Good Jobs for English Majors: How to Become a Copywriter

Welcome to another post in my Good Jobs for English Majors series. You can see the full series here. The goal of this series is to give an insider look at the different careers English majors can get, give you a sense of what the day-to-day job involves, and show you how to break into these lucrative jobs for English majors.

Today’s job: introducing the world of copywriting

The salary range for a copywriter: $40,000 to $60,000 USD annual salary for entry-level positions; $70,000 to $90,000 annual salary USD for intermediate positions; $90,000 – $130,000 USD annual salary for senior positions.

Advancement opportunities: copywriters can advance into senior management positions (+$100,000 – $300,000 USD per year) including the following typical roles: Creative Director, Director of Brand, Head of Marketing, Vice President of Corporate Communications, Vice President of Marketing, and CMO).

Source of salary information: Glassdoor, direct experience (I work in the industry, have been a copywriter at multiple agencies and brands).

Note on salary data: salaries will vary by company. They assume you are aiming at large agencies or global brands. Copywriters working at tiny companies will make less money and have less opportunities for advancement.

Today’s career guide: It be me. The author of this blog. I’ve worked as a copywriter, I manage a team of copywriters, and know the industry backside up and downside forward (if that is a thing?). I’ll show you how I went from mowing lawns to making a good income with copywriter.

* * * * * *

Here’s how I used to try to get a job as an English major,

Dearest Sir AND/Or Madame, 

As a recent graduate with a Master’s Degree in English Literature, I can assure you that you can look no further for a finer writer. I’m a scholar of grammar, narrative form, and a collector of pretty words that roll like pearls in your mouth. I shall write, edit, and proofread for you. Let me know if you have an opening for a strong communicator. 

Your Faithful Word Slave Starving and Deep in Student Loan Debt, 

James

BA in English (Dean’s List) 

MA in English 

Like most humanities grads, I thought that my best skills were writing and editing.

But here’s a hard smack in the face for humanities majors. There are VERY few jobs out there for writers alone.

Journalism is almost dead, book publishing is dwindling, and most writers and editors aren’t doing very well these days.

So what can you do?

Unless you plan to write best-selling novels or write for television, the best path to actually earning a livable wage from your writing is to think about this question . . .

How can I add a different skill so that I’m both a good communicator AND have other expertise I can offer to employers? 

There are many different paths you can take here.

For example, PR firms need writers with knowledge about how to craft storylines that resonate in the media. Or you can work in government communications, which means you’ll need to know how to write and know about press releases and communication plans.

The point is that writing isn’t the best way to sell yourself to employers. You need to add something else. You need be a good writer AND have another skill.

They laughed when I told them I had an English Degree, so I discovered how to write words that SELL

One of the best ways to have a good career as an English major is to learn how to write words that can SELL.

That’s what I discovered one day after grad school. Back then, I was broke and mowing lawns to pay the bills.

I knew I needed a career, so I began selling myself as a writer.

I worked for a local chef, ghostwriting his book.

I worked for an online start-up, writing little articles.

But it wasn’t until my first real job interview at an ad agency that I discovered the REAL skill I needed to develop. 

During the interview, the president of the ad agency gave me this career advice,

“The truth is clients don’t really value writing and editing. They always say, ‘I can write the brochure and website copy. I just need time to do it.’ But what I can sell is creative concepts—they hire our agency because they know a creative ad sells better than a boring ad. It’s the conceptual work that they can’t do themselves as they don’t know how to come up with creative ideas. That’s what I look for in new hires. Writers who know how to use creativity to sell products.”

After that interview, I decided to become a copywriter. I haven’t called myself a writer since.

A copywriter is a writer who uses words to sell. That’s what I became and how I earn my living. This job involves writing. But the real goal is to write words that move people to action.

Imagine that the words you write can produce money. That one ad produces zero new clients because it is boring and something everyone has read before. Another ad makes your phone ring and keeps your business alive. That’s a powerful skill.

Shitty ad most people would write to sell a piano course.
A boring shitty ad most people would write to sell a piano course. This is writing that doesn’t understand how to actually sell products.

It’s also profitable. I started my career making about 40K per year. This year (five years in), I will make 90K. My income comes from my full-time job as a senior copywriter at a global software company, as well doing freelance marketing consulting.

I don’t think this is a lot of money, but it’s a good wage and I can live in a nice city and feel secure with my skills.

This is an old ad by a famous copywriter. It sold millions and millions of dollars in piano courses.
This is an old ad by a famous copywriter. It sold millions and millions of dollars in piano courses. This is the power of words that sell.

My income can still increase if I work hard to move into new positions such as a Creative Director, Director of Marketing Strategy, or even a VP at some company if I take the right steps.

In general, you can expect to make:

  • Good copywriter: 40K (starting) to 60K (after 5 years or so) to 90K salary (after you move up to a senior role). These wages depend on where you live and the company you work at and can vary (for example, a small company won’t pay as much as a big global agency).
  • Great copywriter: 100K plus. These people tend to consult and freelance. Or they work at a rockstar agency.
  • Amazing copywriter: millions. These are rare. But they are real. For example, I’ve been in meetings with clients when they have a copywriting guru come in to consult. Typically, these copywriters are also masters at business and marketing strategy.

So how can you learn to write words that sell?

The good news is that you can’t learn copywriting in university. I mean I’m sure that there are LOTS of colleges out there that would love to charge you 40K for a bullshit marketing communications degree. But they are frauds.

Successful copywriters don’t learn their skills from professors of advertising. They learn from actually working in the field and studying the techniques of the masters.

While there is no certain route to get into copywriting, most people I know began by teaching themselves. This article isn’t a complete guide. But I will give you a few resources to get started. This is a skill-based job. You need to start learning and then start thinking about how to land your first job or client.

1) Find an online course. The absolute best course you can buy on copywriting is by a world-famous copywriter named Neville Medhora. He is the only copywriter I religiously follow right now. Why? Because unlike a lot of old books that have outdated tactics, he knows what employers are looking for right now. You can take his online course here. I also gush about it below.

2) Read a few books. I started with Joe Sugarman’s Advertising Secrets of the Written Word, which is just fantastic. Sugarman inspired me.

I also spent $150 on the amazing D&AD: The Copy Book. I love Eugene M. Schwartz’s Breakthrough Advertising for direct response. The first time I read this book I was so damn excited and stayed up to three in the morning reading it. Robert Collier’s Letter Book made a huge impact on me.

I read all of Ogilvy’s books and Claude Hopkin. Finally, The Book of Gossage is one of the most important books on creative advertising there is.

3) Develop basic skills BEFORE you apply for a job. Copywriting is like graphic design or coding. Employers expect you to have a basic skill level before they hire you. So, you need to be a self-starter and educate yourself first with books and online courses.

Start with these 3 copywriting resources

I’ve read hundreds of blogs and have spent thousands of dollars on copywriting books, courses, and training.

Here are the resources I’d start with:

ONE: Begin with the Kopywriting Kourse

Why it’s good: you’ll get video instruction from a real professional copywriter. This is way faster and more effective than reading 15 books or wasting time on blogs.

Do the grammatically incorrect ‘K’s offend you? That was the biggest lesson I learned about being a copywriting. Grammar doesn’t matter! Good writing doesn’t sell products.

This online course is taught by Neville Medhora. It’s one of the best courses on copywriting techniques that I’ve seen. Neville has personally written some of AppSumo’s highest earning promotions (a very popular website for business owners and marketers).

copywriting course
This guy knows how to teach copywriting.

Most copywriting courses are going to teach you sales techniques. But your copy will end up sounding fake and spammy (BUY NOW!!!!!). Neville is going to teach you how to write copy that sells but in very charming, modern ways. I’ve personally learned more from him than any other guru, book, or blog on the subject.

What I liked most about his Kopywriting Kourse:

  • You’ll learn the right way to write copy—like a human.  This is the true secret to copywriting that sells. If you master his lessons, you’ll completely stand-out as even many professional copywriters miss this essential technique. Your copy won’t sound cheesy or boring. This will give you a huge advantage and can make you a lot of money.
  • How to craft a landing page from start to finish. I’ve used his templates many times at work. You get to see his private process which is so helpful, especially for new copywriters. This is gold.
  • The fundamentals of actually getting people to buy. You know how to write. But he will teach you how to sell. This is a skill that you can use all your life, especially when you learn it from a true master.

He is also damn entertaining. I can’t really recommend him enough. I read every new post he writes, keep a file of his ads from AppSumo, and want to hire him to do a workshop at my company.

I’ve been a professional copywriter for five years. I still learned a ton from the Kopywriting Kourse including extremely useful headline templates and an amazing way to write shorter copy. I loved how he actually breaks down his process and explains how to come up with selling ideas.

I truly think that Neville is one of the best practicing copywriters today. It’s like learning from young Gary Halbert, John Carlton, or Joe Sugarman.

If I had to recommend one resource to copywriters, it’s his course.

You can read more about the copywriting course here. This is not a partner or affiliate link. I’ve taken his course and loved it.

TWO: Next, read Ogilvy on Advertising

Why it’s good: you’ll learn about the classic principles of copywriting and understand why advertising uses ‘soft selling.’

One of the most famous books is by a guy named Ogilvy. He wrote a few books but most people will start with his book, Ogilvy on Advertising. He knows what he is talking about.

For example, he went from being a 37-year old farmer to building the world’s biggest ad agency. He started his agency with $6,000 and zero clients. He then got really successful eventually bought a castle in France (be jealous below). He was a good copywriter!

copywriting course 101
This copywriter bought himself a nice castle. David Ogilvy is the one true King of Copywriting.

I recommend this book because a lot of modern advertising is really based on his principles.

One thing to remember, though, is that a lot of books are going to be about theory and selling principles. This is good to learn. But you won’t actually learn how to write a good ad or sales letter until you start practicing.

THREE: Finally, read a copywriting blog 

Why blogs are important: you’ll gain modern tactics from modern copywriters.

Blogs are important but when I look back, I learned WAY more from reading books and taking online copywriting courses.

The problem is that anyone can offer advice on a blog. In contrast, a book or online course takes a lot of time to develop. So, you tend to find a lot of amateur advice on blogs; whereas books and online courses are better places to start. As my mother says, “you don’t want to practice mistakes.”

Here are a few copywriting blogs that I’ve read for the past five years (others come and go).

Kopywriting Kourse’s blog. I learn things from every post.

Nick Usborne. Good basic advice from a copywriter with a ton of experience.

Bryan & Jeffrey Eisenberg for learning how to master complex sales.

Bonus: Drayton Bird is one of the world’s most respected and hilarious direct response experts. He’s terribly funny and smart. His blog covers marketing and copywriting.

Your Actions to Get Started:

There are no affiliate or partner links here—these are just good copywriting resources I’ve purchased and learned a ton from.

By the way, I’m selling my Master’s Degree in English. Never used. $40,000K. Details here.

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