Hey, I Need Your Help Here…

Thursday, 8:25pm
Reno, NV
“What’s keeping YOU up at night?”


Quick post here, I swear.

I have a small problem…

… and I could sure use your help.

It’ll take you, like, two minutes or so.

And yet… it will be of tremendous value to me. If I’ve ever given you something of value before — a piece of advice, a tip, a hint on direction, a good belly laugh, whatever — then I’m calling in the chit.

I want you to comment here.

Here’s what’s up: Among smart marketers — those who have their money-making act together — my core message is a well-known commodity.

“Nothing good will ever happen in your biz… until the copy gets written. And… the best person to write the most important stuff… is you.”

This message is unquestioned among the top marketers I hang out with.

They even eagerly tell anyone who will listen, to listen to me.

Many of the best (like Eben Pagan, Frank Kern, Rich Schefren and others) almost never talk about copy without mentioning my impact on their own learning curves… and they help spread the message.

The heavy hitters all know — without a shred of doubt — that copywriting is the foundation of all things profitable in business.

But here’s the rub: Outside that group of “in-the-know” marketers…

… I often run into a brick wall trying to get entrepreneurs and biz owners to truly understand the importance of writing.

I feel like the first guy to see the aliens land in a sci-fi movie… and the townspeople all ignore my dire warnings of Armegeddon. They smile and nod, and agree that it certainly WOULD be nasty-bad if evil aliens were coming, but…

And their minds wander off in total distraction.

If you’re in business…

… and you’re ignoring the role of great copy in your quest for success and wealth (and your need to learn HOW to write that great copy)…

… then, like the oblivious townsfolk, you’re risking becoming TOAST.

Especially in the economic melt-down happening now.

It’s really pretty simple: Those who know how to write killer ads, emails, video scripts and everything else…

… are going to thrive.

And those who don’t…

… well, it ain’t pretty.

And that’s my dilemna: I’m very good at reaching the “insiders” in business. They immediately “get” how critical and how totally cool it is to know how to write sales copy.

As for the people who are “un-initiated” in direct response?

Not so much.

The message seems to take a while to sink in.

So here’s what I would love to hear from you: What is your NUMBER ONE problem with writing ads right now?

Are you frustrated with the process of trying to write? Do you see it as hard work or — worse — as a big voodoo mystery you’ll never figure out?

Do you avoid learning the essentials of writing for any conscious reason? Or is there something personally difficult about writing that makes you just want to skip the whole concept?

Or what?

I am seriously looking for input here.

If you’re an entrepreneur… or small biz owner… or even a rookie… and you don’t know how to write what you need written…

… could you please look inside your own brain…

… and honestly share with me what the problem is? What is your Number One constraint holding you back from digging into this skill?

I’d appreciate it.

Thanks, in advance.

Hey — let’s make it a little contest.

The person who most succinctly and clearly helps me see what I’m missing here…

… will win a free copy of the freshly updated “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” — the course that launched so many of the online marketers now dominating the virtual landscape.

Does that make it worth your time to look inside… and give me some insight as to why it’s so hard to break through the resistance so many people have on this mega-important subject?

C’mon. It’ll take you a couple of minutes. You may even learn something about yourself.


… if you’re already writing your own stuff, successfully… you can get in the competition, too.

Just remember back to what held you up from getting started learning the skill.

What was your biggest obstacle? The cost of getting help? Not knowing where to turn or who to trust? Not having the time? What?

Let’s give it until Monday to decide on the winner, what do you say?

The competition begins now…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

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  • Ken says:

    Hey John,

    I learned copywriting mostly from AWAI’s course. I’ve read many other books about it and studied other copywriters, including you… ahem.

    But it took me forever to get started with it. I remember really wanting to do it but taking forever.

    For me, it was sheer lack of confidence and fear. Fear that I couldn’t be a good copywriter, and fear of ‘putting myself out there.’

    As for the people you bang yourself in the head over…

    I really believe it’s a combination of things. Probably the same things I experienced and others. I do know, as do you and others here I’m sure, that people look at writing like going to the dentist. Or having dental work done with no pain-killer.

    You know many, most?, people are kinda lazy. Right? And you know writing can be hard work, especially in the beginning. I think that scares people. Almost every person who knows what I do has stated the following: “I can’t write.” Or… “I hate writing.”

    I think it’s a combination of all of the above, as well as other things I didn’t think of.

    And I think you know all that stuff, too. 🙂

    See ya… Ken

    John Carlton replies:

    Thanks, Ken. Good input.


  • marty says:

    Sitting here in my hotel room in Atlanta the night before Big Seminar in Atlanta, I find myself asking one question…”How much value do we need to convey to people before they will buy in this crazy down economy?”

    As-if we would ever want even more of a “test” of our copywriting skills, enter a downward spiral of an economy. My formal question isn’t necessarily about an “ad” as ads can mean many different things, but more like what is the “approach” these days that gets people to really commit to pulling out a credit card.

  • Michael in his jungle headquarters says:

    Hey John,
    This is a good thing for me to look at right now.
    My biggest frustration around writing copy is working out what to say in a way that will connect with my prospects hot buttons. I’m no salesman in print yet but that’s an aside.

    It is hard work for me because I’m also running live trainings and creating digital stuff too. I guess it hasn’t really hit home about how important the copy really is…despite being absolutely in awe of writers like your good self and other ace marketers…

    I’m scanning around inside my cranium for any more info that will assist you to assist folks like me.

    I guess the biggest issue or challenge is not knowing where to start and also not knowing what to do. maybe not in that order….!!

    Hope that this helps,

    Mike the Thai Guy

  • Dear John,
    Hey I am stuck I think because I am in the design stage and I am treading in uncharted territory for me. I am developing a website for my husband a Cardiologist. I have been following a couple of experts or gurus in this field and everyone has their own style. As I develop this site with some unique twists, I want to follow the rule that I need to keep the copy at the Homer Simpson level as the site will be for the public and our patients to come to for information and a special database where patient information can be stored and accessed by health care people that need it. My husband thinks I am nuts but then I am. I like things presented in a clear concise and plain English fashion so there is no grey area! He feels I am dumbing (not a word I know) down the concepts he wants to present. I told him not to get into the stupid attitude of ‘my business is different’. I want to take the sample works in your course and apply it to this world of medicine that is sooooooo far behind in their use of good programming. So, my problem is more of a uneducated customer (my hubby) than a writers block. But wait there is a writer’s block because when I want to sit down to write I struggle with where to start! I need to identify my first target audience and then go forward… I think it shall be the baby boomers – they are internet savvy and smart enough to buy my idea!!!!
    ???? This may not be what you are looking for but I tried!
    YOU ROCK because you inspired Frank Kern to succeed!
    You are having the same affect on me! Dhanyawaad (Thank You)
    Sunita Pandit

    John Carlton replies:

    You’re not nuts, and your hubby’s just wrong. Keep after it.

    BTW: I didn’t inspire Frank to do anything, really. Just gave some advice that hit a nerve and helped him out. That’s my job. The dude is brilliant enough to provide his own inspiration, and I admire that…

    Being a super-smart marketer, he immediately recognized, and pursued the knowledge of, insider writing secrets.


  • Marilyn says:

    I have two major problems when it comes to writing copy. I have no personality and I can’t for the life of me change a feature into a “benefit” without sounding like a complete wanta-be faker. It sounds so put on and full of hype.

    As to my personality, I keep trying to sound like a professional rather than someone people can relate to, even when I know it’s not the best way to get people to buy…feelings of Inferiority maybe? I actually never though of that before…hummm?

    Now you’ve got me thinking! 🙂

    John Carlton replies:

    This is good insight, Marilyn. Thanks.


  • Thanks for the invite to give this a voice, John.

    Okay… setting aside the cost of getting guidance which is a huge stumbling block for me but I ease it by reading any and every thing I can get my hands on by brilliant minds like yours…and those mentioned.

    The place where I have the greatest resistance lies in my belief (undoubtedly a dis-empowering belief) that “Good Copy Writing” somehow means being manipulative and artificial.

    I value authenticity and holding people as capable of making good decisions and I ‘make up’ the idea that ‘GOOD copy writing’ probably conflicts with that. As a result I spend my time getting into great ‘conversations’ with people but procrastinating on writing ‘copy’ that invites them to buy what I’m selling.

    Yep! I know there’s craziness there as I KNOW you to be an excellent copy writing authority and yet find you to be wonderfully authentic! But there you have it…

    I AM my own biggest obstacle! 😉

    (And the really embarrassing part is that one of the wonderful things I want to promote is a powerful course called BeliefBusters! When I break through on this one I’ll be a power to contend with!)

    thanks and appreciation,
    –Mary K

    ¸..· ´¨¨)) -:¦:-
    ¸.·´ .·´¨¨))
    ((¸¸.·´ ..·´ -:¦:-
    -:¦:- ((¸¸.·´* Light


    John Carlton replies:

    Great stuff, Mary. And how the heck did you do that thing with the keyboard? It’s… it’s… it’s art.


  • Karen says:

    Great question!

    For me, every marketing venture is an attempt to deeply (very deeply) understand human nature and what REALLY motivates people.

    Then, when (if) I really, reeeeally ‘get’ it, the trick is to curl that around the fact that people are basically selfish – and they would rather satisfy desires than needs.

    All my problems go something like that.

    Does that help?

  • Larry Foster says:

    John, great question.
    Writers write and I just don’t write near enough.
    I intend to. I mean to. But I just don’t do enough.
    And you need to write to be good.
    Why don’t I write more?
    I don’t know if it’s fear of failure or fear of success.
    Procrastination and lack of focus dog me. Very easily distracted.
    I’ve known about it for years. And haven’t found the solution.
    I’m ADD as hell.
    I set goals and schedule writing. But I fall off the wagon pretty easily
    And if I can’t find a way to distract myself, my wife helps by coming in the office and needing something. But, I’m not really blaming her. It’s me.
    At best, right now, I’m a journeyman.
    When I do sit to write, it’s a labor. Not unpleasant, just a labor.
    I have a letter for a mailing open right now that I’ve been monkeying with for about a week.
    And it probably doesn’t even have to be that good.
    I mess around with it for a little bit and find a tangent to wander off on.
    I am trying another thing with Eban’s Wake up productive.
    3 days in, it seems like it has the potential to help me make some changes.
    Larry Foster

  • John I am sure you see the irony of a world class copywriter and trainer saying “… I often run into a brick wall trying to get entrepreneurs and biz owners to truly understand the importance of writing.”

    It reminds of a copywriting client of my marketing coaching who also found it difficult to write copy for that business.

    The hardest thing is to get into the mind of your prospective target so that your copy reads like their inner voice and it crystallises the unspoken words of the subconscious.

    The best way to solve the problem?

    Ask them.

    Ooo that’s what you are doing.

    John Carlton replies:

    Ooh, you got me.

    This is research, Paul, as you noted. The best kind of research, too — straight from people who won’t blow smoke or mess with the truth of the way they see things. Readers of this blog, I’ve noticed, are a smart box of cookies. (Exemplified by you, here — clever, funny, and insightful. That’s why I’m going to you guys with this…)

    Thanks for the post.


  • Bryan Bliss says:

    I probably wouldnt be here writing this if you hadnt emailed me at 11 o’clock at night asking.

    My observation may not be what you wanna hear.

    Honestly, one of the biggest things stopping me from ” becoming a copywriter” is disdain.
    maybe even contempt.

    “sales” too often feels like manipulation.
    I dont like being manipulated.

    Maybe its kinda like how people will drive oblivious past a beautiful sunset and stop to gawk at a car wreck.
    I bet most people don’t even remember a good , effective converting sales letter,
    but they remember a crappy ad
    that makes them feel “sold” like a “prospect” aka “sucker”.
    The best ad copy can sell wihout really making anyone feel like they are “being sold”.
    The best ads are probably easily forgotten right after the credit card is put back away.
    or sooner.
    As I have been online I have been saturated, manipulated and violated by every manner of spammy repetitious egocentric sheister scam.
    ( sure there’s some great products out there too,
    but i cant remember now )
    Ads probably written by guys who never made it past the introduction of a Cialdini book and think because they copied the list : “reciprocity authority, commitment, scarcity, liking and social proof” and they have their own affiliate link, that they are suddenly “master of killer copy”.

    I held back simply because I dont wanna be like that.

    I dont want to be part of the grifter circle.

    The most concise way I can say what held me back is just 2 words.

    self respect.

    thanks and take care
    bryan bliss

    p.s. I overcame this objection and decided to try and learn how to write right.

    John Carlton replies:

    Thanks for the input, Bryan.

    Before I went deep into advertising, I too had nothing but contempt for salesmanship. I grew up during the period of hard-ass advertising like you see in the (Emmy winning) Mad Men series on AMC — early 60s psycho-mind control in your face hucksterism. As soon as I could, I became a hippie, and tried to leave the entire culture behind.

    Then I grew up, and re-entered the biz world forcing myself to look beyond the easy swipes at advertising. Especially after I realized I could possibly make a living writing ads. Wow. I hadn’t had much luck at earning a living before that.

    The intro to my course “Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” talks about the black eye that direct response advertising has, which is well-deserved. Lots of snake oil has been sold, and people are right to be skeptical and to demand truth and transparency from the companies they buy from.

    However — and this is what changed my thinking — I saw a little noticed overlap of street-wise psychology with really good (classical) salesmanship. Most of the guys I grew up with mocked books like “How To Win Friends and Influence People” and “Think And Grow Rich”. One day, at age 33, I decided to think for myself, and cracked those books open. And I was stunned at the truth I saw. Great ways to live, and amazing tools (like goal setting) to actually have a say in how your life progresses.

    Double wow.

    I may have occasionally pushed the hookier parts of a product here and there, but I’ve never written for a product I didn’t believe lived up to the value I wrote about. You may not like the kind of writing required to persuade someone to act, but once you understand the near-total resistance people have EVEN TO THINGS THAT WOULD HELP THEM LIVE BETTER LIVES, then you realize why advertising is the way it is.

    Getting someone to give you money for a product or service, even in a fair trade, is one of the hardest human-to-human interactions in society. In fact, getting someone to do ANYTHING is a tough act to pull off.

    Smarter men than I have noted that all aspects of human interaction involve some sort of selling. You sell yourself to your future spouse, your future employer, your friends, your dog, all the way down the line.

    Good salesmen simply live better lives. They aren’t running about bamboozling people — they merely “see” the world as it really is, not as they wish it was. And they act in the manner best suited to progress in their goals.

    All the marketers I know are ethical, good-hearted people. They’re also good at selling. The world spins on the trading of goods and services for cash, and salesmen (including copywriters) make sure the info is structured to grease the skids of the sales funnel.

    I still totally understand why many people simply do not want to get involved in business. I was in that club for a very long time.

    However, we live in a capitalistic system. To thrive, you must engage in the business landscape — either as an employee, or as an owner.

    There’s no shame in relaxing and staying under the radar of responsibility as a regular worker.

    There IS shame, however, if you decide to start a biz, and refuse to learn how to do it in the best way possible.

    Thus, you must learn salesmanship. And, to make sure your message gets out to as many people as possible… you should learn the art of “salesmanship in print”, or copywriting.

    I’m glad you posted, Bryan. It’s a good topic to pursue, and I’ll bet you’re not alone with this line of thinking.



  • Rexanne says:

    To those who feel that writing good ad copy is a form of manipulation … step back a foot and think about what you’re doing.

    If ALL YOU DO is write ad copy, then yes, it’s a form of manipulation.

    If you’re not worried about “writing good ad copy” but more concerned with writing good copy, period, you’ll be better off.

    Likewise, if you’re trying to sell something via the written word that you know nothing about then you absolutely ARE manipulating your audience and don’t deserve their attention.

    I don’t have blocks when writing copy – sorry John. Wish I could add to your quest and give you reasons but they just aren’t there.

    Write about what you know, believe in and are passionate about.

    If you’re stuck writing ad copy about a product or service that you know nothing about, don’t even like or are getting paid huge to write, then get to know all you can about that product or service so you CAN write good and converting ad copy FROM THE HEART.

    Change your mind set towards your prospects and you’ll thrive.

  • John

    My biggest problem in copywriting is “THE BIG FREEZE.”

    Here’s what I mean:

    When talking to Internet marketing students I use many techniques, and persuade very easily. For example I have adapted the “Bucket Brigade” when standing in front of a group. This also works great in keeping them alert and tuned in during conversation.

    Notice I said ‘conversation’?

    When I’m just talking, it is dead easy to be authentic. But when I write sales copy … I freeze and go all “salesy”.

    This is the BIG FREEZE. I am frequently unable to be “natural”. It is the biggest thing that stops me in my tracks. I’m sure that it’s the central dilemma for most others too – in various guises.

    (I used to have this same problem when talking on video, but overcame it through the help of friends who coached me to be natural when a lens is staring at me.)

    Copywriting is the next hurdle to jump, because I am convinced that natural writing it is more important than “getting traffic”, because good writing is the real hidden magnet that gets the traffic anyway.

    Training that will actually help me melt the BIG FREEZE is my desire.

    Jonathan Gunson

  • Hi John,
    Great question with several answers as near as I can tell.

    1. A lot of business folks/entrepreneurs I know don’t
    like to write. They want to get into the nuts and bolts and bounce ideas around but god forbid you mention writing copy.

    To them it sounds like being chained to a damn desk and
    even worse, feels like being back in school with rules about
    spelling & good grammar and all that crap.

    They became entrepreneurs so they dont have to do
    crummy desk work. They’d rather hire someone to write
    for them.

    2. Personally, I like writing. I know…need to have my head examined. But even with 30 published articles to my credit
    in entertainment magazines, I found myself struggling to
    write copy because I really have a tough time putting myself into my prospective customer’s head.

    Sure, guys I admire like you, David Deutsch, Mike Morgan, Frank Kern, and Eben Pagan all say “do a survey”. But there’s two
    problems I struggle with even after doing an ASK campaign.

    Prob 1: 52 different answers, no clear cut top 3 or top 6 answers. Damn! I’ve got a list that wants such a broad range of stuff i don’t know where to start.

    Prob 2: So I decide to tackle one answer at a time. But I’m still getting poor response rates on emails and I assume it’s cuz I still have a hard time getting into their head.

    How so?

    Well, I’m a self-driven rags to riches kind of guy so my answer to all problems is: Go study the living hell out of it and become a mini-expert on it. So, I admittedly do a poor job putting myself in their shoes.

    I’m slowly getting better at it each time I write and winning your Kick Ass Copy Writing Secrets would ratchet my success up many a notch but I suspect many entrepreneurs are like me in that they are action takers and have a tough time getting into their customer’s head when they finally do decide to park their butt
    behind the desk and take a stab at writing copy.

    Long answer but hope it helps provide some insight….

    Keep kickin’ ass!


  • Paul says:

    I have read the article 3 times and going on 4 as I write this, the answer is the “comfort zone”.

    From six till six, I run the machine, answer the phone, check my emails, look after everyone that walks in, answer every question, always doing something, the pressure can be immense, but it is my “comfort zone”

    And then six till six with the family, my other “comfort zone”

    Could I jump with both feet into a black hole with the potential unlimited wealth, Hell Yes….gotta go some at the door…….

  • Garrett says:

    Well John, I’d like to take a crack at this. Maybe swing for the bleachers, but what the hell, you asked me nicely and I’d like to help you out.

    I think there are a couple problems that newbies face when writing copy for the first time.

    — #1 —-

    You have to talk to the market! Press their hot buttons and game over. This is the only principle you really need to understand, in my opinion.

    — #2 —-

    They let ideas skip through their head without writing it down. I get ideas in the weirdest of places… so I text myself notes on my cell phone if a pen and paper aren’t handy. Gee, a stylus sounds cool, doesn’t it?

    — #3 —

    Writing copy shouldn’t even be like selling. How about just skipping the ‘sales page’ and going straight for the jugular.


    Of course there are many other reasons, but I would say people don’t unsderstand how to simply talk to the market. They think they have to have these ridiculous headlines, when in fact, they just need to press the 1 hot button, in a real and transparent way.

    Love your stuff. Keep it comin.

  • Yoda says:

    I think (occasionally) the most helpful would be able to pass on to Newbie copywriters (and veterans) would be, maybe in list format:

    Specifics. By that I mean “buzz words” to use why and where.
    Specific phrases to lead the reader to want to read more.
    Specific phrases that are real attention grabbers for headlines.
    Specific emotional phrases.
    Specific call to action phrases.
    Specific excitement phrases. Again, where to use.
    Frequency of use, which, where, when, how often.

    Yoda Jedi-level trainer

  • John,

    Is it resistance — or is it something else that is preventing people from taking up copywriting? I think it’s something else — because once you realize that you need to be a copywriter, you simply get up off your backside and do it. The resistance disappears.

    Take me (especially if it involves a free copy of your Marketing Rebel course!). I’ve been seriously studying this “marketing thing” for over three years now and just yesterday realized that I must be a copywriter to reach the level of success I desire (it’s your fault that I came to this realization, by the way — and I’ll be glad to tell you that story if you choose me as the winner of this contest. I’m ready for your course!). And once I realized this important fact, there wasn’t any resistance. None. In fact, I only found out about this contest because I decided to act on my decision. I was visiting your website to see if I could buy something to learn more about copywriting — and here you are, giving away a copy of What I Was Looking For. Think I’ll wait a few days to see who wins your contest before buying…

    So for me, it wasn’t resistance; it just took me forever to realize that I need to be a copywriter.

    What took so long? Why did I wait over three years before deciding to be a copywriter?

    1. There are so many other so-called “must have” skills, tricks, tactics, techniques — and just plain “distractions” that are preventing people like me from realizing that being a copywriter is the Most Important Thing. Like me, most people have the attention span of a hyperactive gnat that just chugged ten double expressos (with pure white cane sugar), and sure, copywriting is important — but hey, there goes a neat looking AdSense technique… No, wait, what was that affiliate strategy I just saw in my Inbox… Wow! Another super great forum post about article marketing…

    How do you cut through that noise to get people’s attention instead of waiting for THEM to finally realize that there’s nothing more important than being a copywriter? Waiting for people like me to realize that could take years!

    2. Far too many people associate writing with hard work. It was your confession that you are lazy that was one of the final nails in my “you’re now a copywriter” coffin (again, the full story is yours… Just ship that course to me!). But being a long-time system and network administrator, I know what you mean when you say that you are “lazy”.

    On countless occasions I have written little scripts that will save me ten seconds worth of worth. On countless occasions, those little scripts have taken me hours to write. In other words, I’ll work long and hard to come up with a solution that’s going to save me ten seconds worth of work every morning — and the same principles applies to copywriting. You work long and hard to get the sales letter right — and can then sit back and let it bring in cash for a long time. THAT’S when you get to be “lazy”, and that’s the kind of laziness I want.

    Sadly, lots of people want 100% laziness. They don’t want to do ANYTHING. And while writing a sales letter (or doing anything else worth doing) almost always involves hard work, the prospect of actually having to do something (especially something like writing) keeps people away — at least until the day they realize that they are going to have to do SOMETHING, so it might as well be writing sales letters.

    In other words, copywriting *IS* hard work, and most people are just too lazy to do it — so they slip back into caffeinated gnat mode to find something easier. The real problem is getting people to realize that they need to do some work if they are going to find success.

    And finally, to perfect the Triad…

    3. People associate “copywriter” with “work for hire”. It just dawned on me yesterday that I can get somebody else to create the product, build the website, and All That Stuff pretty cheap — but writing a good sales letter costs money. So why not just write the sales letters for my own products and outsource the rest? It will still be my product, right? That way, I never have to sell my money for time if I don’t want to; I won’t just be another commodity for sale to the highest bidder. I’ll be writing for myself, which will be more than enough.

    Not many people understand this.

    So there it is. Distractions. Laziness. Fear of becoming a for-hire commodity. But the bottom line is that you aren’t a direct response marketer if you can’t write copy. Once you realize this, the resistance disappears — just like it did for me yesterday.

    Best regards,

  • David Craft says:

    Hi John!

    I’m still working at my hourly job at a store because as much I’d love to crack the door open on writing copy, every thing I do still feels “off.” Yes I listen, I learn, I read, I write out proven ads. But when fingers touch the keys and I machine gun the letters into submission with my latest “AHA!” into words, after letting it rest for a few hours or a day, I come back and realize it doesn’t work. It’s missing that something…that hook as they say that gets into the mind of the customer that tells him this guy understands WHY I’m thirsty in the first place and found the water *I* want to drink because this desert sucks.

    Since I do interact on a regular basis with many different types of people, it helps seeing what interests them, what they find funny, what makes them feel a bond with you in 5 minutes or less. Salesmanship in print yes and no. If I’m telling my friend his car needs brakes quick or he’s going up the butt end of a semi without a rubber glove, he gets it. But that’s my friend.

    Sure many people find it a lot easier to simply copy someone else because if they keep doing it, it must work right? So why should I pay someone to write something different and take the risk? Can you guarantee a big payday if I do or will I look like an idiot in front of the people I’m trying to impress? And maybe that’s one of those important keys. It’s easier to fit in, get what you can than put yourself out there for all to see, and hope your pants don’t fall down or your girdle snaps free.

    Look in the classifieds at the car ads and is there a single one that’s any different than the others? Change the brand and insert my price there. Voila! Instant ad without the expense. I can justify a new computer, a new desk or a new secretary because I can feel it right in front of me – RIGHT NOW. Not later, not when the mailing goes out and wait, not when the ad goes on the tube and wait for the customers to call or come in. In the twisted world we live in, maybe, just maybe it’s very hard to TRUST, have FAITH it will work. If I plant that seed, will I like the smell of the flower it produces? Or did you sell me a bag of weeds with pollen that makes me sneeze…



  • Isaac says:

    Hi John:

    Thinking about it… two main things.

    1.- Writers block and/or impossibility to seat my butt and get the damn thing done.

    You know that one? The product is going to see the light and the copy is not yet done, I’m not Stompernet so I can’t call Kern to fix it after calling you for advice… or sometimes a stinking copy is on the web for months and I must change it because the product is good and could do more sales, but that task is always waiting forever, jumping from one day to another and never being nailed and finished.

    2.- Many times I don’t have a clear step by step process (many books read and everyone gives his formula, because they must sell something different of course, many letters in the swipe…), and above all I’ve not my own voice developed yet (working on it)

    I know that one can not rely in a “formula” and that writing must come from passion and personality if it has to persuade… in fact when i read sales letter to inspire me I can clearly say (without knowing the writer) that this is Kern, this is Carlton, this is Clayton, this is Bencivenga… and the key is there, they’re themselves and if I try to mimic them many times I suck…

    So lack of motivation + absence of clear steps to start = not getting the damn thing done ever…

    Just my two cents, I hope it helps.



  • Kirk Hoffman says:


    First, I find myself thinking that anyone who reads your blog AND decides to post an answer is closer to being on the inside. Heck, we’re already regularly reading about copywriting! So the results here are a little skewed.

    For us, I would guess the most needed link to get through our fear (because it’s usually fear that holds people back from stepping off that edge, right?) is a concrete example with a trial run. I think most of us who read your work might need a real life experience of how copywriting training will make a difference – move it from abstract head knowledge to real-life heart experience.

    Now, for those who aren’t even really attuned to the need for excellent copy I suggest they are too consumed with the easier, tangible, exciting components of their business – getting involved in support groups, finding the ‘product,’ getting business cards and websites and corporate identities together. Those are either instantly emotionally rewarding, hired out cheaply to others or concrete, paint-by-numbers tasks. They probably figure they can take existing copy, cut-and-paste and slap it into their own program (we all know how many examples they’re getting in their in-boxes every day).

    For them I would think the combination of demystifying writing (because people who have never done it most likely see it as akin to being asked to flap their arms and fly) and again providing a low-risk test program to get them started down the path (or runway, to stick with the metaphor.)

    Hm, I’m suddenly struck with an idea for my own potential product to create. 😉

    Those are my thoughts. Thanks for your blog – it’s one of my favorites reads.


  • Tom Webb says:

    First to answer your question about my biggest problem, it is taking in all the knowledge out there. I’m a definitely a rookie (at copywriting) I just found out you existed about 2 months ago and from them on I’ve been studying like a mad man. I run a company that has produced several products (consumer electronics, etc.) and mainly markets them over the web. I’ve bought MANY books from the greats you and other pros have talked about Caples, Ogilvy, Schwab, Schwartz, etc. (oh, and of course Claude Hopkins).

    The second part of my problem is then organizing all that information and building it into a consistent, repeatable system of producing good advertisement (using the philosophy from the book “The E-Myth”) so I can eventually turn it over to employees and still have it work right without out my need for daily input.

    So how did I go from not knowing you existed to studying like a mad man? With that I’ll try and answer your question about your “brick wall” with entrepreneurs and biz owners. From what I’ve learned in life in getting most people to act differently:

    “The pain of change must become less than the pain of staying the same”

    For example a person smokes and they’ve heard a hundred times how it’s dangerous and has all these negative effects but they still smoke anyways. Then something bad happens they get cancer or some other problem and all of a sudden they “realize” that smoking does kill people. It’s that moment when all their head knowledge goes into their heart and then they truly believe smoking kills.

    What I’m trying to say is experience is the fastest, most effective way to get someone to believe that the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same. Why else do companies give out free samples of their product?

    So if you spent most of your time on finding out (through testing) the most effective way to deliver a remarkable experience of the importance of good copywriting then you should be able to get more people to believe in good copy writing.

    Maybe comparisons of good copy vs. bad copy by showing specific stats, response rate, coupon returns, ROI etc. of what a little difference in the headline or parts of the body copy can do to the response rate? As you know specifics always trumps generalities.

    I know I’m going to go out on a limb here but if I may…

    If you’re having trouble reaching people before they “see it” maybe that’s not your strength? Maybe focusing more on becoming a coach’s coach or at least reaching those who have already discovered the importance of copywriting but don’t know who to turn to for straight forward advice? And you then hire/ partner with someone who excels at getting people to see it but doesn’t enjoy the training part.

    Almost always your biggest success lies where you get the most fun, excitement, enjoyment, satisfaction, etc.… If you have to count the minutes until you’re done with that activity you will never be great at it… Of course you also have to have some true talent at it otherwise it’s just a hobby. A great book that helped me focus on my strengths was “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham… maybe you’ve already read it.

    Hopefully I don’t sound like a lunatic for what I wrote…

  • Kip Lytle says:

    I run a successful business that sells a very unique product line … with unique selling challenges (Gary Halbert said the ad he did for me was the hardest ad he ever wrote). Over the years have spent $10’s of thousands of dollars buying and studying virtually every copy writing product I can. Each of these courses has helped in improving my written selling skills.

    I’ve also spent thousands of dollars as a member of different coaching/membership groups … including Carlton, Kennedy, Makepiece, Altadonna, Vitale and others.

    Unfortunately, in my business (and for the most part, in my town), there is no one that “get’s it”. No one I can run ideas by to see whether or not I might be on to something good … or have been smoking my own dope too long.

    So, where I see the problem (or an opportunity for someone like you John) is lack of TIMELY feedback and/or lack of a sort of peer group review committee for guys like me.

    Your Insider’s Club membership used to come with copy critic priviledges … problem was, it usually took a month or more to get a response … by which time, the requirements of business have me off to another project.

    Maybe I’m just being a copy-wuss – looking to set up a built-in excuse system (“John said this would work…”) … but I don’t think so.

    I stayed a member of the Insiders Club for (1) the monthly information, and (2) the opportunity to have my stuff critiqued and improved by someone with your skills.

    And would pay again for the second benefit … given the critiques were timely for my needs.

    Stayin frosty this morning at 6:15 on my way to work on the Wing in 45 degrees!


  • Michelle Matson says:

    Hi John,
    I’m going to answer your question from a different angle. In my observation working with entrepreneurial, small business owning financial advisors, I think they just don’t know what they don’t know (and maybe they don’t want to know)…

    1) They are completely brainwashed by mainstream advertising and marketing ideas. They think that if they pay an ad agency a few thousand dollars to create a logo and a glossy brochure, that it will solve all of their marketing problems. And they want it to be that easy.

    2) Because they are already brainwashed, it’s hard to have the “get” that long, direct response copy works, even though it’s not pretty. (Especially in a traditionally uptight financial market)

    3) Everybody wants the easy fix, silver bullet that will magically grow their business. The last thing they want to hear is that they have to hone a new skill, that they percieve will take them away from the things they do to keep their business going. I think the general opinion is that writing is hard and painstaking, and they are far too caught up in the day to day of their business to redirect their focus on it.

    The irony is that copywriting is probably the closest you can get to a magic bullet once you get the hang of it.

    As for me, my biggest challenge with writing is feeling confident about it. Since I’m not a natural salesperson, I feel like it’s hard to wake up my inner salesman… but I just try to fake it and keep going.

    Hope that helps! Thanks for all you do!

    John Carlton replies:

    Great insight, Michelle.


  • I’ll keep this short.

    The key problem I have is taking the time to test and tweak. I am a good writer. If I wasn’t, I could copy more of your stuff. However, I know that what worked Tuesday may not work Friday and what worked on marketers might not work on plumbers.
    There are key words and nuances that are out there for each piece of copy I write that I frankly don’t have time to research, test and apply.
    This is what separates good copy from incredible copy, and those who use copy for their business from those who write copy as a business.

  • Suresh Nair says:

    Hi John,

    I think its a simple answer.

    Most of us do not appreciate being accosted (in real life, on the phone or online) by a hyperactive, extra-smiley salesperson “pretending” to be interested in our well-being when clearly all he or she wants to do is sell stuff.

    So I personally feel more than a little awkward using the exact same approach when trying to sell stuff to other people online, even though copywriters insist that this approach WORKS!

    “Do unto others…” etc.

    On the other hand I really appreciate receiving and reading well-written, thought-provoking content where the writer quietly lays the facts before me, with all its pros and cons, and leaves me to decide what I want to do next.

    My personal struggle is to find this tone in my writing, and not cross over into annoyingly persuasive copy – although this might mean that I will be less successful than I’d like to be.

    Answer your question?


  • Kevin Rogers says:

    Great post and awesome feedback here, John.

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned yet is information overload.

    (I’m not quite sure why anyone with a natural aversion to selling would be inclined to go into business for themselves, but hey, nastier beasts have been slain… why let a little thing like timidness derail ones dream of wealth and independence.)

    Once a smart entrepreneur does recognize the need to write their own copy, and they go searching around for the best resource… there are so many gurus and experts promising the “easy formula” for killer copy that it becomes very difficult to tune out the noise.

    They join a few mailing lists, start reading the forums, and quickly find themselves in a endless swirl of tips, tricks, tactics, formulas and lessons that make everything they wrote the day before seem naive and ineffective.

    Information overload puts their left brain in full control of a task that needs equal input from their right brain.

    As a freelance copywriter I struggled badly with this problem, so I can imagine how overwhelming it is for marketers burdened with so many other tasks – all of which they’re receiving 100 tips a day on how to do better.

    I was able to conquer the information demon when I decided to choose ONE SOURCE ONLY.

    I made a pact with myself to stem the tide of info down to one steady stream. One rolling river of quality material that I could dip into once a day without the risk of being swept away.

    When I did that, I gained a clarity I’d never known before, and my writing improved measurably.

    For me, that one source was your Kick Ass Secrets of A Marketing Rebel. Some might be fooled by the name into thinking it isn’t an actionable, step-by-step guide to writing effective copy…

    But it certainly is that, along with a healthy dose of what it takes to understand your reader’s greatest desire and solve his biggest problems.

    I have to thank you again for that book, and all your teaching, John. It may feel like pounding your head against the wall to help people help themselves sometimes… but for those who really want to learn good copy (it isn’t rocket science) you’ve done your part with the amazing teaching material you continue to put out.

    Getting people to turn off the noise and focus is another challenge altogether.


  • Tom Ash says:

    Good Morning John:

    I started my website called Agentspayingforward.com with somebody else doing the programming and site creation, but with me doing the copy. I thought I did a decent job, but, much to my dismay, I was told the copy wasn’t very good.

    In my case, I tried to explain everything on the first page. The page was too much to read, and, given the collective ADD of this country, there was no way everybody would take the time to read it all. Furthermore, the calls to action weren’t calling loud enough. I hired a copyrighter to clean up the landing page, but I’m now having problems getting the site cleaned up with the programmer.

    In todays society our education is pretty putrid, and people can’t write very well – apparently myself included. Professional writers have a huge advantage, since they actually can put to paper what most of us can’t.

  • Lisa Manyon says:

    Hi John,

    My biggest challenge when getting started began with being un-brainwashed. Coming from an ad agency background where short copy was considered king, branding and positioning the go to move (think institutional- no call to action tactics)and a smaller market, I simply didn’t know all that was available to me. The National Association of Women Writers opened my eyes to a world of opportunity via teleseminars with the likes of Peter Bowerman and Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero (which is how I met you you). The internet also opened many doors and is how you ended up getting an open invitation to my inbox. (I’m pretty selective).

    I cannot really blame anyone but myself for the delay — I know to challenge the norm, ask questions and research but I was in my comfort zone at the time. Happily, I’ve broken free and am doing well. Masterfully blending long and short copy to create custom messages for my clients. And, LOVING it!

    Hope this helps.



  • Sasha says:

    Hi John,
    that’s the first time I’m commenting on your blog, so first let me say I’m your great fan. (I know you’ve heard this a thousand times but I do feel obliged so please accept the flowers 🙂 )

    I’m gonna talk about one obstacle that probably has been sitting in the head of every beginning copywriter (or any other sales person). That is, the belief in the product you have to sell. We all know that there are excellent, mediocre, not-that-bad and really nasty products. The problem is, we don’t always have a chance to choose what to sell.

    You know, when I was a student I took a summer job in a T-shirt store. The owner was a Jew (I’m not prejudiced, that’s just a fact – I believe Jews have a gift to sell things to people). One day he brought a pack of really ugly shirts and said “Sell these out by the end of the summer, you’ll be able to sell anything in your life.” Well there were two T-shirts left on September 1st, but that’s not the point. I mean you have to sell whatever you have to sell. And in the beginning it caused a real problem.

    When you’re writing a copy, it’s sometimes just hard to tune your brain for this product and for a couple of days stay cocksure that what you’re offering is the best option for your audience.

    Hope that’s useful 🙂

    Warm regards,

  • John says:

    The frustration is thinking every ad needs to be ‘cute’ and ‘catchy’ and thinking there has to be some type of slogan. Then you have no idea if it works well or not because it’s hard to get feedback from it.

    When I sit down to write an ad all I can think about is “I hope it works” rather than focus on writing good words. It’s easier to know what to say than it is what to write.

    I have a hard time speaking my prospects language vs my colleagues language. It’s so hard to sit down and right when you’re so intimidated!

  • Roy Furr says:


    One problem? What the hell? Who has one problem?


    Alright, so my problems are numerous yet I still manage to put ads on paper one after the other.

    But I do have one big area I’m improving on now, that you could fast-forward my progress on, I’m sure.


    I can go down the line on persuasion formulas and make sure my ad contains every little element.

    And my ads pull moderately well. But…

    They still don’t have the X-Factor of even a measly hacked-out in too-big of a hurry John Carlton blog post.

    And from what I can tell the difference is in the story I tell.

    (Or lack thereof.)

    So just the other day Scott Haines (another member of the Halbert clan, for those who don’t know) recommended one specific tactic for writing more like Gary.

    And it involved doing something I was already doing on a recommendation from you.

    Reading the Trav McGee books. Polished off The Deep Blue Good Bye in a couple days. Instantly went out and bought Nightmare in Pink.

    And I plan to read all 21 one of those friggin things, 1: because they’re so damn good, and 2: because if that’s what it takes to embed the John D. MacDonald/Gary Halbert/John Carlton/Scott Haines storytelling prowess in my lizard brain, that’s what I’m going to do.

    But wait… there’s more!

    Or, maybe there is.

    Is there more?

    What else can I do to learn to use stories more effectively in my “salesmanship multiplied?”

    Roy Furr

  • Ben says:

    The person who most succinctly and clearly helps me see what I’m missing here… You are seeking to appeal to folks who aren’t actively looking for copywriting.

    You taught me this on the CDs I bought from you at the Mark Joyner / Gary Halbert Fusion Seminar in 2003, that if you want to sell hamburgers you gotta go find a hungry crowd.

    Sell them what they want, ship them what they need.

    John, you taught me to sell people what they are already looking for. When I don’t follow your advice, I find myself pitching my science fiction novel from the back seat of a twitter post.

    Its about the list. Either get a list of folks salivating for copywriting or don’t pitch them copywriting.

    John Carlton replies:

    Ben, you’re right, in a way. This goes against my own advice of dealing only with people who self-select as being IN the market.

    However, I deal daily with vast numbers of biz owners who KNOW they “should” get hip, but don’t.

    So I’m gonna claim an exemption here. Sticking only with copywriters is dull, and a small market. Biz owners who DO get past their fear/whatever, do well writing. So I remain evangelical about it…


  • Reed says:

    Dear John (couldn’t resist):

    To paraphrase Nelson Mandela…”Who am I to be so great?” We think we are not good enough to write the words that connect with the consumer, when in fact we are the only one that can connect to them.

    I struggled for months on copy and am still tweaking and evolving mine. It is not perfect, but that is what makes it great. It is getting more genuine, though!

    The brick wall is a media driven phenom. We see these conglomerates with large multi-national marketing firms on retainer. We watch ads generated by competitors with marketing departments 5 times the size of our entire business. We are messaged from the day we are born that it needs to be cute, quirky, hilarious, powerful, or downright piercing to get through.

    You have 30 seconds to compel someone to fall completely in love with you and your brand or you will perish: have a coke and a smile, just do it, what’s in your wallet, it’s in the game…those messages scream at us that if we do not come up with the same 7 words or less greatness we will FAIL.

    Everything is riding on what message I use and how I say it, therefore I need ot hire someone who has done it before or who is trained to do it. Most of us do, with dismal results because what is said is nothing like we envisioned and does not do justice to our passion!

    The reason I need to write the copy is I know my product, I have the passion, I believe in it, and I am the only component that will connect with the consumer.

    Once I figured out that what they wanted to hear was honesty, passion, and a genuine message the lights came on in my big dark warehouse.

    I went from telling my athletes all about evolving their game, about the next level, and greatness, and not training the status quo to a much more succinct and genuine concept…and the damned truth:

    Get fast…the rest will follow. They come to our speed schools to get fast. They get fast and everything else will fall into place.

    Our leads have increased by triple and when they sit down with me, now I can talk about confidence, work ethic, athleticism, greatness, focus, discipline, etc….BUT no marketing firm on the face of the earth would have been able to connect to our athletes as well as we did when we just asked ourselves why we were doing what we were doing and the words “get fast” came out.

  • Normal Joe says:

    Wow John, you sure know how to pull out the comments don’t ya!

    I’ll go ahead and give my input, though there’s been quite a few great answers.

    First I want to talk about why some folks may not see the value, acknowledge the need, or just plain avoid becoming good at writing ads. Thing is, salesmen have a bad rep, no matter what it is, sales = bad for many people. Folks DO NOT want to be labeled as the salesman. Learning how to write ads properly for some people is equal to learning how to sell invisible coats! There is a stigma about sales that it’s very hard for people to overcome….and they see folks like you as nothing more than the new crop of snake-oil salesmen.

    Second, on a personal note, the challenge first and formost would be finding who to study! I have an idea of the people to study, but there are so many. Most of the great copywriting courses are out of reach for the beginner.

    Also, there is a mind set that needs to be defeated. A lot of people have a “not me” attitude. Meaning, yeah, I see Kern, I see Carlton, I see Jmo…all these folks, but I can’t do that. I could never command a years salary in one payment just for writing some words! I Know I am constantly renewing my mindset, because I, like many, have been conditioned to follow the status quo, and the status quo says what you guys do is not available to me.

    Thankfully I’ve been exposed to Kern, Jmo, and others that show me it’s not only possible, but it’s possible for me. This is helping to renew my thinking. But I truly believe there is some sort of “mental block” that holds most from reaching their potential.

    That and the fact that people do not like to step out of their comfort zones to learn new stuff. Especially if they are seen as a “expert” or top level in their field, having to learn a new skill, for many, is like starting at the bottom again.

  • Kristine says:

    Hey John,

    I can tell you what I USED to think about copywriting – and the first phrase that comes to mind is “What the hell is it?”.

    When I first got started online and began following a few people who I felt were “in the know”, they would always drill “learn copywriting”, “read about copywriting”, “buy a copywriting book”.

    And my immediate response was “WHY?”

    No one had told me what it was or why it was important. Everyone that seemed to know more than me kept saying to “learn copywriting” but it didn’t sink in because no one really explained why it was important.

    And here’s another nugget of information for you, at least from my perspective…

    I had so many other things to DO that taking up and learning a brand new skill much less one that no one had explained to me the importance of just wasn’t in the cards.

    Because I was so ignorant to the power of copywriting, I never really took it seriously, and just poo-poo’d people who were trying to sell me on it.

    So to sum it up, my personal ignorance went something like this:

    * I didn’t know what the hell it was;
    * I didn’t know why it was important;
    * I didn’t want to take the time to learn a new skill
    * I didn’t understand the power of words (conversion examples would have been great)
    * On a list of top priorities, copywriting (once I DID understand it) fell to the bottom of the list as the last thing I had to worry about.

    – Kristine

  • Robert Nelson says:

    Hi John,
    It’s just to scary to even start!
    All the experts 😉 have their own ideas about what works the best….so I end up doing nothing.

  • John,

    I’ll be honest, I didn’t really have that many setbacks when I first started writing copy. I was so desperate to make money, I studied anything and everything I could find… and I was so willing to make a fool out of myself, that I put a sales letter out online right away…

    But what held me back AFTER that point was the same thing that holds everyone back I guess. Laziness. I have trouble getting started on projects… once I get started — BAM!

    It’s like I start having fun, I enjoy creating the copy, going through it a couple times and making it sing, etc… but I still always dread getting started on the copy.

    I don’t know why really, I’m starting to consciously affirm with myself everytime I write now that “see this is fun, if you had started earlier you would be done by now and reveling in the new copy you’ve created”

    But yeah, for me, and I would guess it’s this way for a lot of other writers — it’s getting started that’s the hard part.

    Hope this helps!


  • Hola John,

    Here are the three things that would help me to launch
    into a copy producing fiend:

    1) I get stuck on assembly of the final sales letter.

    I can write sniplets of story that evoke emotional response.
    I can put together customer reviews/testimonials to
    address the social proof element. I can agitate the problem, etc…

    But, a process map on the order and flow would be of great
    use as I’m certain there may be a few different types of these
    models dependent on if someone where to be writing
    long sales form, short form, etc. There seems to be an art
    to knowing when and how to introduce these various elements
    in the sales letter…and having this framework would be
    insanely helpful.

    2) On a related note, I’d like to know what type of stories
    and metaphors assist in selling different types of products
    and services. I imagine that some are much more suited
    for some markets than others. Example being that
    the “hometown boy makes good” story wouldn’t be
    the ideal story to use in selling weight loss products.

    and finally…

    3) While many of us may know that we need to turn off
    the email, instant messengers, phones, etc…as a fan of
    modeling…I’d love to know a few ‘fly on the wall’ stories
    of how yourself and other great copy/marketers get
    their process done.

    eg; what time of the day do you do
    your work, in what type of time chunks, do you have
    to wear your favorite pair of speedos and cowboy
    hat while writing? etc…

    In a perfect world, I’d say “Why guess?” when you can
    just find out what works and model that. I’m certain
    there may be some similar trends or methods of
    getting things done that could be found in hearing
    these ‘fly on the wall’ stories from others that do this,
    and do it well.

    Thanks in advance for any insight on the above…

    – Sean

  • Jason Smith says:

    Hey John,

    Great Question

    In my personal journey I would have to say.

    1. Ignorance
    2. Poor Prioritization of Information

    Here is a brief illustration to support the above points.

    It’s your first day of business school you stroll into marketing class with fifty of your peers all eager to learn about the mysteries of marketing. You are ready pen in hand ready to soak up the proverbial wisdom of the ages. The professor stands at the front of the room with an almost messianic glow of the power point surrounding him. A shinning silver chain pulley swings lightly within arms reach of the lectern. He introduces himself and extends his hand towards is new disciples seizing the chain and unleashing chutes of fragrant manure. And you and your pen absorbs the knowledge with an intensity rivaling the first penning of the New Testament. Now after your first year it’s only up to your knees but as you progress and Graduate the level of inform… Manure has completely uncased you. But hope is not lost as you claw your way towards the light you hear the final words of your professor

    “Now Figure out what’s IMPORTANT!”

    That little irreverent story tends to personify the Ignorance on fire mentality that most college students are ejected from the university womb with.

    Now, how would the above scenario be different if at orientation the Dean of the business school stood before you and said WELCOME students to a new year at Hogwarts… I mean BLAHBLAHBALAHHARVARD your only job for the next 4 years of your business education “IS TO GET NEW CUSTOMERS”

    Now, how would You or Your Business be different if you filtered everything through the question “HOW IS THIS HELPING ME GET A NEW CUSTOMER?”

    And the big revelation for me is copywriting is just the words and format to answer that question.

    Still try to separate the critical few tasks from the trivial many

    I’m new to the blog and to your material in general but i’m looking forward to learning.

    Thanks, Jason

  • Jay says:


    I think what freezes most people in their tracks is not knowing the possible points of failure. Someone can write an ad that appears to follow all the copywriting “best practices” being espoused on forums and courses. But then, if it doesn’t perform right away, the person clams up and obsesses over what went wrong. If there were a checklist not of best practices, but of common (and not so common) mistakes, I think that would help people break through.

    For some reason, “how to not screw up” grabs our attention more than “how to succeed.” Maybe that’s the key here.

  • Jay says:

    For example, I recently put up a landing page for an e-course that wasn’t converting too many of the clicks AdWords delivered. Eventually I just re-wrote the copy and it did start converting, but before that, I just kept thinking “what the hell, I’m doing seemingly everything right, but it still isn’t working! There must be some obvious mistake I’m making, that I just don’t see. Oh well….”

    I would’ve loved to be able to compare my original, non-converting page to a list of commonly made mistakes, pitfalls, shortcomings, etc.

  • Tammy says:

    You gotta just do it…..and don’t worry that’s its not good enough. Tough to do when you run a small biz. You’re spending money on a mailing….that you hope will break even. If its a zero….you look for a place to put the blame.

    Listen its easy to say this direct marketing style won’t work for my business….I should know I sell insurance nothing fancy like the info biz guys. Boring day in and day out auto and homeowners insurance. I sell a lot of it with high impact marketing.

    Why am I here because I know one must write adequate copy to sell it….. not great. Don’t get me wrong great copy sells better…but when I first started out my copy stank. But I still sold insurance.

    You also have to get tough and really believe in yourself. Everyone and I mean everyone in my biz said you can’t send that type of stuff out to sell insurance….it does not say value, and professionalism.

    After a few wins….I knew I was on to something…listen I grew my business 4 times larger than it was when I started in this game…I still have a long way to go. I know good copy sells, and one must keep marketing.

    But that first piece just scares the newbies to death.


  • Ken C says:

    The biggest challenge I face is in being able to step away from my products/services/seminars enough to do the sales detective work it takes to uncover “The HOOK”.

    Incongruous juxtapositions, figuring out how to get a pithy hook into the headline, continues to be a challenge; I create dozens of headline alternates and usually find something that’s pretty good, but hard as heck still to get blockbuster pithy “one legged golfer” type headline hooks/usps for my own stuff.


  • Darryl says:

    Hey John

    Roy sort of touched on my sticking point earlier. I have a real problem with crafting great stories. I remember Kern mentioning @ Jeff Walkers PLF seminar that he learned a lot about people from reading some of Bukowski’s material and that helped him to write great stories.But my *sticking point* is how do I go about doing the right “detective work” to find the story (as well as hook point)?

    The writing part isn’t as hard as figuring out how to create that compelling story that’ll move/piss off/elate/entertain/etc. someone SO MUCH, that until they whip out the plastic and buy, they can’t function properly as a human.


  • Robert Woodring says:

    I’m a little odd in my approach to anything. The only way I can learn is by doing, screwing up, shown what is wrong and fixing it. Most of the time I need help learning the basics, once I get past that stage I’m ready.
    For me I need internship to learn a new skill. I have never found anything I wasn’t or couldn’t be good at.
    I know my niche or market ’cause I am part of that market and I know what the hell I’m talking about when I write about it. My problem is that I tend to lecture and talk down because I’m so passionate about it.
    So again the basics, Headline, introduction, body, close. Learn each by repetition in isolation but in order.

  • Dave C says:

    “What is your NUMBER ONE problem with writing ads right now?”

    Getting inside my prospect’s mind.

    When i do the research it’s easy.

    When my client won’t let me interview customers… difficult.

  • Kyle - Former Rat says:


    You already know the answer to this, so why are you really asking?

    You and Halbert answered this in the Scuttlebutt Series. Gary summed it up with one sentence: “They (inexperienced writers) want to know your TRICK.”

    You know there’s no trick. I know there’s no trick. Frank, Rich and Eben know there’s no trick. Anyone whose taken the time to really learn to write copy knows… there’s no trick.

    Everyone else is saying: How do I find the hook? How do I write bullets? What should I write first? I can’t find the inspiration? What hot button should I use?

    They’re trying to find the one ‘trick’ that will set them ablaze and make it all real for them. And the truth is, that ain’t gonna happen. Not from learning one more copywriting tactic. They won’t know what to do next.

    You’ve said it before – some of us “get it” and other don’t. Some of us are willing to put in the time reading the books and copying the ads. Becoming SERIOUS students. Others aren’t. And you can’t change that. You can give them nibblets of information/tactics here and there, and they’ll set out to learn those for a couple weeks.

    But they still won’t “get it.”

    You know John, more so-called marketers right now are entirely focused on the media (internet).

    They’re saying to themselves: “How can I get ranked faster in Google?”… “How can I buy AdWords cheaper?”… “What niche should I go after that’ll make me a bundle really quick?”

    But NONE of them want to look at the copy that makes it all work, that brings in the dough. They want software that shows their quality score. They’re concerned with traffic traffic traffic. They’re concerned with staying ahead of the technological curve.

    They are woefully unconcerned with their message.

    They want to know your trick.

    -Kyle (misses the Forum.)

    John Carlton replies:

    Nice point, even if it’s mine, recycled. Thanks — you’re the only one who brought this up.


  • Emeka says:

    My biggest issue is lack of knowledge. I know a good ad when I see cause it makes me wanna buy. I just don’t know how to make my own KILLER ads without blatantly copying the slick ads others write.

    What is the formula for a killer ad?

    What exactly makes that ad so good. What are the underlying elements that make that salesletter killer.

    That’s what I want to know and a simple formula to get a START putting my own original rockin ads together.

  • Glenys Power says:

    I’ve been reading about Internet Marketing since Feb this year. I can tell you that after months of learning and reading the importance of copywriting and especially “How it fits into the big picture” has not come up.

    The time suck with information all seams to revolve around SEO PPC, the latest tools, Keyword research and of course all the big launches that fill our email eboxes every day.

    So when someone starts to talk copy writing I can understand why most people stare blankly, It just doesn’t seem significant in amongst all the rest of the information that is out there.

  • Joshua Cage says:

    Hi John,

    Interesting blog post and question – here are my thoughts…

    In my opinion, after learning the fundamentals behind solid copy, a huge part of the reason why people struggle with copywriting is due to a lack of proper research. I say this because I’ve found that when proper research has been done, the copy practically writes itself.

    Part of the reason why research is overlooked is probably due to laziness on the part of the writer (by blitzing through research we can save much time and effort)… but I also think many don’t necessarily know the right questions to be asking and how the answers to those questions should affect their copy.

    It wasn’t until recently devouring Bencivenga’s ‘da Bomb’ report, that the importance of research really and truly hit home with me.

    Now it’s sunk in, however, it’s been a revelation.

    That’s my $.02 anyway.

    I hope it helps,

    – Josh.

    P.S. When I was a beginner and first learned about copywriting, I remember feeling hugely overwhelmed. It seemed like there were so many intricate elements to creating effective advertising and I didn’t know where to start. In fact, the phrase ‘information overload’ comes to mind. Just thought I’d add this in case it helps to know how it feels/felt (for me anyway) when learning about copywriting.

  • Emette E Massey says:

    John, you don’t know how happy I am to be participating in this little exercise right now.

    Here’s why . . .

    For years I’ve said it out loud not only to my wife, kids, and good friends—even folks I don’t know that well “I want to be a copywriter.” I’ve even had the gall to tell folks I AM a copywriter and back it up by writing copy for them on rare occasion.

    But here’s the real problem: Time, Distractions and Confidence. I seem to encounter too many distractions during my “quality” writing time. For me quality writing time is usually between the hours of 9 pm till I can keep my eyes and brain open which these days are around 10:30 pm, sometimes 11:00 pm.

    And let me tell you, if anyone says writing copy is easy—well that’s just plain bullshit—at least for me anyway (I’m still a raw rookie) it takes every ounce of skull sweat I can muster—and them some trying to get it right!

    My daytime gig literally drains me of both mental and physical energy. I provide front line desktop and networking computer support for a large Psych State Hospital of about 1200 staff members.

    I typically roll out of bed at 5:30am and usually don’t get home till 6:00pm.

    By the time I get home my family and extended family (the critters) demand my time and attention. When it’s finally my writing time my brain is nearly shut down.

    Sometimes I try and sneak down to my writing cave in the basement and get a jump on a project or two but soon I’m BUSTED: “Dad, can you help me with this!” or “Honey, did you remember to run by the grocery?

    It’s hard enough trying to stay focused when my brain is at full tilt. But trying put out excellent copy (or any copy for that matter) under these circumstances is damn near impossible for me.

    And to top it off, I’m afraid of trying to sell my copywriting services to real clients because I feel like they deserve and should receive only my absolute best. And deep down inside I don’t feel at this stage of the game I can honestly do that.

    My confidence plummets especially when I’m drained. I’ll sit down at the keyboard and start composing and all of the sudden that little devil sitting on my left shoulder poking with his pitchfork says, “Who are you kidding? You can’t write copy that sells? Leave it to the pros. Besides when do have time to write copy?!”

    Yea, I know that I’m no different that anyone else out there. We ALL have something gnawing away our time whether it’s trying to earn our writing chops, dealing with spouses, kids, pets, or full time jobs.

    I do believe there is a way to handle this issue while still maintaining your sanity. I’m just not sure how at this point.

    John, let me close by saying thank you once again for sharing your marketing brain with us here in your blog! Your insights are invaluable!



  • Rick says:

    hey John

    you recently did a critique for me on my book on depression, so feel this is quite apt. I’ve been ‘into’ copywriting for a number of years – at least studying it, if not a great lot of writing. I have enough books, courses, manuals, downloads to fill a library. But…

    After slaving away on the letter which was sent to you, having gone through your material, the License to Steal dvd’s, as well as much other stuff, I thought I had a half-decent piece written.

    Your reply was to go and re-write it. Now, maybe I’m particularly thick, but it seems to me that writing good (i.e. money earning) copy only comes about through experience. My reason for thinking this is that as a business owner it’s very difficult to ‘feel’ which approach would work best for any particular market (unless it happens to be one which you’ve covered in your sample letters etc). Even studying your material and that of other experts, it’s no guarantee that what ‘we’ write will be anywhere near right, let alone on the right track. Dunno, maybe as I’ve said, it’s just me.

    The next point is time. I don’t know anyone who has enough free time, trying to allocate time to actually write copy, no matter how enthusiastic, dedicated etc one is, unless you’re out of work, this is an issue, especially if you’re having to hold down a full-time job as well as writing/have your own business.

    Too close to own subject. Having laboured over my own writing, it’s too easy to get so close to it that you can no longer see it objectively. I had to take a month break from writing just to avoid this.

    So what’s the answer? Testing? But who’s got the money spare to try different letters/mailings etc, without putting themselves in a sticky situation – especially the way things are at the moment. Small-scale testing may work, but if we’re completely off the mark, even that isn’t going to help hit the ‘home-run’.

    Personally, I think the money spent on the critique was money well spent, even though it wasn’t ‘small change’. Getting pointed in the right direction is the basis on which to build everything else and hopefully stacks the odds in our favour of (eventually) getting it right.

    Rick (UK)

    John Carlton replies:

    Ah, Rick, are you gonna make me feel guilty for that critique? Rewriting doesn’t mean you “failed”… just that you need to dig back in. Getting it right is all about re-writing.

    You make excellent points here. The LAST thing I want to do is crush anyone’s spirit — I give hard-ass critiques because I’m invested in you learning. Hope you’re feeling geared up for your next pass at a draft…


  • peter murphy says:

    I notice that a lot of business people, even those who are ok about selling, hold back because of resistance to selling as effectively as possible – referred to negatively and incorrectly labeled as hard sell.

    It is as if they feel guilty about having too much power over the prospect and that wouldn´t be right or “nice”.

    By buying your stuff this underlying issue would need to be avoided by not using what you teach!

  • Jake says:

    Hi John,

    For me it’s not remembering back to when I began, I’m beginning now. In one of the comments above, you responded:

    “Good salesmen simply live better lives. They aren’t running about bamboozling people — they merely “see” the world as it really is, not as they wish it was. And they act in the manner best suited to progress in their goals.”

    My roadblock is how to take what I “see” about a topic and really communicate it, not just so the copy looks and sounds good but so that my audience really understands what I’m trying to get across to them.

  • Hi John, what stops me from writing adverts?

    1) The fear of wasting my money in a magazine. As a business owner it is my money I am spending not a company I work for. Lost money in the past holds me back.

    2) The fear of looking like a tit, against my peers in the industry who see my ad and think how lame. (I guess I pretend that this isn’t true but it is)

    3) To write good copy you need to know who your customers are and my small business like so many others is all over the place. We rarely have two types of the same customer. This is bad I know but not that easy to solve. I mean you have to pick a market but in the meantime still earn cash to keep going.

    4) In my mind some activities have gratification. Such as getting a project finished, fitting fires, solving problems. Writing ads and copy seems to fit in my self indulgent category of things I would like to do more of but cannot. I almost feel guilty writing copy for my business. Having no previous wins with copy means that my brain sees it as a waste of time.

    5) My copy sucks.

    Hope this helps,



  • Leslie says:

    My biggest problem is perceptual. Not my perception, but the perception of my clients. Getting them to see themselves as other people long to see them, as an expert, THE expert to be trusted and followed. Digging down into and through my clients’ doubts and fears about themselves is the most time-consuming part of my job. Writing copy that works for them is easy after the excavation process is accomplished, after we unearth the expert at long last. Then I’m free to write “as” that expert on their behalf, and it works. I’d like to know how to speed up the excavation process, John. Any suggestions?

  • Dan Sauer says:

    Thanks to Rich Schefren and his Emergency report, I am here. To whit… my choking point is my copy sucks.

    My thoughts on your question are simple, yet very deep in reality.

    America has lost the desire to be great. Why be great at anything, when often times ‘good enough’ is well… good enough?

    Why expend the time and effort to learn how to write great copy that will sell, when I can spend a few hours searching other peoples ‘average’ websites and ad materials? Right click, copy, paste, done. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me!

    I can make a few extra bucks with “my” business. It will pay for a credit card bill or take the family to the movies. Yea, that’s good. It’ll keep em quiet, I’ll look good, and that’s ah… good enough.

    Being great at something requires effort. Being great requires time. Being great is not something that can come with the instant gratification that we have come to expect… no demand.

    Being great also requires you to be different and not fit in with the masses. Taking responsibility for your own actions and your own situation. It is much easier to sit with the masses, and complain about what you don’t have, as opposed to not doing what you need, to get what you want.

    Selling and copywriting is about making people want your products or services. As long as ‘good enough’ copy is acceptable, great copy, and great teachers, just won’t be in demand as “we” don’t want it bad enough.

    Personally, I am tired of good enough…

    I am looking for great.

    John Carlton replies:

    You make a great point, though, Dan…


  • Dave Vranicar says:

    Hi, John.

    I write easily, and I think my copy is pretty good. I’ve written an average of about three hours a day for the better part of 30 years.

    My problem is knowing when it’s good enough. When does it pay to stop tinkering? This is a problem whether you write copy yourself or hire someone else to do it.

    How do you know when your copy is just at the point of diminishing returns? Any further investment of time or money in improving it wouldn’t be worth the cost.

    If I’ve written the copy myself, it’s hard to come up with anything radically different to split test. The best I can do is to make minor tweaks, but they’re always within the limitations of my imagination, experience and ability.

    On the other hand, if I hire someone else to write the copy, it’s hard to know in advance if the return will be worth the investment.

    Thanks for your blog. I’m learning a lot.


  • People avoid copywriting because it is hard. It is hard because it gets to the core of the complex, dynamic, magical intersection of buyer and seller – the sale.

    So why is THAT hard?

    Here’s the core for me: Too often when writing copy the person foremost in my mind has been the person who DOESN’T want what I’m selling. The person who will never buy my product and will be critical, mean or even hateful. Maybe make something up and report me to the Feds.

    John, I think you call this selling from your heels.

    So what happens if instead of focusing on the bottom 20%, we focus on the top 20% or 1% of our audience – the people who have been waiting desperately for what we’re selling?

    Writing is much easier and more effective when you write with your fans in mind. Every decent copywriter knows this – get to know your market, and write to them. Narrow your focus to a single person, and write to her.

    But if those “ghosts” of disapproval continue to float around in our minds when we write, we can’t reach the person who WANTS to hear from us.

    Writer’s block or just avoiding writing is often blamed on perfectionism. Perfectionism is fear of disapproval. And when all I can think of is those who disapprove, fear of disapproval rules.

    Let’s face it – there will ALWAYS be someone who disapproves, maybe in an offensive or frightening way. Face the issue, and face the fears. Live with the fact that in taking a stand you may end up with enemies, just for standing up – no matter how completely unjust that is.

    Know the bottom 20% are out there. Take any precautions that seem right to you. Then put your “anti-fans” out of your mind.

    Focus on your top 20% – the people who love what you have to say and have been waiting for you to show up so they can buy from you. And don’t be surprised when they say, what took you so long?

    So John, that may be a piece of it: marketers avoid writing copy out of fear, partly unconscious and not yet faced, that the “haters” will disapprove.

  • SO says:

    Hello John,
    I’ve thought about your challenge from three perspectives. The first perspective is from the day job in a high-tech corporation. The second is from being the end-consumer of direct marketing campaigns – emails and paper mail. The third is from the evening job researching and developing an e-product and internet business.

    In the day job, I work in an engineering capacity, but I also write internal business messages selling ideas or soliciting budget money. In addition, I contribute to B-to-B customer proposals. Whether internal or external, in the corporate world the text must be short and focused with the emphasis on facts rather than emotions.

    From a consumer perspective, I purchased e-information and signed up with several “marketing gurus” for their insights. Plus, the mailbox at the street frequently receives direct campaign literature. To put it bluntly, the emotional blackmail and the tricks that supposedly are the most successful in getting consumers to buy just make me angry. And, some of these gurus send one to three or more emails a day either trying to coerce me to buy or berating me because I haven’t yet. That is just ridiculous. The only reason I haven’t unsubscribed is to learn, if nothing else to learn what I don’t like from these supposed gurus.

    In addition, the marketing gurus talk about how easy it is to set up an internet business and how you can do it in 30 minutes. On the other hand, these same gurus talk about how internet businesses need to have long and convincing landing, squeeze and sales pages – what would be 15 to 18 printed pages of convincing emotional coercion to part consumers from their money. Frequently, the gurus’ messages conflict within the day or the week in their mass of direct marketing materials.

    In setting up my internet business site, I struggle with correlating my focused business writing experience, my frustrations with the direct marketing emotional coercion and trickery, and the claims of experienced internet marketers of what works in direct consumer marketing. Since, the psychological tricks cause me to disregard the messages entirely; I have difficulty using these techniques on others.

    John Carlton replies:

    Excellent points here. I’m hearing lots and lots of “anger at hype” resistance. I have my own thoughts on that, which I’ve posted in previous comments… namely, that the nature of human resistance to being sold requires advanced persuasion. Done RIGHT, it’s not percieved as hype at all, but as a convincing argument that makes “sense” (in an emotional/logical way).

    Done wrong, and it just pisses people off.

    Thanks for writing.


  • Eric Canja says:

    What keeps ME up at night – besides all of the THOUGHTS of becoming a WORLD FAMOUS COPYWRITER – the whimpering of my one year old daughter…

    …because I am not sure if she is going to stay awake or fall back asleep

    Oh yeah – then there is my other daughter – she usually comes in AT LEAST once a night to tell us she needs a drink of water…

    But I guess that’s not exactly what YOU are looking for

    It was about two or three years ago – when I received my first sales letter offering a course on how to make millions by becoming a copywriter – of course…

    The “Demon Of Skepticism” reared it’s evil head in my own mind and IMMEDIATELY started blowing it’s fiery flames of doubt in which I had no confidence to extinguish…

  • Tom Olofsson says:


    When the flames are running up the curtains then writing a
    killer sales letter is not top on my list of important next steps.

    Putting out fires is my most pressing job.

    Crosby’s number one law of situation management states that
    the primary goal of management is survival.

    If I could set aside an hour each day to write copy then I will do
    better in the long run. This I know.

    Unfortunately, my hours are filled with emergent situations.

    Perhaps a “writing vacation” would help. I would need to leave the
    cell and internet at home for a few days. I once took a call on the
    beach in Honolulu, Hawaii. Sick, isn’t it.

    tom o.

  • Bill says:

    Hi John

    I find when you ask someone to write it flicks a switch in their brains that signals ‘essays, school, marks, failure, all nighter, doom, destruction’

    I can’t remember the last time I worked with an entrepreneur who got an A in English, and actually enjoyed writing.

    Business people who enjoy writing are as rare as hen’s teeth. A lot of them have trouble sitting in a chair in a quiet environment…and actually thinking.

    One of my clients said that unless their was chaos, panic and disorder…then he couldn’t get anything done.


    Because that was his day-to-day reality of running a busy business. So getting him to sit down and write some notes on his clients and market was like pulling teeth.

    When i work with clients I completely avoid the word writing.

    So..”can you write a brief bio of yourself, fill in a questionnaire and maybe write me a case study of two”

    Has turned into

    “We’ll get on the phone and I’ll quiz you on the info i need, don’t worry I’ll record the whole thing so you don’t have to write”

    Clients mostly ‘get’ how important copywriting is. Writing is something they left behind in high school…and it aint ever comin back into their life!

    Master Of The Universe types not only get it, but learn how to do it really well.

    I have a friend who is very successful, and the best I could get him to do was to record one of his sales people during a pitch…and then transcribe it.

    I told him he had the structure of a great sales letter and all he had to do was format and plug in guarantee, testimonials, ps etc
    “what you mean i have to write them myself? what order do i put them in? Can’t you just write it for me…cheap!”

    To make copywriting ‘sexy’ I think you would need to incorporate voice recognition software so they can ‘talk’ the salesletter, letter templates and something like glyphius, just to give it some ‘this is a fun game’ feel. Otherwise, they just don’t wanna write!

    Hope that helps


  • Susan Coils says:

    Hi John

    I think for me as someone who is just trying to discover this marvellous ‘art’, I share the same views as a lot of others who’ve commented here.

    I want to write copy that remains ‘real’ and doesn’t come over sounding like some over hyped BS.

    Depending on which market you’re working in, you can get inundated with the same message over and over again. Some stand out, but most don’t.

    And while some folks seem to have a natural knack for relating their product or service to people’s emotions, I’m sure it’s not natural, its just that they’ve learned how to do so.

    So how do you do it naturally? How do you get people to realise that you are saying what you are saying becuase you genuinely believe it will help them, and not because you just want their money?

  • Yoav says:

    Hi John,

    Before I begin to answer your question, I’d like to say thay I’m a huge fan.

    I read your blog regularly for almost 2 years now and it’s the first thing on my news-feed that gets read.

    For me you are THE go-to guy in the copywriting industry. I trust you and believe what you say/write completely.

    But I haven’t purchased your stuff yet, here’s why…

    I’ve divided my answer into several parts…

    My profile (as a potential customer)

    I am an entrepreneur. I own and manage a company that develops and sells software.

    We use the internet (PPC, SEO, email marketing) as the primary sales medium.

    We sell mainly to CPAs and small-business owners.

    I also spend between $200-$5000/month on marketing training/information/services

    My objections to buying your Stuff

    1. Becoming a copywriter isn’t a priority for me because

    a. I perceive the process as a long and hard one

    b. I need actionable tactics that can help me improve my conversion rate in a week or two and not in 6 months

    Having said that, if you would produce a product titled (just an example)…

    “7 tested Techniques to improve your landing page headline that will increase your conversion rate between 10%-100%”

    I would buy it.

    And here is the BIG POINT…


    Case in point – I bought your “How to get your emails delivered and read” tele-seminar, because that promised to have an immediate impact on my bottom line.

    2. Most of the examples you provide in your landing page/blog/interviews are from your famous golf ad or Self-Defence ads.

    This makes me doubt that you can help me, because …

    a. I sell a boring product. A product that’s not related to anyone’s passion.

    b. My product is not an information product (it’s a software product the prospect can evaluate before he buys)

    This is important for two reasons:

    i) Long copy is less effective because the prospects wants to try out the product ASAP (has no time for my bullshit)

    ii) there is no curiosity going on, the prospect can try and see what he’s going to get

    Having said that, if the product was titled…

    “7 tested Techniques to improve your landing page headline that will increase your conversion rate between 10%-100%

    Techniques that work especially well for BORING products like rubber-stamps and Accounting Software”

    I would fumble over myself to get the credit card out.


    I believe that 95% of small businesses sell boring stuff.

    3. Price point – I have a problem spending more than $100 on an experiment because I’ve bought so many stuff that didn’t work.

    Having said that, if the product was priced at $97 I would buy it immediately, considering that the great John Carlton is the source of the information

    4. I need advice on what to write much more than I need advice on how to write…

    For example, I understand that setting up an auto-responder and following up with prospects can double my sales

    However, I don’t know what messages to write in the auto-responder and in what sequence.I know for a fact that repetitive sales messages will anger and alienate my prospects.

    Having said that, if you had a product called…

    “How to plan and create a kick-ass 50 part autoresponder sequence that will bond your customers to you, make them happy and double your conversion rate…

    The kick-ass autoreponder technique works especially well for BORING products like rubber-stamps and Accounting Software”

    I would buy that product and if it made sense, I would immediately buy the “Simple writing System” because there’s no sense in producing 50 poorly written emails.

    Other Remarks

    1. I’ve got a couple of other products I would gladly buy from you like … “How to use copywriting/email marketing to create a kick-ass perpetual-motion link building campaign”

    2. I think that when you analyze the responses to this survey, you should delete all the responses you got from copywriters and focus on those you got from business owners/entrepreneur.

    The copywriters here are a smart bunch, but they are not your target audience for this survey and that makes their answers … Just Noise.

    Is this “advice” self-serving?

    Of course it is. But it’s also true.

    3. I apologize for being long-winded and somewhat forward in this response. But I feel deeply indebted to you for all the knowledge you shared with me and I wanted to help

    Plus I wouldn’t mind getting a copy of your kick-ass writing course

    4. If you’d like to discusses any of the things I wrote here in more detail, I’ll be happy to do so.

    Writing VERY long comments and stayin’ frosty,

  • Hi John,

    wow, the comment section here is turning into a full-blown library. Let me add my 5 cents too…

    My biggest copywriting challenge is to find the best story, which spin I give the copy, the structuring.

    I know a usual answer to this is: then do your homework and get the research done!

    And I did my fair share of research. Getting to know the product, looking at current and past copy, joining online communities and seeing what topics and questions are popular, talking to real-life clients, studying the competition, signing up for their newsletters, spying on their keyword campaigns, talking to the product owners & past clients, checking Amazon for related products and looking at reviews and other items these customers bought.

    And I put all that into a huge word file. That was no good.

    Then I went on to mindmaps. A lot better, but still overwhelming.

    Then I tried index cards. Still, I can’t really make sense out of all the infos I got. It helped me – I got a much clearer picture and better feeling of the materials, but I am still confused.

    There are SO MANY stories in that material, so many different approaches and spins I could give the sales letter. How do I decide which one works best?

    And *how do I structure the salesletter*? Which benefits should I place in the opening paragraphs because they will compell the most people? Which benefits can I afford to push down on page 3, because I know by then they’re already hooked?

    Anyway, after having finished the research I let it sit for a day, and the next day I start writing. Since I don’t know which way to go, I just pick one and get a salesletter written down.

    Anyway, the first draft of that letter is lousy. I don’t mind, I go and edit it (a lot). And I think the editing process is fine, I got it down. I got a pretty god “toolbox” by now that helps me to polish up the copy. It’s like a mechanical process, and it’s “just” putting in the work and hours. Sure, it will take me some years to get really good at this too – but I can see that this is just a matter of practicing and being at it, and doing it often enough. Stuff like spicing up my copy with power words, replacing adjective with action verbs, rewriting statements so that they are always written in the “what’s in it for me?” frame. Turning contents into blind bullets. Etc. etc.

    And after going through that process, the letter turns out a lot better.

    But… it’s still… pale… it’s “ho-hum”, not “WOW!”. Sometimes I feel like “it’s trying too hard”, sometimes I feel like “it’s not compelling enough”.

    Another, probably related problem, is that I tend to go off on tangents a lot. That’s because I have trouble differentiating between “telling a story that drives home the point” and rambling stuff where I lose the reader. And when building in a little story – I don’t know into how much detail should I go with that story to make the point. How do I determine whether the story is best told in 5 sentences or 10 paragraphs?

    Reading it out loud often helps the spot some major inconsistencies, and so does listening to the recording of it. But when I try to work in the benefit that I wanted to convey with a story (=tangent), then it somehow doesn’t fit in and isn’t presented as compelling.

    To me, there’s a “nuts and bolts” part to copywriting – and that is the editing process, just sprouting up the copy. And then there’s the “etheric” part to it – storytelling is a big part of it, it has a lot to do with understanding human nature, how to scratch their itch. And I’d like to get a better understanding and feel for that. I guess you could call it the “sales instinct”, or the “bonfire storytelling genes”. I want to have THAT de-mystified. (Btw. I was in sales for a couple of years, selling subscriptions, tickets and workshops for different companies, so I do have a little salesmanship in my bones).

    Another problem of mine is getting the people I write for to use the letters. I realize that’s a different problem, and it’s only a problem as long as my copy is not top-notch, so I’d rather work on that than educating those people on sales letters. But still, it’s upsetting. I wrote on salesletter for a 20 CD seminar recording and sent it to the guy: he gets back to me: “wow, this is great!” forwards it to another guy, who attended the seminar AND did editing for the recordings. And the letter made that guy listen to the seminar again, because he wanted to know the blind bullets. But then, a week later I meet the guy and he tells me: “You know, I liked it, but I worked so many years on building the reputation I have. And I’m wondering whether this letter won’t spoil my reputation.” Now he took the letter, and paid me for it too, and he didn’t even ask me to rewrite it – but he rewrote it himself and totally messed it up. I guess I shouldn’t care, but I do… but then again, that’s another case. It just shows that I should hone my copywriting skills, get really good at this and then get my own product created and promote that.

    So again, my biggest problems: giving the letter the right spin; structuring it; differentiating between tangents that put the reader off and stories that turn him on.

    I’m sure you find lots of stuff in here to write blog posts about – I hope you’re going to address some of these issues too 🙂

    Thanks John!

    Copywriting Kid

  • […] On John CarltonHey, I Need Your Help Here…Thursday, 8:25pm Reno, NV “What’s keeping YOU up at night?” Howdy, Quick post […]

  • Hi John,

    I am not a copywriter, and I even am not what is called a marketeer in the real sense, even if I have strong interest in everything related ot marketing. Otherwise why should I have my blog http://www.secretmarketinglinks.com

    I think most marketeer doesn’t understand what copywriting is about because they don’t care about it, and because they don’t understand how this will bring money in there pockets.

    I think that if you want to convince them, you will have to explain what the link is between making money and copywrighting.

    I usually don’t struggle to much when I write, but since English is not my “mother” language I usually am a bit afraid o make mistakes, so I usually struggle to fing the right sentence construction and grammar.

    Usually when writing some copy I need some base text to get inspired, and then I try to reformulate it in my own words.

    So basically what I need is some blueprints related on the kind of product I want to sell, it would be very usefull to have this.

    If course I always enjoy reading little stories so I know that I have to do the same to convince my readers, and it is not always easy to find the “hero” story I need.

    Well I hope this helps,

    David Norden

  • Mark Brighouse says:

    Hi John, will try and answer your MAIN question ie What keeps you up at night?

    How to block out all the background noise and distraction that the Internet brings with it.

    If someone is coming to your site you can bet most people could be going to a dozen other sites and while they pick up things around the sites YOUR problem is how to make people focus on just what John Carlton is saying. Is that posible for you John? What can YOU do that brings people’s eureka moment, when everything else become’s irrelevant and they have seen the light!

    John, Eddison said “Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration” We probably all come to your site (and other’s) having put in the 99% perspiration looking for the 1% inspiration from you. I wonder if it is 1% of copywriters who make a decent
    living and actually live the dream??

    Can that 1% be coached in or is the ability to short circuit your prospect’s brain with there own personal eureka moment, when all the answers they seek are answered and the most natural and sensible thing in the world to do is click the order link to your marvelous offer.

    Can that be coached or is it something you “get” or not, John, if you can convince people that you can deliver that 1% then you will indeed be “the man””.

    Regards and best wishes to everyone


  • Coronado Cookie says:

    Hi John,

    I psych myself out. It’s as simple as that. I’m a reasonably intelligent woman, I’ve taken numerous writing classes, and I know how to do research. Frankly if anyone thinks back to their school days, even in grade school, we are taught the basics of research and taking that research and writing a composition paper. Later on, they called it a theme paper or term paper. No matter, the process is the same.

    I sit down to write – an informative blog post, a landing page, content for a website, a short story – anything. I am prepared to put in the time, do the research, write and re-write. I gather information, interesting facts and figures that I copy to a Word doc so I have all my data in one place. I start to write…Suddenly, I am in a quagmire of words and information. I start to panic ever so slightly.

    In what direction should I head? What should I emphasize? What should I include? What should I exclude? And don’t forget – no plagiarism and quality is key.

    Yup, I’ve psyched myself out and I am now frozen writer.

    Sometimes, I work past this, get into a zone, and just write and it flows. I walk away for a while, come back and re-read it all, making changes as I go. Finally, I post it. But, that doesn’t happen nearly enough yet.

  • BrentSpy says:


    Change! This is the main reason I have not implemented more copywriting in my business.

    I sell business to business and I know if I make x number of cold calls (yes I said cold calls – it still works for business to business – I just closed a $1.5 million dollar deal and made $30,000 profit off of a cold call.) I will get applications. My pitch is quick, simple, and effective; so why should I change what I am doing? It’s human nature!

    In my mind I want copywriting to work, because it might be able to help open up some other opportunities, but for now I will stick to smiling and dialing.

  • Emily says:

    I think that the biggest reason for people would be just that they don’t like to write or aren’t good writers.

    People who believe that they aren’t good writers are going to dread the task, and think that they can’t do it.

  • Paul Roberts says:

    Some food for thought, John.

    The greatest management consultant in the world today, according to INC Magazine, is a man named Ichak Adizes. Google him, and read about the 4 basic types that comprise a successful business, in his way of looking at things. They are PAEI – production, administration, entrepreneurial and integrative/visionary.

    All of us in business have one dominant characteristic. Some have two strong ones. No one has all four.

    People like you and the late Gary H are pretty much pure E’s as far as I can tell. And your appeal seems to be primarly to others who are very much like you. They get your value proposition, and they agree with it, and they look to you as one of the best in the business.

    But most REAL businesses aren’t started and run by E’s. They’re started and run by I’s – the integrative-visionary guy or gal who really sees in his particular product and/or service something that’s going to make this a better world somehow.

    And while some of them will appreciate a pure E mindstream yammering at them, a lot of them won’t. It’s like the men are from mars and women are from venus thing. They’re just different kinds of creatures than you are. They don’t get ecstatic about selling as a process, per se. They get ecstatic about building a real company, with real value, and bringing that value to the marketplace. They see selling as a necessary component – but they’re focused on a bigger picture.

    A good analogy in rock would be Springsteen..or Bono. They were always about rock n roll, but they always about something a lot bigger than rock n roll, too.

    Now as long as your happy selling to people who are just like you, and the fishin’ is good in that particular fishin’ hole, there’s no need to think about this. But all good things come to an end – especially in a free market society.

    Go back and re-read Eugene Schwartz’s BREAKTHROUGH ADVERTISING – the part where he discusses how markets mature over time. Think about the very specific market you’re targeting – these entrepreneurial types, as you call them.

    There was a time when there were a few fishermen in that pond, and a lot of hungry fish. That was back in the day when Kennedy, Abraham, Halbert and you were coming up.

    But what happened over time? More and more fishermen, and an increasing sophisitication in that market.

    How many people are selling what you sell online right now, compared to even five years ago?

    How many casinos can Donald Trump build in Atlantic City?

    It’s that WHO MOVED MY CHEESE story, and it happens in every business niche, sooner or later.

    Now you have a choice: you can decide you want to keep fishin’ in the same hole – or you can look for a new hole with better fishin’. Right now you’re asking the fish in your fishin’ hole to tell you how you can catch more of them…but is that the RIGHT question?

    Frankly, I bet you already know your natural market really well. So I’d be surprised if you get any real epiphanies from this call for input. Who reads your blog, anyway? Mostly people who are E’s, that’s who.

    Here’s something to think about: Appealing to the people you do, in the way you do, puts you way out on the tail of the bell shaped curve. If you’re a misfit, speaking to misfits, you’re leaving yourself out of the fat part of the bell – the part where there are LOTS of business people who don’t relate much to the misfit stuff, who could care less about your Marlboro Man persona (I forgot what you call it) and won’t respond to the kind of song that tickles the heart of a pure E.

    If you want to reach them – a much bigger market, with much bigger pockets – you’ve got to start thinking like them, and talking like them, and figuring out how to meet them where THEY live, not where you life.

    You know – think like the fish, not like the fisherman…right?

    I hadn’t been on your blog in a long time…but once in a while I stop by, and saw this. I remember your kindness to me some years back when I was first trying to put my life back together after the death of my daughter. It meant a lot to me back then, and I thought all weekend about whether I should write this or not.

    If it seems to have some truth content for you, great – and if not, I wish you the best either way. You are a dedicated teacher, and you really do care for the people you work with.


    Paul Roberts

    John Carlton replies:

    Hi Paul. Good to hear you’re doing well.

    Interesting point here about the disconnect between outsider and the integrative type. Of course, I’ve been aware of it since the beginning of my career — if I hadn’t been able to tell the agencies I was freelancing for to go screw themselves, while I ran off and saw the world with Halbert and Abraham and their feisty ilk, I would’ve left advertising long ago. It was just too soul-crushing.

    And I’m gonna think about what you’ve said here. I know you’re a smart cookie.

    However… you may not be aware that our marketing seminars have, from the very beginning, actually NOT attracted just entrepreneurial types, but rather were always well-represented by the more traditional biz owner. It’s true I’ll never get invited to go sit in with any Fortune 500 crowd (unless some of my prior clients replace the Old Guard on that list — and it could happen)… or, if I did, I wouldn’t get listened to.

    But Abraham has made great inroads to that crowd, starting thirty years ago. There are precendents.

    And the Web has changed the biz landscape dramatically — there actually IS a constantly-replenished pool of fresh entrepreneurs poppping up every day, as well as more traditional biz owners who realize they gotta get hip to the way entrepreneurs are rocking the bottom line. Our last few Hot Seat events have all had these types represented.

    Still, that disconnect between a guy who isn’t thrilled by the freedoms and weirdness that motivates his entrepreneurial brother, but still has a biz to run, is worth exploring more deeply. (A Boardroom exec has been hectoring me about this very subject for years now.)

    Especially the “basic DNA” angle.

    Not that I could ever tone it down, or change my style to accomodate them. Especially in this current market chaos — I think more and more will be suddenly alert to the ways “rebels” like me and my colleagues are able to create results.

    Thanks for posting. I appreciate the thought you put into this.


  • Hey John!!

    Listen, conversational tone is great and the Bucket Brigade kicks ass too, but sometimes I just can’t make the copy sound captivating enough by making the sentences long enough and having them deliver the punch that makes the prospects salivate over what I have to offer…

    Also, the lack of experience is getting in the way too: you, the greatest copywriter, can look back at all the copy you have written and instantly pull a certain strategy out of your “bag of tricks,” that’ll bring in the most dough. I don’t have that privilege (But I believe it’ll come with time) so guessing what will work and what won’t is hard…

    My biggest challenge right now is reading over my copy and knowing that it’ll captivate the hell out of prospects, they will sign up because of what I wrote and through my writing they will buy from me what they desire the most (my stuff, of course 🙂

    P.s. Man, overall though I made a huge progress in writing thanks to your course… just great stuff…

  • Aldo says:

    I think there is more than one problem with copywriting and they are all connected. I will try to put them in order:
    1) Copywriting is a word that is more easily associated with writing than with selling. So there is a problem in accepting the thing because of the way it is named. If it was called direct selling or distance selling or internet selling (you name it), it could penetrate more easily through the resistance towards an activity deemed by most entrepreneurs as pleasant as a root canal.
    2) We don’t know well enough our markets. We think we know, but we really don’t. And it’s not that easy to speak with someone you do not know. It’s always uncomfortable to start a conversation with a stranger. If we had a way to discover their deep desires, needs, fears, problems and aspirations, it would much easier to speak with them.
    3) Even if we know our market, it’s very difficult to relate with it as a person to another person and not as a person to a market, and therefore the tone of the writing can get so impersonal and fake that after the first attempt, one does not want to have anything to do with copywriting anymore.
    4) Sometimes we don’t know the basics on how get in touch with them, where to find a good list etc. And therefore writing a message seems to have the same chances of reaching the target as sending a message in a bottle.
    5) Sitting in front of a blank screen with one or more of the above problems in the back of your mind is not so enjoyable. Better go out and do some real work.
    I started recently to read your blog and I like it. I hope my comment was useful. See you,

  • Jake says:

    My biggest problem has to be the structure of my sales letters.

    I’ve heard that you shouldn’t use too much negative or pain copy, because in trying to get my prospect excited, I’m switching the direction of the copy from pleasure to pain and so they go nowhere.

    But I see other copywriters using pain quite frequently, and i know that pain can be a very effective motivator.

    If I assume that my prospect could leave my page at any point… I would think I need to put the most compelling copy first and then work down to the next most appealing, and so on.

    But how do I decide what is the most appealing… I need a formula for the structure of my copy.


  • Paul Roberts says:

    Here’s an example of what I’m talking about, John…it actually was mentioned here more than once. The I guy may or may not be the chief salesperson for the business. If he’s read Adizes, or the E-Myth, he knows that his best chances for growth is outsourcing the various functions of his business to people who do them better than he does…and he’s managing the crew and steering the ship.

    So if you tell him that he’s got to learn how to write his own copy, and he’s already working 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, you’re disqualifying yourself as a service provider to him.

    But if you go to the same guy, and talk about teaching his terrific face to face salesperson to learn how to do salesmanship in print, and that will let him double or quadruple his business – and you can hook him up with other experts that know how to leverage this amazing thing called the net…AND HE DOESN’T HAVE TO DO IT ALL…well, now you’ve got his attention.

    It’s a small shift, really – but a critical one. Kind of like the opening of the woman’s erotica market. Of course women like sex – and sex researchers have found that they are even physiologically aroused by straight porn images – but that arousal doesn’t turn into conscious desire when they were queried by the researchers.

    But re-package the same sex act in a soft, gauzy and romantic wrapper, and a whole new market opens up.

    Think like a fish, Gary B said…not like a fisherman. One of the true epiphanies I personally have had over the past ten years in my own journeyman’s journey into the fascinating world of sales and marketing.

  • October 6th, 2008 8:34pm cst

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    I think ..You should think maybe that Most People looking for help would be eternally grateful to You just to Learn How To..
    Earn $1,000 or more a month and Once Learned they now will know they can Earn a lot more Money with more help
    From the person who helped them get started.

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