The Best Copywriters on the (Very) Best Copywriting Books

Best Copywriters Best Copywriting Books

Want to become one of the best copywriters?

Easy.

Just one word: read.

Well actually, three words: read … a lot.

And that’s not my opinion. That’s according to literary master Stephen King himself:

You become a writer simply by reading and writing. You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.

At the risk of contradicting the King … while the most valuable copywriting lessons are certainly “the ones you teach yourself,” it’d be nice if you could shortcut the more painful elements of best-copywriting’s learning curve.

So let’s make that answer eight words: read the very best copywriting books … a lot.

And how do you find the very best copywriting books? You ask the very best copywriters.

Which is exactly what I did.

Over the last week, I’ve reached out to the best-of-the-best online copywriters with a simple question:

What’s your all-time, top-favorite copywriting book … and your all-time, top-favorite quote?

The response has been amazing. Huge thanks to everyone who contributed.

Best Copywriters Best Copywriting BooksInfographic created by Visme

10 Best Copywriters on the 10 Best Copywriting Books

1. Brian Clark’s Best Copywriting Book

brian-clark-best-copywriting-book-150x150

CopyBlogger (Founder)

Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples

The first entry in our list of Top 10 Copywriting Books is a time-tested classic … on testing.

As Brian puts it:

img15

When going back to the source of ad copy that is both audience and benefit-focused (as well as backed up by empirical testing), many will point to Cl
aude Hopkins and Scientific Advertising from 1923.

I own that book too, but my favorite “old school” copywriting book is the updated version of John Caples’ Tested Advertising Methods.

Timeless advice, but written in an easily-digested modern tone.

Favorite Quote:

There are four important qualities that a good headline may possess. They are:

  1. Self-Interest
  2. News
  3. Curiosity
  4. Quick, easy way …

Advertising can never become completely accurate, however, because of the human element involved — in advertising you are dealing with the minds and the emotions of human beings, and these will always be, to a certain extent, unstable and unmeasurable.

That is why it is necessary to test, test, test — to test copy, media, position in publications, seasonal variation, and time of day in broadcast advertising.

2. Joe Pulizzi’s Best Copywriting Book

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Content Marketing Institute (Founder)

Integrated Marketing Communications: Putting It Together & Making It Work by Don Schultz

Schultz’ book isn’t necessarily about copywriting itself, so you’ll have to forgive me for putting it on the list of Top 10 Copywriting Books.

The reason for it’s inclusion, however, is simple.

Joe calls it “the most influential on me and how I thought about marketing.”

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As the book explains, Integrated Marketing Communications:

Challenges business to confront a fundamental dilemma in today’s marketing — the fact that mass media advertising, by itself, no longer works. This landmark book reveals that strategies long used to deliver selling messages to a mass culture through a single medium are now obsolete — and shows marketers how to get back on track.

The answer lies in customer-focused marketing, a key planning tool that can — in today’s diverse, fragmented marketplace — explain the lifestyles, attitudes, and motivations of distinct buyer groups and predict their likely buying behaviors in the future.

Favorite Quote:

If you have tried to do something and failed, you are vastly better off than if you had tried nothing and succeeded.

3. Bernadette Jiwa’s Best Copywriting Book

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The Story of Telling

It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be: The World’s Best Selling Book by Paul Arden

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Arden began his career in advertising at the age of 16 and for 14 years was Executive Creative Director at Saatchi and Saatchi. There he managed campaigns for British Airways, Silk Cut, Anchor Butter, InterCity and Fuji.

It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be is a “handbook of how to succeed in the world — a pocket ‘bible’ for the talented and timid to make the unthinkable thinkable and the impossible possible.”

Favorite Quote:

Do not covert your ideas.

Give away everything you know and more will come back to you.

4. Joanna Wiebe’s Best Copywriting Book

img12-150x150

CopyHackers

Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins

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With endorsements from copywriting giants like David Ogilvy, Gary Halbert, and Jay Abraham, Scientific Advertising is another of the Top 10 Copywriting Books that’s earned its place.

Written in 1923, Hopkins’ text is imminently practical and built — just like Joanna — on the fundamental principle of testing, testing, testing.

Even better, if you buy the book from Amazon, you also get My Life in Advertising.

Favorite Quote:

Some say, “Be very brief. People will read but little.”

Would you say that to a salesman?

With a prospect standing before him, would you confine him to any certain number of words?

That would be an unthinkable handicap.

And my personal favorite:

Good selling is based on good testing.

You see other ads which you may not like as well.  They may seem crowded or verbose. They are not attractive to you, for you are seeking something to admire, something to entertain.  But you will note that those ads are keyed.  The probability is that out of scores of traced ads the type which you see has paid the best.

Don’t judge an ad by how it looks.

Instead, judge it by how well it converts.

Bonus Addition to the Best Copywriting Books

img11I can’t help but mention Joanna’s ebooks as some of own personal favorites.

If you write online in any capacity … stop reading this, jump over to CopyHackers right now, and pick up The Super Mega Brainy Bundle: All 7 Copy Hackers Ebooks in 1.

Here’s what you’ll get …

  1. Where Stellar Messages Come From (2nd Ed.)
  2. Headlines, Subheads & Value Propositions (2nd Ed.)
  3. Buttons & Click-Boosting Calls to Action (2nd Ed.)
  4. Formatting & Better Body Copy (2nd Ed.)
  5. The Dark Art of Writing Long-Form Sales Pages
  6. The Startup Guide to Differentiation
  7. The Great Value Proposition Test

The worksheets and swipe files are worth the price alone.

5. Demian Farnworth’s Best Copywriting Book

Former Chief Copywriter at CopyBlogger 

Advertising Secrets of the Written Word: The Ultimate Resource on How to Write Powerful Advertising Copy from One of America’s Top Copywriters and Mail Order Entrepreneurs by Joe Sugarman

Sugarman is a living legend.

Once called the “Mail Order Maverick” by The New York TimesAdvertising Secrets of the Written Word not only lives up to its title — The Ultimate Resource — but also its price … the going rate on Amazon is just under $90.

The book itself covers 17 axioms to write truly persuasive (i.e., sales-generating) copy and is full of swipe-worthy examples and tons of practical advice.

Favorite Quote(s);

Copywriting is a mental process the successful execution of which reflects the sum total of all your experiences, your specific knowledge and your ability to mentally process that information and transfer it onto a sheet of paper for the purpose of selling a product or service.

All the elements in an advertisement are primarily designed to do one thing and one thing only: get you to read the first sentence of the copy.

The sole purpose of the first sentence in an advertisement is to get you to read the second sentence of the copy.

6. Peep Laja’s Best Copywriting Book

CXL

Copy Logic! The New Science of Producing Breakthrough Copy (Without Criticism) by Michael Masterson & Mike Palmer

According Peep, “Most books are about writing copy from scratch. Very few address the more common need: improve the copy I already have.”

That’s where Copy Logic! comes in to help our list of Top 10 Copywriting Books:

In this book, direct-marketing expert Michael Masterson and master copywriter Mike Palmer reveal their methodical, step-by-step process for turning “B-level” copy into control beating “A-level” copy in just 24 hours.

This is the exact process that was directly responsible for helping one company boost its revenues into the $300-million-a-year range (while creating six-figure incomes for many of its copywriters).

Favorite Quote:

We realize then that we had been trying to compete with a disadvantage. We were balancing our promotions on three legs. Our competitor was balancing theirs on four.

Thus we initiated what we called the Four-Legged Stool Test.

A properly built sales letter, we concluded, must contain four distinct and important elements:

  1. A big or unifying idea.
  2. A substantial promise of benefit supported by subordinate claims.
  3. Ample proof for each of those claims.
  4. Evidence that the product, product provider, and person behind the sales letter are all credible and trustworthy.

7. Amy Harrison’s Best Copywriting Book

HarrisonAmy.com

The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells by Bob Bly

Perhaps most famous for its definitive “features versus benefits” checklist — including a twenty-two point examination of a No. 2 pencil — The Copywriter’s Handbook has it all.

In fact, this was the first book I picked up years ago when I entered the online world of copywriting.

And just like Amy, it’s hands down one of my own Top 10 Copywriting Books.

Favorite Quote:

Many big agency copywriters and creative directors will tell you that advertising writers don’t follow rules, and that “great” advertising breaks the rules.

Maybe so.

But before you can break the rules, you have to know the rules.

8. Henneke Duistermaat’s Best Copywriting Book

Enchanting Marketing

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath

Again, while Made to Stick may not be — strictly speaking — one of the Top 10 Copywriting Books, it will “transform the way you communicate ideas”:

It’s a fast-paced tour of success stories (and failures) — the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of “the Mother Teresa Effect”; the elementary-school teacher whose simulation actually prevented racial prejudice.

Provocative, eye-opening, and often surprisingly funny, Made to Stick shows us the vital principles of winning ideas — and tells us how we can apply these rules to making our own messages stick.

The book is organized around Chip and Dan’s “Six Principles of Sticky Ideas”:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotions
  6. Stories

Favorite Quote:

Concreteness is an indispensable component of sticky ideas.

What makes something “concrete”?

If you can examine something with your senses, it’s concrete. A V8 engine is concrete. “High performance” is abstract.

Most of the time, concreteness boils down to specific people doing specific things.

Concrete language helps people, especially novices, understand new concepts. Abstraction is the luxury of experts.

If you’ve got to teach an idea to a room full of people, and you aren’t certain what they know, concreteness is the only safe language.

9. Jen Havice’s Best Copywriting Book

Make Mention Media

The Fortune Cookie Principle: The 20 Keys to a Great Brand Story and Why Your Business Needs One by Bernadette Jiwa

In Jen’s words:

That’s a tough one since I’m not generally a big fan of books on copywriting. The only ones I’ve found super useful have been Joanna’s and the one by Gene Schwartz.

If I had to pick a favorite, I’d say The Fortune Cookie Principle by Bernadette Jiwa.

It’s a bit more of a branding book but it’s great at getting you to hone in on what’s most important to convey to your customers.

The Fortune Cookie Principle comes down to two simple equations:

Product – Meaning = Commodity

Product + Meaning = Brand

Favorite Quote:

Think of your content and copy as being like a first date.

It’s the way your brand starts establishing the kind of relationship that leaves people wanting more.

10. My Best Copywriting Book

( you’re already here! )

Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz

I’m sure that including myself on a list entitled The 10 Best Copywriting Books from the 10 Best Online Copywriters is presumptuous … and more than a little egotistical.

But I couldn’t resist.

Not because I’m so great … but because Breakthrough Advertising is.

How great?

Well, if you thought $90 was a lot to pay for a book on Amazon, Schwartz clocks in at $215.15. And it’s worth every penny.

In fact, it’s so good, I wrote up an entire series on it’s most practical insights and applied them directly to online copywriting …

Favorite Quote:

Five to ten words will make up about 90% of the value of your ad.

If you are right, they may start a new industry.

If you are wrong, nothing you write after them will save your ad.

And another:

The power, the force, the overwhelming urge to own that makes advertising work, comes from the market itself, and not from the copy.

Copy cannot create desire for a product.

It can only take the hopes, dreams, fears and desires that already exist in the hearts of millions of people, and focus those already existing desires onto a particular product.

This is the copywriter’s task: not to create this mass desire — but to channel and direct it.

ONE MORE Top 10 Copywriting Books BONUS

11. Oliver

The Handsome Dog

Dancing Dogs: How to Make Palz and Win Ritz by Oliver

This is one name you probably don’t recognize … but he’s got an avid and growing following on Twitter.

Few people would have the gall to recommend their own book for a Top 10 list, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Oliver.

Favorite Quote:

Lots of people blog.

I tap dance … and blog.

Oh, and I get paid in Ritz. Just ask my lady.

Did I leave off your favorite copywriter or book?

If I did, let me know in the comments.

And don’t forget to include your favorite quote.

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  • Dear Aaron:
    Thank you for the great selection. Several favorites, including Joseph Sugarman’s.

    I’d also like to suggest an additional, lesser-known book: The Unpublished David Ogilvy. It’s a compilation of memos, letters, and messages privately published by his family and associates in 1986 on David Ogilvy’s 75th birthday. There are many moments of magic in it. Luckily, it was republished in 1986.

    The Unpublished David Ogilvy is a fine complement to his Confessions of an Advertising Man–much better than his later Ogilvy on Advertising.
    Great job, Aaron!
    Roger

    • Aaron Orendorff

      Oh my gosh, Roger. I meant to write you back MONTHS ago.

      Thanks so much for the comment. Your book lists are amazing, so it means a lot.

      I’m going to be doing a new version of this for content marketing … I’ll be emailing you soon. 🙂

  • I love this list. (Although it seems like I keep adding to my book list three times as fast as I’m actually reading the books!)

    In particular, Tested Advertising Methods and Made to Stick really caught my eye. And of course I can always use help with my ability to build intrigue with my titles – so Advertising Secrets of the Written Word will also be part of my library.

    At some point, my goal is to become a competent blogger. And in that vein Aaron, I thank you for helping me to add these tools to my arsenal. I’m not sure I would have found merit in these titles were it not for your list.

    Again, you have my thanks.

    • Aaron Orendorff

      Thanks so much, Otis. Honestly, I love it too! I just re-read Sugarman’s book. It’s still just as fantastic as I remember … and so helpful.

      Let me know if you work through any of the three you mentioned (or any of them at all for that matter). Love to hear your thoughts.

  • Silkhe Fuenmayor

    Nice list! I would include Confessions of an Advertising Man. It is amazing how a book written so many years ago is still up to date. What would Ogilvy say nowadays with all the technology evolution?

    • Okay … this is a bit embarrassing. Can you believe I’ve never read that?

      Ogilvy on Advertising? Yes. But Confessions … well, it’s on my own personal short list now (plus I’ll add it to round two of this list).

      As for his thoughts on technology, I love this quote: “In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”

      I imagine it like: “In the technological world of online business, it is useless to be an influencer, social-media celebrity, have a responsive website, drop HQ viral videos … unless you can also sell what you create.”

      😉

  • Holger Morlok

    Thanks this is a great list. And I had immediately ordered one book, I’d even bought it using this site, if there had been affiliate links. 😉 Maybe you’d like to consider?

    I miss here (not the name) but an important document collection:

    Gary Halbert’s boron letters.

    And since he died – may god rest his soul – these letters are available for free (on garyhalbert.com).
    you would have to download 25 single documents.

    If needed I’ve done already the work:

    https://holbizmetrics/Boron-Letters-Merged

    Thanks for providing the awesome idea and the value you got out of that. Saves tons of time and work.
    Keep up the good work.

    Greets from Switzerland. 🙂

  • Angela Budd

    Such a great list – I think I’ve got 50% and read 50% of those – a fabulous reminder that copywriting is a skill that needs maintaining ….I also really like The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook/ Joe Sugarman .. I use it more as a reference than a cover to cover sit down and read book though. Thanks for a super list Aaron 😁