Professor at workThe simple answer is ‘someone who writes’, but there are all kinds of writing and designating someone as ‘a writer’ creates more questions than answers!

If someone is introduced as a writer most of us immediately think ‘novelist’ or ‘journalist’, but there are many more kinds of writer and they’re all different disciplines – a good novelist won’t necessarily be able to write marketing copy, a web copywriter would probably struggle with ghost writing.  Let’s explore the skills of some of these writers:

The Novelist:  This is creative writing at its best and a good novelist needs to be able to come up with a compelling story, develop it into a strong plot and bring the characters to life in a way that creates emotion in the reader so they become engaged with what is happening to them and want to know how the story turns out.  Depending on the type of novel, the novelist may also need to be very good at research to ensure their facts are accurate and consistent.

The Journalist:  These come in two main varieties – the news hound and the features writer, two very different sub-divisions.  The news hound has a nose for a good story, whether its political, sporting, human interest, business or financial and they’re the lifeblood of the newspaper business.  A good journalist knows how to track down the facts, asks really good questions, is able to find an angle that will appeal to their publication’s readers (or if they’re freelance, the readers of the publication they plan to sell the story to) and is an expert at presenting facts simply with impact.

However, newspapers also carry features to support the news and magazines and industry journals are almost entirely made up of features.  The features writer is always looking for things that people are interested in and then creating an article that taps into those interests.  That might be celebrity interviews, consumer information on a particular product or range of products, or information on a specialist subject either for the lay reader or the industry it relates to, depending on where it will be published.  Things like fashion items, advice columns, motoring stories and hobby-related content all come under this heading.  That means that the features writer needs similar skills to the journalist, but a more conversational approach.

The Ghost Writer:  They’re the people who have to be expert at coaxing information out of the ‘author’ and capturing that person’s voice as it’s translated into book form.  They are usually part of the planning process so will need to understand what a reader is looking for in the way of structure and content as well as how to turn someone’s story into compelling content.  A good ghost writer can put themselves into their subject’s shoes and see the world through their eyes – and then turn the facts into a story that flows and draws the reader along.

The Biographer:  When you’re writing about someone else you need a similar skill set to the news hound journalist.  If you have access to the subject it’s easier and more like ghost writing, but if not you’ll need to be a really good researcher to track down all the facts, check them for authenticity and interview lots of different people.  This has to be turned into an interesting life story that people will be drawn into.

Commercial copywriting

This category includes several different specialists – advertising, web content, blogging, email and direct marketing – not all commercial copywriters are experts at all of these.

The Advertising Copywriter:  This is a highly specialised skill and usually rewarded accordingly!  Being able to look at a product, service or company and then create a short snappy headline that will draw people in is much harder than writing a page of description about it.  Doing this once is possible, doing it again and again is a real challenge – it takes a very specific mindset and an in-depth understanding of the customer.

The Web content specialist:  Despite many business owners and marketing managers beliefs, the website is not an exercise in creativity – people don’t come to the website to be entertained, they are looking for information and, to satisfy their needs that information needs to be easy to find, clear and concise.  Nobody spends more than a few seconds scanning to find what they’re looking for on a website – if it’s not where they’re looking they’ll simply go somewhere else.  This means that web content needs to have a good headline (to get their attention) and to tell them what they need to know and emphasise the benefits – followed by a call to action.

The Blogger:  Good bloggers share information, they’re more like features writers, but most are also blogging to promote their business.  That means the content needs to show off their expertise, deliver value in the blog and also give people a reason for taking action – like signing up for a further free product, joining a course or webinar or making a small purchase.

Email and direct marketing copywriters:  Writing messages that land in someone’s email box or letter box is always a challenge.  They have to have some kind of ‘Read me’ headline that engages the reader and compelling content that isn’t instantly deleted or recycled.  Like the advertising copywriter they need a thorough understanding of their reader and what’s important to them so they can press the right buttons with their message.  Like the web content specialist they need to be able to get their message across effectively, with clear benefits and a reason to take action.

Choosing a writer

This is a bit like choosing a hairdresser – everyone you know can use a pair of scissors, but you wouldn’t let most of them loose on your hair!  There are hairdressers that are OK, some you would never visit again and some who seem to be able to turn your wayward locks into a fabulous style!  Writers are the same – everyone can write, but only few are trained to write professionally.  The biggest mistake most business owners make is to write their own copy.  Firstly, because they haven’t been trained to write commercially and, secondly, because they’re too close to the business and see it from a completely different perspective to a customer.

Would you let anyone cut your hair?  No?  So choose a writer with the same care you give to finding a good hairdresser.