Copywriter Katherine Wildman holding her trusty copy of Ogilvy on Advertising

How to become a copywriter

by | copywriting

Here's my route into copywriting, complete with book and training course recommendations
Copywriter Katherine Wildman holding her trusty copy of Ogilvy on Advertising

How to become a copywriter?

Everyone I know has taken a different route into the industry. But how I became the sort of person who brandishes a business card that says I am one is something I’m asked time and time again.

So – for what it’s worth – here’s my story. And my advice on how to take your first steps.

To study, or not to study…

I have always loved reading. And I have two English degrees (but don’t let that put you off, me or your ambitions).

One degree is in English Literature (three years of my life condensed into Jane Eyre, student nights, dancing on a podium, trying to adopt a Geordie accent, obscene quantities of beer, Frankenstein, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Greggs vanilla slices).

The other degree is an MA in Creative Writing (two years part-time of my life with two children and the beginnings of a personal melt down).

“Good morning, ING Barings. How can I help you?”

But I swear it’s the six years I spent working as a receptionist and switchboard operator that got me here. Oh, and the nights selling space in the Ad-mag. (I’d like to add the fortnight I spent selling double-glazing too, but even when I could actually say, “soffits and fascias” without coming over all Victoria Wood, I still couldn’t sell the buggers and got the sack.)

To listen and to learn

That’s because being a receptionist and talking to callers on the phone all day revolved around people. From the newspaper-famous politicians who’d come in to meet the investment bankers on the fifth floor, to the canteen staff who’d sneak you an extra dollop of tuna filling in your baguette at lunchtime if they liked you.

It revolved around what people wanted – access to the private meeting room suite, and fast, and what people needed – a friendly face in the queue at three o’clock in the afternoon when they were knackered.

The day when I nearly cried

Of course, writing of any kind helps. I like to see my MA tutor and buy him a large slab of cake and a hot chocolate on a regular basis because it was on his watch that I learned to write a lot. An awful lot. And to make sure it made sense. All the way through.

Copywriting in action

And this meant that when – by some happy accident – I was commissioned to write a global report for a telecoms companies very early on in my career, I only had a minor meltdown (cue head on desk, heart pounding, head swimming) when I saw the qualitative and quantitative reports I needed to digest, the transcriptions of the phone calls with a behavioural psychologist I needed to interpret – and the scrawled and barely legible notes I’d jotted down with the company’s head designer while in my sister’s kitchen in deepest Lancashire. Via a dreadful phone connection to Switzerland.

(Thanks, Steve)

All hail! Copyblogger to the rescue

After the crisis of confidence this created, I did what I’ve always done and bought books to find out the answers. Lots of books. And I began listening to Copyblogger radio with Sonia Simone, Brian Clark and Robert Bruce.

Copyblogger radio was an early part of the mammoth Internet Marketing for Smart People online course, and I listened to it every day for months. Tweeting my questions to Sonia and hopping up and down when she replied. Which she did. Always.

(You can find many of the original long-form transcripts from the show online – this one, with its section on ‘What Proctor & Gamble and soap operas have to do with content marketing‘, is the one that stuck with me).

That was back in 2011. Internet marketing was already big in the US, and it was beginning to make its way into the mainstream here as businesses of all sizes started to realise the power of blogging and social media. 

Copyblogger is still one of my go-to resources. It’s fascinating, entertaining and invaluable. To get started today as a copywriter today, you’d do well to get signed up for all their guides, training courses and blog posts.

Incredibly, it’s free.

Visit Copyblogger

The booklist to end all booklists

Now, I’ll keep this short and sweet because having bought just about every book on copywriting and marketing under the sun – the selection I refer to again and again is actually very small.

  1. Write to Sell – Andy Maslen (There’s a waiting list online. Join it.)
  2. The Copywriting Sourcebook – Andy Maslen (How to, well, everything.)
  3. Persuasive Copywriting – Andy Maslen (Like Jaffa Cakes. This is the smashing brainy science-y bit.)
  4. How to Write Sales Letters that Sell – Drayton Bird (Deep learning.)
  5. Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Advertising –  Luke Sullivan (Headlines.)
  6. Copywriting Made Simple – Tom Albrighton
  7. The Art of the Click – Glenn Fisher
  8. Read Me – Horberry and Lingwood
  9. Ogilvy on Advertising – David Ogilvy (Sales, swagger and sass.)
  10. Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott (Everything everything. Buy it for everyone you know for Christmas.)

As a Brucey Bonus, Henneke at Enchanting Marketing published a list of her favourite books on writing earlier this year. I’m adding that here too because it was a beautiful thing:

31+ Best Books on Writing for Copywriters, Storytellers, and Business Bloggers

Enter, Maz

Now, you’ll have noticed that one name features highly on my reading list. That of Andy Maslen.

Andy’s now the author of a series of thrilling thrillers that feature fast cars, bloody big guns and his enthralling protagonists, Gabriel Wolfe and Stella Cole.

He’s also the best copywriter I know.

As any marketer will tell you. Email is the King, Queen, Prince, Princess, Beyoncé and Clooney of Communications. And one day, a long time ago, an email pinged into my inbox from the man whose many copywriting books I’d bought – devoured – and loved.

Enter, IRL, Maz.

It was an invitation to his course, The Well–Paid Freelancer, and it was where I experienced a copywriter doing what copywriters do. He made me take action.

Reader, I booked my place.

If you take a quick look online, The Well-Paid Freelancer course is decorated with a wealth of testimonials – one of which is from yours truly:

“Since I took the course I have quadrupled my rates and am now getting the type of clients I wrote down in my A4 pad on the day of the course as ‘ideal’. Pretty good going, huh? Thanks again!”
Katherine Wildman, Creative Director, Haydn Grey Ltd

And it was this course that made the most enormous difference in terms of my career and in my getting to where I am today.

On that course I learned:

  • My worth
  • The value I bring to my clients
  • Where to find the clients I want
  • When and when not to use the f-word (not that one)
  • Why running a company called ‘Copywriter Newcastle’ was a bit daft if I wanted clients in London and across the world. (I think the line he used was, “Well, change the bloody name, woman!” – enter Haydn Grey, stage left. It worked.) 
Finding your tribe
Katherine Wildman at the Professional Copywriters' Conference

So, there I was. In Newcastle, watching the boats come in from my office window. Working with clients in London and booking Skype meetings at crazy times with people all over the world.

And then I got another email.

This time it was from fellow copywriters, Tom Albrighton and Ben Locker, who were building a new tribe. A tribe of copywriters.

The alliance of commercial writers is where over 700 copywriters have come together to promote their work, network with their peers and advance the profession. The Pro-Copywriters’ Network is a wonderful thing because:

a) its members are great people

b) my profile and blogs on the site help me find more work (this one about charging hourly rates is particularly contentious)

c) Director Leif Kendall invited me to speak at last years’ Pro-Copywriters’ Conference in London

How to become a copywriter by Katherine Wildman

d) I always use the website to remember where to add the apostrophe for collective nouns (true story)

Ready to become a copywriter?

So, there you have it.

Vanilla slices, double glazing, Sylvia Plath and all.

My thoughts on how to become a copywriter.

Written By Katherine

Katherine Wildman is a copywriter for creative agencies and multinational brands – and the Creative Director of Haydn Grey.

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