Year-End Roundup Of Good Stuff


Saturday, 1:10pm
Reno, NV
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now…” (Bob Dylan, “My Back Pages”)


A lot of my social media focus lately has been on Facebook. As much as I distrust and mildly despise The Zuck, I have to hand it to the little sociopath for figuring out a dynamic that allows for real interaction with folks…

… which lasts, on average, around one to three days. Then, even the most viral post disappears down the social media rathole and is gone forever.

So I like to rescue some of the better posts I’ve carved into the FB newsfeed, and stack ’em up here on the blog… where they’ll survive in the archives for as long as this rickety thing exists. (We’re officially at the decade mark, by the way. Ten years of posting monthly… except for January of 2012, where I inadvertently didn’t publish an intended article in time, so the archives have that single hole in them. That’s pretty freakin’ awesome.)

Anyway, no need for context here. If you’d enjoy seeing the comment threads on any of these posts, just hop over to my FB page (where you should already be following me, anyway, what are you thinking?). It’s

And, as always, I love to hear what you’re thinking in the comments here (where I often hang out and interact).

By the way… that photo up top is from the big damn AWAI seminar I was a featured speaker at, back in October. Everything about the photo (and yes, that’s Dan Kennedy sitting with us) is explained in the Psych Insights For Modern Marketers podcast I link to below (in one of the posts) (and yes, this is a tease to get you to read this entire thing).

Enjoy the year-end Facebook roundup:

Take This To The Bank, Part 11: Most people’s daily actions (eating, buying, loving, hating, grooming, working, all of it) are based on beliefs… which they regard as “true”.

You better grok this, if you want to communicate with, sell to, or persuade folks in any way.

As irrational and unfounded in reality as these belief systems can be, they become unshakeable foundations for all behavior, thought and decisions.

Rookie copywriters like to bowl readers over with facts and data and science. Yawn. These are humans you’re writing to. Reality is very subjective, and by the time perception gets past the internal obstacle course of flawed senses, emotional distress, and knee-jerk denial… your facts will get ambushed and slaughtered as efficiently as a 30’s-era mob hit.

Real persuasion occurs in the murky soup of people’s ancient, mostly-unconscious belief systems. Timid efforts ain’t gonna cut it.

Bold, and even spectacularly whacky beliefs trump crunchy facts every time.

Just something to keep in mind as you explore persuasion expertise…

A life well-lived will be roiling with stories. Seems pretty obvious.

But it’s the same with a business well-run. And a career with lofty goals. Even a project you’ve thrown yourself into. Or a single day of enthusiastic productivity.

The world spins in the greased grooves of stories. All around you, and deeply intertwined with your very existence, are stories of romance, harrowing adventure, small and large heroic episodes, and the fascinating history of your impact on everything you touch. Yes, you.

Your stories swirl and crash into the stories of your friends, colleagues, lovers, clients, family, enemies and random encounters.

Recognizing these stories, and molding them into snarling tales with a set-up, a point, and a punchline or lesson, can kick you into a higher level of conscious living. The slumbering masses ignore, deny and deflate their stories… and yet, the hunger in all of us for well-told tales is never sated.

There’s no big secret to success. It’s not the moolah or power you accumulate… it’s the wealth of experience, feelings, brain stimulation, and your impact on others generated by living large.

It’s hard to become, and stay conscious. Your stories help you catalog the good stuff, and keep you enmeshed with all the other actors in your life’s movie.

The best marketing is alive with stories, because it’s all just an extension of life well-lived.

Go chew up some scenery. The only real crime in the universe is squandering this unique, scary and wonderful existence you woke up with today…

Can I bitch about something here? That’s a good use of social media, isn’t it, bitching about stuff?

I have a little insight to how people behave, after a lifetime studying you. (Yes, you.) We’re whacky, no doubt about it.

But let me get this straight: You’re in a vehicle weighing, what, nearly two tons. Driving, usually too fucking fast for conditions, amongst many other vehicles weighing just as much, or more. Like metal beasts lumbering about the Pleistocene savannah, only with tinier brains.

Folks, do you really think running red lights is a good idea? Cig in one hand, phone in the other, steering with your pinkies and blowing lights at 15 over the speed limit…

… this makes sense to you? You’re invulnerable, against all the other metal behemoths crowding the road, with gnarly grills just itching to chew through your side door?

I’m degrading my opinion of humans again. Down to maybe 4.5 on the devolution point scale.

Ya friggin’ idiots. (Not you. Those other friggin’ idiots…)

Okay, I know you’re still stuck for a great gift idea for that special entrepreneur in your life (who could, of course, be you).

Not easy to please, entrepreneurs. They can be kinda grumpy about the tools they use to jack up the mojo in their projects.

So here’s another suggestion: The game-changing “Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” course (which remains one the essential dog-eared most-used manuals in many Top Dog’s offices) is a nice little transformation bomb you can plant on anyone in biz and get a big kiss in return.

Plus, you know, you’ll be helping to change their life trajectory, just as this little course has helped thousands of other entrepreneurs, small biz owners and freelancers.

It’s the original “how to” manual that launched (or rescued) a gazillion online and offline biz ventures, and turned many cockeyed wild ideas into moolah-belching juggernauts for a generation of entrepreneurs. More than simply still “relevant”, it’s never lost being spot-on, timeless advice, with specific tactics that have never stopped working in marketing.

Nice little freebie comes with the course, too — the shockingly useful “Power Words” report that can kick your writing up several levels immediately.

Just in case you’re stuck for gift ideas. Get your copy here.

Trying to help out here…

Memo to writers everywhere: A strange confluence of coincidences has created an interesting story here, regarding writers who give a flying shit about truth, the integrity of research and investigation, and living in the deep end of life’s pool (rather than barely getting wet in the shallows).

The fictional series “Newsroom” on HBO is currently in the middle of a plot line (which obviously was recorded many moons ago) that is being mimicked in REAL LIFE by the turmoil over at the New Republic… and it concerns a sub-plot that may (in REAL LIFE) affect your career.

Ignore the political stuff, if it bothers you. I follow news sources from every whacky end of the American political spectrum (so I know what even the scariest amongst you are obsessing on)… just grow up and get past it.

The sub-plot I’m referring to is nouveau riche young guns exerting some righteous Brave New World wrath on “old journalism” sources… by buying the joints, and destroying them.

In their eyes, it’s “disruption = great new stuff happening” — the ethos that made Silicon Valley rich and powerful.

In reality, it’s “click-bait = chaos and weak-ass journalism”, the nightmare of putting naive people with little real world experience in charge of informing the rest of us.

I’ve seen this happen with multiple online resources I used to trust. Almost overnight, they’ve gone from worthy sources of well-thought-out and well-written stories (that follow basic journalistic ethics of research and backing up angles)…

… to puff pieces on celebs, viral bullshit, and trending word clusters that get clicks. Oh, which are also poorly written, with no conscious editing, mired in first-person “this is how I feel” stories with no point. Just get Kim Kardasian into the headline.

This is NOT new in journalism, folks. Good, ethical news publications have always been outsold by tabloids… rumors and envy-laced rage has always trumped solid reporting… and shallow curiosity beats deep thought every time.

Every writer — including copywriters, script writers, speech writers, article writers, all of us — has to make a choice at some point. Are you gonna go for the easy bucks, and let ethics slide…

… or are you going to challenge yourself, take risky chances to get to a deeper level, and become a REAL writer?

You may earn less, you know. You will walk away from lucrative gigs, refuse to take the big checks from unethical clients, and lose jobs by insisting on doing what’s right (rather than what’s easy, and possibly more profitable).

It’s not one huge initial choice, either. It’s an ongoing series of choices in life, that constantly dog you. No job is safe from invasion by barbarians. No niche is a paradise of truth and ethics, once competition arrives.

The fiction of “Newsroom” can rattle you (and, yes, occasionally irritate you, too).

The reality of what just happened to a century-old magazine (New Republic) IS rattling, and IS irritating.

Young people — even stupid-wealthy ones — are not the problem. This isn’t a generational issue.

It’s about allowing naivete and untested-in-the-real-world personal feelings of omnipotence trump solid (and often non-profitable) deeper thought.

The future of a click-bait-driven media is not pretty. It’s 1984-level social thuggery in action, lulling the masses to sleep while The Man reclaims his throne.

You think we’re immune from gulags and crushing behavioral control?

Us writers will be among the first to be imprisoned and hung up on the wall, Handmaid-Tale-style, when the shit hits the fan (and few will notice, because the story may not go viral or get clicks).

The red flags are flying, folks.

Choose carefully.

Brand-spanking new podcast now posted… for free, y’all… at the usual site. Psych Insights for Modern Marketers (or pi4mm dot com) (notice how I disguised the domain name, so Zuck wouldn’t spot it and bury this post?).

All about the fastest way to sneak into the “inside” of the high-flying copywriter world (with specifics on using to get on the inside of ANY target situation, market, business, or glee club).

Road dogs have more fun that you do, and automatically get hauled behind the curtain and into the secret world of the movers/shakers. Extremely overlooked gig, and very few folks have a clue what it is, how to do it, and why you SHOULD do it.

Top “A List” copywriters who’ve written multiple gazillion-dollar campaigns have road-dogged for me. Even after they’ve become famous and rich. Why?

Feast your ears on the podcast here:

Reality Check #57: You wanna be a “real” writer?

Then write. Writers write. And rewrite, and study language and persuasion and communication, and rewrite some more putting the new skills to work immediately (constantly jettisoning the bad tactics and exercising the good ones).

Have this tattooed on your amygdala: Writers write.

This requires hours every day of solitary work. Extroverts can do the gig, but it’s easier for introverts (who are often awkward in jobs that require social skills). Both types can thrive, but only by sitting down and focusing.

Write. Write, write, write. Keep journals, exchange emails with other writers, always have a book cooking, read good writers and study their technique, and write well every time you craft a sentence. Make your To Do Lists sizzle with good verb choices. Pen emails that others actually print out and keep. Keep notepads nearby at all times, and wear your ink-stained shirts with pride. And rewrite everything before you let it out into the world. Edit, sculpt, and fortify everything you write.

The scribe guild was one of the first to manifest after civilization formed. Your writing skills can change the world… or bore folks to tears.

Real writers write. If it’s painful to write, you’re probably not suited to the gig.

Just sayin’…

Ancient “uncle” advice you’re welcome to ignore: You never really know someone, until you’ve seen how they react to being cold, wet, tired, hungry and lost.

It’s possible to spend a lifetime around someone, and never see under the masks. That’s certainly what many folks aspire to, never being exposed. Even Brave New World types who claim to embrace lives with no privacy or secrets are hiding shit from their friends and loved ones.

Most people never even truly understand themselves. Too scary. So the delusions pile up.

I feel lucky to have gone through Boy Scouts as a kid. I hated the quasi-militaristic culture, the mindless conformity, the way they frowned on mumbly-peg knife games and blowing shit up.

But, I’ll be darned, it sure gave me the opportunity to see how I dealt with being cold, wet, tired, hungry… and lost. In the woods. With other Scouts, who were NOT handling it well…

The best lessons in life come from disasters. Anyone who grows up having it too easy is pretty much guaranteed to be an unconscious azzhole as an adult, without empathy or clues on living well and playing well with others.

What do you think? Bad advice?

Department of Jealousy, Envy and Schadenfreude: One of the best coping tactics I picked up early in my career… when I was constantly having to face down new clients who were richer, better looking, more self-assured and louder than me… was the “what’s the REAL story” angle.

Here’s how it goes: When you first deal with biz folks, you’ll encounter a lot of ego and confusing status wrangling… because to survive in many biz environments, you’re either a Big Dog or you’re the poop bag dispenser. So folks scramble, lie, cheat and steal their way to positions of confidence and power.

And as you gain experience, you learn quickly that nearly all of it is a total sham. In fact, the “real story” behind the bluster, facade, masks and attitude is often the complete opposite of what’s presented. Cut any financial claim you hear in half, right off the bat. Figure that most boasting about happiness is flimsy denial. And particularly assume that anytime anyone says “money is not a problem”, that money is VERY MUCH a problem.

Freelance copywriters are privy to the real story behind the biz, the product, and everyone in the office. When you do the job correctly, you never turn off your “detective” chops (cuz hooks hide).

And very quickly, you will discover what a rickety artifice most of society and the culture is. Be happy it works, but do not be intimidated by anyone, ever.

Chances are, once you know the back-story, you wouldn’t want to spend five minutes inside their skin… no matter how awesome they present their lives to the general public.

Learn to be happy in your own skin, and you can rule the world.

Sorry, it’s the best advice I can give you: Early in your career, get your butt kicked (virtually, please) as often as possible, in every area that defines your gig. Learn your lesson, fix whatever’s missing or weak in your skill set, and get back in the game ready to do measurably better.

That’s it. Those who never fail are playing it too safe (or are just lying mofo’s protecting a sordid past). The key isn’t failing, however — it’s the lesson-learning thing.

Heck, it’s easy to fail, marinate in humiliation and believe you’re cursed, or unlucky, or being punished by the universe.

Much, much harder to buckle down and go deep into what happened, using critical thinking and goal-achievement tactics to figure it out… and do it so well that you’re actually itching for another at-bat in the same situation, so you can put your new info, skills and attitude to the test again.

Pro’s don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves, or keeping score of wins and losses. They work at getting better, all the time, and they aren’t terrified of mysteries or difficult problems. Every major step up in their career started out as a mystery or difficult problems. It’s what pro’s eat for breakfast.

Few people want to hear this kind of advice, of course. Much easier to believe there’s some “secret” to succeeding that requires little work, and rescues you from ever feeling bad or being blamed. It’s gotta be out there, It says so on the teevee machine…

Pro’s grind. Wannabe’s whine.

I’ve had around 5 mid-life crises, starting back when I hit thirty.

I enjoyed the hell out of each one (though sometimes reluctantly, since each one arrived as a “crisis” and I was deep in change and turmoil, sometimes for years).

So I’m a bit of an expert. And I discovered there are two kinds of mid-life crisis:

1. You realize you’re not happy with what you have, and you need to try something else (though you’re not quite sure what)…

2. Or, you realize you haven’t achieved what you wanted to achieve. And you need to get on your horse.

Both involve an “uh oh” reaction deep inside, one so profound it’s like an 7.5 earthquake in your system… providing a panicked sense of motivation and energy.

Which can either go well, or badly for you.

Abrupt change, not planned out very well and relying on untested gut feelings and vague notions of what might “make you happy” is a recipe for disaster.

On the other hand, an urgent period of planning, including having escape routes and Plan B alternatives… along with self-knowing goal-setting that is attainable and reasonably realistic…

… can transform your life. And limit the collateral damage in the people and things around you.

Too many folks just ignore that rumble deep inside (of wanting “something else”) until it explodes… and then they become the bull in a china shop, trying to change without direction or plan or help.

That’s fucked up. Living a full life means constantly asking yourself the hard questions, exploring the things your heart desires, test-driving the possibilities, and critically examining your experiences and lessons learned. So you get to know yourself better.

It’s only a real “crisis” if you turn it into one. The better way to look at it is as another fork in your life’s path, an expected and welcome sign that you’re changing from who you were yesterday into who you’ll be tomorrow…

… and this change sometimes has profound implications for your life, and the life of those around you.

Don’t be the bull. Start examining yourself, and your life and goals, and come to terms with where you’re at on your ticket, what’s left for the ride, and how you want to embrace this new, slightly shorter, and age-modified person you’re becoming.

You really can enjoy the whole process, and keep everyone and everything you love intact (and even happy) while still getting after what you really want.

Just sayin’. I didn’t get to be a happy grizzled veteran of life the easy way, you know, and sometimes I’ve got good advice to share…

Best Advice Ever #33: Do you understand the difference between “shame” and “remorse”? Most do not. And suffer for it.

The “voice” of shame is: “I’m a bad person.”

The voice of remorse is: “I’m a good person who screwed up. I will fix what I broke, clean up my mess, make amends if possible… and not just vow to do better, but actually take steps to learn HOW to do better next time.”

Much easier to just feel ashamed, and believe the guilt you agonize over is enough punishment to even things out. Don’t change, refuse to do the hard work of growing the fuck up, and just continue on your current path of sleep-walking.

You’ll always have plenty of company by choosing shame and never doing anything proactive to learn new behaviors or new skills. You may even enjoy snoozing through life.

But then, you just may like the new company better as you wake up and grow…

In the midst of all this wonderful holiday hubbub and chaos, take some time to just relax and gather your thoughts. Quiet room, Rhino’s “DooWop Xmas” collection on the box, another glass of eggnog (okay, you’ve had enough already, but hey, it’s the holidays) (you’ll work off the extra ounces later, no worries) (okay, the pounds, you’ll work off the pounds later, just get off my case and let me enjoy this)…

… maybe a good book. One that makes you laugh, gives you some good tips on changing your life for the better (starting right after the New Year, of course), perhaps a little advice on piling up some big bucks, too.

Here’s my list of recommended books that fit the bill nicely:

1. “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together.”


Okay, there is no number 2. Just get the “Entrepreneur’s Guide” here, and treat yourself to a transformation in thought, deed and good humor. Starting right now.

Mmm, that eggnog needs a bit more rum, don’t you think?

And that’s it for the year-end roundup.
Hope you have a great holiday, don’t get thrown in the clink on New Year’s Eve (“Amateur Drunk Night”, as we call it), and let’s reconnoiter here again early in January to start kickin’ some serious business butt, and start making all your dreams come true.
Stay frosty,
P.S. The end of 2014 also brought the passing of an early mentor, and he’s worth memorializing here again. This is what I posted a few weeks ago:

One of my first writing mentors, Jim Rutz (who was also arguably the co-inventor of the magalog, which now dominates large-scale direct mail campaigns), has passed away. It’s a sad day.

I ghost-wrote direct mail packages for Jim over the course of an entire year, after being paired with him by my much-missed agent John Finn, the first of several mentoring arrangements I was lucky to toil through. Jim was a brutal taskmaster, an over-the-top great teacher, and one of the most skilled “pure” writers I’ve ever met. Also one of the most eccentric, and while he and I existed in completely different worlds, his advice for me to let my freak flag fly (not his words, of course) helped me create my own global reputation. (I mentioned him, in fact, while passing on this advice during my speech at AWAI in October.)

I worked harder writing for Jim than I ever had, before or after that ghost-writing period. It was the best way to grow quickly as a pro, much like the classic Karate Kid’s instruction. He later mentored other A-List writers (like David Deutsch), and remained one of the top two or three “first choice” writers of the largest mail houses in the world his entire career.

Goodbye, Jim. And thanks, again.


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  • I read that Jim Rutz passed through Brian Kurtz’s newsletter. David Deutsch spoke very highly of him as David and I worked together on a promotion package.

    It’s a “circle of life” thing, with copywriters. Jim was a legend, helped mentor legends, who are creating another generation of legends. 🙂

    Jim Rutz will be missed, for sure.

    • John Carlton says:

      I hope so, Joseph. Good observation. Not to harp too much on my own career, but when I started out, I’d never met a copywriting freelancer, nor were there even very many in existence. In the Los Angeles expanded area where I sought out agencies, I met a few other freelancers, but that was it. The gig had become a lost art — most freelancers sought out permanent jobs, and most were simply not very good. Claude Hopkins’ books (“Scientific Advertising” and “My Life In Advertising”) were out-of-print, and even guys like John Caples weren’t studied.

      Guys like Jim, and Halbert, and Jay Abraham, and a handful of others across the nation, started seeking each other out in the mid-80s, largely through the newsletter marketing industry (financial newsletters were the big deal back then). When I got paired up with Jim (and later Steve Barwick, and then Gary Halbert himself) I was in hog heaven — as a guy who studied direct response (even reading those out-of-print books), I was an outsider in the world of agencies (who hated risk, and just wanted to make the client happy). When I discovered these other great writers who studied the old classic stuff, and were also eating risk for breakfast (cuz the riskier the copy, the higher the results), it was like being part of the British Invasion.

      Nearly all of us — those early writers rediscovering classic direct response, and bringing it back in a big way to modern marketing — suspected we were the vanguard of a new wave of advertising philosophy. It was a great time to be a writer. And I’m doing my best to pay it all forward with the new crop of writers…

      • Joseph Ratliff says:

        Yeah, when I do get the opportunity to work with a “Grizzled Pro,” I soak up every damn minute of it.

        Because I know I’m not going to get many shots to get the inside look like I did with David.

        No matter how “seasoned” I get, I will always be an eternal student.

        Great stuff John.

  • Will Compton says:

    Awesome… thanks John!

  • Dan says:

    You’re right about posts disappearing down the rabbit hole so I really appreciate the roundup John!

    • John Carlton says:

      Yeah, Zuck is constantly fussing with the FB philosophy on handling biz guys like me who use regular FB accounts… and I doubt we’ll ever come to a sensible solution. He wants to get paid for every post that even faintly smacks of luring people off of Facebook (or, God forbid, actually selling something). I get that, and I even agree with his logic. On the other hand, all the changes at FB are clumsy, and throw out the baby with the bathwater. Another example of experience-starved young whiz kids thinking their ability to “disrupt” equals biz savvy…

  • Chris Chia says:

    Thanks for the end of year roundup, John.

    On your comment on you trying to pay it forward with the next generation of writers, your efforts have reached halfway across the globe into sunny Singapore, so I’d say you’re doing an awesome job. 🙂

    I can’t thank you enough for stumbling upon you and your materials this year. Your book gave me the slap to the face every wandering, drifting teenager needs. Kickass copywriting secrets gave me the “click” I needed to finally have some sense of what good direct response marketing is (classic salesmanship at its core!). The freelance course gave me the blueprint to start the winding road to success as a highly paid and sought after copywriter.

    I’m sure I’m just one of the thousands of lives you’ve touched and impacted, but boy am I one lucky bastard to be one of them.

    Don’t worry about old-school direct response dying out, as I’m doing my best to carry the torch forward… I’m on a road trip in the states and Canada for Christmas, but I’m re-reading kickas copywriting secrets once again… Think I’m on my 5th reading of Scientific Advertising!

    That isn’t to say I’m just being an archivist. I’ve scaled down the biz for the December holidays, but I’ll be back into hustling the moment the plane touched down back home on the 27th. I’ve got a tripwire I’ve got to bang out before the ball drops on New Years… I’ll be huddled in my room, pecking away at a keyboard 🙂

    In the words of 21st internet generation speak: John, you are one awesome, badass mofo.

    Merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.

    Hope you’re doing well in Reno…


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