Go to Work on an Oeuvre: Final thoughts on copywriting novelists

Winston Fletcher is quoted as saying in John Tylee’s article (Go to work on an Oeuvre) that there is a ‘fundamental difference between copywriting and writing novels.’ Indeed, most creative directors generally hold that novel writing and copy writing involve totally different skill-sets. This may be true, but there are also many similarities.

Someone once told me that writing a billboard is a little like writing a telegram. Every word costs something – it costs a lot in terms of your audience’s attention span. It’s just the same with books. As a novelist you need to write with just the same economy and precision in mind. Keeping your reader’s attention is just as important; you can lose them at any second. Especially difficult are the first 40 pages. I guess that’s the equivalent role of the headline. If you haven’t drawn them in by then, you’ve lost them for the rest of the story.

Sometimes people ask if I’d like to just do novels full time. Apart from the fact that I’d go mad being completely isolated at home every day trying in vain not to procrastinate (e.g. rearranging sock drawer, wanting to clean behind radiators), I think I’d miss the excitement and the immediacy of advertising. One of the things that advertising has going for it is that you generally see your work come to fruition sooner than with novels. Books can take years to get from submission to publication. An ad campaign can sometimes be turned around in a matter of months – (weeks in some cases; and days if you’re working with The Sun), although admittedly some ads can take years to produce when they get clogged up in the research process.

Generally speaking though, being a copywriter is the easiest way to find yourself an audience in the absence of a publishing deal. OK so your name may not be at the bottom of the poster, but at least you’ve reached out and achieved ‘mental rental’ with someone you never met. You’ve still made them laugh, made them stop and think on their way to work. Whatever anyone says against this job, there is a kind of romance in that.

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