A beginner’s guide to copywriting: 6 essential reads to get you started
So you think you might be a copywriter. A single journey can be one big reading fest, as you scrutinise long-copy ads, or stop to stare at snappy (or shocking) headlines. You get excited when you spot an amusing banner ad, clever pun or witty window display; and take note when a brand tries out a new tone of voice. Or maybe you just love a good book, and appreciate a fantastic turn of phrase. But whether you’re a budding copywriter or a designer looking to get more creative with words, how do you get started in the world of commercial writing? We asked master copywriter and tutor at the School of Communication Arts, Vikki Ross, whose clients include Sky, Sainsbury’s and ITV. Here, she recommends some top-notch resources to help you craft your very own lines of copy.
Copywriting: Read all about it!
Read anything and everything. Any time. All the time. All week and all weekend. At the supermarket, the gym, the coffee shop, the bus stop, the train station, and the pub. Words are everywhere – in leaflets, papers, and magazines, and online, on signs, on walls and on windows wherever you go.
The more you read, the more words you have going around your mind ready to come out the moment you start writing. And the more words you read that are for different products and different people, the more styles you have access to, too.
As for books, read as many as you can from any genre and by anyone. But for books specifically helpful for copywriters, here are my favourites:
1. How To Write Better Copy by Steve Harrison
I read this in two hours – it’s a comprehensive masterclass in conversational copywriting, written by the master of Direct Marketing.
Also from Steve Harrison:
How To Do Better Creative Work
Changing the World is the Only Fit Work for a Grown Man
2. Persuasive Copywriting by Andy Maslen
This is the science bit – the bit that tells you how to write copy that makes the audience think, feel and most importantly, do. So do read it.
Also from Andy Maslen:
Write to Sell
Write Copy, Make Money
The Copywriting Sourcebook
100 Great Copywriting Ideas
3. Read Me: 10 Lessons for Writing Great Copy by Roger Horberry and Gyles Lingwood
10 chapters with an exercise or two at the end of each so you can put what you read into practice as you go.
4. Hey Whipple, Squeeze This! by Luke Sullivan
The who does what and how in an agency. Imagine being given a handbook on your first day – this is that.
5. The Copy Book by D&AD
Over 50 of the world’s best and most awarded copywriters have each written a chapter and shared their work in this book of wonder. If it was food, you’d eat it.
6. The Elements of Fucking Style by Chris Baker and Jacob Hansen
The boring stuff made hilarious and therefore memorable. You must get the basics right because errors and typos distract readers from the important stuff.
Books by Dave Trott, Paul Arden, John Hegarty and Bob Hoffman
The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton
Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy
Book of Ideas by Radim Malinic
The Art of Creative Thinking by Rod Judkin
Junior: Writing Your Way Ahead in Advertising by Thomas Kemeny
The Art of the Click by Glenn Fisher
Copywriting Is by Andrew Boulton
Pressure Makes Diamonds by Valerie Graves
Macy's, Gimbels, and Me by Bernice Fitz-Gibbon
A couple more recommendations
It’s brilliant for flicking through and swooning over crafty headlines that play with words. The images are pretty sexy too.
Take Fucking Risks
Mellor & Smith get the biggest names in the industry to rock up and whip a huge audience into shape. Previous events have included Dave Trott, Cindy Gallop, Bob Hoffman and Mr Bingo.
Each year, a star-studded line-up reads a letter of note from the brilliant Letters of Note and More Letters of Note. The readers are never announced so you don’t know who’s doing a reading until each one is introduced on the night.
Don’t forget to look up and around too. We’re in the business of talking to people and they’re all over the place so tune in: listen to what they say and watch what they do. Your phone doesn’t need your attention – the world does.
Mention Vikki Ross
Written by Vikki Ross