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I’m a freelance copywriter (getcoleman.com)
788 points by sigmundritz on April 1, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 113 comments

Going through his portfolio, my sarcastic side trying to find something that will somehow justify for my mind why a person's writing is so good that he gets paid for it consistently. Flip through, see [0] A picture of a boy playing in a puddle with a Washtub on his head, with the caption:

"The joy of being five.

You've got just 365 days to capture it".

Ok, now I get it. (goes to my soon to be 6 daughter and gives her a huge hug, and wish I have taken more pictures, and telling my wife I just got something stuck in my eye)

[0] http://getcoleman.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/1_Jessops-B...

For exactly that reason. The job of a copywriter is to find the 'essential truth' in an image that could as banal as a five year old playing with a washtub.

That essential truth has to be something that a large number of people can 'get' within two seconds on reading it and require no further context or explanation.

And it has to be patently non-obvious or cliched. It's not enough to say 'they grow up fast.' There are also tricks of the trade in the way he has structured the sentence that you're probably not even consciously aware of - such as the punchline of 'capture it' being left to the end of the sentence so you have to read the whole thing to understand it.

Or the simple, evocative 'The joy of being five', which brings to mind all sorts of associations and sets the context for the punchline. 'Imagine what it's like being a child' doesn't have the same impact, does it?

If that sounds simple - try doing the same with a random image from Google Images or something you've seen in the news. You'll find that it's not easy. Copywriting is an art like any other.

Is there a good book on copywriting that you could recommend?

I love 'Comedy Writing for Late Night TV' by Joe Toplyn which is a 'behind the curtain' look at writing for late night TV and what makes certain lines 'work' and what doesn't. It's writing to be funny, but the principles you write to be funny are actually fairly similar to those you just use for good copywriting generally.

I liked his 'Surprise Theory of Comedy', used by the line above in fact.


A lot of great writers end up writing for comedy shows - if you end up in a writing team you get both the promise of a regular paycheck and a constant creative challenge creating lines around new news stories. The 'magic' of copywriting is really knowing maybe twenty really useful mental tools inside out, and executing on them the best way possible.

What you tend to find with copywriting is that everyone recommends the same seven books - Cialdini, D&AD etc, I guess like with programming where everyone suggests you read Code Complete - but a lot of them are quite long in the tooth, and have an annoying tendency to just hold lines up and say 'here, this is great copywriting', rather than really break down what makes lines work. That said if you're really brand new to it I'd recommend Hey Whipple, Squeeze This as a good starter for 10.

Online, ComedyWire is probably one of the best examples I've seen both for seeing great writers at work and practicing yourself. It's kind of like Hacker News for Comedy - people submit lines in response to news stories and the best ones get upvoted.

Yeah, very evocative.

Being not-very-emotional, I always figured that "they grow up too fast" wouldn't hit me, but it has. There is so much more I wanted to provide my son (the oldest, age 7). I wish that I could just put his growth timeline on pause and continue to get to enjoy him, at least until I feel like I've gotten the TODO at least half-way cleared out.

7 years gone by, 7 more years and he'll be 14. Half of his childhood already slipped through the hourglass and I barely noticed it. Can't take it.

Same story with his siblings. It seems that no matter how much time you spend with them, it will always feel like it evaporated, and there will always be stuff you wanted to do but couldn't get to. I don't expect that to change, but the sadness in that slippage is profound.

I hope the future, where they're all old people, is somehow competitive with the present. Hard to conceive how that could happen right now.

Speaking of something in eyes...

This Cat Stevens song always brings something to the eyes.


This is not a Cat Stevens song.

However, Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam did write "Father & Son" - which brings tears to my eyes... when I think of my son and my dad.

I was introduced to that song through the Ugly Kid Joe cover when in my teens, and it could make me cry then. Now, with my own children, I might just weep if I listened to it in its entirety.

And another great wordsmith on the same subject:


Enjoy now

You sound like a really good parent. I wish My Dad had been like that

Being a wordsmith, not a code smith, the view that words are just content to be monetized is wrong. This guy uses words to evoke emotions as novelists and poets have done for centuries and that has value.

the only reason why I upgraded my phone to the 7s. I have a 3 year old. A smart phone + Google photos combination is a pretty good one.

You have a 7s?

ah meant 7 plus

I got the 7 plus and I can say that I am stunned by the photos I can capture of my son and daughter.

The real-life Don Draper/Peggy Olson.

If you want a general term for this sort of thing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StretchText. (The original note describing the concept: http://i.imgur.com/jOCOQGI.png)

That image is an absolutely fascinating historical artifact. He's describing (in a related paper) the essence of web sites in detail in 1965.

It's difficult to even imagine how few people were thinking of such things when they were so far removed everyday life and culture.

Tim Berners-Lee I thought was much more well known for starting a revolution with the world wide web. I hate to say but the web seems a bit less of an insight when you know that Hypertext had already been so well established for almost 25 years.


The one that really blows my mind is Vannevar Bush -- July 1945 - "As we may think" - https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-m... If you can look past the way he describes technologies of the day, there's an amazing amount of foresight in how access to information, its modalities and interconnectedness would become critically important.

He's actually describing the essence of something much more ambitious than the World Wide Web, if you can believe that.

Ted Nelson's idea was/is called "Xanadu":


The Xanadu vision is centered on a hypertext system, like the Web. But unlike the Web, it also includes such things as:

- A mechanism for embedding live documents within other documents ("transclusion": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transclusion)

- Bidirectional links, that updated themselves automatically when the address of the linked document changed (see http://dubinko.info/blog/2009/11/22/how-xanadu-works/)

- An addressing system that goes beyond just documents to let you link directly to any range of content you wish ("tumblers": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tumbler_(Project_Xanadu))

- Automatic, redundant cross-network storage of all documents (a built-in Wayback Machine)

- A micropayments system for content creators to sell access to what they create

- Strong identity built in (a necessity if you want to also have payments built in)

... and much more.

Xanadu is (in theory anyway) a much more sophisticated system than the Web is even today, never mind the Web as it was when TBL first designed it. Back then it was so much more crude than Xanadu as to barely merit comparison.

But in a way that was TBL's genius, because, while the Web was much more crude than Xanadu architecturally, it was something that could actually be implemented with the early-'90s technology he had on hand. Xanadu, a much grander vision, was so much grander that it has defied fifty years' worth of efforts to implement it. (Back when Wired was worth reading, they ran a good piece on the state of those efforts circa 1995: https://www.wired.com/1995/06/xanadu/ It's still defying implementation today, more than twenty years later.)

So we ended up with the Web we have, which kinda sorta works except for all the ways that it really doesn't. (Paying content creators, for instance.) Ted Nelson saw all those problems coming, all the way back in 1960, and he tried to come up with a system that would head them all off. He hasn't succeeded (not yet, anyway!), but you have to admire both the vision and the attempt.

I favorited your comment so I can point people to it who have trouble grasping "worse is better". This is a much better example than clos vs scheme or linux vs microkernels.

It is a good example indeed.

Though when dealing with people who reject "worse is better", remember that some people may not grasp the idea, but others may grasp it very well and just consider it a bad thing - a problem to work around.

I mentioned "Worse is Better" on this site a few days ago and received this comment:

> "Worse is better" has nothing to do with it. Stop saying it every time anything you think is bad comes up. It's incredibly arrogant, the way people basically spam "worse is better" like they're in Twitch chat every time C, Unix, HTTP, or anything else that they perceive as imperfect comes up.

It didn't occur to me that I was being offensive.

You're not being offensive. It's an important, non-obvious, under taught engineering principle. I understand the phenomenon he's describing and it's unfortunate he can't tell the difference.

Good point. I think the latter opinion is a very valid opinion to be had. And often it's also something you can agree to disagree about.

Great point on TBL. Maybe it's a matter of style rather than greatest insight. Many great thinkers and theorists have died before there work is fully realized, and some are just pragmatic geniuses like Edison who can see the path to making things happen.

Both styles can offer so much to humanity, but I'd bet most entrepreneurs would go with Edison as a cofounder before Nelson.

> - A micropayments system for content creators to sell access to what they create

Today an attempt at such a thing would probably be demonized as DRM..

Are web sockets not enough regarding the document embedding and hyperlink updating...

> It's difficult to even imagine how few people were thinking of such things when they were so far removed everyday life and culture.

I guess this is why you need imagination, and to not stifle it.

The Xanadu site is worth reading. What a brilliant mind! The practical way to realize that vision, given the constraint of legacy content, could be graph databases.

Interesting wikipedia article, immediately brings to mind "worse is better" or "perfect is the enemy of good"

I'm surprised that anyone could believe it required insight. Having lived through that period, nothing about it seemed insightful or surprising at the time. The only time I remember being surprised was when I saw a UPS truck with their URL painted on the side, in 1993. I remember thinking it was a couple of years ahead of time.

I recall somebody showing me the Internet in 1992 and I dismissed him as nuts - oops!

I worked on a related implementation of this: https://skorokithakis.github.io/expounder/

Great idea. My only suggestion is to have SEQme sort of symbol attached to the link that indicates that it expands the text and does not link to other material.

Yes, that's indicated by the dashed underline (although you can style it differently, including with an icon, if you're already using that style).

This sort of expanding text is used heavily in hypertext-based interactive fiction,[1][2] but I haven't seen it used outside of that before. Nice work!

[1]: https://twinery.org/ [2]: https://texturewriter.com/

Wow this is really great. Thanks for sharing.

Thank you, I'm glad you like it!

Here's a long-term AI/ML goal - interpolate between Simple Wikipedia and regular Wikipedia article on the same topic and use StretchText to allow the reader to decide their level of depth.

Oh how I wish every math article on Wikipedia had this feature.

I want this for learning faster, summarizing a page, but it's hard to teach something (to me). Like have it pull all the text in plain text, you read the page and pull the information that is new/important to you. Which this is subjective/different per person, but if the "AI" is unique to you then I think that would make sense.

But for this to work, you'd have to have a history/scope of your current knowledge.

I hadn't heard of that phase, but that's great touch point. It reminds me of http://tomasp.net/coeffects/.

'Telescopic text' featured a few years ago on HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2551120

A nice example: http://www.telescopictext.com/

I like the idea of stretch text to created distributed bodies of work.

Off topic but why send text to Imgur?

I've always wanted a version of this for math.

Why isn't Wikipedia made like this?

OMG, this is awesome. Favorited!

I actually am a freelance copywriter. I probably fall pretty close to "If you need a freelance copywriter, you could phone me. Or not."

Except s/phone/email.

This may partly explain my poverty. Perhaps explosions and aggression is The Way.

Tao te Copywriting

Edit: He says he's flexible. Makes me think of this:


(I confess: I might be a former gymnastics student. Maybe.)

Its rare that you come across a unique personal pitch tactic with this much selling power and focus. For me, this was one of those rare occasions where it actually happened. This guy seems very good at what he does.

Creativity and novelty are always rewarded. No one gets noticed doing the same pitch everyone else does.

Reminds me of this old "Microsoft Re-Designs the iPod Packaging" [1].

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUXnJraKM3k

Can someone explain this phenomenon to me: http://i.imgur.com/lIAwLXP.png

There's a lot of randomness in what gets traction on a site like this based on whether or not the story clicks with the first few readers. A few people seeing it and upvoting it early can be the difference between it getting momentum and going on to be successful or totally dying. If the first few people don't upvote, the post loses more and more momentum and dies quickly (even if it was good content).

It's sort of like a job interview at a big tech company. Being qualified isn't enough. Lots of good people get turned down based on random factors like who got assigned the interview or what random screening question they got asked. But they might apply again later, get a different interviewer or question and get an offer.

Get comfortable with some randomness in life. If you want theory to explain that reality, read Taleb

Second one looks like a spam.

It's more hard sell. HN responds better to soft sell.

The second one links to the very same URL (and actually came first). What's also interesting is that HN didn't block the 2nd one at all; they should've kept the first one only.

We do what our friends do and upvote what is already upvoted. When the two identical links got posted, the first few drive-by voters opted for the first rather than the second. Other late clickers simply upvoted what was already upvoted. The derogatory term for that is "hivemind" and the effect is fairly common on Reddit or any other social media with anonymous users.

The word 'freelance' captures the dreamers who want to fire the boss. This seems like potentially a story of how someone did this so it arouses curiosity.

one is on the front page. the other was not. more people vill upvote if also others do. social proof.

Are websites like that supposed to carry a warning for epileptics?

There are W3C recommendations on photosensitive epilepsy; the key recommendation is to keep the flash rate of any large area of the screen below 3Hz. This recommendation follows broadcast television standards. The flash rate on this site is 2Hz, so it poses a relatively low risk of triggering PSE.


Thanks for that. I'm clearly bad at estimating the frequency, since I thought it was probably below the threshold recommended. Glad to know I was wrong.

Sounds like something our OS should be solving

Haha concerns of accessibility? No... that's like an after thought same with using Aria, good contrast, tab-index, no-script option, etc...

Yeah, it's hilarious but photosensitive epileptics should beware before fiddling with the slider at the bottom.

He could have left off that last one ("hardest sale") and avoided the issue, but I think most people aren't aware of the issue.

I read this comment before looking at the site, but I still wasn't expecting that. It's bad.

SUDEP is a thing. Come on people: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudden_unexpected_death_in_epi...

I've been doing freelance writing for 4 years now.

It truly is about presenting those small wisps of childhood joy through simple stories. Unfortunately, only small projects are fit for that, as corporate staff generally loathes any risk or anything different from the "standard".

For example, I was once asked to do a Christmas video for a plumbing company and was shown the last year's version, which was simply shot after shot of the company's staff saying their names to the camera.

I decided to write an actual Christmas carol about a mouse that got stuck in the drain due to broken dishwasher hose on Christmas Eve and got saved by the company's employees. Though the client praised my writing skills, she said the script got rejected because the higher-ups didn't appreciate the thought of mice in customers' homes.

Love it! This is great communication, and I'd like to book Joe even though I have no copy that needs writing. (Or meet for a cup his namesake.)

Trifling bug report (but in this sort of thing it's worth getting the details right): one of the versions has "fewawards" instead of "few awards".

[EDITED to add:] Er, I was assuming that this was posted by the person who wrote it and that the latter is therefore reading this. But it looks like it wasn't, so maybe he isn't.

Call him and let him know.

I found his email address and sent him an email. I got a reply saying the error had already been noticed. (It hasn't actually been fixed yet, though.)

Fascinating and educational to see all those variations! Reminds me a little of 99 Ways to Tell a Story by Matt Madden: http://mattmadden.com/comics/99x/

I haven't read 99 Ways to Tell a Story, but when I read Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style about a decade ago (in English translation) I was delighted by it. Though I have not reread the book recently, 2008-me would heartily recommend it.

I've noticed that exercises in style (in writing or in visual art, comics, video games and what have you) and practices like constrained writing and their analogues in other media seem to resonate with a certain type of computer/math nerd. It affects even those who would rather not associate with anything described as "literary". I think being a nerd predisposes one towards enjoying a kind of formalism in art.

I could refer to this when writing cover letters. First line in my most recent cover letter "I was ecstatic..." fail... My eyes were popping out of my head when I came across this listing.

edit: following through the progression, it would not be hard to emulate this and get responses but then the problem comes back to your actual competence. Thanks for sharing this is helpful.

edit: would probably help to dissect this for visible-progression, but the pattern seems to be:

feel free -> if you need -> hello I'm -> then more and more dictating, not so much choice, you need to choose me.

Check out the business cards in the projects listing, they are gold.

Perfect example of a clever functional component to convey your business / sell yourself.

One usability note: I would turn 'less / more hard sell' either side of the slider into links that move it forward/back as keeping my mouse pressed down on the slider reading through all the options was a little cumbersome.

You can also use arrow keys to progress the slider one step at a time.

I get a 403 error when I try to access the site ;(


You don't have permission to access / on this server.

Additionally, a 403 Forbidden error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.```

Just love the website content and slider. So wish that many more sites were like this. We could all save time by reading the one sentence version and move on.

Interesting to see "call me on phone number" in stead of "call me at phone number". Is that the appropriate way to say it where this guy is?

Yes it's a UK number and that is an acceptable way to say that in the UK.

I really like it. Might have to mimic your style for an editor friend of mine. Do you incorporate this style somehow into your business cards (if you have any at the moment)?

Good idea for business cards like this. Could leverage multi-design printing such as Moo's Printfinity[0] (allows for a different design on every card).

[0] - https://www.moo.com/uk/about/printfinity.html

He does actually. His business cards are hilarious :D


The site is down. Resource limit hit.

Edit:...and it's back again.

Clever, effective and no Oxford commas.

I see what you did there.


warning, flashing on the rightmost setting.

Why is this here?

I mean it just sort of reeks of advertising.

That and that website is really unoptimized.

He should change the description from "hard sell" to "hard on the eyes."

Check out http://lingscars.com. It will desensitise you.


Lingscars.com is arguably the worst money-making website on the Internet [0].

[0] http://metro.co.uk/2015/02/15/welcome-to-lingscars-quite-pos...

A little anecdote, a few years ago I posted a link to her site here. Moments later the traffic from Hacker News took down her site and she took to Twitter to complain about the "Hackers" that brought her site down.

Is there a way to DDOS your self on purpose? I want to bench mark my servers. I saw that there are some tools, damn... need to refer to some old forum threads...

Not exactly a (D)DoS tool, but it comes quite handy, too – https://github.com/shekyan/slowhttptest

Thanks, I was wondering how you get that "Build/Passing" thing on the GitHub.

I'm also not sure if Apache is outdated, like I should really move to NGINX or Node/Amazon, I have yet to configure overflow handling (forwarding traffic in the event of a server not being able to handle it all) I was looking at public cloud before, kind of interesting, said something like $0.010/ or maybe $0.10/GB not sure if that was storage or bandwidth but yeah. I also wonder how hard/how you should create quick "copies" or "images" of your application and then be able to forward traffic to that.

Thanks I'll check that out.

thanks. tremendous car rental site. or whatever it is Ling does with cars. not sure.

when i viewed the page, the audio soundtrack was a rendition of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by the Beatles. maybe a better choice would be Helter Skelter.

Give him a break. He's a copywriter, not a designer. Come on! Although, I'm sure there are plenty of used car salesmen who would love for him to put cats wearing helmets riding on skateboards through explosions on their website.

fucking genius

A mild point, but I don't think it's good copywriting to ask a yes/no question. Still, a clever website.

Downvotes: I've worked in advertising for over 10 years. Most copywriters try to avoid the direct yes/no questions in headlines. For effective headlines, go scan the cover of a Cosmopolitan magazine.

Isn't this what advertising agencies already do, but with deep learning (based on your past behavior) instead of the slider?

Uh... why is this on the front page of HN? Feels like spam but I'm probably missing something.

Drag the slider.

It's not about the person, or his job. It's about the clever concept.

Thank you! I didn't notice it; think it was not visible on my old Android but could see it on my Mac desktop.

I hit the downvote on your comment before realizing what you meant, and I agree, the slider is a little subtle, even on a desktop. I think it might go better at the top, before the text.

Common, we're not here to get advertising, even if it's well done, I really don;t care about your skills, your supposed talent, and you B&W website. You might want to think you're special, but I still want to see something I could think of of special..

btw nice hack : getting ~400pts on a saturday night, with this kind of uninteresting content. Growth hacking is good only when you've got something edgy to sell

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