Our Under the Spotlight series aims to cast a light on industry peers we love, envy and respect so that more people can understand the work that goes into The Work. Kicking off our series is the thought-provoking Andrew Boulton, author of the bestselling ‘Copywriting Is…’.
Copywriting Is… is an unusual take on technical writing – his book isn’t a ‘how to’, rather a ‘this is’. I enjoyed it so much I consumed it in one gluttonous sitting then sent Andrew an email demanding I speak to him about it. Fortunately, he said yes and a dull Tuesday afternoon in April was turned into a twisty-turny conversation about poetry, good writing habits and the kindness of the copywriting community. Read on to hear more from the man himself.
What assumptions did you have about writing a book that turned out not to be true?
My biggest assumption was that I could do it really easily – I knew that I was lying to myself about that. I had already decided on the structure of the book (to break it down into 30 or so chunks) and I find it hard to sit down and write for long periods of time. Usually, I won’t write for more than an hour at a time. I think that’s the copywriter conditioning in me, I have to write in short bursts. I thought to myself “How hard can it be?” Turns out, it was so hard. Copywriting has taught me to have an honest relationship with my own limitations.
I underestimated how lazy I am and how difficult it would be to motivate myself. I battled through by creating writing schedules then breaking them, then rewriting them again and breaking them. So in the end, I wrote when it felt right. As a copywriter, you don’t normally have that luxury.
The book was published by Gasp! How did the conversation start with them and what advice would you give to other writers looking to get published?
My advice is don’t follow my advice on publishing. My book came about through chance and a degree of chaos. I had finished the first draft before I had an outline or understood I needed a publishing proposal. Approaching publishers took a few months and felt very slow and hopeless. In the end, I met Giles Edwards on Twitter and then a week later I had the book signed off. From us having that conversation to being published took about six months.
If I’ve got any advice, it’s talk to people you admire and ask them how they did it. Ask yourself “Who will treat the thing I’m making with love and care?” Also, don’t feel you owe anyone your book. Make the thing you want.
Your ability to conjure a visual is striking. A particular favourite was from your chapter ‘Talking’ where you said “Otherwise all we are is bones in a wolf’s belly.” Where does that rich language come from in your writing?
Like a lot of writers I know, I read a lot of stuff. I’ve got into the habit of writing stuff down that I really like. That stuff you capture stays with you – even if you don’t go back and look at it. So when something like that comes out in my own writing it always feels unplanned and unsought. I’m also a member of Audible and listening to words changes them. You get to experience their rhythm and how the words tumble into each other. If you can find that rhythm you tend to come up with something that is a lot more pleasurable to read.
If you weren’t copywriting, what field of writing would you want your career to be in?
I write short stories and flash fiction. I’ve found that process to be pleasurable and it helps to manage restlessness in me. It’s been a revealing process. I like writing something that is fully contained.
What impact has COVID-19 had on your writing?
Not a huge amount, to be honest, but it has changed the way I work. The book overlapped with the initial lockdowns and I used to love writing in other spaces like coffee shops and libraries. So in the end, I ended up walking a lot to help free up my thoughts.
The clients who re-write their copywriter’s copy are usually the ones who can’t articulate how it needs improving… which suggests it’s probably a terrible idea to let them re-write the copy. #copywriting #freelance #copywriter #writing #content— Andrew Boulton (@Boultini) April 18, 2021
The guttural impact of your words in ‘Copywriting is…’ is beautifully balanced by the art direction. What was that process like? What did you learn from it?
The process was me trusting Giles Edwards to produce the thing, I said to him “ I’m the words monkey, you’re the picture monkey. Put something together that feels like it will bring it to life.” And I hate to say he did just that. More often than not, the comments I get on the book are about how beautiful the cover is. And while I am, begrudgingly, happy about that as it’s sold us more books – I am also furious with that talented idiot for stealing my very small portion of thunder.
It’s with enormous pride (& terror, & exhaustion) I announce the arrival of my first book – Copywriting Is.— Andrew Boulton (@Boultini) March 18, 2021
Here’s a little ad we made for it. And, more importantly, is where you can pre-order it. Ideally twice. https://t.co/q5vP69MyAy#copywriting #copywritersunite #writing pic.twitter.com/Wu2PE9ri7y
You are a Lecturer as well as an author and Copywriter. If you were to found The Copywriting School, who would be on your teaching staff?
What a question! I always feel like I end up talking about Vikki Ross in every interview I do, but she’s a wonderful leader for our weird little community. So I’d get Vikki in there. She always talks so much sense. I would have a job for Gemma Higgins, even though she’s not a Copywriter – but absolutely should be a Copywriter. My students often describe her as their advertising mother because she’s so supportive and gives such good direction.
Dave Harland would be our man for humour and strangeness. Gyles Lingwood (author of Read Me) would be in charge of grown up things. I’d have Glenn Fisher as I love his podcast. There’s so many people I’d want to include. Clare Barry who is incredibly entertaining on Twitter. Robyn Frost who is doing incredible things to get people into the industry or get them a fairer deal when they’re trying to get into the industry. And finally I’d want Tom Kemeny, author of Junior.
I think the copywriting community is endlessly joyful, inclusive and welcoming as a community which is strange as advertising is none of those things. I love that the copywriters have carved out their own archipelago of kindness.
Ernest Hemingway and Nora Ephron are in a linguistic battle to the death. Who wins?
Ephron all the way. But then, surprise entrant to the ring, Joan Didion enters and kills them both.
Describe your perfect client in 3 words.
Honesty. Courage. Generosity. Which perfectly captures one of the agencies I work with, Officer & Gentleman who are based in Madrid.
More from this series soon
Keep an eye out for more posts in our Under the Spotlight series, coming soon. In the meantime, follow us and Andrew on Twitter. Plus, you can keep up with the copywriting community with #copywritersunite.