Here are my favorite copywriting books, for beginning to intermediate copywriters:
Advertising Secrets of the Written Word
I have a lot of copywriting books and courses, and if I were starting out fresh from square one today, I’d want to start here. Joe Sugarman is a direct marketing legend, and he does a great job of getting basic copywriting concepts across in an enjoyable way. So if you’re brand new to copywriting, start here.
Tested Advertising Methods (Fifth Edition)
When going back to the source of ad copy that is both audience and benefit-focused (as well as backed up by empirical testing), many will point to Claude Hopkins and Scientific Advertising from 1923. I own that book too, but my favorite “old school” copywriting book is the updated version of John Caples’ Tested Advertising Methods. Timeless advice, but written in an easily-digested modern tone.
While Marketing 2.0 pundits burn bandwidth trying to come up with clever new buzzwords to replace the word “marketing,” Mark Joyner simply hands you the answers for success in the post-mass-marketing environment. While not technically a copywriting book or a product/service development treatment, it’s crucial to both. When you start with the right offer, the product and the message are identical. Then (and only then) you can “get out of the way” and let your customers sell for you.
The best copywriting books around are not written specifically for online, as you can tell from this list. But you should have at least one, and it’s a close call. I chose Persuasive Online Copywriting by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg (with Lisa Davis) over Nick Usborne’s Net Words only because the former is slightly newer. But both are excellent.
Here’s the money book, courtesy of the late, great Eugene Schwartz. When you’re ready to take it to the next level, this is what just about any highly successful copywriter will tell you is the Holy Grail of deep psychological insights that lead to breakthrough marketing campaigns. The book is rare—before it was reissued by Boardroom it was selling on eBay for $900 (no joke). It comes with accompanying audio CDs that provide helpful supporting material from top copywriters who have built on Schwartz’s work.
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Reader Comments (41)
What is your honest opinion of Ogilvy on Advertising? Even though it’s a book on the general aspects of running an Ad Agency, I think many of his tips (Descriptive headlines, no white text on black, using headings to clearly divide copy, and [dare I say] long copy, KISS) are still relevant for the online world. IMHO, his insights on readability and gaining attention work even today.
Good selection Brian – I might even buy a few (via your aff links of course) 😉
Although not directly on copywriting the book “Influence” by Robert Cialdini is one of the most insightful books I’ve ever read on marketing and the ideas in it I see are being used everywhere on the Internet.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Martin, you know I love Cialdini if you have read the Blog Triggers series. It will be on a subsequent list with a couple of other winners in the psychology of persuasion field.
Rico, Olgivy on Advertising would have made the list, but I became pressed for time. I actually sent that one to Darren Rowse for his book list at Problogger.
Perhaps also “The Wizard of Ads” by Roy Williams.
Thank you Brian. I was actually going to email you asking for a list like this. Looking forward to either a post or email on the related topics.
You will get more money with a paypal donation button than you will from those affiliate links.
I’d put some in the tip jar for sure.
Dan Minea says
Hi, Brian! I wanted to ask you what do you think of this book: Web Copy That Sells: The Revolutionary Formula for Creating Killer Copy Every Time – by Maria Veloso ? I’m asking you because I already have a copy from a friend and thought I’d read it if you say it’s worth a look.
Liz Strauss says
Thanks for this list. I was just looking for one just like it!
Having read all of those EXCEPT Breakthrough Advertising, I have to say, that The Irresistable Offer, which I just finished, does not belong with those classics.
Sorry, but that’s my opinion, which when bundled with a five spot will get you a latte at your favorite java joint.
Mark Joyner is a legend, and I mean him no disrespect, but it’s only due to the internet. That book is FULL of double line breaks, one sentence paragraphs and fluff.
If he were dependent on his written word, just this one book,he’d not have made this list.
He’s sold millions more infoproducts than I have … millions upon millions, but I’ve sold my share in the offline world.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s a legend and can teach us many, many tricks, but those guys used basic skills to become legends.
Again, just my opinion.
No worries Mike, this is the kind of stuff I like to come out.
I debated on this one, and it got added last. Not because it’s not good, but due to some of the things you say.
Look at it this way… you’re a professional sales guy. You’re very good at it.
Most people are not professional sales guys. Plus, you’ve got all these Guru 2.0 types spouting “wisdom” that you and I know dates way back.
This is a good book for many, many people to read.
I hadn’t even considered that I might be ahead of a curve… that may be a first for me !
You’re right about the 2.0 guru’s. All they have is new implementations of older, proven, tested, tried, true facts.
You’re right that many will learn from this book. No doubt about that.
Having the choice, though, I’d rather they read the others BEFORE they read this one, because they need to learn basic skills before they get around to edgy ones.
That seems to be what you do with us who wait for you posts here.
You transition us from one level to the next to the next rather seamlessly.
You must have read all these books !
There’s no doubt I’d pay for dinner just to ask Mark some questions and try to use hyper-osmosis to glean his immense marketing knowledge.
I just think he could have done more with the book.
Of course, when I finish my ebook of tips to transition a suspect to a prospect to a customer to an evangelist, I’ll bet Mark will be able to say the same thing about it !
Ah Brian … I never came across your Blog Triggers series where Cialdini is your total focus. I must now spend a good hour or three and read EVERYTHING you’ve ever written.
Well Martin, you don’t have to, but you’re more than welcome. 🙂
We all love Brian’s work. It’s good stuff, and while it may not be anything new, I appreciate the fact that he’s making it accessible to a new audience.
And an idle question: how many clickthroughs to Amazon did you get through this entry? God knows I contributed. 😆
Wow, at $1,828.66 “Persuasive Online Copywriting” better be really good 😉
Yeah Chrispian… not sure what’s going on there. Also didn’t realize that Amazon didn’t have it in stock.
Buy Net Words instead! 🙂
Maybe someone at Amazon is trying to profit off the traffic this post is generating. 😮
The book goes for $18 on Marketing Sherpa.
I will (and I’ll use your aff link too). Are there any good books on headlines? I know most copy / marketing books probably devote some paper to it, but if you know of any that focus on it I’d appreciate the tip.
Chrispian, both the Caples and Schwartz books devote a substantial portion of the entire book to headlines.
Or you can buy David Garfinkel’s great book on headlines, which is at the end of this post.
Although they aren’t *directly* related to copywriting, they are about related subjects:
1) Dan Kennedy’s Ultimate Sales Letter — hits on all the great points, from headlines to hitting trigger points, to the USP and the PS. Imminently referencable (is that a word?).
2) Bob Bly’s Power Packed Direct Mail — absolutely old school, but many elements of constructing the sales letter is priceless, and applicable to on-line works.
3) Gary Halbert’s Anything:
(Thank me later on that one)
t @ DJI
lawton chiles says
Brian, what do you think of AWAI online? Bob Bly recommended this to me in a recent email.
AWAI is good if you want to make copywriting a career. It’s possible to learn all the same copywriting techniques that their program teaches for less if you want to learn copywriting for your own business, but if you want to have a *copywriting* business, AWAI provides a great support network with all sorts of related products that can help you tackle things like how much to charge, marketing yourself, etc.
Ryan Even says
You can’t forget Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins. It’s old but it’s a must read!
lawton chiles says
Brian, what do you think of Yanik Silver, and This stuff that Tactic 7 is putting out?
Frankly, i think it’s crazy expensive….
I think it’s http://www.tactic7.com
This is a nice place to visit for us new to marketing. There are some hideous websites that come up in searches for copywriting-obviously people who are missing out on business by having yukky media. I’m so pleased to have found a reading list…
What a treat! Good writing and coherent thoughts are inspiring.
Bryan Eisenberg says
Persuasive Online Copywriting went out of print after its third printing. We had changed some of the language we use and with the amount of work we put into Call to Action and Waiting for Your Cat to Bark making them NYT and WSJ bestsellers, we just didn’t have the energy to reprint POC. However, we did update it and have finally made it available as a PDF ebook at http://shop.futurenowinc.com/shop/prod-FND06.htm . I am also shocked when I see some of the crazy prices the book has fetched on Amazon and ebay. We never expected this book to take off the way it has. We only printed it because of Roy H Williams who told us if it is worth doing it is worth doing wrong and Larry Chase who told us about his $35 business card (his book). Brian I’d consider offering a discount to all CopyBlogger readers if you would like.
Jan van der Reis says
I agree with Ryan. Scientific Advertising from Claude Hopkins is a must. You can get it for free here
Tony Kenobi says
I only have time for one course and am currently swaying between “Schwartz” and “Vitalie Hypno Stuff (cheap at the mo).”
Schwartz looks like it has more depth?
Can any of you heavyweight guys help me make my decision?
Genuine Chris Johnson says
BC- You got me to spend another $200 bucks, and this time not on your stuff. So far, you have yet to lead me wrong, which means that the next time you tell me to spend $200 bucks, I probably will.
Copywriting Services says
Another valuable category of resource is advertising awards books. They can expand your imagination regarding the fresh and compelling ways to communicate features and benefits.
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