Behind the Scenes …
How AWAI Staff Copywriters
Improve Their Writing

Today … a look behind the scenes to see how our staff copywriters here at AWAI work on improving their writing. (This exercise is easy for you to do at home too.)

Below, you’ll see an email exchange between Guillermo Rubio, from when he was an AWAI staff writer, and Master Copywriter Paul Hollingshead.

From: Guillermo
To: Paul Hollingshead
Subject: Guillermo’s Daily Headline + Lead

Hi Paul,

Below is an exercise Michael suggested I do to improve my skills.

Every morning, before 10:30 am, he wants me to write a headline and lead on any topic, 100-150 words in length, and send it out to the AWAI copy team for a rating. When I receive the ratings back, he says I should spend a few minutes contemplating why the copy got those ratings. He said that eventually, after doing this 100 or so times, I’ll start “getting” it and improve my writing.

Would you please take a look at what I’ve written below and rate it on a scale of 1 – 4? (It’s for a fictional personal finance product.)


Finally! Get Rid of Debt Once and for All …

Transform Your Debt Into Wealth

More than one million people worldwide have used this system to become debt-free, and build a retirement nest egg most only dream of – Will you be one of them?

Dear Friend:

Now you can become completely debt free (including your home mortgage) in only 5 to 7 years … allowing you to finally live the life you could only dream of before … while building real wealth starting from your first month using this system, almost automatically.


Not if you believe what over one million people across the globe are now saying …

From: Paul Hollingshead
To: Guillermo
Subject: Guillermo’s Daily Headline + Lead

G …

I’d give the headline a 2.8 … and the lead a 2.5.

The headline: I like the “Transform Debt into Wealth” idea, but the top subhead weakens it by suggesting this is a get-rid-of-debt program. Also, I don’t think the one million number helps with exclusivity – and you need to make the “system” seem like something very special.

The lead: The first sentence is too long. Stick to one idea at a time. And make a more specific promise.

Not knowing what the system is, of course, here’s an example of what I mean … by adding specificity and making it unique:

“Turn Your Smothering Debt Into Liberating Wealth

How to transform $200,000 in debt into $2,000,000 cash using this little-known, government-sponsored “Plus Zero” Wealth Strategy

Dear Friend …

Today could be the last day you spend saddled with debt.

And I’m not talking about scrimping and saving for years to pay off your bills.

Using a brand-new government-sponsored program, you can not only erase your debt once and for all – but become fabulously wealthy in the process.

In fact, the more debt you have – the wealthier you will become.

We call it the “Plus Zero” Wealth Strategy. Why? Because you simply take what you owe and add a zero. That’s how much wealth your debt is worth. If you owe $10,000 – you can turn it into $100,000 in wealth. If you owe $50,000 – you can turn it into $500,000 or more.

Have a $250,000 mortgage? Here’s how to turn it into $2,500,000 cash.

In a moment, I’ll share the details of this amazing system …

But first allow me to share with you the unique circumstances that make this amazing “debt-to-wealth” transformation system possible …

From: Guillermo
To: Paul
Subject: Guillermo’s Daily Headline + Lead

Thanks, Paul, excellent comments.

It’s incredibly valuable for me to see the process of “fixing” copy.

Thanks again,


From: Paul Hollingshead
To: Guillermo
Subject: Guillermo’s Daily Headline + Lead

This is a very good exercise for you to be doing. Copy’s a lot like golf. To be good, you need to spend a lot of time on the driving range. Exercises like this are your “range time,” where you work on specific skills. Writing “live” is your course time, where you put all that practice into play.

This is a lot like what Oxford Club is doing in Florida every Tuesday morning with Jay’s group. A bunch of new copywriters get together with The Wall Street Journal – read it for half an hour, then have another half-hour to come up with a headline and lead from a story that grabbed their interest.

I’ve been watching what comes out of it, and there’s some very good stuff.

Now it’s your turn:

Writing every day is the best way I know for you to improve your writing skills.

And I suggest you do the same thing Guillermo does. Every morning, before 10:30 am, write a headline and lead that is 100-150 words in length. You can write it based on something you read in the newspaper … hear on the radio or TV … or find online.

Send it to 3 or 4 people for a rating … preferably fellow copywriters. (You can always go to the AWAI forum and put together a group there.)

Ask your group to rate the headline and lead separately on a scale of 1 – 4, with 4 being “This is great! I have to read more” and 1 being “No thanks. Not interested.”

As Michael told Guillermo, it might take 100 tries before you really start to “get it” … but you will. And your writing will be much stronger.

– Katie

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:
Average: 4.9
Published: April 28, 2008

9 Responses to “Behind the Scenes … How AWAI Staff Copywriters Improve Their Writing”

  1. I love the discipline! Discipline and time management. I'm forging 2 hours a day for my Accelerated Copywriting programme.

    Chris the Voice

  2. Writing at 4 a.m. and until 500 words were completed became Jack London's discipline.

    M M Wagner

  3. I like this one. . .maybe that's what I need to get up at 4 am for!


  4. Great suggestion - time for me to stop making excuses and do it!

    Suresh Nair

  5. Well. This is serious. Off to the forums to find some people with whom I can do this.


  6. I'm excited to get into doing this once I get further through the 6-Figure Copywriting program.

    I'll probably need a loud alarm, an energy drink and someone to hold me accountable every morning, but I want to do this. I want to practice until I write blazing copy that readers can't resist!


  7. In all ways to the success, an intelligent routine and hard work looks to be indispensable.


  8. You won't believe this. I went to

    Found a health-related article. Used this exercise based on the headline.

    I know I have a new idea and starter copy for an upcoming e-book.

    This exercise WORKS!

    Guest (Clyde McDade)

  9. Wow! Just found this absolute treasure of an article. Such a simple idea but makes so much sense, like Michael Jordan shooting hoops hours after team practice.

    I'm in the peculiar predicament of both wanting to start this crazy little thing called copywriting... yet being totally broke.

    Until I can scrape some cash together for Circle of Success in Spring 2016 (fingers crossed), I'll be applying this exercise daily in the meantime.

    Anyone wanna form a FB critique group for this exercise? Inbox me personal dot tomoakley at gmail dot com

    Guest (Tom Oakley )

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