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The 5 Best Copywriting Books: An Unconventional Guide

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Anytime I work with a young copywriter eager to launch their career, there always comes a time when they ask the inevitable question: “what are some good how-to books for copywriters?”

The truth is, there are none. A good how-to book may provide a few tips, a couple of poignant stories from the trenches, but the cold, hard truth is that you just have to jump in and hope you learn to swim fast enough to keep up. Because the reality of being a copywriter is nothing like you’ve learned in advertising school or in any book on the craft. The real world of a busy, working copywriter is faster and far more demanding than you could imagine.

Still, there must be a book or two that can help, right? Oh yes. But, they’re probably not the books you’d expect. These books aren't how-to manuals on writing killer copy. Instead, the following essential reads are intended to inspire, stoke the imagination and prepare the next great copywriter to embrace innovation and trust his or her inner voice. Here are my 5 unexpectedly awesome books for copywriters.

  1. A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver
    In this beautifully written book, National Book Award winner Mary Oliver gives us a warm and essential narrative on how to powerfully use language, sound, rhythm, imagery and other classic literary devices. Perhaps more importantly, this is a great guide to the imagination and a primer on the use of words to express truths. How can this not be of help to copywriters?
  2. Zag by Marty Neumeier
    When everyone else zigs, you zag. Simple but insightful wisdom from brand guru Neumeier. Of his many books on branding, this is perhaps his most useful in that it helps one understand the power of innovation, fresh thinking and leaving the clutter of messaging behind to the find white space where ideas can truly breathe. More than just applicable to brands and clients, it’s a great metaphor for the path of the writer in search of a uniquely compelling voice.
  3. Story by Robert McKee
    At the end of the day, it’s all about story. Every brand, every company, every client has a story to tell. The real power of any campaign, any writing assignment is in the telling of the narrative. People think in stories and we respond to memorable ones. Learn to tell a great story and neither you nor your current and future clients will be disappointed.
  4. The That Tells The Truth by John Dufresne
    Dufresne is an imaginative fiction writer. And while this is a handbook for fiction writers, Dufresne’s take on craft and story adds another layer of possibility and inspiration to the previous books on this list. He also shares great insights into the writing process, including tips on overcoming the dreaded writer’s block and how to do the one thing many writers fear most: simply getting started. Plus, the book is a really entertaining read.
  5. A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
    This book blew my mind when I read it. According to Pink, we are now in the Conceptual Age, a time when right-brainers will rule. In this era of automation and outsourcing, the one thing that will remain is the idea and those who generate them. Innovators are the true commodity here and people who can think will be in high demand. Again, he writes about the power of story, the need for great design and the notion of symphony as the ability to bring together a range of creative elements to arrive at something that is bigger than the sum of its parts. This last ability, as much as any, is vital to the success of a great copywriter.

And that is my list of unexpectedly awesome books for copywriters. They aren’t the only books I’ve benefited from, but they’re a great place to start. If nothing else, they’ll inspire, prepare and point the next great copywriter in the right direction. Happy reading.

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