I love writing catalogue copy, the challenge of telling stories with so few words. There’s a feeling of becoming a ten-second expert before moving on to the next product. The work is fast and fun; and a new catalogue job always results in excited squeaks and an instant flurry of typing.

My first catalogue copy job was about plush snakes, aimed at the zoo and museum gift shop market (“cuddly-with-a-difference”).  Writing catalogue text is a great exercise in the diverse and esoteric. I’ve recently written a bit of copy for an online shapewear supplier. There’s lots of jolliness to be had in the world of Spanx (copy-wise); and the big-sisterly tone is a total joy to write in. Earlier this year, I wrote and copy-edited for a coffee supplier’s online shop: as a confirmed caffeine addict, you have no idea how wired I was by the time I’d worked on this for a few days. I could almost smell the beans as I was writing; absolutely lush. Food and drink catalogue text has its own wonderful vocabulary – and I’ll leave it at that, as this sounds like the basis for a later blog…

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had the pleasure of working for Winchester Cathedral’s online shop. Writing for Winchester sometimes feels like window-shopping rather than work; I’m mentally putting together my Christmas lists as I compose the copy. The cathedral shop sells the kind of stock you would expect a cathedral shop to sell – various editions of the Bible, souvenir mugs and so on – however, they have all sorts of other gorgeous products, from Lladro figures for the serious collector through to wooden Noah’s Ark toys, and some fantastic stuff inspired by the cathedral’s architecture, history and characters. They keep the stock fresh by adding to it and changing it throughout the year (luckily for me), which is a huge advantage online catalogues have over paper ones.

One of the many reasons I enjoy writing catalogue copy for Winchester’s online shop is that aside from the physical description, we have the space for a sentence of two about the background of the product. For example, if we’re telling the customers about a new Green Man garden wall plaque, we can explain briefly how the Green Man is a motif found all over Northern Europe, curiously pagan for something that appears in cathedrals, and is believed to represent fertility. That’s a bit more engaging than “Stone-effect weather-proof garden ornament”  – and that’s why businesses use copywriters to create their catalogue copy.

Yes, the factual stuff needs to be in place, but the space the web guys allow for “Product Description” is also there for your sales pitch. A terse product name alongside its price and dimensions is not going to capture the wavering purchaser. An awareness of SEO (search engine optimisation) in the product copy is also going to help you win customers.

Crafting little histories for products is an art in itself. Have a browse through Winchester Cathedral’s online shop to see how the client and I worked together to create product descriptions that do more than just describe.

(Oh, and if the editors of the catalogues that fall out of the Radio Times are reading this, I’d love that gig. Now that would be an exercise in diversity…)