Olympic athletes. Concert pianists. Copywriters? Most people don’t put direct sales copywriting in the same league with some of the more visible pursuits that require high degrees of skill, such as sports or music. However, when it comes to developing the ability do any of these things well, there is something they all have in common.
Flight of the Bumblebee
In 2012, Taylor Sterling, a young man from Melbourne, attempted to take the title of “Fastest Guitar Player in the World” in the the Guinness Book of World Records.
The standard piece of music that Guinness requires the title-seeker to play is “Flight of the Bumblebee.” It’s among the most demanding solo pieces in the world—two minutes of buzzing, rapid-fire notes with a few very short rests. That’s probably why Guinness requires it.
The composer of “Flight,” Nickolai Rimsky-Korsakov, wrote it to be played at 170 beats per minute—plenty fast enough for most listeners. Sterling played it at that speed and then proceeded to play it eight more times, each time at a higher speed until he reached 999 beats per minute. His hands looked like when you fast-forward a video, while everything else around him continued to move at normal pace. (You can find a video of it on YouTube.)
The only way to achieve the level of skill necessary to play “Flight” is by doing it hundreds or perhaps thousands of hours of finger and hand exercises on your instrument. These increase strength and accuracy and develop the efficiency of movement that enables a person to play really fast.
Once a musician has developed substantial speed, they would begin practicing “Flight” at about 40 to 50 beats per minute and work up to 170.
No, you didn’t accidentally land on a music blog, but this musical example is a fitting analogy for what it takes to be able to write effective copy for your landing pages, ads, and emails.
Transcending the Mechanics
The first thing to know about effective sales copy—the kind that creates conversions—is that it contains a limited number of specific elements that must be present in order for it to create the desired effect.
They include such things as:
For an aspiring copywriter, learning about these elements is similar to when a musician learns that there are only 12 notes in all of music.
However, identifying the elements of effective copy is only the start. From there, you’ve got to get an understanding of how these various elements work together.
This is where the musician/copywriter analogy connects.
A pianist, guitarist, or any other musician does exercises to build dexterity. Over and over, they run the same patterns up and down the keys or strings of their instrument, slowly at first, and then building up speed.
In doing this, they internalize the experiences of finger pressure and balance, as well as the coordinating of both hands. They absorb the relationships between notes played one after the other. By doing so, they arrive at a point where they no longer think about music, but simply “feel” it. They have transcended the mechanics of both their instrument and their hands and are free to simply create.
When you sit down to write copy for your offer, you want to have reached the point where you no longer have to think in terms of leads and benefits and other copy elements and how they work together. You want to simply be able to sit down and create copy that works.
Similar to musicians, copywriters can achieve that state through a specialized kind of rote learning.
Copywriting by Rote
Rote learning has gotten a bad reputation with some people, due to the progressive education movement. However, rote learning—the mechanical or habitual repetition of something to be learned—is what builds the total familiarity with a subject that frees the student to be capable or productive within that subject.
For a copywriter, rote learning consists of two steps:
- Reading effective copy
- Copying effective copy word for word
It’s that simple: you find examples of successful sales copy and read it. Then read it again. Read it every morning for two weeks. That’s how you start to get a “feel” for how effective copy is put together, how it moves and develops reader interest, culminating in a strong desire to buy.
But what truly internalizes it is copying it down. Get some paper and a pen and start copying the sales copy word for word, sentence for sentence. Don’t use a word processor for this; you will get a lot more out of it by connecting pen to paper. Pay attention to the words as you copy them. Copy the entire piece two or three times. By the end, you will have a much better understanding of how to write good copy.
Sources of Effective Copy
So, who are the most successful copywriters of all time and where can you find examples of their copy to use in rote learning?
Some of the best, in no particular order, include Don Schulz, John Caples, Joe Sugarman, Eugene Schwartz, Gary Halbert, Brian Clark, John Forde, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Denny Hatch, Clayton Makepeace, Gary Bencivenga, Michael Masterson, John Carlton, and Dan Kennedy.
To see their work, buy a collection of particularly effective advertisements or direct response copy. Professional copywriters build these collections, called “swipe files,” of pieces that particularly impress them, for future use and inspiration. Google “swipe file” and you’ll find some that are free and some that cost. Sometimes, by Googling the name of a particular copywriter plus the words “copy example” or “swipe,” you can find some examples of their past work.
Lastly, the American Writers and Artists Institute sells a collection called Hall of Fame, which contains 50 all-time best-selling direct mail sales letters.
Capable copywriters aren’t born, they’re developed.
Any writer who knows what they are doing and who consistently produces quality work will tell you that reading is just as important as writing. And so it is with copywriting.
Do some reading and “roting” before you begin writing.