Not sure what Copywriting is?
Or what representation in copywriting means for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color)?
Copy in Color, a three part blog series, seeks to define copywriting from the perspective of non-white writers. It also aims to highlight diversity and inclusion (or lack thereof) in the copywriting industry.
Sit back and read up on the experiences of these talented writers!
Anitra Budd is an instructor, copywriter, and editor based in Minneapolis.
In addition to her many years of experience in publishing, she has also lectured on publishing and freelancing at Macalester College.
Get out your pen and paper, ’cause Anitra is about to take us to school!
I think of copywriting as “language shaped and deployed for business ends.”
That sounds really dry and technical, but I think it does an okay job of covering all the many, many forms that copywriting can take.
Copywriting can be one word on a billboard, a 5,000-word white paper, a series of breezy blog posts, and so much more.
But at the end of the day, for me, what separates copywriting from, say, technical writing, creative writing, or grant writing is that business piece.
Copywriting is always trying to sell something, whether it’s a service, a product, a company, a person, or an action.
Almost all my jobs have involved writing on some level.
I’ve done press releases, results reports, presentations, editorial letters, grant language, catalog copy, and so on. All while freelance writing for local newspapers and copy editing books on the side.
During my time in publishing, I felt that people of color—Black women in particular—tended to cluster in publicity type jobs like marketing.
I didn’t know many Black women editors who were acquiring a lot of books, especially in fiction.
After a few years, I decided to leave my full-time publishing job to go freelance (without a plan! or clients lined up! which I don’t recommend at all!).
On a terrified hyperdrive. I made a giant list of everyone I had ever worked with. This list was ordered from closest connections down to passing acquaintances. Everyone on that list had some connection to editing or writing.
I then braced myself (because I’m not great at self-marketing or asking for favors), started at the top, and worked my way down. I reached out to people and let them know that I was available for freelance work.
That’s when I decided that I was going to offer copywriting in addition to editing as a service.
I have friends in advertising, and my wife works at a marketing agency, so I knew how much more lucrative freelance copywriting could be than freelance editing.
So basically, I went where the money was.
By the time I got down to the fifteenth person or so on my list, I had enough work to make me let out my breath a little.
I worked really hard on those first jobs, and as a result, most of those turned into long-term clients.
My freelance work really snowballed once people saw that I had a portfolio of clips on my website. They saw that I knew what I was doing and that other people recommended me,
My dream client was actually an editing job. I got to copy edit a novel by one of my favorite authors, Percival Everett.
It was pretty nerve wracking—not only was it for an author whose work I admire a ton, but it was an unusual project in that the novel had three slightly different versions (you can read about it here in the New York Times).
I had to edit all three versions while keeping in mind that they needed to be different in some areas but consistent in others. And I did it by hand on honest to god paper, which isn’t something I do a ton of these days.
Anyway, I really enjoyed it. Everett sent the publisher a note with a lovely compliment on my work.
I keep the scan of that note on my desktop, so I can look at it on days when I’m doubting my ability or wondering what I have to offer. I can always look at that note and say, “Well hey, at least Percival Everett thinks I’m fantastic!”
Plus my cats are big fans too, so that’s something. 😊
It’s a cliché, but the only typical is that there is no typical, at least not for this copywriter. I don’t stick a schedule religiously.
That’s part of why I enjoy the work. One commonality between my jobs is that they were all really varied from day to day. I tend to need a lot of different inputs and stimuli to feel fulfilled at work.
From around 1 to 3pm is when I usually schedule meetings and interviews. Then for the last couple hours or so of the day, when I’m itching to be done, I do my simpler stuff (researching, running macros on my editing projects, admin work).
I’m a lifelong night owl, so if I fall down a rabbit hole of research links, or if I’m trying to hit a deadline, or if I’m all “just one more Nailed It! episode,” I’ll often stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning (another thing I don’t recommend!).
My first thought was to laugh and say, “What representation?” though that’s possibly a little cynical.
In terms of race and ethnicity, there are copywriters and editors of color out there for sure, and definitely more than when I started working lo these many years ago. That said, there are still plenty of times when I go to a client meeting and find that I’m the only Black person in the room. Sometimes I’m the only person of any color in the room.
There’s also representation on other levels: I noticed after having kids how often I was the only Black parent in the room, or one of the oldest (and I’m only 41 now!). Especially working with advertising, marketing , and corporate clients, it can sometimes feel like that line from Dazed and Confused: “I get older, they stay the same age.”
As a freelancer, I can tell you that every company could benefit from more representation.
My advice to those organizations: Don’t act as if having greater representation of all sorts of people is some holy burden you’re taking on.
Act like it’s the best thing to ever happen to your company, because it is—you’re realizing a lost opportunity to have new, more exciting ideas!
Time and time again, I see how the best ideas come from a cross-pollination of perspectives.
Reading-wise, I got a lot out of How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times, by Roy Peter Clark. It has good tips for wordy types like myself.
General advice-wise, I have two tips:
I always try to remind myself that boundaries breed respect—respect from clients, and self-respect.
If you don’t work for free, even for friends or relatives, it’s going to be hard, but you need to stick to that.