These are all the books and ads you must read to get a firm grip on copywriting, according to advertising guru (and teacher) Gary Halbert.
A lot of advice is dished out on the internet, but it’s rarely authoritative, and even more rarely actionable.
So it’s helpful that Gary Halbert, a recognised guru on copywriting and advertising, put together a “no BS” post about what books are worth reading, and what ads are worth studying.
But I found it a little challenging getting all the resources on that page. For example, not every book is available digitally, or indeed through online booksellers at all. So I’ve provided some links below. I’ve parsed through this list (which I archived at the end of this post, as a reference), and summarised it, and found links to all the ads and books for you.
This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through the links, I get a small commission, which otherwise goes to Amazon. I’d appreciate it in recognition of the work I put into these posts.
Gary Halbert’s Recommended Reading List — My Favourites
Here are my favourites from Gary Halbert’s recommended reading list on advertising and copywriting.
If I had to recommend a few books and no others, I’d recommend:
- How to Write a Good Advertisement by Victor Schwab, way cheaper — if you’re on a budget, start with this!
- Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz. It’s well worth the $125.
Then I would read the ads, and start producing them.
The other books are interesting, but anyone with an analytical mind should know the basics of quantitative advertising and so on.
Books on Copywriting and Advertising
This is Gary Halbert’s list of books to read. He says “Read these books, and no other books.”
I re-ordered this list slightly, to prioritise the best books (by popular opinion).
- “Breakthrough Advertising” by Eugene M. Schwartz. Hardcover only, new print for $125. This should be the first book on the list, and maybe the only one on many people’s lists. Available only through this website that is legit (I bought from it!) It costs a LOT more on Amazon, or even on eBay, to the point where you could resell it for an easy profit. Further, don’t buy the later annotated editions. You want this original one. I haven’t read the later ones, but I have read that they take away from the core message.
- “How To Write A Good Advertisement” by Vic Schwab. Available for $5 on Kindle! A very pithy, entertaining and comprehensive how-to book with a huge number of tips and explanations on how to write great copy. Riddled with quotes from famous authors to back it up.
- “Scientific Advertising” by Claude Hopkins. Available for $1 on Kindle. May as well start here! The original book that claimed we should be measuring marketing performance by metrics today known as open rates, uniques and CTRs. It’s pretty brief.
- “The Robert Collier Letter Book” by Robert Collier. Available for $6 on Kindle. I’d buy this (not the Audiobook), because even if you’re an audiobook fan, it’s like listening to a series of old ads and doesn’t sink in as well. A series of advertising letters with their effectiveness analyzed.
- “Tested Advertising Methods” by John Caples. Only available as used paperback, from $20. You should really get the 4th edition, available for example through various vendors on this website but I haven’t checked if that’s legit.
- “The Gary Halbert Letter” (all back issues) by Gary Halbert. Read the website archive. That website is terribly disorganised, and needs a refresh… this guy has attempted to put it in order and it appears to be missing some stuff (no idea what that was). They also charge you $1,000 for printing them all out, but there’s no way I’d do that.
- “The Boron Letters” by Gary Halbert. $10 eBook on Amazon. Read this if you want some kind of organisation of Gary Halbert’s work. If you want to look at every chapter in chronological order for free, look at them here (legit website): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25
- “The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches” by Joe Karbo. That’s the link to the original edition, only as paperback (used) for under $20. The first part is in many ways one of the original self-help books on reprogramming our minds to be better people instead of constantly talking ourselves down like we’re accustomed to doing. The second half is a treatise to direct mail advertising.
- “7 Steps To Freedom” by Ben Suarez. Only available as a hardcover, second hand, for about $10. That link is to the second edition, but it is functionally the same as the first.
Ads to Study and Copy
Here are links to all the ads on swiped.co, a generally great resource with original copies of the greatest ads ever published, here for you to copy.
His general recommended study method is to take the ads and to copy them, paragraph by paragraph, adapting them to something you’re trying to sell.
- “Do You Make These Mistakes In English?” — I’ve never seen a more referenced headline.
- “What Everybody Should Know About This Stock And Bond Business” — A full page ad for Merrill Lynch that explained everything about stocks in over 6,000 words.
- “The Nancy L. Halbert Heraldry Letter” — A classic direct mail letter advertising ancestor research. Here’s the version I re-wrote to myself.
- “How To Burn Off Body Fat, Hour-By-Hour”. This ad asks for the reader’s help in proving that the weight-loss system works!
- “At 60 Miles An Hour The Loudest Noise In This Rolls Royce Is The Ticking Of The Electric Clock”. An iconic ad for a Rolls Royce, written by David Ogilvy.
- “Why Men Crack”. An ad for a coffee alternative. Great ad, but I can’t help but notice that we all still drink coffee.
- “How To Collect From Social Security At Any Age” by Gary Halbert himself.
- “The Admiral Byrd Transpolar Expedition Letter”.
- “The Lazy Man’s Way To Riches” by Joe Karbo. Not the book, but the ad advertising the book. It focuses on benefits, like being in debt –> making a lot of money. It also features a quote by (I think) himself, quoting “the wisest man I ever knew”.
And, in general, anything you can get your hands on by:
- Gary Bencivenga
- Dan Rosenthal
- Joe E. Kennedy, Pat Garrard
- Steve Brown
- Drew Kaplan
- Claude Hopkins
- Joe Karbo
- Ben Suarez
- Joe Sugarman
- Gene Schwartz
- Gary Halbert
I’ll let you do your own searches on those. Happy hunting!
Here’s an archive of the letter by Gary Halbert recommending all these books, here.