rather than focusing on yourself.”
So true. When I revise back cover copy for books, one of the first things I do is look for statements that praise the book or the author without explaining how the book will benefit the reader. Readers don’t care how wonderful you are. They only care about how your particular brand of wonderfulness will help them or entertain them. If you don’t make that part clear, they’ll wander off in search of something else to read.
Joanna Penn says
absolutely – readers don’t care about the author really – all they want is entertainment or information. I think if we all remember that, we won’t get too precious 🙂
Leanne Dyck says
Thank you for this interesting and informative interview. Excellent advice on how to write headlines as well as how to inspire your readers to act.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Leanne, I really think most authors who blog get headlines completely wrong! and yet that can be the thing stopping them from getting traffic and interest. In this crazy, fast world, we need every edge we can get to attract attention!
Erika Maki says
What type of Kindle do you use Joanna, and why? I’m thinking about purchasing an e-reader for the first time.
Joanna Penn says
Hi Erika, I have just moved to the Paperwhite, which I LOVE! It feels lovely and the adjustable light level is fantastic. Definitely get the 3G version as it is addictive to be able to buy on the move. I highly recommend going digital – I read so much more now!
Hi Joanna and Mindy,
So true! Well done Mindy.
Marketing your book is much like marketing any product – you need to establish plenty of What’s In It For Me’s (WIIFMs), and hooks that identify who your target market is and why they should read your book. The benefits are often intangible, or even emotional, but this really works for authors because most products sell on their emotional need fulfillment for the buyer.
Love the blog Joanna – I still read it religiously (!) and love how far you’ve come and what you’re doing. You are the ‘how to do it’ for aspiring authors. Success is just bloody hard work at the end of the day.
Joanna Penn says
Success is definitely hard work over the long term – always has been, always will be! So we might as well work hard at what we love right! Thanks for your support of the blog 🙂
Julie M. Rodriguez says
Yes, yes, yes, yes!! I’m a professional copywriter for an internet publisher and it’s given me the chance to finally make a decent living with my writing. I love my job, my coworkers are awesome, and I sell products that actually help people improve their lives. There’s basically no downside.
I just wish that instead of spending years of my life telling me get a degree and a “real job” so I could enjoy my writing “hobby” on the side… one of my friends or family members had actually sat me down to tell me, “Okay, there’s actually a way you can make a good living as a writer. You see those ads on TV? Those pages selling products online? Someone got paid to write those. Let’s find out how you can learn to break into that field.” It would have saved me so much time and energy, and a lot of sleepless nights.
Instead, I had to figure it out on my own, over the course of YEARS spent working horrible jobs that barely paid the bills. I basically decided I’d had enough a year ago – I was already freelancing on the side because my job didn’t pay enough to live on, so I just took the plunge, quit my day job, and started writing full time. I really started marketing myself on LinkedIn and freelance sites, got a few good steady gigs, and learned everything I could about copywriting. Within 6 months I was recruited by an amazing company and I haven’t looked back since.
So, you know, everything worked out for the best…but I really wish I hadn’t built up a bunch of student loan debt on courses that have nothing to do with my career while I figured everything out. 😉
Joanna Penn says
Congrats Julie! That’s great you are now full-time – sounds like you went into it about the same time as me. It took me 13 years of being a miserable IT consultant to get to the point of being a full-time author-entrepreneur! But the web wasn’t really available for us 10 + years ago, or even that accessible even 5-6 years ago, the technology wasn’t easy back then – but at least we’re in the right place now!
Elizabeth Cairns says
Hi Joanna, Mindy
Another fantastic podcast with some great instantly applicable stuff, thank you.
I’ll be revising the headlines on Mikes blog this evening as it’s something that definately needs work. I think we have been guilty of trying to be too clever with some of them and so just ending up being ambiguous. We thought “dragons are generally cool” would be a sure fire winner…erm nope just a bit random. I realise now it’s probably better off as something along the lines of “the must read list of what makes the fantasy genre so cool” .
Before we publish something I so often have your words in my head Jo about keeping the promise to the reader. It’s so important and I guess that the headline is the place we start in setting that expectation.
Great to hear such enthusiasm from you both too and wonderful to hear two great and successful writers who share my philosophy that there’s no such thing as competition. Bring on the love in 🙂
Sorry this is turning into a bit of a long comment, one further thought/question:
One challenge Mike and I have with headlines is making them compelling enough and short enough to make them easy for people to re-tweet on twitter. Too many characters and it makes it hard for people to RT but too short and it becomes hard to make them really specific. Any thoughts always appreciated.
Keep up the great work, we are learning so much
Have a great Christmas
Joanna Penn says
Sounds like revising headlines is a great idea Elizabeth & your revised version of the dragons post is a good one. Don’t change the URL obviously as that is already live. You can also use a plugin like All-In-One SEO for wordpress which also allows you to put in keywords and SEO headlines plus an excerpt which will also help. Then I suggest after it is live, you use Stumbleupon to put the post within that search engine, as well as submitting to G+, FB and Twitter (it doesn’t take that long to do each time and pays dividends for traffic!)
Re tweetable headlines – make sure the keywords are near the front as people like me will tend to shorten from the end 🙂
Elizabeth Cairns says
Thanks Joanna, will download the plug in for wordpress – I do love how easy wordpress makes everything!!
Haven’t put anything up on stumbleupon yet so will do in addition to twitter, thanks for the tip.
Facebook profile on my list of things to sort for Mike, i’ve got to admit have been putting it off as it’s not my fave social media haunt myself but I think its probably essential for Mike. I guess all this is good to get into a rhythm with while the blog is in the early stages, at least i’ve only got 38 posts to go through. My own blog…a whole other headache to look forward to 🙂
There is an AWFUL lot of controversy on the web about whether or not The Barefoot Writer and AWAI is nothing but a big huge scam. I spent hours reading about it, till my eyes were ready to pop, and in the end, I found it impossible to sort through so many opinions to find out what the truth really is about their course “Accelerated Program for Six Figure Copywriting.” Please, please, PLEASE Joanna . . . can you end this for me for once and for all? You’re obviously trusted by thousands of us out here. Your opinion will go a long way for me, and I’m sure plenty of other confused writers out there (AWAI just put a ginormous ad in the Writer’s Digest Magazine, which will no doubt fire the controversy all over again!). THANKS SO MUCH!
Joanna Penn says
I’m sorry, but I can’t comment on whether the AWAI is a scam. I can only say that I enjoyed talking to Mindy and she seemed very open and honest about her own situation. But I am not a freelance writer, or a member of AWAI so I can’t comment. Apologies – perhaps you could speak to someone there, or ask them for people you can talk to who actually are members. All the best, Joanna
Russell Foreman says
Is there a need for copywriters in the “Dance Industry and/or ancillary businesses? ……”dance”most definitely my interest and background. Retired and ready to roll; please advise!!!
Thanks for another great show to make the Devil’s chore of washing up substantially less miserable. Hopefully there’s some osmosis happening, and I don’t mind from the suddy Matmos into my prostituted hands either, but from all of the wonderful knowledge flying about in your shows into my addled mind.
You know what would be great on this website Joanna – if people got sent an email when someone responded to a message they wrote. Cos otherwise, unless you deliberately go back and check, you’ve no way of knowing when someone’s replied. And maybe thats a deliberate choice in which case fair enough. Just my ten penneth worth.
#mind = mean
(note to self: edit better!)