I don’t care who you are — blogger, freelance journalist, ghostwriter, ad copywriter — if you are writing on the web then you need to read these copywriting books.
Two are more recent than the others (and Influence by Cialdini is not technically a direct response copywriting book).
But these are the books I would demand you read if teaching a ground-level graduate course on writing for the web since so many principles of direct response copywriting obey the unbreakable law of the web.
So, without further ado, I give you the essential web writer’s library …
In this 9-minute episode you’ll discover:
- The book that changed David Ogilvy’s life
- Which book has 100 headlines that are worth the steep price alone
- The book with countless example ads you could lose yourself flipping through
- Which little book is really an extended commentary on the USP
- The copywriting secret of the man who wrote the most famous headline ever
- The book David Ogilvy said was so important he was buying 400 copies for his employees and clients
- And more …
Listen to Rough Draft below ...
The Show Notes
- Scientific Advertising
- The Robert Collier Book
- Tested Advertising Methods
- Breakthrough Advertising
- How to Write a Good Advertisement
- Ogilvy on Advertising
- Secrets of the Written Word
- Reality in Advertising
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
9 Copywriting Books for Web Writers
Demian Farnworth: Howdy friend, you are listening to Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I am Demian Farnworth, your host, and the Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media.
And thank you for spending the next few minutes of your life with me.
So I don’t care who you are — blogger, freelance journalist, ghostwriter, ad copywriter — if you are writing on the web then you need to absorb copywriting mechanics.
And there are two ways to get to that point: learning and practicing. We’ve been discussing the practicing part. Let’s talk about the education part today.
What follows are the nine books from the legends of direct response. Two are more recent than the others (and Influence by Cialdini is not technically direct response).
These are the books I would demand you read if teaching a ground-level course on writing for the web since so many principles of direct response copywriting obey the unbreakable law of the web.
So, without further ado. The essential web writer’s library.
The Book that Changed David Ogilvy’s Life
1. Scientific Advertising | Claude Hopkins
Claude Hopkins expresses powerful, statistically tested truths about “salesmanship in print” which remain relevant through the decades and across all media – including today’s internet marketing.
David Ogilvy once said “Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times. It changed the course of my life.”
Read “Scientific Advertising” before you read any other book on advertising or marketing. It may change your life, too.
The Book with Countless Example Ads You Could Lose Yourself Flipping Through
2. The Robert Collier Book | Robert Collier
Collier sold many thousands of the Harvard Classics — a five-foot shelf of books by Dr. Elliott, and Collier’s circulars on the O. Henry stories brought orders for over two million dollars … followed by orders for over 70,000 books on “The History of the World War.”
This is a fabulous book because of the countless example ads Collier shared. I love just flipping through these examples.
The Copywriting Secret of the Man Who Wrote the Most Famous Headline Ever
3. Tested Advertising Methods | John Caples
My copy of Tested Advertising Methods is dog-eared, pages covered in yellow highlighters and pencil marks. The spine is broke. And it’s one I try to skim at least once a year. I usually end up reading large chunks of it.
Caples was a former engineer who cut his teeth on the advertising world by crawling through a 7-inch stack of losing ads and another stack of winning ads. Two months later he wrote the most famous headline in history: “They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano.”
4. Breakthrough Advertising | Eugene Schwartz
You won’t be able to get your hands on this book without paying at least $90 for it. But if you know someone who has a copy, ask to borrow it. I doubt they will let you.
My favorite part about this book are the five stages of buyer preparedness. You will look at your audience differently after reading this.
Which Book has 100 Headlines that Are Worth the Steep Price Alone
5. How to Write a Good Advertisement | Victor O. Schwab
The 100 headlines in the first chapter are worth the price of the book alone. But its simplicity is in teaching how to hook readers with emotional triggers and closing the sale with social proof and justifying with facts … not to mention the phenomenal examples throughout the book will pay dividends.
6. Ogilvy on Advertising | David Ogilvy
Crawl inside the mind of one of the 20th Century’s brightest and wealthiest ad writers (he had a castle in France).
He’s ubiquitous with his scotch and water before he writes and the enormous energy he poured into each ad. The result always a masterpiece. Like having an intimate conversation with him.
And the reason I chose this over “Confessions of an Advertising Man” is this includes ads from competitors. It appears more objective.
7. Secrets of the Written Word | Joe Sugarman
If you remember Blu-Blocker sunglasses or the mail-order catalog JS&A Group then you know Joe Sugarman (helps if you were born in the early seventies).
Joe’s ability to sell a product is wrapped up in his ability to tell a story about any product — a chess computer, a radio you drape around your shoulders, small single engine jet — and how he does it is the essence of this book, which is this: the purpose of the headline is to get you to read the first sentence. The purpose of the first sentence is to get you to read the second. And so on.
Think of it as a slide.
The Book David Ogilvy Said Was So Important He Was Buying 400 Copies for His Employees and Clients
8. Reality in Advertising | Rosser Reeves
Not familiar with Reeves? Perhaps this will help: Don Draper from Mad Men is modeled off of Reeves. Reeves is the hard-headed, hard-hitting ad man known for the pounding hammer Anacin ad and other hard sell classics.
This book is an extended commentary on the Unique Selling Proposition, based on 30 years of intensive research. About this book Ogilvy said, “I shall order 400 copies — one for every officer and employee and one for each of our clients.”
9. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion | Dr. Robert Cialidini
This was the book that turned me from a literary snob into a passionate direct response copywriter. With this book I realized I could love advertising.
I could love the ability to use words to persuade people … to influence people. And that the six techniques Cialdini taught could be applied across the board, that they weren’t isolated to copywriting.
Here’s the thing if money is an issue for you: you could probably get some of these books at your local library. Influence, for sure. Ogilvy, possibly.
If money is not an issue for you, buy all these books. They should be on your shelf. You will want to read and re-read these books. You will want to mark these books up. You will want to absorb these books into your bloodstream. You will want to make these books a part of your makeup. You will want to make them second nature.
And keep in mind, if you are a freelancer, these are expenses you can claim on your taxes. And if you work for someone, talk your boss into buying you a few copies. Remind him of the benefits he will get.
Finally, if all else fails, you can find most of these books as PDFs on Scribd. For a small fee you can get your hands on them. I will warn you, though: these PDFs suck. I worked through Breakthrough Advertising and How to Write an Advertisement. And when I say “worked through” I mean that. In places the font alignment is screwed up, and it makes for hard reading. Besides, unless you print it out, you can’t mark it up.
Anyway, I’ve found that when you are desperate and driven these sorts of problems amount to small distractions.
So, you have your marching orders. What are you waiting for? Get reading.
In the meantime, if you are getting value from this podcast, one of the best ways you can support this show is to drop me a rating or review on iTunes … let me know how I’m doing. I love hearing from you. And it really, really encourages me to work harder.
Until next time, take care.
Hashim Warren says
How do you feel about Made To Stick for it’s modern framework and examples?
Demian Farnworth says
That’s a great book, too, Hashim. Indeed, the framework and examples are sublime and I’ve learned a lot. I should’ve added that one to the list.
Sonia Thompson says
Hey Demian – I was glad to see I have all of these but one. I’ll need to go pick up the Rosser Reeves one.
I do have a question for you. A while back you were doing a series on the great copywriters, and you asked a question “where are all the women copywriters” – and you mentioned you were going to address that in later posts.
But I don’t think I ever saw it. And listening to Sally Hogshead reference her success as a copywriter, and your interview with James Chartrand the other day brought that to my memory again.
So – what are your thoughts? Where are all the great women copywriters? 🙂
Demian Farnworth says
Can’t get nothing by you. 😉 Yes. I still owe the world that post. And as you can tell I got severely sidetracked. I still have the rough draft in my WP, so it’s always on the bubble of what I’m doing. I have some content demands coming up soon, so might be a good time to jump back into it. I will give you a little hint, though: I’m not talking about any living copywriters. 😀