Archive Monthly Archives: August 2006

So, Decide Already

I just finished polishing my latest issue of the Rant — it’s a good ‘un, too. All about making decisions.

However, after sending the issue off to be printed and mailed, I realized I’d forgotten to include one of my notes.

So, here it is:

The ability to make a good decision is a key to becoming a true professional, in any market or business. Very few people understand the mechanics of decision-making… and, in fact, recoil at the idea of going deep with the process.

Read more…

Spoiled Brats

Just got back from a week on the coast. Found a joint that takes dogs and doesn’t have wireless or cell phone coverage.

That was cool. Getting off the grid is good for your soul, every so often.

I came back to a ton of “urgent” email and an inbox stacked to the ceiling… and I’ve been happily knocking items off my to-do list all day. Because I’m taking off another few days to hang with my family, starting when my nephew’s plane lands in about half an hour.

Read more…

I’m Outa Here

One of the big damn perks of being your own boss is, of course, the ability to pull the plug on the phone and take off for the coast whenever you feel like getting sand everywhere.

That’s exactly what we’re doing over the next few days. Cram the SUV with too much crap, set the terrier up with her favorite bed and toys in the back, slam in the home-made CDs, and roar out of town fired up on caffeine and adrenaline and the call of the beach. (Tomorrow morning, it’s Bloody Mary’s on the porch!)

I’ll be back next week, much less grumpy and probably already peeling from sunburn.

Read more…

Absolutely Perfect

I woke up today thinking about perfectionism.

God knows, I’m the last guy on earth who would ever get tagged as a perfectionist… except when it comes to writing.

I’m sloppy and generally lazy — my desk looks like a bomb went off, and I have dusty stacks of files and books next to my bookcase that have been awaiting attention for six months. I would have made a good ape in the jungle, happily lounging around munching bananas all day and flicking at fleas.

But when it comes to writing, editing and re-writing… I turn into Mr. Type A Obsessive-Compulsive Perfectionist.

I’m still dressed in grungy sweats, barefoot and looking like I just crawled out of bed… but once I bring up a document and start punching keys, I’m focused and merciless about making the words work.

This is one of the big stumbling blocks my copywriting students encounter. I repeatedly talk about the need to rewrite and edit… and even insist that they use complete sentences in all email correspondence with me… and most just think I’m kidding.

I’m not.

As a raw rookie freelancer, I would work on copy until my eyes bled… desperate to make sure there were no typo’s or misspellings or — worst of all — any instances of not being clear and easily understood.

I knew that a great sales pitch depended on clarity. And I learned, as I worked on more and more jobs, that my brain loved to clog up clear thinking with obtuse metaphors and clunky anecdotes. It’s just something our brains enjoy doing.

Rule Number One: There is NEVER room for a tangential story in a good sales pitch. Your copy should be like a greased slide — the reader climbs on through the very first words you hook him with, and is taken on a brisk, thrilling ride through the pitch with no chance to catch his breath.

By the time he arrives at your offer, he should be in a state of near-frenzy, desperate to have your product in his hands and terrified he may miss out if he dallies.

Most rookies interrupt this mad rush to go off on irrelevant tangents. In essence (and I’ve seen these very words in a bad pitch), you’re saying “Hold that thought, for a minute… while I tell you about something else entirely.”

In a sales pitch, you will murder results by doing that. Introducing an irrelevant story, or going off on some tangent that stops the momentum, is like throwing a bucket of ice water on your reader.

You’re after that passionate sweet spot in his soul. Passion is slow to get fired up, and quick to cool.

If it helps to look at your copy in another way, try this: Many of the best copywriters consider their pitch as a quasi-sexual encounter with a prospect, through words. You use teasing foreplay to get the mood right… turn up the heat as you approach the climax of the offer… and make it clear that any relief from the tension and anticipation will not come until the order is complete.

Think about how you’ve felt during a good sales transaction. It’s a visceral experience. Taking cash or a credit card out of your wallet, and giving it to another person, is one of the toughest human interactions to trigger.

It’s not just your head and your wallet involved. It’s your heart, your ape-brain, your cerebral cortex, your blood pressure, your soul.

Weak writing won’t cut it.

That’s why my most common advice to rookies is to rewrite more. Edit more viciously. And don’t let an ad out of your hands until you would bet your life on it working — the old “Gun To The Head” process.

I mentioned that, as a rookie myself, I edited until my eyes bled.

I really thought I was working hard. And then… I started ghost-writing for established professionals.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

In the upper echelons of the copywriting world, it is not uncommon for top writers to rewrite a piece twenty times. Or to craft a hundred good headlines before choosing the best one. Or to edit obsessively for days, sweating over every word, every subhead, every detail of the sales process.

This confuses many beginning writers. They see perfectionism in writing as being “hard”… and this flies in the face of promises by teachers like me that it’s actually “easy”.

Well, guess what?

It IS easy. When I rewrite a headline for the twentieth time, or change a verb in the opening sentence for the eighth time, or edit out a paragraph (or even several pages) I’ve deemed excessive or unnecessary… I’m not groaning or suffering.

I love to edit, in fact. It’s like polishing a statue I’ve just chiseled. I know that with each pass, I’m making my copy more clear and my sales pitch more effective.

Rewards are in store.

What’s hard is to slam out a few pages of sloppy ad copy, run it through spell-check, refuse to dig in with any editing… and then expect it to rock the world.

There’s an exquisite sense of accomplishment in crafting a single killer sentence. To be clearly understood is a key to moving ahead in business, and in life.

If you want to be a writer, you must write. Writing is not just typing words out in succession.

No. It’s communicating. Clearly.

If your copy isn’t clear right now, you need to spend more time editing and rewriting. If you want to be a professional writer — either freelancing or writing real ads for your own business — then you need to toss all your reluctance to polish what you write.

Even your emails. I am in touch with dozens and dozens of professionals… and NONE of the best write sloppy emails, no matter how casual the missive is. They never rely on sickly-cute “emoticons”, either, to get their point across — those 🙁 and 😉 smiley-face thingies.

If they want to be funny, they write funny stuff. If they are disappointed, they make it clear with their choice of words. And they don’t use “texting” spelling shortcuts to do it.

Why not? Because great writing isn’t about small talk or “too hip, gotta run” attitudes.

You don’t sell tons of product by casually hooking-up with prospects.

You do it by communicating, clearly and effectively. It’s not “hard”, either, once you get over your bad habits and install the good habits of great writers.

Sweat over your words a little bit. Each one matters.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

Trust Me

I don’t know how the mid-term political game is playing out where you live… but here in Northern Nevada, we’ve already been subjected to two months of hard-core attack ads.

And the election is still over three months away.

I’m getting real sick of these yahoos.

This is the time of year when marketing and politics cross paths in a big way… and it’s unnerving. As a marketer, you are only as good as the credibility you’ve established with your customers — you make promises, and then deliver. If you don’t measure up, you’re looking at Refund City.

It’s a long-term thing. When you first connect with a prospect, you are a stranger and she is rightly suspicious of your intent. It takes time and effort to make your case for being a good guy, and you cannot let up for an instant, or she will bolt like a feral cat.

Even after you’ve established that you will do what you said you’ll do… be there when you say you’ll be there for her… and guard her confidence like a bulldog… you still cannot afford to make a single mistake.

Because trust is a fragile thing.

It breaks easily in marketing.

Gosh… sounds like the dating game, doesn’t it.

In business, it’s actually more brutal than in romance. You will seldom be forgiven for serious trespasses.

In politics, however… well, even after all these years, I continue to be shocked and amazed at the brazen bullshit our ruling class spreads on the table. And I continue to be depressed at the eagerness of the voting public to eat it up, yum yum.

It’s just all so blatant. Anytime, in politics, a voting block announces their single-minded preference… on any subject from immigration to prohibition to civil rights and that great stand-by “values”… there will appear a professional confidence man who will announce, boldly and with gusto, that these preferences are exactly what he’s all about.

It’s transparent, and it’s straight-faced lying, right through his teeth.

He will shake your hand, look you in the eye… and lie.

And most of the time… he will pay no price for it.

In the free market, lies catch up with you. At least eventually. I’ve seen a lot of phony nonsense make a ton of money over the years, especially through infomercials and Web-based marketing — newer, mostly-unregulated technologies that seem to initially get a pass on the “believability” test from too many people.

It doesn’t seem fair that so many swindlers should get rich before being hustled off the stage… but at least they eventually DO get tossed.

Most of the time, anyway. If for no other reason than… because they make so much money… they attract competitors who actually play by the rules. Those vitamins and herbs you’re taking every day — and I take ’em, too — are quite possibly doing lots of great things for your body. But they are the end of a long line of phony medicines, going back to the snake oil salesmen who promised their vile swill would cure everything from dandruff to cancer.

It took a while to get to the point where promise met reality.

In politics, though… the lack of immediate recourse seems to sap the energy of people who get gyped. California did recall their previous governor, and we’ve had a president resign in disgrace… but it’s rare.

The lesson: You can’t take your business cues from politics.

In marketing, you need to BE that guy who really delivers. If you offer to fulfill the single-minded dreams of your target audience, then that’s what you better do.

Or you’re toast. Especially online… where competitors are hot on your tail every second of every day.

Now… if only people would start looking at their vote as cash. It’s a precious commodity, not to be tossed around, and not to be given away to the first guy with a big-teeth smile promising pie in the sky.

The market demands accountability. Eventually.

Voting seems to be more like the multi-level-marketing scams — once you’re in the cult, you grant your boy total immunity from being accountable. Even though what he says and does is demonstrably disconnected to reality, he’s got your vote.

Humans are so exasperating, sometimes.

I can’t wait for the next round of attack ads to hit, during football season. We’re already in the name-calling stage of mud-slinging… so they’re gonna have to get really nasty by October.

I’m waiting for someone to pull out the old line “My opponent’s wife is a known thespian, who openly masticates in front of her children. During dinner!” (Goes back to Mark Twain’s time. Still rattles people who probably shouldn’t be voting…)

Stay frosty. And don’t vote like the fool most politicians take you for.

John Carlton

Off To Play Golf

Quick note — I’ve just posted an intriguing letter about the big damn secret behind my ability to quickly diagnose… and then solve… almost any problem that any business ever encounters.

It’s the single most important tactic behind my ability to earn the big bucks.

And it’s mostly been been a huge secret — the process I go through seems mysterious and voodoo-like, hidden deep inside my head.

Now, however, I’ve arranged for you to see the process in action. Result: You now have the opportunity to learn this amazing tactic yourself… which puts the most advanced profit-generating tool I possess in your hands.

This is about becoming truly independent, and not reliant on consultants to bail your ass out of difficult situations.

Anyway, this letter is posted at

There is some urgency, so you should hop over there right now, and see what the fuss is all about.

Me… I’m off to play golf for two days.

Because all my problems are fixed, and biz is on auto-pilot enough to allow me to do that.

Enjoy your weekend. But check out that letter first.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton