Can you learn to be a copywriter from books? Yes, though maybe not only from books. You must also learn to channel the part of you that can think like a customer and a business owner. Simultaneously bring out the storyteller in you (we all have one of those), and you'll be good to go.
Books can inspire you, give you direction, and help you tackle head-on your specific weaknesses. They can show you the rules, though you shouldn't be too conscious of the rules and trying to apply them in your work. Doing so will undermine your response and creativity.
So, what are the books you should dip into if you're just starting out? The books on this list will show you how the creative masters approach storytelling, psychology, and writing in the field.
1. The Adweek Copywriting Handbook, by Joseph Sugarman
Every aspiring copywriter reads John Sugarman's books. This particular offering is great for honing your headline writing skills. It teaches you, through real examples of ads and a step-by-step approach, the process of copywriting and how to write copy that sells.
2. The Copywriter's Handbook, by Bob Bly
Bob Bly's book is about techniques to create compelling copy. There are tips about headlines, sales letters, print ads, e-mail marketing, and more.
This volume from creative association D&AD is a mixed bag of information for copywriters, and a must-have for anyone just starting out in the industry. It includes essays and examples of work from 48 well-known creatives and ad men, examples from the past fifteen years, and lots of lessons you can apply to your work.
4. Words that Sell, by Richard Bayan
This must-have book is a sort of thesaurus for people in advertising. It's the volume you turn to when the regular thesaurus is not exciting enough!
5. Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This, by Luke Sullivan
The reference here is to the terrible Mr. Whipple ads of the '70s that somehow managed to spearhead sales for P&G. The book is about creating ads that sell but are works of art in themselves.
6. Ogilvy on Advertising, by David Ogilvy
This book from an advertising mogul doesn't need an introduction. In short - it offers classic copywriting methods you can apply to B2B ads, headlines, travel and tourism writing, etc. You also get advice on running your ad agency and scoring clients.
7. Wired for Story, by Lisa Cron
Lisa Cron's work will teach you how to capture your audience's attentions using emotions from the get go, how to craft a compelling narrative, and other such practical tips.
If you want a pithy 10-step list to get you going, this book is the one. There are lots of examples of ads both old and new, and interviews to inspire you.
9. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing, by Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird is not a book about copywriting. However, it is a beautifully written volume about staying creative every day and stifling the negative impulses that kill creativity.
Copywriters looking for work on Freelancer.com will want to take a break from their usual reading list once in a while. This book can help you stay inspired and far away from writer’s block.
10. The Idea Writers, by Teressa Iezzi
This volume is about people in ads and contains inspiring interviews of famous creatives like David Ogilvy, Mike Hughes, Rick Webb, and others.
11. Tested Advertising Methods, by John Caples
This book is a sort of bible for copywriters; it sets you up to have the right mindset for copywriting. John Caples doesn't believe in ads that your agency likes. He shows you how to test ads so you're sure the audience will like them when you launch them. There is plenty of advice here that can apply to writing better headlines, call to actions, and more.
12. Made to Stick, by Chip & Dan Heath
Ever wondered why some ideas have staying power and others die quickly? This engaging book will explain through fascinating stories and examples, how to make your ideas and stories have that sticking power.
13. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert McKee
Screenwriter Robert McKee offers advice for people in the film industry, but you'll find the advice is relevant for anyone in sales and marketing. It teaches you about using emotion to drive stories, build your brand around your customers as protagonists, creating drama that will engage people, etc. This is valuable advice even for the shorter medium of ads.
14. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
This book by successful storyteller Stephen King is not about copywriting. But the part-biography is an inspiring look at the writer's life and how writing helped him recover from a near-fatal accident. It also gets filled with advice about the craft of writing for those who are starting out in the field. If you're suffering from writer's block and don't know how to pick yourself up, read this book.
15. Everybody Writes, by Ann Handley
The book by a pro marketer targets anyone who wants to create content that is interesting, engaging, economical, and compelling. It is particularly relevant in a world where social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, email, blogs, and landing pages demand different forms of communication. There is a lot of info here about creating, producing and publishing content, and advice on how you can be practical in your methods to achieve your ends.
16. Scientific Advertising, by Claude C. Hopkins
From the title, you can tell this book is about facts and well-proven principles in the field of advertising. It is something of a classic and a good place to find clear and insightful instructions on how to approach advertising, how to train your brain for it, and other similar methods. If you're looking for a book to teach you how to write copy, this is not the book for you. However, this book will guide you to make a compelling and information-heavy copy that would convince your customers to buy whatever it is that you're selling.
17. The Tall Lady with the Iceberg, by Anne Miller
If you've ever had trouble hitting on the perfect metaphor to describe an abstract concept, this is the book for you. Anne Miller teaches you how you can create sales copy that is engaging, fun, and persuasive. Most importantly, Miller shows you how to use your language to help people visualize concepts.
18. Breakthrough Advertising, by Eugene Schwartz
If you can find a copy of this excellent book, you'll see that it's not a quick and easy read. You won't get paint-by-numbers advice from a man who was one of the highest-paid copywriters in the '50s and '60s, writing only three hours a day, five days a week. Breakthrough Advertising gets packed with exercises, advice, paradigms and more that will keep you thinking about copywriting for years.
19. Words that Work, by Frank Luntz
This book teaches politicians to phrase their communication effectively, but it can be useful for a copywriter as well. Luntz offers clear and actionable advice on how to craft messages that have clarity and are memorable, which is what you want to do, isn't it?
20. Influence, Robert Cialdini
This book is not for copywriters, but I'd say the art of persuasion is an art that every copywriter needs to learn. Influence will help you understand why people say "yes," so that you can apply these understandings to your copy and elicit a 'yes' from clients and their customers.
21. The Well-Fed Writer, by Peter Bowerman
This fantastic book is about the business of copywriting that freelance copywriters will particularly appreciate. The advice comes off as friendly, and reassures and teaches you how to make a living as a copywriter on a roadmap from $50 to $125 hourly rates. Bowerman has plenty of solid, practical advice for you, and lots of samples to help you in the field of commercial copywriting.
22. The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
This book is for the procrastinator in you. Steven Pressfield is a former Marine and successful novelist, and he shows you how to get your butt to the chair and get typing. There is excellent advice in this book for anyone in the creative field - or any field, really - who is battling what Pressfield calls Resistance. Screenwriting guru Robert McKee recommends it, and so do I.
Of course, you don’t have to read all the books on this list. You’d be better off picking one or two and making sure to read them back to back until the bindings come off! Spend the rest of your time trying out exercises and techniques that you pick up. Speak to mentors whenever you can, and you’ll have a good start in the field.
Which book captures your interest the most? Which ones have you already read? Let us know in the comments below!