Bob Bly Direct Response Copywriter Official Banner

Jerome Wrong About Writing

November 23rd, 2008 by Bob Bly

It pains me to say it, but a nonfiction book author I greatly admire, the late John Jerome, said something in his book about writing, which I am now reading, that I believe is almost totally wrong.

In “The Writing Trade” (Penguin), Jerome said: “I’ve always felt that any piece of writing is about writing first, before it is about whatever the subject matter is supposed to be.”

I disagree. To me, the most important elements of nonfiction writing are, in this order:

1. The audience: Who is the reader? What do they want or need to know?

2. The topic: the product, lesson, idea, skill, subject matter, etc.

3. The content: are the facts there? accurate? in an order that makes sense? does it answer the reader’s questions and tell her what she wants to know?

4. The writing: is it clear, well organized, clean, well reasoned?

I agree with Michael Masterson, who says “Great writing is a good idea cleanly expressed.”

I always put my reader first. My subject second.

I don’t think MY type of nonfiction writing — how-to and marketing copy — is ever about the writing itself.

If I’ve done my job. The writing is essentially invisible. It doesn’t deflect the reader’s attention from the story or content to the writing itself.

I think a dwindling group of literate readers (me included) can still appreciate reading a genuine prose stylist.

But our demand, time, and attention span for “fine writing” is shrinking with each passing year.

So when you write, you should write for the reader.

And not to show off your eloquence or style to others — yes?


This entry was posted on Sunday, November 23rd, 2008 at 3:44 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

55 responses about “Jerome Wrong About Writing”

  1. Fiona Fell - The Profit Maximsing Web Geek said:

    The reader is always first!

    For without the reader the writing, the language, the style, the passion all goes unread.

    I try to write for the reader, and not write for the sake of the ‘craft’, or for my 12th grade English teachers rules.

    I write to express an idea and with a purpose or position, but I do so to inform, educate, entertain or rebut the readers ideas.

    I say, write for the reader. Find your audience. Then share!

  2. dianacacy said:

    I agree completely.

    Only time I can think of coming close to thinking about the writing versus the reader is in writing a personal journal entry. But even when recapping the day’s events or feelings, there’s always a target in mind. Friend, God, Life, Myself, Muse, the cat (haha), whoever.

    Even in fiction writing, I’m always the storyteller targeting someone who wants to hear the story. I’ve attempted to free write without any focus, but it’s always manifested itself before a few sentences.

    I don’t think I can write without targeting the audience and the topic first.

  3. Lynne said:

    I agree with you, Bob.

    The whole point of writing, in the first place, is to connect with an audience.

    If you don’t know who you are writing for, you don’t know how to choose the best words to connect with them.

  4. Juho said:

    I think disagreement is only superficial in this case. Yes, all of these steps and elements are needed.

    But I also think Jerome’s definition of writing was probably a larger one than you give him credit for…

    To attack any topic, you need to know how to approach it as a writer first. Which seems to be your point as well.

  5. Bob Bly said:

    Juho: given the advantage of having read the entire book, I think what Jerome meant was that writing — which he called “making sentences for a living” — engaged him more than the topic he was writing about. He liked learning about health or whatever he was writing about, but what turned him on was creating clear, clean, crisp prose.

  6. Kristi Holl said:

    Without having read the book, it’s hard to know exactly what the author meant by that sentence. Since this is a nonfiction book author that you greatly admire, chances are that you took his statement not quite the way he intended.
    Kristi Holl
    Writer’s First Aid blog

  7. Internet Marketing Archives» Blog Archive » 'Jerome Wrong About Writing' by Bob Bly said:

    […] Jerome Wrong About Writing… […]

  8. Mark Nagurski said:


    Certainly the purpose of non-fiction writing is first and foremost to communicate an idea. The first step in that process is to make the idea clear.

    I like to think of it as getting the words out of the way.

    I do, however, think that writing style has an important part to play.

    Just to play devil’s advocate for a minute, you could liken writing style to a salesman – and it’s not always the best product or the most knowledgeable salesperson who wins out.

    Does the style suit the message? Does the style resonate with the reader or prospect? What image does the style portray?

    A writing style (or sales style) can immediately turn people off – regardless of the content – in which case the content becomes largely irrelevant. It can also engage and encourage you to go further into a topic you may not have considered previously.

    Of course, finding the right style in print – or sales – is largely down to knowing the audience you’re speaking to.

  9. Bob Bly said:

    Mark: I like your analogy of writing style as salesman. Your style reflects your personality. If readers like you, your personality, and your style, they are more likely to do what you want them to do, whether it’s read your novel or buy your vitamin supplement.

  10. Ken said:

    I agree that the reader/customer/guest/visitor should ALWAYS be first and foremost in the writer’s mind, although…
    there’s certainly something to be said for style as it pertains to the ‘rhythm’ of a piece of writing. By rhythm I mean the beat, or number of syllables in each sentence. I find that good writing has a beat to it and if you’re off by even one syllable it can throw off the effectiveness of the piece.
    Have you ever read something, fiction or non, where the subject was interesting, the writer was skilled, yet for some reason it just didn’t click? Keep an eye on that beat!

  11. Best Virtual Advertising » Blog Archive » Jerome Wrong About Writing - blog - direct … said:

    […] unknown wrote an interesting post today onJerome Wrong About Writing – blog – direct …Here’s a quick excerptI don’t think MY type of nonfiction writing — how-to and marketing copy — is ever about the writing itself. If I’ve done my job. The writing is essentially invisible. It doesn’t deflect the reader’s attention from the story or content … […]

  12. Big Marketing For You » Blog Archive » Jerome Wrong About Writing - blog - direct … said:

    […] unknown wrote an interesting post today onJerome Wrong About Writing – blog – direct …Here’s a quick excerptIn “The Writing Trade” (Penguin), Jerome said: “I’ve always felt that any piece of writing is about writing first, before it is about whatever the subject matter is supposed to be.” I disagree. To me, the most important elements of … […]

  13. Online Advertising Live » Blog Archive » Jerome Wrong About Writing - blog - direct … said:

    […] unknown wrote an interesting post today onJerome Wrong About Writing – blog – direct …Here’s a quick excerptI don’t think MY type of nonfiction writing — how-to and marketing copy — is ever about the writing itself. If I’ve done my job. The writing is essentially invisible. It doesn’t deflect the reader’s attention from the story or content … […]

  14. Robert said:


    If you don’t know your audience and you don’t write to that audience, then it matters not what you write – it will not resonate.

    The Michael Masterson quote is on target, also.

    Ken’s comment about rhythm is interesting; I’m gonna look into that…

  15. Simple Delights said:

    i also agree, you should always put your readers in your top priority.

  16. $1 Aweber email marketing said:

    $1 Aweber email marketing…

    […]Jerome Wrong About Writing – blog – direct marketing blog[…]…

  17. compost gardening said:

    WOW! Now that is what you call a well written article, it has everything in it that as a reader you want to know. Keep up the good work and continue to post great articles like this one.

  18. Karoline Burbach said:

    I like getting the letters, but please do not go telling folks they are going for getting about one a week. I have been lucky to obtain one particular a month. You need to do a little better than that….or halt the pinocchio stories at the incredibly least. If one a month is what it is, then that’s what it is.

  19. craigslist for used cars said:

    It is really understandable that patients want the assessment and treatment that a medical doctor provides. As physician assistants (PAs), we also understand the gap in between the need for essential care and doctors who can supply it is actually serious and growing. PAs can enable fill that gap while performing underneath the direction of a physician. It’s why our profession exists and it’s what we do. We can easily offer top-quality major care and expand a physician’s ability to handle each of the patients who want her. Upcoming to physicians, PA’s possess the greatest selection of clinical several hours and are experienced within the exact same medical model as physicians. Our challenge, and a single that faces nurses, PAs and physicians alike, is in order to the PA education system to still present highly properly trained PAs to aid fill the main treatment shortage, we want extra clinical training web-sites, and preceptors that are keen and able to teach. Right until we solve this critical pipeline situation, none in the members from the patient-centered medical workforce will probably be equipped to realize their extensive potential role while in the solution to principal treatment.

  20. nya smslan said:

    Flowers can be gifted on your friends on their birthday. If your good friend is staying at any international destination and you’d like to surprise him, you can mail him flowers by way of these flower delivery agencies.

  21. Randy said:

    Women usually sleep on the right side of the bed even in their sleep, they have to be right

  22. Omer Economus said:

    This Blog deserves far more attention than it is getting right now

  23. distill wine said:

    I want to show my gratitude for your kind-heartedness for those people who actually need guidance on this one idea. Your very own commitment to passing the message all around appeared to be amazingly practical and have surely encouraged others just like me to realize their desired goals. Your warm and friendly information means so much a person like me and a whole lot more to my office colleagues. Thanks a ton; from everyone of us.

  24. Hershel Guiles said:

    I think this is among the most important information for me. And i am glad reading your article. But wanna remark on some general things, The site style is perfect, the articles is really nice : D. Good job, cheers

  25. Hector Torrain said:

    What a funny blog! I genuinely loved watching this comic video with my family unit as well as together with my friends.

  26. Betty said:

    You should check out a awesome exclusive ipad book that features graffiti history. Lots of old school photographs.

  27. Hannah Phippin said:

    I conceive this web site has some really excellent info for everyone :D. “Heat cannot be separated from fire, or beauty from The Eternal.” by Alighieri Dante.

  28. candy crush cheats said:

    You need to take part in a contest for one of the finest sites on the web. I most certainly will highly recommend this website!

  29. Diindolylmethane said:

    You might have described quite a few ways to make money. It’s quite significant for me. I highly appreciate your opinions. Thanks.

  30. candy crush cheats said:

    An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a friend who has been conducting a little research on this. And he actually bought me lunch simply because I discovered it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending time to talk about this subject here on your website.

  31. Rogelio Calley said:

    I am really enjoying the theme/design of your blog. Do you ever run into any web browser compatibility issues? A few of my blog readers have complained about my site not operating correctly in Explorer but looks great in Opera. Do you have any recommendations to help fix this issue?

  32. Arline Kawamura said:

    Hey there! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us so I came to check it out. I’m definitely loving the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Exceptional blog and amazing design.

  33. Precious Hausler said:

    If you want to grow your experience only keep visiting this site and be updated with the hottest news posted here.

  34. Tonja Garacci said:

    Inspiring I can absolutely say that this news was super. If you want a fifth look instant message me.

  35. Fredricka Pollom said:

    Stunning quest there. What happened after? Take care!

  36. Brant Shont said:

    Can you please send an e-mail to me the code for this script or please tell me in detail in relation to this script?

  37. Insurance Blog said:

    power tools can seriously save you from loads of headache, specially when the job is really hard,

  38. Karlyn Mendler said:

    I do love the way you have framed this specific problem and it does give us a lot of fodder for consideration. On the other hand, through what I have personally seen, I just wish when other comments stack on that people keep on issue and not start on a soap box involving the news of the day. Anyway, thank you for this superb point and even though I can not necessarily agree with the idea in totality, I regard your viewpoint.

  39. Cornelius Ewing said:

    Hurrah! Finally I got a blog from where I can genuinely obtain useful data regarding my study and knowledge.

  40. payday 2 download said:

    Brilliant report thanks! Seems to do the job perfectly well when using the latest versions of wordpress as well (3.3)
    Made the code a lot cleaner as mentioned and seems to have made life less difficult when trying to implement the comments form into side areas ect. (Had a nightmare with previous use from the normal code)

  41. Ana Sheeran said:

    Do you have a spam problem on this site; I also am a blogger, and I was curious about your situation; we have developed some nice practices and we are looking to exchange strategies with others, be sure to shoot me an email if interested.

  42. Spencer Holthoff said:

    Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could find a captcha plugin for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having trouble finding one? Thanks a lot!

  43. office for rent singapore said:

    Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive learn something like this before. So good to discover somebody with some unique suggestions on this topic. realy thank you for beginning this up. this site is something that is needed on the net, somebody with somewhat originality. beneficial job for bringing something new towards the internet!

  44. list of grants available in michigan said:

    Usually I do not read article on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do it! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thanks, quite great post.

  45. St Paul SEO said:

    Hello! I’ve been following your website for a while now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Humble Tx! Just wanted to tell you keep up the great work!

  46. Allyssa Christian texas said:

    Hello my family member! I need to say that this post is awesome, good written and include roughly all essential infos. I’d like to peer much more posts like this.

  47. Firefall Power Leveling said:

    You can definitely see your skills within the paintings you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. All the time follow your heart. “Experience is a good school, but the fees are high.” by Heinrich Heine.

  48. salt scrubs said:

    Someone necessarily lend a hand to make critically articles I’d state. That is the very first time I frequented your web page and so far? I amazed with the analysis you made to make this actual publish incredible. Wonderful task!

  49. 21st century electronic cigarettes reviews said:

    I like this blog. Really practical and very motivational. Thanks a bunch. It’ll help me a lot.

  50. siding Pontiac said:

    You are my inspiration , I own few web logs and rarely run out from to post .

  51. One Dasty said:

    What we d mannered pug puppies and french bulldog puppies. We produce this puppies with desiring colors to make sure our nursery comes first in breeding special colored pug puppies and french bulldog puppies here in the state. We also make sure all puppies adopted from us have the below characteristics.

  52. robert said:

  53. Joe Clark said:

    Affiliates Program delivered in the social platform or outcome synthesis MCA Leads Data is effectively viewed as a neglected but worthy upward.

  54. Shop ECS said:

    Shop from ECS which is best pakistani shoes brand. ECS is giving premium quality product which are cost-effective.

  55. 123bet said:

    Thank you for sharing such a great bog it is very

Leave a Reply