Freelance life, Maslen on Marketing

Buried copywriting treasure

For this article, I’m reviewing and recommending the five best books I’ve read on copywriting. Each one is worth its weight in gold and will, at the very least, ensure you get off work a little earlier.

(I’ve provided Amazon links for each book, but just to be clear, I am not earning money as an Amazon Affiliate on any sales – these recommendations are purely because I believe they’re great books.)

How to Write Sales Letters That Sell by Drayton Bird

This is the first book on copywriting I ever bought, and I still use it today.

Drayton has probably written more profitable sales letters than anyone else in the UK and maybe the world. Here he shares his secrets. There are plenty of facsimile letters so you can see the exact text and layout he used, plus witty and punchy explanations of which techniques to use and why. (And which to avoid, like the plague.)

You could call this book How to Write Emails That Sell and it would still be utterly relevant to today’s new copywriting challenge.

Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy

You could never write copy in your life and still find this book a cracking read. It’s beautifully illustrated with ad campaigns Ogilvy’s agencies created over the years, for clients as diverse as Shell, Schweppes and Rolls Royce.

But you’d also be picking up incredibly valuable lessons on how to make advertising pay, from the right way to use research to advertising good causes.

The book begins with one of my favourite quotes on advertising: “When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me you find it ‘creative’. I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product”.

The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joseph Sugarman

From the man who launched, and profited hugely from, BluBlocker sunglasses, this book gives you a sackful of techniques you could start using today, in everything from landing pages to sales letters.

Joe Sugarman has taken on all kinds of merchandise to sell by direct response, including, famously, a $6 million home (it didn’t sell) and a $240,000 aeroplane (it did).

One of his rules that we would all do well to follow (particularly in the digital age) is that the purpose of the headline is to get the reader to read the first sentence. And that’s all.

Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples

One of the grand-daddies of advertising, Caples created the legendary ad for the U.S. School of Music headed, They laughed when I sat down at the piano. But when I started to play!­

His book explains how to test, how to find the right appeal, how to write headlines, how to write the first paragraph, how to get more enquiries … the list goes on.

Like the other books in this list, TAM provides dozens of examples of successful selling copy. Admittedly all pre-digital, but so many lessons work across all media that you’d be a fool to ignore it for that reason.

The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert Bly

This is a slightly different animal from the other four books in that its second section tells you about the business of copywriting rather than the craft. If you’re a freelance or thinking of taking the plunge I’d recommend it for that reason alone (though I hope you’ll also give my next  book a whirl:Write Copy, Make Money is out next month).

Bly is respected by his peers and the front cover includes a quote from David Ogilvy: “I don’t know a single copywriter whose work would not be improved by reading this book. And that includes me.”

I have two bookmarks in mine. One on a page talking about motivations, the other at the start of a section on long copy.

And I’m telling you this because?

Much of what we want to know about selling, copywriting and marketing is buried (but only very shallowly) in a book. A little digging on Amazon or even – gasp – your local bookshop will yield the kind of treasure it’s taken these authors decades to acquire.

Total cost if you buy all five books? £46.79.

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