Your Tip O’ The Week

Wednesday, 6:12pm
Reno, NV
No one here gets out alive…” J. Morrison


Hey, do you like roller coasters?

I grew up during a great time in American “fun zone” culture — the LA County Fair had a permanent Fun Zone built in the 1930s (long before safety codes were invented)…

… and you took your life in your hands on every ride.

Man, it was fun.

  • There was The Hammer — two flimsy capsules of thin mesh swinging in opposite directions at the end of steel posts sixty feet long. You climbed in, held on tight, and spent ten minutes barely missing the other capsule as you went round and round and round…
  • There was The Wheel of Death — a 90-foot-in-diameter round floor, with loosely welded-on cages along the edge, that spun around generating huge G-force, while the floor slowly tilted to a 90-degree angle. Forbidden to leave our cages, we felt obligated to crawl (cheeks flapping our ears and eyeballs bulging) from cage to cage… because, you know, none of the rides had anything remotely resembling a seat belt or restaining device of any kind.


And then…

… there were the roller coasters.

Two of ’em. Count ’em.

Two of the nastiest, most rickety and dangerous rails of decapitation and maiming ever erected by a crew of ex-con Depression-era drunks.

Good God, those were great rides.

Kids today have no idea how much fun there was to be had paying 25 cents to risk your life like that.

We’d ride ’em til we puked.

And after an afternoon of cotton candy, purple crushed ice, popcorn, hot dogs and gallons of Coke… well, you get the picture.


… on to the Tip O’ The Week.

The reason I’ve been thinking about roller coasters is — of course — because of the multiple “rides” we’ve all been sharing these past couple of years.

  • The economy: Roller coaster.
  • The state of Internet marketing: Roller coaster.
  • Politics: Roller coaster.
  • General anxiety about the state of the world: Roller coaster.

Makes ya wish for the good old 1990s, when the biggest scandal around was about that Bubba getting frisky in the Oval Office.

Ah, those were the days.

You know that quote: If you wanna make God laugh, make plans.

And I’ve had so many product launches that almost weren’t pulled off because we nearly expired from the effort. 

Nevertheless, times like those have also been a hugely creative for me.

This is one of Nature’s perverse little jokes:

The worse the situation… the better the writer.

We all need crucibles to bounce against to trigger our best work.

Now, this week’s tip comes from a flurry of mentoring moments I’ve handed out in the Simple Writing System Coaching Program. (If you ignored your opportunity to participate in this breakthrough mentoring program… well, you should forever hang your head in shame and despair. It is just an amazing resource of shaing, learning and networking. Never been anything like it before. Probably will go into history as the Woodstock of Mentoring programs, never to be repeated. I don’t even know if there are any spots available at the moment. But you can always check right here.)

One of the more common trouble spots of many marketers centers on the uncomfortable fact that, often, you have to talk about yourself.

You’re part of the package. The author, the expert, the coach, the guru, the whatever. In order to make your case, you gotta stand up and (essentially) do some world-class self-aggrandizing.

Some might call it bragging. Regardless, it’s often the toughest job you’ll ever have as a marketer. I’ve known some Hall Of Fame braggarts in my time.

Halbert counted “finding new ways of self-aggrandizement” as one of his top hobbies…

… but mostly, marketers run into a brick wall of doubt and shyness when they discover they’ve got to tout themselves.

Here is what I wrote to a student who was frozen by fear over the need to “go there”:


We ALL have trouble writing for our own stuff. I HATE writing for my own products. It’s a pain to examine myself the same brutal way I examine clients…

… because it’s tough to get out of your own box.

The answer, however, is frustratingly simple: You CAN do it.

You just try.

And you try again. Until you get it right.

Psst! Here’s a killer copy tip that might help you out a bit. On the house!

And then you challenge what you believe you’ve discovered. Take a nap or a walk or a shower (I use all of these to let things “work themselves out in my unconscious”)…

… and come back and be hard-core on yourself and everything you’ve written. Not knocking yourself down — just digging past the easy answers, for the good stuff.

This is why we say — with honesty — that great salesmen lead better lives. They engage in the Zen arts of self-reflection and meditation (even if they have no idea they’re doing it)…

… and they seek self awareness and the clear, brutal honestly of reality.

You can do this.

Just know that it’s tough for all of us… but once you FIND that elusive, groove, you’re off to the races. You literally explode from your box, and the stuff just flows.

I’ve been doing this all my adult life. I’ve taught people who loathed any kind of self examination to do it anyway.

You can do this. Stay with it.

That’s the tip: Few can talk about themselves easily.

You just get over your fear… and find your groove.

And I’ll tell you something else: Once you do get past your fears and reluctance…

… it’s like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders.

Marketing thrives on honesty and self-discovery and openness.

That’s not the image outsiders have of marketers… but it’s true.

This simple piece of advice has been the foundation of my success ever since I left my old slacker-self (who is still sitting on that slacker couch deep in my unconscious, somewhere, wondering when I’m gonna stop all this ambition nonsense and get back to terminal goofing off): I can do it.

I didn’t believe it. I did it anyway, despite my disbelief.

And as I gained confidence, I started “doing” everything that had seemed so elusive to me before.

“Doing” rocks.

Give it a try.

And tell me your roller coaster stories.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Hard times call for more resources, and buckling down with better info and advice.

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  • Lisa says:

    There’s nothing quite like the smell of popcorn, cotton candy, spilled coke and vomit on a hot day. That’s what I most remember about amusement parks.

    The biggest rickety things that went about 10 mph up the hill and then all the excitement was raising your hands over your head for the slam down the hill at 70…

    About 10 years ago took the kids to one of those newer ones that flip you over… stood in an interminably long line for the pleasure of having my brain slammed around inside my head. The migraine accompanied with nausea that lasted about 4 hours after convinced me my roller coaster days were done. I’m okay with it!

    Right next door to the amusement park was a roller rink… much more my speed. I’ve since traded in my skate key for roller blades and I still get to feel like I’m 10 when I put them on and roll down the trail. Of course, I have to dress like the Michelin tire man in my protective gear because I don’t bounce like I used to!

    I get a bigger roller coaster trying to keep my business running every day. I just finished watching all the SWS dvds… now I’m going back through and rewriting everything. I’m hooked… I figure if I can learn to write 1/10th as seductively as you do, I’ll have no trouble paying the bills. I only wish I’d found all this stuff sooner, but I guess I just wasn’t ready before.

    I’m finally applying what I’m learning… I’ve stopped saying “I can’t.” The focus of desperation is shifting to one of possibility.
    The exhileration of being a conscious participant in my life as I face my fears is a lot like putting on those rollerblades… sometimes I feel off balance, but mostly I feel like I have wings and life is an awesome adventure. Thanks for some great inspiration.


  • Tim Schaefer says:

    I still dream of the day I’ll come across one of my carnival favorites: The Rock-O-Planes.

    If anyone doesn’t know what it is, it’s similar to a Ferris Wheel. But instead of open-air seats, there are caged-in pods… and they’re capable of some of the wildest whips, snaps and dizzying drops to ever be funded by a tear-off ride ticket.

    The magic was in the greased-up floating axis that would let you spin a full 360 degrees in either direction.

    Pulling off a wild ride was a goddamn ART to us kids. Taking control of the center bar by its loop… releasing and locking the axis at the right moments in the cycle… using your momentum and the laws of physics to “rock” yourself in into place.

    The anticipation alone was a rush as I’d ready for my favorite “move”: a double somersault that ends with a locked-in-place, nose-down scrape across the deck (it was a rush to look UP and see the ground rush past your face by what felt like just a few inches).

    But this dastardly device could be tamest ride in town if you did nothing.

    And that was the best part. YOU were in control of how much fun you could have with this thing… and while one pod would be listlessly drifting by… mine would be spinning wildly, dispensing harrowing screams from unsuspecting passengers who didn’t know what I was capable of.

    Ah, those were the days…

  • Dan Belick says:

    Geez, I hate rollercoasters! Even though I’ve driven all kinds of questionable vehicles at speeds beyond god’s intention for humans, I still cringe at the mere idea of riding one. Kathy says it’s my need for control that banishes the joy of the passive thrill ride. (psych major)

    But I have ridden these monsters of many shapes and inclinations. But only because I’m too stupid to let a dare go by. The one in Santa Cruz comes to mind…

    It was a beach day (yeah, we cut school) and my best friend George and I filled the Falcon with a carload of lovely sophomores and headed over the hill.

    All went well, and a beach party commenced. 90 minutes of imbibing went by and much skin was exposed. Shortly after things seemed truly promising (and the sun came out too), the girls proclaimed that if we were real men, we would have to ride that old wooden coaster with them. Damn these girl challenges!Would I ever get past needing to step up?

    Needless to say, we all got on, and AWAAAAY we went. Up one side and down the other. I thought I’d gotten through it sans puking on my bellbottoms, when the brakemen took a look at us puling in, and said WHOOPS! And we were off again.

    Once was ok, but twice…I started getting a mite green!

    Once again, we came around to the arrival point, and the fellow, looked us over and said… “It’s a slow day, and you haven’t had enough, have you? Before I could shout “HELL YES I’VE HAD ENOUGH” off we went around for the third and final time.

    I didn’t hurl, but my equalibrium was shot for the rest of the day. I tried not to show it, but my enthusiasm for the entire adventure had been subdued. And beer-I just could not do it. I drove the Falcon home, knowing that as a passenger on a 35 mile winding road I would probably…well you know.

    It’s been years, but I still have a hard time saying no to a challenge. Although it got a little easier after the infamous skydiving incident… The instructor called it, “the worst fall I have ever seen from an aircraft”.

    So, I guess the answer is, DARE me to write and I’m liable to be foolish enough to take anything on… even myself!

  • As a kid, I went to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk every summer (my grandparents lived in SC). Yep, I miss the days when a roller coaster was a big contraption I could ride instead of something that was happening to the economy or our government.

  • scott mcnealus says:

    I grew up in Canandaigua NY on Canandaigua Lake in the incredibly beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate NY. Upon the shore of the north end of the lake stood Roseland Park. An amusement park started in 1925 and – sadly – closed in 1985. When it closed, it had over 20 rides. Not bad for a small tourist town of under 10,000. But, in the end, the ‘big’ parks like Darien Lake and Six Flags closer to the interstates is what did it in.

    I literally grew up in Roseland during the summer season. My Dad used to work there part-time calling a bingo type game called Dart-O. Since I was 7-8 yrs old, until I was 18 or so, most of my summers were spent at or near Roseland. We had a boat. But my sisters were to young to drive it. And my folks both worked. So that left me pretty much the boat all day, every day when I was a teenager. Who says being a teenager sucks? I had an absolute 100% blast every day except when it rained.

    Since Roseland was on the water, you could dock along the breakwall and tie up for as long as you wanted. After a while, it almost became home away from home. Most of the help I went to the local high school with. So I got a few free rides every now and then. Big deal.

    I kissed my first girl at Roseland. Held hands with her, too. I drank my first beer down behind the shadows of the burger stand with some high-school buddies who worked there. For me, many other kids and the other generations who grew up in Canandaigua, Roseland was an integral and essential part of growing up. Always will be.

    But I digress: roller coasters. Roseland had two during my lifetime – The Skyliner and, before that, The Wild Mouse. The Skyliner was a wooden coaster built during the very early sixtes. Kinda modern, nice drop, some nice curves, good action.

    Before that: The Wild Mouse and it was a piece of work. It was about 35-40 ft high. But the whole ride – the pull-up, the drops, all of it – looked like it was built on leftover scaffolding you’d use to paint your house. The cars were only made for two people and looked like a mouse – pointy nose and round rear. The scaffolding meant you could look down and always see the ground. There were rumors that a crash had once killed somebody.

    After the pull-up, you went through a couple curves and got pulled up again to the top of the ride. This was a series of switchback, narrow 180% turns along the entire top. So you’d be heading straight out directly towards the edge. Approx. 1/3 of the front of the car would actually travel over the edge of the ride. If you looked down, all you’d see was the ground. When the car hit the hairpin, the real deviant took over.

    The car is going one way, but your momentum is still going the opposite. So the turning point is reached. Car goes inside. You get swung to the outside. Your upper body literally is forced over the edge of the car and over nothing. Absolutely terrifying. Then, hopefully, the track doesn’t fail and the car snaps you back towards the other side. I think there were about 6-8 of these turns on the top. Then there were a couple more drops and turns to the finish. We’re talking mid 1950’s technology here.

    I’m not one of those coaster fanatics who travel around the country to attend new coaster inaugurations, but I have ridden a fair amount of coasters including the Coney Island Cyclone. Some are great. All are good. But the only coaster that made me crap my pants every single time was The Wild Mouse.

  • Ken Ca|houn says:

    Right re rollercoasters; uncertain times depress buying response as folks “hunker down” and stick their wallets deep in their hip pockets.

    And yet, using copywriting tactics to tap into those dominant emotions, finding “the hook” that tags onto the fears and positions one’s products/services as a “Way out”, a ladder up out of the pit, is working great for my markets.

    Amplifying the gloom and doom, creating the contrast, positioning your product/service as the bridge to nirvana, then adding scarcity/time limited bonuses, still works great. Key is providing a safe haven perception, in uncertain, scary times for folks.

    Great tip John re talking about oneself, the transformational pitch, getting into the groove and making sales happen. Ok gotta go catch a plane to Vegas now…

    -ken c

  • Hey John,

    nope, never been on one of those Roller Coasters. But been riding in cars that FEEL just like those (and where the ride-to-death-ratio is much higher).

    I love it because it just “disconnects” me from my everyday self – and I’m putting my life in mother universe’s hands for some short moments and say: everything’s good!

    But I actually enjoy my everyday life quiet well, so I don’t indulge in too many of those crazy rides. And in recent years, other ways of getting the kicks replace the olden ones (like sex and food).

    There was (again) a true gem in what you wrote: “I did it anyway, despite my disbelief.”

    That’s very powerful.

    I’ve set up several projects of my own now and am seeing results (not the ones I want… currently I’m losing money).

    BUT… I also test & tweak, and get excited when I tweak something on my opt-in pages, salesletters, email letters… and all of the sudden I LOSE LESS MONEY! (I realize to some outsiders this must read like I’m brainwashed into some MLM scheme…)

    It’s at least a step in the right direction.

    But… and this is an UNEXPECTED SOURCE OF JOY…

    Because I put so many projects out there, other business people start approaching me.

    And they hire me for my copywriting!

    Now, they pay rotten prices. I get around $300 for a letter that I work 2 weeks on.

    And I know you’re teaching that we shouldn’t sell our services cheap.

    But hell… the money I get from them is money I can spend on my own projects for PPC & classifieds. And it’s PAID training. And at this stage in the game, I’m happy about that.

    And what’s even better: my clients are happy about that too. And hire me for more jobs. And I get some connections in the market…

    And considering the fact that I got my start in copywriting just 5 months ago, in June… where I haven’t read a single thing on copywriting… that’s pretty good. I immersed myself in copywriting, printed out Carlton sales letters, read them, read them, read them (I can – pretty much – verbatim quote some of them…) + of course the Kickass Copywriting Course… well, it’s been worth it. Not that I am where I want to be. But I’m getting there.

    And please no more of that “will go into history as the Woodstock of Mentoring programs” – that’s just wicked, man, you’re rubbing salt into our wounds, so com’on, John, stop that 😉 But I’m happy that it turned out so great for you and those who participated.

    And I wish that your people will get back to being healthy & strong again soon.

    Copywriting Kid

  • Ian says:

    I almost plunged to my death on a thrill ride.

    I was 8 years old and thought it would neat if i didn’t lock myself in the harness. I twisted myself out of the seat and when the ride started I had to cling for my life.

    I was screaming for them to stop the ride the whole time.

    Lesson learned.

  • Ah, thrill rides. When I was a kid, I used to hyperventilate just LOOKING at the ones with the upside-down loops. Eventually I conquered my fear and went on a “big” rollercoaster on a dare, but I still get a funny twist in my stomach every time I pass by one…

  • Susan Coils says:

    I never much cared for roller coasters as a kid, cared for them even less as a mother watching her kids dicing with death and being stared at by everyone as I stood watching, tears streaming down my face, and screaming for the ride owners to stop the rides so I could get my kids off.

    Why would I let them get on in the first place? Because their happiness was more important than my fear I guess. Now I do the same with my grandkids, but I’ve learned my lesson. As they board the rides, I go for a walk and come back when they’re done.

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