A 30-Minute Copywriting Course from a Master of the Craft

John Carlton is a professional copywriter who charges $2,500.00 for his one-on-one consulting calls.

In this 30+ minute interview, he decided to lay out some of his best advice for carving out a career in the writing trade. And he decided to give it up at no charge.

Part 1 of this interview went over well last week. Make sure you don’t miss it.

If you write persuasive copy (and content) as a freelancer, or for your own business, do not miss Part 2 below for some of the most valuable tips and trade philosophies you’ll find online …

In this episode we discuss:

  • The 5 “Carlton Copywriting 101″ philosophies
  • How John wrote his most famous (and best-selling) headline
  • The Professional Copywriter’s Code
  • The old-school tactic that can jump-start your copywriting career
  • How to find the hooks that people respond to
  • Why copywriting is not a “mystic” art
  • How to use dead guys as mentors
  • John Carlton’s best advice for copywriters trying to make it

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Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

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Robert: You are listening to Internet Marketing for Smart People radio . I’m Robert Bruce, and today we’re getting back to part two of a conversation I had with one of the best working copywriters in the world, John Carlton.

Before we get into these final questions for John I want to remind those of you listening that this show is brought to you as always by Internet Marketing for Smart People course, this is a our completely free, 20-part online marketing course, delivered straight to your inbox. It’s the very best of Copyblogger; we’ve wrapped this up, over 6-years of Copyblogger content into 20 emails that we’re dripping out to you about once a week.

If you want in, it’s very easy, just head over right now Copyblogger.com, scroll down to about the middle of the home page there where you are going to see a headline, “Grab our free 20-part internet marketing course,” drop your email address in the little box there and we’ll take care of the rest for you.

All right let’s get on with part two of my interview with John Carlton. Give us some of the basic elements of good copywriting as you see it, as you’ve learned it, give us a quick handful of Carlton Copywriting 101 principals.

The 5 “Carlton Copywriting 101” philosophies

John: Robert, you were gracious enough to warn me about this question so I actually wrote a few things down. I made a couple of notes.

So number one I actually address, is “be the adult”. As a copywriter, whether you are the staff copywriter or you are the hired gun freelancer that comes in, or it’s your own business, and by the way, that’s the hardest writing you’ll ever do in your life, is for your own stuff. I have a saying that I tell freelancers “all clients suck” and the caveat to that is when you are your own client, you suck the worst of all. So I am the worst client I have ever had for myself. So that’s just something to keep in mind.

But the idea of being the adult in the room, when you walk in and you are a freelancer and you know what needs to be done to create the ads that will actually get results for your client, again whether your client is a guy that you are working for permanently or whether it’s a freelance position, or whether it’s yourself, in most cases, freelancers tend to be a little timid.

They tend to be introverts, and then tend to take the job because they like writing and working alone mostly, and they are uncomfortable in asserting themselves too much and that is nonsense.

As a freelancer, it’s your job to get out there and make sure that the client understands that you do know what’s going on. It would be like the plumber coming in and suggesting, “Well I can stop the leak, but I recommend that you use this, but you may want to use a different type of plumbing material.” No if you know what needs to be done, you just go do it. That is the way it should be in writing.

Can you be the adult in the room?

So being the adult in the room means that you take control of the situation because probably other people aren’t. Even if there are other alpha males in there, if the CEO of the company, if the guy you are working for is a blustery, alpha, silver-back male who tries to bully everybody and wants to have his way, that’s fine, but you’re getting paid, so you want to make it clear to him, through the fact that he’s paying you money, through the fact that you are the expert, you need to be the adult in the room.

That’s a process that a lot of writers have to go through to get to the point where they can confidently just say “that’s fine that you want to do it this way but that’s the wrong way to do it. Here is how I am going to do it, or here is how I strongly urge you to do it, and then you write the ad.

That’s why I say a lot of the ads, my mostly famous ads have all been met with disbelief, shock and hair pulling panic by clients who refuse to run it, who didn’t want to run the ad, who were afraid to run it, and it was only when the result came in that they realized that they can handle the little bit of blow-back that they got from the stuff. So being the adult in the room is huge.

Gun to the head: a writing method

The gun to the head thing I brought up before. With a gun to your head writing, imagine a gun, that will go off if the ad doesn’t work, you do not stray from the fundamental principles of great advertising, which go back to Claude Hopkins and the 1920s, actually even before that.

From the time a caveman traded up to a better cave with a view in exchange for a slab of mastodon meat, that was basic street level salesmanship going on. You want to stay with that classic salesmanship.

With the gun to the head, you don’t get cute, you may test stuff, but for getting a control, for right out of the blocks, you want to do fundamental, straight ahead, salesmanship that worked before, it is probably going to work in the future.

It’s an ad, it’s not a work of art

Also, operation: money suck. That’s the concept of going after the money. In the direct response advertising world of agencies, they have an award called the John Caples Award, or the Caples Award. That is presented to the best direct response ad of the year. About 15 years ago, they stopped having results as part of the judging. I just lost it, I have not dealt with an agency since then. It’s so ridiculous.

They used to say, it had to be a great ad that everybody loved, and it had to work, and then you could win this John Caples Award. I mean John Caples was a guy that who was all about results. Then they decided, ah geez this is limiting us, we can’t give the award to these really fun, funny, entertaining ads, most of these ads were TV ads, if results matter ‘cause a lot of these funny, entertaining ads don’t work.

That was the disconnect, and that’s a disconnect that still happens in most agencies. Most agencies don’t have a clue how to do direct response advertising. They think it’s all about entertainment, they are really clueless.

So operation money suck means stay focused on this, it’s an ad, it’s not a work-of-art, it’s a communication device to let prospects know that you have what they need and to close the deal.

Knock them off the fence with simple story salesmanship

The fourth thing is story, story salesmanship and psychology, that’s the basic nature of great direct response advertising. You tell a story, it can be as simple as, here is what I got, here is why it matches your needs perfectly, and here is what you need to do to get it, you are still telling a story.

It’s the same language, the same words that you would use face-to-face with a prospect that you just met in an elevator, at a party, on the street somewhere, and you overhear somebody saying something that they express a problem that you happen to have the product that solves.

What would you say to them and how that conversation goes is how your ad should go. It’s story, it’s basic salesmanship, it’s your job if you have a product a service or information that will help a prospects life, if he has a problem that is most problems are at some level of trauma from very low trauma like he needs to get nails to finish the playhouse for his daughter out back, but he can’t finish it until he gets those nails, so now he’s shopping for nails, if you had that information, it’s your job to get it to them.

If he has a health problem and you have information that will help him solve that health problem, it could be a very high level of trauma, but it’s your job and presenting it in a story form, closing the deal and using whatever psychology you need to use to get them to do it.

Most people, it’s kind of perverse, and this is kind of getting deep, but people will not act in their best interest. They will say, you know what, I have this problem, I understand that you have a product that solves it, and it sounds good and I really should get it, but I am going to think about it and I am not ready to go.

So it’s your job as a copywriter to close the deal. To get past those objections and that’s where guarantees come in and things like that. Take away all the objections that he has to actually getting it so he can actually get this thing in his hands and then make his decision.

If he doesn’t like it, he can send it back and you want to be ethical about it, but you do need to do some things to get it in their hands because people are slow to act. I call them the large somnambulant blobs, welded to the couch, so invested in laziness that they will get up and leave the house if it’s on fire, and you have to get them to move and take out a credit card and actually order and wait for the thing to come and that is not an easy thing.

Most rookie writers can get a prospect to say “Yea that sounds pretty good, maybe someday down the road, maybe I’ll think seriously about buying that.” That’s what I call “getting them up on the fence.”

The pros know how to knock them off the fence. Getting someone to admit that what you’ve got is pretty good, that’s easy, getting them to actually shell out cash and buy it, is that next step and that’s the next level and that separates the pros from the rookies. That involves understanding the psychology of the sale. So that’s very important to do.

Every client wants your best for less

I talked about all clients sucking, the reason I say all clients suck is just go into these relationships knowing it’s an adult relationship, they don’t have to like you, and you don’t have to become best friends although I have become friends with a number of my clients but only long-term ones, over a long period of time. But this is not a social situation, this is helping a business, this is taking care of capitalism at its most basic fundamental elements.

So knowing that clients suck just removes all that stuff, yeah they are going to want to pay you as little as possible, they are going to want to push the deadlines to crushing levels, and they want the best you can do for less money then you want and they want all these things and that’s fine, just work through that.

That doesn’t mean you have to take less, that doesn’t mean that you have to agree to their deadlines, just know that it is an inherently hostile relationship. They want things that you don’t want, and you need things to happen, that they would prefer don’t happen such as paying you a lot of money. So once you understand that, then you are off to the races.

Because you can have great civil, wonderful relationships with clients once they knows who’s boss; and you know who’s boss? You’re boss. You know how to write, you know what needs to be done, you are the expert coming in, you are the hired gun, you walk in, you know what should be done and you got the skills to do it and then you do it.

So you have to put yourself in a position that the boss understands that you are the guy to do this.

Keep your BS detector on high alert

Lastly, I would recommend that everybody keep their BS detectors on high alert all the time. Writers should be more aware of what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in the psychology of their markets than everyone else. They should know more than the CEO or the client that they’re working with, more than the guys who are actually selling the stuff, because a lot of times the actual salesmen are doing that unconsciously.

So you want to keep your BS detectors really high and not take things for granted. Double-check stuff and makes sure that it works in your world. Your world is your toolbox of skills, knowledge, and psychological insights.

It doesn’t matter what people think, its’ how they act

Finally, reality checks. Writing is the best gig on earth because you have to have an examined life. I think it was Aristotle that said,

The only life worth living is the closely examined life.

That means you have to look in places other people may be uncomfortable looking.

You have to be aware, not of how you wish the world was, or how you think the world ought to be, but rather you look at the world as it really is. You look at not what humans say they will do, but what they actually do. When asked, a number of humans would say “Yeah, I would buy that product” in a focus group. That’s why most direct-response guys don’t like focus groups. They’re not lying. They really believe they would buy it, but you don’t care.

You want to see what the behavior is, that’s why results matter. You can write a great ad, everybody you know, all your buddies, your golfing buddies, your wife, your neighbors, the client, everybody will say “This is the best ad we’ve ever seen. It’s going to be great.” If it doesn’t actually pull, then it’s not a great ad. It doesn’t matter what people think, it’s how people act. So that would be the big thing. The BS detectors and the reality checks.

The old-school tactic than can jump-start your copywriting

Robert: You sound a little bit like Hemingway there, Mr. Carlton. All right, John, let’s get even more specific. It’s largely accepted that either the headline on an email, or the headline of a landing page, a blog post, or even a Tweet, is the most crucial element in writing copy that sells. How do you write your headlines? What is your process? And if you would, could you please tell us the story of the one-legged golfer?

John: Sure. First of all, I usually spend the same amount of time on the headline as I do on the copy. Now after 30 years of writing, I will occasionally sit down and write linearly. I’ll write a headline, I’ll write a subhead, and I’ll get into the copy and write it down.

Usually though, or the more normal way that I wrote throughout my career was in pieces. I might have a headline idea and put it aside. That was a chunk of the final ad that was separate from the opening paragraphs, that was separate from the sales part, that was separate from the mass of bullets in the middle, which is like the proof.

I guess the old thing, AIDA, you get attention if you have interest, then desire and then action. You can kind of break an ad down into that, and if you treat them separately, almost none of the top writers I know wrote linearly. You know, you don’t start with “Hi, my name is Bob” and go on. I mean, you may write that, but you stop at the end of that and jump down and actually do the actual sales pitch, the last page of the copy, and then come back and do the middle.

I wrote bullets first. After I’d get all steeped up, I’d do bullets. And I’d write pages and pages of bullets that maybe a third or half would make it into the final piece, maybe even less than that. That helped me cement everything in my head.

From there, I might go and write headlines. I would write headlines throughout the process of writing the piece because they would change. I would start with a how-to headline, which is the most fundamental and often the one you wind up with.

Often the first headlines I come up with are the ones I wind up with. But I would then write 50 to 100 more headlines, some of them takeoffs on the original headlines, some of them wildly different. I would try to get past what I knew would work. I’d get funny, I’d get filthy, I’d get outrageous, I’d make stuff up and just go way over the line because no one was going to see this but me and it was effective brainstorming.

And sometimes in those wild, outrageous headlines I would find the one that would really work and I would walk it back slowly and still come up with a headline that was way more outrageous than a simple how-to-do-something-better headline. It would be much more outrageous than that, but not quite as outrageous as the one where I would have gone to jail if I had run it.

So you spend a lot of time. You write a lot of that stuff. You’re absolutely right about Tweets and Facebook posts and subject lines of emails being headlines. It’s the compact delivery of either the curiosity, which means you’re kind of blind, you’re saying “Here, do you realize you are making a mistake that’s going to murder your business by this time tomorrow?” If you had that kind of curiosity value.

Or you can be very specific by saying “Here’s three ways you can double the amount of traffic that looks at your website by this time tomorrow afternoon.” Then you deliver the three ways, and various things or whatever.

There’s a lot of things you do, but you have to understand how that is done, and it’s not just sitting down and ripping them out. I will write emails. I still think … I was one of the first guys to write sales emails and still think I do some of the best ones around, but they’re different than what a lot of other people do.

If you get on my email list, you will see how I do it differently. It’s based on excellent writing.

But, Robert, as you alluded to, the importance is in the subject line. It’s how I bring people in and I do it kind of intuitively now, but it’s a process. It’s bringing people in. It’s understanding the competition. That they have maybe 400 other emails in their inbox competing for their attention.

So your competition isn’t just other people in your market, it’s every other email they get. It’s all of this stuff going on. And, if they are on marketing lists, they are going to be getting some of the cleverest, savviest, most cutthroat and shark-infested marketing possible, which means you are up against some of the best headline and subject line writers in the business.

So by not understanding that, you are essentially walking downtown into a dark alley with dollar bills pasted onto the outside of your suit and whistling happily, as you are going off to your death. So don’t do that.

How John wrote his most famous (and best-selling) headline

Get hip to how things are written and how they are done. Real quick, the headline you are talking about, the one-legged golfer. I had a client, he was doing his first instructional golf video. It was the first one he was doing. I looked at it and it was basically a boring “Here’s how to improve your golf game.” And I thought “Well, this is kind of boring.”

So I wanted to interview the guy. So I interviewed the actual talent, the guy who was the “expert” who was on this video. That’s how old this was, it was an actual video, and it wasn’t a DVD. And he was saying “Here’s how to do this stuff” and about 45 minutes into the interview where he’s talking about this triple coil power swing he’s doing, I said “How did you figure this out? How did you get the inspiration for this thing?”

And he said “Nobody wants to hear that story. I tell that and people roll their eyes.” And I said “I want to hear the story. How did you come across the epiphany, the inspiration for this?”

And he says “Well, I was golfing one day behind this foursome and one of the guys only had one leg. As he hopped up to the first tee to tee off, I thought ‘He’s going to fall over when he swings.’ And he didn’t. He had perfect balance, and he hit this great 300-yard drive right down the center of the fairway, and I had this epiphany that how he was balancing would work even better for 2-legged golfers. But nobody wants to hear that story. That’s nonsense.”

How to find the hooks that people respond to

That is the hook, I recognized that as the hook that I would need to lead people in. The headline became “The Amazing Secrets of the One-Legged Golfer That Can Instantly Eliminate Hooks and Slices and Increase Your Drives by 40 Yards” or something. I forget the exact headline.

After that, I taught my client how to look for hooks. They were so fascinated at how well this ad worked, it ran, it’s still running. It ran in the golf magazines for 15 years, and it’s still running online without much change to it. I taught the client how to look for hooks because I had to work pretty hard to find these hooks. You have to be able to recognize them when they come.

Now I call myself the most respected and ripped-off copywriter online because as I taught people how to write, and in that book Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel, I talk about that headline, the one-legged golfer, and suddenly a lot of ads starting cropping up about the one-legged accountant who can teach you how to cheat on your taxes, the one-legged everything.

The one-legged accountant, that’s not a hook. It doesn’t matter if he has one leg or not. It doesn’t matter if he’s a head in a jar somewhere. But it matters for golf, because you think it’s a disconnect.

It’s what I call the incongruous juxtaposition of compelling sales elements. So the incongruity is very, very important. So it might be an accountant who was declared brain-dead last week. That would count because his brain is what works.

So you have to understand how this stuff works. But once you do, then you’re off to the races. I taught my client, who knew nothing about writing, how to look for hooks, and he started coming back to me with these great new talents that he had found for golf, and all of them had a hook.

One guy crawled off of his deathbed, he was literally thinking he was going to die on one day, then he rallied and crawled off of his deathbed and went in and qualified for the U.S. Open in Los Angeles and actually competed and made money at the U.S. Open after thinking he was going to be dead by that time.

And he didn’t want to tell that story to my client. My client said to me “John, I think I’ve got the hook.” And sure enough, it went into the headline. Does that make sense?

John Carlton’s best advice for hungry copywriters

Robert: That makes perfect sense. That goes back to what you were talking about, research defeating, well, we don’t believe in writer’s block, but defeating the idea of writer’s block. In that research, all that research, everything you are going to pick up, those hooks are going to be coming out more and more. OK, last question for you.

If you could only give a handful of advice to say a starving copywriter out there who’s staring at the next 30 years and wondering how he or she is going to proceed in their craft and in their business, what would it be?

John: Wow. I am dedicated to this. There’s a lot of information out there. When I came up out there, there were no mentors, and there were no books. The word freelance copywriter wasn’t even known in the general public. I was in Los Angeles. There were very few, just a handful. I got to meet every successful freelance copywriter there.

There were five of us and we didn’t even know each other existed. We met by accident at an advertising guild meeting. Now, it’s the opposite. There’s tons of stuff out there and my blog goes back seven years of solid free archives. So there’s a lot of free information out there. I know that Brian has a lot of great stuff. There’s a lot of good free information.

New writers now have the opposite problem. They’ve got too much information. How do you tell? Do you hop onto the forums out there, do you start hanging out with other writers, and how do you tell the nonsense from that? Well that’s where the BS detector comes in.

Network, network, network

I would suggest that the most important thing for a young writer would be networking. Now I didn’t even know what networking was when I started out, but I was doing it. When I made a connection with a graphic designer, for example, or with another writer or the head of an ad agency that liked me, I would start to work them. I would let them know that I’m available for other jobs, and I would call them and ingratiate myself and learn how to bond and do things.

So networking is hugely important and it’s the #1 overlooked thing. I recently redid my freelance course. It’s a course I wrote just for freelance writers and I took a half a dozen or so of my best-performing students who were all wildly successful freelance copyrighters now. Many who have moved onto their own businesses, and asked them to write short pieces that went into the new edition of the freelance course, about what their main success thing is besides getting the information about how to write and honing their skill.

It all came down to networking. It all came down to taking the risk, attending seminars, meeting other writers, getting your networks together, actually working. You know, if you have a client and the client likes you and you never talk to them again, you’re a freaking idiot.

You should be not just asking him for more work or making sure that you’re available to him as a consultant or doing other stuff, but have him introduce you to other people. Businessmen are happy to do that. Businesses are starved for good copy. Starving. And businesses are going belly up every second of every day because they don’t know how to create an ad to bring in good copy to turn prospects into new customers or even to find the prospects in the first place.

So by networking you start to expand yourself. Now for a lot of writers, there was a golden age of seminars that has kind of fizzled and may be coming back, but during the last five or six years there was a seminar every month somewhere. From Dan Kennedy to a lot of the online guys that are having seminars, and you could go there as a writer and pay the money and just go and hang out in the hallways, talk to people, hand your card out and let people know that you know how to write.

You know, that was a way a lot of my students found work right off the bat. They became very successful. Through that, they networked with other people. So they would find one client in one niche, they would become an expert in that niche. Then they would go to other marketers in that niche and say “I’ve already written a successful ad for this. If you need writing you should hire me” and start to build on that.

That’s part of the salesmanship process. You don’t need to get stuck in one niche, but you can become very good in one niche, and then another niche. I was great in multiple niches throughout my career. It wasn’t that big of a deal, once I broke down the basic problem of being able to sell to a specific niche market, then it was easy to do for another thing.

So learning how to sell to golfers, I could sell to bodybuilders, I could sell to gun fanatics, and I could sell to guys who rode motocross motorcycles. Once you start breaking it down you figure it out. So networking is one thing.

How to find and use mentors to up your game

As far as the amazing amount of mentoring going on out there, my advice is to pick a guy you like and get kind of steeped in what he’s doing. That doesn’t mean you can’t look at what other writers are doing, but there are so many different styles out there, and there is conflicting information about how to address something.

So find a writer that you are simpatico with, who either has a blog or who has teaching stuff, or is available for mentoring or whatever the process is. Even if you just, I mentored under several writers early in my career who didn’t know they were mentors to me because I would find their writing and study it and break it down.

Gary Bencivenga probably the greatest living direct-response copyrighter in the game, he’s since retired, but he’s just a monster. I used to take his pieces and break them down. I would break down the way he did bullets, the way he did teaser copy, the way he did headlines, and he became … and he didn’t even realize this, and he thought it was funny later because he respected me as a writer later on, but I said “Dude, I wouldn’t have gotten this far with my reputation if I hadn’t taken your stuff and broken it down and figured out how you wrote a damn good bullet.”

He’s the guy who kind of taught me how, and I realize there was this one-two punch, and I could go on for an hour about how to write a good bullet. But I focused on him, and I didn’t write like him, I didn’t try to copy him, but I kept him in mind when I wrote, so through that gun-to-the-head, through that preparation, and through that that idea and was kind of like “Would Gary agree with this? Would Bencivenga agree with me that I’m doing this?”

I never wrote like him, but I used him as a mentor, and that helped me because there were a dozen other guys I could have done that with. But I felt simpatico with him, I understood him, so when I wrote for Jim Rutz as a ghostwriter later, he was a totally different writer, wildly different writer, told longer stories, went off on tangents, both of them were very, very successful but completely different copywriters. I understood that now I need to shift from that other kind of writing, to this kind of writing and I understood how to get in there and figure it out and study it, and I began to write in ways that Jim Rutz would agree with.

When I started writing with Gary Halbert, a third writer who was radically different than the other two, I was able to understand “ok”, now there’s this new way of approaching it and it was much easier. It’s a very short learning curve to be able to figure out what they’re doing because I understood what they were doing. It was all broken down.

Why copywriting is not a “mystic” art

So networking and breaking down the process as much as you can so none of it is a mystery. You shouldn’t be mystified by why a writer uses a how-to headline, or why he writes bullets in a certain way, or how he has constructed a pitch, whether it’s a video sales letter, or just a written letter, or if it’s a launch. A launch is a sales letter turned sideways. So rather than one long linear sales pitch, you get it dosed out in chunks as you go along. So if you took it, mashed it all together what has leaked out over a period of two weeks, is actually just a straight-ahead sales piece.

Once you realize that, then all the mystery fades away and you realize that’s why he did this, that’s why he did that. It’s like listening to music, a lot of people listen to music, and it’s this pleasant thing that makes them feel a certain way, and that’s all they know about it.

Other people, and a lot of the copywriters I know, by the way, are musicians too. You want to break it down. What instrument is that? How is he playing that? What chord is that? What mode is he soloing in? How is the production done? How many instruments are there? How is this done? You start breaking it down. And that increases your enjoyment of music and also allows you to be able to create it yourself. Does that make sense, Robert?

Robert: It does, and I want to bring up one more thing on the mentorship. Don’t forget as you mentioned earlier, those old dead guys make good mentors too, right?

John: That’s a really good point, Robert. When I started out all the mentors I had, like John Caples (Tested Advertising Methods), and David Olgilvy (Confessions of an Ad Man) was still alive but he died soon after I got into the game, and Claude Hopkins (My Life in Advertising & Scientific Advertising) had been dead for decades, and Robert Collier (The Robert Collier Letter Book) had been dead for 10 years.

Robert: Eugene Schwartz (Breakthrough Advertising) was still around when you were starting, right?

John: Yes, yes he was. A number of the guys … what was interesting, I have a videotape somewhere of David Ogilvy from the Creative Guild in Los Angeles that doesn’t exist anymore. It was kind of an intervention group for advertising people, they would meet the first Tuesday of every month, complain about stuff, and share insights and they had David Ogilvy come and talk.

I made two realizations, one these guys are approachable. David Ogilvy in the last part of his career was on a David Letterman show, when Letterman had a very late midnight show. Letterman didn’t know who he was, was kind of disrespectful and interrupted him and wouldn’t let him tell his story. I thought “Wow, what an ignoble way to go out.”

But also, when he was in Los Angeles he said “hey you want to stop by speak at this guild, and there would be like 40 people” and he said “Yeah!” and he went and he spoke. They made a videotape and I got the only videotape. I asked the President of the Creative Guild “God, can I get a copy of the tape?” and she said “You can have the tape, it’s just Ogilvy.” But it wasn’t a very good tape, just an interview with him and it was pretty much what he had done in his writing, and it was a bad videotape, I don’t know where it is, I probably should have kept it, but I don’t have any copyrights to it.

My point is, even the most famous guys are approachable, but you have to be respectable. I get people asking me all the time. This is my last piece of advice. They come to me and say “I’ll do anything to work with you or to get mentored by you.” That’s not what I want to hear. That just dumps it in my lap. I don’t need another puppy dog, and I don’t need somebody coming to me and telling me how wonderful it would be to have a career like mine. I don’t need to hear this stuff and I don’t need the trouble of having to make up stuff for you to do.

I did mentor somebody as recently as last year and I mentored him for about six months. He was a British guy in London and he came to me and said “Tell you what. I will trade you 10 hours a week that I will work for you for free for one 1-hour phone call a week where I can ask you anything I want.” I said “Yeah.” Because my phone calls right now are $2,500 for a consultation, so it was equivalent of that, and I was getting a lot more than that in extra writing stuff, and the guy became like my virtual assistant for awhile.

He came to me not with a problem, but with a solution. That’s very rare. I’ve never been approached like that before. It’s the way I approached Jay Abraham, the way I went to Halbert when I went with him. You can’t just announce yourself and say “I’m the next greatest writer and you should mentor me because then you’ll get credit for it.”

No, I don’t need any more ego-ridden writers and I don’t need any more people with problems with self-esteem and I don’t need any of that stuff.

So get your act together, go as far as you can, and if you find a writer that you are simpatico with, that you like his style and that you can follow him, then immerse yourself in it. There’s a lot of writing out there. You never need to talk to them. You never need to get private mentoring from them. You may never need to buy their actual stuff, although you probably should.

The first money you make you should be reinvesting in your education. Your education goes on for the rest of your life. But there’s a lot of opportunities out there to do it, it’s just be aware that there’s conflicting information out there.

Not all writers write the same, and just keep breaking things down and keep working towards developing who you are. Don’t decide what kind of writer you are if you’re a rookie. You talk about staring at the next 30 years and wondering how to proceed in your craft and your business. You know, you take it one step at a time; you do the smart stuff and start paying attention to what the successful guys have done.

They did it through networking, and they did it through getting better all the time, those things I talked about like being the adult in the room, writing with a gun to the head, and devoting yourself to this. It’s not hard.

I’m a lazy guy. I was working, in the height of my freelance career I was taking three to six months off a year to go and play in bad biker bar bands. I’d play in these seedy bars. I’d do it for six months at a time and not even think about business, and I’d come back and my clients would be glad to see me come back, and I’d find new clients.

That all changed when I became a “guru” and I started having to do monthly newsletters, but I’m back to it again. After 10 years of being a guru I’m back to taking off a lot of time. I’m working a few hours a week. But those are intense hours. I get more done in two hours in a day writing when I’m prepped sitting down than most writers get done in a month.

So once you have all these realizations coming down and you start getting really good at what you’re doing, you recognize you are the linchpin to the success that businesses crave. They need it. They are starved for good writing.

The Professional Copywriter’s Code

So make yourself a good writer first. Network. Never lie. Never do anything unethical. Be that professional that people need. And by the way, I will leave you with the professional’s code that I kind of invented, although it’s not new, but this is the way I’ve been saying it.

You are where you said you’d be when you said you’d be there having done what you said you’d do.

Very, very simple. That encompasses deadlines, that encompasses meetings, that encompasses everything. If you’ve got a 10 o’clock meeting, you are there at a quarter ‘til. If you have a deadline, you meet it even if you have to stay up all night. Even if you have to forgo everything else. Business before pleasure. That’s one of the early things I did.

So I would suggest people go over and check out my blog, john-carlton.com. There’s a dash in there because I didn’t grab the John Carlton straight URL in time, and some woodworker in Boston got it, who has high search engine rankings, by the way.

Robert: I’ll bet he does!

John: But it’s john-carlton.com. Sign up, it’s easy, and you’ll get notifications when new blogs are up and notifications about things I’m doing, where I’m speaking. I’m speaking much less. I’m speaking at Kennedy’s thing in the fall. Scaled way back, but I’m very visible. I’m out there a lot. I’m doing a lot of things. I love doing interviews with guys like you. So that would be my only recommendation.

And I do have things that will be available soon so it’s always good to stay in the jet stream of what guys like me are doing. There aren’t many like me left. Most of us are retiring, leaving the field and I’ve got many years left in me, but I’m taking it slower and I’m not being quite as involved.

So take advantage of this rare opportunity. There are still some guys who have feet in both worlds. The old classic world of advertising, which is pre-web, and highly steeped in the online world. I was one of the pioneers online. The early websites I created because just from intuition are still being used with testimonials running down both sides of the wall of testimonials. It’s not like I’m any kind of genius it was just gun-to-the-head. It was just straight-ahead, let me get the message out in the most awesome, effective, solid salesmanship way that I can, and that’s really all I’ve got to say. I’m kind of talked out.

Robert: Well, there’s not many of you left, I agree, and I for one am glad you are still around and I hope you’re going to be around. You could probably just disappear if you wanted to. But I hope you’re going to be around for a long, long time because it’s good having you here and I appreciate you very much coming on today.

Let’s get out of here. Thanks for listening, everybody. Like John said, if you want to get more of him online, you can find him at john-carlton.com. I’ll have that link in the show notes as well. If this show does anything to you or for you, please jump over to iTunes and give us a rating or a comment. If you get a chance, it’s always very much appreciated. My. Carlton, thank you for coming by today. I really appreciate it.

John: Robert, it was a pleasure speaking with you and I hope to speak with you soon.

Robert: You bet. Let’s do it . OK, bye bye.

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About the Author: Robert Bruce is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter and Resident Recluse.

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Comments

  1. This is a simple blueprint taht will help you write a powerful web copy it will help you solve unsolved problem based on your psychological words. What i like from the episode is how you can inject emotion based on rational words.

  2. Another treasure trove of gems from John Carlton…
    “Rookies can get them on the fence. Pros knock them off the fence.”
    “Incongruity – the juxtaposition of compelling sales elements.”

    Amazing secrets from a one-legged copywriter!
    (Who happens to carry a spare one just in case)

  3. Wow John!
    That was my favorite radio Blog post in a long time! I loved it last week and this week was even better. I got a ton of ideas to try out in my Blog. Head lines seem the hardest thing for me to get. Trying to find some thing compelling that has a key word or two, that also speaks to my article.
    I predict you will go on lots of walks with me and my iphone this year. Thank you for taking the time to create such a inspirational post!
    Have an awesome day!

  4. Normally I don’t automatically respect The Big Dogs just because everyone else says to. So, hearing about John’s struggles and journey broke through this tendency of mine. Glad I decided to listen. Respect granted. :)

  5. I charge $3,500 for a 1/2 hour consultation…but I don’t have any clients. Hmm, I wonder why. LOL

  6. Stay frosty, ladies and gentlemen.

  7. This was such a great interview John! Thanks for sharing your story and the terrific headline tips :) I’ve got some tweaking to do … LOL ..

    Be Blessed!!

  8. To be honest, I had never heard of John Carlton but great to listen to his 30 min copywriting tips.

  9. I hadn’t heard of him either. His latest blog post had over 50 comments, so he does have a good following. Often a sign of success as a writer.

  10. You guys haven’t heard of John Carlton? He is to copywriting what Seth Godin is to blogging.

  11. I would suggest that anyone who finds this of value should also check out Gary Halbert. The Boron Letters (http://thegaryhalbertletter.com/) completely altered the way I think about writing copy.

  12. Thanks so much for his replay. I am always trying to improve my writing skills. This was very helpful. I too had never heard of John, but I’m not in the copywriting niche. Appreciate you turning us on to him Robert.

  13. Great talk. Plenty of classic advice and even lead to a negotiated rate change with a testing-my-patience client; something we might not have had the confidence to do otherwise.

    Thank you for the inspiration and confidence in our skills. The client paid AND commented on the tips we added from this as “you nailed it, impressive.”

  14. Thanks – I have now subscribed to your Podcast on iTunes :)

  15. Real topnotch. John Carlton is one of my copywriting heroes. Thanks a lot of sharing the interview.

  16. One of the greatest alive – I’m soaking in everything & pushing myself to DO what John suggests, which for me is the hard part :)
    Thanks for such a wonderful interview & sharing so freely.

    PS:
    Robert – awesome probing skills which without this interview would not have been the same. Learning as much from you my friend!