Technology is evolving, fast, and everything we do lately seems to be online. Even our businesses. This is one of the main reasons copywriting has become such a crucial element to people. They themselves are clueless on how to portray and express themselves online which is why you turn to copywriting books to help you know what to do.
This is where you come in. I get it, you are probably new and just a clueless. Don’t worry, we have a winning combination of copywriting books to get you started.
1. Stephen King – On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Who wouldn’t want to be taught by one of the bestselling authors of all time? Stephen King’s outstanding volume, On Writing, part memoir, part master class, is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft. It comprises the basic tools of the trade every writer must have.
King’s knowledge and advice is built through his lifetime of writing. From vivid childhood memories through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his near-fatal accident in 1999. It’s no surprise at how the inseparable link between writing and living spurred his recovery.
This empowering book is a definite must-read for everyone, especially writers! Brilliantly structured and written with an intimate connection to himself and his past, something we can all relate to.
✓ “You can’t please all of the readers all of the time. You can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.”
✓ Writing is an art, and not everyone likes the same art.
✓ Eliminate distractions, they are addictive and create procrastination.
✓ Avoid playing it safe and writing in a passive voice. Read, read, and keep on reading. Reading creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing.
✓ And lastly, create and develop your own style.
2. Luke Sullivan – Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads
Do you want to leave a mark in the digital world? This book is cleverly written, very informative, and an essential resource for advertising professionals and creatives who need up-to-date digital skills to reach the modern consumer.
In a consumerist world, the consumers have seen it all. It takes a lot to truly wow a person these days, and make an impact that lasts longer than 24 hours. Hey Whipple, Squeeze This provides you with the know-how to do all this, and so much more.
From learning how to tell brand stories and create brand experiences online and in traditional media outlets, to learning more about the value of authenticity, simplicity, storytelling, and conflict. These lessons give you tools and help you gain a real-world perspective on what it means to be great in a fast-moving, sometimes harsh industry.
This copywriting books is cleverly written and very informative. Definitely one of my personal favourites.
✓ The title says it all, A Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads. Luke Sullivan, a copywriter at one of the nation’s most prestigious ad agencies, reveals some of the greatest secrets and tips when creating ads.
✓“Don’t do an ad. Do something interesting,” is the best and most basic advice from Sullivan himself.
✓ This edition informs you across all media platforms, Digital, Social and Traditional.
✓From starting out to getting work and building your own successful campaigns, Hey Whipple guides you across the board with “do”s and “don’t”s, as well as personal stories from trials and tribulations to successes.
✓ You will learn how to tell brand stories in a unique and humorous manner that will set you apart from all the rest.
✓ As Sullivan brings you up in anticipation to create, he levels you by expressing the importance of patience. “Be patient. — Learn to enjoy the process, not just the finished piece.”
3. David Ogilvy – Confessions of an Advertising Man
When it comes to something we are investing ourselves in, it is always helpful to have a role model or inspirational guru who can guide us there. When it comes to advertising, David Ogilvy is our man. A creative genius by many of the biggest global brands, and dubbed “father of advertising”.
A book that revolutionized the advertising world in the 1960’s, becoming an international best seller and translated into 14 languages, you know it will leave you with some mind-blowing ideas.
Ogilvy’s book not only conveys advertising and inspirational philosophy, but also delves into people management, corporate ethics, and office politics, forming an essential blueprint for good practice in business. Sharing insights about the writing process as well as dealing with clients, this book will change the way you understand advertising.
✓ Reevaluate your creativity. It’s not just about being clever and witty, it’s about connecting with your audience and building trust. Create content that will be insightful, helpful, and interesting to your chosen target audience.
✓Learn everything you possibly can about your selected topic, then allow your subconscious mind to play with the infinite possibilities of creation, that is where the magic lies.
✓ Don’t be afraid to use structure with creativity. Ogilvy often uses 33-minute windows for his writing processes with a timer, a proven success.
✓ Only market things you believe in. Deliver facts, not fiction, stand 100% behind the product and never lie. Sell only what you feel comfortable in and are willing to back up all the way.
✓ Advertising is meant to sell, not entertain. If you focus on clever puns and moving images, yet forget to sell the product; you have lost your selling point. This is where simplicity wins. Stick to your point, make it simple.
4. Joseph Sugarman – Advertising Secrets of the Written Word: The Ultimate Resource on How to Write Powerful Advertising Copy from One of America’s Top Copywriters and Mail Order Entrepreneurs
Joseph Sugarman is a role model for many in sales, marketing and direct marketing. He is recognized for his effective advertising copy and the innovations he’s brought to the direct marketing field.
Personally, I have been a fan of Joseph Sugarman’s copywriting and marketing ideas for years and have benefited greatly when applying his techniques to my own work. He knows how to build a story and in turn I have been able to better my own
Sugarman explores many psychological triggers in advertising and covers a lot of groundwork that is essential if you have to write to promote a service or product, with many real examples too. He also shares examples of ads that worked best for him over the years, which are golden!
This is an absolute must-have for any marketing professional, and for anyone interested in learning about what works in the direct marketing world and in improving their written delivery.
The book is organised into three sections, the creative process, understanding what works, and ad examples. These sections are then structured around axioms — the author’s main ideas about what sells.
Here are a few pearls of axiom wisdom from his book:
✓Elements in an advertisement are primarily designed to do one thing only: get you to read the first sentence of the copy.
The sole purpose of the first sentence in an advertisement is to get you to read the second sentence.
✓Regardless of medium used, all communication should be a personal one, from writer to recipient.
Never sell a product or service. Always sell a concept.
✓Get the reader to say yes and synchronise with your accurate and truthful statements while reading your copy.
The book also delves into psychological triggers such as honesty, credibility, value, and the desire to belong, allowing you to understand your audience and the mind more.
5. Ann Handley – Everybody Writes
If you are looking to create incredibly good content that attracts and retains customers, look no further. Everybody Writes is an easy and informative go-to guide that won’t disappoint.
We are all online these days. That makes all of us marketers. We market ourselves, not just our business, and what we say, matters.
How we write and what we write gives people an indication of who we are, and can make us look intelligent or even dumber than we really are. It creates an image of us, be it warm, funny, sarcastic, friendly, or even airheaded. Yes, it matters.
So often we try and tackle the complex elements of advertising and promoting ourselves that we overlook the simple skill in content marketing: how to write, and how to tell a true story well.
Ann Handley explores different techniques that teach us How To Write Better, Writing Rules, Story Rules, Things Marketers Write, and Content Tools. These are often overlooked yet are the fundamentals when it comes to understanding the world of writing and drawing in your readers.
Ann is one of the leading voices in writing for the digital age, and this book side by side at the forefront.
Whether it is writing for yourself or for your organisation, Ann reveals some brilliant tools with regards to grammar and delves further into the actual writing process and storytelling:
✓Have a strategy. What is your goal? What are you trying to achieve with your content? Ann reminds us that we are writing with a purpose, and brings us to the successful formula of answering the five questions: what, who, when, where, and why.
✓ You need a story to build a great brand. That story is the heart and soul of your content. It builds a relationship with your readers.
6. Perry Marshall – 80/20 Sales and Marketing:The Definitive Guide to Working Less and Making More
We all want to make more money and work less, don’t we? Well, here is solution known as the 80/20 Rule.
Marshall’s 80/20 Rule and the Pareto Principle is a must know for anyone in sales and marketing. You can save 80 percent of your time and money by zeroing in on the right 20 percent of your market. With powerful 80/20 software (online, included with the book), you’ll apply the Pareto Principle to “slash time-wasters, locate invisible profit centers in your business, advertise to hyper-responsive buyers and avoid tire-kickers, Gain coveted positions on search engines, differentiate yourself from rivals, and gain esteem in your marketplace.”
This book is an easy read with short chapters, allowing you to put the theory to practice fast, and watch the benefits grow, as well as your time and income.
✓ Basically put, 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. This is the 80/20 Principle, aka “The Pareto Principle”.
✓80/20 can be applied to almost everything. So, master this, and you can master many elements of your life, especially marketing and business (I will leave the facts, numbers, examples and proof to the book).
✓ Through these chapters you will be able to estimate how much money you are leaving on all your different “tables”, and the ability to produce over 100x improvements in productivity, moving into regions of higher effectiveness.
✓ The 80/20 rule allows space for thinking and planning, it also allows space for time. How ironic.
✓ The book explores this formula with real life examples and easy to read guidelines, sharing knowledge of how you can work less and still make more.
7. Angela Duckworth – Grit:The Power of Passion and Perseverance
Nowadays there is a lot of pressure on us to feel like we are good at something naturally, and to hone in on that talent. But in reality, what you put in is what you get out. It all comes down to how bad you want it.
Passion and Persistence. These are the two words emphasized by Angela in her book Grit. Be it parents, students, educators, athletes, or business people, she highlights that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls “grit.”
In this powerful book, Angela takes readers on an adventure into the lives of cadets, teachers, and even students, all dealing with different life circumstances yet following the same universal formula of passion and persistence. She also shares what she has learned interviewing dozens of high achievers—from JP Morgan, CEO Jamie Dimon to New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff to Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll.
There is a strand that connects all successful people together which Angela unpacks and shares in an insightful and intriguing manner. Grit also highlights why any effort you make ultimately counts twice toward your goal, how grit can be learned, regardless of I.Q. or circumstances, and the magic of the Hard Thing Rule.
We get knocked down, and then we get back up. It’s the mindset of getting back up that makes all the difference, and the ripple effect can be seen in your business too. This book is a great combination of taking our personal life mottos and strengths and pulling them into our business mentalities.
✓ Grit, a rather self-expressive word already, is further discussed in this book – what it is and why it matters more than our natural ability. It goes on to share the importance of commitment and effort over sheer talent.
✓ Interest, practice, purpose, and hope’, are the four psychological qualities of Grit that we explore, further branching into how Grit ties into a growth mindset, optimism, and satisfaction at work and life. These are abilities that take you further not just in writing, but also in your day-to-day life. Grit expands into dealing with the family, children, and within your culture.
✓ Never underestimate the power of psychology in your writing.
8. Anne Lamott – Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
‘Don’t take life too seriously, nobody gets out alive.’
Meaning, relax, and let life flow. This book is a wonderful addition to this statement as Anne combines the lessons and turns of life with writing in a way that is unique and funny. Anne helps you find your voice and takes you from your first draft to your publication, from writers block and going broke, to success and vision.
Her writing advice is helpful, hilarious, intriguing and honest, expressing what it takes and how long it takes to be a writer. She reminds you in her copywriting book this isn’t going to be easy and it isn’t going to be bestowed upon you through anything but hard work and a lot of rewriting, as well as constant and passionate effort.
With many golden nuggets, this book should be kept with you and taken in your own stride, but whatever you do, don’t stop writing.
✓ Using a conventional approach and personal narrative to convey lessons on writing, Lamott shares an insight into her family, friends, and personal struggles, and how writing and life go hand in hand.
✓ Using life as her inspiration, Lamott asserts how writers can better themselves by making a commitment to write more, and how developing great stories often begins by what is overlooked – the small details of life, from observing your surroundings to exploring memories and following intuition.
✓ Forget perfectionism and allow yourself the space to fail. Write, rewrite, and crumple up many drafts; it is all part of the writing process. Lamott goes on to discuss the mechanics that can ease the writing process, which includes carrying index cards to record ideas, calling experts for advice or just to express your story, and seeking feedback from fellow writers.
✓ Beyond that, some main points simply put are, write regularly, don’t be afraid to mess up, know your characters, let the plot grow from your characters, write in your own voice, and call for guidance or advice.
✓ And remember, “Devotion and commitment will be their own reward.”
9. William Strunk Jr. – The Elements of Style
Sometimes we need to go deep into the complexities of theory and structure, and sometimes we just need to take it back to the basics, which in turn can also be complex.
The Elements of Style is the definitive text and classic manual on the principles of English language, with 18 main topics organized under the headings:
- Elementary Rules of Usage,
- Elementary Principles of Composition,
- A Few Matters of Form,
- Words and Expressions Commonly Misused,
- Words Often Misspelled.
Written years ago, before the slang of text messages appeared, this mini manual is definitely worth learning from the masters. Not only is it effective at explaining nearly every grammatical concept that one would need to know, it is done succinctly. Covering comma usage, clauses, paragraphs and construction, it doesn’t matter if your field is business or creative writing, the rules of structure still apply.
✓ This book focuses on the main elements of writing style, following three main chapters.
✓ Some points from Elementary Rules of Usage are how to form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas. More rules follow the chapter.
✓ Some points from Elementary Principles of Composition explain how to choose a suitable design and hold to it. Make the paragraph the unit of composition. Use the active voice. Put statements in the positive form. Too often we unconsciously use negative, toneless words. Be sure of yourself in your words and cut out anything that can be perceived as vague and unclear. Be assertive with the points you are trying to make.
✓ This brings us to our next point – omit the needless words.
George Orwell said it perfectly, “Good writing is simple writing, and simple writing is hard.” Too often we become attached to not only words, but also sentences. Teach yourself to become a detached minimalist, and cut the needless words/ sentences out.
✓ Lastly, and most importantly, revise and rewrite. We know it logically, but do we put as much effort into the revise and rewrite as we do into the writing? Even the greatest masters of writing revise their work; it’s the revision process that makes them who they are. Just don’t lose your style and personality in the process.
✓ These are only a few gems that are explained in this highly acclaimed writer’s bible, which further expands on ones writing style, a key point that comes up often. Writing is a lot more than stringing words together to form a sentence; it’s about style and personality.
10. Bernadette Jiwa – The Fortune Cookie Principle: The 20 Keys to a Great Brand Story and Why Your Business Needs One.
“It’s not how good you are. It’s how well you tell your story.”
The big corporations might have huge budgets to spend, but if you’ve got the story, you’ve got the glory. Your story isn’t just what you tell people; it’s what they believe about you based on the signals your brand sends.
The Fortune Cookie Principle is a brand building framework and communication strategy consisting of 20 keys that enable you to begin telling your brand’s story, from the inside out.
Enabling you to differentiate your brand and make emotional connections with the kind of clients and customers you want to serve.
Brands hold an immense amount of power through so many forms that we don’t even realize, from emotional connections to colors and symbols. In other words, Product plus meaning equals brand. Your story is important, and how you tell it matters.
One of the most important lessons I have learned in business is something that my very first mentor drilled in to me:
“Facts tell. Stories sell.”
If you had to pick one book out of this entire list to read, this should be the one.
If Seth Godin endorses this book, you know it’s worth the read (in my own opinion, I guess, since we don’t all like the same spice to our lives.)
The Fortune Cookie Principle explains why a great product or service isn’t enough. You can tell a compelling story about your brand to captivate and hold your audience and why that is one of the most important aspects of running a business, these days. This book delivers a simple metaphor you can use to guide all your marketing efforts.
So, where does the fortune cookie come into the picture? This is outlined further in the book, but here is a sneak peek into some of her ‘20 keys to a great brand story.’
✓ Each brand comes with a fortune and a cookie, so you have to think about both. The cookie is the tangible product you are offering to people. The fortune is the intangible story you tell about your brand.
✓ Develop your brand’s vision with three main questions, how will your company affect the future? How will your day-to-day work support this vision? How will your vision make customers feel and act?
✓ Make sure your brand’s location and content align with the story you want it to tell. Imagine an eco village setting up in between the meat industry and McDonalds, not the best way to go, is it? Brands are specific to their content and location, and need to match in order to thrive.
11. Bill Bryson – Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting It Right.
If you love words and the quirky nuances of the English language, you have found your book.
Revised and updated, Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words, is an essential guide to the wonderfully disordered thing that is the English language. This book is a worthwhile addition to any writer or editor’s reference library.
Written with wit and wisdom, the misused, the misunderstood and even the mis-spelled are treated with great humor and insight, tackling words, grammar, and everything in-between, even pronunciation.
So grab your notebook and content page and browse the endlessly fascinating words that make up the English language, you will be pleasantly surprised with the sentences you create and attention you grab.
✓ Guiding us towards the most precise and mistake free usage of the English language, Bryson’s book is full of quirks, wit, logic, and common sense. With many examples of questionable usages of words, the book also holds a large glossary and guide to pronunciation as well as grammar usage.
✓ With a multitude of facts and knowledge on words, this dictionary challenges the outmoded form of ‘dictionary’. If you want to hone in on your writing skills or want to browse through pages of fascinating words and their explanations, this is your go-to book.
12. Steven Pinker – The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.
It seems the further we are evolving with technology and social media, the worse our English language has become. Do kids even care about good writing? Do we?
In this charming, witty, and insightful read, the cognitive scientist, dictionary consultant, and New York Times–bestselling author Steven Pinker rethinks the usage guide for the twenty-first century, portraying how the art of writing can be a form of pleasurable mastery.
Steven Pinker takes us on a journey of reigniting the romance of writing with regards to letters and literature, and sparks the inner flame in those curious about the ways in which the sciences of mind can illuminate how language works at its best.
Touching on tone, style, structure, grammar, themes and conflicts, this book explores and expresses modern writing in a superb way.
✓ Pinker shows how the art of writing can be a form of pleasurable mastery and a fascinating intellectual topic in its own right. If you are interested in letters and literature and are curious about the ways in which the sciences of mind can illuminate how language works at its best, this one’s for you.
✓ Some cannot fully grasp this book as Pinker applies insights from the sciences of language and mind to the challenge of crafting clear, coherent, and stylish prose.
✓ Pinker shows how writing depends on imagination, empathy, coherence and grammatical knowhow, and explains how the best way to write is based on how our brain understands words on a page.
✓ This book is ideal for those seeking the lifelong challenge of perfecting the craft of writing.
13. John Caples – Tested Advertising Methods.
If there was ever a nominated leader in the world of writing for sales, John Caples would have my vote.
Being a legend in the advertising game for over 60 years, Caples first published this book in 1939. While the information in the original copy still remains timeless, it has since been “revamped” by advertising consultant, Fred Hahn.
Tested Advertising Methods provides actionable advice that takes the guesswork out of advertising. From writing the title to the call to action, this book offers results!
Whether you are a professional copywriter or one of the new kids on the block, this book will have a wealth of knowledge to offer you. Not only does Caples offer actionable advice, but he also gives comprehensive examples. This offers a clearer explanation to readers of how to implement the lessons within this book. More importantly, he gives examples of how others have failed and shows us how to avoid the frustration of making the same mistakes. If you are interested in this subject and eger to learn more, our course Digital Marketing Essentials can be interesting for you.
While this book was first published more than 70 years ago, the comparison to today’s marketing trends shows us that the advice that Caples has given us in this book is timeless. There are, however, 4 key takeaways that stand out for me in this book:
✓ It’s all in the headline
The sad fact of the matter is that, as copywriters, many of us have already lost our readers after the headline. Readers merely scan through pieces of writing until they find something that catches their eye. If your title doesn’t grab them, then you have lost them.
In the words of Capers, himself:
“The success of an entire advertising campaign may stand or fall on what is said in the headlines…
✓ What’s in it for me?
Content that appeals to people’s self interest has proven itself successful, time and time again. Targeting a specific niche and offering your audience a solution to something they need will coax them into reading further, no matter how busy they are.
✓ It’s sales, not poetry
The aim of writing for sales is just that. Sales.
Your goal is to get readers to buy, not to write a beautiful Shakespearean sonnet.
By no means does Capers suggest that you throw grammar, punctuation and flow out the window, but this is what he does say:
“It’s what you say that counts, not how you say it. A valid argument presented in blunt language will sway the reader more than a less valid argument beautifully presented.”
Sales isn’t an exact science. There will be times that certain methods will not work. This is what makes the testing process so important.
“Testing enables you to guard against an advertising manager or copy chief whose pet ideas may be hurting your advertising. Testing enables you to guard against an advertising agency whose idea of agency service is merely to turn out pretty layouts and stereotyped copy. Testing enables you to guard against mistaken ideas that you yourself may have in regard to advertising. And finally, testing enables you to keep in touch with trends in advertising. What was good advertising a few years ago may not always be good advertising today.”
14. Victor Schwab – How to Write a Good Advertisement.
This book, by Victor Schwab, is a must read for anyone starting in the copywriting profession.
Schwab has, in effect, created a short course in copywriting with this step-by-step guide through each element of writing advertisements.
Reprinted in 2015, the 1962 Edition takes all the classic (but relevant) practices of advertising and combines them into an easy-to-follow guide.
In my own opinion, this might be one of the most valuable piece of reading for anyone starting out in copywriting. It covers a handful of practices that have been lost since the introduction of quick-fix internet guides. From how to write a sales letter to what mistakes NOT to make, Schwab carefully explains how to utilize each of the effective “old school” techniques discussed in his book.
Being focused on beginners, Schwab’s guide holds many golden nuggets of information. In fact, I may even suggest that seasoned writers give it a read.
✓ The key lesson that Schwab makes quite clear is this:
Perfection does not exist.
Copywriting is often seen as a science with measurable goals. What converts best?
People will procrastinate, waiting for the perfect sales pitch when, the truth is, it doesn’t exist. There will always be hundreds (if not thousands) of readers that will punch holes in anything that you have to send them. You can’t please everyone. But, you can combine a number of sales elements to form a good pitch for your niche. Test it. Adjust it. Test it again and, eventually, you will have an approach that works… most of the time.
It’s not failure. It’s learning and perfecting.
All of these books hold a valuable variety of lessons that would teach even the best of copywriters a thing or two. If you have any additional suggestions of books that you feel deserve a mention, we would love to hear from you so we can share them with others.
Furthermore, I would love to hear your thoughts on our selection from this article and if any of these books have helped you?