The Reality Check Mom Never Gave You

Monday, 3:32pm
Visalia, CA
“Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty.” (Sicilian proverb)


I’m handing the blog over to our good buddy Jimbo Curley again this week.  He’s done several guest posts, all hilarious, all excellent insight and info for marketers, writers and anyone in biz.

Jim and I go back a looooooooong time.  And my favorite story of how we became brawling colleagues is included here — this tale sends grown men into gasping fits of laughter whenever Jimbo re-tells it in the bar (where, during seminars, all the REAL networking and professional bonding takes place).  Last week, it was the Phoenix Hilton, for Joe Polish’s and Dean Jackson’s shockingly-good “I Love Marketing” event.

So this is fresh stuff.

Jim’s the real thing.  A top, consistently smokin’ hot copywriter and a keen observer of human behavior (and buying psychology).  He’s an original teacher in the Simple Writing System, and one of the very few writers I’ve personally asked to write FOR me.

This post is must-reading for anyone wondering how their latest and greatest ad is gonna do in the real world.

Warning: Do NOT drink coffee while reading this.  Or you’ll snort it through your nose during the funny parts.  Which is funny in itself, the image of hundreds of readers all over the globe spitting up coffee at their desks at the same time, courtesy of a master storyteller.

Okay, you’ve been warned.

Here’s Jimbo:

Thanks for the intro John.

I’ll dive right in.

Today I want to talk about a Street-Marketing lesson I call “How to take it in the shorts… and love it”.

It’s about how to get qualified critiques for your writing.

First, I’ll hit you with the big setup statement.

Here it is: Writers do not work in teams.

Stay with me on this.

Because while you can divvy up the many tasks necessary for creating a new product… building a house… or robbing a bank…

… you CAN’T do that with writing good copy.

Yes, it’s true that writers often spend time collaborating with dubious friends in coffee shops and bars…

… throwing back shots, playing grab-ass, expressing deep and passionate opinions about things they’d LIKE to write about…

… but let’s face it, THAT is not writing.

That is a little something known as “fun”.

Writing, on the other hand — the actual process of putting words onto a page — is work…

… done by ONE person…

… alone…

… inside his or her own head.

Ernest Hemingway did not whip off chapters while harpooning whales off Nantucket Island or slugging down Orujo with his buddies at a Spanish bullfight.

No. He did it like the rest of us mortals have to…

…in front of a keyboard or putting pen to paper… pounding out copy…

…alone… alone… alone.

Take a moment and allow that idea to settle-in.

It’s important, because the solitaire nature of writing creates a unique problem — especially for the new writer.

It’s something I call the “Blind Spot” effect — that strange phenomena that blocks the writer from actually seeing his or her own work.

It’s kinda like gazing into mirror. While you may be looking at the exact same face that everyone else does…

… you somehow just don’t SEE your face. You know exactly what everyone else looks like, but you don’t know what YOU look like… until other people clue you in.

Weird, huh?

It’s like Kent Jankowski… a silly, clumsy, likable kid that I knew from Catholic grade school in Wisconsin.

When he wasn’t getting slapped around by the nuns, he was busy tripping over his own shoelaces during basketball practice.

Well, in junior-high something wonderful happened to Kent.

High levels of testosterone and good genes transformed his oversized bulbous head from a featureless ball of silly-putty…

… into a perfectly-proportioned chiseled block of marble.

He quite suddenly became a handsome specimen of young manhood, complete with beard stubble and — cue audible gasp from his longtime pals — flocks of lovely young ladies cooing after him.

As he strolled by me one day with the gorgeous Jan Flowers hooked on his arm, a giddy Jankowski leaned toward me and whispered…

“Curley… check it out… Jan Flowers!  Vroom-vroom…”

It was good to see that goofy kid still existed just below the surface.

Anyway… my point is that Jankowski discovered he was a hot commodity not because he was able to judge his own looks in the mirror.

Nope. It was because young women were telling him with words and actions.

This is a little something called “feedback”.

And it’s exactly the same with your writing.

Only the most accomplished and experienced writers can even begin to truly “see” and judge their own work.

I’ve been a working writer for over 25 years and STILL have trouble with blind spots… and absolutely depend on review and feedback.

Problem is, most writers have no clue on WHO to turn to for this kind of critique work.

Okay, here’s a quick story that’ll spell out the FOUR types of feedback available to you.

I’ll keep it brief.  When I was about 10 years old, I spent an afternoon in my room sketching out a pencil drawing of a horse.  (Drawing is a lot like writing… a solitary activity fraught with creative blindspots).

And the masterpiece I created was so amazing… and so near to touching the face of genius itself… that I simply HAD to show it around to various friends and family members.

What happened next taught me a valuable lesson on differentiating between the various kinds of criticism.

I won’t waste your time with all the details, but generally, the feedback I received fell into these categories:

1. Mom. She told me my artwork was “wonderful”, thus confirming everything I already suspected about my killer horse-drawing skills.

2. The older neighbor kid. He said the drawing was “stupid” and that I was wasting my time because I was stupid too.

3. My favorite uncle. He told me that he very much liked the “doggie” that I drew…

4. The big brother. He pointed out that the horse’s legs were drawn way too short, thus making it look like a mutant dog.

In general, those are the four types of criticism that you will face too. Let’s cover each of them in a little more detail.

1. First, mom.

Her response was predictable… to lavish praise on me no matter what.  I could’ve drawn a picture of our house burning to the ground with my siblings hanging lifeless from the windows and her response would have been “very nice. Keep up the good work.”

Yes, it’s comforting to know that people love you enough to lie to your face under any circumstances.

Serial killers have mom’s who still love and support them, (“He had nothing to do with those 12 dead people in his basement…”).

But you simply can’t trust the “mom’s” in your life for honest feedback and constructive criticism. Getting a pat on the back for lousy work will NOT help you improve.

2. The older neighbor kid — or what I call the “Eddie Haskell” critic — gets his kicks out of mocking others. He does it for various reasons — jealously, pettiness, envy, sadism, whatever. Who knows.

This type of critic is usually interested in making sure that you don’t make him look bad, and he’s quite prepared to throw a wrench into your gears to stop that from happening.

Learn to recognize these people (it isn’t hard), don’t solicit their opinion, and simply ignore their criticisms.  (Side note from John: The business world is crammed with Eddie Haskell’s like this, folks.  Never, ever, ever underestimate the potential level of jealousy, pettiness, envy and outright cruel sadism undergirding opinions you get from others.)

3. Next… the good-natured uncle, or what I call “from the mouths of babes”. This can actually be quite useful feedback. In fact, if you’re like most new writers, this is probably the only useful kind of critique available to you.

It’s “from the hip” comments that can pull back the curtain and shed some light on your blind spots.

For example, a few years back, I was raking leaves on a cold and windy autumn day. After a couple hours I finished up, bagged-up the leaf piles, and returned into the house.

As I removed my shoes, my 4-year-old grandson looked up at me with a puzzled expression and said:  “Grandpa… you look like a clown.”

I was shocked.  A clown? What the…

I knew the boy couldn’t be openly insulting me… for Pete’s sake, he was 4 years old.

I glance into the hallway in the mirror and — sure enough — my small tan beanie-hat, windblown hair, and red nose made it look like I was ready to pile out of a miniature car with 35 other friends.

For a writer, this kind of honest feedback can be pure gold.

Because when well-intentioned people inadvertently blurt out untrammeled insights — it can provide you quick inroads to trouble areas of your work.

I mean, if a favorite uncle thought my horse was a dog… or an innocent child said I looked like a clown… well, it makes no sense to argue with that kind of insight. (“Damn you, Uncle, that’s a horse not a dog…”).

Instead, set aside your ego and USE the feedback.  This is where the cool, ego-less attitude of the real professional comes in.

In direct response writing, especially, you can glean stunningly-useful information this way.

For example: I often plop down my copy in front of people I consider to be a perfect prospect for the product I’m writing about.

I KNOW I have a winner when they ask if they too can buy the product.

In one instance my unsuspecting subject asked how the client “could afford to give away so many free bonuses”. I knew right then and there that at least THAT part of the ad copy was effective.

But here’s the thing: You should not DEPEND on this kind of “from the mouths of babes” feedback. It’s hit or miss and is almost never followed up with concrete advice.

Which brings me to the fourth kind of critic:

4. The older brother… or what I call “The Mentor”.

Okay… let’s be clear about something. When it comes to direct sales copywriting, there’s usually serious money on the line…

… building websites, PPC campaigns, banner ads, shopping carts, hosting, not to mention the hard costs of producing the product itself (including paying the writer, if you’re using a hired gun).

Which means there’s a mountain of pressure on the writer. The ad must perform.

Split testing and continual tweaking will later on help direct and focus the pitch, yes. Wonderful stuff, testing.

However… for the original out-of-the-chute version, you’ve got to start somewhere. You need the raw first effort, to be able to test or tweak.

Which, for the pro writer… means you’re coming up with your best initial “shot in the dark” control piece.

And, with so much on the line… and with you as the only one critiquing the writing at this point… means you need an outside opinion on your work.

Your top-choice option is of course to seek out expert advice from someone who understands the sales process… and can give you specific constructive criticism.

Like my older brother, a self-professed artist, who pointed out the horse’s legs were too short.

THAT is specific constructive criticism.

Or John Carlton.

Some 15 years ago — when we first met — John had me rip-up an ad that I had worked on for over four days.

Our telephone conversation went something like this:

“Hi John. Did you get the ad I faxed you?”

“Yes Jim, I got it. Could you please print it off while we’re on the phone here?”

“I’ve got it open on my computer, John. I’m looking at the ad right now.”

“Good.  Print it off anyway.”

“Uh, John… I could make any edits right here on the computer.”

“No. Print it.”

“Okay… one second.”  Sound of printer clanking away.

“You have it printed yet?”

“Yes, John, I got it.”

“Are you holding in your hands?”

“Yes, John. I’ve got it in my hand right now.”

“Good. Now tear the piece of shit up.”


“You heard me. I said tear it up.”

“(sigh) Uh… okay John, I get it. It’s not very good…”

“No-no-no. Jimbo… you’re still not hearing me. Listen very carefully. I want you to set down the phone, hold that copy up to the receiver, and tear it up. I want to HEAR you tearing it up. I would also ask you to burn it, but I’m afraid you’d probably torch your whole damn office in the process.”

I did exactly what he demanded and tore it to shreds.

After that, John started improvising a sales message straight off the top of his head which was a hundred times better than what I had worked on for four long days.

Over the next months John continued to provide me deep insights and feedback on everything I wrote.

He taught me the advanced 17-point layout of a sales message… tricks to overcoming sales-killing objections… how to drive home the most important selling points… super-persuasive bullet-writing tips… how to establish proper voice and cadence… and on and on.

Thus began my road to fortune and fame. Writing sales copy, I learned, is a very specific and delicate process that would NOT come to me in my sleep.

I needed to learn it through coaching and mentoring.

John’s become a lot nicer in his old age. But it was my willingness to accept tough constructive criticism that ultimately allowed me to move forward.  (John used to be oh-so-proud of occasionally making clients cry during his “tough love” consultations… and it’s hilarious to see some of those clients brag about it later, wearing their tears like badges. “Carlton made me cry once.  Thank God I had the sense to get past the pain of that reality check, and implement what he was telling me…”  He’s not a mean guy — in fact, he’s way too generous with his advice and help — but he will not waste time soothing anyone’s ego when money’s on the line, or the future of a business venture.  So, while he’s mellowed somewhat, he’ll still kick your freakin’ butt when you deserve it.)

I now make a very comfortable living from the skills he taught me. You can too.

It’s like something I read from screen writing expert Syd Fields.  He pointed out that there was an extreme SHORTAGE of screenwriters in Hollywood.

What? Shortage of screenwriters in Hollywood? Heck, didn’t every waitress and delivery boy in LA have a tattered script tucked away in their hip pocket ready to whip-out at a moment’s notice?

Yes, Syd acknowledged that WAS the case.

But his point was this: There are very few QUALIFIED screen writers… people who know the craft, understand how to tell a story… and are capable of formatting a script so that a producer can use it as a blueprint to actually MAKE a movie.

It’s the same with writing effective sales message.

There is an extreme SHORTAGE of good direct response writers.

Which means you and other copywriters are now faced with enormous opportunity.

And there’s something else working to your advantage too:  Today, almost all online markets are extremely vulnerable.

It’s true. Prove it to yourself. Take 20 minutes and cruise the internet. The place is a direct marketer’s wet-dream… and yet it’s top-heavy with poor or non-existent sales copy.

Which means one well-written sales campaign could easily high-jack and dominate any one of these markets.

This is once-in-a-lifetime stuff… like strolling the gold fields of California in 1848 deciding which one you’ll tap into.

The downside: History has shown that gaps like this fill up fast. But right now, as it sits, anyone possessing even crude skills to create effective sales copy can crush the competition for their own product…

… or for the products of countless fumbling industries.

But it all hinges on your willingness to set aside the ego and accept some simple construction feedback and coaching advice…

… from someone other than your mom.

Fortune awaits you… but it won’t wait forever.

For better marketing,

Jimmy Curley

P.S. John here again.

Did you spit up coffee?

I’ve seen a lot of people snort stuff out through their nose upon hearing that “Now, tear it up” tale for the first time.  And it’s all true.  (Also true: I’ve mellowed.  A bit.)


… if you, too, want to learn all the details (and inside sneaky shortcuts) to writing sales message at the same scary level that respected experts like Jimbo (and all the other writers I’ve helped) now regularly perform at…

… then get your butt over to the Simple Writing System right now.

Just go here:

Finally learn the pro-level secrets of writing sales copy… fast, simple and easy.

Just check it out, okay?  See what you’ve been missing.

P.P.S. Also, if you want to see what kind of Tough Love gets ladled out during a standard phone consultation with me, just pop up to the Consulting tab up at the top of this page, and follow the simple instructions for contacting my assistant Diane.

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

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

  • Whitney says:

    I’m so jealous of Jimbo. I’ve been saying for years and years that I LIKE criticisms but no one is ever willing to give me them.

    • John Carlton says:

      Okay, how’s this: You’re a very naughty girl, Whitney.

      There. You’ve been criticized. Cherish it.

    • Jimmy Curley says:


      Okay… that unusual. It’s far more common for a writer or artist to seek out strokes from people who’ll 100% confirm what an awesome genius they are.

      Much more difficult to face the music and simply try, try again.

      Thanks for posting…


  • I just had to get over here when I heard that Jimmy was doling out priceless wisdom.

    Jim, remember the other night when you literally wrote an ad off the top of your head when I called you?

    See how far you’ve come in so short a time, Sir!

    I think that constructive, even tough criticism, is necessary, and while I might think, “Hey this piece is pretty good”, I know there are a dozen guys who can run rings around it.

    This causes me to make my work the best I know how-I lean on you, John, Ross Bowring, Bond and others to give me the best feedback and advice on getting better-faster.

    Thanks again Jimmy for the funny story-I hope you never make me rip up an ad.

    Or use a fax machine.

    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Hey Lawton:

      Yeah… great rant I had going with you the other day.

      The trick is not to find someone who’ll make you tear up your ad, but make you tear it up and then explain how to rebuild it.

      Talk soon Lawton…


  • Dude, awesome. Thanks. 🙂 \,,/

    • John Carlton says:

      Mahalo, Palyn.

      Jimbo should be chiming in here soon, folks… He loves to interact in the comments, too…

      • Jimmy Curley says:

        Hey Palyn:

        Thanks for popping in.

        Another thought about criticism.

        I rarely allow someone to review my work unless I think it’s “complete”.

        I’ve had clients and friends ask to read some material that I considered unfinished… no go. Opens you up to take heat for being an “unpolished” writer.

        Just a thought.


        • Henry Bingaman says:

          I’ve got the same rule about “unfinished material,” Jim. With one exception.

          If I’ve got a pro examining the letter before it goes out, I’m more lax about the “complete” sales letter.

          Still make sure I’m putting out a polished, well formed draft that I believe would sell… but a little less strict about final quality.

          Rookie mistake or good use of resources?

  • Mike Morgan says:

    Great teaching moment to all the newbie writers out there Jimbo. (Some of who will become stars, I’m sure.) I almost snorted Chipotle Chicken when you told me that story in Phoenix.

    The big damn blind spot most new writers have is square in the ego. So proud of their clever work (some of which may be quite good) that the ego cannot hear what sucks.

    Would your ego get in the way of a golden learning experience?

    Get over it. Humble yourself for the greater good and get the job done. You’ll never be all you can be by brushing off GOOD feedback. (Beware of the bad though. Now you’re hip enough to know the difference!)

    I remember being so proud of some of my initial work. Some was good. But the most important stuff at the front end sucked like a Hoover on steroids.

    Getting my ego out of the way, (along with a healthy dose of big bro John’s mojo), helped me create a real winner that lasted for years.

    The truth is… it doesn’t really hurt to find the blind spots. In fact, it’s quite liberating.

    If you want to be a great copywriter, get some feedback from a pro, put the ego on the shelf and become one a whole lot quicker. Unless slow is your thing…

    Million Dollar Mike

    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Great stuff here Mike.

      You’re right… blind spots are a weird thing because your ego is preventing you from making an honest evaluation of your own work.

      One thing that helps is to simply let your piece “gel” for a few days. Don’t touch it, don’t look at it.

      Then, after a few days, sneak up and read it with editing pen handy.

      Fresh perspective… almost like you’re reading and judging someone else’s work.

      Thanks for posting Mike… and great seeing you at the Polish’s gig.


      • Jon Simons says:

        Interesting point. When learning anything new, there’s often that initial rush of pride that you’re getting the hang of it (when usually you’re only 1% into the learning process), and I imagine some people stop there.

        And I do feel that those in business (and in life) with a big ego and particularly bordering on arrogance – that comes from insecurity and they’re just not aware of that. Other times they are aware of it and it’s just bluster.

        Lehman’s was definitely arrogance/bluster/hubris and when it comes to business, can be your downfall. That said, I’m not sure getting over it is something you can teach, since the person needs to want to get over it themselves, and that often only comes after a fall.

  • Henry Bingaman says:

    I’ve heard that story before… and I love it. It reminds me of how one of my mentors critiques my first drafts.

    “I really love what you did here… This part is spot on… Great job with this urgency… But this letter isn’t going to work at all. Here’s why and here’s how you’re gonna fix it.”

    The best part is, the world doesn’t see that behind the scenes action. I get to take all the credit (and some nice royalties) when “my” letters work.

    There’s nothing better than an experienced eye looking over your shoulder. You can’t get that kind of feedback out of a book (although you can in SWS, I hear).

    Thanks for the post John and Jim.

    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Hey Henry:

      Great to hear from you.

      You really can’t get anything better than having a fellow pro writer standing by to critique everything with an objective eye.

      Which is exactly what the SWS is. A step-by-step walk-through the how a sales letter (or a video script, or email, or landing page, or whatever), should be “constructed” to maximize results.

      The reason I know this is that I was teacher in the SWS for the first few years. Fun stuff.

      Good comment here Henry. Thanks for chiming in.


  • Mike, good call. There’s a huge difference when something is said in love and when it’s just under-handed and mean.

    Sometimes it’s tough to take hard feedback. But it gives us the upper hand when we humble out and take it.

    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Right on Lawton.

      Carlton’s right about that side note he placed in the blog… there are a LOT of reasons that people we know and love will purposely sidetrack, even sabotage our efforts to get ahead.


  • Andrew Cordova says:

    You’ve taught Jimbo well. I’m honored to have had him as a coach via the SWS he really helped me take my writing to the next level. Great post and story, thanks man.

    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Hey Andrew:

      Appreciate the kind words.

      Before Carlton built the SWS and laid everything out in a VERY comprehensive manner, the learning process was a bit more brutal.

      SWS has made it a lot less painful.

      Thanks for your thoughts.


  • Richard says:

    When I was just about to hit 16, living in Santa Barbara at the time, my buddy’s girl decided it would be fun to teach me how to drive.

    So we drove to the most remote location she could think of with the best odds for minimal collateral damage… a trendy strip mall on upper State Street on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Conditions were perfect!

    Long story short, as I sat in the driver seat, clenching the steering wheel, generating enough sweat to fill a bird bath and knuckles turning a weird shade of grey, she rattled off a list of safety checks and operating instructions, to which my mind quickly deduced to:

    1. let down the brake
    2. take your foot off the clutch
    3. slam the gas

    and POW!, there we found ourselves, sitting with the front end of her yellow Datsun B210 precariously etched into the shiny chrome bumper of the brand new Toyota 4Runner parked 3 feet in front of us.

    Not unlike my first attempt at writing sales copy and actually releasing it to the wolves of the public eye, it was fast, furious, mesmerizingly exciting, especially sitting next to this hot girl and it utterly scared the shit out of me.

    My biggest blind spot was my own fear.

    But as I had my ass handed to me a couple dozen times, I sort of learned to love the thrill of crashing.
    It was a clear sign that I was driving, heading somewhere… or at least learning to drive.

    I’ve been hooked ever since.

    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Funny. Well worth it if she ended up on your lap.

      Yes indeed… fear will hold you back and prevent you from sticking your neck out — which is where the fun REALLY is at.

      Blind spots, however, is a little more of a mystery. It’s your mind playing tricks on you… the ego protecting itself from you and your own objective opinion.

      Like I said… weird.


  • Thank you. As usual what you wrote is what I needed to read today. I wrestle with this all the time.

    I get a bit carried away at times. Earlier this year I was writing copy for one of my email newsletters. I must say, I was really impressed with myself. I read it to my mother, (who is loved by all and a former first grade school teacher), who said, “You must really like to hear the sound of your own voice. Who’s going to read all that?

    I had no response. But I knew immediately what she was telling me. I “tore it up” electronically and headed for home.

    At some point during the night I woke up and began writing. I wrote honestly, truthfully, and from the heart. And to this day, that bit of copy remains a favorite and I still get feedback and comments on it.

    John is a great teacher, as you know. I own the SWS and keep it out and handy. And it has changed my prism.

    Thanks guys for putting it out there for all of us.


    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Hi Cheryl:

      When I’m writing a blog… no biggie. I’ll let just about anyone review it, mainly because it’s meant to be light, informative, and fun.

      But when it comes to a sales letter that MUST perform, i.e. make money, I am extremely cautious about allowing unskilled eyeballs — or folks who are NOT in my primary target market — to give me their opinion.

      Do you know how many pages a non-golfer will read of one of my 6-page golf pitches.

      They can barely get through ONE page before they start scratching their head and looking around.

      Their response? “Who the hell is gonna read all this?”

      The obvious answer is: A rabid golfer. He not only reads these long copy ads, he sticks them to his refrigerator.

      The trick is to find a skilled person who can give you that honest opinion. Someone who’s not afraid of “hurting your feelings”… who doesn’t have an axe to grind, or harboring some grudge, or snickering in the back of their head “who does this gal think she IS?”

      Thing is MOST people don’t have someone like that in their lives.

      That’s why they turn to mom, or the favorite uncle.

      Problem is that person likely has zero experience, and so cannot really give you the professional feedback you need as a writer.

      Carlton on the other hand, fills the bill nicely.


      • Thanks Jimmy!

        I finally resolved how I handle this. I just stopped talking to people about what I do because they don’t get it. I’ve come up with a pretty good response to those who make comments that, “if a person is looking for tires he’s going to go right by this and it won’t mean a thing to him.” Which is why I value what John and you say because you do get it!

        Thanks again.


  • Our Company is Blind Devotion (a dating service where we match blind people to ugly people)but what we really do is sell blinds.
    It’s tough to produce an effective ad because you usually do get the approval of your friends or people who no nothing about marketing. (like all the people who sell advertising)
    I’ve been learning a lot from Dan Kennedy, Joe Polish, and John Carlton.
    It takes a lot of guess work as well as a lot of money risked to try these methods out.
    I’m learning how to fail fast!
    Getting better all the time. Thanks JC & JC

    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Hey Jerry:

      Saw you at the Polish event. I cracked up at that line (everyone did).

      I guess “blind spots” take on a whole new meaning for you.

      Thanks for popping in.


  • Adil Amarsi says:

    Just snorted out my cereal as I read this.

    so true, I have to agree that most times I seek a critique it is just to confirm “yeah this is an awesome piece of copy, well done”.

    But I am thankful to be able to be on here and learn some great stuff.

    Great post Jim.

    Hope all is well,

    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Hey Adli:

      Sorry to hear you’ll be picking “Fruit Loops” out of your nose all day.

      Yeah… the pros in the SWS are taking a kinder and gentler approach to critiques than Carlton originally used on me.

      Doesn’t really matter though — you can’t be too sensitive. Gotta allow an expert inside your world to help.

      Thanks for posting.


      • Adil Amarsi says:

        Going to get more critiques done so i can improve.

        SWS teachers are pretty cool, John does seem more laid back than before – which is good but I do like that he (like many writers he’s worked with) all have the “Help the new guy” attitude.

        Thanks again for writing this post and responding Jim!


  • Kevin Rogers says:

    WOW. Monster post, Jimbo. How is it you make the “tear up that piece of shit” story funnier every time I hear it? Amazing.

    Great lesson in here, too, about ego. A sure sign of whether any writer (or performer) has a shot at success is how they take criticism.

    Like your horse drawing, the first harsh reviews we encounter in life are always a gut bomb. But if you can laugh it off, ponder it deeply, or even let it piss you off just enough to fuel the better rework, then there’s no stopping you.

    The only failure is sulking – and giving up.

    The real fun begins when “killing your babies” (the crude but appropriate writer’s term for editing out your favorite lines) becomes a sick joy.

    This is something I encountered with screenwriting. Some of the best jokes I’ve ever conceived were yanked out of scripts like a obnoxious drunk at a mafia wedding because they were fucking up the scene.

    It becomes a silent victory because you know you’re dedicated to the greater good. With scripts it’s all about honoring the story… in sales it’s honoring the conversion. Anything in the way of it must die.

    Again, excellent piece here, Jim. You’ve got me all riled up now.


    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Okay… everyone… Kevin has heard me tell this story at least 7 or 8 times.

      I love this guy because he laughs at it every time, (because it’s funny… duh).

      Another thing for those of you who don’t know… Kev’s been a stand-up comic. Talk about pressure.

      There’s no hiding in a back office looking at tracking stats to see how your work performed. Nope. Ass hanging right out there in the breeze.

      Appreciate you dropping in Kev. Always a pleasure.


  • Rich Muir says:

    Ah sh#%, you mean mum has just been nice to me all this time.

    Hmm better review my outlook on life, all those you were great comments such as; don’t worry honey, I know the teacher failed you for your test, but I know your the smartest little fella in your class.

    No wonder I never got on with teachers, those nasty crettons, I thought they were full of BS and that I shoulda got A’s – looking back…I guess if I actually handed in the tests coulda helped..

    Any way think I’d better hit uncle Mike up next time.

    Killer post and lucky I’m doing a spring clean and dealing with a 2 day headache from coffee withdrawals as can imagine that coulda hurt.


    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Yeah… mom’s are fabulous liars. “You’re such a handsome boy… so smart… and your drawing of that doggie, er horsey, is so very, very good.

      There’s something to say about boosting your confidence — but that only takes you so far. And too much makes you downright delusional.

      Appreciate the post.


  • Yongho Shin says:

    Jeez, John… (and Jimbo!)

    I was in the middle of doing some work when my browser tab was open to this blog post, and I was just sucked in to the story like a vacuum.

    I ended up being forced to read the whole thing before I looked back at the clock and realized I was completely thrown off-track.

    You are awesome at storytelling. May I ask: what’s your favorite fiction book?

  • Dale says:

    Great Story keeping the audience engaged while a third party gives a great testimonial. The humorous story, see Mark Twain, wait for it… wait for it… Tear It UP! (good delivery)

    I like the way this was done. I’ll have to put this in the S&D File.

    then the call to action at the end. Nicely done. But then, what else was expected?

    • John Carlton says:

      Actually, Dale, if you’ll peruse past posts, I RARELY have calls to action on these posts. This blog is unique, because it’s me and a few other writers who love to write and communicate and teach… all engaging in our passion. Sometimes, yeah, I’ll monetize the joint. I’m a businessman, besides being a total mensch and generous teacher. Glad you liked the post…

  • Jimmy Curley says:

    Hey Yongho:

    Thanks — appreciate you taking some time out of your busy day. Fun distraction with some good info.

    My favorite fiction book? Prepare yourself, for it’s not typically considered “one of the greats”.

    “Cannery Row” by John Steinbeck.


    • John Carlton says:

      I love all of that period of Steinbeck. Sweet Thursday, Tortilla Flats, all of it. My favorite style of writing — crisp, clean, reliant on action verbs and unexpected phrase tweaks… and you NEVER have to re-read a line because it was unclear. Masterful writing.

  • Lisa says:

    Great story Jimbo. I had the pleasure of meeting you at Action Seminar 2010 as well as John Carlton, Kevin Rogers, and a host of others.

    Your clown story reminded me of a clown story of my own. It involved a would-be customer infatuated with me (who it turns out was an actual clown) whose entertainment skills were far better suited to the 6 y/o birthday set they were geared to than to landing a date with me.

    It began when he pulled a hand out of his pocket wearing an eyeball ring and started in with some ventriliquism. I endured nearly an hour laughing AT him. Not because he was funny – and the irony was not lost on me, but because I was embarrassed for him.

    I realized immediately that my laughter was encouraging him as he thought *I* thought he was funny, which made me laugh harder as my discomfort grew, which increased his efforts and exacerbated my discomfort.

    I stood there wondering helplessly how bad it would be if I deserted my own shop. I had to hand it to the guy… he certainly was trying hard.

    Just when I breathed a sigh of relief that the childish jokes were over, round two ensued. Oh please, God, NO! Not… yes, balloon animals! It finally ended with an invitation to dinner.

    I may rot in hell for all eternity, but I turned him down. Still have the eyeball ring he gifted me with… true story.


    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Yeah! Clowns using their kid-party skills to land a date.

      Definitely kind of freaky.

      (Never forget that John Wayne Gacy was a professional clown… which makes all clowns very, very evil).

      It was great meeting you. Thanks for stopping by and sharing.


  • Mark L says:

    Hi Boyz,
    Hmmmmm, my Mom told me I was demon possessed, but they told me that at church camp too when I set fire to the rec hall.
    Masterful story-telling Jimbo!. John made me put my first effort in a blender, add liver and whey, hit liquefy and drink it down with gusto!
    so…is another full launch of the SWS copywriter’s crew in the works?
    Mark L – SWS Instructor and Marketing Rebel Insider’s Club Hall Monitor

    • Jimmy Curley says:


      Glad you could drop by my man.

      At least you got a chance to regurgitate your work… mine went straight into the trash.

      Anyway… couldn’t really get away with causing problems at any church functions as the likes of Sister Lizette (or “Sister Lizard” as she was officially known) was fully capable of ripping flesh from your bones with her razor nails…

      … and could, by the laws that stood in the 1960s, have you legally killed. She was nun after all. If she wanted you dead… well… that was that.

      Thanks for the comment Mark. Always good to hear from you.


  • Peter says:

    Hi John and Jim,
    Some real good advice there. You are alone when writing or if you are an artist. Unfortunately i’m both. Writing is good from the point of view you can get feedback as noted Jim.
    I remember once being asked if this was a scam I was writing about. Ouch!
    The artist in me (I used to put on 2, sometimes 3 one man shows per year)has other problems. You work until you think the work is your best then put it aside for a week or so face to the wall. Then I revisit it upside down to look for faults.
    If it measures up then it goes in the show. If not it gets reworked or binned.
    The big moment comes of critiques when the show opens and the buying public gets an eyeful. Some comments can really hurt.
    What’s worse though is years later coming across a painting and thinking how could I have EVER shown that, its crap.

    John. Love your blog. It’s a bright day when you make a new post.

  • Harold Ward says:

    Hi John & Jim,
    No, I didn’t bring any coffee, it would be
    like water boarding. Excellent story though,
    with many twists and turns. It’s nice to have fun when you work. Well, I need to get
    back to my rat killing. Yawl have a nice day
    hear. Harold

    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Hey Harold — I’m hoping “rats” isn’t a synonym for “pesky neighbors” or something.

      And yeah… these blogs are a lot of fun. Allows you to take off the straight-jacket and loosen up a bit.

      Then… back to the straight-jacket.


  • Jimmy Curley says:

    Hey Peter:

    Thanks. I myself do airbrush, oils, and watercolors. Don’t do it as much as I want to, because it’s fairly time consuming.

    I personally get by some of the “art” blind spots in a similar way you’ve described… as well as to look at in a mirror.

    Allows you a different perspective.

    Thanks again for dropping by.


  • Alfredo says:

    Great post Jim! You are hands down my favorite story teller.

    Reading your blog reminded me of my first “Big Brother” feedback Bob gave me on Dan Webre’s self defense video I edited back in 2002.

    Great stuff!

  • Robert Scanlon says:

    Thanks John & Jimmy … there’s always something great to learn when there’s a new post.

    And a bright spot in a (sometimes) lonely day being “creative”.

    Thanks again!

    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Hey Robert:

      I learned a while back that no creative person should be an island.

      Gotta get out their and mix it up. Seminars, hanging out with goofy friends, talking with other pros and other creative types.

      Great that you stopped by. Thanks.


  • rob joy says:

    Hey Jimbo!

    Great post man…the kind of critiques you speak of are the kind I yern for…there was something someone said cant remember who…

    words to this effect “if you want to know if the copy is gonna get a response than the client will…bitch bout it…if they love the piece…than it’s gonna BOMB!!!”

    That is one way anyone could guage their copy if they dont have anyone to turn to…

    Like John said in interview I herd once you need to do 10,000 hours or 40 hours week for 5 years…before you get good at writtin copy..

    Sure there are short cuts…you need to write everyday…

    I totally love the fact guys like you, John, Dan, John’s biz partner Stan…just knock out the b.s.and force you to see what you may be blind to…

    I think you few guys like that in your life to ‘knock’ the b.s. outta your head…

    Be able see things for how they really are…such shame that we are (as kids) told fairy tales about life…

    Like you and John do and shake people outta their comfort zone is the same thing I do with my kids (from previous marraige)

    …I love em to much to fill their heads with rubbish…in loving way…

    I kinda knock out what is not right…so they see clearly…

    I really appreciate this post as I do with every post John puts up…

    Cheers dude!



    P.S. I know John may not be in his office…
    he may be busy up the ying-yang…is there any chance…one of John’s or Stan’s assitants could ‘pop’ out copy of the freelancer course? ….

    I hate to nag like old woman…I just dying down here need to get ‘real’ lesson in how to be ‘A’ class writer instead of ‘F’ class…(unpaid & ripped off writer)…

    • John Carlton says:

      I’m reviewing the Freelance Course right now… we’ll have the updated version out really soon…

      • rob joy says:

        Thank you John (sincerely appreciate your time responding)…could you please email me the order page direct to my personal email account…count me in dude…I dont need to be convinced or anything I KNOW, I need ur help-later.:O)

    • Jimmy Curley says:


      Great to have you chime in brother.

      Yes… I KNOW when an ad is good if the client starts sweating profusely followed quickly by dry heaving.

      Throwing up on his desk means a home run.

      Seriously, if the ad doesn’t take people a little out of their comfort zone then prospects will simply “zone out” while reading.

      (Prospects zoning out is bad.)

      I’ve been writing for a lot of years, but have seen, in fact, students go through the SWS and become very competent writers quickly.

      Thanks again for the comment.


  • Robert Gibson says:

    Great post Jimmy!
    I remember the first time I got a letter
    marked up by the legal department. Red lines crossing out parts of my copy to stay compliant. Drove me nuts at first. But they helped me understand the rules. Reebok has to pay $25 million to customers of their toner shoe because they hyped the results in their marketing. Someone there ignored the rules. Not being open to outside feedback cost them big time. One of many reasons to get the right people on your team. I’m sure Reebok has some good people in compliance. But the best people on your team can only help if you’re willing to listen.
    $25 million- gone. Bet they listen next time.

    • Jimmy Curley says:


      I think the line that got them into so much hot water was something like “These shoes will make your butt 28% more firm”.

      I guess after some investigation it became apparent that the only thing that had to do with butts, was where they had pulled that figure.

      So not only gotta have an experience pro looking at your work for sales flow and proper tone and voice…

      … but you also have to make sure you’re staying within the guardrails of the law.

      I’ve written a lot of Chiropractic ads and some stuff for ingestables. MUST make sure your facts are in order.

      Great post Robert… thanks!


  • Doc says:

    Hey Jimmy! Nice post, so insightful –Thing is, it sure looks simple enough. So what’s the problem?
    Wow, that line came in handy!
    Well, I’m just glad you were there to step into John’s shoes a few years back…remember though,
    Brown shoes Don’t make it Quit school Why fake it? -so says frank.
    keep writing those winners – you really should make me sound nicer, hah.

    Doc O’Leary

    • John Carlton says:

      Ah, first quote of Frank Zappa on the blog this year. Thanks, Doc. Good to hear from ya…

      • Jimmy Curley says:

        Hey Doc:

        Appreciate you stopping by.

        For anyone who doesn’t know, Doc O’Leary is the golf guy who John made famous (and made a small fortune).

        My favorite Zappa quote:

        “You can’t be a Real Country unless you have a BEER and an airline – it helps if you have some kind of a football team or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a BEER.”

        Thanks for dropping by Doc. Always good to chat with you.


  • Kevin Dawson says:

    Wow… the story about the kid getting slapped around by the nuns, and tripping over his shoe-laces… that was me!

    But let me tell you, without the SWS experience, I would never be where I am today!

    Time for another round?

    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Okay… okay… (sigh) Kent Jankowski is really me.

      I’m kidding. But anyone who has gone through Catholic grade school has VERY similar (and funny) stories.

      Thanks Kevin.


  • Orestes says:

    Thanks John for bringing Jimmy here and
    allowing him to share those great insights
    and wisdom about copy writing.

    Thanks Jimmy for sharing it with us!

    And thanks John for having the best Blog on

  • jane pimentel says:

    Wow – this is really good, never thought about it like this. I remember my son saying something about my writing – too sappy. After I reread it, I realized he was right. He would be the uncle in the story. However, I guess I need to find some mean guy to tell it like it is – ha, ha I meant qualified professional.

    • Jimmy Curley says:

      Hi Jane:

      Glad you stopped in.

      (Gotta be careful here… only a handful of very special people can claim their son is also their uncle.)

      But yes, very few folks, even top corporate execs like yourself (Jane was a marketer for a little company known as “Apple Computers” people), have access to experts who will honestly point out flaws in their communication style.

      It’s a huge hole that’s hurting a lot of businesses and individual marketers.

      Thanks again for posting Jane.


  • Ed says:

    Wow, very true. Thanks for the wonderful insights. By the way, what surprises me more, is the time that you put on replying to comments.
    I thought Superstar Copywriters, fully-booked for years, can’t even take time off to pick their nose! (lol, just kidding).
    Seems to me that you are still in control of your time, not by the schedules set by your clients.
    Anyway, Great stuff! Glad I have nothing to snort while reading. 🙂

    • Jimmy Curley says:


      The kind words are much appreciated.

      Writing the actual blog is only half the job… the other half is the fun stuff — making sure people like you get to enjoy it and have their comments and questions addressed.

      Gotta admit I get a charge outta that second part.

      Thanks for the comment…


  • I’m super busy on a deadline but always take time out to read Carlton’s blog…even if it’s just a skim.

    Curley I loved your metaphors so much I couldn’t stop reading. (Thanks John for the reassurance there are lots of Eddie Haskells waiting in the wings to take us down. No wonder you’ve mellowed. You can’t fight human nature all the time and have enough energy to enjoy life!)

  • Interesting take there Jim, describing four types of possible responses, some that could be helpful for improving, and some to be avoided.
    Thanks John for bringing in Jim and the humor, it’s a really important part of life.

    • John Carlton says:

      Oh, so now I’m not funny anymore?

      Kidding. All the writers in my inner circle are screaming hilarious, and we give as good as we take. These guys, Jimbo and K-man and the rest, are a living modern version of the Algonquin Table, and it’s a highlight of my life to engage with any of them…

  • Hey Jimbo,

    You’re right on here. My dad would always say when he handed somebody his copy and asked them to read it, if they said it was good, he knew it was a bomb. But if they asked him where and how they could get whatever the copy was selling, there was a good chance it was a winner.

    I think it’s best to share your copy with someone (who is a likely prospect) and tell them it was written by somebody else and that you wanted their opinion on it. That way they wouldn’t feel obligated to say nice things about it when they didn’t really like it.

    I remember Eric Weinstein told me that if my dad gave him some copy to read, and he thought the promotion would do well. It was a sure dud.

    I think copywriters are a different breed of human being, because like Robert Ringer said, you’re much better off dealing with the world as it is, instead of how you wish it to be. And copywriters have to deal with real world, and recognize the unspoken thoughts and actions of people. I think it’s a real eye-opener when copywriters and marketers get that raw dose of reality about peoples true nature, it goes in the face of everything we were told when we were growing up.

    Every copywriter who crosses the threshold of the “real reality” automatically becomes a member of a select group. They all have a new x-ray perspective of the world that both empowers and disappoints all at the same time. It almost invariably instills a new and twisted sense of humor that only another marketer can truly appreciate. And allows them to abandon what is usually called common sense. It’s only after they see the world for how it really is that they start begin to be truly effective.

    Perhaps John was trying to force feed you hefty doses of reality in order to fast-track your success.


    PS please don’t make me print this out and tear it up.

  • Den Curley says:

    Hey Brother Jim,
    Wow. Good stuff. And, dang dude, you got me to remember when you drew that horse. I remember how you refused to believe me at first when I told you the legs were too short. I felt bad because you looked like I just punched you in the stomach. (It was way more fun to really punch you.) Yeah, I could tell that you were thinking I was maybe being Eddie Haskell-ish. But you did sit down and redraw that horse till you got it right. Proud of you, bro.

  • […] [Ed Note: You won’t find him selling his services to just anyone, even his own website (he doesn’t have one). Instead, Jim Curley has been mastering his copywriting skills behind the curtain in some of the most competitive niches, like Golf and Self-Defense, for 20 years now. He’s a master copywriter who's ads sell at peak volume. Mentored by the great John Carlton, you can read Jimbo's orignal post published on John's blog here.] […]

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