Who Gets Read

Monday, 11:17pm
Reno, NV
“One in four adults read no books last year.” USA Today


Quick post here, cuz I’m heading off to the great Northwest for a short vacation.

I’m taking a book, too. Godammit.

A brand spanking new one. Because I finished the other one I was reading.

Fiction, if you must know. A very modern “noire” type mystery, loaded (I hope) with sex, violence, and page-turning “brain junk”.

It’s a new author who, I’m also hoping, will engage me with his writing.

There’s nothing better than discovering a writer who knows how to get deep inside your head, so your day is planned around time to get back to the book for another dose in the world he’s created.

Wait, I take that back. It’s even better if he’s been a prolific little dude, and there are more books lined up behind that one waiting for you.

But I’m not holding my breath.

I have been left at the alter, so to speak, far too many times by books with good cover blurbs (“The most riveting, ball-busting adventure I’ve read in decades!”) and no juice inside.

Fortunately, long ago I gave myself total permission to slam any book shut the moment it bores me, or offends me with stupid plot devices, or just plain shows evidence of sucking…

… and I toss it across the room, trying to hit the trash can on two bounces off the corner walls. Bam, bam, plunk.

Very satisfying.

And yet, I’d much rather discover something good to read again.

Copywriters are famous for loving writers like John D. MacDonald, who wrote something like 35 Travis McGee detective novels. Or Ian Fleming, with his dozen or so James Bond adventures.

But really good writers are hard to find.

The bookstore is crammed to the rafters with BAD writers (in case you hadn’t noticed).

Sometimes, for example, I get a hankering for some science fiction — a niche that sustained me during a gruesome adolescence — and I’ll cruise the SF aisles randomly opening books and reading half a page.

Sci-fi novles are almost universally horrible these days.

I long for the next Assimov or Bradbury. But I’m not holding my breath for that, either.


There’s a marketing lesson here.

Do this little experiment: Grab four books from the bookstore. (And yes, I’m asking you to drive to an actual bookstore, get out and walk around. It won’t kill you… and it will force you to realize the vast tree-killing industry out there trying to steal eye-time away from your marketing efforts.)

Get two fiction books, and two business books. Doesn’t matter what the subject matter is — so choose something that rings your chimes. Sexy murder mysteries, Idiot’s Guide to the Web, classic literature, one of those tomes by Joe Sugarman you’ve been promising yourself you’d read someday.

Drink your cappucino, drive home, and secure a spot somewhere you won’t be disturbed for half an hour or so.

Now, plow into the books. Read all the cover blurbs, the forwards, the table of contents, and the first chapter.

That’s it. Just the first chapter.

Toss it aside, pick up the next book and do the same. And so on, through your little pile.

What you will have, after this short experiment, is a very stark example of four different kinds of writing. By four different authors.

Now ask yourself — do you want to continue reading any of these books?

What you’re looking for is being grabbed by the writer.

My guess is that, after randomly grabbing four books that were professionally published, one-in-four will not suck.

That fourth book may, in fact, rock out.

At least for you.

Repeat this experiment as needed until the lesson becomes obvious. (You can use the library instead of the bookstore, if you don’t want to blow the dough… or you hate cappucinos…)

Some writers know how to grab your attention, quickly and definitively.

Sometimes, they know what they’re doing. They craft their writing to lure you in, and hold you there. These are the experts.

Other times, the writer is unskilled, and merely “transfering” their own passion to you through the written page. Maybe an editor was in evidence, cleaning up the tangents and bullshit.

More likely… the writer just got in touch with communicating what he needed to say… and did it. Just slammed it out, and hit paydirt.

He may never be able to summon that kind of lucky groove again.

Online, with most websites and all blogs currently relying on the written word to convey most of the message, getting read is your Number One Priority.

Even is you’re swinging into using video more and more (and I love video)… you still must rely on the same writing skills to grab and hold attention through the script.

Trust me on this experiment: You need to do it yourself.

No matter how little you read normally.

Hell, especially if you’re a reading slouch.

It’s tough to become a top marketer while languishing among the 25% who never read… or the 50% who seldom read (half the country reads a single book in a year… and it’s usually a shitty book).

It’s all about mind expansion.

Reading will do things to your brain that TV, radio, sports, video games and every other media availabe can’t begin to touch.

Reading is like steroids for your brain. Seriously. (Heavy readers don’t often suffer dementia later in life.)

And, as a marketer trying to woo the masses…

… it really pays to be that guy who is well-read, informed, hip and comfy in the larger culture.

You have more to say. You say it better.

And you get read.

You do not have to be a “great” writer to be a successful marketer.

In fact, like me, your grammar can blow chunks. And you may use too much slang, and violate lots of other “rules” of formal writing.

Doesn’t matter.

It’s all about communication.

About grabbing your reader, and dragging them into your world, where they will become so engaged and enthralled… that they stay, and absorb, and bond, and buy.

Something to consider, as the competition heats up in every online market out there.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. What are you reading now?

Anything good? I’m always horny for new leads on good readin’…

P.P.S. Oh, yeah…

The flagship site, www.marketingrebel.com, has changed. The brand spankin’ new, updated for today’s hip online marketer version of “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” is now available.

P.P.P.S. And one more thing…

We’ve put together a KILLER webinar on how to get emails delivered and read, which is going to be available soon in audio/visual format.

Even fabulously successful marketers botch their email campaigns, you know. Their carefully-crafted messages too often end up in junk folders, labeled as spam.

And even when their emails do get through, the feeble writing gets them tossed quickly by busy, impatient readers.

We can change all that. It’s the subject of the webinar.

However… right now, to get advance notice of how to get your hands on this webinar, you need to sign onto the blog here (if you haven’t previously).

We’re only letting folks on our house lists in on this opportunity.

And it’s coming up fast. To get more info, just sign in here with your name and email address.

We’re sending out advance notice in a day or two…

Just enter your name and primary email address below and we'll send you the new report right away.

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

  • John says:

    Here are a couple – I just finished reading Tested Advertising Methods (fifth edition) by John Caples, which I picked up in San Francisco after your workshop there! I’m sure you’ve read it John but anyone reading this who hasn’t must do so – it’s packed full of practical tips that work just as well today as they did 50 years ago.

    The other book I’m just reading now is Influence – Science and Practice by Robert B. Cialdini. It’s been recommended by far more famous people than me, so I’m just adding my name to the flood. Not only is it full of vitally important information that’s been carefully researched, it is very readable and grabs you from the very first page. Unusually for a book about persuasion, it is actually balanced, and gives you tips what you can do to avoid being manipulated. Surely, there are bits that you will recognise from your own experience, but there are many many tips that have only been uncovered and proven through patient scientific detective work – tips that you can use today in the way that you communicate.

    In fact, it may even save your life. The recommendation it makes in Chapter 4 about what to do if you suffer an accident or a stroke while in a public place is something you must know.

    As it happens I just wrote a blog rant about Chapter 3, where I noticed he misses an important point. Is it allowed to mention it here? If so it’s blog.HumanPotentialGlobal.com


  • John,

    I think you missed an important point – sometimes we read authors we like, and cut them some slack. I can think of a few examples of a bad first chapters from authors that had griped me by my brain stem before (of course, there are many more that’ve let me slip out of the net and return to the ocean).

    As to what I’m reading today:
    “Speaking from 9 to 5” Deborah Tannen.
    “Drive to survive” Frank Gardener.
    “Tricks of the mind” Derren Brown.

  • Kirk says:


    Another factor worth noting is the reader’s state of mind. There have been times when I’ve picked up a recommended book only to find myself struggling to discover the reasons for the rave. So it goes back into the pile. Maybe six months, sometimes years, pass and I find it again, decide with a glimmer of hope that I’ll give it another chance, and WHAM, it grabs me this time.

    So there’s something to be said about the reader’s state of mind. Perhaps this is one reason behind the general rule of 7 to 10 contacts before making a sale.

    As far as surveying books goes, I generally return from the library with a stack of 6 to 12 books. Some are returned unread, some browsed and some devoured with the intent of buying my own copy.

    I just started reading John Fowles The French Lieutenant’s Woman. I may have mentioned him in a previous post – his work The Magus is worth picking up for a vacation read.

    Now, recommendations:

    Literature –

    Two classic lit authors I always love (and even reread from time to time) are Thomas Hardy and John Steinbeck.

    Hardy isn’t easy, but has an amazing dexterity with words with strong stories. Today I think an editor would go crazy with his work but the ‘extra’ is what makes him amazing. Steinbeck is on the other side of the spectrum, creating powerful stories with lean writing.

    Sci-Fi –

    First is the four-volume series by Julian May, starting with The Many-Colored Land. It’s science fiction that reads like fantasy…just recommended it to another friend for his vacation.

    Second is Neverness, by David Zindell. It’s deeper message is that Man’s purpose is to decipher his own programming and then learn how to rewrite his own code. I remember enjoying the story as well as being affected by the themes, which still resonate to this day.

    Biz/Development –

    The Art of Learning – Josh Waitzkin.
    The Greatest Salesman in the World – Og Mandino
    Guerrilla Marketing series – Jay Levinson
    Ready, Fire, Aim – Michael Masterson

    The Way of the Wild Heart – John Eldredge
    (about raising boys – I dont have any – but resonates about becoming a man)
    King, Warrior, Magician, Lover – Moore and Gillette
    (more man-stuff, using Jungian archetypes)


  • Dave C says:

    I’m currently enjoying The Art of Readable Writing by Rudolf Flesch, published 1949.

    Yes, that Flesch, who invented the readability scale still found in MS Word.

  • JoeyC says:

    For fiction/mystery I haven’t found anyone in recent years who can touch James Lee Burke. His stories are gripping, his main hero, Dave Robicheaux, is flawed and incredibly human, and his writing is flat out breath taking.

  • Most interesting and excellent crime / detective novels I’ve read this year:

    C. J. Box – his entire catalog of 7-books so far; protagonist is a Wyoming Game Warden that’s constantly getting into situations with bad guys. Be sure to start at the beginning of the series “Open Season” as characters get introduced that are referred to later on.

    Brian Freeman – Minneapolis based writer who’s only written three books so far and they are just stunning. He occasionally inserts guest appearances of characters from one of his contemporaries, John Sandford’s ‘Prey’ series of books.

    I’m a voracious reader, don’t watch any TV, so I react to bad writing the same as you, ‘cept I let my dogs chew up the worst offenders.

  • Kevin says:

    So finally, after years of hearing you and Gary talk about John D. MacDonald, I got on amazon.com and started looking at the Travis McGee books. Before I knew it, I had read the entire first chapter of “A Purple Place For Dying” using the Look Inside feature.

    I went to the library and picked it up the next day. I’m now on my 10th or 11th book, 110 pages or so into “The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper.” Oh, and this is all just since June, lol. I haven’t been able to put them down.

    I think I know why Gary loved those books so much. McGee and Halbert were very much alike. In fact, even though I didn’t know him, and only met him once at a seminar a few years ago, I would say after reading a few McGee books that Gary really modeled his lifestyle after the owner of the Busted Flush.

    I am also reading another book that, in my opinion, just might be the most important book for marketers to come out since “Influence.” It’s called “Predictably Irrational” and it was written by an MIT professor named Dan Ariely. It’s a GREAT book! I think it’s destined to become another classic that will find a permanent place on the shelves of all top marketers.

    Anyway, this is what I’m reading now. I’m so glad I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about regarding Travis McGee. It is definitely well deserved.


  • Travis McGee says:


    Hot post.

    As an avid MacDonald reader mispaced in Florida, I hear McGee ranting every time they plop a new strip mall into wetlands.

    “Tacky though as it may be, its fate uncertain, too much of its destiny in the hands of men whose sole thought was grab the money and run, cheap little politicians with blow-dried hair, ice-eyed old men from the North with devout claims about their duties to their shareholders, big-rumped good old boys from the cattle countries with their fingers in the till right up to their cologned armpits—it was still my place in the world.”

    My best recommendation though is “Ask The Dust” by John Fante. No great capers in this one, but if this masterpiece from 1939 has somehow escaped your radar, please say so and I’ll rush you a copy.

    It’s my favorite book to share with those who appreciate great storytelling – and the complexities of the human condition. I keep several copies on hand for the increasingly rare occassion that I get to talk books with someone who doesn’t consider James Patterson “heavy reading.”

    A few have mentioned Cialdini’s “Influence” – if you don’t mind the mention, I’ve got a, “Influence” discussion thread going on the copywriter’s board right now. Some great insight from the members there into how we use influence in copywriting. I even used an example from a Halbert story you once told on the board about hitting emotional hot buttons.

    Finally, I’ll risk being labeled an ass-kisser or a shill, and tell you that I run 3 days a week with headphones cued not to rock, or funk, or hip-hop, but to the original audio version of “Kick-Ass Secrets Of A Marketing Rebel.”

    I’ve read all the important books on copywriting, but, for me, nothing compares to how you lay it out in this classic. Direct, relevant, concise… edgy. Every listen reminds me why I got into this… why it’s the greatest gig in the world… and re-inspires me to push a little harder every time I sit down at the keyboard.

    Thanks for that… and another great post.

    Kevin Rogers

  • Kevin Rogers says:

    Oops, last post, reverted to my old pseudo. Wasn’t trying to be clever there.

  • Karen says:

    Hi ya John,

    I have just come back from the great ‘very-north’ west and it is stunning!

    I read Eckhart Tolle’s ‘A Perfect Earth’ on the way there and then re-read it on the way back and it was just as good (if not better) the second time. It is has made my ‘most favoutite books of all time’ list – hands down.

    I also read (it was a 14 hour non-stop flight) ‘Kinship With All Life’ by J Allen Boone which is a bit of a timeless classic and an easy, delightful read for anyone believes that “communication with animals is a wonderful, indisputable fact”.

    Both books were excellent. Hope you have a superb break.


  • John,

    Enjoy your emails. Keep it coming.


    -“No B.S. Marketing To The Affluent” by Dan Kennedy.

    -“The Publicity Handbook”, by David R. Yale.

    I must add trashy, beach smut novel to my list.

    Recommendations, anyone? 🙂

  • Kip Lytle says:

    Hi John,

    It’s rally week in W. SD and the constant low rumble of the bikes makes it tough to read – the book shakes too much … wait, that could be all the Budweiser I’m drinking!

    Just finished:

    proofing OUR newest (available in a couple of months) – Universal Healer, Book One, Osteoarthritis.

    If any of your readers suffer from … or know someone who suffers from … osteoarthritis, and are interested in a totally different treatment option, have them contact me at kip@rapidnet.com to pre-order

    Kennedy’s new “No B.S.” additions for Affluent Marketing & Ruthless Management. Both are great, and I’d highly recommend to anyone.

    The Key by Joe Vitale. Fabulous follow up to The Attractor Factor.

    A couple short ones by Craig Adler (I think – they’re at home and I’m typing this at work)

    Joyner’s newest is sitting on the book shelf for next week.

    Four more nights to this year’s rally – I’ll have a Bud in your honor!


  • Kris Obertas says:

    I’ll second JoeyC’s endorsement of J.L. Burke as a writer that keeps me coming back for more.

    I started with In The Electric Mist With The Confederate Dead, not his highest rated, but got me hooked.

    Back when I did publicity for touring authors, I worked with a guy from Arkansas who agreed with JLB’s description of a time warp way of thinking and speaking in the South, where people still (according to the author I helped) talk about the Civil War as if it was a recent event.

    I use Amazon heavily mining for paperback gold. I’ll start with an author I know, look at the ‘also purchased’ and people’s lists and have no problem finding new nuggets from people I haven’t read and who often have a decent back catalog to dig into.

    I’m away from my bookshelf or I’d toss out a few finds that you all can check out. Later…

    Enjoy the roadtrip John,


  • Mark L says:

    Hi all,
    Some great summer reading…
    “Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield – chronicles the Battle of Thermopylae – where 300 Spartans (and a handful mean-ass Greeks) took on the 1,000,000 man+ Persian army. One of the best historical/combat novels you will ever read.
    “Dead in 5 Heartbeats” by Ralph “Sonny” Barger – former president of the Oakland Hell’s Angels. Real biker action – gotta love it!
    James Ellroy – “The Black Dahlia”, “The Big Nowhere”, “LA Confidential” and “White Jazz”. Nailed the dark underbelly of LA in the late 40’s and early 50’s. Superb writer…
    Oh yeah, and “In The Electric Mist With The Confederate Dead” is a damn good read (good call Kris!)
    Have fun and get out alive John!

  • Matt Gallant says:

    I actually took your advice (and Kern’s) a couple months back and started reading some fiction again (after going fictionless for a decade).

    My well-read friend hooked up me with Tom Robbins and “Jitterbug Perfume.” what a trip…

    Tom rocks… his ability to condense 1 page into 1 smooth paragraph is simply amazing.

    Enjoy the rest of the summer John!

  • Copywriting Kid says:

    “Mindless Eating” by Brian Warsink. Brilliant book – this guy did “A/B split tests” with foods.

  • Kevin Rogers says:

    BTW: My Dictionary of American Slang by Chapman arrived today… primo turn-on via “Kick-Ass Secrets” (nothing schlocky about it)… It’ll hold prominance alongside Glazier’s Word Menu.

  • Chris D says:

    I’m reading The Prometheus Deception by Robert Ludlum right now. Diggin it. Can’t put it down for very long.


  • Rexanne says:

    I’m an avid reader and will scour these pages for both fiction and business book recommendations. Thanks everyone!

    I just read The Judas Strain by James Rollins while traveling – lovely bit of thrilling and interesting fluff, perfect for plane trips and veg time – in paperback.

    Cool thread, John. I love hearing that avid readers don’t get senile … something to look forward to in my dotage anyway.

    You almost succeed in making me not miss Gary H. 🙂

  • brent says:

    Great recommendations from everyone, my library is now
    swamped with hold requests.

    A great book for creative types is Free Play, by
    Stephen Nachmanovitch. It is all about improvisation,
    and packs an amazing amount of insight into a small

    A Reverence For Wood by Eric Sloane also has great insights
    into how ingenious colonial types were in tool making and
    use of materials. His books are always a treat, with lots of
    drawings to illustrate the points.


  • Mark A says:

    Just finished reading “Wild At Heart – Discovering the secrets of a man’s soul” by John Eldredge.

    EXCELLENT read that had me underlining bits for later reference. For me, it’s a books I will re-read a couple times each year to remind me not to be “poser.” LOL.

    All the best,


  • Matt says:

    If you want trashy yet ridiculously exciting, I’m talking a (adopts voice-over man baritone) “breathlessly exciting adrenaline rush” – check out “Hunted Past Reason” by Richard Matheson.

    Everyone mentions I Am Legend – but this is a real gem.

  • Robert says:

    Hey John,

    I’d add “Lords of Discipline” by Pat Conroy to the list. I think your advice to read fiction in order to really exercise your mind is very true. And as marketers, it can certainly give us an edge into connecting with people (providing we’re reading good books)

    I’ve just started Atlas Shrugged and too be honest, it hasn’t really gripped me yet. Of course, I’ll continue reading as I’m confident the time will come…

    Have you read any Ayn Rand? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on any of her books.

    All the Best,

    John Carlton replies:

    To be honest… while I’ve met some very intelligent Ayn Rand fans… her stuff bores me to tears.

    Read 100 pages of her swill, then immediately read 100 pages of Hemingway. Or even Henry Miller.

    She doesn’t hold up. Just my opinion. (Mostly, I object to the ham-handed way she tries to force-feed really suspect political/social/financial theory into your brain under the guise of a “real” storyline.)

    “The Fountainhead” got the old bounce-off-two-walls-and-into-the-trash treatment from me.


  • Kris Obertas says:

    I didn’t return with more picks as I said I would so here they are…

    found on Amazon this summer: Down River by John Hart – drew me in like a Pat Conroy (ditto on Lords of Discipline, book and film)

    an old favorite: Word of Honor by Nelson DeMille

    from the Arkansas author I mentioned in my earlier comment: Blood Trail by Michael Sullivan


  • >