Bad John, Good John

Amazon Best Sellers - Marketing - Direct copy 2

Sunday, 11:59am
Reno, NV
You’re so vain…” (Carly Simon, dissing Warren Beatty)


I’ve been meaning to explain some things to y’all for a while, and there’s no better time than now to do it.

Cuz, huzzah, my latest ebook just zoomed to the top of the pile in multiple categories on Amazon last week. “Simple Success Secrets No One Told You About” is the first (of several) “best of” compilations from the archives of this blog… and anyone who’s enjoyed reading my drivel should probably pony up the $2.99 and grab it. (Here’s the link.)

Great for you brain. Great for your motivation. Great for your bottom line (if you’re after wealth and happiness). Great all the way around, I gotta say.


I still feel the need to warn folks that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. Long-time readers of my rantings know what to expect, of course — deliberately mangled grammar, lots of cussing and outrageousness, and absolutely no quarter given to bullshit at any time. This is hard-core biz and living-well advice, tactics and solutions.


… most of my stories revolve around my misadventures out there in the cold, cruel world.

This is not because I’m some rabid egomaniac. (I actually advocate murdering your ego, because it does more harm than good in anyone’s life. Including mine. At the beginning of my seminars, I always spend some time theatrically having people “toss” their ego, so the event can progress without folks getting offended, feeling personally attacked, or just getting their panties in a twist because their ox got gored. Ego sucks.)

No. The reason my books and lessons usually feature a look inside my head is simply because that’s how I learned everything I know about life and business. Since the very first days of my career, I have tried to live an “examined life”, just like Aristotle advised. (Or was it Socrates? Never mind.) I reconsidered my life as an ongoing movie, and I had input to how the script played out…

… so I strove to understand what happened to me each day. And then I deconstructed each event — what the facts were, how I reacted, what I did that was okay, what I did that was clearly a dumb-ass blunder, and what the other “actors” did or didn’t do to contribute to the scene.

This is how I managed to find the great lessons of life and biz. You do something, things cook or explode or simmer, and consequences ensue. And then you study every shred of it. 

I was a one-man living laboratory for testing out the theories and advice and tactics I encountered. Because my freelance career kept me busy with a now-uncountable number of fresh clients (all with unique businesses and situations and neuroses and problems), I had a front-row seat for the biggest show around: How things get either done or botched-up in reality.

If I read a biz book that offered advice on negotiating with clients, for example, I could often put it to use the very next day. If it worked, I used it again and kept refining it. If it didn’t work, I tried to see how I could have screwed it up… or how it was bullshit advice in the first place. (This happened a lot, by the way. Books are essential to learning, but theories that do not actually WORK in the real world are useless. And yet, maybe half the biz books out there are just spring-loaded bullshit dispensers.)

Same with all the tactics I picked up from other writers and mentors, or observed during biz transactions. And also with all the advice for how to prosper, or live healthier, or reduce stress, or a thousand other nuggets of insight (or drivel) that could affect the quality of my life.

I was relentless, too. I wanted to figure out what created success, and what triggered failure. There were HUGE lessons no matter what happened — in fact, I learned more from failing than I ever did from accidentally doing anything correctly…

… as long as I dissected what happened, and learned from it.

I’ve often said that — because I was so freakin’ clueless when I started out — I made most of the mistakes possible in the first decade of my career (and throughout my private life). And… I learned SO MUCH from those mistakes, that I’m sorry I didn’t make EVERY mistake possible. It simply would have expanded my self-education even further.


… when I write about a lesson in biz or life in general… it’s a lesson I’ve learned personally. Usually by making a mess, and immediately cleaning it up, examining every detail of what went down, deconstructing the good and bad points… and figuring out what I could have done differently.

THEN… and this is important… I went back out (often the very next day) and DID IT RIGHT. Whether it was negotiating with a client, using naps to organize my thoughts (like David Ogilvy), writing better bullets, dealing with a disgruntled customer on the phone, finding the best lists to mail, or whatever…

… I learned my lesson, and re-engaged with the world to see if what I learned was spot-on, or needed refinement, or was part of that “nuanced” arsenal of biz tactics that require focus, new skills and multiple decision points to put into action.

So, yes, I’m the dude in the center of the story. I’m not discussing theory here, or something I’ve heard about from some wonderful source.

Nope. My stories are about me, out there in the jungle, chewing up scenery and knocking stuff over and making huge messes…

… and then figuring out how to do better, and then DOING better almost immediately.

The charge I sometimes hear –that I’m an egomaniac who is arrogant about giving advice –is just pure bullshit. I’m a total introvert, and prefer to spend the majority of my life away from crowds. My books seem autobiographical simply because sharing the best lessons require giving you a peek into my life… and so that’s what I do. I share what I’ve learned (the hard way) as a copywriter, as a business owner, as a consultant, as a regular person just trying to do the right thing out there.

I’ve lived a great life, crammed with adventure, heartache, stark terror, love, and more success than I’ve ever felt I deserved. I’m humbled that others consider me a resource for learning, and proud that my career of blunders and missteps can serve as a shortcut for others. So you don’t have to spend decades making every mistake out there, just to figure out what the good lessons are. I’ve already done that. I’m bruised, scarred, and grizzled from the process, but happy to share.

In truth, you’ll still want to learn some of the really juicy lessons yourself anyway. Like “money doesn’t buy happiness”. It’s just more effective (and often more fun) to discover that for your own bad self… though, having a little foreknowledge from a trusted dude like me will at least prepare you when Reality smacks you in the face (and wallet, and soul, and heart) later.

I knew NONE of the essential lessons when I started out. I was like a babe in the forest, blundering along with nothing but a small amount of skills, a huge amount of chutzpah, and a raw determination to get it right (based on my flimsy plan, which didn’t have an alternative to making freelancing work as a new career.) I literally had no idea what I’d do if I failed — a situation I do NOT advise anyone else to attempt, though the motivation was pretty spectacular (if scary as hell).

There is plenty of real arrogance and “full of yourself” attitudes in the biz world. I’ve dealt with a vast mob of clients, colleagues, customers, prospects, looky-loo’s, rubber-neckers, jerks, heroes, lovers, haters, n’eer-do-well’s and basket cases…

… and I’ve spent a lifetime figuring out what makes them tick. And buy. And flee, and get mad, and go off the deep end, and melt down, and everything else this crazy human race is capable of.

I love it all. And I love my fans and readers dearly, and really care about making this process of learning fun, funny and memorable.

So that’s why I write my stories from a personal point-of-view.

And it’s why those tales are so vivid, and crammed with twists and turns. It’s real life. I want the freakin’ pain I experienced getting educated to have had a purpose.

Again — I’m honored that you find my blog, my books, my courses and speeches worthwhile. I get chills when I hear from someone who had a breakthrough, or a sudden success, or even just started on a better path because of a lesson I shared.

Get the latest ebook, or don’t. (Just click on the icon at the top of the right hand column here.) You can wander through the archives on this blog for free, of course, and track the posts down in their original form. That’s why we priced this ebook so low (it’s just $2.99), because it’s all from the blog. But it’s edited, and organized, and in a pretty awesome presentation. Easy to read, nice to have on your Kindle or iPad or whatever, a damn good kick in the butt for any entrepreneur or freelancer wanting to take your game up a few levels.

If you don’t mind, if you DO purchase the ebook, go back to the Amazon page (here) and leave a review. No matter what you thought of the stories and advice, other potential readers rely on reviews like yours to help decide whether to invest some time in the ebook or not.

Some of the reviews I’ve had for other books have been outraged at my language, at the raw honesty, and at what they perceive as my “arrogance” in writing from a personal point of view.

Doesn’t matter. For every person who is insulted or angered, I know that multiple other folks were relieved to have found a nutcase like me who tells it like it is, and has the experience, savvy and track record to help out.

Stay frosty, my friend.


P.S. Love to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments section. I’ll wander in there to see what kind of ruckus you’re causing.







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  • John,

    I am fortunate to have read:

    1. Your book The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Getting Your Shit Together (in paperback, don’t like reading Kindle ebooks, yet).

    2. Kickass Secrets and The Freelancer’s Course.

    The section in The Freelancer’s course titled “Get Good” … that is a blueprint for any copywriter to “get their chops.” Honing their chops, well, that’s a lifelong process that’s fun as hell and never ends.

    I can (and do) highly recommend both to any copywriter.

    As for this post, to me, it’s one of those life (and marketing) lessons. You put yourself out there, and you attract who you’re going to attract (applies in various situations). The rest either don’t understand yet, or never will.

    They say when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Probably applies here.

    I find your honesty, your ability to describe the “real” of this biz (and life), and your humor valuable. Each for a different reason.

    The rest of it just makes you, you.

    So you keep being you, John … stay frosty. 😉

  • Piotr Zawadzki says:

    Hello John ,

    One of my friends shared with me your course “Kick Ass Copy Writing Secrets Of Marketing Rebel” and I listened to it at least 7 times and read the transcript at least 5 times.

    It gives me confidence I’ll be able to create my own product and sell it on the web.

    I also read Gary Halbert’s letter. I read around 100 issues in a few days. And I feel I started to get the foundations of marketing.

    In one of the issues Gary Halbert said to copy winning sales letters by hand to create impressions on the brain.

    I do it for about 3 hours a day now. I copied your “One legged Golfer Letter ” a few times and the letters you have on the site selling your products.

    Plus I found online other letters your wrote.

    Your copy just sings and makes me secretly envious.


    I have a question for you.

    Do you recommend I copy other writers like Clyton Makepeace, Gary Bencivenga or I stick with just one or two styles ( I copy yours and Gary Halbert’s letters now)

    Plus do you recommend I copy one letter over and over again or I copy new letter each time?

    Could you recommend me something that would make me better at writing cash-sucking letters faster?

    Do you think if I write 300 winning sales letters by hand that would make me good at copy writing? ( I’m willing to do it till my hand swells. And no I’m not looking for easy way out. But you are the master and I want to know what you think )

    Thank you in advance for your soul crashing , ego ruining honest answer 🙂


    P.S. Thank you for your legacy. I feel inspired by your work to become the best I can be.

  • Carl Picot says:

    I’ve been continually going through your products and trainings for the last 5 years John — I will purchase this one today.

    Your copywriting training has been like my personal bible and I dissect each letter to work out exactly what you’ve done and why you’ve done it.

    I must admit — your observations of human behaviour echo mine very closely — I just need to learn to sell to them as well as you and understand the triggers that make them take action.

    Great stuff

    cheers Carl

  • Hey John,

    As one of your “marketing rebel” students, I appreciate you down-to-earth, no BS, tell-it-like-it-is (or at least, tell-it-as-you-see-it) style.

    As soon as I finish making this comment, I’ll be hoping on over to Amazon to get your latest book. I know I’ll gain much from reading it…

    …because your courses, your books, your blog posts, have not just help me to write better copy and take my freelancing to the next level, your lessons and insights have helped me develop in my overall outlook in biz as well. Still learning from life’s lessons, yet able to take a step back and examine what’s working and what’s not; eating the meat and throwing out the bones.

    Thanks again.

    Will endeavor to stay frosty without freezing up. 🙂

    Have a great one.


  • I just started your “Simple Writing System” just finished Step 2 and I can’t wait to wrap my head around implementing every thing suggested.

    I read and loved the “Entrepreneur’s Guide to Getting your Shit Together” I think I’ll send a copy to my kid who is just starting his career as an Army officer.

    Thanks for sharing your heart and lessons with the world, I very much appreciate some light on the path….


  • Pam Shannon says:

    Hi John,

    I’ve been following your stuff since 2007 and you never cease to inspire me with your honest, direct style.

    I’m just getting serious about my freelance copywriting business using a bunch of courses from AWAI…but when I need inspiration (often) I pull out your Simple Writing System and the results blow the instructors away. I can hardly wait to see what happens with real paying clients!

    By the way just this morning I was reading in The Entrepreneurs Guide To Getting Your Shit Together that you’d worked with troubled kids. I look forward to meeting you at Bootcamp in October and discussing this in more depth as I believe we’re on the same page, especially regarding the boot camp class idea. I’ve been advocating something like that for my adopted daughter for at least 3 years now.

    Keep on keeping on…and inspiring the world,


    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Pam. Yeah, I’m working on making my talk at the AWAI bootcamp something that shocks, offends and delights, all in one thrilling 90-minute bubble. Please do say hello… but be forewarned that I almost never hang out at those events (unless I’m watching baseball at the bar), and never talk biz outside the ballroom. I say this because, as a Stage Ten introvert (the worst kind), I only have so much energy to hang out with people, and then I gotta recharge. I’m never being intentionally “rude”, but I do protect my space pretty severely. Actually, you’re probably used to that at AWAI — I know for a fact that my pals Dan Kennedy and Clayton Makepeace are the same way.

      Anyway, please do come up and introduce yourself. Elbow some of the hoi polloi aside and just say you’re the writer who comments on the blog. That gets you better treatment… 🙂

  • Mateja says:

    Hi John, many thanks for sending your always inspiring newsletters into my mailbox… at least I know you are human just like me, that makes me feel safe and I then know it’s OK to fail aslong as I get back up and move on… I’m using your tips and trick on a personal and professional level, and it definately helped me to treat my clients and people I know in a better way. In life everything is paralell so I’m taking one step at the time… right now I’m writing a sales ad for my house and I will definately use the skills I learned from you. Thanks and Blessings to you.
    Mateja from Sweden 🙂

    • John Carlton says:

      Wait… I never admitted to being human.

      Okay, you got me. I’m human. A fumbling, vulnerable, sometimes-inspired human just like the rest of us. Funny how long it can take to realize that the effort you’re putting out in the world is often — OFTEN — just fine, and any grief you’re putting on yourself is just part of the human condition. Our default mechanisms tend to downplay the good stuff that happens to us, and give too much attention to the perceived “bad stuff”. Happiness comes with accepting who we are, and then going out and doing the best we can with that starting condition. That’s a great thing to have on your grave, in fact: He did the best the could, achieving good stuff despite everything.

      I’d also add to that marker: … and he had the cojones to fail spectacularly, learn his lessons, and get back out there.

      Life is wonderful and terrifying at the same time. Get used to that, and the rest comes much, much easier…

      Anyway, thanks for the note, Mateja. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

  • John, your writing is a refreshing oasis in a sea of intellectual clutter. I have read most of your stuff and I appreciate your sharing, and just how you share it. Thank you for being a refreshing grizzled oasis of brilliance that we can relate to.
    As you would say, keep frosty!

  • Dean says:

    Great stuff again John…”Keep on Keeping On”.

  • Stan Scott says:

    You referred to yourself as a Stage Ten introvert. I didn’t realize there were stages to this malady I suffer. I must be at a similar stage. It’s hard as hell for me to get out of my cubicle (home office) though I know I should.

    I’ve listened to your recordings of Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets a dozen times and watched the DVDs of The Simple Writing System half a dozen times and read your other books…but it doesn’t do a damn bit of good unless I get out to meet potential clients. How do you do it?


    • John Carlton says:

      There are several posts in the archives here on introverts. Plus on my FB feed. Just google “how introverts thrive in an extroverted world” or something similar. There’s a huge glut of stories about introverts these days — it’s like it was just discovered.

      In short, you learn to mimic extrovert behavior. It’s not hard to do. You have a limited amount of time you can pull it off, so you protect your “recovery time” like a rabid pit bull. You gotta recharge. The main difference between an introvert and an extrovert is that both like parties and hanging out with people (at least occasionally)… but the extrovert GAINS energy from being around people, while the extrovert LOSES energy doing the same stuff. We need to go be alone when we’ve hit our limit, and recharge our batteries with solo stuff — reading, meditating, whatever.

      As far as getting clients, you just put on your “go get clients” hat when you need to. Requires networking, which ain’t brain science. Most of the tactics are explained in The Freelance Course, which is available in the right hand column here…

      Step #1: Stop hiding behind your shyness. It’s a choice, even if it feels like you’ve been forced into it. Choose to change. Then research your options, and get busy.

      Good luck.

  • Ryan McGrath says:

    Hi John:

    Not sure if you remember me or not. We met at last year’s AWAI event in Delray Beach. I hung out with you and David Deutsch for a few minutes at the bar of the hotel. I’m a copywriter with Agora Financial.

    Anyway, just read your newest book and loved it…

    One question — I know you’ve were a huge fan of motivational/personal development books. Do you have a list of favorite books? Specific favorite self-help titles?

    Asking because I’m kind of a motivational junkie myself. I’d love to know which were your favs. I think you mentioned Think and Grow Rich as one of them. Any others you can share? If not, thanks again for publishing Simple Success Secrets.

    Take care,

    Ryan McGrath

    • John Carlton says:

      I remember, Ryan. I’ll be speaking at that AWAI event again, in October.

      You can pretty much just look up the top selling motivational books from the 80s, and that’s what I read. Think and Grow Rich, How To Win Friends And Influence People (be sure to get an edition from the 1950s or earlier — they “updated” it and ruined it in the 90s)… all the Og Mandino books, like Greatest Salesman In The World… Psycho Cybernetics by M Schmaltz… the Wilshire Publishing editions of Rational Emotive Therapy books… everything by Carl Rogers and Milton Erickson and Bandler (NLP guy)… I’m Okay, You’re Okay… and so on.

      It’s all pretty formulaic, the pop stuff. So there’s probably a whole new line up of good stuff. I remember little of the specifics, but I wasn’t reading for specifics — I read, early in my career, to pump up my motivation. That’s all those books do, and as the tactics age, they become less powerful for you. But you create your own along the way. The stuff I’ve invented works way better for me than anything I’ve read… but, again, it’s all going back to the fundamentals of psychology and attitude and self-hypnosis and mediation.

  • Brandon Whited says:

    Hi John,

    You’re no bs style is truly something to be modeled.

    On the part where you say don’t try becoming a freelance copywriter without an alternative…

    What lays ahead for me is my last year of university. Like you I was fired from a job and it made me realize how much I hate being talked down to. I decided to use my passion for psychology and jump into copywriting.

    So now I have about 7 months until May when college ends to support myself with copywriting. I feel the pressure now and it is pulverizing me. When you first began how did you deal with this and did you actually work 16 hours a day in the beginning to get started? In your kick-ass copywriting manual you said you were “eerily calm” at the beginning how is this so?

    I would hate to get some lame 9-5 job after college or even worse no job at all and fail to move to California/get the hell out of New Jersey.



    • John Carlton says:

      I do NOT recommend you follow my lead when planning a career. I was 32 when I left (okay, got fired from) my last corporate job, and adrift in the world. My rags-to-riches tale should be a warning to you, not something to emulate. True, not having an alternative to making this weird new career work provided me with oodles of great motivation… but even great motivation is no guarantee of success. That motivation, for me, created a huge need for discipline (of which I had little) and follow-through. I could have easily failed. But I did NOTHING ELSE but apply myself to the gig — no social life, no other projects, nothing but searching for clients and getting jobs (sometimes at criminally low pay), knowing I was honing my chops and learning the ropes as I went. Yes, I worked all day long, weeks on end. In a fever.

      Taking “regular” jobs while you get your act together is no crime. It, in fact, can help make you understand more about the biz world (which is essential for a good copywriter). Copywriting is a tough gig. You don’t just begin it in a short time frame and expect it to pay off. Your first years will be skinny, unless you luck out to a degree you cannot plan on.

      You’re not ready yet to launch a freelance career. Get some more life experience, get some “real” jobs, and keep honing your writing skills. And watching for opportunities — your boss may need something written, an ad or even just some signs. Or a menu, or whatever. Get ahold of The Freelance Course, if you can afford it. It outlines the 3 stages of becoming a good freelancer… and especially helps you understand not to expect wondrous things right out of the gate. And work on becoming calm, centered, and not impatient. I know it sucks, but it’s a critical grown-up skill that will serve you well in the biz world.

      You’ll get to California when you’re ready. I know you will.

      • Brandon Whited says:

        Thanks John,

        My dad told me I should get a job and make money in the beginning. I thought it was just a cop-out for me to just “get a job”.

        Thanks for bringing me back down to planet earth. I actually have your freelance course too. But my own delusions blinded me to the time-frame that is necessary for success.

        Thanks again,


  • Aida says:


    Will you be conducting another SWS course with the instructors again soon?


  • John Orban says:

    Hmmm…I thought Simon was writing about Mick Jagger…probably doesn’t make any difference, they were both vain.

    But, I think, I’d rather be Jagger-vain than Beatty-vain.

    I mean Bonnie and Clyde was good but Faye Dunaway was the reason to watch that movie. I will NEVER forget, BTW, the night I saw that movie. It was in a movie theatre in NYC – packed to the gills – standing room only. When that final scene played out it was stunning. The entire audience, I mean every single person in that theatre, got up and without a word walked out of that theatre – no talking, absolute silence. I’ve never experienced anything like that before or since. I remember it as clearly today as when it happened almost 50 years ago. (Can you believe it FIFTY freaking years?)

    • John Carlton says:

      Naw — Jagger sang on the record. It was a big mystery for several years back in the seventies, but Carly eventually confessed it was Beatty. The Jagger thing was just a rumor…

      That movie, by the way, has a great story. It was released, bombed, and would have never had nation-wide release if Beatty hadn’t pushed for it. A year later, it was re-released and hit it big. You’d think Hollywood would learn from lessons like that, but they still allow good independent film sink if the initial numbers aren’t boffo…

  • Scott says:

    Have to say I was one of those people who read John’s material obsessively but found it irritating and “arrogant”. Unsubbed from it all but kept coming across his work while Googling writing tips – Just used a storytelling post of John’s from 2008 to fine tune an article for a client (the 3 sentence story exercise). Very useful stuff that works.

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