W-a-y West of Jewfish Creek
Dear Friend & Subscriber,
My head hurts, my feet stink and I don't
love Jimmy Swaggert.
I don't want to be here at my desk
writing this letter. I want to be on my boat. Writing sucks. I
hate to write. Anybody who says they like to write is
either a degenerate liar or a social leper. Let's face it:
What kind of nerd wants to sit and struggle with a blank piece
of paper when he could be 60 feet underwater slaughtering
innocent fish... or... romancing his honey... or... going to a
movie... or... playing golf... or... reading what somebody
else has struggled to write...
Anything but writing. But alas,
judging from the calls on my electronic mailbox, the numero
uno subject my subscribers want me to write about is
So I am. Now, the first thing I want you
to know about writing (other than how much it sucks) is the
best way to get good at writing is...
I know that sounds like double-talk but,
it isn't. The biggest secret to writing well is simply work.
Just the act of doing it. For the moment, forget about getting
it perfect, forget about grammar, forget about syntax,
Just sit down and start writing.
John D. McDonald was one of the best
writers of all time. He died in December of 1986 but,
fortunately, he left a legacy of some of the most memorable
fiction ever penned. In fact, I became literally addicted
to his Travis McGee series. (You will too once you read one of
them.) Anyway, when he was first getting started, he read
somewhere the average novelist didn't really hit his stride
until he had written about ten books. And so, what did
McDonald do? It's very simple: He wrote the equivalent of ten
novels in one year!
Listen: Writing does get easier.
However, starting to write does not. Therefore,
if you've got a job of writing to do, just sit down and
Don't wait to get organized.
Don't wait for ideas or inspiration. Don't wait
until you "feel like it." (I never do.)
OK, enough of that. Now, it goes without
say, (but let's say it anyway), the kind of writing we're
concerned with here is, the kind that convinces people to
buy something. And that's the hardest kind of writing of
all. It's also the most profitable! You know, I
routinely get more for writing a single letter than most
authors get for writing an entire book.
Or sometimes, ten entire books.
So, let's get specific. To sell somebody
something, you've got to do four things. (1) You've got to
catch their attention. (2) You've got to capture their
interest. (3) You've got to arouse their desire.
(Sounds dirty, doesn't it?) and, (4) You've got to motivate
them to action. This, as many of you know, is called
the AIDA formula.
Today, we're going to concentrate on
getting people's attention by learning how to write what I
call "killer" headlines. Hark unto me. Listen: If you want to
capture the attention of someone in a crowd, what's the best
way to do it? It's really quite elementary, My Dear Watson.
What you do is...
You Call Him By Name!
And, if you want someone riveted
to your sales letters, hook up with some outfit that can do
Admark or laser printing (or else use your word processor) and
put your reader's name in a headline printed at the top of the
sales letter you send him. Like this:
Ben Suarez Attempts Suicide
After Realizing He'll Never Be
As Good-Looking As Gary Halbert!
Bill Bonner Fails To Hire The
Prince Of Print And Loses Millions!
Frank Cawood Cashes In Big
By Mailing Unique
"Concept Letter" Developed By
Jimmy Calano Changes His Will
And Leaves All His Millions
To Guru Gary!
Alicia Evans Expresses Astonishment
At Seeing Her Name In Newsletter
Written By Demented Nerd From Ohio!
And so on. What I have just described is
the ultimate way to get attention in a sales letter. No
one, not even someone as blase` as Feeney Griffith, will
fail to perk up at seeing his or her name in print, especially
if it's unexpected.
Of course, we can't always use our
prospects' names in our headlines so, what are some other good
ideas? Here are three of the most powerful:
1. Put news in your headline.
2. Promise a benefit in your
3. Do both of the above in the
Here are some good words to use in
headlines. Announcing... At last... Now... Now, at last... How
to... Here are... 17-Ways to... The art of... The secret of...
A startling fact about... Amazing... New...
And so on. Now, here's a headline that
combines both news value and the promise of a benefit:
At Last! Scientists Discover New
Way To Look Younger In Just 17-Days!
There's much to be learned in the 13
words above. At Last!: Boy, that sure suggests
something we've been waiting for has finally happened, doesn't
it? Goody! Goody! Scientists: Yeah! Not just anybody;
not some know nothing bag lady living in the streets; not some
ad man or copywriter. No. No. We're talking about a select,
objective, hard-headed, analytical, totally honest group of
folks who validate our headline. Discover: Wow!
It seems to connotate research laboratories and maybe a
scientific breakthrough. New Way: Hussah! Hussah! We're
all questing for new ways continually, aren't we? New ways to
grow hair, get thin, make more money, etc. To Look Younger:
Ah, who is there among us over the age of 30 that wouldn't
welcome the achieving of this almost universally-sought after
benefit? In Just 17-Days!: More validation because it's
so specific. Claude Hopkins said it, "Generalities fall off
your readers like water off a duck's back." Or something like
that. Anyway, the specificity of 17-Days makes our
headline more believable, more easily understood and somehow,
more interesting. And, more real.
How important are headlines? I'm glad
you asked. Some pundits say the headline accounts for 80% of
the success of the ad. I, myself, have re-headlined ads and
increased their pull by 475%. I have a client who pays me
$195,000 per year to write headlines. Headlines are where I
spend more creative effort than any other aspect of my work.
Good headlines are crucial.
Let's take a breather so I can ask you a
question. What publication has the highest paid writers?
Answer: the National Enquirer. Yep, it's true. And for
good reason. You see, the writers for the Enquirer are
among the best anywhere on earth. I'm not being sarcastic.
They really are. If you doubt that, here's something
for you to consider...
More People Read Any
Single Issue Of The
Enquirer Than Have Read
The Bible Since It
Was First Printed!
Enquirer articles are superbly
written. They are clear, concise, crisp and, all in all, the
most easily understood articles of any publication.
And what do Enquirer writers
excel at above all else? You guessed it -- HEADLINES.
Their headlines are so powerful, they have so much "grabbing
power" that, every week, people who have sworn they'll never
again buy such a publication, are almost forced to
purchase it in spite of themselves.
So anyway, if the best way to get good
at writing is by writing, what is the best way to get good at
That's easy... it's by writing
Here's what you do: Every week you get
copies of the National Enquirer, Star, Globe, Weekly World
News and so on. And, on a monthly basis, you get copies of
Reader's Digest, Cosmopolitan and any other magazine
you can find that has lots of good headlines. And you get
yourself a large supply of 3"x5" index cards and you write all
those good headlines on those cards, one to a card.
By the way, a superb source of good
headlines is one of the reference reports included with my
seminar tapes. It's called:
349 Great Headlines
152 Attention Grabber Words
This is truly a "masterpiece collection"
of headlines and other ammo that should be a part of every
copywriter's library. Many of you (perhaps most) have my
seminar tapes and all the related material and those of you
who don't... should!
Call and order right now (323-851-8275)
and all this invaluable info will be on its way to you in a
matter of hours!
Forgive me, pitching is in my bones and
I just can't help myself sometimes. Especially, if I have a
strong belief in the product.
Whatever. OK, now we've got all these
hundreds of headlines on hundreds of headline cards and, in a
moment, I'm going to show you how to massage all this good
stuff to produce maximum results.
But first, a true story. Remember that
ad I sent with my newsletter a couple of months back? The one
where I said, when it comes to advertising I was the best
thing since sliced bread and, that to get me you had to shell
out $15,000 up front and offer me a substantial "carrot"
(usually 5% of gross sales) on the back end?
Alright. I get a call as a result of
that ad from a guy in Denver who says he would have no problem
paying me my $15,000 advance but the 5% part wouldn't work
since he's a furniture dealer (3 stores) and furniture is sold
at varying markups.
So I come back to him by asking what I'd
have to do for him to be worth $15,000 per month.
"Increase my business by 20%," he says.
"Send me my $15,000 advance and $15,000
more on the first of every month and I'll see to it you sell
every stick of furniture possible to sell in Denver," I say.
He did and I did.
Here's the way we work: First, you need
to know I now have these people on a schedule of 365 full-page
(newspaper) ads per year. In a week or so that schedule will
be bumped to about 400 pages per year and soon it will be 730
pages per year and later, when we hit 1,000 pages per year,
we're going to slack off.
By the way, all this is supplemented
with a steady stream of radio advertising and a little TV.
Now listen: There's no way in the world
I'm going to commit to writing hundreds of ads per year
and besides, I'll never now the furniture business as well as
So the way we work it is, I "theme" the
thrust of the advertising and I write headlines to go with
those themes. Then, my client writes the ads and faxes them to
me and I read them and make any necessary changes.
Does this M.O. work? Judge for yourself.
In the first two weeks after I came on board...
My Client Had To
Hire 10 New Full-Time
And now, after the first six weeks,
their sales are up 40%. You know, that's quite a lot when you
They Were Already Doing
$14 Million Per Year!
I'd like to take full credit for all
this but I can't. In the first place, Sam and Leslie Fishbein
know the furniture business inside and out and Sam is truly a
By the way, all this seems to be working
out so well I think we're going to "syndicate" our advertising
by making our collective expertise available to one other
furniture dealer in each metro area throughout the U.S.
Back to the salt mines. OK, so right now
I owe Sam and Leslie some "themes" and headlines and, I'm
going to create them right here before your very eyes. What
I'm doing first is, I'm going to loosen up my mind by reading
some gag headlines written by Sam and his staff. I'm not doing
this just for laughs. No. I'm doing it to get my mind in gear
and to see if...
I Can Catch
Here are the headlines I'm looking at:
Modern Day King Tut Furnishes
Bizarre Backyard Burial Tomb With
Kacey Fine Furniture -- "I Want Only
The Best," He Explains, "Because
You Can Take It With You!"
Two Headed Woman Shops Kacey
Pregnant Woman Has A Cow
Double Whiplash When She
Sees Her Leather
For Less At Kacey's!w
Lives -- Close
King's Plan To
Kacey Fine Furniture!
Stooped With Back Siamese
Twins Come Unglued
Ditches Coffin For Doing Double-Take
Kacey Bedding In Latest Kacey Blockbuster Sale!
Blown Away By
Explosive Price Cuts
And so on. Hmn? This stuff is bizarre
even by my standards. But, it does serve to get the
juices flowing, doesn't it? Now, let's review some of the
actual headlines we've already used. Here's a few:
WARNING: Don't Hire Any
Interior Decorator Until
You Hear This:
Local Furniture Dealer Will
Give Away Over
One Million Dollars In
Discounts On Her
Entire Inventory (This July
Because Of Bulldozers Tearing Up Her Streets!
Need New Furniture?
5 Reasons Why You
Should Extremely Low
Prices From Local
Not Shop At The
Store May Be Deemed
"Unfair" To Competition!
Who Else Wants To Buy
A Do You Make These
Mistakes When You
Payments Shop For
For At Least 6 Months?
Are You Willing To
Local Businessman Swears Under
To 3 Blocks To Save As
Much Oath He Did Not Steal Any
As 50% On All The
Furniture Of The Furniture
He Is Selling
Need? So Cheaply!
And so on.
OK, as promised a few pages ago, I am
now going to reveal the simple way to "massage" all this data
to come up with something new. First, I do what I just did.
Namely, I review what's already been done. Next, I get to my
own personal collection of "headline cards" and pick them up
and fondle them (I'm getting excited!) and look at them and
think about them and flip them out onto the floor like I would
a deck of cards and I cogitate and I remember...
I remember someone once said (was it
Justice Learned Hand?) that freedom of speech does not give
you the right to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater. I remember
my headline must not only grab attention, it must also be true
and relevant. I remember Kacey Fine Furniture really does
have a problem with the street around their store being torn
up. I remember they really do have great furniture
(Paulette and I are buying a whole houseful from them) at
extremely low prices. I remember... Hey, I've got it! Check
The Amazing Secret Of The Local
Furniture Dealer Who Is Giving
Away All Those Free Samples!
See, what Sam and Leslie have is some
really neat coffee tables they got such a deal on they can
afford to give them away to all new buyers and their amazing
secret is they've discovered by offering a free premium to
induce you to come in and buy and then giving rock-bottom
prices to keep you happy, you'll be a loyal customer forever
The Competition Won't
Have A Chance!
And, as usual, when Sam Fishbein does
his usual brilliant job of "fleshing out" this idea, we'll
have, I believe, another winner.
And now that I've finished my newsletter
for this month and developed another "theme" and
headline for the Fishbeins, I ask you...
Wasn't That A Nifty
Way To Kill Two Birds
With One Stone?
Gary C. Halbert
"The Hemingway of Headlines"
P.S. I just took on the marketing job of selling
an album that contains the earliest ELVIS Presley concert ever
recorded. Wait till you see that ad!
P.P.S. Damn, I'm good.