Want to become one of the best copywriters?
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 — people who know intimately what it takes to write copy that sells — 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.
The first entry in our list of Top 10 Copywriting Books is a time-tested classic … on testing.
As Brian puts it:
There are four important qualities that a good headline may possess. They are:
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.
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:
If you have tried to do something and failed, you are vastly better off than if you had tried nothing and succeeded.
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.
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.
And my personal favorite:
Don’t judge an ad by how it looks. Instead, judge it by how well it converts.
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.
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.
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:
A properly built sales letter, we concluded, must contain four distinct and important elements:
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.
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”:
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”?
In Jen’s words:
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.
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.
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.
It’s so good, I wrote up an entire series on it’s most practical insights and applied them directly to online copywriting …
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.
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.
Lots of people blog. I tap dance … and blog. Oh, and I get paid in Ritz. Just ask my lady.
If I did, let me know in the comments.
And don’t forget to include your favorite quote.
This article was originally published in 2015. Since then, it has been updated with Amazon affiliate links; the recommendations themselves have not been altered. When you buy through those links, I earn a commission — most of which goes directly to purchasing more books.
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