This isn't a criticism or complaint. It's a fact. There are more people who call themselves writers than ever before and those people are competing for an average rate that is about half of what it was ten years ago. It's more than the market can bear, but that might finally be good news.
As organizations learn that all content is not created equal, more of them will be looking beyond the price point for qualities that set successful writers apart. Here are five. Do you have them?
Five qualities for top writers.
• Invest In First Impressions. David Ogilvy once said that if a print advertisement cost one dollar to produce, then you better spend 80 cents on the headline. This thinking extends to the first sentence too, especially long-form content like articles, brochures, and white papers.
The premise is sound. If you don't capture them with the headline, they won't read it. If you lose people with the first sentence then you've already lost. There isn't any better place to make a great first impression than first line of written content.
• Think Visually. Great writers aren't content with copy alone. It's often their ability to pair strong visual content — which attracts attention across all demographics — with strong words — messages that can be understood by everyone and have an emotional appeal to a specific few — that determines the success of their content.
Even when the message has no visual components, think visually anyway. The reasons bullets, breakout paragraphs, and pullout quotes work is that they lend a visual structure to the prose. Consider it.
• Understand People. Experienced commercial writers know there are three kinds of research. There is market research, big data research and people research. The latter is the most important even if most organizations give it the least amount of attention.
Spend time listening to people. It might be online chats or focus groups or lifestyle interviews or even by visiting a location to observe people at the point of contact, but the end game is always the same. Before writing for an audience, find out their perceptions, motivations, and attitudes.
• Plan Strategically. Creativity has always been an admired trait among copywriters, but being clever alone won't pay the bills. The best writers think strategically, always checking their work to ensure they haven't lost sight of the principal benefit, key public or primary objective.
Generating awareness is a given. You need to focus on the fine points such as generating a favorable emotional disposition, implanting information about key features and benefits, and building brand familiarity, recognition, and recall (among other things) in conjunction with awareness.
• Love The Craft. Great commercial writers have to love the craft so much that they have to possess a passion for writing while voluntarily compromising their sense of self-expression. It's not easy. Not everyone can do it.
You have to write creatively within confined parameters, accounting for everything from the organizational voice to the arbitrary opinions of every stakeholder in the process — clients and creative directors to editors and other random and sometimes unqualified critics who are provided a sneak peak at your work. Suffice to say that some of your best work will never be published.
Do you want to develop these qualities?
If you have an interest in being a better writer or if you would like to brush up on your skills, I teach a half-day Editing & Proofreading Your Work session at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) a few times a year. The next session will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, January 31. It would be great to see you there.
For something even more challenging, I will also teach Writing For Public Relations this spring. The 10-week course has an emphasis on public relations, but anyone who has ever taken it has come out a better writer on the other side of it. All classes run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. with first class held Thursday, February 12. Assignments range from articles and press releases to advertisements and online content.
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