charts The art of great copywriting

Copywriting is a niche within content writing. We asked a copywriter to share her tips on great copywriting.

Siobhan Climer is a copywriter and content strategist. She is also the founder of Lore Writing School, an online school and community for all kinds of writers, including fiction writers, copywriters, content writers, freelancers, poets, and business folks who write a lot of emails. I interviewed Siobhan about the art of copywriting, and her work through Lore.

What's your background in professional writing?

Obviously, I'm passionate about writing. What's more interesting, I think, are the skills that make for strong writers. Things like being a good listener. A good observer. Being curious. Being empathetic. 

My career has spanned a dozen fields. I started in botany and biology, taught nature camp and hiked through Massachusetts with kids aged five to fifteen, worked in restaurants, conducted linguistics research, sheared sheep in Ireland, freelanced for small businesses and global billion-dollar companies, taught second through fourth grade, led STEM workshops, edited top-tier neuroscience publications, launched epic Twitter B2B cybersecurity campaigns, and developed copy, content, and strategy in agency settings. 

Lore offers a single place for writers to grow. It's not an easy job to understand. Unlike accountants or teachers or web developers, there's no straightforward road from degree to career. That's why I founded Lore. To shine a light on the path to being a writer and empower those who write everywhere to proudly call themselves "a writer."

I help writers develop the hard and soft skills of writing and build a writing career.

How do you define copywriting? What is the role of a copywriter?

Copywriting is the poetry of marketing. 

In business, you have sales and marketing - often poorly aligned teams - trying to drive growth (aka "get more money") for the business. 

To do this, you need to write stuff. Why? Because you need to communicate an idea to those to whom you're selling. You need to create websites and product descriptions and billboard ads and emails - to get your idea or product in front of your audience and convince them to buy.

The stuff you create is called content. Content helps educate your audience. Content is ebooks and whitepapers and manuals and tiktok reels and facebook ads and blogs. This interview you're reading? Content. 

Copywriting is a niche within content writing. It's more specific. It's words that sell, compel, and convert readers. It's the 1 sentence on the billboard. It's the headline (H1) on a website homepage. It's the words on the button telling you to "buy now."

These little word nuggets make people feel and do things. A copywriter's job is to completely understand the target audience and the goal both they and the business have. A copywriter's job is to use language to drive action - to be a bridge between the business and the audience. 

In the end, a copywriter is successful if the words they write drive the audience to act in the way a business wants. 

What is the process like as a copywriter?

A copywriter's day varies a ton. First - how what type of job you have can be wildly different. You can be a freelancer, an in-house copywriter, or an agency copywriter. A freelancer runs their own business, an in-house writer writes for one company, and an agency copywriter writes for multiple clients of an agency. 

But no matter where you work, a copywriter's job is to understand the target audience (who you're writing for) and how what you're writing translates into money for the business that's paying you to write.

Let's say you need to write the headline for the homepage of a business website. 

You need to know:

  • Who is coming to the website
  • How is the visitor getting there
  • What is the visitor expecting
  • What does the visitor need
  • What does the visitor want
  • Where you want the visitor to go next
  • What does the business want to be known for
  • What can and can't the business say
  • How the visitor turns into a paying customer

So, you need to do a ton of research. You need to listen - and not just to customers. You also need to listen to the executives and sales teams and marketing teams and customer service representatives. Your job is to distill all of that information into approximately five to ten words that say both what the business does and how the visitor benefits. 

Those same questions are ones you'll ask whether you're writing a LinkedIn ad, a billboard, or a product description.

And that variety is definitely what makes copywriting so much fun. 

What skills does someone need to be a great copywriter?

In school, you were probably taught a rather prescriptive form of writing. That is, you were taught about spelling and grammar and story structure and the five-paragraph essay format. 

There's nothing inherently wrong with learning those skills. You need them. 

But being a successful copywriter is all about breaking rules. (We just started a sentence with 'but,' for example). 

Great copywriters are rulebreakers. They're creative and inquisitive. They ask questions - sometimes the really dumb questions - and they avoid assumptions. 

The eight skills you need to be a great copywriter (according to me):

  1. Be a good listener.
  2. Stay curious; ask questions.
  3. Empathize with your audience. 
  4. Publish before it's perfect. 
  5. Read anything and everything.
  6. Adapt, try things, break things.
  7. Write, publish, and then improve. 
  8. Be brief about it. 

Copywriters write for humans - at least for now. And all of these skills really come down to being real, being true, and being human. Imperfection, change, iteration, empathy, curiosity - it's just about getting to the heart of things. 

And, because you're just one copywriter - sharing one piece of copy in a world drowning in ads and links and articles and posts - you'd better get to the heart of it in the first line.

What is Lore, and what is it about?

Ah, my baby! 

Lore is an online writing school and community for anyone who wants to be a writer, or already is. We're building out courses for writers on all manner of topics:

  • How to build a writing career
  • Intro to copywriting
  • Intro to content writing
  • SEO writing basics
  • Writing in SaaS and the technology space
  • Read your way to being a better writer
  • Data storytelling: writing with numbers

In addition to these online, self-paced courses, we're also building a community of writers, writing workshops, critique sessions, and tools to help writers succeed in the workplace. 

That's a lot of stuff - and we're still in the goo-goo-gaa-gaa infant stages of growth. But with thousands of followers and tons of folks on the waitlist for the first free course, I think we're on to something.

What motivated you to start Lore?

Very very few people go to school to be a writer. 

Most of the time, we think of writing and we think of authors - George R.R. Martin. Ernest Hemingway. Charlotte Bronte. Neil Gaiman. Shakespeare. Those are writers. 

And a lot of would-be writers give up because they're practical, pragmatic, non-competitive, or simply doubt they'll ever be a successful author. 

But writing isn't like other industries or fields - there's no single, straightforward path to having a career. 

I studied English and Elementary Education at university. 

No one ever taught me how to make a portfolio. No one ever showed me how to pair my love of science with writing. No one ever taught me the difference between content writing and copywriting and advertising and science writing and freelance writing and SEO writing and … you get the picture. 

I had to figure it out on my own. And that took a solid seven years to figure out. To try and get a client. To learn the jargon. To understand the industry. To build a portfolio. To land a job. And I was lucky. I found the time and space to learn - fail - and try again. 

Not everyone has that luxury. Nor should we require you to have that luxury to get a job in writing. So, Lore is a path for writers, a path with good signage and friendly faces and well-lit alleys.

For me, I've always wanted to teach writing to writers. And I have - running writing workshops for engineers and scientists, editing the gadzooks out of friends' and families' resumes, tutoring neighborhood children, advising my neuroscientist partner on structuring the intro to his next paper.

But universities and exclusive writing seminars and private train rides amongst the aristocracy are not where I think the best writers live. Because good writing isn't about good grammar. Good writing isn't about sabbaticals or the luxury of time. 

Good writing comes from living. From being human. From doing and seeing and listening and hurting. For too long, writing for a career has been inaccessible for many. Lore is a way to distribute tools and teachings to more people, and to help anyone who wants to be a writer "make it."

What can people learn from Lore?

Lore is for writers of all stripes - individuals who want to be writers, folks trying to grow or pivot in their writing career, and even organizations looking to upskill in-house writers. If you're an organization, we'll even craft a custom workshop for you.

Right now, we have the Lore Job Board - a compendium of the best job boards out there for writers. It's really just a useful tool, and it's totally free to use. There are also several guides available for writers, including How to Become a Writer: Career Guide for Writers, which comes with a free career map template. 

We offer a few microcourses, like How to improve your CTAs, and How to Give, Get, and Use Writing Feedback.

The big stuff is still in the works (building video courses takes a lot of work!) but it's coming soon. And there's also a ton of community on LinkedIn, which we hope will join us once we launch the online school where courses, chat rooms, community groups, and networking will live. 

The goal is to empower writers to have careers. I've held every type of writing job - in-house, agency, freelance, author (books are in the works!) - and want to share that learning. 

You can learn lots of things at Lore:

  • How to build a career as a writer
  • The elements of writing
  • Storytelling techniques
  • Linguistics and language
  • Tone, voice, and word usage
  • Content strategy and management
  • How to edit and mentor other writers

And hopefully a lot more. And if there's something you'd like to learn that's not on the list, email me.

Thanks to Siobhan for this excellent interview about writing. Find Siobhan at Lore Writing School and on LinkedIn where she shares weekly writing prompts, tips for managing content teams, weird copywriting observations, strategy, and writing tips.