Crime Lords and Killer Copy


I just fielded a GREAT question in the Marketing Rebel Radio Rant coaching club Forum… and I liked my answer so much, I decided to share it here with everyone else. (It’s an excellent “taste” of the quality of info/advice/insight you get in that club, too.)

One of the “forum rats”, as we affectionately refer to each other, posted the question that is on the mind of most business owners’ when they first encounter the concept of “learning” to write their own copy.

Essentially, that question is this: “Really, why should I bother to learn the skills of writing copy at all?

When you look around at the mega-wealthy, they OWN things and manage from the top.

Like a crime boss. They want someone hit, they send out Guido.

Hard to imagine Donald Trump chewing a pencil, coming up with a dozen new headlines.

So… why bother to learn copy, if your dreams are big? Wouldn’t that time be better spent playing Monopoly-style biz boss, amassing property and holdings and moving and shaking?

And just hire the best writers to do your copywriting work?”

And here is my answer:

You ask a very good question. It’s so good, in fact, that it mimics exactly how I’ve been postioning my copywriting course lately in seminars.

My general message is this: Sure, you can (and probably will, in some cases) end up hiring writers to do the bulk of the writing for you as you grow your biz.

However, just as a crime boss hires hit men to do the dirty work… chances are, the boss still knows HOW to do the hit himself… and probably spent mucho time in his “rise to power” days actually doing just that. (Very Shakespearean, these modern crime lords.)

Same with biz.

ALL the top multi-millionaire marketers I know — from Jay Abraham to Dan Kennedy, from Eben Pagan to Frank Kern, from Rich Schefren to Mike Filsaime — know how to write killer copy.

And, for the most part, they still handle the important jobs themselves. Even though they may hire out the less-than-critical projects. (Eben — who will gross tens of millions this year — recently spent weeks sequestered, alone, in his home office pounding out copy for his recent launch. Wrote every word himself.)

The reason for this is fundamental: If you don’t know how to write good copy, how will you be able to JUDGE whether whoever you hire has done a good job?

If you are clueless, you’ll be at the mercy of your freelancers. You won’t understand what’s needed, you won’t know if the copy submitted is any good, you won’t be able to set real deadlines… you’re just a babe in the woods, vulnerable and potential lunch for every predator who catches your scent. (And even good, ethical writers will take advantage of you, because it’s so easy. Never forget that the writer/client relationship is inherently hostile — each person wants the best deal for themselves, and wants to do as little work/pay as little money for the process as possible. It’s the nature of the world.)

Just like a crime boss who has no idea how hits happen. The freelance killers he hires (if they know he’s clueless) will jack him around, take forever, botch the job, etc. It’s the stuff that built the Sopranos lore. Remember: Tony did his own hits, when he wanted it done right. (Like offing his cousin.)

There is NO other skill in biz more important than writing copy.


Show me a CEO who doesn’t understand advertising (which is built around the copy), and I’ll show you a screw-up about to tank the stock. He may get the recognition, but he’s utterly dependent on whoever he has doing the actual marketing… and his entire existence rests on the competence/incompetence of that hired dude behind the scenes.

Shudders all around. Sleepless nights. Ulcers and early death.

But hey — he didn’t “waste” any valuable time learning how to write copy.

Same with politics. The guys who rock as politicians write most or all of their own speeches. The hacks hire it out, oblivious of how embarrassing and exposed they become when their ghost writers put the wrong words in their mouths. (Plus, they get that “deer in the headlights” look whenever they face the press without a script.)

You ever see an actor on his own in an interview? Fielding tough, unexpected questions, they reveal that they are not even close to being as witty, or charming, or smart as the characters they play.

The power of writing has never been proven more important than the way network and cable television has nearly shut down entirely due to the current writer’s strike. Leno, Letterman, Stewart, Colbert, et al, are funny dudes… but they rely on writers to provide the bulk of their show’s wit. (Slight twist here: All those guys COULD write their own stuff, if they had the time, though. They are all seething bastards when it comes to judging the quality of their hired writers, because they know what they want. Thus, they produce high-end shows that rock. But pay attention: During free-form interviews, they are on their own, and they’re “writing” their own witty, funny stuff AS THEY TALK. This, too, is writing copy, even though there’s no typing involved. When you understand HOW to write what you need, you eventually get good enough to write it in your head as you talk. You become a living, breathing copy-producing monster.)

No copy, no action. It really is that simple.

Operation MoneySuck demands that you spend your precious (and very limited) time honing your most important chops. And yes, amassing the outside fortifications of larger and more efficient businesses is important… but they will crumble without the foundational support of killer copy. (All the largest mailers in the world — Rodale, Phillips, Agora — were started by people who understood and wrote copy. Some have stumbled along the way, whenever non-writers gained control and lost sight of basic salesmanship. Great lesson there.)

Copy is salesmanship-in-print. Selling is what you do. The largest and most efficient business is just an empty shell if it cannot sell what it produces.

Learn the craft.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

P.S. One last point: The idea that you can just hire the “best” writers to do your copy has a big hole in it.


Because, the “A List” of top writers is only around two-dozen names long. And they are all pretty much booked through eternity. No amount of moolah can get them to write for you, until you start offering partner-sized equity in your biz.

The “B List” of writers are also booked solid, most of the time. If you intend to pay for your most important copy, you may as well hook up an umbilical cord from the writer to your bank account… because you’re gonna pay a LOT (even if you can’t find an “A List” writer to do your job).

Worse — there’s a mob of untested, unproven, and weak-skilled freelancers out there masquerading as grizzled professionals… charging huge bucks to write lame-ass copy.

So you can’t tell from their fees how good they are.

You can shell out gold for peanuts… unless you know how to judge good copy.

The only way to do that: Learn the craft.

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"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."

  • […] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerpt Howdy. I just fielded a GREAT question in the Marketing Rebel Radio Rant coaching club Forum… and I liked my answer so much, I decided to share it here with everyone else. (It’s an excellent “taste” of the quality of info/advice/insight you get in that club, too.) One of the “forum rats”, as we affectionately refer to each other, posted the question that is on the mind of most business owners’ when they first encounter the concept of “learning” to write their own copy. Essentially, that ques […]

  • […] Read the rest of this great post here […]

  • Damn, John! That was great. One of the most common objections I hear is “I don’t wanna learn to write copy.” Next time I’ll just refer them to your blog.

  • Thanks god you write so well,
    otherwise I wouldn’t be able to finish the article.
    I’m the common internet reader who needs some sub-titles to make his reading easier…
    Anyway, thanks a lot for a great article.
    If only I could send it over to my boss…

  • Damn you, Carlton. I’m trying to clear out a bunch of useless marketing crap I have shelves and shelves of. I went through your back issues and couldn’t relegate even one of them to the “out-the-door” pile.

    Then your latest newsletter comes in the mail – the one talking about the psychology of selling. Not only did you take time out of my day spent reading every word of that issue, you also stole more of my precious time by forcing me to start re-reading, for the 28th time, “How To Win Friends and Influence People”.

    It gets worse.

    I even went into my publicity talk and made some changes – cutting out the “tell-them-to-do-it” and replacing it with wording that gets people to decide on their own that they must have what I have available.

    Then, the final cut – I clicked onto this blog.

    Come on, man. My dinner’s getting cold, I have dogs to take care of and I’ve got a life. I’ve got to break free of the gravity pull around Planet Carlton.

    OK, gotta go read more of this Satan-sent blog and wait for the next issue of your newsletter to be dropped off in my mailbox.

  • Ken Calhoun says:

    John, you’re right on the money… that’s a great analogy re hard to imagine Trump … and yet it’s amazing that so many people don’t bother to learn how to SELL, and how to WRITE with their sales skills to craft copy that converts…

    It’s a life skill. If I had to pick one skill of everything I can do, from video production to site design to the rest of it, salesmanship and copywriting are the top of the list… without great copy, things don’t get sold.. or at least not as well … and your training has really made such a huge differece.

    Plus you’re such a fine writer, John — I literally can’t stop reading anything you write … it’s all exciting, like getting on a rollercoaster, and after all these years it’s still always a treat to read your thoughts here, to read your emails, to learn from you as an example of how damn fine writing *should* be done.. you’re the Stephen King etc of copywriting… a world-class writer with the sales chops to help us all learn how to make millions… so thanks!

    On-target analogies re politicians, actors and stand-ups, and the role that writing plays… I like the thought of writing in one’s head as you speak, because improv (in music/jazz/comedy) is where your chops really show… good bad or ugly… it’s being able to instantly draw on what you know (as a speaker, salesman or musician) and communicate it in a way that hits home, that makes the difference.

    Copywriting’s always king… all else are face cards.


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  • Crime Lords and Killer Copy — Biography. writers and their biography says:

    […] first encounter the concept of learning to write their own copy. Essentially, that ques source: Crime Lords and Killer Copy, John Carltons Big Damn […]

  • John, you are so THE man. Your Kick-Ass Copywriting Course is setting my copywriting abilities ablaze… Hey, I wrote an article that some of your readers (and fellow copy-entusiasts) might find useful… feel free to rip it apart…

    How to Turn Tragedy into Opportunity
    By Jason Mangrum

    I couldn’t believe it.

    They closed my Paypal account.

    I’ve been using them for years.

    It’s near the holidays, and they locked
    it up with all my money. I was at Madison
    Square Garden with my wife Skye and our
    friend Michelle to see Dane Cook (he was
    hilarious) and was informed by a puzzled
    cashier as he handed me back my debit card
    with a slightly raised eyebrow, that I was
    declined. So, I called them to fix it.

    After about a 2 minute wait, the guy on
    the other end said, “Ah dude, I don’t know
    how to tell you this, but your account has
    been closed, umm… permanently. I’m sorry.”

    I almost fell over.

    I’m a full-time entrepreneur “stay-at-home”
    type of guy with a family and a big house.

    “This can’t be happening!” the ego shouted.

    “I left all my money Paypal!”

    I’m not going to tell you how much.

    But it was enough to strike a pang of fear
    through my heart, which had now begun to
    sink slowly into the bottom of my chest.

    “Tell me what I can do to fix it.” I muttered.

    He returned, “…hang on a sec.”

    I’ve brought in over $33,898 into my Paypal account
    within a hundred and twenty days of promoting
    Passport to Wealth, and wasn’t too interested
    in spending my time and energy on much else.

    That is, with a few special… unique, exceptions.

    I’m also the Top Secret Copywriter.

    I have developed the ability to create money out
    of thin-air through marketing and manifesting.

    But all my money was in Paypal.

    He gave me an email address of someone I could
    contact about possibly getting my account lifted.

    There’s an AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) address
    they’ll give you if you treat them with respect.

    The moment we got home I ran to my downstairs office,
    threw myself at the computer and began to write.

    It was near the holidays… they had to respond.

    “I’m just a human being like them, I’ll appeal to their
    more personal side, and they’ll at least let me get my
    money out of there… for sure. I can do that.”

    The thought began its descent into my reality.

    Consciously, I was an emotional train wreck.

    Visions of sudden doom for my family, our home business
    and our income flooded every corner of my mind. I almost
    “wanted” to feel bad about the whole experience.

    It was a shock to the nervous system.

    Sometimes, when you’re right in the middle of what’s
    going on, you forget to practice what you’ve learned.

    I forgot to focus on the lesson.

    It was trying to get my attention, and I wasn’t listening.

    So, it tried harder.

    A few hours after I fired off my personal email to Paypal,
    I received a personal reply in a robotic sense, officially
    apologizing for the inconvenience, but stating firmly that
    my account was closed for violating the Terms of Agreement
    which was clearly against MLM, ponzi schemes, pyramids and
    “get rich quick” schemes of any kind.

    But I don’t promote an MLM, I promote Passport to Wealth,
    and it’s not an MLM. It says so, right in the video.

    Regardless, they put a hold on my funds for 180 days and
    told me to have a nice day. I was manifesting the end of
    my rope. I had asked for an appeal, and they said no.

    I wanted to sue them and get even. They ruined Christmas.

    There’s that ego again.

    I was left with no choice but to surrender to a higher power.

    I decided to turn inward.

    Within 30 minutes of meditating, clearing and energizing my
    light body using Falun Dafa, I gained the lesson. The “ah hah”
    moment hit me like a bolt of lightening… equally as jarring
    as the previous, less positive encounter.

    I manifested this to make more money.

    Many people don’t use Paypal, and the search engines are
    quickly filling up with anti-Paypal sites all over the place.

    There are some horror stories from ex-Paypal users that put
    mine to shame. My friend Carlos Garcia lost almost $200,000
    when Paypal shut him down and froze his funds overnight.

    Recently, a new, more widely trusted source has emerged.

    In fact, unlike Paypal they’re a household name. Google.

    Google Checkout is a new rival to Paypal.

    Billions of people search Google every day, versus Paypal’s
    few million users. That’s a bigger difference than it seems.

    People trust Google more than they trust Paypal.

    Google will increase sales.

    Their Adwords program works seamlessly with Checkout.

    In fact, my friend Chris McNeeny just released a video
    revealing his $1.67 million dollar ClickBank account to
    prepare the world for his launch of the Google Assassin.

    There’s a lot of money to be made using Google.

    Paypal is cracking down on any program or business that
    promotes the idea of being able to make money. They label
    it as “get rich quick” or MLM and freeze your account.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s a genuine and legitimate business
    selling access to $75,000+ in products and software with
    Master Resale and Private Label Rights for $997, to them
    it’s a scheme and violates their Acceptable Use Policy.

    Google doesn’t see it that way.

    They’re not perfect, but they’re better for sales.

    My best advice would be to remove Paypal immediately if
    your business promotes the idea that one can make money.

    Too much can be taken away from you overnight.

    Now back to the lesson…

    I finally listened.

    As a result of learning the lesson and paying attention
    to the universal clues surrounding the entire situation
    telling me Paypal was bad for my business — and I could
    increase my sales beyond anything I’ve experienced before
    using Google Checkout to accept all major credit cards,
    I received another email from them.

    This time it was a canned response. But it told me that
    my funds were now available for withdrawal. A miracle.

    I promptly logged into Paypal and began the transfer to my
    bank account. In 3-4 business days, I’ll have money again.

    They were kind and generous enough to lift the hold long
    enough for me to send the money to my bank account.

    I appreciate them. They were an integral part of my choice
    to manifest more money through my online business.

    And now, I can use the resources I have readily available,
    to turn this tragedy into opportunity and help other people
    by telling my story. They don’t happen without challenges.

    Every obstacle or problem is a challenge to give you
    the opportunity to turn lead into gold. If you don’t
    listen, it will try harder to get your attention.

    If you refuse the lesson, you are doomed to repeat it
    as many times as necessary to get your full attention.

    Just look for the clues.

    The lessons are there to help you know yourself.

    Looking back, I can see my reactions both inner and
    outer, that caused these manifestations to occur.

    Had I been mindful of the lesson at the time of
    experiencing it, I could have avoided the severity
    of what happened all together.

    But the moment the lesson is realized, you get relief.

    This didn’t just happen so I could increase my sales,
    I also learned that self-control while in the moment
    manifests a better, more positive and all-around easier
    projected experience. The outer reflects the inner.

    And now, I have a whole new arsenal of tools from Chris
    and his “Google Assassin” to make more money than ever before,
    and have it deposited from Google, straight into my bank.

    I hope this article helps you.

    In every moment, you can turn tragedy into opportunity.

    Remember, you must smile in the mirror first, before your
    reflection smiles back. But the change is instantaneous.

    Feel free to pass on this article everyone you know. Place it
    on your web site, in emails or on your blog. Let as many people
    see this article as possible to protect themselves and avoid
    having to learn this lesson the hard way, like I did.

    May your journey be filled with blessings beyond compare.

    Jason Mangrum is a 26 year old, full time stay-at-home entrepreneur
    from Long Island, New York with over 7 years of marketing experience
    under his belt. He specializes in copywriting and teaching small to
    large business owners ways to increase their current income through
    more traffic, more products and converting more visitors to buyers.

  • Fantastic, John!

    That was an awesome post. In fact, some studies prove this.

    I can’t remember where I heard this, but I remember hearing about a recent study of the nation’s top CEOs, where it discovered that over 85% of them (I think the number was like 87% or something) were promoted to their positions, and those who were actually came from the company’s sales department.

    In other words, most top CEOs are salespeople, or started out as salespeople within their firms.

  • John, it’s an excellent article.

    I learn copywriting from many of you, Yanik Silver, Michel Fortin, John (YOU), I understand that I must know copywriting.

    And like Michel said in one of his post, even your content website is copy!

    Since I started to learn copywriting, my sales increased by more than 200%.

    I use my new skill in emails, content sites, everywhere…

  • I LOVE working with biz owners who also know how to write copy. It makes things much smoother for both of us!

    CEOs/Biz Owners who have salesman blood running through the veins run all around better companies…their companies LOVE them. They stay longer, spend more and get much better service.

    As always, nice post!

    ~ Jason ~

  • Casaflora Communications says:

    OK, John, I have a bone to pick with you… *I* am a waaay more than decent writer, and am definitely not booked through eternity. I also charge reasonable fees. I think it’s erroneous to suggest a quality professional writer can’t be found. Back in the tech startups & IPO, I was earning minimum one buck a word, sometimes much more. As were my colleagues. After the bubble burst, and in the years since, with all of the user generated 2.0 stuff, so many are willing to write for pennies or even free, just to get their name on the web. Now, we also have all of these SEO-generating programs. As a professional writer, seeing that SEO rubbish makes my skin crawl! (shudder) It can be very hard for a professional writer to compete. On the other hand, I am certainly not going to write original copy for a penny a word, so I understand somewhat the dilemma marketers and website owners face. Probably why software like Artemis Pro is a good compromise. Write one article, and it automatically generates and submits unique content, making changes not affecting the English language — so no gibberish!

    Anyway.. my long-winded point is: we’re out there 🙂 Doesn’t mean CEOs and business owners shouldn’t learn to write. It’s a highly valuable and under-appreciated skill ?

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