The heart and soul of your direct mail campaign is the sales piece copy. Unfortunately, writing brilliant, interesting, and persuasive copy is not an easy task. And it’s often not fully appreciated by the people who pay for it. New mailers especially tend to focus on the campaign details of cost, scheduling, and locating mailing lists. Getting the copy written can often be almost an afterthought.

I think part of the reason for this attitude is that most people think that anyone can write sales copy, and it shouldn’t take long for someone to throw together some ideas. They don’t realize that good writing takes real skill, and the better the writing, the more effortless it appears. Don’t make this mistake with your direct mail campaign!

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Great copywriting doesn’t call attention to itself (“Aren’t I clever!”). Great copywriting gets readers focused on the message, and then deftly carries them along on an emotional journey – cleverly disguised as the presentation of facts – until it delivers them at the choice point (to buy, or not to buy), ready to make a commitment.

Your copywriter must select words and images that represent you, your values, and the excellence of your product. You and your copywriter have a creative relationship with a common goal, and selecting someone who can help you bring your vision to life is critical to the success of your campaigns.

So let’s look at some of the qualities you should look for in a copywriter.

1. They should be well-versed in your industry.

As in any field, in copywriting there are people who are specialists. Some writers spend a career writing pieces directed toward opportunity seekers. Others specialize in health supplements or technical products. If your product is a software program that auto repair shops can use to help diagnose electronic issues in engines, you want someone who knows something about the language in that area and what will appeal to owners of auto repair shops. You’ll probably have less success with someone who is mostly experienced writing copy about tools for knitting and crocheting – for an audience of craft enthusiasts.

This isn’t to say that some copywriters can’t adapt to a variety of audiences. But do get samples of the writer’s work and see if anything sounds right to you. If you’re not sure the writer can fit your needs, but you’d like to find out, ask him or her to write a short sample to your specifications and see if you like the results. You may have to pay for the writer’s time, but it will be worth it in the long run.

2. They can easily adopt your voice.

Every sales piece has a “voice.” It can be informative, caring, professional, alarming – and it often sounds like it comes from a specific person. Sometimes a business owner will write his own sales piece that takes off and makes a fortune. After that he may no longer want to write his own pieces so he’ll hire a copywriter who can capture the voice of the original successful piece, and write new pieces that sound just like they were written by the same person as the original piece. You may not even be able to tell the difference.

Give the copywriter you’re considering samples of the pieces you like. Or if you are a “personality,” or your company has a particularly strong brand itself, just talk to the writer so she gets a feel for your sentence structure, your vocabulary, the images you use, and so on. Then maybe start the writer on a small piece – maybe a 4-page letter, and see if it sounds like something you could have written. If it does, you can try the writer on a longer piece.

3. They listen and ask the right questions.

You don’t want a copywriter who comes in with the attitude that you don’t know anything and he’s the expert. A good copywriter needs to adapt to your needs. You know your product and your prospects. You know what kind of sales pieces interest you. Your copywriter should want to learn your perspective and then work to please you.

One way to tell that copywriters are going to listen to you is that they ask you questions. If you’re new at this, you may not know what to tell the writer. But the writer can get the direction needed by asking you who your audience is, what the feel of the piece should be, is it a postcard or a magalog, what is your offer, do you want it more technical or more informal, and so on. Does it look like the writer is trying to give you what you want?

On the other hand, the copywriter is a professional, so do be willing to listen to him. For example, if you want to put salty language in the piece, but the copywriter thinks this may offend some people and it’s better to use interesting, powerful language but avoid anything obscene, you should heed that advice.

4. They are accomodating to your business and marketing needs.

Unfortunately, it seems that direct mail campaigns always come up against deadlines and a last-minute scramble. The last thing you want is a copywriter who never meets a deadline or is unreliable. Just like any professional, a copywriter should understand the practical needs of your business and come through on time with a great product.

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Also, the copywriter should be willing to make reasonable changes. A first draft may require revisions, and the copywriter should do them. But again, the key word here is “reasonable.” If you asked the copywriter to write a piece with a free offer, and then after seeing the completed piece you decided to sell a different product with a different kind of payment plan – which means that major rewriting will be required – then be prepared to pay more than the originally agreed upon fee.

So, how do you find a copywriter with all these stellar qualities?

Getting a recommendation from someone you trust is a great place to start. The professional who is helping you design and run your campaign can probably point you to an excellent copywriter.

You can also look for copywriters online. But do be careful. Read the reviews and testimonials on the writer’s work. Especially in this kind of situation, interview several candidates, ask them about their experience, and get samples of their work.

Also, be willing to pay what the job is worth. It may seem ridiculous to you to pay hundreds of dollars for one page of copy – but that’s what great copy costs. Your niece may be willing to write something for you at a bargain price, but you get what you pay for. Don’t be a miser when it comes to paying for copy.

Thinking of becoming your own copywriter?

Finally, in spite of what I said in my opening, it could be that you do have a flair for writing copy and you’d like to give it a try. You know and love your product, you know your audience, and it could be that you will write excellent copy.

Learn a little bit about copywriting rules, and go for it. Then have people you can trust to be honest with you read what you write. And listen to their suggestions for improvement. It takes time to craft a good piece.

You still may decide to hire a professional, but your work to create your own piece will not go to waste. Give your piece to the copywriter, who can polish and perfect it and turn it into a true winner.

Craig Simpson is the owner of Simpson Direct Inc., a Grants Pass, Oregon-based direct marketing firm, and a respected speaker/presenter on the topic of direct mail. He is the co-author with Dan S. Kennedy of The Direct Mail Solution and author of The Advertising Solution.