Is copywriting an art, a skill or a trade?

62 replies
OK guys, time to confess--do you think copywriting is something anyone with average writing ability can learn or do you think it's an art where you must have innate ability going in?
#art #copywriting #skill #trade
  • Profile picture of the author travlinguy
    Like anything else, you've got to have some talent going in. I know someone who plays piano. She took lessons for years. But her playing is wooden, hollow and she can't get a tune out unless she has the sheet music sitting in front of her. Then I know people who are natural musicians. They can listen to something and easily play it without music. That's because music is in them.

    The same goes for writing. There are certainly people who can learn copywriting and maybe even write effective copy from time to time. But I think to be really good at it consistently, to instinctively know where the hot buttons are and know how to use them in the most effective way every time, there has to be some intrinsic talent.
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  • Profile picture of the author NetWorth
    It is something that most can learn but many won't take the time to do. Having good copy is very important to any campaign and can mean the difference between 100 dollars and 1000 dollars. For those who don't want to deal with article writing, copy writing or making their own marketing videos there are services like writerswanted.org or you can just bit the bullet and learn the skill!
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  • Profile picture of the author AwesomePossum
    Ya, it's easily a learnable trade...talent helps but any skill can be developed

    You can easily be among the best in the world if you work at it.

    Aaryn
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    • Profile picture of the author prettyboy
      It's a little of all three.

      It's an art because most people who can't write copy just don't get it. Even pure writers have a hard time grasping sales concepts and being able to put it into print without being so much of a grammar freak. You have to know how people think and how to say whatever it is you need to say to trigger emotions and finally getting them to take action and buy.

      It's a skill because you do have to have some writing skills, but more importantly, you need to actually like sitting down and coming up with brilliant play on words, only to give it someone else to make a ton of money with.

      It's a trade because it's something that you can specialize in and virtually everyone in business needs some form of copy to attract customers. It's also a trade because a trade in general is something that's needed and has some sort of financial gain attached to it. Copywriting is no doubt something you can charge money for if you're good.
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      • Profile picture of the author Daniel Sanchez
        Originally Posted by prettyboy View Post

        It's a little of all three.

        It's an art because most people who can't write copy just don't get it. Even pure writers have a hard time grasping sales concepts and being able to put it into print without being so much of a grammar freak. You have to know how people think and how to say whatever it is you need to say to trigger emotions and finally getting them to take action and buy.

        It's a skill because you do have to have some writing skills, but more importantly, you need to actually like sitting down and coming up with brilliant play on words, only to give it someone else to make a ton of money with.

        It's a trade because it's something that you can specialize in and virtually everyone in business needs some form of copy to attract customers. It's also a trade because a trade in general is something that's needed and has some sort of financial gain attached to it. Copywriting is no doubt something you can charge money for if you're good.
        I would have to agree on this.

        1 part art and skill: Takes time and skill to develop
        1 part trade: Some one can have great skills and have no idea how ot break into the market.

        It's like a painter. Part talent, part hard work and part learning how the heck to get paid doing it.

        Oh yeah, and then there the last part: part crazy.

        If you are into copy, you know what I'm talking about
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  • Profile picture of the author quench8
    It's a little of all of them. Some just have talent. For example F. Scott Fitzgerald was a copywriter before he wrote The Great Gatsby. He obviously had talent.

    However, the more you read it and practice it, the better you will be.

    What I think you should consider is that video sales letters are kicking the crap out of traditional sales letters. Plus, the copy does not have to be as good. Nobody wants to read your boring sales letter. Plus, if you're not great and your headline is not spot-on, you're going to lose them.

    However, I've seen the data. People will watch a 7 - 9 minute video.

    Get into doing videos.
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    • Originally Posted by quench8 View Post

      It's a little of all of them. Some just have talent. For example F. Scott Fitzgerald was a copywriter before he wrote The Great Gatsby. He obviously had talent.

      However, the more you read it and practice it, the better you will be.

      What I think you should consider is that video sales letters are kicking the crap out of traditional sales letters. Plus, the copy does not have to be as good. Nobody wants to read your boring sales letter. Plus, if you're not great and your headline is not spot-on, you're going to lose them.

      However, I've seen the data. People will watch a 7 - 9 minute video.

      Get into doing videos.
      Video is still being tested. In the tests I've been a part of video out-performed text in some cases but not in others. I suspect video will eventually be the norm, however, but it will be done better than most people are doing it today.
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    • Profile picture of the author The Copy Nazi
      Banned
      Originally Posted by quench8 View Post

      It's a little of all of them. Some just have talent. For example F. Scott Fitzgerald was a copywriter before he wrote The Great Gatsby. He obviously had talent.

      However, the more you read it and practice it, the better you will be.

      What I think you should consider is that video sales letters are kicking the crap out of traditional sales letters. Plus, the copy does not have to be as good. Nobody wants to read your boring sales letter. Plus, if you're not great and your headline is not spot-on, you're going to lose them.

      However, I've seen the data. People will watch a 7 - 9 minute video.

      Get into doing videos.
      That's not true. Some people prefer videos over reading. Young males for the most part. "Video sales letters are kicking the crap out of traditional sales letters"? I don't agree. Out of boring sales letters maybe.

      Some people will watch a 7-9 minute video. Not very many I would hazard to guess. No-one has the time for that. We all want stuff served up in bite-sized chunks. Which you can do in both mediums. Without boring the crap out of people.

      BTW Fitzgerald only worked briefly for a New York agency after his discharge from the army - 6 months or something - and he was crap at it. He was writing short stories in his spare time.
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      • Profile picture of the author copyassassin
        do you think copywriting is something anyone with average writing ability can learn
        Yes!!!

        A average person, who PRACTICES, PRACTICES, PRACTICES...

        ... will get better.

        With practice comes ingrained structure. And then style. And then this subconsciousness force in which your fingers plunk away without a reason, just a knowing.

        Will they be Carlton?

        No.

        There is one Carlton.

        Just as there is one Halbert. One Makepeace.

        They are the 1%.

        Still, there is 9% who will make great money. Still another 10% that will be able to provide for their family.

        Back to this talent thing...

        I hate the word "talent".

        Because it doesn't mean anything. Talent does NOT positively correlate to success.

        Effort, passion, & persistence are the ONLY qualities that translate to success.

        It's for this reason that an average copywriter can go to Raydal or Vin, get schooled, and then cash in.

        Without this very basic concept that an "average" person can learn copywriting, then copywriting teachers would be kinda useless. Right?
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        • Profile picture of the author AwesomePossum
          Originally Posted by copyassassin View Post

          Yes!!!

          A average person, who PRACTICES, PRACTICES, PRACTICES...

          ... will get better.

          With practice comes ingrained structure. And then style. And then this subconsciousness force in which your fingers plunk away without a reason, just a knowing.

          Will they be Carlton?

          No.

          There is one Carlton.

          Just as there is one Halbert. One Makepeace.

          They are the 1%.

          Still, there is 9% who will make great money. Still another 10% that will be able to provide for their family.

          Back to this talent thing...

          I hate the word "talent".

          Because it doesn't mean anything. Talent does NOT positively correlate to success.

          Effort, passion, & persistence are the ONLY qualities that translate to success.

          It's for this reason that an average copywriter can go to Raydal or Vin, get schooled, and then cash in.

          Without this very basic concept that an "average" person can learn copywriting, then copywriting teachers would be kinda useless. Right?
          Could I add one thing to your success formula?

          Learning is the anchor...it doesn't matter how hard you try or how passionate you are or even how many times you do it if you don't learn from your mistakes and improve your strengths.

          I think learning and application is the anchor of all skills...it can blow natural talent outa the water.
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    • Profile picture of the author Kevin Rogers
      Great thread.

      The OP is a question all writers ask themselves often. The insecurity will never fade completely, Kevin. So, don't mistake it for reality.

      The fact that you're asking these questions shows you CAN be a good copywriter because you care enough to wonder.

      My pal David Garfinkle recommended a book last year called "Talent Is Overrated", and I'd recommend it to you as well.

      In a nutshell, the author, Geoff Colvin, makes the argument that talent has nothing on persistent study and practice.

      The truth is... yes you might study for years and not become John Carlton, but guess what... you don't need to be John Carlton!

      In fact, if you ever have the good fortune to study under Carlton, the very first thing he will beat into your skull is: Never try to write like me!

      Lots of good reasons for that, but the main two are...

      1. He was charged with the task of writing like others early in his career and he knows how tedious it is. (And unless your specific task is to ghost your employer, then it can be a stifling exercise.)

      2. There's already a John Carlton. The real money is not imitation, it's in YOUR distinct personality.

      Keep studying your arse off, get a mentor (Vin, of course, is one of the best you'll find) and -- here's the key: Write more than you study!

      Becoming a walking encyclopedia of direct response is pretty useless unless you find a way to apply it (and turn it into money!).

      All the best,

      Kevin

      P.S. Below is a disturbingly misguided statement about video. Transcribe Kern's videos and what do you have? Really GOOD sales letters.

      Originally Posted by quench8 View Post

      What I think you should consider is that video sales letters are kicking the crap out of traditional sales letters. Plus, the copy does not have to be as good.
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      • Originally Posted by Kevin Rogers View Post

        Great thread.

        The OP is a question all writers ask themselves often. The insecurity will never fade completely, Kevin. So, don't mistake it for reality.

        The fact that you're asking these questions shows you CAN be a good copywriter because you care enough to wonder.
        I just hope that some day I can be a good copywriter Kevin. Some day.
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        • Profile picture of the author Kevin Rogers
          Originally Posted by Kevin-VirtualProfitCenter View Post

          I just hope that some day I can be a good copywriter Kevin. Some day.
          Just keep at it and someday you might be called "one of the best on the web" and boast a scroll of raving testimonials.

          Seriously, I've got a good instinct about these things.
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          • Originally Posted by Kevin Rogers View Post

            Just keep at it and someday you might be called "one of the best on the web" and boast a scroll of raving testimonials.

            Seriously, I've got a good instinct about these things.
            You really think it might happen? I can only imagine how it would be.
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            • Profile picture of the author Wasim
              Personally I think it is a bit of both and can believe it can be learned.

              Why?

              Because if I'm wanting to buy something, i will go looking for it ..... obviously !!

              If I'm not wanting to buy, then it doesn't matter how brilliantly written an article is about a product because it wasn't my intention to buy it or use it anyway but the article might be an interesting read and that's about it.

              I remember when I was looking for an ftp program and a friend of mine said, "I've emailed an article about ftp to you. It doesn't mean anything to me but you're the one who was asking for it so I thought you'de want to read it." After reading it I learned that ftp was built into Dreamweaver. I bought Dreamweaver that weekend. The article wasn't great, but it happened to get passed onto to me and I remembered only that one thing in the article because that's what was important to me at the time.

              In other words, if for example, part of tweaking an article involves understanding that it can be written for people who are wanting to buy and not written to persuade a complete stranger from scratch, then it needs a different approach or just a little tweaking. This isn't talent is it it's just a skill that can be learned or changed.

              I can draw pretty well and could teach someone who really believes that they can't draw, to do it pretty well. Not because of talent but because of a few methods, whether it's holding the pencil differently, applying pressure at the right times, shading in the right places or just learning how to observe things not necessarily in more depth but differently.
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      • Profile picture of the author The Copy Nazi
        Banned
        Originally Posted by Kevin Rogers View Post

        Great thread.

        The OP is a question all writers ask themselves often. The insecurity will never fade completely, Kevin. So, don't mistake it for reality.

        The fact that you're asking these questions shows you CAN be a good copywriter because you care enough to wonder.

        My pal David Garfinkle recommended a book last year called "Talent Is Overrated", and I'd recommend it to you as well.

        In a nutshell, the author, Geoff Colvin, makes the argument that talent has nothing on persistent study and practice.

        The truth is... yes you might study for years and not become John Carlton, but guess what... you don't need to be John Carlton!

        In fact, if you ever have the good fortune to study under Carlton, the very first thing he will beat into your skull is: Never try to write like me!

        Lots of good reasons for that, but the main two are...

        1. He was charged with the task of writing like others early in his career and he knows how tedious it is. (And unless your specific task is to ghost your employer, then it can be a stifling exercise.)

        2. There's already a John Carlton. The real money is not imitation, it's in YOUR distinct personality.

        Keep studying your arse off, get a mentor (Vin, of course, is one of the best you'll find) and -- here's the key: Write more than you study!

        Becoming a walking encyclopedia of direct response is pretty useless unless you find a way to apply it (and turn it into money!).

        All the best,

        Kevin

        P.S. Below is a disturbingly misguided statement about video. Transcribe Kern's videos and what do you have? Really GOOD sales letters.
        Kevin, "Big Kev" has been at the coalface for 30-something years. But you're right - he's still clueless. So am I. ;-)

        BTW your mate might be pissed that you've mispelled his name. It's "Garfinkel". Least it was last time I checked. (insert smiley to show Kevin I'm not being a smartass).
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        • Profile picture of the author Kevin Rogers
          Originally Posted by Metronicity View Post


          BTW your mate might be pissed that you've mispelled his name. It's "Garfinkel". Least it was last time I checked. (insert smiley to show Kevin I'm not being a smartass).
          I was actually referring to "Diamond" Dave Garfinkle, the guy I shoot pool with every other Thursday. Who is this "Garfinkel" you speak of?

          Also, love the irony of you misspelling "mispell." It's great to be human, ain't it?
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  • Profile picture of the author The Copy Nazi
    Banned
    I haven't read the other comments - yet. "Average writing ability"? Nope. You need more than that. And you need more than a "way with words" too. You can be a really clever and entertaining writer but if you're not on target your sales copy aint gonna cut it.

    But having said that I still don't think "average writing ability" is gonna make for great copy. Because average writing ability usually means "boring writing ability" - School of "What I Did on My Holidays". Good writers are good with words. Good copywriters are not only good with words but with using those well-chosen words to hit the target.
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  • Profile picture of the author malarky
    I would have to agree with whoever said: Yes.


    Sure, you can do it without having any talent -- but true writing skill will make good copy great copy. Also, going into it with a great deal of writing experience and generally being a confident writer will allow you to churn out writing. For the most part, copywriting is a freelance gig so speed and quality means more $$$.
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  • Profile picture of the author Nathan Alexander
    I agree, I think it's all of the above.

    Of course, I like to think of it like cooking. We can have the same recipe in front of us, but there's no way I'll ever be able to get the same "dish" as someone who knows what they're doing.

    Even with the same info in front of us, I'll manage to make it not so good.

    At the same time, I can learn to play golf for years, study with the best and work harder than most, but I'll never be Tiger Woods (plus, I'm not rich enough for all those roses on V-day. - Sorry, couldn't resist.)

    I think we can all be "good" to some extent given enought time and purposeful study, but there will also be some who excel beyond what most of us can do because they have the intrinsic ability that travlinguy spoke of.

    And yet, here I go and start up the Tator-tot hot dish I'm making for tonight proving once again I excel at...not cooking. (But ahh, I do love Minnesota dinners.)
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  • Profile picture of the author Nicky Papers
    All of the above. When creativity and your experience writing killer copy increase, you've got something that other people don't.

    Simply put, great copy converts offers to sales. It's sometimes very underrated.
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  • Profile picture of the author dmac3296
    i'd say it is a trade
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  • Profile picture of the author ImportEyedea
    This thread is very interesting to me conceptually.

    I'm a writer, who was taught to become a copy writer. I should say is being taught--- its definitely continual.

    There was recently another post and I'll try to locate it if I can, from the perspective of an Non Native English speaker, I can't think of his SN but he's frequently on WF.

    He asked the group as a whole, whether or not it was feasible for him to become an English Copywriter. Many wrote back to say no, it just wasn't going to happen.

    Here's the point I'm going to make (and I'm sure its going to go over like a lead balloon). Has anyone ever heard of Ayn Rand? The objectivist philospher?

    She was originally from Russia. She came here, learned English and wrote several novels, plays, works on nonfiction. Her books are literally 800 and 1,000 pages long (the longest works anyway).

    While she isn't always popular and receives flak for the length of her books, they are still printed, reproduced and sold worldwide to this day. I was introduced to her work some 30 years after her death.

    Does everyone agree with her style or work? No. Does it prevent her from continually attracting new followers? No.

    All writing, including Copy are crafts. They need to be studied relentlessly and analyzed and then relearnt again when things change. I personally don't think anyone should ever give up on something they feel they can achieve.
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  • Profile picture of the author ImportEyedea
    Haha, Its going to need to be at least 1013 pages long to compete.
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  • Profile picture of the author GaryJBloomer
    Dear Kevin-VirtualProfitCenter,

    Art? Skill? Trade? All of those although mostly, one other thing: a craft.

    Kind regards, --Gary B.
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    • Profile picture of the author Caleb D Miller
      I think it was John Carlton who said that

      "great copy is not written, it is assembled."

      Theoretically it would seem that all you need to do is test sections of copy and assemble them all into a killer sales/squeeze page.

      I think it can be considered an art, a skill and a trade.

      Hard work and testing seem to be all you need.
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      • Originally Posted by cdmiller87 View Post

        I think it was John Carlton who said that

        "great copy is not written, it is assembled."

        Theoretically it would seem that all you need to do is test sections of copy and assemble them all into a killer sales/squeeze page.

        I think it can be considered an art, a skill and a trade.

        Hard work and testing seem to be all you need.
        Good point. Once it's done it's just a matter of testing the parts to see which part gives you the most "horsepower."

        I can't believe how little "real" testing is done. Clients ask me all the time "which one of these do you think will do best?" I rarely have a clue. I have put together a piece that seems to represent my top 3-4 headlines, my top 1-2 sales processes, my top 4-5 body copies for their product, and only testing will truly tell which will work.
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        • Profile picture of the author Kevin Rogers
          Funny you bring that up, Paul. I've been on an EVH tear lately. (I can't play a single decent lick of guitar, but I sure as hell dream about it often.)

          Came across this quote from an article (via wiki)... Ed talkin 'bout practicing:

          "Practice. I used to sit on the edge of my bed with a six-pack of Schlitz Malt talls. My brother would go out at 7 p.m. to party and get laid, and when he'd come back at 3 a.m., I would still be sitting in the same place, playing guitar. I did that for years -- I still do that."

          Still, as with Carlton and writing, you gotta think there's a touch from above -- or some sort of chemical imbalance -- that makes for THAT kind of ability.

          But, like you say... you don't have to be the best to be damned good. (And get paid well.)
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  • Profile picture of the author Rezbi
    Originally Posted by Kevin-VirtualProfitCenter View Post

    OK guys, time to confess--do you think copywriting is something anyone with average writing ability can learn or do you think it's an art where you must have innate ability going in?
    All of the above.
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  • Profile picture of the author Tinkerbell
    You asked: "Is copywriting an art, a skill, or a trade?"

    I say copywriting is a skill learned, practiced in trade, and then perfected into art.

    My $.02
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    • Profile picture of the author BrianMcLeod
      Originally Posted by Tinkerbell View Post

      I say copywriting is a skill learned, practiced in trade, and then perfected into art.
      Nicely said, Tina.

      +1 (and swiped)
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      • Profile picture of the author Tinkerbell
        Originally Posted by BrianMcLeod View Post

        Nicely said, Tina.

        +1 (and swiped)
        Oh wow. Now I need to figure out how to snip out forum post replies so I can frame that one! I've been swiped! My first time! LOL.

        Thanks, Brian
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        • Profile picture of the author wordwizard
          I think it's a bit of all of the above.

          Skill and talent -- absolutely. Art -- yes. Trade -- that too.

          When I grew up (in Germany), the prevailing wisdom on writing and/or musical ability
          was that you had to be born with it. Child wonders like Mozart and Goethe made the
          rest of us feel that unless you had that natural talent from the get go, you might as well
          do something else with your life.

          I didn't really discover writing workshops (or see my own potential as a writer) until I
          came to the U.S. (and then not for a while), and I'm amazed at the difference all that
          practice and coaching made.

          I'm a far better writer in English, which is my second language, than I am in German.
          That's because I have consciously worked on my writing skills -- in English. I studied
          journalism, creative writing, and linguistics, and I have been teaching writing in some
          way or other for years as well.

          And copywriting -- I love it because it allows me to take all that artistry and combine it
          with marketing -- and generate sales in real life. How cool is that!

          Elisabeth
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          • Profile picture of the author Anita Ashland
            There are two parts to copywriting... the copy and the writing.

            Pure writing ability is partly innate and part skill. Not everyone can become a great writer but everyone has the ability to become better at writing if they want to.

            Copy skills (the persuasion and marketing know-how) are largely skill and trade, I think. Even if you can't write well you can learn persuasion and marketing.

            So a person with great copy skills and poor writing skills can probably do better than a great writer with poor copy skills. Although I'd still recommend that the person with poor writing skills outsource the task to a freelance copywriter. ;-)
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    • Profile picture of the author Jo_Shua
      Originally Posted by Tinkerbell View Post

      I say copywriting is a skill learned, practiced in trade, and then perfected into art.
      My thought exactly. Well said...
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  • Profile picture of the author Sylvia Meier
    I agree with Tinkerbell and Loud Mac. I think that one sentance sums it up nicely.

    I also believe though; part of it, is just that born knack for the written word. If you don't have the heart of a writer, any written word, no matter how hard you learn, train etc just won't have the same flow and power as those written by someone who loves the craft.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Sylvia
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  • Profile picture of the author davemiz
    anyone can learn the skill.... doesn't mean they have the natural ability....

    its like teaching 2 people to play a musical instrument... one is musically gifted... the other isn't.

    They both learn from the same teacher... both take the same classes... both playing the same instrument...

    One can only play in a cover band... the other creates music you remember for years.

    The difference?

    Natural ability.

    Take design for example. You can teach the same 2 people how to use photoshop, one has the natural eye for design and can make mouth watering designs... the other can just get stuff done... looks ok.... nothing great.

    Copy, i think is the same...

    But, you can cheat.... swipe stuff, model winning sales letters etc.
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  • Profile picture of the author pr678
    Banned
    [DELETED]
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  • Profile picture of the author Johnny12345
    Originally Posted by Kevin-VirtualProfitCenter View Post

    OK guys, time to confess--do you think copywriting is something anyone with average writing ability can learn or do you think it's an art where you must have innate ability going in?
    Kevin,

    Copywriting is part art; part science. But, in reality, it's just "salesmanship in print"... literally.

    You've probably heard that said many times -- but it's true. If you understand selling -- and basic spelling, grammar, and punctuation -- then you, too, have the potential to be a decent copywriter.

    Regards,

    Johnny
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  • Profile picture of the author Sam Mlambo
    Writing is a form of expression so that's where the artistic side comes. Proven copy follows powerful copywriting formulas and techniques so that's where the scientific side comes from.

    But like stated before me, copywriting is about selling. And selling is a skill. A skill that can be honed.

    Therefore I'd say copywriting is a skill. One of the most profitable skills in the world, if not the most.

    - Sam
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  • Profile picture of the author cyber_writer
    Its probably the combination of both sklil and art. Its the use of words to promote a person, business, opinion or idea. Tempting texts that describe the major strengths of your product or service, company's competitive advantages, unique selling proposition and other details, keep visitors on your site and encourage them to take action - downloading files, registration, or scrutiny of content - it is not just filling your site with tons of useless words, but a proven way to increase sales and improve the number of visit.
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  • Profile picture of the author yachi
    NO....everyone can't do copywriting. You definitely need some good skills to get into this work.
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  • Profile picture of the author Vendor-Lock
    wow. this is a great thread. thanks for the info warriors !

    Jeff
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  • Profile picture of the author JosephCosgrave
    I'm going to go with a skill and an art.

    Skill because there are certain rules that you really need to follow.

    Art because some of these rules can be broken. But you'll only know when to break them with practice/feedback.

    I also feel that it's a psychological subject.

    Joseph
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