Books every copywriter should read (even though they aren’t about copywriting)

5 copywriting books that will improve you as a copywriter

Updated 10 July 2021

There’s no shortage of brilliant books about copywriting, but it’s nice to read around your subject. These five books aren’t about copywriting, but they’ll offer a new perspective for copywriters looking to raise their copywriting game.

1. Making Websites Win: Apply the Customer-Centric Methodology That Has Doubled the Sales of Many Leading Websites

Approachable insights and practical tips to increase the conversion rate of your clients’ websites. All based on hard data.

Copywriters should read the book because

“The words are what win A/B tests.” — Karl Blanks and Ben Jesson

Authors Karl Blanks and Ben Jesson have plenty of data to back up their assertions that conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is built on copywriting. And in music to a copywriter’s ears, they use data to put to bed the claims:

  1. That no one reads anymore
  2. That long copy is dead

Copywriters’ rule of thumb according to Blanks and Jesson

Using writing to persuade a prospect to do something will take the same number of words as you’d have to use persuading them orally.

So if it would take you a minute of talking to get an email address, you’ll need about 170 words of copy to do the same.

If it would take you an hour to talk a prospect into paying $1,000, you’ll need about 10,000 words of sales copy. (Which is why the next part is so important…)

10,000 words is a lot, so you probably don’t want to try to persuade someone to spend the $1,000. You probably want to persuade them to do something smaller, like give you a call.

Making Websites Win is on Amazon

2. The Mom Test: How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you

Rob Fitzpatrick says Mum is the worst person in the world to ask about your brilliant idea. In this metaphor, Mum is also a stand-in for friends, colleagues and basically anyone who’d rather not hurt your feelings.

The book is relevant to copywriting because: research

From Fitzpatrick:

“The Mom Test

  1. Talk about their life instead of your idea
  1. Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future
  1. Talk less and listen more”

Opinions about what a potential customer might do are a waste of time. What you need is concrete data — faced with a problem like the one you’re trying to solve, what have potential customers actually done in the past?

You’ve got an idea for an app — say, a 14-week exercise program. Your friends tell you it’s brilliant and you should most definitely hire that developer. But faced with advice to get active, have your friends turned to apps before? No? So why do they think your idea is brilliant?

It’s easy to adapt this advice to copywriting in terms of interviewing the prospects of your client: stick to what they’ve done in the past, not to what they think they might do.

The Mom Test is on Amazon

3. Deep Work — Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Author Cal Newport says you can get more done and be happier if you set aside time for work, maintain focus in that time and refuse to let that time bleed into the rest of your life.

Why copywriters should read this book

As an academic, Newport has more latitude than most to stick his finger up at emails he doesn’t want to answer and meetings he doesn’t have to have. However, his lines in the sand make for great aspirations for the rest of us.

We rethought our diaries (when we’re available for meetings, blocking off time for writing) and the tools we use. (Hello, Focus, Vitamin R, Hocus Focus and Do Not Disturb on the iPhone.)

You can get Deep Work in Australia from Booktopia.

4. Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life

There are few authors in the world more pleased with themselves than Nassim Nicholas Taleb, but he’s a compelling thinker if you can get past that.

In this book, his thinking is that you can’t trust someone who doesn’t have something to lose if they get it wrong. For instance, why take advice from a lawyer who wins (gets paid) regardless of whether their advice works out for you or not?

Why this book matters for copywriters

Trust is the cornerstone of persuasive copywriting. If the reader doesn’t trust you, they’re never going to buy from you.

Learning the many ways that people can have skin in the game gives you an extra perspective on how to build trust.

It’s one reason, for instance, that we chose to guarantee our website copywriting. A guarantee of the copy gives us skin in the game. If we don’t get the writing right, we don’t get paid.

Sydney’s Booktopia has Skin in the Game online

5. Draft No. 4 — On the Writing Process

Elegant, sophisticated writing from an author (John McPhee) who has done it all, seen it all and committed his life to the craft of writing about it.

Why every copywriter should dip into this frequently

You spend your day copywriting email marketing, reviewing websites, writing landing pages. And you probably don’t do it with the love of words in mind; you do it thinking about conversions, the business of writing — the deadlines, the metrics, the clients.

That makes it easy to lose sight (at least for a moment) of the love of language that brought you to copywriting in the first place.

McPhee’s essays in this book are reminders of the power of the well-chosen word, the music of structure and that you’re not alone in caring as deeply about every comma as you do.

What’s more, McPhee, for all his accomplishments, is one of us. Here he is on first drafts:

“For me, the hardest part comes first, getting something—anything—out in front of me. Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall. Blurt out, heave out, babble out something—anything—as a first draft.”

Draft No. 4 is available from Booktopia as well.

What’s your favourite (non-) copywriting book

These are five of the books I read this year with lessons I applied immediately to my copywriting even though they’re not about copywriting. What non-copywriting books would you recommend to a copywriter? Email me. I’d love to add them to my reading list for my Sydney staycation.