Direct Response Copywriter Book, Manual, and Seminar Reviews.
I have read most of the books about copywriting. My library also includes manuals and ebooks — some digital, others physical. On this page, you'll find reviews of some of these books, manuals, and products. I also review some of the live events I have attended over the years.
Thankfully, many of the world's top direct response copywriters and direct marketers have written books. For around $20, you can access their wisdom. A bargain.
Scientific Advertising. Claude C. Hopkins. 1923. Quite possibly the greatest book about direct response marketing ever written. Claude Hopkins was born in 1866 and he wrote this book in the 1920s but EVERYTHING in Scientific Advertising is totally salient today … and will continue to be salient as long as humans are humans. The book wholeheartedly and joyously bashes branding advertising and is a love letter to direct marketing. Let’s remember that Hopkins earned well over $200,000 a year back when $200,000 a year was about the same as $10 million a year. A stack of cash, for sure. But he could justify it, I’m certain, based on the revenue he generated. It’s not a long book, and the syntax is a touch archaic, but Scientific Advertising remains the most powerful book ever written about direct marketing. It’s one of those books that everyone in direct marketing should read every day. And for this direct response copywriter, the book is a constant inspiration. I wonder if marketing professors at top business schools make students read Scientific Advertising. I doubt it, based on the paucity of knowledge about direct marketing in the marketing departments of most companies. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier to understand Scientific Advertising than another superb book, Breakthrough Advertising, by Eugene Schwartz.
Secrets of Successful Direct Mail. Richard Benson. 2005. A bit of a technical book primarily for the mathematicians in the room, it provides vital information and fundamental knowledge every direct response copywriter must understand. There's a complete version of the "Byrd" expedition letter, which is a rarely-seen example of super-vivid copy. After reading the copy, I wanted to take the trip. But it was in 1968, sadly.
The Ultimate Sales Letter. Dan Kennedy. 1997. Perhaps the best introduction to direct response copywriting available. The Ultimate Sales Letter dissects a sales letter then shows you how to write a basic sales letter. The headline templates alone are worth the price of admission and I still use them. A great book for the nascent copywriter ... and the more experienced copywriter. The lesson I took away: a direct response copywriter is a salesman, not a writer. It's also an inexpensive way to get plenty of advice from Dan Kennedy.
Bencivenga Bullets. Gary Bencivenga. Not technically a book although, hopefully, a publisher will put them in a book one day. Bencivenga Bullets are, essentially, a series of 29 blogs about direct marketing, direct response copywriting, and general advice about life. All this comes from one of the greatest direct response copywriters of any era. And all the content is totally free. Bencivenga bullets should be mandatory reading for every MBA candidate and every direct response copywriter must read them and know them at a professorial level. Bencivenga didn't have to write these but fortunately, we have them. You can read them here. The content is super-rich ... he covers so much in just 29 blogs. And these are high-level techniques based on his success and testing.
Open Me Now. Direct Mail Envelopes That Work ... And Those That Don't. Herschell Gordon Lewis. 2006. One of numerous superb books by the wonderful HGL. Last year, I had the pleasure of having lunch with the great man at the AWAI bootcamp. Open Me Now is a highly specialized book about a vital and often ignored copy element: the copy on the envelope. Of course, the book is also about email subject lines. It's a vital book for all direct mail copywriters and all direct response copywriters who write emails.
The Golf Marketing Bible. Andrew Wood. 2009. It’s about golf marketing … obviously … but it’s also a superb introduction to direct response marketing. You can get the “generic” version of this book but I’m especially fond of the golf version because it’s one of the first books I read about direct response marketing. I’m also biased because Andrew introduced me to direct response copywriting and he’s an excellent direct response copywriter. The book starts with the story of how Andrew applied direct response copywriting to his first business … and transformed it from an also-ran into a thriving enterprise with branches around the country. Subsequent chapters dispel marketing myths and beat up the branding guys. Awesome. The chapter about closing a sale is well worth the price of admission alone. Even if you’re not in the golf business, The Golf Marketing Bible proves the power of direct response marketing. You will also get a clear plan for growing your revenue.
Ogilvy on Advertising. David Ogilvy. 1985. One of the first books I ever read about advertising and marketing. For a direct response copywriter, the book provides a bit of a challenge ... it's mostly about branding. Ogilvy also reveals insights into growing and running a huge agency. But it's not really a book about direct response marketing, per se. A couple of things to remember.
- Ogilvy built his business on direct marketing principles.
- He started his agency by writing direct response letters to potential clients.
He also wrote superb direct response copy ... advertising his agency in The Wall Street Journal and other publications. While it's not technically a direct response copywriting book, it always gets me fired up about being a direct response copywriter. Ogilvy on Advertising is an absolute MUST for everyone in marketing ... yet I wonder if professors at top MBA schools make it mandatory reading for MBA candidates.
Words That Sell. Richard Bayan. 2006. Ultimately, direct response copywriting — and all writing — is about choosing words and putting them in a certain order. Words That Sell by direct response copywriter Richard Bayan is a book that helps us choose the right words and phrases for direct response copy. The book provides 125 pages comprising long lists of words. It's an esoteric book perhaps and certainly a thesaurus created just for the copywriter. Direct response copy needs color and punch and this short but vital book helps me write more vivid copy. It's also an excellent way to end writer's block — if that ever affects you. It's a book every direct response copywriter must own. Simply go through the book and add the words you like.
Inbound Marketing. Brian Halligan. Dharmesh Shah. 2010. Technically it's not a book about direct response copywriting. But it's a book a direct response copywriter should read, if nothing else because 'inbound marketing' has become such a buzz-phrase. There's a lot of hyperventilating about the concept — as you would expect — but the book provides a good argument for the power and punch of content. The authors give little attention to direct response copywriting and techiques, which is a pity. I use the basic principles behind inbound marketing and they can work when applied correctly. However, as I was reading the book, I was constantly thinking, "classic direct response marketing is always going to produce stronger results than inbound marketing." Shah and Halligan have built an empire around the concept of Inbound Marketing — and more power to them — but it's just one way to market. I'm always leery when marketers basically ignore the direct response copywriter and believe their method is going to be more effective than well-executed direct marketing campaign.
Million Dollar Mailings. Denny Hatch. 1992. A heavyweight in the world of direct response copywriting, Million Dollar Mailings weighs in at around 5 pounds. It’s a huge book, a thumper with over 500 pages. The book has assembled winning mail packages, primarily for magazine subscriptions, information products, and physical products. It’s an absolute must read for every direct response copywriter. These promotions mailed just before the arrival of the Internet when mail was the preferred medium for direct response and magazines weren’t online. The mailings provide an insight into direct response before the digital age … and what you’ll discover is perhaps shocking: the fundamentals of direct response are the same. It’s a superb way to understand the power of the offer in direct response copy and direct marketing. EVERY package pounds away at the offer … usually some type of irresistible discount. Other things to note:
- Exceptional envelope copy … today’s equivalent is the subject line for an email.
- There’s a lot of copy in each package. And these all produced over $1 million in front end revenue. A good lesson there.
- Superb headlines.
- Expert design making the copy easy to read.
- Packages are easy to read for the scanner.
- Many packages include copy doodles.
- Awesome products.
Get the above right and you’ll find success online or elsewhere.
I’m told it’s a difficult book to find … unless it’s on your bookshelf where it will be really easy to find due to its heft. You might have to reinforce your bookshelves. It’s also an excellent book for two additional reasons:
- The work of the “old boys” of direct response.
It’s a must for every direct response copywriter.
How to Write Sales Letters That Sell. Drayton Bird. 1994. I've seen Drayton Bird speak and follow him on LinkedIn. In fact, I met him in person ... a big thrill for this direct response copywriter. In this excellent book, Bird is extremely direct and pulls no punches. The subhead is "Learn the Secrets of Successful Direct Mail" and that's exactly what you get. You can take Bird's techniques and apply them to other platforms. The book works for beginners and veterans. I especially liked the advice to copywriters about approaching potential clients. In fact, I have used the exact words he recommends ... and they work! The book also includes examples of successful copy. Every direct response copywriter should read this book. I also enjoyed the hard-core syntactical advice. Bird writes clearly and without any boasting ... even though he's one of the most-admired copywriters of all time. Everyone in direct response marketing should read this book.
My Life in Advertising. Claude C. Hopkins. 1927 (ish). Available as a "double" with Scientific Advertising, My Life is Advertising buttresses Scientific Advertising. The latter is pure theory, but My Life is Advertising reveals how Hopkins put his theories into practice. It's a book about advertising, yes, but it's also a powerful guidebook to business success. Hopkins discusses his successes and failures in advertising then he describes how he eventually made big-time money in business. Curiously, Hopkins avoided predictability when it came to his clients. He worked for some bizarre people who were on the verge of total ruin. There was nothing linear about the journey Hopkins took in his career and you can see this in the careers of many people in direct marketing. My Life in Advertising is one of the more curious marketing and business books and it's a must for every direct response copywriter. Toward the end of the book, Hopkins even gets a little personal, revealing his true motivations.
The Ultimate Guide to Direct Marketing. Al Lautenslager. 2005. Maybe I’ve missed something but there’s not exactly a surfeit of books about the basics of direct marketing. There are TONS of books about subjects related to direct marketing but very few books that provide a solid introduction to direct response marketing for those who are new to the practice. The Ultimate Guide to Direct Marketing is from the always excellent Entrepreneur Press. Al Lautenslager has written a thorough book that provides a sound introduction to direct marketing. Many people, including new clients, ask me about direct response copywriting before they really know much about direct marketing. And, as a direct response copywriter, it’s vital my clients are serious direct marketing practitioners. Even those who are at the expert level … or close to the expert level … will enjoy the book. The version I have is from 2005 but not much has changed. The fundamentals are all the same.
Tested Advertising Methods. John Caples. 1997? The inside cover says 1997 but I think this book appeared much earlier. It's irrelevant. This book is one of the most important in direct marketing and direct response copywriting. David Ogilvy says it best in the foreword: everything in this book is based on actual measured results. This book works well for direct marketers but it's even better for direct response copywriters. The headline formula Caples reveals is one of the most powerful and it works almost every time for me. Caples bashes "creative" advertising and lauds pure direct response. It's no surprise that all the great copywriters cite Caples and this book as among the most important in their library. I especially liked the "enthusiasm" chapter but every chapter is worth reading over and over. Gary Bencivenga says ... if you're not reading Caples, that's marketing malpractice. Extremely true. It's also a book that gets me really fired up about copywriting.
The Advertising Solution. Craig Simpson and Brian Kurtz. 2016. A great book for direct response copywriters and direct marketers. I hate it when I see books or hear presentations from so-called 'experts' who haven't stepped foot on the direct marketing battlefield. I know Brian and I know of Craig and they have been in the wars for several decades. They have generated tens of millions in revenue. Their new book profiles and condenses the wisdom of six highly successful direct marketers: Robert Collier, Claude Hopkins, John Caples, David Ogilvy, Gary Halbert, and Eugene Schwartz. These practioners are among the most succesful direct marketers based on actual results. I highly recommend that every direct response copywriter read EVERYTHING by the marketers above but The Advertising Solution provides an introduction to these marketers for newcomers to direct marketing. It also provides essential reading for seasoned direct marketers who need fresh ideas based on proven techniques. I found the summary of the work of Eugene Schwartz especially valuable as his book, Breakthrough Advertising, is a difficult one to digest. So any help there is extremely useful and welcome. The Advertising Solution is well written and clear, as I'd expect from the publisher, Entrepreneur Press. The semanticist in me has a hard time with all the split infinitives, but if you're like me when it comes to those, you've been warned. But that's being slightly silly on my part. I wish they had written a stronger title, which I'd love to improve one day. Again ... I'm being picky. But it's a superb book and already one of my favorite direct marketing tomes. A lot of direct marketers and direct response copywriters will read this book but I hope people outside our crazy industry will read it so they understand direct response principles. A must read.
NO BS Price Strategy. Dan Kennedy and Jason Marrs. Pricing is part of direct marketing and direct response copywriting. This excellent book provides 236 pages of thoughts and practical advice about how to price for maximum profit. Kennedy and Marrs look at several companies and how they determine prices; it’s not always pretty and they openly criticize some big companies. Read this book and you’ll discover that you can charge significantly more than you’re currently charging. I’m a direct response copywriter so it’s extremely important that I help my clients with their pricing strategy. Everyone in direct marketing should read this important book. It will also help you avoid discounting and you’ll discover how to avoid price wars and also how to justify really high pricing. Why charge less than you need to?
Ask. Ryan Levesque. 2015. I worked with Ryan on the acquisition funnel for Revolution Golf as the direct response copywriter. It's a funnel that's been hugely successful so I can vouch for the legitimacy of the "ask" methodology. It's certainly a book that everyone in direct marketing should read. Why? The intelligence from the data gathered provides information you can use to create new products and refine current products. The book has two distinct parts. The first is more theoretical. The second part describes and details how to put together a survey funnel and how to use the data. Levesque provides all the information you need to get going and it's not a sales pitch, which is nice.
On Writing Well. William Zinsser. 1976 to 1990. Perhaps it's not exactly a book about direct response copywriting but numerous direct response copywriters and people in direct marketing have recommended this book. On Writing Well is a somewhat disjointed collection of thoughts and ideas about writing nonfiction. The style is conversational and informal, which I like, and there are some bizarre stylistic touches, like the total absence of the Oxford comma. There’s some great advice, especially when it comes to brevity and clarity. However, a lot of the writing and opinions seem a touch ornery, just for sake of being ornery. I also see extensive use of the verb “to do” which I associate with second-rate writing. I’m not a huge reader of books about writing, because I spend so much time writing, but I found much of the content entertaining. I wonder what the author would think of direct response copywriting. My biggest beef with the book, by far, is the title. Should I write well or should I write brilliantly? If I write well, then I’m not getting paid to write.
Mindset. The New Psychology of Succes. Carol Dweck. 2007. It's not a copywriting book but it's an important book for every ambitious copywriter. A friend who is a ski instructor recommended this to me and it's a fascinating book. There are two types of person on the planet according to Carol Dweck. People who have a growth mindset and people who don't. The latter really never go anywhere. The former move forward and are more likely to reach their goals. People with the growth mindset deal with adversity. They learn and grow constantly. There are two types of direct response copywriter. One is always learning and trying to get better. The others never really get things going successfully and complain and blame others when things don't go especially well. The growth mindset isn't natural. It's learned. And this book provides ways to get the growth mindset into your life. I'm usually not too excited about personal growth books because the market is so full of rotten advice from people who are just making stuff up but this book provides a great road map for moving forward and developing.
Quick-Start Copywriting System. Clayton Makepeace. There are lots of manuals and systems out there but this copywriting masterpiece is always on my desk. There are two big manuals with a total of around 1,000 pages. The manuals cover everything, including an introduction to direct marketing. I also love the synopsis of Breakthrough Advertising ... especially useful because Breakthrough Advertising is so insanely complex. I swipe from many of the examples. I use the headline templates. I use the bullet templates. And if I'm ever stuck for ideas, I instantly turn to this manual. It's extremely well-organized and presented. Every direct response copywriter should have this system. It used to be hard to find but it's now part of the AWAI catalog. Go here to find it.
Titans of Direct Marketing. This event took place in September, 2014. Fortunately, DVDs are available and I will share a link to these in a minute. Brian Kurtz, the organizer, put an all-star cast together including Dan Kennedy, Gary Bencivenga, Greg Renker, Jay Abraham, and Joe Sugarman ... plus a bunch of accomplished copywriters who wrote for Boardroom. The cost to attend was quite high and the room was packed with over 500 direct marketers so the networking was great. It was fun to meet many of the truly big names in direct marketing and I even bumped into Joe Sugarman, of BluBlocker fame, in the airport. The speeches were mostly superb ... especially from Greg Renker and Gary Bencivenga. Lunches and dinners were also fun as I got a chance to speak with a number of serious direct marketers. Most of the speakers presented original material. Brian put on a great event and I thoroughly recommend that everyone in direct marketing buy the DVDs ... especially direct response copywriters. Click here to get more information.