Is it just me or are there way too many standing ovations these days?

I’m serious.

I thought it was a local phenomenon, something that only happened at our slightly-above-mediocre community theater shows. But then I noticed it at a Second City comedy show in Chicago, and yes, even on Broadway. (To be fair, Wicked did deserve it. But even my nine-year old daughter couldn’t believe Peter and the Starcatcher got a standing O.)

This one took the prize – I attended a conference recently where the emcee actually asked the audience to give every speaker a standing ovation. Before they started speaking. Are you kidding me?

So what does this have to do with copywriting?

The bar has been lowered …

Like almost all the way to the ground. In other words, whether it’s a concert, a play, or a professional speaker, we think everything is better than it actually is.

And this gets extrapolated to everything, including copywriting.

I don’t mean to sound harsh here, and I know I’m going to rub some copywriters the wrong way. But your copy isn’t as good as you think it is.

Blame it on peer review groups where everyone is too nice to give constructive criticism. Friends who don’t want to hurt your feelings. Editors who would rather do a quick fix themselves than tell you what’s wrong with your copy.

You could also blame copywriting programs that tell you it’s super easy to write good copy. (Now I’m slaying a sacred cow.)

… and it’s keeping you in the land of mediocrity

How do I know this? Because I’ve been there.

I had easy clients in the beginning who thought I was great because I wrote better than they did. My peers were kind of the same, rarely telling me how I could improve.

The biggest mistake I made in my copywriting business? Not stretching myself to go after bigger clients that would have ripped my copy up and down, left and right. I could have used the copy flagellation.

Instead, I stayed in my soft little cocoon of warm fuzzy feedback. No standing ovations, but no smack downs either.

The Solution? Honest feedback.

Okay, so where do you find someone to give you a totally honest copy critique?

Find an accountability partner who’s at roughly the same level as you are, and is as hungry as you are to improve.

Be a copy apprentice (often referred to as a “Copy Cub”) under a master copywriter like Parris Lampropoulos or Clayton Makepeace. (Not an easy gig to land, but if you do, it’ll pay off in spades down the road.)

Go after big clients, powerhouses like Boardroom, Agora, or Phillips Publishing. I guarantee they’ll be hard on your copy, and will help you improve quickly.

Or find anyone above your level to critique your copy for free or for a very reasonable cost.

At the very least, be extremely tough on yourself. Demand constant improvement, and don’t settle for coasting down the middle of the road. Realize that getting to A-level status – something I’m striving for – takes years and years of practice.

Even when you get there, chances are nobody will be giving you a standing ovation. Unless you happen to be speaking at the right conference.

It’s a good feeling, let me tell you.



Steve Roller

Author Steve Roller

I'm a business coach, author, copywriter, world traveler (33 countries on five continents so far), and professional speaker. In addition to helping companies get more customers and make more money, I help other writers create profitable businesses. I offer one-on-one coaching, professional copy critiques, and live, in-person business-building workshops. When I'm not writing, coaching, or speaking, I enjoy nothing more than hanging out with my wife and four kids and planning my next adventure.

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Alan says:

    Hi Steve, I know of which you speak … and you’re spot on! A truly honest critique may be tough medicine to take, but it can certainly break the fever of copy mediocrity.

    • Steve Roller says:

      We’ve all gotten a little too soft and sensitive, Alan. Everyone wants to feel good and make others feel good, but sometimes a hint of honest truth is better than undeserved praise. Thanks for reading.

  • My first career was in theatre so I know Standing O’s meant Exceptional. Now I am the only one sitting when a really good performer takes a bow.

  • Sean McCool says:

    Nothing like getting your copy ripped apart to propel you upward to your next level of skill – that is if you can take the temporary trauma.

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