It's time for an old dogma to die.
Copywriters have two problems:
- The writing market's barriers to entry are non-existent.
- Most writers are illiterate – they can't articulate good writing.
The result? The client-writer relationship is on life support; writers act as indentured servants and clients roleplay as writers – folie à deux.
Why would you invest in an expert only to tell them how to do their job? Imagine a master woodworker who charges $15,000 for a walnut end-grain butcher's block. They bring decades of experience and craft to the piece. As a client, what do you offer aside from taste preference?
As a layperson, would you undermine a software developer? How about a structural engineer?
Editors are the judicial branch of the writing world. They've spent years mastering their craft. They can spot tautology, find bloat, and correct your syntax with precision. They can articulate why something needs to be changed. And if they can't, they're not an editor.
Clients cannot do this. Paying someone does not equate to mastery. If a writer pushes back against feedback, they're not being difficult – they're acting as an expert.
Clients think they want a writer to produce great content for them. But what they actually want is a pushover who will let them feel ownership of the end product.
"I don't like this."
"It doesn't sound right."
"Can we change this paragraph?"
These are empty phrases by someone roleplaying a critic.
This bleeds into delivery. A client asks for changes because it's what clients are supposed to do. If they wanted to write it, they should have written it. Instead, they hired you.
A great writer's job is to master, and articulate, the craft of writing, not to make stylistic changes at the whim of their client. If a client makes sweeping changes to a writer's output, the writer is no longer on the hook for the results – it's no longer their output.
Demanding clients and inexperienced writers are at cross purposes. The writer thinks they're getting the chance to demonstrate their expertise, while the client thinks they're getting total control over the writer's end product – this is a recipe for disaster.
This happens because we've let it happen. Anyone with a laptop can call themselves a writer. Anyone with money can call themselves a client.
Stop Providing Revisions, I Dare You.
If you're reading this and you're a writer, I encourage you to stop offering revisions at once – or include a provision that says: all final revisions are at the discretion of the writer. You want to make sure your writing is factual, crisp, and free from errors – but aside from that, the content of the work is your domain.
You can still provide first drafts, and you can still collaborate with your client, but the final say will always be yours. They're welcome to change your copy after you've delivered it, but at that point, it ceases to be yours and becomes theirs.
I foresee one hurdle when collaborating: illiteracy. If you don't understand the basic tools of writing, you're going to have difficulty settling squabbles and winning creative arguments. For example, if a client says: "This sentence is too long." and you can't justify why you wrote it that way, you're going to capitulate. (Worse, you're going to look like an amateur.)
However, if you know that sentence variety is part of what keeps a reader engaged, and that the sentences before and after this particular sentence were short, you can articulate this to the client and justify your decision.
Mastery of your craft should always be your top priority.
Never underestimate how little you know about writing – what Zen Buddhism calls: the beginner's mind.