Never Mind the Scalpel - Edit With an Axe

Even after eight years, I’m still learning how to be a truly great copywriter.

I’ve just had a superb lesson.

For a fortnight, I’ve been working with a client on an outreach email. We’ve had seven or eight discussions. We’ve swapped dozens of emails. And I’ve written six drafts.

The draft I sent out last week was brilliant. It was a triumph of long copy. We were planning to test it against a short copy email. I had visions of the statistics, of publishing a blog post on the Pro Copywriters’ Network screaming “HERE ARE THE FACTS. LONG COPY HAS WON.”

Ben Locker and Andy Maslen would shake my hand. Sarah Turner would send me free pencils. My wife still wouldn’t have a clue what I do all day.

I did everything you should. I slept on it. I got the editing scalpel out and pruned all the superfluous words. I printed it out and read it to the cat.

I committed the cardinal error and said the words “portfolio piece” to the client.

Fucking portfolio piece.

Who says that?

The client believed me. He believed in me. He put the cheque in the post. And he ran the email past a single test client.

Just one single test client.

Who gets 700 emails a day.

Who doesn’t have time to read four sides of A4, no matter how well-written.

My client wasn’t overly impressed. And can you blame him? Here’s some moron copywriter claiming that he’d written his magnum opus.

He didn’t need a magnum opus.

He needed a damn good sales email.

I don’t like it when clients aren’t overly impressed. I like it when they’re very impressed. I like it when they leave good reviews and recommend me to their friends.

I told him I’d re-work it.

Then I re-worked it.

The long copy email is now shorter than the short copy email. It’s 308 words of absolute clarity, laser-targeted at a specific audience.

Here’s the lesson:

Don’t let your ego get in the way.
Don’t ever use the words “portfolio piece” to a client.
Don’t edit with a scalpel.

Edit with an axe.

Because once the trees are gone, you’ll find it impossible to miss the wood.

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