This is a guest post on The Boron Letters from Austin Lee, a former real estate broker turned direct response copywriter (and a BIG Gary Halbert fan). Austin helps businesses grow online conversions and sales by dialing in their message-to-market match. Learn more about Austin here.
Gary Halbert, one of marketing’s most legendary men was paid 11 cents an hour to rake the visitors area of a federal prison.sec
In The Boron Letters, a series of 25 letters written from behind the fences of the Boron Federal Prison Camp, Gary’s son Bond amusedly tells the story.
There’s no doubt in my mind, and probably the minds of anyone who knew him personally, that he took the job seriously. He would draw parallel lines in the sand and the rocks to keep up the appearance of the place, and when he was done — he would sit down, pull out his pen, and write words that would make him rich.
Often dubbed “history’s greatest copywriter”, his most famous letter was mailed over 600,000,000 times (no, that is not a typo). At the time of writing these letters in the 80’s, he said it had raked in $40 million in sales.
To give you an idea of the logistics needed to run an operation like that, consider the staff required to support this mammoth promotion:
[pullquote align=”normal”]“That letter built an organization that needed 700 employees to keep it going… and… 40 of those employees were needed just to make the bank deposits!” [/pullquote]
If you aren’t familiar with Gary, “The Prince of Print” today we’re about to go DEEEEP into The Boron Letters, the work of art legendary copywriter John Carlton calls:
“A concentrated energy mass of the essential fundamentals that will last until our civilization crumbles.”
Sound good? Sweet.
Here’s the breakdown of the gigantor-post you’re in for. It’s not a chronological journey through The Boron Letters, but rather, a breakdown of Gary’s core commandments as they apply to the before, during, and after phases of creating a sales message.
Intro: The Man. The Legend.
Phase I: Before You Write A Word Of Copy
Books To Read (And Re-read)
Why NOT To Be A Student Of Copy
Feeding Starving Market
How To Create A Swipe File
What To Do Before Chasing The Almighty Dollar
Hand Copying: Is It Worth It?
Phase II: During – Key Success Formulas
Don’t Know Where To Start?
AIDA With The Grand Master
How 3 Ugly Letters Raked In An Extra $4.5 Million
Writing For Dollars (Not Applause)
Phase III: After The Draft
The Lazy Person’s Way To Profit
How To Beat tl;dr With Looong Copy
Silky Smooth Segue Like Nate Dogg
Secret to Getting 500% More Readership
Outro & The Steely Resolve
How Gary Halbert, The World’s Greatest Copywriter, Ended Up Behind Bars
How then, does a guy who writes words for dollars end up in the pen?
According to one of his students (and email marketing master) Ben Settle, who tells the story in this podcast episode, he got caught up in a joint venture with two dummies who dropped the ball.
They were running a direct mail promotion and they couldn’t fulfill the product they were selling, so Gary begged and begged them to stop mailing.
Eventually they got the attention of some attorney general, and Gary was the one who ended up in prison because he was “the brains” of the operation.
That’s all I know about how it went down.
Now, let’s get into who Gary was and how can he mold you — a freelance copywriter, growth-minded business owner, or aspiring entrepreneur — into a sharper, more magnetic, and far more profitable marketer.
The lessons he concentrated inside those walls, however, could arguably teach you:
Damn-near every fundamental skill you need to know about copywriting & direct response marketing…
…and catapult you ahead of 95% of competing copywriters and businesses.
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I don’t mean this is “the last piece of marketing education you’ll ever need”. If that’s what you’re looking for, this post is probably too long for you anyway.
Halbert was a lifelong student, and taught his son Bond to take care of stay on top of his education like a prisoner preparing to greet the parole board.
It’s a never-ending process:
“Guys in prison take care of themselves. They exercise their bodies, pay attention to their grooming, read, study and much more. You see, you never know when opportunity will knock (and it does, even here) and, if you are smart, you must be ready.”
One of my greatest insights from The Boron Letters is in forever altering the way you look at markets, which is far more important than a focalised study of copy. But we’ll get to that later on.
In the shit-hurricane of content swirling around the internet from self-proclaimed ‘gurus’ promising overnight riches — it’s hard to find trustworthy information.
To combat this problem, I’ve followed one simple rule.
This rule served me well; it let me 7X my rates in 10 months, and move to my dream location, 3-minutes walk from the beach in San Diego:
If you’re serious about learning something, you might as well learn from the best.
That begs the question, was Halbert the best?
Another one of his monikers in the industry: “The King of Copy” might give you some indication.
Sadly the world lost a legend back in 2007 when he died just short of 69 — leaving a legacy his beloved friend John Carlton deemed: “worthy of a king.”
There’s two ways to get a copy of The Boron Letters.
I recommend the first, to learn Bond’s first hand insights from receiving his father’s letters (he comments at the end of each chapter):
- Buy the print version of The Boron Letters on Amazon
- Get all the chapters for free
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25
The Man. The Legend.
In the sense of A-list copywriters, Gary was anything but ordinary.
He didn’t write for the big name publishers. He was a rebel in many regards. And he wasn’t worried about pissing people off.
One particularly amusing example is the girlfriend recruitment letter I stumbled on, which further cemented his legend-status in my young impressionable mind.
His rebellious, larger-than-life nature fueled both mammoth successes and catastrophic failures (which he learned to clean up and forget about as easily as spilled beer).
Like many great success stories, his background was modest.
He came from an economically-depressed small town in Ohio (America’s “rust belt” for y’all outside the U.S. of A)…had 5 kids by the time he was 30…and, fun fact: used to carry a baggie of veggies in his pocket as a kid, according to grandma.
Gary’s Golden Thread
If there’s one thing that struck me like a lightning bolt the first time I read the Boron Letters, it was “shit! I gotta get tougher.”
GRIT, is perhaps the most unifying theme throughout The Boron Letters, and scarcely one chapter goes by where he doesn’t talk about it.
First chapter he comes out swinging with this hammer to your core:
“Everyone wants to climb the mountain, but the big difference between those at the top and those still on the bottom is simply a matter of showing up tomorrow to give it just one more shot.”
Nobody said it like bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman, who delivers the same bitter truth:
“Everyone wanna be a bodybuilder, but don’t nobody wanna lift no heavy ass weights.”
Final Warning: I ain’t your cheerleading captain, but know this
The reason I preface this beast of a post with borderline-platitudes is because it’s important to your success in writing copy.
But I won’t try to rah-rah motivate you or any of that b.s. This post is about raw and dirty marketing principles (not ninja tactics) you can use every day until you meet the grave.
It’s all on you. That’s where grit comes in.
Keep your eyes open for it…
As you read through the pages (you ARE going to read the actual Boron Letters, right?) notice how Halbert sprinkled little grit-crumbs, showing you the path to success.
Even as I’m writing this now, I’m struggling to follow Gary’s sage wisdom.
There’s gorgeous women walking around the coffee shop, I want a croissant, I feel like calling my friend Charlie…
All little insidious reminders that ‘resistance’ – as Steven Pressfield calls it in The War of Art (must-read for anyone in any creative field) — is trying to pry you away from your work.
The cool thing is, The Boron Letters give you the tools fight that sucker back.
(Last time I promise: this takes actual, ass-in-the-seat work… but by learning from the unquestionable master, yes, you can shortcut some of the said work.
If you aren’t ready now, no sweat, continue binge-watching Narcos and return when you’re ready to go…
I’ll let you ruminate on this little nugget from Chapter 4 of the letters.
From his prison cell — Halbert was reading an article citing John D. Rockefeller. It said something to the effect of:
Nothing is as satisfying as self-reliance.
Even though I’m very much still a rookie myself, I can attest to this undeniable truth.
If you’re stuck, working for the man, and you enjoy writing…this could be your escape.)
John’s #1 Lesson From The Boron Letters
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Here’s what John had to say when I asked what his #1 lesson was from reading The Boron Letters:
“Simple grit and sticking with it.
Show up, study the greats, read the books, and gradually, step by step, you become great.
It’s not easy and it’s rarely fast, but if you “stay the path”, you get there eventually.”
There you have it. Wise (and true) words from the man who turned me onto my first love in business: copywriting.
I’m really excited to dig into this one…when you’re a dirt-poor hopeful copywriter living in your parents basement, nothing beats a free world-class direct response marketing education.
And if you’re interested in learning from the Wayne Gretzky of copywriting, I think you’ll really enjoy it and increase your earnings from it.
I’m going to divide this doozy of a post into three distinct categories.
They make up the three core areas of any sales message or marketing campaign.
1. Before: the research, questions you should ask, market selection…really what you should be ‘listening’ to, because, as Eugene Schwartz says, you don’t write copy, you channel existing market forces.
This section will be dedicated to examining and understanding those forces. By paying attention to the big players in the market, using your snapchat feed, and talking to people you hate….you can become a far superior copywriter.
sLearn why NOT to become a student of copy; and what, instead, to become a master of.
2. During: in the second section we’ll cut into the juicy center of the copy steak, and get into the core steps of writing copy for your own business or a client’s business. Got writer’s block?
You’ll learn what Halbert did to overcome it (you don’t need to be a professional), plus a century-old, yet dangerously effective 4-step copy outline you’ve probably heard of — but never fully understood until you learn Halbert’s spin.
Copy isn’t in the writing, but the editing; I’ll give you a list of smooth-as-butter transitions to keep the reader moving deeper and deeper into your copy.
You’ll learn why never to write for applause if you’re trying to make sales, plus the Starbucks real estate strategy for converting your most interested leads.
3. After: crack open a cold one and flick on the TV, because the first step of this critical 3rd phase turns laziness into profit.
In this section, we’ll discuss what to do after the bulk of your ad is written, how to animate your copy like a Disney movie (and make it stick in the prospects mind) while endearing them to you.
We’ll check out Gary’s secret to getting 500% more readership using a format you read everyday — and see how today’s advertisers profitably invest millions using this approach.
I. Before You Write A Single Word Of Copy:
The thing about writing good copy is, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
There’s timeless formulas, structures, and human emotions that have worked for thousands of years, and aren’t changing anytime soon.
In golf, you’ll always need to know how to putt, chip, and drive into the fareway.
They’re fundamentals. To win, you’ve gotta know the basics, right?
Step 1: Learn Yourself Good – Get The Books That Actually Work
I know, I know. You want all the answers here, in this post. “Books? Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
Again, if you’re serious, you’ll get your greedy hands on as many of these as you can.
If you just need a basic understanding to write your next landing page, sales letter, or Facebook ad — you can follow Gary’s instructions below and get 80% of the way there.
Let’s see what the King recommends, shall we?
In Chapter 10, he provides this simple list to his son Bond:
…with a strange set of instructions attached:
- Read them both once, at your own pace, for enjoyment
- Read them again, taking notes
- Read them one more time, taking notes
Simple enough, right? This is a great place to start, but you might be wondering:
“Austin, these books are old AF, do I look like a dinosaur to you? What about copywriting online? You know, in 2017?”
To which I reply by unceremoniously slapping you upside the head. Twice. With both of these books.
Yes, there have been some remarkable findings in the marketing world since this was published. Not to mention human psychology, which is equally important to your deadly written jiu-jitsu skillz.
So here’s my updated short-list to kickstart your good learnin’:
- The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joe Sugarman
- Influence by Robert Cialdini
- The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy
- Ogilvy On Advertising by David Ogilvy
- Great Leads by Michael Masterson and John Forde
For total newbies, these fine works will unveil a remarkable truth about marketing to you:
Copy is selling in print. And selling is pure emotion.
You might already understand this intuitively, but we’ll peel back the layers later on in the AIDA section of this post. Now go, Go, GO read these!
Okie doke, glad to have you back. Now that you’ve spent a weekend absorbing this timeless wisdom into your noggin, it’s time to…
STOP Being A Student Of Copywriting
It’s funny, when I got into copywriting, I noticed all the top dogs in the industry worshipped this Halbert guy.
They spoke of him like a god among mortals.The more I learn, I realize there will never be another person like him.
One fan who stands out in my mind as a sharp Halbert disciple is Ben Settle, creator of the “Email Players” newsletter.
There are few teachers who break down the distinction between principles and tactics as well as Mr. Settle. And the difference between understanding this separates the rookies from the players, so listen up.
Tactics are only as useful as the principles that lie beneath them.
Fancy tactics on top of a poor product or sales message are like dressed-up turds. You can polish, buff, and shine it all day long… but it’s still a turd.
- Changing your ‘buy now’ button size, color, or positioning on the page
- Adjusting the color of your headline
- Adding/removing steps in your order form
- Blindly following templates from vastly different markets
- Creating uber-complex email segmentation when a simple daily email would do fine
- Deciding between Facebook-style testimonials & plain old text
Now, don’t get me wrong — these things are important and can produce a tremendous lift in conversions — IF your foundational principles are strong.
The Boron Letters Contain The Granite Pillars Of Marketing
The first pillar I’ll dive into here is studying markets before of copy. This makes sense, because the success of all copy is founded in understanding what makes your market tick.
(If you do want to learn more about internet tactics from another loyal Halbert disciple— check out the book from Russell Brunson and company: 108 Proven Split Test Winners)
This next strategy is something you can practice every day simply by paying attention on Facebook, going to blockbuster movies, and reading your email…
Halbert’s Hamburger Method For Finding Starving Markets
In his copywriting seminars, Halbert conducted a thought experiment with his students, asking them:
“If you and I both owned a hamburger stand and we were in a contest to see who would sell the most hamburgers, what advantages would you most like to have on your side?”
“Superior meat…sesame seeds buns…the lowest prices…”
Halbert only wanted one advantage, and he promised it’d whip the pants off all his students if he had it. The advantage?
“The only advantage I want,” I reply, “is A STARVING CROWD!”
Simple enough, right?
A while back, I was reading that split test book I just mentioned when something dawned on me I’ll never forget:
Most of the best marketers are in the best markets — the starving markets. Markets that never, ever lose their appetite.
- Personal development (people always want to improve, always want an edge)
- Weight loss (nobody wants to be fat)
- Investment newsletters (9-figure business have been built on this, everyone wants to get rich)
- Entrepreneurship (freedom, self-sufficiency, and of course, earnings potential — people will never stop wanting to work for ‘the man’ & those in business will never stop wanting to grow)
If you go where people are buying, you cut to the front of the line
So, what are these markets, what do they look like and how can you study them?
I’ll give you two ways to do this. I think the first one is better, because it gives you a no-bullshit indication of what’s actually selling.
Gary draws a funny comparison in Ch. 5, to people lying about reading the Bible:
Hardly anyone (percentage wise) has actually read the Bible. A lot of people own a Bible, a lot of people DISPLAY their Bibles, some people are given to swearing on a Bible but damn-few people have actually READ the Bible.
For the first method, I’ll give you a list of things people are actually reading.
Some of these email newsletters have over 300,000 names on their list — and they make profits with LOTS of zeroes, rest assured.
I recommend creating a new email account and subscribing to them all.
But if that’s too much, pick the niches that interest you and study their subject lines, their offers, and the sales pages they drive you to.
Crazy how some of the best education in the world is free if you know where to look.
Sign up for these, read their stuff, and take notes.
Save the ads from things you buy, you’re itching to buy, or ones that grab your attention and stop you from what you’re doing, and get you to read.
Add these to your ‘swipe file’ (I’ll show you how to make one in this section)
Stand on the shoulders of giants, see further, and learn from the best.
The Marketing “Umpire’s” 40/40/20 Rule Of Profitability (And Why Copy Isn’t The End-All Be-All Of Marketing)
As the ‘umpire’ of direct response marketing, and founder of Titans of Direct Response, Brian Kurtz puts it — the success of any campaign can be broken down into the 40/40/20 rule.
40% of success is influenced by the offer…
40% is influenced by the list (are you reaching the right people?)…
And the final 20% of success is determined by the copy.
By zooming out your focus beyond just copywriting — and into your offer, and list selection — you end up writing copy that’s more tightly dialed into your true prospect.
In Chapter 7, he expands on his RFU formula for picking winning lists. I know very little about list selection, so I’ll just give you the basic rules:
Recency: the more recently a person has bought something similar to your product, the more likely they are to respond to another offer
Frequency: The more often a person buys something similar to your product, the higher probability they have of buying again.
Unit Of Sale: a person who has paid MORE for something similar to your product, the better chance you have of making a sale.
“You know, Bondo-Dog, people don’t always put their money where their mouths are; but they do nearly always put put their money where their true desires are.”
The “Anonymous Amy” Market Insight Goldmine
As I touched on earlier, people aren’t always honest about what they want to buy. At the same time, Halbert urges:
“Sell People What They Want To Buy! So obvious, so overlooked, and so important.” (Chapter 7, The Boron Letters)
So, are there any other ways to bridge the gap, besides looking at where the big dogs are making their millions?
There’s infinite places to look.
But remember the hamburger method — go where the feeding frenzy already exists — where people are hungry, curious, and buying…
The virtual cloak of anonymous profiles opens up guilt-free channels of vulnerability, where you can see your prospect’s true fears, dreams, demands and desires you might not get from them in person.
1. Amazon.com — A Copywriter’s Wet Dream
I recently finished a sales letter for an exercise product to reduce shoulder pain. Amazon was HUGE for getting inside the head of elderly folks who are hurting — a market I knew next to nothing about.
Here’s what I searched for:
- Shoulder supplements
- Shoulder braces and slings
- Books on shoulder pain relief
There were thousands of reviews for products in all three categories.
Since it’s a relatively anonymous platform, people are remarkably open about their pains, struggles, and challenges before AND after using the product.
It’s a gold mine of priceless insights during your research phase. Use it, understand your fellow humans on a brand new level, and profit from it.
2. Reddit.com — this requires more digging, but given the 100% anonymity, you can find some raw, unfiltered glimpses into people’s most painful insecurities and fears, as well as their desires.
People do not hold back on emotion, and emotion powers sales if you learn how to channel it properly.
3. Niche-Specific Forums — similar to Reddit, but sometimes you can find more tight-knit and active communities when you start researching, say, female joggers.
That’s the exact niche I pulled a great subject line from:
“I literally can’t pee alone”
I read a post from a distressed mom of three. She needed help with
building a running schedule that fit into her life, because she was so busy taking care of the kids she could hardly grab a bathroom break alone.
I’m a 25 year old dude. I have no clue what challenges moms go through, so this was key.
I’m not discounting face-to-face time… but if you need to learn a market fast, this approach is going to get you 80% of the way there.
Know Thy Market + Offer Them Solutions = Fuel For Great Copy
This wasn’t in The Boron Letters, but screw it. I remember this profound lesson from an issue of Gary’s newsletter.
Coming from ‘the greatest copywriter ever’ — this marketing insight really blew me away:
Oftentimes my clients ‘underplay’ their offers without even knowing it.
They forget how important it is to take the prospect by the hand and SHOW them all the awesomeness they’re getting in simple, easy-to-understand terms.
It’s like blasting yourself in the foot with a shotgun when you do this.
Because you can rarely tell someone too much about something that could solve a problem in their life.
Now, I understand this can all sound like a lot — deep market research, figuring out what the hell people want, crafting appealing offers…
It’s not exactly out-of-the-box easy when you’re just starting out.
The Secret Is, There Is No Secret
I’m still new to this whole internet marketing space myself, it’s been about a year. Already though, my computer is in danger…
Because holy shit, if I see another “here’s the secret to 7-figures in 4 days” Facebook ad… I’m going to frisbee my Mac through the coffee shop window, and likely strike some poor hipster dead.
This all takes serious work, but the closest thing to a ‘secret way’ to stomp the gas pedal down on your copywriting education, is in Chapter 17 of The Boron Letters.
(my favorite chapter, since you were dying to know ; )
I think of it as a rite of passage.
Most people won’t do this, which is a cool feeling if you put in the time. Even cooler, is knowing some of the greatest copywriters who ever lived swear by this method.
How To Tattoo Brilliant, Profitable Copy Into Your Subconscious With Your Pen
Just yesterday, I was back at it with this approach because I could feel my copy axe had dulled.
This time, it was email copy. I hit a rut and needed to absorb the wisdom of smarter writers and marketers.
I return to it over and over like a good Shakira song, and I probably will for another decade at least.
(Again, this golden nugget lays ready for the taking in Chapter 17, if you read any chapter read this one)
Okay enough buildup. I’ll let Gary put it simply:
“The Best Way To Become
A Good Writer…Is By…
Writing Good Writing!”
Handwrite the great stuff.
It’s like trying to become a great painter by pulling your easel up to Van Gogh’s museum, and copying away.
Except you can actually replicate it down to every period, comma, and underlined word.
It’s a way, as Gary Halbert says, to learn it “from the inside out”.
I can tell you personally— this works. I’ve handwritten over 120 sales letters and dozens of emails.
It can be a bitch, your hand will cramp…but man, there’s something awesome about scribbling your way through this rite of passage and seeing into the masters minds.
Only way to find out is to do it, so John and I decided to give you a little ‘starter pack.’
Use These 14 Sales Letters To Get You Started
- Click this link to download 14 proven, winning sales letters
- Every day, for two weeks, write out these letters by hand
- Pay special attention to the headlines (5x more people read headlines than body copy)
- If you want to dive deeper, check out CopyHour.com and Derek will take care of you. (John, myself, and hundreds of other great writers have gone through it).
I know some of these letters might look like they’re from your grandma’s dusty archives, but there’s a reason for this.
Ask yourself: “have people ever stopped wanting sex, wealth, influence, health, and security?”
With some minor tweaks, ANY of those letters could be easily adapted to a modern marketplace.
Human psychology doesn’t change, and those letters made combined hundreds of millions of dollars because they understood people’s desires on an elemental level.
The resources above will get you rolling, but here’s how you can start building a habit that’ll serve you for a lifetime.
The Swiss Army Tool Every Copywriter Keeps On Hand
I already gave you one of these above, but let me explain why you need one (and the party foul you can’t afford to make).
A ‘swipe file’ is simply a collection of ads to use as ‘signposts’ to guide you on your merry way to profits.
I have to give the late great Eugene Schwartz credit for that metaphor. What a swipe file doesn’t mean, is stealing other people’s work. Keep it classy, alright?
In Chapter 10 of The Boron Letters, Gary walks Bond through the steps of writing a hypothetical direct mail campaign for an information product showing people how to invest in real estate.
Your ‘swipes’ should typically be relevant to the industry, or at least the medium (VSL, online sales letter, etc.).
The point is to ‘heat up the engine’, and open your brain to ideas it can use.
I see a lot of ads in Facebook on my iPhone, so if something gets me to click, I’ll go back to the ad and take a screenshot. You can create a ‘swipe file’ folder in your phone or desktop to keep track of things that spur you to action.
For newer copywriters: as you build your swipe file, study promotions, and soak up mad knowledge — pay attention to what gets you excited.
A Good Question To Ask BEFORE Chasing The Almighty Dollar
In The Boron Letters, Gary calls this his #1 secrets to making money. If you go the freelance copywriter route, you’ll come to learn about the major markets:
– Financial Newsletters
– Personal Development
– Health & Supplements
There’s certainly more markets, but these are the main ones.
I wouldn’t let it discourage you if none of these sound appealing. It’s just good to know the arena where the biggest players compete — like Agora — and buy stacks of copy.
What if you those topics don’t get your blood flowing? What then?
“Money, in my opinion, especially big money, is most often a by product of enthusiasm.
If a person, secretly in his heart, wants to be an architect, he shouldn’t go into selling real estate, for example, just because he has heard that that is where the money is…The money is where the enthusiasm is. Please remember this!”
(Chapter 5, The Boron Letters)
I think a good way to find your enthusiasm is to dig back to the stuff that filled you with wonder and excitement as a kid.
I understand a lot of categories don’t translate into finding marketing-savvy clients, like surfing for me — nobody knows direct marketing in that industry, and I’m not about to spend weeks and months teaching it to them.
So maybe it isn’t your #1 most fiery childhood passion, but a secondary one.
I liked tennis and learning sales; now I write for both markets.
Quick Mindset Hack For Boring-As-Sand Markets
I have a client in the dental space — I hate going to the dentist and the market bores me to tears most of the time.
Why then, did I choose it and why do I keep working with these guys?
I think the product, a discount plan that saves seniors money, can legitimately improve their lives by keeping money in their pocket…
I picture my own grandparents and what their life might be like if they were worried sick about financing a dental crown or cosmetic surgery.
Care about the customer (don’t fake it) and your job becomes much easier.
Phase II: Formulas For WritingAttention-Grabbing, Profit-Focused Copy For You Or Your Clients
Alright, let’s keep it moving. In this section, we’ll let Gary show us how the hell a person actually sits down and writes a profitable ad.
Oh, you don’t know where to start? Neither did he.
I’ll show you some good ways to slay writer’s block like a bad habit, but let’s talk about the critical step that comes before…
Chicken Nugget Notes: “Bake In” Desire & Proof
This section has absolutely nothing to do with chicken nuggets.
In all seriousness, the best reason to actually buy The Boron Letters on Amazon is that after each chapter, you get to hear Bond Halbert’s wicked-sharp insights about his dad, what was happening behind the scenes, and how to apply the concepts with masterful modern adaptations.
Regarding the note-taking process — a MUST before you begin writing — I loved this quote from Bond expanding on the “nugget note” process from Chapter 15 of The Boron Letters.
“Remember, the copy is only about you in so much as it proves how you can help the prospect solve all their problems.”
Write proof-laden notes of who is getting results. How many of them are seeing these benefits.
Anything that lets your prospect transport themselves into the future, and see their new life with conviction that they too, can experience this change.
A good way to test this is the “yeah, right” method. Read the claim you’re making, and if you feel the urge to call bullshit – your prospect probably will, too.
Gary lists out the six “idea generators” you should lay out in front of you as you prepare to write down “nugget notes” — which will be the basis for your ad creation process.
If this seems outdated, it’s not. Simply replace ‘DM Pieces’ with ‘sales pages’ ‘VSL’, ‘autoresponder series’ or whatever the medium is your competitors are delivering their message through.
I won’t go into the step-by-step as much as the mindset you need while you take notes: truly love your prospect.
I know this sounds weird, but try it.
It will take Bond’s advice to the next level — and it’s the secret sauce of marketing legend Jay Abraham.
It also let’s you bridge the gap between the product or service you’re writing about, and your readers’ most painful problems.
When your notes are on point, your copy has a good chance of being on point even if you aren’t an exceptional writer.
I think this is pretty cool, because it’s more about listening than writing. And anybody can listen.
Defanging The Beast: How To Break ‘The Block’ And Write More, Faster
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As I was going through taking notes for this post, I kept getting deja-vu as I’d read passages at the beginnings of chapters like:
“Well, here I sit for the second day in a row starting my letter to you without knowing exactly what I am going to write about.”
(Chapter 10, The Boron Letters)
And again in Chapter 12 of the letters:
“Well, here I am once again starting to write without knowing where I am going. All I know is that when I keep moving and writing and flowing, generally something decent emerges. We’ll see.”
I wondered if I was mixing up the chapters in my own head, but I wasn’t.
It seems like every 3rd chapter, he is as clueless as the rest of us. He’s not sure where to start, and he’s probably feeling the pangs of uncertainty like the rest of us mortals.
In an attempt to ‘defang the beast’ and get your fingers moving, I’ll give you some of my personal tools for movement, when writing is the last thing I feel like doing.
- Brain Hack: Increase the font size to at least 18 (this creates the illusion that you’re writing more than you actually are)
- Time Hack: set your alarm for 25 to 33 minutes (look up Pomodoro technique for explanation)
- Friend Hack: turn your phone on ‘do not disturb’ and flip it over so you can’t see incoming notifications
- Ear Hack: listen to no-lyric music on repeat. I have two playlists that work for me, here’s the spotify links: Thumos; BrainFood.
Get some notecards in front of you and write, write, write.
Don’t get in your own head and don’t judge yourself if you know your 7th grade book report was more coherent that the stuff coming onto the screen. It’s okay.
Remember Bond’s wisdom from the first chapter:
“All first attempts are sloppy and lame. Most people quit after first experience with things that don’t go so well, but if you are like my pop and me, then you KNOW that the first attempt is almost destined to fail.”
Don’t Be Like Allen Iverson: Practice This Age-Old Copywriting Formula
Everyone’s heard it: AIDA.
Attention. Interest. Desire. Action.
“Bah!” You say, “I’ve heardddd this before”.
I know you have, but stick with me for a moment.
I too, treated this 4-letter copy nugget, like former Denver Nugget, Allen Iverson treated team practice:
Studying AIDA is like practicing your free throw conversions.
It’s easy to think you’ve got it dialed, but what if the Michael Jordan of copy could give you the ideas to double your conversions.
That’s where Gary comes in — hitting nothing but net.
Consider this true story, from Kevin Rogers, founder of CopyChief.com and top veteran copywriter.
It demonstrates the mesmerizing (and profitable) effect your message can have on a person if you string together all 4 steps of AIDA:
“My father, whom I don’t recall ever reading to us as kids, gathered the family around one day to read this amazing letter he’d received in the mail. It was all about the history of our last name. He read every word to us and then expounded on his theories about the history of our name, what he knew from grandparents, etc. He then proudly ordered the “Coat of Arms” family crest, suitable for framing.
This, of course, was Gary’s famous Coat of Arms letter which I would come to appreciate, model and marvel over years later. The thing that strikes me about it is remembering how excited my dad was to receive the letter.
It had every desired effect a direct response copywriter could hope to have on a prospect. It got him to open it, read the first line, become progressively more excited as he read the entire offer, announce his excitement to others and then immediately place his order.
As a bonus, he held onto the letter and likely shared it with other family members who may not have received it.
That letter was only one example of Gary’s genius, but for me it’s a great reminder of the ultimate goal of any piece of copy – to be the one thing that your reader encounters that day that changes how they feel, and gives them hope, enlightenment and excitement for having their promise fulfilled.”
I think that’s a great point to return to when you’re writing, editing, and creating your message:
Try asking: Is my copy the ONE THING my reader will remember today?
[AIDA Step 1] Not just ATTENTION!…The Right Attention…
Appealing To The Goldfish Brain
I recently read we now have attention spans shorter than goldfish, according to Microsoft. Eight seconds to be exact, compared to…squirrel!
Here’s how you stand out like a nun at a Vegas pool party…
The Famous A vs. B…which pile are you in?
This might be a good sticky note to keep on your monitor if you’re relatively new to copywriting: ‘A or B pile?’
Because if you screw this up, it doesn’t matter what’s written after it.
Halbert taught all of his students to picture their prospect getting a pile of mail and what almost everyone does next.
They’re busy, they’re distracted, and they have this ugly hunk of paper in front of them — most of which is from annoying solicitors they wish would stop mailing them.
(Hence the trashcan next to their feet)
They start sifting…trash, trash, trash… “oh, what’s this? Looks important”…
Even online (especially online) people divide their incoming mail into two piles: A and B.
That’s why it’s your first objective to get them reading.
Now let’s take a look at how we accomplish that.
Lovely Copy Lumps
I got a kick out of this meme the other day:
This is a good example of someone using ‘grabbers’ or ‘lumpy mail’ to hopefully seize attention for their charitable cause.
Gary was famous for using Japanese pennies, pesos, bags of sand — all sorts of crazy stuff — for the sole purpose of jumping out and grabbing the reader by the collar, and sucking them into the sales message.
I’ll explain how you can still do this outside of direct mail. First, his reasoning behind using a baggie of sand as a grabber for a real estate offer:
So how do you actually do this, nowadays?
3 Steps To Using Virtual ‘Grabbers’ Online
(And How NOT To Piss Off Your Prospect)
The baggie of sand that Gary Halbert used was tightly linked to the appeal of his message, and this is very important.
You see marketers eff this up all the time, using subject lines like: ‘SEX’…
And when you open it, they go: “Now that we have your attention, how would you like the opportunity to blah, blah, blah new car insurance.”
Chances of a sale? Almost zero.
“A cheap shot. People resent this kind of fraud. Don’t do it. If you put your mind to work you won’t have to either.” (Chapter 14, The Boron Letters)
How then, do you do this RIGHT in a headline, subject line, or even the beginning of a video?
1) Find some kind of ‘pattern interrupt’: this could be something scary (a startling statistic or news story), bizarre (just plain weird, or contradictory: ‘Priest with 19 wives discovers…’), sexual (deep primal instinct, can be suggestive if you don’t want to be super-direct)
There’s dozens of examples, but the goal is to stop them dead in their tracks.
2) Make it relevant to your message: people don’t have time for bait-n-switch, and it’s no way to treat your precious customers. Usually this is just ‘connecting the dots’ — seeing a metaphor that applies to your product.
3) Bridge the gap quickly: think about when you damn-near break the glass on your iPhone… clicking something you have to read immediately, or you’ll probably die.
Now, if the reason you clicked, isn’t talked about until 2/3 down the page — how do you feel?
Slightly annoyed, probably. Remember, this is all about holding attention early in the copy.
Deliver quickly, then show them how the information can improve their life.
How To Instantly Bond With Your Reader
Like A Childhood Friend
Most of the copy out there feels distant, uninterested in your problems, and written by some emotionless cyborg.
It sucks to read. And as human beings, we typically like to buy from other (trustworthy) humans.
Here’s a few ways to avoid ‘roboticism’ and radiate genuine human warmth through your copy.
The personal touch off the starting block is important, because it pulls the reader closer to the message, holding their attention.
It’s so simple, but 99% of marketers try to be too ‘professional’. Professional is boring. And as legendary ad man David Oglivy said it:
“You cannot bore people into buying your product”
Gene Schwartz taught that your copy should be sprinkled with explosions like a blockbuster action film.
Dialogue…dude gets shot! …dialogue…hot girl gets kidnapped! …get it?
You just can’t allow people to get bored, or they’re gone in a flash.
1. Timestamp your sales message
“When you tell the day of the week plus the exact time you are writing the letter, it makes it seem a more important communication too, doesn’t it?
A time dated communication carries considerable more weight than one which is not.”
(Chapter 12, The Boron Letters)
See how Dean does this in the next photo. You can also add the time.
2. Add specific info about your location
I like how Dean Jackson, of the i love marketing podcast, does this in his emails.
3. Include the reader’s name in the salutation
Chances are you’ve heard this or seen this in your own email inbox. Granted, it’s a bit tactical and often overused, but it does work when done properly.
As you can see here, Ramit and the team at IWT greet me (and everyone else) like this in every email:
Remember: all these strategies are effective in so much as your offer is something the market needs. Your success hinges on knowing your market, and if you do, these will be extra fuel but they won’t be the vehicle.
[AIDA Step 2] “Hmmmmnnn interesting…let me keep reading”
Ever heard of the great Gary Bencivenga?
Widely considered the greatest living copywriter, his promotions are insanely fun to read.
For example, I have ZERO interest in olive oil, but this page he wrote had me gripped from headline to p.s.
The point is, your copy should be inherently valuable, so even those who don’t buy feel like they learned something from reading it. Bencivenga is a genius at this.
The best way to do this, is to be interesting.
On a simple level: don’t bore people.
Know your market, the things they pay attention to, and “edu-tain” them about their interests.
As you can probably deduct, this is a combo of teaching and good ole’fashioned entertainment.
How to Write Good Copy
Even If You Suck At Writing
Bond gives probably the best way of holding readers’ interest in his commentary at the end of Chapter 16.
It’s in our DNA to accept information through stories. How did Christianity turn into the most widespread religion in the world?
(Which is really just a fancy word for stories, for those of you lucky enough to avoid Catholic school)
Ok, so we all love stories, but how do you write one?
Bond gives 2 simple steps to accomplish this:
First: “Tell THEIR Story By Telling Your Own, With The Problem Your Solution Solves”
Example: For years when I went out golfing, I used to slice every damn drive while my buddies laughed at me, and hit theirs long and straight down the fairway.
Next: “Switch to talking about them as soon as things get better in the story”
Example: They’d routinely beat me by 10 strokes, until I found the ‘Dr. Swing’s Driver Domination’ video training program, and started whipping them all over the course with my new 300+ yard drive.
After you spend a Saturday morning watching these, you will [insert x, y, z awesome benefits…]
Pretty simple, huh?
And that’s just ONE way to do it. You can find all sorts of interesting stories, news, facts, and email fodder in these other places, too.
1. Your Facebook Feed
In between the useless memes and brunch photos (I don’t CARE about your apple pecan french toast Amy, god dammit!) — there’s usually something interesting to use for email copy in my feed.
If you’re looking for a lazy approach, this could be the one.
Or, if you are looking for a specific category, you can easily use their ‘trending’ section (upper right corner of your feed) to browse trending topics in sports, entertainment, politics (tread carefully), and science & tech.
2. Your Snapchat
(No, I don’t mean THOSE photos, mind out of the sewer!)
I hate this page ^ . Never read it unless I’m idea hunting. However, this approach echoes the words of the great Eugene Schwartz said:
“Low culture makes big money… There is the language. There are the words that they use.”
He urged, demanded rather, that his students read magazines like National Enquirer, and go to all the blockbuster hits. The point? To stay close to your market, know what they’re consuming, and what they’re thinking about.
If you’re selling to millennials, this might be a good spot to shop ideas.
This stuff is front of mind for millions of people. So you have their attention by nature of the subject.
Example: I just wrote an email ‘Indian physicist proves [client’s] serve method works’.
I got the idea from a story in the book Abundance by Peter Diamandis — and related a client’s tennis training method to slum-kids in India learning to use the internet.
Strangely enough, a lot of the self-learning principles are the same.
I like using 3×5 notecards to organize ideas like this, and just read a great post by Ryan Holiday about how he organizes his.
Again, front of mind stuff. You can leverage attention by meeting people where they already are.
If you sell a health supplement, you could summarize the ‘7 signs of heart disease’ you read about in The Baltimore Sun.
This, a) gives credibility and authority to the problem; and b) saves you a ton of time because you aren’t creating original content from scratch.
5. Personal Stories
My personal favorite. I’m always trying to squeeze these out of clients, because, like the news, you don’t need to build ground-up.
More importantly — I think a raw, vulnerable, relevant story — sows the seeds for a long term customer who knows you are the real deal, that you know what they’re going through, and that you’ve got their back.
Getting vulnerable will feel uncomfortable, it’s like that by definition. But it will also automatically set you apart from 99% of the competition…
Just remember how fascinated people are with other people (ever suddenly snap back into reality, 9 miles down your Facebook newsfeed, looking at pictures of people you don’t even know?
No, of course not, me neither)…
But also remember, people are most interested with themselves. That’s why you provide them with a story as a lens to see their own problems through.
6. Random Facts
This is one Gary expands upon in this issue of his newsletter.
Here’s a few from the letter:
I’ll stick to the Boron stuff, but he basically shows you ways to make your message stand out with super-interesting facts, all of which paves the way into step numero three…
[AIDA Step 3] Desire. How bad ya want it?
We are emotional creatures. Maybe a girl convinces herself to buy the $150 Lulu Lemons for “breathability”…and “because they’ll last”, when she can get a perfectly good pair for $40.
But maybe what she really wants, is for her butt to look good. And for that guy in her yoga class to finally notice her.
And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that, by the way.
We all do this in different ways.
In copywriting terms, here’s how you think about it:
* You don’t sell the drill, you sell the holes
* You sell the enviable yard that’s the talk of the neighborhood, NOT the weedkiller
* You sell little Johnny’s college education, not the asset allocation of the portfolio that’s going to appreciate x% over 10 years
Pull out your nugget notes and revisit the benefits. What does your product DO for your customer?
Irresistible bullets give your benefits legs & muscle
We are here to PUMP. YOU. UP!
Your benefits, of course. A simple way to bundle benefit, curiosity, and specific details of your products into one deadly cocktail — is bullets.
Some of the best sales letters of all time are 80% bullets. It’s a concentrated way to pepper your reader with TONS of benefits and hit her in the gut with bold, believable claims.
Like Houdini, you don’t reveal the secrets of the trade.
(They have to buy the product to get the best stuff)
Before I give you a few templates, check out this cool bullet I heard one of David Deutsch’s student came up with. He found a good tip in his client’s product (a book) about how wallets in your back pocket cause back pain.
“How A Pick-Pocket Can Get Rid Of Your Back Pain.”
Don’t freak out if you aren’t this clever… this is just a good way to think about creating bullets that radiate with curiosity.
3 Killer Bullet Templates,
Just Add Water!
^lol. These actually take practice, but here’s some templates to get rolling.
- Mel Martin’s Big Gun
There was this legendary copy dude named Mel Martin. He wrote the famous “What NEVER to Eat On An Airplane” for Boardroom, Inc.
What NEVER To [specific verb + big mistake your market makes (works even better if it’s common practice)]
You can also replace ‘what’ with ‘why’, ‘when’ or other variations
* When NEVER To Stretch Your Shoulder
* What NEVER to Say At A Networking Event (Especially In The First 5 Seconds Of Meeting Someone)
- The Fast-Results-For-Anyone Bullet
If you do have a method that simplifies a confusing or intimidating process into a series of steps, or a product that removes work from people’s lives, this can be a great one.
The [quick/simple adjective] [way/method] to [core benefit] without [common objection]
* The fastest way to write high-converting landing pages without any coding skills or paying a developer
* The stupid-simple “3 P’s Method” to hyper-balanced footwork… that even sluggish players can master
* The effortless stream-of-consciousness trick to writing email copy without stopping even once
- The Wide Net Qualifier-Solution
Can you cast out a question you suspect a wide majority of your audience will say “yes” to?
Boom. You can ask a question that spotlights a common problem, then offer a solution in the same bullet.
* Did your financial advisor lose you at “hello” last time you discussed your portfolio? Here’s the 7-step process to demystify your investment strategy & ensure your advisor isn’t slaughtering you with hidden fees
* Do you have a muffin top? Learn the 7 sneaky foods that keep your stubborn belly flab hanging on
* Afraid to approach girls at a bar? Learn how even ugly guys can get hot women, when they know the pre-approach method that creates attraction before you even open your mouth
Alright — that should give you a pretty good starting point for creating desire.
Keep it simple though, and remember Dean Jackson’s 4-word description of our animal brains:
More Cheese, Less Whiskers.
We aren’t all that different from mice. We want more cheese (money, sex, influence, security, etc.), and less whiskers/mice (danger, fear, poverty, illness, risk).
[AIDA Step 4] Action. Action. Action.
Look, if you had, one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted. In one moment
Would you capture it, or just let it slip?
Yo! Don’t let it slip — you’ve come so far!
It’s all been leading up to this one opportunity, as Slim Shady so eloquently put it, and if you lose your reader, there’s no guarantee they’ll return.
The two main ways to do this are:
- Scarcity – there’s a limited amount of products/services available, when they run out that’s it, so hurry
- Urgency – doors close at 12pm PST this Tuesday. Be one of the privileged few, or don’t and miss out on a sweet opportunity
In simple terms:
“And, above all, tell him to do all this RIGHT NOW! TODAY!
You want to tell him what he will get if he hurries and tell him what he will lose if he delays.” (Chapter 16, The Boron Letters)
Further, you need a REASON for the deal, if there is one.
I remember the storefront banner from a restaurant in Boulder, CO, where I went to college:
“50% Off Sushi — Every Day”
Ha! Yeah ok guys, remind me to never go there.
Lesson: your deal must be real.
“You see, if you don’t have an explanation, your “deal” won’t be believable, and you may not get the sale.” (Chapter 21, The Boron Letters)
Gary goes into a list of reasons you can use, and I recommend The Robert Collier Letter Book if you want to go deeper into crafting believable propositions.
The more real your proposition is, and the more details you can fortify it with, the better it will perform.
Also, if a prospect made it all the way to the close of the sale, being thorough is better than not providing enough info.
“Seriously, Bond, you should read my ads and DM pieces and pay particular attention to how I close the sales. Sometimes I devote as much as 25% or more of the entire ad to closing” (Chapter 16, The Boron Letters)
How An Ugly, Marked-Up Letter
Made An Additional $4.5 Million
Appear Out Of Thin Air
I friggin’ LOVE this story of how Joe Polish helped Bill Phillips, the guy who started EAS — the nutrition and supplement company — earn an extra $4.5 million with a direct mail campaign.
(You can listen ~30-minute mark in this podcast)
They sent out a letter showing 3 truckloads of new supplements outside the warehouse.
In the letter, they told their list:
“As you can see in this photo, we had to clear out all our current products and move them into these semi trucks to make room for the new stuff…so while supplies last you can get 40% off high quality supplements.”
The promotion did well, the first round brought in $2 million.
Enter Joe. He took the same letter, marked it up with a pen — circling, underlining the important parts.
He sent the same first letter, then mailed the second marked-up letter to the same list, reminding them of the deal.
Two weeks later, they sent a ‘3rd and final notice’ with ‘3 truckloads’ crossed out, and a handwritten ‘1 truckload’ to show the dwindling supplies.
The new campaign brought in $6.5 million dollars!
There’s no denying the 3-step campaign was the key variable, but throughout the process, they wrote ugly, one-to-one copy that felt like someone sat down and wrote directly to you.
To boot, there was the VERY compelling situation unfolding before your eyes of: “oh shit! I better get on this NOW!”
Another way to get action out of your prospect, is to make the transition to the sale silky smooth.
I used to be a real estate broker, and noticed Starbucks had this concept brewed into the core of their leasing strategy.
The Starbucks Real Estate Strategy To Closing 1-Yard Line Sales
There’s nothing worse than giving the prospect all the information, showing them the vision of how it will solve their problems, writing out multiple proposals and emails — only to fall flat on your forehead when it comes time to seal the deal.
It happens all the time in copywriting.
Sometimes you can’t save it; like when a person is on your checkout page, and they get a call that their kid just headbutted the principal.
(They probably won’t be rushing home to click “confirm order”)
But there ARE ways to ensure you stack the odds “ever in your favor” and deploy strategies to give you a fighting chance.
During my time as a broker, I always admired Starbucks simple strategy for adding a cool 50-75% to their top line. That’s an extra $750K for a $1mm/year store.
All they had to do — was add a drive-thru.
But what does this have to do with copywriting? Let the professor speak:
Let that sink in. This is one I have to drill into some clients because they think it will insult people’s’ intelligence.
Like a drive-thru, it should be visually obvious and stupid-simple for the customer to make a purchase.
Show them where they will go when they click (even include a screenshot with an arrow pointing to the secure checkout).
Make it so when they get to the next page, they know this is EXACTLY where they should be.
Spending money online is still scary for a lot of folks, so do whatever you can to instill trust, security, and simplicity.
Writing For The Right Reasons?
These days, when ‘content’ is allegedly ‘king’ — a lot of people are worried about coming off too sales-y and rubbing their potential customers the wrong way.
Let’s make a clear distinction between content and copy.
Content teaches — whether it’s a YouTube video, how-to blog post, or podcast — you aren’t going to be selling as hard, if at all.
Many respected marketers argue you should ask for action (and the sale) while creating this content, but of course it’s up to you.
Copy, on the other hand, needs to be selling. Period.
You run a business, not a charity. It can entertain, inform, and even educate (as long as you don’t give away your hard-earned secrets), but it must sell.
“But remember this. The very best writing goes unnoticed…
What you really want is for the reader to order from your ad.
Listen up dummy. If you are writing for applause…you will go home with empty pockets.”
(Chapter 17, The Boron Letters)
There’s more than one priceless lesson contained in these words. Write simply. DON’T write for high fives, creativity, or humor.
Halbert says the best copywriting goes unnoticed. And while I do think certain copy “sing” more than others, most of the best performing copy is written at around a 5th-6th grade level.
Ever heard of the Flesch-Kincaid score? It’s a test to determine the grade level of your writing.
Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man And The Sea won the Nobel Prize the year after it was published. It was written at a 4th grade level, or F-K score of 4.
David Ogilvy comes out swinging in Ogilvy On Advertising, along the same thread:
“When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”
Just sell the dang thing, sell it simply, and you’ll be fine.
Phase III: The Lazy Writer’s
Way To Letting Better Copy “Happen”
High five, yo! Your draft is complete.
You’ve given the middle finger to resistance, roundhouse kicked laziness in the balls, and completed the hardest part of writing copy.
Seriously, good on you. Writing ain’t easy.
Feeling lazy? All those words got your mind numb, maxed out, and ready to binge watch a season of Narcos?
Good. Go play with the dog. Take a nap. And get your mind off it.
The first guy who taught me this was Dan Kennedy, I think in The Ultimate Sales Letter.
What I also remember about Kennedy is: the guy works like hell! If I remember right he could wake up, shower, and be at the keyboard in 15 minutes — ready to GO.
Point being, if a guy who works harder than me (and probably you too) is okay with this approach…maybe it isn’t so lazy after all.
Why To Treat Your Copy Like Losing Your Watch
I swear to God, sometimes when I write, I think my genius-level is Stephen Hawking…
Then, I return a day later, read it again, and want to vomit all over my Mac (looking at the same exact words).
It happens. So don’t beat yourself up if your first draft sucks.
Usually it isn’t that bad and you just see your stuff in the cold light of day, and edit accordingly.
All the prickly sections surface… the hiccups, all that stuff.
In Chapter 15, Gary tells Bond to:
“…stop working on this project. That’s right. Just let it go. Put it right out of your mind. Just go about your business for a day or two.”
This is how you can suddenly spark an “aha experience” — like finding your watch or something valuable as soon as you stop looking for it.
Let it happen. When you give it some space you’ll be amazed at what happens with fresh eyes.
How to beat tl;dr with loooong copy…
Go back. Look at your sentences. Do they look like these?
Short, punchy sentences.
Now, they don’t HAVE to be 4 or 5 words. There’s no unbreakable commandment here…the idea is to give you reader EYE RELIEF.
The entire point of your message is to get people reading, then keep them reading.
You will struggle like a fat kid in a vegan restaurant if you use big chunky blocks of text that scream “I am hard to read!”
Make it inviting — make it a “slippery slide” as Joe Sugarman puts it, or if Halbert’s metaphor in The Boron Letters better suits your style:
“When he looks at your page of copy he should be drawn to your copy like a convict is to a Penthouse Magazine.”
When you do this, and get people cruising through your copy, you can actually write a ton of words without losing readership.
Test after test proves that long copy outsells short copy.
A-List copywriter Roy Furr wrote a good post about this in his blog Breakthrough Marketing Secrets. He says:
But I think it’s best encapsulated when he quotes Brian Kurtz (who built a 9-figure publishing business, Boardroom, Inc. using long copy), saying:
“Sales copy can’t be too long, only too boring…”
Gary Halbert’s “Secret” To 5X Your Readership
He continues dropping knowledge bombs in Chapter 18 with this core copy commandment:
“Know this: the editorial content gets 5 times as much readership as the advertising content.”
Remember what we said about the slippery slide? Once people are in it — moving — and slip’n’sliding right towards the call to action…
You’ve drastically increased the likelihood of closing the sale.
So how can you do this online? In emails? Or even in Facebook groups as you look for new clients or customers?
Let’s take a look at what the pros are doing.
2 Things I Almost Bought That Used Halbert’s 500% Lift Method
I write in the sports niche, and started paying attention to the ads at the bottom of ESPN’s articles. You can find them all over.
Notice the content appeal and the intrigue. There’s no mention of anything being sold.
There’s a few things going on here.
- There might be a ‘secret’ the power companies don’t want you to know
- The advertiser plays on a common mistrust of big utilities companies, and people probably suspect they’re paying more than they should
- Photo: strengthens the curiosity, makes you wonder “Is it possible for ME to outsmart my power company?”
It’s VERY indirect, and plays on one key emotion: suspicion. People’s mistrust of authority is a common deep-seated emotion, that when you can channel it towards ‘beating the man’, it’s extremely powerful.
This one wrenches harder on the news angle, using a photo from CNBC.
I checked Amazon’s price while writing this — it’s $853.90 per share.
To anyone who’s remotely paying attention to stocks, this triggers an instant “Hot damn! Can this be true?
If so I don’t wanna miss getting in on the ground floor like Amazon”.
The whole purpose it to get them to the next page, a short sales letter that asks them to sign up for a free report where they learn about the stock.
It’s compelling AF (I almost signed up!).
Moral: take a look at your ad, is there anything you can do to make it ‘fly under the radar’ as exciting news, content, or curiosity-provoking stories?
Segue Your Copy Smoother Than A Nate Dogg Hook
Early on in my career as a copywriter, there was something that tripped me up really bad.
It was obvious my copy lacked ‘flow’ but I wasn’t completely sure why.
Then, I got an email from Daniel Levis where he compiled a list of ‘silky smooth segues’ to transition your copy like butter.
This was HUGE, and before long, it became an extension of my writing I wasn’t even conscious of. Pretty cool, huh?
What does this have to do with the King of Hooks?
Before any of that autotune B.S. in hip hop…there was Nate Dogg (RIP, pour one out for him).
Like Halbert, he left an indelible impression and altered the course of his respective industry.
He CONNECTED disparate verses together into one synergistic, dope-ass track.
That’s what your copy should be like — a seamless transfer from one idea to the next — just like his slick segues from verse to chorus.
So if you get stuck, go check out Chapter 17 where Gary provides a list of segues and transitions that’ll drive the grammar Nazis insane.
(Nobody will be slashing up your work with a red pen… when you’re cashing checks at the BANK!)
I’d create a special part of your swipe file just for segues; I use Evernote.
Land Ho! Keep That Ship Watertight, Yo
The end is in sight. You’re skimming through your google doc and have the email drafted to your client, almost ready to send.
If you have an extra day, use it. Set it aside and check back in tomorrow for one final read-through.
Keeping the notorious smooth vibes of Nate Dogg alive, use this little Chapter 22 trick to sand out the rough spots.
Read your copy OUT LOUD. Start to finish:
“What happens when you read your copy out loud is that you will verbally stumble over all the places that are not smooth…”
Seriously, this works. Do it once, and then do this:
And, what you do, is you keep repeating this process till your copy is completely smooth and you can read it without stumbling at all.”
Now, my friend, you’ve got the copywriter’s equivalent of one of those stupid-nice toolkits you see at the Home Depot. With all the sliding drawers, you know, like this…
Outro & The Steely Resolve:
The entrepreneurial roller coaster can be a nasty, unpredictable ride that’ll make you puke and cry after one loop to many.
Just this week, I’ve been at the bottom, freaking out about about copy I wasn’t proud of…beating myself up…sinking into utter despair.
It’s lonely. Your friends won’t get it. And you doubt your skills every step of the way.
Then you gain some momentum. It gives you a shot of confidence. And you’re back to the races.
Reminds me of surfing…
One moment you can be at the crest of this gorgeous water mountain; riding nature’s own magic carpet.
The next, the bottom falls out…and a schoolbus-sized wall folds over on you.
You can’t breathe.
Mother nature has her way — kicking the shit out of you 10 feet underwater.
You surface, and five minutes later you might be back on a wave having the time of your life. Or maybe it takes 2 weeks.
No matter how mortified you are, you gotta keep paddling. Even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.
Reading The Boron Letters for the third time was a calming reminder that even the best take heavy tumbles, sink into despair, and go through periods of loneliness.
I stuck to the tools you can use to craft killer copy… but when you read the letters you’ll see Gary was grappling with heartbreak, missing his kids, and certainly the trauma of his litigation and conviction.
But he still showed up to work – even IN prison – no matter how horrible he felt.
He was no amateur. Because one thing that separates the amateurs from the pros, is movement.
“Motion over meditation” — he’d say.
So keep up the hustle, keep learning from guys and gals in the major leagues, but also ponder on this piece of closing wisdom Gary wrote to Bond in the last chapter of the letters:
“One of the things I have learned is how precious the good times and the good people are. I hope I have learned never again to not take care of my special relationships.”
Easy one to neglect in an age of the 14-hour-a-day “hustle culture”. And one I’m working on myself.
Anyway, if you’d like to learn more from the master…
More Information About Gary Halbert and The Boron Letters:
TheGaryrHalbertLetter.com (I still cannot comprehend the amount of free marketing – and life education – inside here…in fact, I should probably start downloading them. No telling how long they’ll be there.)
Joe Polish Presentation On Gary From Dan Kennedy’s Super Conference (YouTube; 1 hr. 27 min.)
Direct Response Secrets Seminar (YouTube; 1 hr. 10 min)
[Audio] The 11 Psychological Triggers From “The Coat of Arms Letter”
This incredible guest post on The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert comes from a legend of a copywriter named Austin Lee. If you want a copywriter that knows how to get people to whip out their credit cards and buy your stuffs, Austin’s your guy. Learn more and download Austin’s free 5-Step Guide to Profiting With Message-to-Market Match right here.
11 thoughts on “The Boron Letters Summary: The Definitive Guide To Gary Halbert’s Masterpiece”
This is the best site for aspiring copywriters…
I wonder how long did it take to write all these and writing must have been the easy part. How many hours did it take to research and check all these?
kudos to writer!
No idea tbh! Austin Lee did the heavy lifting.
mind blowing and stretching. you feel the ‘truth’ with this guy; like you’ve found a goldmine after breaking the hard dirt…
Yeah, Halbert’s the best.
It’s a gold mine of information. Thanks a lot.
Definitely important information for me because I am a beginner in sales in general. Will proceed to read the letters immediately.
Wow. This is how to become a master copywriter, plain and simple… Hard to believe I’m first to comment.