Most of us business writers don’t go to college with the express intent of producing scammy writing. So we don't think we need to take How Not to Be a Scammy Writer 101.
After all, we became English majors or communications majors (or pursued some such useless degree) with utter certainty that we'd soon be writing the next big thing, whether book, article or blog – inevitably changing the whole wide world in the process.
Then college ended and reality set in.
This particular English major's reality was working almost 10 years at a company that excelled in scammy writing.
That’s not to say that everything it produced was dreadful. Some of it was pretty good: interesting, informative and even helpful. But that was almost never true of its advertising copy.
The absolute worst was when we ran a pages-long promotion about a company that had found “the cure for cancer!” Knowing full well that it hadn’t – that its success rate wasn’t even close to what we were implying – my fellow business writers ran that sucker until they were blue in the heart.
But wait… There’s more!
It was scammy writing at its very worst, particularly when recipients would call up begging for the company name because their 7-year-old son or absolute best friend or loving mother had been diagnosed with incurable cancer.
Those are not fun conversations to have. Nor are they conversations we should promote.
But if we truly want to know how not to be a scammy writer – someone who exploits people’s emotions in order to make a buck – we should probably acknowledge that scammy writing can, indeed, make a buck.
My ex-employers certainly made a lot of them playing off of people’s deepest hopes and greatest fears. It’s dangerously naïve to think that can’t be true.
But it’s also unacceptably jaded to think that scammy writing is the only way to make money. We genuinely can be successful writers without dropping our dignity at the door.
Sure, that will probably take time. But the same can be said for successful scammy writing. It’s rare that either happens overnight.
Becky Towes’ Between the Lamp Posts (May’s Author of the Month feature) accidentally addresses this in one of its daily devotionals:
No one can deny the toxic atmosphere of today’s trash-talk culture. It seems whole industries thrive on anger. Anger that leads to hatred. It’s a sad state of affairs when men and women feel validated most when they’re offended. Especially when they channel those offenses into malice…
As devastating as hatred can be, it often arrives subtly. It doesn’t come pounding on our door in full-blown ugliness. It’s usually disguised in a variety of rationalizations. Knock-knock: Look how he took advantage of you. Knock-knock: You idiot, get off the road if you can’t drive! Knock-knock: If they’re elected, I’m leaving the country. Beware of entertaining even the small shadows of hatred.
It’s the same exact deal with scammy writing. It doesn’t matter whether we intentionally set out to be a scammy writer or not. It’s our everyday writing choices that ultimately determine the content we produce, the character we exude and the world we change...
For better or worse.
Knock-knock: I could improve my SEO if I phrased it differently; it’s only a little less honest that way. Knock-knock: Ignoring the truth here or downplaying it just this once won’t make me a bad writer. I’m not flat-out lying. Knock-knock: People aren’t going to really believe me when I write that this is a cure-all for cancer. They’ll know this is promotional copy.
That’s really all it takes to become a scammy writer: little white rationalizations. So if that’s not what you went to college for, then check yourself the next time your mind starts sliding that way.
That's really all there is to How Not to Be a Scammy Writer 101. The rest is all homework.