A Look Behind The Book With Tom Albrighton.

Copywriter (noun): A person who writes the text of advertisements or publicity material.

Oxford English Dictionary.

Tom-Albrighton-mono-500pxWhile this definition is correct, I can’t help but feel it doesn’t do justice to the skill and talent involved in writing that ‘text’, which not only informs but often has to sell too.

One man who knows just what it takes is Tom Albrighton, who has been successfully doing the job for more than 12 years.

He’s also written a book, entitled Copywriting Made Simple, imparting some of his expertise in a bid to help other people wanting to break into this field.

I was delighted to be able to quiz Tom, who is based in Norwich, for my latest Behind The Book post.

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Can you tell us a bit about you and your writing background?

As a child I loved reading and writing stories. I did an English degree at the University of East Anglia and worked at Jarrold Publishing, then at a small agency.

I went freelance about 12 years ago, and since then I’ve written copy for brands of all sizes, in the UK and beyond, and I also do academic editing.

In 2012 I co-founded ProCopywriters, the UK alliance for commercial writers. I stepped down from running it in 2016.

How is copywriting different from journalism?

For me, the biggest contrast is with publishing, since that’s my background. But both books and newspapers are about giving readers something interesting, valuable or fun that they’ll seek out and (hopefully) buy. In contrast, copywriting is about grabbing their attention and cultivating their interest or desire, so they’ll seek out and buy something else. So as I say in the book, it’s writing with purpose.

What made you want to write your book? Who is it aimed at? Aren’t you helping the competition, in a way?

I wanted to write a simple, accessible guide to copywriting that anyone could find useful, even if they didn’t write for a living. I felt that many of the books out there mainly focused on one type of copywriting (whether they admitted it or not), and I wanted mine to be as universal as possible.

I suppose I am helping the competition, but when it comes to writing work, I try to have an ‘abundance mindset’. There are plenty of copywriting clients and jobs out there, and we can all find our niche.

tom quoteReading my book won’t turn you into me, but I hope it will help you find yourself as a copywriter.

Did you have any worries about writing a book about writing?

Well, the biggest worry is making your advice consistent with itself. I’d be mortified if someone said, ‘On page 123 you say this, but then on page 234 you write this!!’ That’s why I spent ages editing the book – far longer than the initial writing.

I think, from the outside, many people think writing is easy (in my experience, especially journalism) and anyone can do it. What’s your take?

I think this is because nearly everybody writes as part of their work, using the same tools as the professional. So there’s no barrier to entry, no cloud of mystique around the act of writing.

Also, when you see something well written, whether it’s an ad or an article, it’s so easy to think, ‘Oh yeah, I could have done that,’ particularly when the finished text is short and simple. Then you try it yourself, and you realise that long and complex is a piece of cake, while short and simple is fiendishly hard.

CopywritingmadesimpleThe strapline for your book is “write powerful and persuasive copy that sells”. From a copywriting point of view, can you afford to take a stand against products/brands you might not agree with? Has that ever come up?

I wrote about a consumer credit product recently that gave me pause, although I still did the job. I’ve always thought that I I’d hate selling sugary food to kids – but nobody’s asked me yet. And I wouldn’t fancy writing about guns.

I’d applaud anyone who took a stand, but if you’re in a salaried post or supporting a family, that could be a tough call to make. You could argue, self-protectively, that it’s the companies and brands who are the real villains, and marketers are just messengers. Certainly, we can’t sell to people against their will. But at the same time, we are out to influence them. So we’re probably not without sin.

How did the idea for writing it come about? Did you pitch it to publishers before writing it? Or was it all done and dusted first?  

When I stepped down from running ProCopywriters a few years ago, I fancied a new challenge. Since I’m a generalist rather than a specialist, a basic introduction was a natural fit. Originally it was going to be a little ebook, but it kind of grew.

It’s self-published (by Troubador), so there wasn’t any pitching. With quite a few copywriting books out there already, and no plans to write further books, I didn’t fancy trying to convince an agent to take me on. I also wanted full control over the editorial, design and production, since the book is my professional calling card and I know something about creating a book from my previous life.

What about the process of writing it? Did you take time off from your day job to write it?

Nope, I just did it in spare moments, mostly while Strictly or Britain’s Got Talent was on in the lounge. I’ve always spent some time blogging, as a non-work writing outlet, so I just repurposed those bits of time. Start to finish, the writing took me about two years.

Ever thought about writing fiction?  

I thought this was a fiction assignment?

Do you have any top tips you can share for copywriters?

Be curious. Read widely. Take an interest in what’s going on, what people say, what they do. Think about how products or services work, and why people like them. That’s how you find the little things that bring copy to life.

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Thank you to Tom for his fantastic answers. You can follow him on Twitter here and find out more about his book, Copywriting Made Simple, (including details of how to buy) here.

I was particularly interested to hear what he said about taking a stand on certain brands/products from a personal point of view, not only as a journalist but also in terms of blogging. Sometimes, especially in the latter, it can seem like you need to sell your soul to make money. From a copywriting point of view, writing about meat products as a veggie is probably the closest I’ve come to that.

What about my fellow bloggers out there. How do you decide what you will and won’t write about, especially if you are reliant on blogging for income? 

Also, a big thanks to Anne for introducing Tom and I.

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A Look Behind The Book With Lucy Mitchell.

IMG_3074 2Monday mornings were always just that bit more manageable when I knew Lucy Mitchell would be posting the latest instalment of The Diary of Roxy Collins on her blog.

Her funny, warm and relatable series, featuring a single mother of three, looking for love after some disastrous relationships, has since been turned into a popular podcast, read by Lucy (links at the end).

For now though, Roxy is having to step aside – not that she’s very happy about it – while Lucy is busy writing her debut novel.

I’ve been a fan for years and can’t wait to see what she comes up with but first I was very happy when she agreed to chat to me for my latest Behind The Book post.

Let’s start with the big one, what’s the dream writing-wise? And how do you keep that dream alive?

I want to see one of my stories turned into a book. I want to frame the cover and put it on my living room wall. Every night I sit in my writing corner, in the lounge, and glance up at the bare wall, near my book shelves. One day it will contain a framed book cover and I will be so proud of myself.

At what age did you start writing? Were you encouraged at school?

I wrote a lot as a child and excelled at English at school. When I went to university I wrote to my mother every week. Instead of terrifying her with my student adventures I turned them all into little comedies. Mum tells me laughed her head off each breakfast time, as she read my lengthy account of student life, and she knew I would one day do something with my writing.

writing

You write romantic comedy fiction. Were you always interested in that genre? What was the lure? 

I enjoy writing stuff that makes people laugh and I also enjoy reading romance. I write about real romances as for years I have grown tired of reading about stick thin heroines with glamorous jobs and angelic children. It is time for the real life heroines with failed marriages, ex partners, unsuccessful diets, money issues and wild best friends, to make an appearance.

Can we talk about your very successful blog? When and why did you start it?

My kids and husband were doing my head in one Sunday back in April 2014. I crept upstairs and started my blog. I wanted a place where I could come out as a writer and gain some confidence.

You’re very open about the ups and downs of a writing life, which I can totally identify with. Was that a conscious decision? I know a lot of authors feel like they shouldn’t talk about rejections, what do you think?

My blog is a place where I sort out my head. I use each blog post to investigate an issue or deal with an emotional problem.

I will be talking about the highs and lows of my publishing journey on my blog.

How do you find time to blog, write, work and I’m sure do a million other different things?

I write in the bath, in motorway service stations, in hotel rooms, in cafes in my lunch hour and before I go to bed. I am tapping out words on dog walks, in lifts and in shopping centres. Writing is a huge part of my life.

 

Can you talk about your character Roxy Collins? As well as your blog, she also features on Wattpad and a very successful podcast.

Roxy Collins has become an old friend to me. I am so glad I turned her into a podcast and gave her a voice. She’s always in my head and never leaves me. Roxy makes me giggle as I know she gets jealous of new female characters who come into my mind.

The female character who makes it to publication better be tough enough to face up to Roxy.

How important do you think social media is to writers?

Social media has been a life saver for me. I have entered a supportive and encouraging community of creative people who have been like beacons of light for me on dark days.

lucy quote

Who are your favourite authors to read?

I like Stephie Chapman, Victoria Cooke and Roxie Cooper. They all make me smile.

I know you share a lot of writing tips on your blog, do you have a top one you live by?

Keep writing. Even when you are having a tough time, keep writing.

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Wise words, particularly at the end there. I completely agree about finding fellow writers on social media too – and Lucy has always been lovely.

You can find her brilliant blog, Blonde Write More, here, read Roxy’s story on Wattpad here and hear Lucy (and Roxy) in action on her podcast on iTunes here. It’s also available on Stitcher and Soundcloud.

A big thank you to Lucy for taking part and sending best wishes for her debut.

A Look Behind The Book With Richard Balls.

richard balls
Photo by Bill Smith.

Within days, maybe even hours, of meeting Richard Balls, I already knew three things he was passionate about – quality journalism, his beloved Norwich City Football Club and music.

When I joined the Eastern Daily Press, he was an established correspondent with a reputation for producing hard-hitting stories, being unafraid to ask the difficult questions and take on the big guns. His first book, Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Life Of Ian Dury, was already out and impressing critics and fans alike.

In short, he really had no need to bother with a wide-eyed reporter, feeling out of her depth after moving from a small weekly paper to what was the biggest regional selling daily in the country but at lunchtime on my first day he came over and offered to give me a quick tour of Norwich.

I’d only visited the city centre once, when I was eight, so it was a lovely and very welcome gesture – especially as he knew by then that I was originally from local derby rivals Ipswich Town.

Over the years we worked together, he was always very generous with his time and I learnt a lot about journalism from him. I always wanted to ask him more about his writing life outside of newspapers but never got the opportunity, until now. I was thrilled when he agreed to be my latest Behind The Book interviewee, following my summer break.

Since his first biography, he has had a second book published, Be Stiff: The Stiff Records Story, and he is currently working on his third.

Without further ado…

Lets start at the beginning. When did you first think about becoming a journalist? 

I was very fortunate in that I always wanted to be a journalist. Even at school, I can remember talking to the careers advisor about wanting to work for the local paper and I spoke to someone there about how to get into journalism.

I know you started on local papers in London before moving to Dublin. Was it a big jump? 

Yes, I began my career with a newspaper group covering north London and Hertfordshire, and I covered local council meetings, crime, court hearings – everything newsworthy that was going on in the area really. Initially, I worked on a weekly paper in Dublin, but within a year I was working for national papers, so that was a step up.

Was there ever a time when you thought about combining some of your passions, maybe being a sports reporter or a music journalist?

When I was eight my dad started taking me to watch Norwich City and I was always envious of the writers who covered the games in the paper and on television. I thought, ‘imagine actually getting paid to write about football’. So that’s where my original interest in reporting came. After I joined the Eastern Daily Press I was asked to write an opinion piece about the club and it led to a weekly column, which I did for more than 10 years and loved. Although I was never a music journalist, I did do a music column for the Enfield Gazette, writing about local bands and covering gigs every week. I have fond memories of that and watching bands in pub backrooms.

How did books come into it? Was it always a dream? Was it a choice between football and music?

I always wanted to write a book and ultimately music is a deeper interest for me than football, so that was the most likely direction I would take.

IanduryYour first book is about the musician Ian Dury, who strikes me as not being the easiest subject to write about. What fascinated you about him in particular and how did you decide to write about him?

First and foremost, I was a huge fan of Ian Dury & The Blockheads. But it was when I found out about his own extraordinary back-story, particularly around his childhood polio, that I began exploring the idea of writing a biography. I had interviewed Ian over the phone from Dublin when I was researching a feature about Stiff Records in 1996. I think that also helped nudge me in his direction and I also saw him perform live there a couple of times around that time.

I know you never got to interview him for your book – although he was happy for you to talk to his bandmates/colleagues and gave you access to his aunt. Is that a regret? Do you ever think about the questions you would have asked him?

I would have loved to interview him, but he was very ill at the time and you can‘t regret things. Going to his house and meeting him was something I’ll never forget. When he told me to speak to his Aunt Molly, it wasn’t a suggestion. It was an order!

BestiffYour second book is about the British independent label, Stiff Records, and the many and varied artists signed to them, which included Dury but also Elvis Costello, Madness, the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. How long did it take to research and write?

There were so many potential people to speak to and I had to take some decisions about who to approach. I guess it took about two years to complete.

Writing a book 18 years ago must have been very different to doing the same in 2014 or today. Has the Internet made things easier for things such as contacting people and perhaps promoting what youre doing?

Everything is so different now – it’s another world. Most people are on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In or have some online profile, so getting in contact is so quick and easy. When I was working on the Dury book in the late 1990s, there was nothing like that and I put in a lot of hours tracking people down. Social media and other online channels can also be very powerful when it comes to promoting your work and I took full advantage of that with my book about Stiff Records. A lot of radio interviews and other promotional opportunities came from marketing it on Twitter.

What about fiction? Any thoughts on going in that direction?

Fiction interests me and I have done a course at the Writers’ Centre in Norwich. It may be something I explore in the future.

Can you tell us what youre working on at the moment and how things are going?

I’m writing an authorised book about Shane MacGowan from The Pogues and it’s a genuinely exciting project. I’m doing it with the full support of Shane and his family and getting to spend time over in Ireland, which is fantastic.

Finally, do you have any tips you can share with would-be authors looking to write non-fiction?

Richardquote

Be determined in your research and keep going when you come up against obstacles, such as people refusing to contribute. And don’t set out with fixed ideas: let your research and the information you dig out inform where the story goes. It’s also important to be organised and self-disciplined: there will be times when you don’t want to do it, but when you have a publisher’s deadline, you can’t afford to get behind.

Most of all, believe in it.

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A big thank you to Richard for taking time away from writing his book to answer my questions. I definitely feel like I know him a little better now. I also can’t wait to see if he does go down the fiction route. Maybe he’ll come back on the blog and let me interview him again?

You can follow Richard on Twitter,  check out his website and, of course, buy Richard’s books via Amazon here or from all good book shops.

I’ll be back soon with another Behind The Book.