Failure’s as much a part of copywriting as it is any other writing endeavor, yet most copywriting blogs seemingly bounce from success to success.
It’s not very real (and a little boring), which is why I mostly read blogs by novelists, sci-fi writers and (especially) screenwriters.
Screenwriters seem less interested in foisting an image of omnipotence on the rest of us, which is probably why screenwriting is the most spectator-friendly arm of the writing universe.
A good example is Ken Levin’s excellent “The World As Seen By A TV Comedy Writer” blog.
In this riveting post he details the downward spiral you experience when writing for a failing television series:
You will know if your show is in trouble before the actors. You’ll discover that it’s harder to break stories than it should be. The flaws in the premise will become apparent. I co-wrote an episode of a new show once and it took two full days working with the producers to come up with a notion. This was for episode three. That show was dead in the water.
Once you see footage you also start to learn the weaknesses of your cast. This can be particularly alarming if the weak links were all people the network foisted upon you.
Still, everything is relatively calm.
Then the reviews come out. If they’re bad, or even mixed, get prepared to go down to the stage and talk your cast off the ledge. And watch. One bad review. Just one. And suddenly the actors stop trusting you.
Now they start questioning things. Every thing. You’re somewhat under siege.
It’s unpretty stuff (it gets worse before it gets better), but at least it’s real.
Facing Forward (It’s Easier to Face Plant)
I’ve been a working copywriter a long time and have made a good living, and I can say with some certainty we will all face plant at some point.
You’ll find a client you can only fight with, or the project will demand skills you don’t have, or everything will change and you’ll end up doing the opposite of what you pitched (and hating every minute of it), or [insert appropriate atrocity here].
Right now I’m struggling with what I thought was a Dream Client — a perfect match of needs and skills and knowledge.
I even just sent that happiest of emails; the “Wow” note detailing an email clickthrough rate 3.5x their norm.
So the numbers are headed skywards, and the delta between where we started and where we are is huge.
Yet the account’s hanging by a thread.
But not their thread.
Sweet Gig, Sour Taste
You land a gig that looks bright and perfect and shiny (maybe it was), but someone gets hired or fired, and suddenly you’re miserable, the work sucks, and your hair is falling out by the handful (full disclosure: I don’t have any hair).
It doesn’t happen often, but rather than dive into the details, I’ll offer up a few simple rules.
Rule #1: Things are usually not as bad as they seem, and from the client’s perspective they may look great.
Rule #2: When things are as bad as they seem, you can sometimes fix them if you can get some face time with the right person.
Rule #3: When you’re bumping heads with someone who has far more access to the decision makers than you do, you lose (about 98.5% of the time).
In this case, things are as bad as they look (from my perspective), but one of the benefits of freelancing is you don’t have to crouch in the corner of your office, trembling with fear.
I never walk away from a client easily — especially one this interesting — but I realize I can walk away.
And yes, I am idly looking around for a replacement client.
Who might have just showed up.
In what amounts to absolute proof the universe is an intriguing place, a client I haven’t seen in twelve years called to talk about availability; he’s got a startup going with a fascinating little product.
He’s a fine and experienced businessman who got sidetracked in the VC world (he might disagree), and he likes his marketing with a side of style and attitude.
Talk about your lucky breaks.
If his new product can get some traction, I’ll have a tough decision to make.
Keep writing (because you never know who’s going to call), Tom Chandler.