What are two books all copywriters should read?
DISCLAIMER: You won’t see the “usual” book recommendations for copywriters in this article.
You know what I mean - the usual suspects:
OGILVY ON ADVERTISING
WRITE TO SELL
You know them. This is not another article that tells you to read them.
Instead, I’m going to use this article to recommend you 2 books all writers all should read that are a little bit - shall we say - left field, but which are absolute diamonds if you want to be a better writer.
So Why These Books?
Essentially, as a copywriter you have to be very careful regarding the words you choose in your copy. Choose the wrong words for the wrong audience and it will change the complexion of your relationship with the audience.
For example, if you’re trying to sell a family car, you’re hardly going to use the word “lust” in your article.
Why would you?
If, however, you’re trying to sell a jacked-up super car, the word “lust” would get the reader a bit giddy and create some neat neuro-associations in their mind.
The trap I’ve seen beginner copywriters fall into is that they rely on a very limited vocabulary. Everything is either “good”, “great”, “excellent,” or “fantastic.”
Few things are unstoppable, formidable, invincible or the absolute bees frigging knees.
Many of us are guilty of this. We rely on the same words all the time, even when the emotion we’re trying to tap into actually calls for a different word.
We want the reader to feel a certain way, but we play it safe and trot out our old friend, “great” once more.
Words are empowering. They can actually change a reader’s entire emotional disposition in a second. But if you keep churning out the same words all the time, the reader’s emotions are going to plateau. Eventually, they might even stop responding to what you’re saying.
They’re hardly going to be motivated to act if you can’t inspire them with your vocabulary.
For this reason, I’ve selected 2 books all copywriters should read based on the writers’ unique ability to stir the readers’ senses with their vocabulary. Read these books, see how the writer plays with language, focus on what words they use, and get inspired to supercharge your own vocabulary.
Tropic Of Cancer by Henry Miller
I once saw Tropic of Cancer on a list of books all entrepreneurs should read. It made sense, despite the book having nothing to do with entrepreneurship.
Tropic of Cancer is a part fictional, part autobiographical memoir of the time American writer Henry Miller packed his bags, quit his job, quit his wife and quit America for Paris.
The reason it was on the list of books all entrepreneurs should read is that it’s a novel about taking risk. It’s about quitting your day job to go and do something you’ve always wanted to do.
In Henry’s case, it was to become a proper writer.
Miller’s prose is at times white hot and always inspired. He himself was a writer who revealed in another novel of his called Nexus that he liked to poke his nose into other novels for beautiful passages that he could retouch so that they become his own.
He would mine The Bible for nuggets of gold, before turning the words into his own words.
As Picasso said, good artists copy, great artists steal.
So I’m sure that Henry wouldn’t mind if you dove into his book for some inspiration of your own.
You can feel the heat from the pages in this book. You can sense Miller’s lust for life. He writes with a candour and a fever that it’s impossible to read Tropic of Cancer as a writer and not be inspired to start adding new cadences to your lexicon, new turn of phrases to your articles, and new words to replace the old ones you’re always using.
It’s a book stuffed with attitude and a daringness to get to the heart of the matters in a way that actually makes us FEEL something.
At times, we might feel repulsed, but at others times we’ll feel the joy of life.
Always, he gets us to feel something.
If Miller teaches us anything, is that it’s totally cool to lift sentences from another book before re-spinning.
Don’t do it all the time, of course. But when your writing feels flat and you feel flat yourself, open up this joyful novel and see if there are any passages that get you excited and in the mood for writing something amazing.
And if you’re excited, you’re sure to get your reader exited, too.
Key quotes from Tropic of Cancer:
“She rises up out of a sea of faces and embraces me, embraces me passionately--- a thousand eyes, noses, fingers, legs, bottles, windows, purses, saucers all glaring at us an we in each other's arm oblivious. I sit down beside her and she talks--- a flood of talk. Wild consumptive notes of hysteria, perversion, leprosy. I hear not a word because she is beautiful and I love her and now I am happy and willing to die.”
“This is not a book in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty... what you will. ”
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan once described On The Road as a novel that changed his life. He also said that it changed many other peoples’ lives.
It changed mine.
Like Tropic of Cancer, On The Road is a partly fictional but mostly autobiographical retelling of a certain period in an American writers life.
This time the writer is Jack Kerouac, and the part of his life he chooses to share with us is the part where he headed out on an adventure across America to get some inspiration so that he could finish off his novel.
And, boy, did he get inspiration.
Like Tropic of Cancer, the book is bursting with a lust for life. Kerouac clearly loved life, and this really comes across in the pages and - more importantly for us - the language he chooses to use.
Just check this famous quote out:
"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars."
For On The Road, Kerouac adopted an experimental style of writing that he called spontaneous prose. It was a form of stream of conscious writing where you just write by instinct.
You write with passion, gusto and energy without editing yourself.
It was spontaneous prose that gave birth to explosive sentences like the one above, a sentence whose impact reverberated so much with its audiences that it caught Apple’s eye, who spun it for their most famous piece of copy ever:
“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
It’s easy to see the similarities. Apple knew that Kerouac was really onto something with his breathtakingly original take on language in On The Road. He was tapping into euphoric feelings that are dancing in all of us. We just need someone - a writer - to come along and get US dancing!
In On The Road, Kerouac makes sure to create fabulous images for us so that we feel sensational. The sky is purple, the coffee smells of comfort, and his friends burn like roman candles.
The main lesson you can take from On The Road is that you shouldn’t write a commonplace sentence. If something looks bland and lifeless, either swap it for something else or modify it, intensify it. Bring it to life.
“I realised these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless emptiness.”
“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was - I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn't scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.”
These are 2 books all copywriters should read. You can pick them up on Amazon, and I suggest you do just that.