There are plenty of book recommendations out there for writers, but there’s something inherently different about writing and copywriting, namely your audience. A copywriter must have a creative drive, passion and tenacity that go into every piece and make it connect with a specific audience. You could take all the courses and seminars you want, but the only way to become a better writer is becoming a more avid reader. Here are 10 books that will inspire you to connect your creative and analytical minds.
Stephen King’s On Writing
Stephen King is regularly hailed as one of the greatest living writers we have, but many people don’t know about his approach to writing. On Writing is a brilliant piece by a writer who is not afraid to share his own personal trials and tribulations and how it relates to his work. Not every piece of copy has the singular goal of sales. Copy should instead educate a user, while demonstrating your expertise. Bear in mind, it is one thing to write about a subject, it is another to do so in a way that educates your reader.
Copywriter PRO-Tip: Learning to write is a personal process, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a shared experience. Learn from one of the best.
The business world is full of traps, mostly meant to drive you to the brink of productivity. In a culture that sees sleep deprivation and honors long work hours as battle scars to be worn with pride, it helps to take a step back and reevaluate your current state. Tao Te Ching is an incredibly short book, but a profound one nonetheless. You can go through it within a matter of hours, but to truly gain any insight, read it slow. Limit yourself to a few pages a day, and pore over each and every last word. The act of reading this book can function as a form of meditation for you and help you analyze your weaknesses and strengths while teaching you the importance of simple, direct, yet deep words and their impact on a reader.
Copywriter PRO-Tip: Think of reading this book as a form of meditation. Reset your mind and clear the clutter away to see what really matters in your writing.
George Orwell is famous for novels like Animal Farm and 1984, but one of his most underappreciated novels is Homage to Catalonia. It chronicles Orwell’s time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and details how intentions can change and how important it is to find a cause, or career, to believe in. He initially entered the fray to cover the war and ended up fighting for the anti-Fascist forces. It’s a testament to the power of immersion, truly taking the time to understand where you are and how quickly your role can change. You may be a copywriter now, but you have a creative side that needs to be explored and put under pressure to truly understand what you’re capable of both as a writer and as a professional.
Copywriter PRO-Tip: You’ll find yourself entering a job with certain expectations. Be prepared to accept new roles and shift accordingly.
Most people that became copywriters didn’t necessarily set out with that career in mind. Some wanted to be journalists. The way we receive our information on a daily basis has evolved beyond the typical news cycle and the journalist, as we used to know it, is evolving. Internet users count on a multitude of sources to gather their information, some even becoming curators of what they deem interesting or informative. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is the truth. Giving the truth to customers, potential customers, even fans should be your priority. Samuel Freedman’s book is fairly short, but reads like a letter from a concerned friend, aware of the struggles you may be facing. The accomplishment in setting that type of conversational tone is something to be emulated, as direct communication will get you further than any sales pitch you could imagine. The essential message to take away is be true to yourself and when you make a connection with people, foster it.
Copywriter PRO-Tip: Give your audience the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Franz Kafka isn’t a writer you’d typically associate with delivering a positive message, but there is one to be found in The Metamorphosis. Think to yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Surely you wouldn’t include the fate of the story’s protagonist … becoming a gigantic cockroach … may not be high on your list of concerns. But that’s just it; there’s the beauty of this and any of Kafka’s work. No matter how bad you may have it, at least you’re not a gigantic, horrifying bug. Bear with me on this one, before I seem to delve into the surreal. There’s no such thing as an insurmountable problem. As a member of a team and even as a single employee, you always have an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and see that problems don’t come the moment you wake up. They take time to develop, the skill comes in identifying them early enough to deal with them. Make sure you track your work efficiently to see problems as they arise and prepare yourself to deal with them; consider the old axiom “life’s not fair.” It isn’t fair, but you always stand a chance to make your own destiny, despite overwhelming Kafka-esque odds.
Copywriter PRO-Tip: Life can get weird sometimes, and life changes may seem to crop up overnight. Staying on track of your work and development is essential to coping with life’s inevitable changes
Let me be clear, this was included as a test of sheer willpower. David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus weighs in at over 1,000 pages and 300+ footnotes for his fictional world of revolving narrators, tennis and entertainment. To assume you can just walk up and start reading this is fantasy. Consider this your own personal “Moby Dick,” and assume the role of Ishmael in hunting down, and reading, this great white whale of a book. It’s an exercise in research and consistency, two skills that will benefit any copywriter who’s worth their weight in words.
Copywriter PRO-Tip: Finishing this book is the Holy Grail for any writer, and once you finish it, any piece your working on won’t seems to insurmountable.
Bill Tancer’s book Click does two things: provides an insight into Internet Marketing strategies using the right information and how to look at that information to see what others cannot. It’s like Freakonomics applied to the Internet search market. When you look at a piece of information, see the deeper insight, connect the dots and use that to your advantage.
Copywriter PRO-Tip: Follow the information. Pore over the analytics. Information is power and is the new digital currency.
Any Malcolm Gladwell book is a wonderful and insightful read, but Outliers is an analysis of that which we see as “extraordinary” or “genius.” Instead of the usual methods like IQ tests, he delves into how normal these people were, with backgrounds no different than our own. Genius is a relative term, but in a way, it can be created. With practice, drive and the ability to dust yourself off from a setback, anyone can make something great of themselves and their passions in life. Copywriting is no different. The key is time, so be sure to focus on the chapter detailing the 10,000 hour “expert” rule, where that seems to be the sweet spot in time dedicated to a passion wherein you can consider yourself an expert.
Copywriter PRO-Tip: 10,000 hours. That makes you an expert. Don’t attack it headlong. Instead, take it step by step and write each and every single day.
Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires
Facebook is on everyone’s lips and computer screens, but what of its origins. Mezrich’s book details the dirty details, varying accounts and lawsuits that spawned from Facebook’s inception. If there’s one thing to note, it’s the variety of accounts. There’s an infinite way to approach and discuss any subject, but you need to know who it is that you’re trying to reach. Focusing on your target user can help you sort through all the static, much as Mezrich struggled to in this book. A riveting read that proves that there are far more than two sides to every story, and proof that as a writer, you will have to account for every possible angle without losing sight of your core user.
Copywriter PRO-Tip: Make sure you are completely aware of your role in a company.
A kids book?! Absolutely. Children’s books require an attention to detail and direct language that literally anyone should be able to read it and discern its message. This is not an excuse to appeal to the lowest common denominator in your work, or shy away from more “advanced” topics. Sendak’s classic is a beautiful tale of the universal struggle that is putting a child to bed. A universal idea should be translated by a writer into copy that strives for excellence while keeping flowery language out of the mix. No matter how great a copywriter you become, a good children’s book like this can keep you humble, reminding you that everyone has a specialty, and yours should be, as an old professor of mine put it, “having a mind as shallow as a puddle but as wide as an ocean.”
Copywriter PRO-Tip: Keep your writing simple. Keep your writing beautiful. Keep a consistent theme to build a powerful message.
As a copywriter, new or a veteran, you have to constantly expand your horizons to account for leaps in technology and advances in your industry to effectively relay that message to your readers. Once you can think on your feet and put out engaging copy that speaks to someone who has never seen your site before, you’ll see results. Make the connections strong and you’ll go beyond an immediate response and build a lifelong relationship with your readers / customers; possibly more important than any profit you can hope to turn. You may be a copywriter, but never forget you are still a writer, just one focused in your particular industry. Use these books as a gateway to discovering why you decided to become a writer in the first place and inspire yourself to excellence.