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The 4th element in copywriting mastery

December 11th, 2018 by Bob Bly

I used to say there are only 3 ways to learn copywriting.

But I left out an important one, so there are really 4 ways to
become a good copywriter.

First let me recap the first 3 steps:

Step #1: Write.

Write every day. It could be sales copy, blog posts, articles, or

But write something every day.

Step #2: Read.

Read every day.

And read everything: newspapers, magazines, newsletters, essays,
short stories, novels, history, science, and business books.

Warning: If you read only business books, that’s a mistake,
because you are not acquiring knowledge of subjects that can help
add depth to your copy.

Step #3: Study the promotions you receive.

Read direct mail, newspaper ads, email, and online sales letters
both as a consumer and a copywriter — as a consumer to see what
motivates you to buy, and as a copywriter to learn the techniques.

Now for the crucial step #4 which I have previously left out.

Step #4: Participate in numerous direct response tests.

The more test results you see, the better you will understand
what works and what doesn’t in copy.

The longer you are a copywriter, and the more tests you are
involved in, the more you will learn from testing and the better
you will be.

Remember, subjective judgment is of limited value. Only tests
show you what works and what doesn’t.

Some potential clients ask me, “Why should we hire you instead of
a cheaper copywriter?”

There are many answers, but perhaps the most important is this:

I have been writing direct response copy around 12 hours a day, 5
days a week, for nearly 4 decades.

Because of that, I have participated in and seen the results of
more tests than most other working copywriters.

For this reason, I have a slightly better handle than many of
these other copywriters on what works and what doesn’t in
sales copy.

The more tests you participate in, the more you’ll know about
selling your product or anyone else’s.

And that’s the fact, Jack.


Category: Writing | 18,738 Comments » |

The #1 success factor (hint: it’s not passion)

December 7th, 2018 by Bob Bly

It’s fashionable to say one should go into a business one is
“passionate” about.

I think a clearer road to success is to go into a business you
have an aptitude for.

There are 3 parts to having an aptitude for something.

First, you are naturally drawn to it.

For reasons you may not be able to articulate, it’s something you
want to do — in fact, feel compelled to do.

If you are not doing it, you feel incomplete and dissatisfied.

Second, you have natural ability.

Most people who become auto mechanics are good at fixing things.

Most people who become novelists are good at writing.

The activity is a good fit for your interests and skills.

Third, you enjoy it.

Most people who become marine biologists love the ocean, marine
life, and diving.

Most people who become video game designers are really into video

If you lack aptitude for the profession, task, or skill in which
you plan to make your living, you probably won’t enjoy work … and
may perform the job with indifference.

Exceptions? Of course.

But since you spend about half of your waking hours during the
week doing your work, why not do something you have an aptitude
for — so you enjoy it and do it well?


Category: Success | 9,452 Comments » |

Positive thinking: can’t solve everything

December 4th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Theories such as positive thinking, the Law of Attraction, and
Earl Nightingale’s maxim “We become what we think about” are

But they are not absolutes that work in all situations.

For instance, here are 3 things I can’t do — and just thinking
about them won’t solve the problem:

#1–I can’t swim.

I could swim as a kid.

But when I got older, the composition of muscle and fat in my
body changed to give me “negative buoyancy.”

Most people have positive buoyance, which means if they are in
water, they float naturally with little effort.

With negative buoyance (it’s not BS; Google it), the greater
density of lean muscle mass causes me to be unable to float … and
instead, I sink like a stone.

So far, the Law of Attraction has failed to switch my buoyance to
positive, which I need to avoid drowning.

#2–I don’t laugh.

I seem to be missing the “laugh reflex” that most people possess.

When I see or hear something that is uproariously funny, I smile,
but do not laugh.

Bellowing, guffawing, giggling, and prolonged, uncontrolled
laughter are not in my wheel house.

#3–I can’t dunk.

I’m 5’7″ … I can’t jump — and the basketball hoop is 10 feet

Actually, I can dunk. But only if I am standing on a tall ladder!

Now, the positive thinkers and Law of Attraction advocates
believe what they are doing can motivate you to have or do
whatever you want.

But when someone who, say, has negative buoyance hears the
motivational speaker telling them they can do anything they think
about — including swimming — well, for me, it just doesn’t work.
Because I’m not fond of my lungs filling with water.

Optimists and the positive thinking crowd will disavow me for
saying this, but not everybody can do everything.

What’s wrong with saying that? If you don’t have the physical
attributes, the intelligence, or the aptitude for anything from
pole vaulting to singing opera, changing your thoughts is not
always going to change the reality.

Solution: find other things you like that are a good fit for your
natural talents, skills, aptitudes, and abilities. And do those


Category: General | 12,437 Comments » |

A valuable money tip for freelancers

November 30th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Unlike employees with salaries, who know what they’re making each
month, freelancers and small business owners often face
unpredictable cash flow.

Even if business is good, payment promptness varies among your

As a result, your bank account may be flush and full one month,
while another month, there’s barely enough money to pay the rent.

If you don’t keep careful track of your cash flow when funds are
scarce, you risk writing a bad check without realizing it.

You never want a check to bounce, especially with certain payees.
These include the bank that holds your mortgage, the gas and
electric utility, and especially the IRS.

So here’s a simple tip that can keep you solvent when cash flow
is lean: take out a line of credit at the bank where you have
your business account.

Because life is expensive today, I recommend a credit line of at
least $25,000 — and $50,000 would be even better.

Have the bank connect your line of credit to your business
account to give you overdraft protection.

Meaning if you write a check, and there are insufficient funds to
cover it, the check automatically draws from your line of credit.

No bounced checks. No worrying about low account balances or a
temporary lull in your cash flow. No pissing off valued vendors.

With overdraft protection, your service providers are paid, you
don’t risk shut-off of a vital service such as the gas or
internet access — and you don’t get black marks on your credit

I have such a line of credit and overdraft protection on my
business account.

I’ve never had to draw on it — so far.

But you never know.

And it’s better to be safe than sorry.


Category: General | 9,321 Comments » |

Does accepting affiliate commissions cheat your customer?

November 27th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Recently I sent, as an affiliate of WW, an email to my list
promoting her upcoming webinar.

Subscriber RK immediately emailed me: “Is this a shameless plug?”

Meaning: “Are you just doing this for the money, Bob?”

Well, if RK is reading this essay, then I want to take this
opportunity to educate him — and others who hold his wrong-headed
view — as to how the internet marketing world really works.

To begin with, it is a standard practice for people to be paid
for their products and services. It’s simply working for a

You wouldn’t ask your dentist to whiten your teeth for free,
right? And when you fill up at the gas station, you give them
your credit card.

So this idea that products and services, including information
products, should be free … and it is wrong to get compensated for
providing them … strikes me as odd, to say the least.

Next, I don’t offer affiliate products just for the commissions:
The truth is, in most instances, I make more money from a sales
email that promotes my own products.

No, the main reason I offer affiliate products to my subscribers
is that I don’t know everything about everything.

Therefore, when I feel my subscribers want to learn something I
am not qualified to teach, I find a product that does teach what
you want or need to know — and then offer it to my list.

One common complaint among online shoppers is the perception that
affiliate commissions are not revealed and are a secret pay-off that
takes place without the customer’s knowledge.

Well, not by me; here’s the standard disclaimer on every sales
email I send out:

“The Direct Response Letter only recommends products that we’ve
either personally checked out ourselves, or that come from people
we know and trust. For doing so, we sometimes
receive a sales commission.”

Again, not the case at all: The products I offer through
affiliate marketing are the exact price they sell for when there
is no affiliate involved.

Yes, I get a commission for affiliate products I sell to my list.
But that commission is paid to me as a percentage of the sale by
my affiliate; no extra charge is ever tacked on to the consumer’s

Subscribers are also concerned that I don’t vet the affiliate
products I offer them and just do it, as RK accuses, to make

The fact is, I only sell products from affiliate partners whom I
either know personally or at least know by reputation and think
highly of their work.

If I sell a book, I may not read the whole book. But I spend enough
time reviewing its contents to make sure it is well worth the asking

Plus, I only sell products where the affiliate offers an
unconditional money-guarantee of satisfaction to ensure you are
happy with your purchase.

My main complaint with RK, aside from him being snarky, is his
lack of understand of how the business world works — and his
erroneous belief that it is somehow immoral to make money by
providing people with products and services they want.


Category: Online Marketing | 5,956 Comments » |

How often should you email your list?

November 23rd, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber DK writes:

“Bob, I am a fan. I’ve read your copywriting book a dozen times
over the years. Then I found your site and signed up for your
e-newsletter. But I want to tell you that you send it too often.

“I don’t really want to unsubscribe. But I also don’t want to
get things to read several times each month. How can we come to
some middle ground? Do you have some ‘occasional contact’

“Also, your newsletter often has an air of ‘Desperately Seeking
Susan,’ when it should be relaxed and informative. I mention
that for your benefit, not mine.

“After years and years, I’ve learned to adjust my own ‘level of
significance’ meter that’s equivalent to turning down the radio
when a commercial blares. Others might not do that, but rather
be put off by the blare.”

DK is debating an issue — optimal email frequency — based on
subjective opinion. But actually, the matter can be determined
through simple testing.

Here is the formula….

>> First, start with a modest initial frequency.

If you don’t have much content to share, or have limited time,
you can start with a monthly e-newsletter.

On the other hand, if you do have lots of valuable tips to share
and the time to write them up, start with a weekly email.

>> Measure your opt-out rate, which is the number of subscribers
who unsubscribe to your list with each email distribution.

Ideally, the opt-out rate should be 0.1% or less, meaning for
every 1,000 emails you send, at most just one person

At that level, your content is probably good enough that most
readers want to stick with you.

>> Next, gradually increase the frequency of publication.

If you are monthly, go weekly. Already weekly? Go to twice

Then watch your opt-out rate. If it does not spike when the
frequency increases, you can now send more emails without eroding
your list.

>> Of your emails, at least half should be content and less than
half sales emails for products, either yours or your affiliates.

If you send too many sales emails, subscribers quickly tire of
being sold all the time and not getting useful tips from the
newsletter — and so they opt-out or stop reading.

>> But keep in mind: the more emails you can send at a frequency
acceptable to your subscribers, the more sales messages you can

And the more sales messages you distribute, the more you sell
online — which if you are an internet marketer, is how you make
money from publishing an e-newsletter beyond just giving away
free content.

Regarding subscribers who just take all the free content offered
them, Ben Settle has this to say:

“[Many] freebie-seekers just flit from one free opt-in to
another, and brag about all the free stuff they find but never do
anything with, or ever will do anything with.”

This is based on an old observation: “People value free advice
based on what they pay for it: zero.”

Not always the case, but there is more than a little truth in it.


Category: Online Marketing | 4,345 Comments » |

How I stay energized during the work day

November 13th, 2018 by Bob Bly

Subscriber DK writes:

“Mr. Bly, you’ve proven yourself a prodigious writer and continue
to be. I ask not for your copywriting secrets, but rather
secrets about your energy level.

“I get that switching topics or assignments can keep one
invigorated, but even with a few hits of caffeine, I now have
trouble making it through the day without wanting longer

“Can you share your wakefulness secret?”

Unfortunately, I have no silver bullet for this, so I can only
share with you exactly what I do to maintain energy during a
typical 10-12 hour workday … a couple of which DK has already

#1–I do depend on caffeine. It is an addiction, and I drink 4
large mugs of coffee daily.

#2–Twice a day I use a sublingual vitamin B12 spray for added

#3–When I feel myself fading, I wash my face and the back of my
neck with cold water.

#4–I always get a good night’s sleep. I seem to require the
standard 8 hours of sleep. If I get 7 I am still OK, but 6 or
less and my energy level is subpar for the day.

#5–To accomplish #4, I never stay up past 10pm on a work night.
This enables me to awaken refreshed at 6am, having gotten my 8

#6–I awaken at around 6am and start work between 6:30am and
7am — no later. I adhere to Mark Ford’s rule of “early to rise.”

#7–I do my most important and difficult work in the mornings,
which is my period of peak energy.

#8–I work in one-hour increments, each separated by a 5-minute
break during which I check email and maybe watch a quick and
amusing video on YouTube (e.g., Family Guy, Jim Jeffries).

#9–For an energizing and refreshing snack, I eat a piece of
fruit. Okay, and once in a while, a cinnamon roll.

#10–In addition to the coffee, I drink one or two big glasses of
either water or club soda with ice and lemon during the work day.
We bought that club soda machine they advertise on TV and it
saves us a bundle.

#11–When the weather turns cool, I work with the office window
open. Low temperatures energize me.

#12–I make sure I have either the day’s newspaper, a good book,
or the current issue of the New York Review of Books to read
right after I finish work. It’s my reward for a productive day.
Most recent book I have read: “The Human Brain” by Isaac Asimov.

I also listen to a variety of music throughout the day to
keep my energy up and moderate my mood: classical for quiet,
contemplative, intense writing; e.g., a complicated financial or
technical promotion … and rock if I am on a roll with a fun sales


Category: General | 6,415 Comments » |

Coping with rude people online

November 9th, 2018 by Bob Bly

When I recently sent an email to my list promoting an info
product of mine, subscriber PT immediately replied:

“Anything to make a buck Bob.” Which is obviously a mean-spirited

When my assistant Jodi saw this, she emailed me a one-word
comment: “Rude!”

If you are an internet marketer, participate in social media, or
are otherwise online, you will invariably have people say rude,
snarky, or insulting things to you.

Two issues: Is it ever justified? And how best to deal with it?

I can think of only 4 instances that warrant a strong and angry
response to an email that has been sent to you:

#1–It is a highly deceptive spam message designed to fool and
cheat the recipient.

#2–It makes value judgments on sensitive or controversial social
issues — religion, race, death, taxes, and politics — that you
find offensive. And so you fire back.

#3–It is a blatant lie about you or someone you like or admire.
Or maybe it is not an intentional lie, but it is false

#4–It criticizes you, not in a constructive way, but in an
ill-mannered way designed to offend.

Now you have two options for dealing with this rude insult.

You can try to defend yourself. But that is a waste of effort and
doesn’t work 99% of the time.

The reason: you cannot use logic to remove from a person’s mind a
thought that was not put there by logic in the first place.

Arguing online wastes a tremendous amount of time and emotional
energy that is better dedicated to your work, family, or other

The second option for dealing with a rude subscriber is simpler
and far less stressful.

I immediately unsubscribe them from my list, block them from my
shopping cart, and also block any future emails they plan to send

That way they are out of my life. My stress is eliminated and I
can get back to business.

Do I spend time thinking about their derogatory comment once I
have blocked them from communicating with me online?

No. Except to occasionally incorporate a tale of their stupidity
and ignorance in an essay like this as an object lesson for my


Category: General | 7,821 Comments » |