Move Over Genghis Khan:
How to Be Ruthless With Your Copy and
Beat It Into an “A-Level” Masterpiece

After being laid off, AWAI Wall of Famer Gary Hennerberg was fed up with relying on other people for his financial security.

He was determined to make things happen for himself and fly solo.

Turns out it was one of the best decisions of his life!

Today, Gary and his family live in a dream home, and he can afford luxury automobiles and wonderful vacations.

And more importantly, says Gary, “I’m in charge of my own life and set my own schedule. As I tell my friends, “I’m no longer burdened with employment. Copywriting is the best job I’ve never had.”

That’s because clients seek him out. And ever since 2003 he’s been able to beat the previous year by $50,000 and more, writing for clients in a variety of industries, including financial services and newsletters.

So how’d Gary get so good?

He’s both ruthless and relentless when it comes to his copy. No verb, adjective, past participle, simile, metaphor, or punctuation mark is safe around Gary and his trusty old red pen.

It’s a habit Gary’s had since his days as an editor for his college newspaper. And a commitment to excellence he’s developed as a current member of an internationally known, championship chorus.

With each pass, his copy becomes stronger and stronger. Until eventually, it’s as strong as it can possibly be.

In fact, this very process was responsible for Gary beating one of his client’s 8-year-long controls by 60%!

Here are a few editing tips you can use for yourself and turn your copy into a control-crushing masterpiece:

  1. Overwrite. Write more than you need to. It’s always easier to cut, edit, and move around than it is to not have enough material to work with and have to come up with more. Plus, by having more copy, you have more ideas to pull from when you’re editing. Sometimes it takes a page or two to get warmed up before the “good stuff” comes out.
  2. Print out your copy and grab a red pen. It’s much easier to edit while you’re physically holding your copy in your hands. Find a comfortable place to sit. For Gary, once of the best places is to go have lunch by himself at a restaurant with all his copy laid out, and then go through it nice and slow.  
  3. Put your copy through a checklist. As you read your copy, go through either a mental checklist or a physical one. Do you have a big idea? Did you satisfy the Four U’s? Are you using the Power of One? Is there enough credibility? Are there enough specifics? A good idea would be to write out all these tests and formulas that make a sales letter great and create a checklist. Then whenever you edit your copy, take it out to serve as a reminder of what to look for.
  4. Check your language. Make sure you’re using the jargon your prospect would use. Avoid passive voice, and instead use descriptive, action verbs. Mark any areas that may seem confusing, boring, unbelievable or awkward. Be sure to include transitions that smoothly guide your prospect from one idea to the next. From one benefit to the other.
  5. Make changes. By this point, your copy should be dripping in red ink. Make all the changes to your copy. Congratulate yourself. You’ve gone through the first round of being a relentless editor. Now let your copy sit for a little bit, before moving on to step 6.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5. Once you’ve had some time away from your copy and have a fresh, new set of eyes, it’s time to go through the process again. This time around, you might catch things that weren’t apparent before because you may have been too close to the copy. Keep going through this editing process until you feel that no word, phrase, or paragraph can be deleted. Every word in your copy is carrying its own weight and serves its own purpose. You end up with a streamlined, lean, effective, persuasive, powerful piece of copy without an ounce of extra fat on it. 

If you’d like a more in-depth explanation of Gary’s ruthless editing process, check out his Golden Thread article, “Scoring Copy and Singing With the Champs.”

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Published: December 31, 2008

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