Want to become a top copywriter?
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 of all are “the ones you teach yourself,” it’d be nice if you could shortcut the more painful elements of top-copywriting’s learning curve.
So let’s make that answer seven 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.
Without further ado, here are the …
Top 10 Copywriters on the Top 10 Copywriting Books
1. Brian Clark
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:
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.
There are four important qualities that a good headline may possess. They are:
- 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
Content Marketing Institute (Founder)
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.”
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.
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
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.”
Do not covert your ideas.
Give away everything you know and more will come back to you.
4. Joanna Wiebe
Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins
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.
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 Top 10 Copywriting Books
I 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 …
- Where Stellar Messages Come From (2nd Ed.)
- Headlines, Subheads & Value Propositions (2nd Ed.)
- Buttons & Click-Boosting Calls to Action (2nd Ed.)
- Formatting & Better Body Copy (2nd Ed.)
- The Dark Art of Writing Long-Form Sales Pages
- The Startup Guide to Differentiation
- The Great Value Proposition Test
The worksheets and swipe files are worth the price alone.
5. Demian Farnworth
CopyBlogger Chief Copywriter & theCopyBot
Sugarman is a living legend.
Once called the “Mail Order Maverick” by The New York Times, Advertising 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.
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
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).
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:
- A big or unifying idea.
- A substantial promise of benefit supported by subordinate claims.
- Ample proof for each of those claims.
- Evidence that the product, product provider, and person behind the sales letter are all credible and trustworthy.
7. Amy Harrison
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.
Many big agency copywriters and creative directors will tell you that advertising writers don’t follow rules, and that “great” advertising breaks the rules.
But before you can break the rules, you have to know the rules.
8. Henneke Duistermaat
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”:
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
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
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.
( you’re already here! )
Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz
I’m sure that including myself on a list entitled Top 10 Copywriting Books from the Top 10 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.
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 …
- The 3 Unbreakable Laws of Breakthrough Copywriting
- Mass Desire: The First Unbreakable Law of “Breakthrough” Copywriting
- 5 Ways to Systematically Craft Breakthrough Headlines from Inside Your Market’s Mind
- 3 Audience-Enticing Headline Hacks: Power, Novelty & Pull
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.
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
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 gaul to recommend their own book for a Top 10 list, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Oliver.
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 top copywriter or book?
If I did, let me know in the comments.
And don’t forget to include your favorite quote.