Category Archives: writing

Bad John, Good John

Amazon Best Sellers - Marketing - Direct copy 2

Sunday, 11:59am
Reno, NV
You’re so vain…” (Carly Simon, dissing Warren Beatty)


I’ve been meaning to explain some things to y’all for a while, and there’s no better time than now to do it.

Cuz, huzzah, my latest ebook just zoomed to the top of the pile in multiple categories on Amazon last week. “Simple Success Secrets No One Told You About” is the first (of several) “best of” compilations from the archives of this blog… and anyone who’s enjoyed reading my drivel should probably pony up the $2.99 and grab it. (Here’s the link.)

Great for you brain. Great for your motivation. Great for your bottom line (if you’re after wealth and happiness). Great all the way around, I gotta say.


I still feel the need to warn folks that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. Long-time readers of my rantings know what to expect, of course — deliberately mangled grammar, lots of cussing and outrageousness, and absolutely no quarter given to bullshit at any time. This is hard-core biz and living-well advice, tactics and solutions.


… most of my stories revolve around my misadventures out there in the cold, cruel world.

This is not because I’m some rabid egomaniac. (I actually advocate murdering your ego, because it does more harm than good in anyone’s life. Including mine. At the beginning of my seminars, I always spend some time theatrically having people “toss” their ego, so the event can progress without folks getting offended, feeling personally attacked, or just getting their panties in a twist because their ox got gored. Ego sucks.)

No. The reason my books and lessons usually feature a look inside my head is simply because that’s how I learned everything I know about life and business. Since the very first days of my career, I have tried to live an “examined life”, just like Aristotle advised. (Or was it Socrates? Never mind.) I reconsidered my life as an ongoing movie, and I had input to how the script played out…

… so I strove to understand what happened to me each day. And then I deconstructed each event — what the facts were, how I reacted, what I did that was okay, what I did that was clearly a dumb-ass blunder, and what the other “actors” did or didn’t do to contribute to the scene.

This is how I managed to find the great lessons of life and biz. You do something, things cook or explode or simmer, and consequences ensue. And then you study every shred of it. 

I was a one-man living laboratory for testing out the theories and advice and tactics I encountered. Because my freelance career kept me busy with a now-uncountable number of fresh clients (all with unique businesses and situations and neuroses and problems), I had a front-row seat for the biggest show around: How things get either done or botched-up in reality.

If I read a biz book that offered advice on negotiating with clients, for example, I could often put it to use the very next day. If it worked, I used it again and kept refining it. If it didn’t work, I tried to see how I could have screwed it up… or how it was bullshit advice in the first place. (This happened a lot, by the way. Books are essential to learning, but theories that do not actually WORK in the real world are useless. And yet, maybe half the biz books out there are just spring-loaded bullshit dispensers.)

Same with all the tactics I picked up from other writers and mentors, or observed during biz transactions. And also with all the advice for how to prosper, or live healthier, or reduce stress, or a thousand other nuggets of insight (or drivel) that could affect the quality of my life.

I was relentless, too. I wanted to figure out what created success, and what triggered failure. There were HUGE lessons no matter what happened — in fact, I learned more from failing than I ever did from accidentally doing anything correctly…

… as long as I dissected what happened, and learned from it.

I’ve often said that — because I was so freakin’ clueless when I started out — I made most of the mistakes possible in the first decade of my career (and throughout my private life). And… I learned SO MUCH from those mistakes, that I’m sorry I didn’t make EVERY mistake possible. It simply would have expanded my self-education even further.


… when I write about a lesson in biz or life in general… it’s a lesson I’ve learned personally. Usually by making a mess, and immediately cleaning it up, examining every detail of what went down, deconstructing the good and bad points… and figuring out what I could have done differently.

THEN… and this is important… I went back out (often the very next day) and DID IT RIGHT. Whether it was negotiating with a client, using naps to organize my thoughts (like David Ogilvy), writing better bullets, dealing with a disgruntled customer on the phone, finding the best lists to mail, or whatever…

… I learned my lesson, and re-engaged with the world to see if what I learned was spot-on, or needed refinement, or was part of that “nuanced” arsenal of biz tactics that require focus, new skills and multiple decision points to put into action.

So, yes, I’m the dude in the center of the story. I’m not discussing theory here, or something I’ve heard about from some wonderful source.

Nope. My stories are about me, out there in the jungle, chewing up scenery and knocking stuff over and making huge messes…

… and then figuring out how to do better, and then DOING better almost immediately.

The charge I sometimes hear –that I’m an egomaniac who is arrogant about giving advice –is just pure bullshit. I’m a total introvert, and prefer to spend the majority of my life away from crowds. My books seem autobiographical simply because sharing the best lessons require giving you a peek into my life… and so that’s what I do. I share what I’ve learned (the hard way) as a copywriter, as a business owner, as a consultant, as a regular person just trying to do the right thing out there.

I’ve lived a great life, crammed with adventure, heartache, stark terror, love, and more success than I’ve ever felt I deserved. I’m humbled that others consider me a resource for learning, and proud that my career of blunders and missteps can serve as a shortcut for others. So you don’t have to spend decades making every mistake out there, just to figure out what the good lessons are. I’ve already done that. I’m bruised, scarred, and grizzled from the process, but happy to share.

In truth, you’ll still want to learn some of the really juicy lessons yourself anyway. Like “money doesn’t buy happiness”. It’s just more effective (and often more fun) to discover that for your own bad self… though, having a little foreknowledge from a trusted dude like me will at least prepare you when Reality smacks you in the face (and wallet, and soul, and heart) later.

I knew NONE of the essential lessons when I started out. I was like a babe in the forest, blundering along with nothing but a small amount of skills, a huge amount of chutzpah, and a raw determination to get it right (based on my flimsy plan, which didn’t have an alternative to making freelancing work as a new career.) I literally had no idea what I’d do if I failed — a situation I do NOT advise anyone else to attempt, though the motivation was pretty spectacular (if scary as hell).

There is plenty of real arrogance and “full of yourself” attitudes in the biz world. I’ve dealt with a vast mob of clients, colleagues, customers, prospects, looky-loo’s, rubber-neckers, jerks, heroes, lovers, haters, n’eer-do-well’s and basket cases…

… and I’ve spent a lifetime figuring out what makes them tick. And buy. And flee, and get mad, and go off the deep end, and melt down, and everything else this crazy human race is capable of.

I love it all. And I love my fans and readers dearly, and really care about making this process of learning fun, funny and memorable.

So that’s why I write my stories from a personal point-of-view.

And it’s why those tales are so vivid, and crammed with twists and turns. It’s real life. I want the freakin’ pain I experienced getting educated to have had a purpose.

Again — I’m honored that you find my blog, my books, my courses and speeches worthwhile. I get chills when I hear from someone who had a breakthrough, or a sudden success, or even just started on a better path because of a lesson I shared.

Get the latest ebook, or don’t. (Just click on the icon at the top of the right hand column here.) You can wander through the archives on this blog for free, of course, and track the posts down in their original form. That’s why we priced this ebook so low (it’s just $2.99), because it’s all from the blog. But it’s edited, and organized, and in a pretty awesome presentation. Easy to read, nice to have on your Kindle or iPad or whatever, a damn good kick in the butt for any entrepreneur or freelancer wanting to take your game up a few levels.

If you don’t mind, if you DO purchase the ebook, go back to the Amazon page (here) and leave a review. No matter what you thought of the stories and advice, other potential readers rely on reviews like yours to help decide whether to invest some time in the ebook or not.

Some of the reviews I’ve had for other books have been outraged at my language, at the raw honesty, and at what they perceive as my “arrogance” in writing from a personal point of view.

Doesn’t matter. For every person who is insulted or angered, I know that multiple other folks were relieved to have found a nutcase like me who tells it like it is, and has the experience, savvy and track record to help out.

Stay frosty, my friend.


P.S. Love to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments section. I’ll wander in there to see what kind of ruckus you’re causing.







Tribute To The Ink-Stained Wretch


Saturday, 12:42pm
Reno, NV
I’m a long gone daddy in the USA…” (Bruce.)


For most folks in America, July 4th is about picnics, blowing shit up, and toasting the gutsy nature of our country. Born in defiance and battle, prickly and belligerent and idealistic, with built-in endless (and often absurd) political arguments, we’ve somehow made the grand experiment last a couple of centuries and a half.

For me, though, the real victory of the joint isn’t in the details of elections or legislation, or the question of how exceptional we are or aren’t as a culture.

Nope. My own pursuit of life and liberty has always balanced on the First Amendment… particularly the parts about freedom of speech and freedom of the press. That’s the beating heart of this place. That’s the saving grace. For every writer here… novelist, copywriter, journalist, blogger or disgruntled “letter to the editor” ranter… there is a long, gruesome pedigree of ancestor writers who were prosecuted or erased or bullied into silence, stretching back as far as history goes. We’re so spoiled here with freedom of speech, that many naively believe it’s an essential privilege that, of course, is the rule and not the exception. Yet, the opposite is true.

Even today, the right to speak or write about what’s on your mind remains curtailed, risky, and forbidden all over the planet. Even here, the struggle to get to this point — where you and I can write “fuck” without fear of censorship or a visit from The Man — was an ongoing battle that claimed careers and lives of contemporaries. I grew up owning banned books (from the notorious Grove Press, which insisted on publishing every author banned in the U.S. throughout the latter half of the 20th century), watching authorities destroy comics like Lenny Bruce and artists like Jim Morrison, and being pleasantly dumbstruck when respected magazines like The New Yorker finally began printing formerly-prohibited words like “motherfucker” in their articles.

It’s not just about swearing, or about sex, or even about the never-ending brawl between Puritanism and libertarianism.

Much deeper than that. The offensive language and unhinged rants now common online are just a price to pay for the more important victory of Free Thought over censorship. All those past writers and wannabe scribes, muzzled and cowed into submission or silence over the past eons, would weep with joy at the lack of control by The Man over what we think and write. Never mind the wonders of electricity, air travel, the InterWebs, the buzzing gadgets that dominate modern life — the real jaw-dropper is our ability to use our minds unfettered by outside authority.

It’s a shame folks here take it all for granted. That’s how you lose these kinds of privileges. The offended classes gather power, see freedom of thought as a direct threat to that power, and wage constant war against it. Most folks have no use for too much freedom — it’s kind of scary, full of challenges to their belief systems and ideologies and traditions. I’m all for having the sense to pull back a bit in situations where speaking like a drunken sailor will cause folks to clutch their pearls or faint. I’m fine with a little cognitive dissonance, where we pretend that kids have never heard a bad word before, or that “decent” literature and movies can be great art. But do not infringe on my right to enjoy Shakespeare and Twain and George Carlin and Henry Miller without hiding (all banned or censored at some point in our history). And I will write whatever the hell I choose to write, whenever I choose to write it.

We all have to pick our battles in life. Writers tend to be an introspective, introverted bunch who aren’t so hot with manning the barricades… which is why it took nearly the entire arc of civilization’s history to reach this point of unfettered free thought.

So we modern writers owe it to the ink-stained wretches of the past — our professional ancestors — to embrace, defend, and heap glory onto the practice today. This kind of freedom was never a guaranteed deal. The Founding Fathers argued about it, and current governments elsewhere still get queasy even considering letting nutballs like us off the leash, with no way to stop our brains from thinking way outside of the box. Dangerous stuff.

I realize that many of my fellow citizens would be just fine with a few shackles on writers here and there. For them, other battles are more important. And that’s fine… as long as these nay-sayers keep losing that argument.

For me, the real fight of the past few generations — the fight worth dying for today — is freedom of speech. The unconditional freedom to think, and write, whatever goddamned crap I feel like writing about… whether it’s the next Great American Novel or just a funny post on social media skewering uptight jerks. Or even another ad that raises eyebrows.

Yes, there are a few restrictions still. I’m okay with having a few legal lines that shall not be crossed (because they cause real harm, not theoretical harm). But the restrictions should remain rare. Hearing harsh language won’t damage your brain, no matter how freaked-out you get over it. Being exposed to foreign ideas won’t change your biology. And stumbling upon writing that offends you won’t cause civilization to crumble.

I’ll toast the First Amendment today, and every day afterward, for the rest of my life. It was worth blowing shit up for. It’s worth every knock-down fight that has happened, and if more fighting is required, sign me up.

For all the faults and missteps and foibles of my country’s existence… I still allow myself to get choked up over Old Glory. Because she flies over my continued ability to be the kind of writer my ancestors could barely dream of being. Free.

Fuckin’ A. Play ball.

Stay frosty,



Sunday, 3:09pm
Reno, NV
“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, unless you’ve got a black hole handy.”


Nice, short post here today. In keeping with the theme “KISS.”

Veteran entrepreneurs recognize this, of course, as an acronym of “Keep It Simple, Stupid“… easily some of the best biz advice I ever received in my long career. I carefully printed this slogan out, by hand, on a big notecard and had it taped above my desk for years (though, my sign was even more direct and vicious: Keep It Simple, Shithead. I wanted to get my own attention.)

I made good use of slogans during the early days. “Business before pleasure” was also huge for me, since I’d squandered my youth as a party-hardy slacker… and simply re-directing my energy first to biz (and having evil fun afterward, if I still had any juice left) instantly changed my entire existence. I made a vow to myself — my first real vow that I took deadly seriously — to follow that self-administered advice without hesitation or complaint… and to never apologize for basing my career on a hackneyed phrase that few people ever thought twice about. And that’s when things started popping for me, success-wise.

That was a key realization: All those dog-eared rickety slogans, as mocked as they are, have earned their way into the culture…

… because they Continue Reading

R.I.P. Elvis Sightings & Exploding Preachers


Thursday, 2:52pm
Reno, NV
He was a one-eyed, one horn, flying purple people eater…” (Sheb Wooley)


In the spirit of screwing off as much as possible this fine July, I’m replenishing the blog with another oldie-but-goodie post from the archives.

So you’ve got something good to chew on, while I wander off to the beach to get pounded by merciless surf and fried by an uncaring sun. You know: Good times.

Anyway, I love meandering through the archives here… especially when I find a post that still packs some mojo.

Here’s a nice short one from ’07, on the non-scientific process of finding great hooks for your headlines. At the time, I was bummed that a favorite newsstand shock-rag was ending its run… however, the good news is that WWN is still alive and kicking (just like Elvis) online. (Today’s headline: “Saturn Ready To Explode!” Um… okay.)

The ability to find a way to hook readers (and drag them into your story) is what separates the Big Dog writers from the wannabe’s. And creating hooks (especially from otherwise boring raw material) is an art form that needs to be developed. It’s not a skill that comes with your standard brain equipment.

Here’s some insight to how the best veteran copywriters do it, slightly edited, via the Archive Time Machine, from July ’07:Continue Reading

How To Murder Stress, Part 1

Tuesday, 3:29pm
Reno, NV
I can’t seem to face up to the facts, I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax…” (Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”)


What’s the matter, Bunky?

The news got you down?  The economy keeping you up at night?  Are sales in the toilet, creditors stalking you, clients not returning calls, the sheer angst of living in a modern tech-drenched world chewing holes in your gut?

Would you like to hear how grizzled veterans handle the evils of stress?

It’s good stuff… because, as everyone should realize, you don’t get to BE a grizzled veteran if you can’t handle stress.  Cuz that shit will eat your ass alive and send you to an early grave.

In fact, this is easily one of the fundamental tools for surviving the Bidness Never-Ending Cage Fight.  I noticed, in the first years of my freelance career (when I was searching semi-desperately for clues on how to become successful), that there were biz owners who were having fun… and there were other owners not having any fun at all.

Age had nothing to do with it.  Nor health (though the fun-havers consistently were in better shape).  Nor gender, nor — and this is important — how successful they were.

The difference was simply how they handled stress.Continue Reading

Sex, Fun, Money… and More Sex

Monday, 9:27pm
Reno, NV
Oops, I did it again…”  (Britney, God love her…)


I’m on a roll here, grabbing criminally-ignored posts from the blog archives…

… and re-posting them prominently, so you criminally ignore them no longer.  With a few minor edits, of course, tailoring the prose to fit today’s quirky needs for advice.  (Hey, you don’t fit into your old high school jeans anymore, either, you know.)

Here, we have another dangerously-tasty post from not too long ago… which, I believe, requires no explanation other than to say it’s some serious insight into the writer’s brain.

You do NOT want to venture into this quagmire without a guide.  Which is what I’ve written here — a short “guide to the writer’s mind”.

Not exactly a hot Disneyland ride, but if you’re in business it’s some wicked-valuable info.

So, indulge, and enjoy (if you dare):

I’m gonna need your feedback on this.

See, I’ve always been a wave or two out of the mainstream… and that’s actually helped me be a better business dude, because this outsider status forces me to pay extra attention to what’s going on (so I can understand who I’m writing my ads to).

This extra focus means I’ve never taken anything for granted — especially not those weird emotional/rational triggers firing off in a prospect’s head while I’m wooing him on a sale.

And trust me on this: Most folks out there truly have some WEIRD shit going on in their heads, Continue Reading

Operation MoneySuck 2.0

Tuesday, 2:32pm
Reno, NV
And you may ask yourself, where does that highway go?” (Talking Heads)


Quickie post today…

… on a very important topic.

You hear me nattering about “Operation MoneySuck” all the time.  And some folks are confused about what it means.

So let’s do a refresher.

Here’s the story: Early in my career, I was hired by advertising legend Gary Halbert to help him write ads for clients.  The first day I arrived at his offices on Sunset Blvd (in West Hollywood), we were scheduled to slam out copy and plot “next moves” with some current clients.

However, just as my butt hit the chair across from his desk, two (count ’em, two) secretaries AND his red-headed girlfriend (notorious for getting her way) burst in with bad news.

Lots of bad news, in fact.  The printer had just broken down, and shit needed to get copied NOW.  Some guy was ranting and raving on Line 2, threatening legal action over something.  The landlord was on the way up in the elevator, because there was a problem with the lease.  The bank was on Line 1, and so on.

These women were shaking with panic and consternation, freaked out by the urgent crisis-level emergencies that…


… to be dealt with…


I sighed, and started to gather my stuff, ready to split until Gary had attended to all of this mayhem.

Instead, he held up his hand… shushed everyone… and gently ushered the secretaries AND his red-headed girlfriend (notorious for getting her way) out the door…Continue Reading

Lessons From Amateur Drunk Night

jc pic 10

Thursday, 11:30am
Reno, NV
You’re young, you’re drunk, you’re in bed, you have knives… shit happens.” (Angelina Jolie)


Did you go out and do any damage on New Year’s Eve?

Hope you got home safe, if you did.

The world turns into Crazy Town every 12/31, and you can’t projectile-puke in any direction without hitting people who seldom (or should never) drink pounding down Jagermeister and double-bourbons like they’re channeling Hunter S. Thompson in his prime.

It’s been years since I’ve ventured away from home for New Year’s…

… and even then, I only went out because I was sitting in with a band in some bar or club.

There’s a small bit of safety being on a stage while the rookies party below. Even in the sleaziest biker bar I’ve ever had the pleasure of performing in… the bad-asses never assaulted the band.

They might bust a tweaker’s head against the bar just to see what the dude looked like sprawled on the floor…Continue Reading

DIY vs. Mentoring

jc photo 11

Thursday, 12:15pm
Reno, NV
It’s too hard.  You’ll never figure it out.” (What the first copywriter I ever met told me about writing ads.)


I’m going to tell you about two promises here.

The stories behind them may help you chart out the rest of your life… as they did mine.


Promise #1:

The above quote (“It’s too hard.  You’ll never figure it out.”) are the exact words that a professional copywriter said to me when I innocently asked for advice.

They are burned into my cerebral cortex, because it was one of the first times I had ever nurtured a small ember of actual hope about my future in business…

… and she crushed it like a bug.

All I’d wanted from her was a smidgen of advice. Maybe point me in the right direction.  Or offer a small word of encouragement.

I was lost at the time.  Trapped in the drudgery of a dead-end J.O.B. that sucked big-time.

And I was genuinely clueless about the process of writing anything for business.  I’d never met a real copywriter before, and was very interested in finding out more.

I didn’t even know what the word “mentor” meant at the time… but I suppose I would have squirmed with joy if she had said, instead, something like “Let me help you learn how to do this.”

Still, she did me a HUGE favor by being such a miserable, hateful bitch.

As I stood at her desk, burning with shame for having asked for something and been so brutally refused…

… I promised myself that I would prove her wrong.

And I used that promise as motivation whenever I needed some extra oomph in the next year or so, as I figured out — on my own, without help from anyone — how to write killer sales messages.

So I owe her one.  She did me a proper by igniting my until-then-dormant ability to Do It Myself.  Literally with a vengeance.

I launched my solo career as a freelance writer entirely on my own.  I took the Do It Yourself ethic and ran with it…Continue Reading

More Free Goodies Than You Probably Deserve…


Sunday, 7:57pm
Reno, NV
It’s alive!” (Baron Von Frankenstein, kickstarting the Monster)


We’ve just fired up the Simple Writing System blog (…

… which means a stunning (and unprecedented) pile of free tools, tactics, advice and insight can be yours…

… just for the grabbing.

This is an all-out assault on reason and logic.  We’re just GIVING AWAY stuff that — not too long ago — would have cost you a pretty penny just to get a quick glimpse of.

We’ve created a beast here, and it’s name is FREE.

Here’s just a small taste of what’s piling up over there (that you’re missing out on if you haven’t signed in):

  • A free swipe file of “home run” ads I’ve written (which few folks outside the target markets have ever seen)… can be in your tool kit tonight.  This swipe file, alone, is causing hearts to skip a beat among marketers and freelance writers who love to rip juicy headlines and sales angles from proven ads.  (Removes any guesswork on who/what to rip.)
  • A short (but frightenly powerful) series of special reports channeling the best “how to make the sale” secrets I’ve ever used.  (I used to keep this stuff classified, only bringing it out during high-paid consultations… and here we are giving it away.)
  • The actual video (torn directly from the masters hidden in Frank’s inner sanctum) of my “How to persuade, influence and sell the shit out of anything… using the simplest stories you can create” presentation at Mass Control.

What?  You didn’t see that presentation?

It’s marketing theater at its finest… Continue Reading

All testimonials and case studies within this website are, to the best of our ability to determine, true and accurate. They were provided willingly, without any compensation offered in return.

These testimonials and case studies do not represent typical or average results. Most customers do not contact me or offer share to their results, nor are they required or expected to. Therefore, I have no way to determine what typical or average results might have been.

Many people do not implement anything I teach them. I can't make anyone follow my advice, and I obviously can't promise that our advice, as interpreted and implemented by everyone, is going to achieve for everyone the kinds of results it's helped some of the folks you read about and hear from here achieve.

The income statements and examples on this website are not intended to represent or guarantee that everyone will achieve the same results. Each individual's success will be determined by his or her desire, dedication, marketing background, product, effort, and motivation to work and follow recommendations. There is no guarantee you will duplicate results stated here. You recognize any business endeavor has inherent risk for loss of capital.

© 2004-2014 John Carlton. All rights reserved.