In copy writing, a swipe file is just a file of phrases and paragraphs that you think work particularly well. You ‘swipe’ the structures that you find, rewriting them so that they fit your current project.
When you’re putting together marketing materials about your own work, having a swipe file can speed up the process significantly. Furthermore, as long as you wrote all the material in your swipe file, you can reuse it intact if need be. You can avoid reinventing the wheel: you can use your best work over and over again, letting you produce better pitches by focusing on the changing parts, rather than having to put together an entire email from scratch.
What’s In My Swipe File?
I keep copies of just about every email I’ve ever sent, but I know some communications have worked far better than others. I make a point of saving any emails that are particularly well-received to a separate file in my email, so that I can easily borrow paragraphs, structures and other useful bits from them.
- A paragraph about my background and samples
- A bio
- A response for job listings
- A query letter
- A cold-call letter
- A warm-call letter
- A follow-up for people I’ve met in person
- A response to requests for free work
- An explanation of projects I don’t take on and a reference to another writer
- An estimate that I can easily update
- A description of my work process
- A response to PR pitches (which I actually send with minimal changes for unsolicited pitches)
- A description of my invoice process
- A follow-up with sources when the articles they contributed to appear
I’ve been known to save emails and other communications from people and companies I’ve worked with over the years. I actually have an entire box of business cards that I’ve received and particularly liked. I won’t use anything from my broader swipe file in its entirety, but I will focus on finding exactly what I like about a paragraph or design and then try to add similar elements to my own work.
My swipe file even includes finished written projects that I particularly like. I’ve got both electronic and print copies of articles I’ve saved over the years — they’re pieces that I aspire to, that I think work particularly well. These items aren’t as helpful in marketing my work, but they’ve improved my ability to write in general.
Avoiding the Form Letter
When you’re re-using material that was originally written to sell your services to another client, it’s easy to wind up with correspondence that sounds like a form letter. But the purpose of a swipe file is not to make every email yo send sound the same — instead, it’s an opportunity to write the best pitch of your work that you can and then reuse the elements that make that initial pitch so effective.
It’s important to edit the pieces of your swipe file that you’re bringing together for a query letter or other communication to make sure that it really fits the recipient. It’s not just a matter of changing the name at the top of the email: you’ve got a structure to follow, but you should be making relevant mentions to the publication or company’s actual focus. Your recipients should know from your communications that you’re actually familiar with their companies.
Do you have a swipe file? What’s in it?