How to Become a Great Copywriter, Not Just a Competent One

Several years ago, when I was just beginning in this gig called copywriting, I had some copy reviewed by John Forde. By and large, the comments were good. He told me I was a competent copywriter and would probably have a good career. But, he said, I would NEVER be a great copywriter.

This smacked me in the face like the cold winter wind does when I leave my house up here in the mountains. Of course, I appreciated hearing I was competent. But I wanted more – so much more – as a copywriter. I wanted to be great.

And so do you. You want to be a great copywriter … not just a competent one.

AWAI teaches you all the secrets you need to be a great copywriter, to make a living that allows YOU to make the choices in your life. But some of those secrets are more critical than others. Some form the core of strong writing that will make you sought after by clients … that will make you truly great.

John didn't just hit me with his comments when he reviewed my copy that day. He gave me a solution – a solution based on one of those core secrets.

I have used this secret to strengthen my copy, and I've taught it to many of my coaching students. The secret involves an easy – and fun – approach to making your copy much, much stronger.

What John told me was that I would never be a great copywriter if I didn't love two things: the product and the prospect. He was right. I always "loved" the product (or some aspect of it). I couldn't write about it if I didn't believe in it. But I didn't love the prospects. How could I? THEY were strangers.

How can YOU love your prospects when you don't know them?

You cannot love your PROSPECTS. But you can love your PROSPECT – singular, lone, one person. How do you do this?

A hit song from 1958 by the Teddy Bears holds the true, core secret: "To Know, Know, Know Him Is to Love, Love, Love Him."

If you want to write strong, great, killer copy, you MUST know your prospect intimately. You must know her so well that she is real to you. If she is not real to you, you – and your copy – will not be real to her. But if she is real to you, your copy will sing to her.

Here is how I get my students to get to know their prospect (SINGULAR):

You start with the product information. Mine it for as many features and potential benefits as you can. While doing so, start formulating a vague picture of one person to whom these features and benefits will be appealing.

Then you look at the data cards. How old are the people in your prospect universe? Are they predominantly male or female? How much money do they make a year? What products have they bought? WHAT DO THESE PRODUCTS SAY ABOUT THE PERSON WHO BOUGHT THEM?

So far, this is pretty straightforward. It now gets a little more complex but also more fun. The next step, I borrow from one of the best delineators of character in American fiction, Orson Scott Card.

Once you have gathered your huge array of information, start sculpting it into a real person. Male? Female? What color hair? How old? (Not a range, but a specific age.) Married? Children? How old are the children?

Sculpt, form, imagine. Yes, you are getting very specific in this profile. But in doing so, you are making your prospect real.

Once you have this rich picture, make it richer. What are her hopes, aspirations, loves, and fears? What makes her really angry? These are not really emotions. I call them "psychological motivators" – and it is from these that your prospect's emotions arise. Do not, at this point, limit yourself to psychological motivators that relate only to your product. If you do, you will (I promise) miss the most critical ones. Dig deep. Dig carefully.

Once you have this beautifully complete picture of your prospect (singular person), you give your prospect a name. A name? Yes. A name. You will find when you do this, you will have based your picture on a real person or a composite of several people whom you know.

This is your prospect. This is the one, lone, singular person to whom you write. If you're having problems getting into the writing at this point, do what I suggest to my coaching students. Write a personal letter to your prospect. "Dear Jeanine. How are the kids? How is Harry doing after the back surgery? Bummer. I know how difficult recuperation from back surgery can be. If there's anything I can do, let me know."

Where is the product? Later on, you bring it into the letter – but you do so by telling your friend about some fantastic product, opportunity, information resource you have discovered. You talk to her as if you were chatting over coffee or beer. You make it real.

I've had many students question whether this approach is too personal. Let me leave you with this: It is far easier to write effective, killer copy for your personalized prospect and have it be broad enough to pull in a large part of your prospect universe than it is to pitch a sale to a "demographic."

To know him is to love him … and to be able to sell a product that will make him happier, healthier, or more satisfied.

Good writing!

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


Click to Rate:
No ratings yet
Published: November 10, 2003

Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)


This name will appear next to your comment.


Your email is required but will not be displayed.


Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters


Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)