Every so often, I get an email from someone who wants to be a copywriter. Or thinks they might want to be a copywriter, if only they really knew what a copywriter was. A lot of people helped me out when I was in that position, so I try to reply as best I can.
Since so many of the questions are similar, and the answers too, I thought I’d share the most popular here. These are all real questions I’ve received. Feel free to add more questions in the comments; I’ll reply to those the best I can too.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS BY PEOPLE WHO (MIGHT) WANT TO BE COPYWRITERS WITH ANSWERS BY ME, A COPYWRITER
Q: What does a copywriter, um, do?
Copywriters write everything and anything that might need words. TV commercials, websites, trifold brochures, and on and on and on. They come up with ideas, write them down and edit them constantly.
Q: How did you get your job?
A: First, I got my BA in Advertising. (Many copywriters major in English or Communications. But some have Biology degrees, so don’t let that deter you.) While in college, I picked up several internships. From these jobs, as well as my school work, I built my book. Book = online portfolio of work. Same thing. After college, I got a copywriting job at an in-house digital agency for a major brand. Anytime I’d work on something cool, I’d add it to my book and take something else out. Eventually, I moved to an ad agency that handles both traditional and digital media. I got both jobs the same way: because of my book.
By the way, this is the thing I keep calling my book.
Q: Should my portfolio only show real work?
Nope, not a requirement. Especially if you’re a student. Agencies would rather see good work than real (bad) work. That said: if you’ve been working for several years and are only featuring spec projects in your book, prepare a good reason why. That won’t look good.
Q: I’m not sure if copywriting is right for me. It might be, but also content strategy might be. Or design. Or stand-up comedy? I’m not sure.
A: I get this not-quite-a-question thing a lot. The best way to see if something is right for you is to try it. If it’s a bad fit, try something else. There’s nothing wrong with this. What is wrong is to show your uncertainty on a job application. Agencies are looking for passion and interest, not insecurity. Fake it ’til ya make it, baby.
Q: If I’m new to all this, should I apply to internships or junior copywriter jobs?
A: If you’ve had limited professional writing experience, your best bet is an internship but there’s no harm in applying to full-time positions too. Sell your skills; find a way your current experience is relevant.
Many agencies will take on creative staff as freelancers to see if they’re a good fit. It can feel risky, and it is, but many short-term positions do get extended or turned into full-time offers. I don’t know you, but I say go for it. As for unpaid internships, I say don’t (at least not for five days a week). This is purely my opinion but you should work somewhere that values you. Unpaid internships are unethical and dumb.
Q: What do agencies look for in an entry-level candidate?
They want to know you can write. Show poetry, fiction, emails to your dad—whatever you need to demonstrate your writing skills. After that, agencies want to know you can think. They’re looking for fresh ideas, not the same old pun everyone uses. I mean you, Spring Forward! When you interview, be informed, curious and eager to learn more. Always be humble and always be kind. You’d think I wouldn’t have to say that, but the little things (like sending a thoughtful thank you note and actually taking the advice you’re given) can set you apart.
Q: What other advice do you have for me?
My top piece of advice is to ask better questions.
Q: Let’s talk money. What do copywriters make?
A: This varies by market and level of experience. But I hate vague answers as much as the next person, so I’ll try to break this down as much as possible.
Junior writers earn $35,00 – $50,000ish while senior writers earn $50,000 – $75,000ish. See this salary guide from Indeed for more specific info. Also worth noting: many copywriters go on to be creative directors, a position that earns far more.
Q: Is there room for advancement? And is that actually likely?
A: Yes. For real. But many people in advertising have found that the fastest way to move up is to move out. This is why changing gigs every 2-3 years is not uncommon.
Best of luck, scribes!