10 Best Copywriting Books Worth Buying
Must Read Copywriting Books For Entrepreneurs
I have a ton of copywriting books in my personal collection, along with several online courses and DVDs, and while I'm now not actively pursuing a direct mail copywriter career, I've learned from the books and through tutoring enough to make a living from it if I wanted to.
The truth is writing sales letters is not only exciting, but extremely lucrative. I mean people like John Carlton, Drayton Bird, David Ogilvy, the late Gary Halbert, and so many others made - and are still making a killing with the famous sales letters they've created over the years. It's no wonder that more and more people who want to work online are branching out to at least learning the basics of writing sales copy.
Afterall, even if you don't pursue copywriting as career path, you can always write the sales letters for your own products, for your own websites or simply to write content online that pulls in visitors like a magnet and makes them returning and purchasing visitors forever.
So here is my top list of best copywriting books worth buying, based on the over 40 books I've read over the years (and this includes only physical books, and not DVDs or online courses that I took). This list includes both beginner and intermediate books for anyone aspiring to become a copywriter or wants to become a better one.
Image credits: marciag - just some of my copywriting books at home
The Adweek Copywriting Handbook - by Joseph Sugarman
I can honestly say that I have lots of copywriting books and they're not only for show, but I've actually read them all and studied them while learning to write sales copy. Each of the books brings something to the table, however if you're really new at it, I can highly recommend The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joe Sugarman.
I have it in large print paperback and I would never part with it. In fact I wish I'd read it as first when I was just starting out back in 2008. It is truly a powerful book, one that is worth disecting chapter by chapter and learning from all the examples discussed within. You can really learn the basics of copywriting for this book.
Now I've read some critiques of the book from people who were complaining that this is not up to date for internet copywriting. What these people fail to see is that there is no push magic button to write great internet marketing sales copy. You still have to learn the basics, no matter where you're writing, using what media, and for whom you're preparing the sales letter. And the basics have not changed, and will never change.
Being persuasive, learning the basics of writing in that very distinct style and getting people to buy that product because they're mesmerized by the sales letter will always be valid and they have to be included in any sales copy, regardless, as i said above, of the medium or time.
In fact when you read a direct marketing copywriting book - any book - don't try to keep the book pristine. Have a highlighter in you hand and don't be shy to use it. Highlight everything that is useful and you can learn from. While I usually don't advocate 'maiming' books so to speak, here I actually encourage it. And this is one book that definitely deserves to be 'maimed' and dissected to death - excuse my pun.
Note: this very same book also comes under another title, so if you have either of them, don't buy the other one, the're the same. It's called Advertising Secrets of the Written Word.
Scientific Advertising - by Claude Hopkins
Scientific Advertising is by oneone's standards the grandfather of all books on direct sales and marketing. It is not only a book on copywriting but a book that anyone interested in selling anything anywhere (including online) should read and learn.
The book is quite thin, my copy has not even 100 pages, but each of these pages has tons of teachings on advertising, and they are truly the foundation of anything that comes after. What I'm trying to say is that it's better to go directly to the source than reading second or third or even fourth retold teachings where something might be even lost 'in translation' so to speak. It is one book that I consider one of the best if you want to learn about advertising the right way.
Can Old Dogs Teach New Tricks?
Can We Learn Copywriting From The Classics?
How to Write Sales Letters That Sell - by Drayton Bird
How to Write Sales Letters That Sell is another of those simply excellent copywriting books that is worth reading, rereading and dissecting. I really enjoyed his writing style, and some of his sales letters are simply unforgettable (the one about the American Express Card - a classic!).
The book by Drayton Bird is perfect for sales copy, not so much for ad space, however I think these days of internet marketing it's the sales copy that people really want to learn about and this book definitely delivers.
The book is a real gem, one that I'm glad I discovered. Sadly it's not so well known as other books by Ogilvy or Carlton or Sugarman, but once you get it, you'll be wondering how you could have been without it all this time. For real.
If I Haven't Convinced You So Far Of His Greatness - Watch this video where Drayton Bird analyzes a sales letter
Cashvertising - by Drew Eric Whitman
Cashvertising is one of those sales copy books that should be on anyone's bookshelf who wants to become a really good copywriter.
It is certainly in my top 5 copywriting books of all times. What I really enjoyed learning about from his book is those psychological triggers that make people buy. Those positive push buttons that make them stay on your site or blog, or if they have to leave your site, then head to the direction you are pointing them to, and not through a Back button. The guy is seriously a genius, and I'm not overreacting.
The book is not big or heavy by any means, it's only about 200 pages, but is chock full of information gathered from the last 20 or so years of advertising and marketing. A must have book, one that is on my personal bookshelf as well.
Tested Advertising Methods - by John Caples
Here is another one that can't stay behind when it comes to the best copywriting books worth owning. It is an 'old school' book, a classic, but one that anyone learning to write sales copy should read over and over again. It is simply timeless. Very easy to read through without getting bogged down into heavy language, I highly recommend it.
I got a lot out of it when it came to great headlines to use for sales letters and ways to make your writing appealing. Actually this is also great for any kinds of headlines, even for blog posts, not only for sales copy.
Must Bookmark Copywriting Resources
When I was learning to write sales copy, I bought all these books and studied from them, but I also visited the sites and blogs of some of the best copywriters out there. They have tips, tricks, musings and even sales letters that makes learning so much easier. Here are some of my favorite places to check out regularly that are still bookmarked in my browser.
- The Gary Halbert Letters
This is maybe the 'must go to' place if you want to become a copywriter. Don't ignore it. Seriously. You'll not only learn a lot but you'll also leave from there with a big grin on your face.
- Drayton Bird's Blog
I regularly check out his blog (I've reviewed his book above). Absolutely wonderful resource.
- John Carlton's Blog
John Carlton is one of the most ripped off copywriter today. His sales letters are the ones that I've first learned from as well - the famous golf ones, or the letters about martial arts - priceless. He also has a blog worth reading. I love his 'rant
- Gary Bencivenga's Marketing Bullets
Ok these are famous. And you can't walk past these without grabbing them. I printed them all out and placed in my 'learning' binder. They served me well over time.
- Michel Fortin's Site
Michel Fortin is another great copywriter I respect. His Success Chef series is top notch and well worth checking out. Sadly his wife has cancer so he stopped taking members for it, but his site overall is still a great resource to check out.
The Copywriter's Handbook - by Robert W. Bly
The Copywriter's Handbook by Robert W. Bly is another book on writing sales copy that you must own if you are a newbie at it. It's quite cheap at Amazon, but even better, it is full of information that helps improve your copywriting skills greatly. It is very detailed and touches pretty much everything, it doesn't just glaze over like many other books do. The author really knows what he's talking about. it's one of my favorite books ever on direct marketing.
Get Both Books by Bob Bly If You're Also Writing For The Web
Influence The Psychology of Persuasion - by Robert Cialdini
Let me first say that Influence is NOT a copywriting book, but you'd be doing yourself a great disservice by not getting it. Every copywriter has this book on their shelf and they go back to it over and over again. It is probably one of the best books ever on how to sell, period.
Cialdini is a real master of influence and the book teaches you how to influence your readers to do the actions you want them to do. It really teaches about the psychology of persuasion which comes so handy in many areas of life. I think it would be really difficult to find any person who wants to learn to write sales copy who doesn't have one or the other edition of the book on their bookshelf. I know I have it.
The Robert Collier Letter Book
I'm not quite sure why I haven't put this book at the top, because it certainly deserves to be there. It's simply awesome. I bought the downloadable version of it and read it a few years ago on my iPad during holidays. It was not only very informative, but also entertaining.
Now I have to warn you about this book (and maybe it's the reason why it's in the top 10, but not top 5). It's a classic, it was written a long time ago, and it's a heavy book. And by this i don't mean by weight. It needs to be read slowly and digested even slower else your head can explode.
However if you give it the time it deserves and stick with it, you'll learn so many great ideas that no copywriter should be without. The selling principles within this book are timeless and are still used today over and over again.
And yes, I've been told that I was weird to read the book during summer holidays. But it was really worth it for me and I honestly enjoyed the writing style and the sales letters - well, some of them made me smile big time.
Ogilvy On Advertising - by David Ogilvy
Oh I love this book! If you see the photo above, it's huge, my hand is quite small in comparison. And it's packed full with great stuff not only on sales letter writing, but on advertising in general.it's I think the only sales copy book that has lots of colored photos of ads included.
It talks about designing posters for ads, about TV commercials that really sell (and they're not always those that entertain the most!), about advertising foreign travel, about getting clients...it's truly a classic that shouldn't miss from any person's bookshelf who wants to sell anything at all.
How to Write a Good Advertisement - by Victor O. Schwab
This is another one of those books I learned from a lot when focusing on writing sales letters. It is in fact one of my favorite books on writing great headlines since I always have problems with this particular area of a sales copy.
The book is a classic and not only because it was written back in the 1960s. The advice is real and to the point, and there is no fluff or lots of theory in the book at all. It is a great copywriting book for beginners, one that I highly recommend.
Compared To Scientific Advertising - It's A Monster Of A Book!
More Recommended Books For Copywriters
While this is my top 10 list of best copywriting books ever, there are many more that are truly worthwhile getting to learn from. I've read maybe 100 books on the topic and learned something from every single book out there. Even when new books are basically rehashing old ideas, the authors still come up with their own twist on the subject, and give you insights that you might not have gotten otherwise.
Here is a list of more books that I can recommend for anyone who wants to really become an excellent copywriter either as a freelancer to write for big money, or as an entrepreneur, writing sales letters for your own products, or websites.
- The Lazy Man's Way to Riches by Joe Karbo
- Break-Through Advertising by Eugene M. Schwartz
- Making Ads Pay by John Caples
- The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy
- Write To Sell by Andy Maslen
- Tested Sentences That Sell by Elmer Wheeler
- Magic Words That Bring You Riches by Ted Nicholas
- My First 50 Years in Advertising by Maxwell Sackheim
- Million Dollar Mailings by Denison Hatch
- Hypnotic Writing by Joe Vitale
A Few More Books I Have On Copywriting That Didn't Make The Top 10
All highly recommended.
Having Said That...
Nothing Really Beats Writing, Writing And Again Writing...
While books are great to study from and you should get a few to start with this wonderful career, there is something that people tend to forget. The best way to become a great copywriter is not so much by reading books, but by practicing.
One way I learned the craft was by taking sample sales letters from various books and rewriting them for another product, another niche or something fictive that I was selling or I pretended to be asked to write about.
No book can replace the knowledge you get by simply writing sales letters. You need to practice, practice, practice. First start by writing out by hand some of the sales letters in the book - actually what I personally started out with were the famous Gary Halbert letters. Write them out by hand - and don't cheat by typing them out. I tried it both ways (actually my handwriting sux because I'm usually typing all day long), but when you write something in long hand there is this 'click' with your brain that typing simply doesn't do.
Take one ad and write it down 20 times without actually concentrating. Just write.
Once you've done it with a few sales letters, then its time to start crafting your own. Grab some of the books, check out the headings sections (Vic Schwab's book is perfect for getting some of the best sales letter headings ever) and try to adapt them to your own letters.
So reading books about copywriting is only half the battle won - actually it's more like 25% won. The rest is doing the grunt work and writing sales copy. Try to make a practice of writing at least one ad every week and don't break this habit.