KILLER POETS DROP GEMS: PART TWO
How to become a direct response copywriter
9-fig clients want to hire
Bookmark this now if you want to become a direct response copywriter who can land whale clients, beat controls, and generate millions in sales.
I interviewed 18 elite copywriters to get their expert advice.
- Great examples of direct response copywriting.
- Pitfalls to avoid if you want to write better copy.
- Habits and mindset tips accelerate your success.
Slide on down and soak it up.
Missed Part One?
It’s all about the golden principles of direct response copywriting. Catch up right here.
The Killer Poets
Doug D’Anna is a seasoned direct response copywriter who has created hundreds of direct mail, email, and video sales letter promotions for the world’s largest specialized information publishers—helping them generate over $100 million in direct sales. You can learn more about direct response copy with his powerful tool, The Million-Dollar Copywriting Formula.
Kim Krause Schwalm has built a reputation as one of the top direct response copywriters. Her copy has generated nearly $1 billion in revenue for her clients. Kim is also the founder of the Get Dangerously Good copywriting training and mentorship hub, where she helps copywriters, marketers, and business owners become dangerously good at their craft.
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter with over four decades of experience in direct response and B2B marketing. He has worked with over
100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Intuit, Grumman
and more. He has taught copywriting at New
York University, and is the author of over 100
Lisa Pierson is a conversion copywriter who helps ecommerce brands sell (way) more of their products. Lisa has worked with brands such as Riversol, Drumeo, Disco Skincare, PooPourri, Snow, and more! She loves how something as simple as words and caring about your customer have the power to 10x sales (or more).
Eden Bidani earned her sales and marketing stripes walking the beat in direct sales. Now she combines her signature “selling-not-selling” acquisition strategies with conversion copywriting to help SaaS, ecommerce, and tech businesses drive crazy-good growth at every customer touchpoint.
Eddie Shleyner is the founder of VeryGoodCopy and former Copy Chief at G2.com. In 2022, VGC won HackerNoon’s “Email Newsletter of the Year” award.
Elle Rosselli helps busy coaches, consultants, and creatives with copy that increases conversions and sounds authentic in their unique brand voice. After spending a decade as a dental hygienist, Elle loves the freelance lifestyle, enjoying every excuse to get outside with her husband and 2 little boys.
Scott Frothingham is the author of “Instant Inspiration for Copywriters.”
Olena Bomko is a tech messaging strategist who believes in research, strategy, and creativity. She is the author of The Customer Research Report—a set of practical templates for marketers and copywriters.
Charles Gibson is a video scriptwriter and Ray Edwards-certified direct response copywriter.
Robert Lucas helps authors, speakers, coaches, and consultants earn more money from their email lists. His course, Stories That Sell, shows students how to turn everyday events from their lives into story-driven emails that make sales.
Dustan Gumear is a full-stack marketer-turned-direct response copywriter and consultant for D2C brands. He helps you get more conversions, leads, and sales with research- and psychology-driven copy, and a message-to-market-match that makes your ideal customer feel understood.
Mike Stenger is the direct response marketer who has helped fast-growing ecommerce brands to world-class entrepreneurs generate over $40 million in sales.
Samuel Ng is a copywriter for health and wellness. He specializes in writing copy that converts your audience into paying clients.
Tristan Gruszkos is 70% English, 30% German, and 100% obsessed with authentic direct-response copywriting for coaches & consultants.
are still after me...
I’ve escaped from the lounge through the air duct system.
“Yawn, cliché action move,” you say?
Listen here, bud, I’m a copywriter — we’re in the business of using proven techniques.
So, put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Speaking of smoke, I’m hiding out behind the old cigarette machine in the nightclub downstairs. Seems like a safe spot, cos everyone is vaping these days.
Look out for my live messages in the dark blue boxes.
Meanwhile, catch up on my notes from the rest of the lounge session below.
*Pulls up hood and disappears into shadows*
Beauty without the beast
Get all the expert advice in an easy-to-read free e-book — it’s like a little copywriting wisdom snack box.
- 19 copywriting ballers (plus me)
- 70+ actionable tips (includes secret bonus gems)
- 0% risk of brain meltdown from reading exhaustion
You’ll also join my weekly newsletter. Unsub anytime.
9 Kick-ass examples of
direct response copywriting
Definitions, rules, principles….enough theory, I hear you say.
What does all of this mumbo-jumbo look like in practice?
If you want to know how to become a direct response copywriter, one of the best things you can do is study great examples of successful copy.
I asked the gang to share their favorite examples of direct response copywriting from any era.
They told me that’s classified information and swore they would take the secrets to their dusty, eco-friendly urns.
But then I got my poking stick out.
Here’s what they gave up…
Rolls Royce by David Ogilvy
Following on from our soapbox moment in Part One about Ogilvy and headlines, here’s one from the man himself.
Olena Bomko picked out this classic.
You may be familiar with this gem as it gets plenty of (well-deserved) attention in the marketing community.
But there’s a lesser-talked-about truth when it comes to the story behind this amazing ad…
What you might not know is that Ogilvy didn’t write it.
I know, shocker, right?
Legend has it that when Ogilvy and his team were creating the campaign for the new Rolls-Royce, he plucked a line from an old technical manual.
“At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in the New Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”
Back in 1959, cars were pretty damn noisy.
Noisy enough to annoy customers.
Annoying enough to sink sales.
Ogilvy used the line as the headline of his ad, cleverly positioning the product against the big problem in the market.
As Olena explains, it’s the perfect example of why research matters in copywriting:
The headline was a fantastic way to help customers envision the smooth, silent experience of riding in this luxury car.
The line smashes any objections about the car’s quality and simultaneously presents Rolls-Royce as a superior choice than any of its grumbly, rumbly rivals.
Big takeaway: Sometimes, the perfect headline isn’t created—it’s found. Never underestimate how much your research can help you deliver winning copy.
Vision Break-Through BluBlocker Ad by Joe Sugarman
If they ever create an award for the best ad for a pair of sunglasses, there’s only going to be one winner. Ever.
Joe Sugarman penned this legendary long-form ad in 1986. It all started with the iconic headline:
“When I put on the pair of glasses what I saw I could not believe. Nor will you.”
Scott Frothingham points out what makes this ad work:
Psychological triggers are instrumental to good copywriting.
By weaving buyer psychology into your copy, you can tap into your customer’s internal motivators.
This approach helps you:
- Become more relatable
- Provoke emotion
- Build trust
…and, ultimately, drive action.
Sugarman writes the ad from the viewpoint of a customer. He brings you into the story, conveys the premium quality of the sunglasses, and highlights the pain point everyone should avoid—the harmful blue light from UV rays.
Along the way, we can spot many triggers, including:
- Storytelling to compel readers and make it more relatable
- Open loops to stir curiosity and keep people engaged
- Conversational language to make it personal
Within six months, Sugarman’s ad sold 100,000 pairs.
Over time, the ad helped drive sales to over 20 million pairs. It’s a masterclass in long-form direct response copywriting.
Big takeaway: Storytelling can disarm prospects, making your copy feel less like a sales pitch. When you pair this approach with multiple psychological triggers, it makes your copy addictive to read, and powerful at persuading.
The Dollar Bill Letter by Gary Halbert
This letter is another classic example of direct response copywriting, from the good old days of direct mail advertising before the internet turned every man and his dog into a copywriter.
Mike Stenger explains why this is one of the best examples of direct response copy:
Today, if you received this, it’d probably set off alarm bells in your head. Your partner would crumple it up and declare it a scam before you had a chance to
invest your children’s college funds read it to the end.
But make no mistake: this is direct response copy gold.
By including a one-dollar bill at the top of the letter, Halbert made sure it grabbed attention.
After he has you hooked, the letter’s personable style, relatable tone, and emotion-based storytelling make for powerful copywriting.
Big takeaway: If you seriously want to know how to become a direct response copywriter, put studying classic direct mail examples from Gary Halbert at the top of your to-do list. Study it, break it down, analyze why it works. Rinse, repeat.
Not good guys. This bathroom is a mess, and there’s not a scrap of toilet paper left. I’m feeling woozy. I’m just gonna take a rest on my old stick here while you check out the rest of the examples from the lounge session.
Email Marketing by Spoke London
If you know Dave Harland at all, you’ll know that he isn’t going to offer up anything too predictable.
He points to something under the radar: email copy from the UK menswear company Spoke London.
There’s no harm in gushing over classics from Ogilvy and Schwartz, but this example is a refreshing look at some great copywriting in the modern day.
After Dave told me about this email list, I had to jump on it and see what he was talking about.
And you know what?
He’s dead right. It’s down-to-earth and easy to get along with, just like a new friend.
Also, lines like “Make fit happen” are subtly funny in a way that feels natural to the brand, without trying too hard.
Big takeaway: Forced attempts at humor are rarely funny. Get the tone right to make your brand more approachable and trustworthy, which helps build connections with your readers. Get it wrong, and you may offend them, or worse—lose the sale.
Website copy by Coda
While we’re talking about modern-day direct response copy magic, check this one out from the doc company, Coda.
In 2021, when Coda launched its new site with the headline, “Enough of this sheet,” the internet blew up.
Well, the marketing sphere of LinkedIn did anyway, as umpteen posts appeared within a week, gushing over its brilliance.
Elle Ross explains how it leverages subtle storytelling and painfully relatable audience targeting:
The thing to note here is that the memorable four-word headline is clever, but it’s the clarity of the sub-header that makes it really work.
Together, this example shows how you can be clear and clever at the same time.
Big takeaway: Clarity is king but that doesn’t mean you can’t be clever in your headlines. Just make sure to pair a clever headline with a crystal-clear subheader.
Okay, this is serious now. I just barrelled through the dancefloor like a drunk gazelle and knocked Kim on the floor. Then Doug slipped on my blood. I’m in the shadows again. Hood up, head down. Currently, peeking out from curtains near the DJ booth. People look pissed…. Wait? What’s this door? Hey, who’s grabbing me!”
The Great Retirement Betrayal by Doug D’Anna
This example was put forward by Doug D’Anna.
That’s right — Doug’s favorite example of direct response copywriting is one he penned himself.
And why fugging not?
We should all be proud of our greatest works — especially when they’re a hit like this one. It was the no. 1 direct mail promotion of its time.
Let’s ask Doug why it worked…
The letter is written like it’s from a caring grandfather who wants to make sure you don’t get ripped off by bankers, brokers, and the government.
With this ad, Doug claimed the control for one of the biggest newsletter publishers in the country.
Three years passed before the legendary Eugene Schwartz beat Doug’s ad — only for Doug to snatch the control back again just six months later (like an OG baller).
Big takeaway: When you understand what people really care about, and write to them in a way that shows you care about them and their challenges or pain points, it makes them believe you have the solution.
I’m in the DJ booth. Sitting on the floor with a first aid kit between my legs. There’s blood all over my hands. I’m dizzy as hell. The person who pulled me inside is frantically wrapping up my hand. It’s the DJ, wearing a suit and a massive purple cow’s head. WTF? Am I hallucinating now? Damn you, Cole Schaefer!
Magic Baloney by Joe Sugarman
When you’ve got a tough sell on your hands, objection busting becomes one of the most essential parts of your copy.
And there’s no better way to bust objections than to make it seem like you’re ripping a product to shreds.
Eden Bidani explains why this contrarian approach works:
Look how it’s done in this ad:
Cheap-looking case? We know, “it almost made us sick,” but wait until you hear what it can do.
Handling live wires? Don’t worry. It’s so easy it’s “playschool” stuff.
No digital readout? But look at the energy savings and sleep benefits.
This ad by Joe Sugarman is an exhibition on how to identify every objection a customer might have and then smash it to pieces.
Big takeaway: Your customers have doubts, worries, and fears about your offer. If you stick your head in the sand and fail to acknowledge these issues in your copy, it’s a massive mistake. It’s always, always, always the right choice to face objections head on, and show customers how you will handle them.
To Men Who Want to Quit Work Some Day by John Caples
Bob Bly mentioned this ad as a great example of direct response copy.
Then, in a shroud of mystery, he ran off to the dancefloor without another word.
I guess he was leaving it up to our imagination to see why that was his top choice.
Let me explain why this ad gets so much attention:
John Caples created the ad for his long-time client, Phoenix Mutual. The company didn’t want to run just another ad for a retirement income plan.
While it worked, it was a tired and overused approach. Caples knew that this ad had to be stronger, so he led with the words, “Quit work.”
However, while many men want to retire, many men also have a lot of ego and pride. Caples knew he had to navigate around these objections.
So, at the last moment, he added two words so the proposition wasn’t as uncomfortable for readers:
Caples also reused parts from a successful ad in the new one, showing how you can lean on proven, tested messaging to drive results in your copy.
Big takeaway: Your offer should promise one of two things: a way to get closer to pleasure or a way to get away from pain. When you consider the desires and fears of your audience, you can create copy that does both. Apply this approach with frameworks that are proven to work, and you’re on the right track.
The Parallel Welcome Sequence by Daniel Throssell
Charles Gibson decided to eschew the classics from some of history’s copywriting greats to offer us something different. Something fresh that you may not have seen anyone ever do before.
Daniel Throssell is Australia’s best copywriter. He has a unique mechanism for his funnel that he calls the Parallel Welcome Sequence.
It’s so damn good that when people receive his welcome email, they get sucked into a vortex and end up reading through multiple emails for HOURS.
Daniel has started to teach others how to set up their own version of this system.
The question is: what makes it so effective?
I’ll Charles explain:
Furthermore, he’s bold enough to come out against certain copywriting manifesto rules, like ‘don’t talk about yourself, talk about the customer.’
It’s refreshing because it breaks the trance-like “this might be the most important letter you’ve ever read” PAS pattern.
If you can pull it off, this can be something really special. Daniel definitely does.
Big takeaway: Rules are made to be broken. Great copy with a big personality is hard to ignore. When you have the fundamentals down, don’t be afraid to lean into your weird, and do things a little differently than the rest.
I look at the DJ wearing my bloodied rags.
I fix up my tie, and take a deep breath.
Readying myself to step back into the crowd, I go to push the door. But the DJ grabs my hand.
He points to the corner of the room. There’s a tray with a dozen bottles of water. I look in the mirror, and the penny drops.
“I look like a waiter!”
I give the DJ and smile, and nod, before lifting the tray.
No need for deep cover mode now — I’m hidden in plain sight.
Okay, so that’s your examples done and dusted…
Save time with just the gem quotes
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- 70+ actionable tips (includes secret bonus gems)
- 0% risk of brain meltdown from reading exhaustion
You’ll also join my weekly newsletter. Unsub anytime.
5 game-changing practices to become
a killer direct response copywriter (faster)
When you master the principles and study classic examples, you can have a crack at writing copy.
It might be decent.
You might make a few bucks.
But there are a few things that put you in the top 10% of copywriters.
Or even the top 1% if you take it seriously.
I wanted to know what habits or practices would help take you to the next level.
This is what I asked the gang:
“What is your #1 smokin’ hot tip to help someone become a better direct response copywriter?”
And on we go…
I owe the DJ a lot. I’m feeling fresh and looking fly. What was in that water?
And I just found the gang in a cosy little nook at the back of the dancefloor.
Let’s see what else they can tell us about becoming a better direct response copywriter.
Practice #1: Read voraciously (like an addict who needs words to survive)
Copywriters need to read a LOT if they want to become one of the best.
Charles Gibson waxes lyrical about the importance of reading. At a minimum, he believes direct response copywriters should study persuasion, negotiation, and salesmanship.
From Cialdini’s works to Chris Voss’s “Never Split the Difference,” there is an abundance of books that will help you understand the psychology behind marketing and sales.
It doesn’t matter where you start; just don’t stop.
Take Charles advice on reading:
You should also study good dialogue.
Great ads lean on storytelling. But to create captivating tales and relatable characters, you must master dialogue.
Eddie Shleyner explains how this can improve your copywriting:
Eddie suggests trying this approach on your next long-form ad:
- Start your landing page, email, or video script with two people talking.
- Use the dialogue to set up the customer’s problem or desire.
- Then, cut away from the dialogue and present your solution in your brand’s voice.
Here’s something to watch out for:
Many people say that you should write how you talk.
But that’s a load of horseradish.
The average person stumbles and mumbles their way through conversations.
Their speech is full of pauses, um, and slang, like ya know, and half-finished sentences that just end before….
The way people actually speak is a convoluted mess.
So, what do people mean when they tell you to “write like people talk” in your copy?
Your writing should be more like how good dialogue is written.
It sounds true and realistic, but it’s “reality” cleaned up.
I’ll let Charles clarify this point:
This approach harks back to the era of the legends, like Robert Collier, who explains that we should always enter the conversation already taking place in the customer’s mind.
Practice #2: Study the greatest direct response copywriters in history
“Why learn when you could just make it up as you go along?”
– The Brain Surgeon’s Motto
It doesn’t work for brain surgery, and it won’t work in copywriting.
As a newbie, you might strike lucky with winging it once, maybe twice, or maybe even for a handful of projects.
But soon, your luck will run out.
Guesswork is not the road to becoming a reliable direct response copywriter that delivers consistently good results for your clients.
Using deep research, voice of customer data, psychological triggers, and proven frameworks are critical parts of the job.
If you aren’t doing these from the get-go, you better start pronto.
Take it from Jacob McMillen:
Don’t try to rely on “natural genius” and whatever sparks of quirk hit you that morning.
Instead, turn to the tried-and-tested methods that are proven to work by other copywriters who have years of direct-response copywriting experience.
For starters, you should study copy from people like:
I could go on but that’s enough to get you started.
How do you study direct response copywriters?
Find long-form sales letters in the most competitive markets.
But not just any sales letters.
You want a very specific kind:
These are the best-performing piece of copy that’s been discovered for a given campaign.
Why choose long-form sales letters to study over all other mediums?
Because they can encapsulate an entire sales funnel in one piece of copy.
A sales letter might take people who aren’t even aware of a problem, introduce it to them, make them care to solve it, and then offer them a solution.
The sales letter needs to win over some of the most skeptical prospects in the world.
We’re talking about folks who’ve seen it all, heard it all, and want to dismiss your sales piece as “just another one of those.”
So, just imagine how powerful the controls in competitive industries like health and wealth are as a learning resource.
These extended conversations often turn total strangers into customers in one fell swoop.
They are the bar to aim for (and beat).
Want to get your hands on the best controls?
Try these steps:
- Follow and research A-List copywriters in your niche.
- Google to find some controls freely available online.
- Buy controls from the copywriter who wrote ‘em.
And then what?
You could just read them.
But Eddie Shleyner has a better idea.
Make copyworking part of your daily routine.
If you want to learn how to write great ads, emails or landing pages then you gotta start copyworking.
Transcribe proven headlines, subheads, bullets, sentences, paragraphs, and even entire sales letters over and over and again.
When you handwrite….
Wait a sec…Colin? Hey, where’d he go?
Was that Colin Chung? The copy-chief and mentor who has written direct response copy for over 15 years?!
I don’t remember seeing him on the guest list.
Before I could ask him something else, Colin vanished into the shadows.
So, I’ll leave it to another master to tell us more about copyworking.
Eddie knows what’s up:
Ok, sounds worth the pain, then.
And when you want to become a better direct response copywriter, you can use copyworking to learn from the very best in the game.
In a nutshell:
- Identify the best direct response copywriters in your niche
- Buy, beg, borrow, or steal to get their best controls
- Use copyworking to internalize their writing style
Just pick ONE copywriter to start. Focus on them for a few months, then move on to the next.
The more you do of this stuff, the better you’ll get.
And that leads us into our next tip…
Practice #3: Write copy every damn day
Unfortunately, you can’t read your way to becoming great at copywriting.
Sure, it’ll help (a lot), but sooner or later, you gotta put down the book and pick up a
Ask any successful direct response copywriter, and they’ll tell you how damn important it is to practice.
I know because when I asked a bunch of these killer poets what their #1 career tip was, most of them talked about the same thing.
Mike Stenger took a break from training hawks to say this:
I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to overreading.
It’s easy to get stuck in consumption mode, scrolling on social media and saving posts that you’ll definitely read later…
But does later ever come?
How much do you need to read first?
The truth is, you can start a lot sooner than you think.
Kim Krause-Schwalm explained how to go beyond the basics:
And here’s the thing:
When you practice regularly, you’ll make real progress.
Daily practice really impacts your copy, your thought process, and your confidence in approaching copywriting.
Robert Lucas can vouch for this approach:
Copywriting is not something you learn just by reading blogs, course materials, and the side of random products in the supermarket (put the Oatly down, bud.)
Yes, you can notice good copywriting when you look for it around your house, but don’t try to tell me you’re studying when you’re raiding your cupboards and dodging your work! (#masterprocrastinator).
If you never practice, you’ll never progress.
It’s that simple.
Practice #4: Embrace feedback (even if it hurts)
Sometimes, the client will push back.
They’ll shred your copy, request changes or suggest additions.
They’ll want to change the tone of voice, the language, the length, the ideas, everything.
You, as the copywriter, will wonder why.
You’ll think their suggested changes don’t make any sense.
You’ll worry it’ll make the copy boring, dull, drab, or unfocused.
You’ll think it conflicts with all the information they shared in the discovery call.
You’ll fear it won’t be compelling. It won’t stand out, the audience won’t get it, and it won’t deliver results.
You’ll mumble to yourself about the client not knowing what they’re talking about. And that goes double for the web designer, art director, social media intern, and the janitor who all had a say about your wordy magic on the Google Doc.
But you must remember, this isn’t about you.
Whenever you get some feedback that makes you feel a little bit triggered, here’s a 3-step solution:
- Remind yourself not to be an easily-triggered butthurt snowflake.
- Accept the possibility that maybe — just maybe — you might have got it wrong. The client might be right.
Okay, so now that you’re calm, you can respond in a way that is accepting of people’s thoughts about your copy.
Eden Bidani puts feedback in perspective:
Of course, there are occasions when the client is wrong.
After all, you’re the amazing copywriter, and they’re just some guy who owns a pen, right?
But even if that’s how you see it, it’s not a license to be an asshole.
Remember that the client wants results, and they also pay you.
If you genuinely believe the current draft is the best possible framework already, make your case.
But be positive.
Be cooperative — not combative.
Mike Stenger hits home with the importance of taking feedback the right way:
You can turn feedback to your advantage
If you can contain your feelings when the feedback flows, the next step is to put that constructive criticism to work.
Take the feedback, and channel it into your work to make it better.
Scott points out that not doing this is a missed opportunity:
If you really wanna embrace feedback, you should look beyond your clients.
It’s good to get their thoughts, but it’s better to get your copy reviewed by someone who really understands copywriting.
And that’s our next tip…
Practice #5: Seek out mentors
Instead of relying on client feedback from non-copywriters, you can actively seek it out from experienced copywriters.
Finding a mentor is one of the best things you can do to become a better copywriter.
One caveat is that the copywriter should understand the market if you want them to critique your copy.
While it’s obvious why that copywriter needs to have strong chops, it’s less obvious why they need to understand your market.
Dustan, why’s that?
When you’re early on in the direct response game, seek out proper feedback as much as possible.
You’ll propel yourself above the others, write copy that gets results on a more and more consistent basis, and find yourself in high demand.
But can’t you just figure it out on your own?
What if you don’t wanna pay for help or take direction from someone?
Building connections is not just an opportunity to find new work, but also opens up avenues to learn from others and improve your skills.
In time, this positive mindset and will to curate a circle of inspiring people who take action will help you find your groove with copywriting and business (and life in general).
Here’s how Dina sees it:
Think about it:
If you want to climb a mountain, you stand a better chance if you start hanging out with mountain climbers, adventure junkies, and ambitious, fit, mentally-strong people.
You’ve less chance of climbing that mountain if you’re holed up in your attic by yourself.
If you really want to become a direct response copywriter with serious chops, you can’t do it alone.
Getting feedback is crucial.
And there’s no better person to get feedback from than an experienced copywriting mentor.
Tell ’em, Colin!
How to become a direct response copywriter: 5 pitfalls to avoid
The party’s almost over.
But as people head to the bar for last orders, Colin just gave me an idea to pick their brains a little more.
Okay, some of them just heard me say “pick their brains,” and now they’re looking at me weirdly.
So, let’s just cut to the chase.
Here’s what we need to know now:
For anyone that wants to know how to become a direct response copywriter, what is the biggest mistake to avoid?
Mistake #1: Trying to be clever
I handed the mic to Bob for this one.
I probably would have said something clever or cute instead (like talking about handing him the mic).
It’s true, though.
I cringe at the memory of some of my earliest copywriting projects where I tried to make things work simply by pulling what I thought was some whimsical gold out of my earhole.
Turns out it was just earwax.
Eddie Shleyner explains that if you want to become a better copywriter, you must avoid thinking like an artist.
Copywriting, especially direct-response copy, isn’t about self-expression — it’s about connecting with people, and compelling people, and selling things.
If you’re just doing something to be clever or creative, and it risks the clarity of your message or confuses readers, then it shouldn’t be there.
Tristan Gruszkos has a good tip to avoid the clever trap:
Mistake #2: Treating your reader like an idiot
Dave’s hit the nail on the head there.
Some would say that not treating anyone like an idiot is one of life’s best practices.
And it’s doubly true when you want them to buy something from you.
You must be clear in your copy — but remember who you’re talking to at all times.
These people are prospective customers.
You want them to know, like, and trust you.
If they don’t, you aren’t gonna sell a damn thing.
This is not some ELI5 thread on Reddit.
You have to respect your readers, giving them crucial information and convincing inspiration without a hint of arrogance.
Mistake #3: Taking on too many projects
Kim is speaking the truth.
I can testify to this problem first-hand. In 2021/22, I swamped myself in work and burned out multiple times.
Deadlines passed, performance dropped, and clients vanished.
Unfortunately, this challenge is one every freelancer will run into sooner or later.
The perpetual fear of not getting another job can lead to you taking on everything that comes your way.
That’s imposter syndrome for you. Saying yes to every project is also the fast track to burnout and misery.
And if you keep accepting every little job, no matter how busy you are, you won’t just risk burnout — you might damage your reputation with some of your best clients when you miss deadlines and finally drop them a half-baked effort.
Aside from the reputation risk, no amount of money is worth sacrificing all your time, family, and mental health.
Say it with me:
“THIS IS NOT THE LAST PROJECT ON THE PLANET. I CAN SAY NO. MORE PROJECTS WILL COME.”
Mistake #4: Rushing your copywriting
This is such a big mistake in copywriting, which usually happens when you’ve taken on too much.
Going too fast is bad news for everyone.
You can’t brute force a landing page or Sonic Boom your way through a website project.
The lack of research, care and attention to detail will show in the copy.
Your copy will miss the mark.
Your audience won’t connect with the messaging.
Your conversions will suffer as fewer people will see the value.
Your client will lose a lot of time and money (and quite probably, patience).
Your reputation as a direct response copywriter and the chance for referrals will take a hit.
Suddenly, taking your time sounds like a good idea, right?
Like a heart-warming bowl of homemade Irish stew, great copywriting comes together slowly.
Random analogy…but true.
But don’t take it from me.
Spare a few minutes to hear what modern-day copywriting maestro, Eddie Shleyner, has to say.
He explains how you can use the genius concept of incubation to write better copy:
Tip: The video should start at 32:28 (If the gremlins in the machine mess things up, you might need to adjust to that time yourself)
In case you’re too lazy to watch one of the best copywriters in the world share wisdom, let me nutshell it for you.
Great copy isn’t scribbled down in a hurry—it emerges from the mind over time.
And when you give yourself a break from work, and take the time to mull things over, your brain makes connections that won’t happen just by staring at the screen with your head in your hands.
Lisa Pierson can tell you one way she makes it work:
Whether it’s a run, walk, swim, or pogo-stick hiking adventure, getting outside and doing some exercise helps get the blood flowing to the brain.
Many writers live sedentary lives, so it doesn’t hurt to get active when you can.
If you don’t do if for your body, do it to create better copy!
You can also try relaxing away from screens in other ways, like reading a book or meditating.
Whatever your approach to incubation, just remember this:
Never ever set impossible deadlines or leave everything to the last minute.
You’ll regret it (and so will your client).
Mistake #5: Not billing per project
As you can see, Samuel is a man of few words. But they’re the only words he needed to get the point across (the sign of a great copywriter).
Following on from our musings on incubation above, we know that good direct response copywriting takes time.
If you build thinking time into every project, you can let the best ideas come together and blossom.
That means it takes time in front of the laptop and time away from it.
Your mind will work on the task subconsciously throughout the day. When you rest, when you eat, when you walk in the park, even when you sleep.
If you bill per hour, how are you going to track all this time?
How will you invoice for it?
And here’s the kicker:
As you become a better copywriter, you’ll find the words faster. You’ll come up with the winning headline or best slogan much quicker because you’ll know the proven formulas and frameworks like the back of your hamstring.
Why should you get paid less as your skills improve?
As you get better, faster, and more concise, why should your rates drop?
If you charge per hour, that dynamic could backfire on you or your client.
The client could pay too much because good ideas take much longer to emerge than expected, or you could lose out if they don’t.
In the end, your client should be paying for timeless value, so there are no stop clocks involved.
And then there’s the even more ridiculous concept of charging per word.
Here are some short sentences:
- “Just Do It”
- “I’m Lovin’ It”
- “Think Different”
- “Finger-Lickin’ Good”
- “Diamonds Are Forever”
Do you think the copywriters behind these iconic taglines charged per word? I seriously doubt it.
If you charge per word, you risk losing out on all the time you spend on research, interviews, analysis, drafting, and editing.
It makes no sense.
Paying copywriters by the word is the fast lane to fluffy, padded copy devoid of all intelligent strategy, data-driven analysis, and creative thought.
Billing per project allows you to account for all the tasks, time, and additional activities and effort that go into delivering great copy.
You can consider:
- The client
- Their value
- The price of the product or service
- The value of the offer to customers
- The potential ROI from your copy
- The scope of the project including the timeline
With the full picture, you can set a smart price that means you won’t ever pad your copy with extra words, or feel like you need to bloat your timesheets to earn a fair rate.
With the price set, it’s just about delivering your best possible work.
Always bill per project.
Not per hour.
And never per word.
Architects don’t sell bricks.
Strategists don’t sell actions.
Copywriters don’t sell words.
And that’s almost it.
But hey, before you go…
how to become a direct response copywriter:
The free e-book
The lights are on. The music has stopped.
The magic water has worn off, and I’m feeling woozy again.
I’m just about conscious as Charles Gibson and Eddie Shleyner carry me out the door.
Luckily, the bouncers don’t even spot the pale-faced, blood-soaked intruder they’ve been looking for all night—they’re too busy stopping a fight now.
Apparently, Dave Harland thought the DJ stole his hoody.
Thanks for coming on the mission, bud.
See you in a while.
One more thing, on your way out the door…
Grab your free guidebook
I distilled the best quotes from all the interviews into a short n’ sweet e-book.
You’ll have instant access to all the writing and career wisdom from both beast posts whenever you want.
- 20 direct-response copywriters
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