Friday, December 13, 2013

How to Learn Copywriting and Make Money From Your Words

It all starts with finding the right mentor out of all the wannabe teachers.

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I was studying Mike Dillard's Elevation Income recently and was impressed by two things:
  1. His real secret was JV-sponsored releases to a membership.
  2. Any success by him or elsewhere had someone who knew copywriting on board.
People still buy more through email than they do any other format.

Copywriting is the skill to learn in order to get people into action, regardless how they find to you.

So I sat out to learn how to write effective, persuasive copy.

First, I had to throw out 99% of what I had encountered. And this included my own compilations on the subject. (And also, interestingly, included Dillard.)

The key points to know:
  • Humankind hasn't changed much as far as motivations and responses in it's long history.
  • You want to select mentors who did broad testing to come up with the basic principles.
Because once you have these principles, then it explains how other things work.

The very worst thing you can do is to blindly copy other people's stuff.

The very best thing you can do is to skillfully copy and adapt the very best and longest running ads - and know what you're doing...

Do you see the difference?

Yes, almost all marketing geniuses say to compile a "swipe file" of other's works. But if you just load this up with a bunch of stuff, that's all you have. You want to learn from the best of the best.

That's when I found Gary Halpert.

He's been there, done that, and left a legacy of his newsletters behind.

One of these actually laid out the core material to study which will make anyone - who is willing to put in the time and effort - into a professional copywriter.

The way he says to do it is to study the classics and then hand-copy their ads longhand to absorb them:

Every once in a while, someone comes to me and says something like this: "Gary, I've got to learn how to write copy. I've never done it before and I've got just 30-days to learn how to create a world class promotion. Can you help me? Can you make me into a world class copywriter in just 30-days? Can you, huh? Can you? Huh? Huh?"

Strangely enough, the answer is yes. Sort of. At least, I can give a "qualified yes" answer to such a question. Actually, I may not be able to make someone "world class" in just 30-days, but I can almost certainly make such a person better than anyone he or she is likely to be able to hire.

Providing, of course, that the person in question has at least a modicum of talent and, much more importantly, the ability to follow directions and an appetite for very hard work.

Here's how I'd do it: If you were my student, the first thing I'd ask you to do is give yourself a basic education in valid advertising principles. To begin with, I'd want you to read everything listed below:

"The Robert Collier Letter Book" - by Robert Collier
"Tested Advertising Methods" -by John Caples
"How To Write A Good Advertisement" - by Vic Schwab
...
"Break-Through Advertising" - by Eugene M. Schwartz
....
At this point, I have to add some books - which you'll agree with, I'm sure:
  • Claude Hopkins - My Life in Advertising
  • Victor Schwab - How to Write a Good Advertisement
  • Robert Collier - Robert Collier Letter Book, 15 Million Dollar Sales Letters
  • John E. Kennedy - Reason Why Advertising, Intensive Advertising        
  • Elmer Wheeler - Tested Advertising Methods, Tested Sentences That Sell, Sizzlemanship, Tested Direct Selling
These are the classics.  Schwab and Hopkins make Caples Possible. Wheeler was testing  earlier than anyone. Kennedy and Collier were writing extremely successful sales letters when they were hand-printed and sent by mail, not posted on a website.

Now Halpert recommended his own ads, which can be found on his website, as well as elsewhere. All of these can be found on the web, but I'm working with the public domain ones to get them back into circulation and findable. (Existing copies vary in quality, to say the least.)

Halpert was not too complimentary about college texts:

Many years ago, Claude Hopkins (the greatest ad man who ever lived) was asked to critique and offer suggestions on how to improve some college textbooks on advertising. His suggestion?

"Burn Them!"

Truly. Claude further went on to say that the "educators" involved had no right to impose such erroneous BS on a group of naive students, that it would take years of front-line experience to "deprogram" the students and free them up from all that garbage.
 The texts I've seen back this opinion up. They weren't written by those who worked their way through the trenches to succeed at the front lines. Like most of today's university training, they are created to spend your money, not make it.

Two I would add, however are:
Both have proved themselves, and do not burn your time with nonsense in their writing - they get to the point and tell you just what you need to know, with no fluff.

Halpert continues - and gives us the best way to learn from the great ones:

O.K., now that you've read all that material, what's next? This: I want you to get a copy of the following ads and direct mail letters:

"Do You Make These Mistakes In English?"
"What Everybody Should Know About This Stock And Bond Business"
"The Nancy L. Halbert Heraldry Letter"
"How To Burn Off Body Fat, Hour-By-Hour"
"At 60 Miles An Hour The Loudest Noise In This Rolls Royce Is The Ticking Of The Electric Clock"
"Why Men Crack"
"How To Collect From Social Security At Any Age"
"The Admiral Byrd Transpolar Expedition Letter"
"The Lazy Man's Way To Riches"
And, in general, anything you can get your hands on that was written by Gary Bencivenga, Dan Rosenthal, Joe E. Kennedy, Pat Garrard, Steve Brown, Drew Kaplan, Claude Hopkins, Joe Karbo, Ben Suarez, Joe Sugarman, Gene Schwartz and, of course, yours truly.


Getting copies of these ads can be simply found on the Internet. I've found that there's a book by Julian Watkins, "The 100 Greatest Advertisements 1852-1958" from Dover - and it's available online in various ways (Google Play has it cheapest.) This will give you many of the all-time great ads which have spawned many similar ones.

The trick is to know which one to copy when.

The solution was found in one of the recommended books above - "Breakthrough Advertising" by Eugene M. Schwartz.

Because there is a scene of where that brand or product exists compared to the competitors out there. Some ads are meant for introducing the product, others are meant to distinguish it from those also-rans already out there.

Knowing what to do when is the difference between getting some sales and having an outrageous success.

Here is where I also have to tell you that there is a difference between ads meant to get your buying public to move, and those designed to excite your affiliate sales force.

But there's a key statement by Halpert which comes next. It was mentioned (slightly) by Dillard, but he never said where he got it:
Now that you've obtained copies of these ads and letters, I want you to sit down and copy them out word-for-word in your own handwriting.
The point of this is to use a physical form of learning which was as old as time. Copy everything by hand. This allows you to learn the phrases they use and the sequence they use them in.

This is what takes time. But every second invested is worth it. 

But it doesn't quit there:


It's time to prepare your "tool kit." First, I now want you to go back and reread all those advertising books and back issues of my newsletters (including the Boron Letters and, this time, take notes. Write down every good idea, every important insight and every nugget of wisdom that is contained in all that material. What this means, my friend, is that by the time you are finished, you should have hundreds of notes.
Put these notes aside. Next, go back over all that material and write out every headline you find therein. Also, get a bunch of back issues of The National Enquirer and Cosmopolitan Magazine and copy all the headlines you will find that seem to be repeated over and over. Especially copy a lot of the "cover blurbs" from Cosmo; they are superb. Another good source of headlines is "2001 Headlines" which was compiled by Jay Abraham.

Let us review. Here's what you should have done so far:
  • You should have read all the books and newsletters I have recommended.
  • You should have copied out all the ads and direct mail letters I have listed.
...
  • You should've reread all the books... and taken hundreds of notes.
  • You should've read all those "headline sources" and copied down mucho headlines.
Enough review. Next, take all your notes and headlines and put each individual note and each individual headline on a white 3 x 5 index card.
Here's now where he says to take some time off after you've shovelled these mounds of cards into shoe boxes. Play golf, enjoy yourself for awhile.

Then you come back and restudy all the research for the product you have to market. Everything. Check it all over again.

Now start shuffling through all your other 3 x 5 cards. Think about how all those good ideas and insights could be applied to your current project. Look at all of those hundreds of proven headlines. Think about how all those headlines could be modified to work for your current project.
. . . 

Keep shuffling those cards. Keep reading them. Jot down ideas as they occur to you. Actually shuffle the index cards like they were playing cards. Write out a couple "dumb" headline ideas. Write out some headlines that make more sense. Write a few that start with "How To...." Some that start with "17 Ways To...." And some that begin with "An Amazing...." And some that say "A Little Secret That...."
And so on. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write.
And guess what? Out of all this, if you really have done everything I have suggested, exactly as I have instructed - out will pop a "central selling idea" so powerful, so fresh and so compelling that you will know it is exactly right for the ad or direct mail package you are struggling to create.
I promise. It happens every time.
After that you do the same scene of leaving it for awhile, and then coming back to edit it with attention to details and cutting out every single word you don't need. While you really should read Halbert's newsletter, it's also in Bly and Sugarman. All used roughly the same approach. Write, write, write, r-e-l-a-x, edit, edit, edit.

 The point in all this is to give you a training lineup which actually, factually enables a person to turn themselves into a copywriter.

I don't say I've done all the above. I'm just starting. Lots of work left to do.

What I want to make clear is that
  • It's all been laid out before. Nothing in Bly or Sugarman's or Halbert's works say anything which hasn't already been said somewhere else, a century or more before.
  • The basic books are all available on the Internet with a little research. Or you can get printed copies through Amazon or a local bookstore by ordering them. (I'm working to get them republished on my own, and I'll link them above as I do...)
  • You're going to have to put in your time and learn this craft to get any good at it. But just knowing the above - and at least reading the books one time through - will put you way above all the others who won't put in the time.
  • The top-flight pro's have gone the route Halbert lays out. 
  • So should you.
Good Hunting!
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