There are two main ways for content marketers to absorb vital copywriting mechanics: learning and practicing.
I’m not going to help you with the practicing part today. You simply need to write … and keep on writing.
But I will assist with the education part by recommending 10 classic copywriting books that will help you obey the unbreakable law of the web.
Book #1: Scientific Advertising
Claude Hopkins expresses powerful tested truths about “salesmanship in print” that have remained relevant through the decades and across all media — including today’s online marketing.
David Ogilvy once said, “Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times. It changed the course of my life.”
Read Scientific Advertising before you read any other book on advertising or marketing. It may change your life too.
Get the book here: Scientific Advertising
Book #2: The Robert Collier Letter Book
This is a fabulous book because it contains countless examples of winning ads.
Robert Collier’s sales copy sold thousands of The Harvard Classics. His circulars for the O. Henry stories brought in orders for more than $2 million, and his ads also generated orders for more than 70,000 books on The History of the World War.
Get the book here: The Robert Collier Letter Book
Book #3: Tested Advertising Methods
My copy of TAM is dog-eared, with pages covered in yellow highlighter and pencil marks. The spine is broken. It’s a book I try to skim at least once a year, and I usually end up reading large chunks of it.
John Caples was a former engineer who wrote one of the most famous headlines in history during his first year as a copywriter: “They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano — But When I Started to Play!”
Get the book here: Tested Advertising Methods
Book #4: Breakthrough Advertising
You won’t be able to get your hands on this book by Eugene Schwartz without paying a hefty price for it. So, if you know someone who has a copy, ask to borrow it. (I doubt he’ll let you though.)
My favorite part of this book discusses the five stages of buyer preparedness. You’ll look at your audience differently after reading it.
Get the book here: Breakthrough Advertising
Book #5: How to Write a Good Advertisement
The 100 headlines Victor O. Schwab shares in the first chapter alone are worth the price of the book.
But you’ll also learn:
- How to hook readers with emotional triggers
- How to close the sale with social proof
- How to justify with facts
Not to mention, the phenomenal examples throughout the entire book will pay dividends.
Get the book here: How to Write a Good Advertisement
Book #6: Ogilvy on Advertising
Crawl inside the mind of one of the 20th century’s brightest and wealthiest (he had a castle in France) ad writers. Time magazine called David Ogilvy “the most sought-after wizard in the business.”
He was renowned for sipping Scotch and water before he wrote and for the enormous energy he poured into each ad. This 1983 treatise on advertising is like having an intimate conversation with Ogilvy.
Get the book here: Ogilvy on Advertising
Book #7: Advertising Secrets of the Written Word
If you remember BluBlocker sunglasses or the JS&A Group, then you’re probably familiar with Joe Sugarman (it helps if you were born in the early 1970s). Joe’s ability to sell a product lies in his ability to tell a story about any product.
The central message of this book is: The purpose of the headline is to get you to read the first sentence. The purpose of the first sentence is to get you to read the second. And so on. Think of it as a slide.
Get the book here: Advertising Secrets of the Written Word
Book #8: Reality in Advertising
Not familiar with Rosser Reeves?
Perhaps this will help: Reeves was the model for the character Don Draper on Mad Men. Reeves is the hard-headed, hard-hitting ad man known for the Dristan and Anacin ads and other hard-sell classics.
The text is a comprehensive lesson about selling a product through advertising, based on 30 years of intensive research.
Ogilvy once commented about this book, “I shall order 400 copies — one for every officer and employee and one for each of our clients.”
Get the book here: Reality in Advertising
Book #9: Influence
Even though this book is not about the craft of direct-response copywriting, it converted me from a literary snob into a passionate direct-response copywriter.
It made me realize I could love marketing. I could love the ability to use words to persuade people … to influence people.
And I realized that the six techniques Robert Cialdini teaches could be applied to all types of writing — not just copywriting.
Get the book here: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Book #10: Confessions of an Advertising Man
Let me close with another classic from the father of modern advertising, David Ogilvy. Confessions of an Advertising Man was written in 1963 before Ogilvy in Advertising — and, for me, this is the better one of the two books.
Here’s a sample of the sections you’ll find in the book:
- How to manage an advertising agency
- How to get clients
- How to keep clients
- How to build great campaigns
- How to write potent copy
- How to illustrate advertisements and posters
- How to make good television commercials
By 2008, more than one million copies of this book had been printed and it’s required reading in college courses on advertising. It’s also a great book for anyone who wants to manage talent as well.
Get the book here: Confessions of an Advertising Man
Which classics would you add to this list? How many of these copywriting books have you read?
By the way, some of the books are rare and have high price tags. You might want to check your local library before you place an order.
If that doesn’t work, ask around. Or ask your company to invest in some of these classics for their library. That’s how I got a hold of several of these books early in my career.
Good luck, and I look forward to hearing from you!