How to Fail Forward – to Ensure Success

I recently received the following email …

Dear Mr. Masterson:

My name is Carol and I am enrolled in your Advanced Program for Six-Figure Copywriting.

I am overwhelmed at this point. I thought I was doing well with each assignment, but now that I have my letter pretty much in order and complete, I find myself reading and re-reading – which leads to writing and re-writing. I just feel like I can’t get it together anymore.

Am I the only one who is overwhelmed or do others get this way?

I keep reading and re-reading information in the lessons and I get more confused. What can I do? Do you have a suggestion for me?

I appreciate any thoughts you can give me. Again, thank you.

Carol Snyder
Yuma, AZ

Here’s my advice for Carol – and anyone else who may be feeling the same way …

First, I can’t say the AWAI copywriting program is mine. It was originally based on my observations about good copy. But it has been consistently improved since then to include the insights and specific copywriting techniques of many of today’s most successful Master Copywriters, including Bill Bonner, Bob Bly, Paul Hollingshead, Don Mahoney, John Forde, Clayton Makepeace, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Jennifer Stevens and others.

Carol’s problem is not uncommon. At this year’s Bootcamp, I had a conversation with a young man who was dealing with the same issues. He called himself a “perfectionist.”

I told him what I’m going to tell you now.

When you’re writing copy, you can’t know what perfect is until you test it in the marketplace. Copywriter A may believe his copy is better than Copywriter B’s, but if the latter outpulls the former, then copy B is better.

Direct-response copywriting is not a subjective arena. It’s like sports. The team with the most points at the end of the game is the better team.

When you find yourself rewriting and re-editing your copy constantly, it is because of one of three things:

  • You have the idea that there is some ideal, perfect copy out there that you can achieve by refining your copy
  • You are writing copy before you have identified your prospect’s core complex.
  • You lack self-confidence and are afraid to subject your writing to criticism.

Do any of these reasons seem relevant to you?

If so, here’s what to do about them:

  1. Banish the idea that you can create perfect copy.

    There is no such thing as “perfect copy.” There is only copy that works well and copy that works less well. The marketplace is the judge of copy, not you and not anyone else you know – not even your mentor.

    The closest approximation you can get to the market is by doing a peer review (properly) with five or six people. Create a network or support group of fellow copywriters and subject your leads to peer reviews as soon as they are pretty good. Don’t wait for them to be perfect!

    The great thing about peer reviews is that if the copy rates a 2.8 or above on a scale of 1 to 4, you can usually bump it up a little in less than half an hour – in other words, take it from good to very good. Remember, very good is good enough to mail. Nobody – no matter how experienced – can predict how well very good copy will perform. Good marketers know this. They know that their job is to get good copy up to very good and then test that very good copy as soon as possible.

  2. Discover your prospect’s deep core complex.

    Sometimes you end up rewriting copy a lot because deep down you know the copy is mediocre. Rather than wasting a lot of time on revisions, subject it to a peer review after you’ve completed the first draft.

    If it scores low – below 2.7, say – then go back to your product and customer research and keep digging until you come up with a new and more exciting core complex. Remember, the core complex is a single, subtle feeling combined with a single tipping-point idea that, together, create an intellectual/emotional impulse to buy.

  3. Often, rewriting is simply a way to avoid criticism.

    You don’t want to find out what you secretly suspect: that your writing isn’t so good. Nobody does. If you feel that way, consider this: Every Master Copywriter began as an incompetent copywriter. To become masterful at any skill, you have to be willing to endure the reality of being incompetent … and then the reality of being simply competent when you want to be better.

    You have to put in the time. With good instruction and mentorship, you can achieve competence in about 500 to 600 hours and mastery in 2,500 to 3,000 hours. And if you use the AWAI peer review system, you will avoid unnecessary and hurtful negative criticism and you will learn faster. I strongly recommend you master that.

In short – and as odd as it sounds – you should take a “ready … fire … aim” approach to your copy. Get it ready. But don’t spend too much time aiming it. After you fire, you can see where the bullet hits and make any necessary adjustments. Fail forward! It’s the fastest way to succeed.

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 »

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Published: November 26, 2007

2 Responses to “How to Fail Forward – to Ensure Success”

  1. Dear Mr. Masterson, the thought that there can exist a system that I can fall back on encourages a lot. Where do I find the AWAI peer review system? Or if I have to set my own network, where do I find writers who I can help with?

    Prabu Rajasekaran

  2. Hi Prabu. I found this explanation of the peer review system for you. If you need to find other copywriters to work with you could try out the AWAI member forum.


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