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In an effort to grow my copywriting skills, I took Ian Lurie’s LinkedIn Learning course “Learning to Write Marketing Copy.” He broke copywriting down into four easy steps: create a plan, free write, write your first draft, and polish your writing. While the course focused specifically on writing marketing copy, I’ve been able to apply his method to fiction writing, blog writing, and even journalism.
This week, I’d like to focus on the first step.
Have you ever taken a composition and rhetoric class? My first semester of college, I took English 101, which taught me how to research, outline, and write research papers. Throughout my education, I used that model (research, outline, write) for most of my papers and assignments, big and small.
The first step in any writing project is to research or create a plan. While I used a more structured outline for planning academic papers, I’ve found that bulleted lists do the trick for most copywriting and fiction writing projects.
Lurie suggests first jotting down notes about your audience. In my work as a copywriter for Liberty University Marketing, I primarily write to Generation Z high school students. Understanding my audience’s needs is important to every email, postcard, and booklet I write.
If, for example, I’m working on a direct mail advertisement, I start by making a list of things I know are important to Gen Z students:
And the list goes on. Once I have a list of Gen Z’s priorities, I can brainstorm ways our university can meet those needs. For example, I might write about Liberty’s energy-saving efforts and 40 percent recycling rate to address Gen Z’s interest in sustainability.
Similarly, if you are writing fiction for children and young adults, it’s important to understand what’s important to them. In a session from Write2Ignite’s 2019 conference, author and presenter Edie Melson said that you need to be reading the current literature on the market. (i.e., If you want to write young adult fiction, you need to read young adult fiction.)
Reading young adult fiction or children’s books gives you an understanding of the types of stories that are popular, but it doesn’t tell you much about your audience. I suggest not only reading popular fiction for your target audience, but also researching your audience so you can understand what is important to them.
Collateral is a marketing term used to describe the materials requested by a client for any given project. For example, if I’m working on some projects for College For A Weekend, Liberty’s four-day college visit, I might have 30-40 projects ranging from emails to class schedule booklets to temporary parking passes. However, I believe this step can easily be translated to fiction or even blog writing: make a list of key scenes/ideas.
Some authors write without an outline. They can just sit down and write their stories without any pre-planning. I’ve never been able to write without an outline, even if it’s only a few bullet points. But writing down the key scenes I want to include in my story or the main ideas I want to address in my blog post helps me get from one point to the next without running down a rabbit trail.
Note: An outline is not a binding agreement. You are not obligated to follow your outline once it’s written!
Now, this idea fascinated me. Until taking Lurie’s class, I didn’t really think about the style of writing I was using in my marketing pieces. But the more I thought about my audience, the more I realized that Gen Z doesn’t like being marketed to. So how am I supposed to market to Gen Z without them knowing they’re being marketed to? (Say that five times fast!)
Most of my pieces are written in a teaching style. That is, they teach my audience about Liberty and then offer a call to action. (i.e., “Did you know you can receive $10,000 in awards and scholarships over four years just by submitting your refundable $250 Enrollment Deposit? We want to make college attainable for you; that’s why we offer generous scholarship packages and flexible payment plans. Don’t wait — submit your Enrollment Deposit today!”)
In creative writing, you need to choose the correct format for your writing — you need to know the purpose. In her session “Writing for the YA Audience” at the 2019 W2I conference, Melson reminded us that we shouldn’t be writing to tell young adults what to think. We should be writing to connect and entertain and then allow the audience to draw their own conclusions about the story, which may or may not be what we intended.
While your audience may have different takeaways, you’ve given them a reading experience they are invested in rather than another textbook. It’s up to them to decide what to do with the material.
Tune-in on Dec. 5 for steps two and three, freewriting and writing your first draft!
EmilyBabbitt is a promotional writer for Liberty University Marketing and specializes in residential undergraduate enrollment. She has done extensive research on Generation Z and has written for school-aged audiences in her work as a promotional writer and through contract work with Growing Leaders, Inc. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, taking photos, and cooking. You can learn more about her work by visiting her website, EmilyMarlene.com, or connecting with her on LinkedIn.