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Best Copywriting Books: The Complete List

Updated on March 19, 2013

The Best Copywriting Books of All Time

Direct response advertising's roots go back to the early 1900s. Since then, countless books have been written about direct response copywriting and advertising.

This lens seeks to highlight the very best copywriting books of all time.

P.S. The picture to the left is of Claude Hopkins, the author of the first book I've included in this lens.

First, a Little Background

I have been a writer practically my whole life. I began writing and publishing regularly in early high school. I then became a professional advertising copywriter in 2002 and went freelance in 2005. Since then I've written copy for scores of clients in dozens of markets. And I've read a lot of copywriting and advertising books.

This lens includes books that I have bought, books that I have read, and books that I wish I could get my hands on. As you'll see, most of the books are 20+ years old, but there are a few modern books included as well.

I've broken up the books into 5 different categories: Copywriting Classics, Rare Copywriting Books, Modern Copywriting Books, Memoirs, and Copywriting Reference Books.

By the way, if you think I've overlooked an important book, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this lens.

Category #1: Copywriting Classics

Classic Copywriting Books That Are Still in Print

Below I share the top copywriting classics that are still in print and relatively easy to acquire. These volumes should be in every direct response copywriter's library.

Scientific Advertising - by Claude Hopkins

Claude Hopkins wrote two books about direct response advertising and copywriting: My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising. The former is autobiographical and the latter is instructional. Both books are available in a single volume.

Scientific Advertising could possibly be the most important advertising book ever written. James Sadler, a "Top 1000 Reviewer" on Amazon, says,

"All advertising before Scientific Advertising flows into it; and all advertising after Scientific Advertising flows out of it."

If you haven't yet read the book, you're being deprived of some the most profound advertising wisdom ever recorded. Despite its age (it was written in 1933) and brevity (it's only 100 pages), Hopkins' masterpiece is as relevant today as when it was first written.

It's rumored that marketing consultant Jay Abraham read Scientific Advertising over 50 times. Internet business coach Terry Dean has read it numerous times, and even created a complete marketing system from it. And David Ogilvy, the advertising genius who founded the Ogilvy & Mather agency, says...

"Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book (Scientific Advertising) seven times. It changed the course of my life."

-David Ogilvy

Author of Confessions of an Advertising Man

The bottom line: Scientific Advertising (and its companion book, My Life in Advertising) is must-read material for any serious marketer, copywriter, or advertising professional.

Breakthrough Advertising - by Eugene Schwartz

Eugene Schwartz was one of the most talented copywriters of the 20th Century. And to this day, his book Breakthrough Advertising stands out as one of the most sophisticated books about copywriting and advertising ever written.

The reason I say this is because Schwartz is the only copywriter who teaches about the prospect's state of awareness and the various phases of market sophistication. He also explains how the market's level of sophistication determines the approach the copywriter should take.

If all you did was read the first 3 chapters of this book, it would be more than worth the cost to acquire it.

P.S. Make sure you check out Great Leads below, which builds on the foundation laid by Schwartz in Breakthrough Advertising.

Ogilvy on Advertising - by David Ogilvy

This is one of the first advertising books I ever read. It's still one of my favorites.

I like it because it examines a number of ads that David Ogilvy wrote and why they worked. He covers a variety of copywriting principles as well as good ad design principles.

No advertising library is complete without this classic from Ogilvy.

Category #2: Rare Copywriting Books

These Copywriting and Advertising Books Are Hard to Get

The rare books listed below are worth getting and reading. Although these books will probably only be found in the libraries of the most enthusiastic copywriters and advertising buffs.

How to Make Your Advertising Make Money

The Robert Collier Letter Book - by Robert Collier

My First Sixty Years in Advertising - by Maxwell Sackheim

"Do You Make These Mistakes in English?" was perhaps Sackheim's most famous ad. But what most people don't realize is that Sackheim wrote hundreds of ads in all kinds of markets.

My First Sixty Years in Advertising is unique as an advertising book because Sackheim refrains from offering advice. Rather, he gives you a tour of his advertising career, starting with the ads he wrote for farm equipment and first-generation automobiles, and ending with ads that sold supplements, courses, and even lobsters shipped from Maine. (Just imagine how much advertising changed in 60 years!)

I don't recommend you get My First Sixty Years in Advertising if you're looking for a systematic "how-to" copywriting book. But I would recommend it if you'd like a chronological history of advertising during the 20th Century, complete with reprints of many of Sackheim's most famous ads.

How to Make More Money With Your Direct Mail - by Ed Mayer

Ed Mayer was who Gary Halbert turned to when he wanted to polish his direct mail skills. In fact, Phil Alexander writes:

"Ed Mayer was SO gifted that Gary Halbert himself wouldn't attend his 'advanced' classes, and happily sat in his beginner classes. Halbert knew he was that good."

I bought Phil's last copy of Ed Mayer's book. It's very difficult to get these days.

Reality in Advertising - by Rosser Reeves

Are you familiar with the idea of the Unique Selling Proposition -- also known as the "USP"? This concept -- and phrase -- was invented by Rosser Reeves and explained in his 1961 book Reality in Advertising.

This book is not so much about copywriting as it is about products and the unique ideas that sell them. As such, this is less a book about techniques as it is a book about ideas, concepts, and strategies. An important book for the serious advertiser.

Category #3: Modern Copywriting Books

From the Late 20th Century and Beyond

These copywriting and advertising books have been written recently. The list is short, which probably reveals my bias toward the classics.

Advertising Secrets of the Written Word - by Joe Sugarman

While most copywriting legends made careers out of writing copy for clients, Joe Sugarman made a career of writing copy for himself. That is, he wrote ads to sell his own products.

One of the things I like about Sugarman’s book is how it guides you through the ad writing process from start to finish. In a way, it’s almost like a copywriting course -- but in a book format.

Sugarman also includes reprints of space ads he wrote that performed well. These ads are useful illustrations of the principles and techniques he describes in the book.

Great Leads - by Michael Masterson and John Forde

Have you ever wondered how to start a sales letter?

More specifically, have you ever wondered whether you should start with a big promise... or a specific offer... a controversial declaration... or a compelling story?

These are the questions Masterson and Forde seek to answer in their book, Great Leads.

What makes this book so good is that it builds on the foundation laid by Eugene Schwartz in his book (listed above) Breakthrough Advertising. Schwartz talks about the levels of market sophistication and how this should dictate your approach. But while Schwartz is long on theory, he's short on details.

Masterson and Forde have come up with six specific types of leads that fit neatly along Schwartz's "sophistication scale." Once you determine how sophisticated (or not) your market is, it becomes much easier to determine what type of lead to use.

Great Leads helps you do just that.

Confessions of a Control Freak

Category #4: Memoirs

Advertising Men Share Their Stories of the Ad Business

These books are memoirs written by advertising men who've been in the ad business for years. If you like autobiographies, then you'll probably enjoy these.

Confessions of an Advertising Man - by David Ogilvy

I love this book. It's brief, well-written, and packed with insights that only come from having spent decades in the advertising business.

Among the topics covered:

* How to Manage an Advertising Agency

* How to Get Clients

* How to Keep Clients

* How to Be a Good Client

* How to Build Great Campaigns

* How to Write Potent Copy

* How to Illustrate Advertisements and Posters

* How to Make Good Television Commercials

* How to Make Good Campaigns for Food Products,

Tourist Destinations and Proprietary Medicines

* How to Rise to the Top of the Tree -- Advice to the Young

* Should Advertising Be Abolished?

As you can see, it matters little whether you are a copywriter, an agency owner, or a business owner who hires copywriters and agencies -- there's something here for everyone.

Highly recommended to all advertising professionals.

The Lasker Story, As He Told It - by Albert Lasker

Category #5: Copywriting Reference Books

Resources to Help You Write Stronger Copy

Learning the principles of copywriting and direct response advertising is important. But sometimes what you really need is a reference book packed with practical tips and techniques for writing winning copy. The books that follow fit the bill.

Words That Sell - by Richard Bayan

This is a really cool little reference book. It is basically a compilation of words and phrases that advertising copywriters can use in their ads and sales letters.

Let's say you're stuck on how to open your sales letter. Simply open up Words That Sell and turn to the "Grabbers" section. This section is further broken down into 11 different categories of Grabbers, including Teasers, Free/Prize, Sale/Discount, and more. Look for the opening phrase that fits your letter best -- and presto! You're ready to move on.

How about another scenario... Let's say you're stuck on a word or phrase. You want something stronger, but you just can't think of it. Simply turn the "Description and Benefits" section of the book where you'll find word and phrase lists for all kinds of descriptors.

Words That Sell is like a thesaurus for copywriters, but it goes way beyond synonyms. It categorizes similar words, phrases, and even similes and metaphors -- so you can find just the right turn of phrase for whatever sales copy you're writing.

2,239 Tested Secrets For Direct Marketing Success - by Denny Hatch and Don Jackson

Imagine having all of the best direct marketing tips, tricks, and secrets straight from the top direct marketers of all time.

Because that's what you get inside 2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success.

What I love about the book is how dozens of pithy tips are organized into chapters covering all the phases and elements of direct marketing. Have a specific question about your next DM campaign? Just turn to the appropriate chapter (let's say "Fundraising") and start reading!

You get the experts' best advice on copy, premiums, back-end marketing, order forms, and a whole lot more. One second you're reading Axel Andersson, the next Claude Hopkins. One second you're reading Martin Conroy, the next Drayton Bird.

From Mal Decker to Bill Jayme to Jay Abraham to Jim Rutz to Raymond Rubicam to Dick Benson... and on it goes in what seems like an endless parade of direct marketing legends.

It's like a compendium of brief direct marketing lessons -- lessons that took a lifetime to learn -- all boiled down to their essence and organized in a logical fashion for quick reference.

This really is a must-have book for direct marketers.

Million Dollar Mailings

This book is a collection of direct mail packages that generated at least $1 million in revenue.

But it's not merely a collection... it's also a book of creative insight. The reason I say this is because each DM package is prefaced with comments from the person who created the package. He reveals how the package was created, where his inspiration came from, and so on.

So it's an extremely valuable book.

Use it as a swipe file (when you have a specific piece of copy you need to write) or use it for more general inspiration and idea generation.

What do you think of this list of the best copywriting and advertising books? Have I missed any gems? Leave a comment and let me know.

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great suggestions, Ryan.

      The "2,239 Secrets" book by Hatch was a goldmine for me when I picked up about a year ago.

      I liked Sugarman's "Adweek Copywriting Handbook" a little better than "..Secrets of the Written Word' though both were similar.

      I'm surprised to not see anything by Ted Nicholas or Ben Suarez.

    • profile image

      tuesday 5 years ago

      Great list, Joe Sugarman's my favorite though, with Schwartz coming in second.

    • profile image

      Matt_Lowe 4 years ago

      Ryan Healy? That's crazy. I'm on your mailing list.

      All of these books are great. If there's one I would add, it would be Cashvertising by Drew Eric Whitman.

      Everything by Sugarman is great...Tested Advertising by Caples is another one of my favs.

      Thanks Ryan!

    • Joanne Reid profile image

      Joanne Reid 4 years ago from Prince Edward Island/Arizona

      Thank you for the list. Some I have read and some I have not. I guess this will be my summer reading.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Copywriting is a form or problem-solving. And a good book to illustrate this is Being Direct: Making Advertising Pay by Lester Wunderman.

      Cash Copy by Jeffrey Lant is underated, IMO.

      If copywriting is "salesmanship in print" - don't forget to study excellent books about sales. The Secret to Selling Anything by Harry Browne is my fav.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I think you should include Jeffrey Dobkin's Book, "How To Market A Product for Under $500!" It contains over 100 pages on how to create a great direct mail letter, and also how to rent a great mailing list. Also - over 85 pages show you how to create a solid Press Release, and increase your chances of getting it published. Finally, this title spends a full chapter on creating your own great ad, or getting one you like from an agency, the first time. I, er... I mean he... he's a great conversational, grammatically-challenged writer with awesome tips.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: This is a great post. Oh, wait⦠I wrote this. Never mind...

    • profile image

      phildrolet 3 years ago

      That's a great list. I don't know if I'll get through all of them, but anyone who even reads half of those (and applies what they learn) is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      Great post! As an expierienced copywriter, what advice can you give someone wanting to break into the copywriting field. I already have some of the books on the list including Tested Advetising Methods, Scientific Advertising, and Advetising Secrets of the Written Word. Should I just study and practice as some suggest or actually enroll in a course such as AWAI? Thanks for any input.

    • blestman lm profile image

      blestman lm 3 years ago

      Great lens. You hit a lot of the classics. You might also add anything by Gary Halpert and Dan Kennedy too. And Bob Bly. Still the list you provided will give people some very RICH reading

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