Want to get better at copy? Copywriter and author, Glenn Fisher, joined us for the 164th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast to talk about how he became a copywriter and how he rapidly improved his skills. Today, Glenn teaches other how to start and get better at copywriting on his podcast, in speeches, and in his book. We asked Glenn about:
• how copywriting overtook his dream of becoming a bank manager
• pitching everyone in London before finding his first job
• what he learned from his early mentors that helped him most
• Glenn’s process for finding (and testing out) a great idea
• the difference between the UK and the USA when it comes to ideas
• the lessons he took away from his Tony Robbins experience
• whether or not copy and advertising can change a person’s beliefs
• the no-secret, “secrets” Glenn has used to grow his skill set
• what his business looks like and how he spends his time
• the catalyst for writing his book and the process he followed
• what he would do differently if he were rewriting his book again
• what the book has done to build his credibility and why that’s NOT enough
• what he struggles with in his business today
• what he would do if he lost everything and had to start over from scratch
• why other copywriters aren’t your competition
We also asked Glenn about the future of copywriting and where marketing is headed right now. To hear this interview, click the play button below, or download the episode to your favorite podcast app. Or scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:Agora
The End of America
The Art of the Click
Mary Ellen Tribby
All Good Copy
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
This episode is brought to you by The Copywriter Club, In Real Life, our live event in San Diego, March 12th through 14th. Get your tickets now at thecopywriterclub.com/tccirl.
Kira: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes, and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Rob and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Rob: You’re invited to join the Club for episode 164 as we chat with copywriter and podcaster Glenn Fisher about becoming a direct-response copywriter and writing a book about it, what it takes to write good copy, his writing processes, mistakes he’s made, and what he thinks the future of copywriting looks like.
Kira: Welcome, Glenn.
Rob: Hi, Glenn.
Glenn: Hello. Thanks for having me.
Kira: So, let’s kick this off with your story. How did you end up as a copywriter/author/speaker? Let’s hear your story.
Glenn: Cool. So, yeah, we’ll break it down into parts. As is the case with most copywriters, I got into it completely by mistake. I think I’ve spoken to you about one out of a thousand copywriters who went, ‘I’m going to be a copywriter.’ I started out as an accountant, which was an obvious mistake, but I did that for a few years and so I wanted to be a bank manager. I’ve never met anyone else who, as a 15-year-old kid, wanted to be a bank manager, but that’s what I wanted to do. And I was going along on that path for a while until something snapped in my brain and went wrong, or maybe right, depending on which way you look at it, and I figured I wanted to do writing in some form.
So, I ended up… I knew I couldn’t just walk into a job and go, ‘Hey, I’m a writer now. Hope you might employ me,’ so I went back to uni. I was probably 22-ish, something around that mark. Went back to uni and did a creative writing course, a degree, here in England. I did that and then I come from a very small town in the Northeast of England where they barely can read, let alone write, so I had to move to the big city, to London, and get a job, and I applied for as many writing jobs as I could, anything that said Junior Writer, I applied for. And the only place where I managed to get an interview, let alone any response, was a company that at the time I had little to no idea who they were or what they did, but it was a company called Agora, which many of your listeners will be familiar with, especially in US. And they had an office in London.
I applied for a junior writer job and got the job. Still, for probably at least three months sat in an office in London with direct-response sales letters all around me, not knowing what the hell was going on, whether… what any of this meant. Didn’t know really what a copywriter was, but obviously, as you guys will know, having entered that world, I’d kind of, very luckily, struck the jackpot as far as learning to be a copywriter goes.
So, it’s purely chance that I discovered copywriting. I got this job at Agora and then from there obviously I was very lucky that I, at the time, when I joined the company, I have no idea of dates and stuff like that, I kind of lose track after this, but it was a time when Bill Bonner, the owner and Mark Ford or Michael Masterson, depending on how much of the back story you know, they were actually in England at the time and they were training the UK writers, so it was a fantastic opportunity to work directly with them and learn a lot from them.
Worked at Agora for about a decade, directly, and then more recently went freelance. Still write letters for Agora but also wrote the book and that’s where we are now. So that’s how I became an author. And then, once I had that, it was kind of, ‘Right, well, I’ll start speaking and do that kind of thing, and then do a podcast.’ And then I can’t… I’m a bit of a workaholic so I just keep doing more and more things, but, I think that’s how I got here and I want to do it in a shorter way. I tend to ramble, so you’ll have to stop me.
Rob: Rambling’s always good. Before we get to the book and the speaking, the podcasting, those early days, as you were learning from some of your mentors, what were the kinds of things that Mark and others were teaching you? And I’m asking this because I think a lot of copywriters who listen to this podcast want ideas of how they can get better faster. Maybe they’re starting out, they want to know the first resources that they ought to be looking at, so what did that look like as you were learning the skill of copywriting and more precisely direct-response copywriting?
Glenn: Sure. So, I mean, it’s funny because I spend all my time trying to share this information and educate people and what have you and teach people the skills that I’ve learned over the years, and I try to distill them in very easy and simple ways. And I think that, I always used to say, Mark was brilliant at this, and both Bill and Mark are like this in their nature. They have the kind of yin and yang, but they both have the same philosophy that they just keep things simple and they reduce everything to its absolutely simplest kind of unarguable form. So, never enter into an argument with them because you will eventually lose because they can reduce things to just very simple ideas and I think that probably, without getting too philosophical, is the whole thing behind the success of Agora because they take things down to its simplest ideas. It’s all about ideas.
So, I learned very early on that you live and survive and grow, succeed, what have you, by your ideas, and if an idea is no good, it doesn’t matter how good a writer you are, how clever you are, and how much you manipulate the bad idea that you got, if it’s a bad idea it’s not going to work. So you need to spend the time on good ideas and searching for those ideas. It sounds obvious but very few businesses are able to do that, and I will say able to do that because, I think, everybody wants to have good ideas and spend the time to come up with the good ideas, but as businesses and in a busy world where everybody’s fighting and competing, it’s very hard to give the time that you actually need to give to come up with those ideas and spend the time you need to.
So, that was a real kind of fundamental thing that I learned early on. Then, it’s like, I mean there’s so much stuff, but the technical things that always stick in my mind, Mark always said, ‘Stick to one idea,’ and it’s one of the simplest pieces of advice, it’s one of the hardest to follow. We naturally want to go off on tangents and do things that have more depth and all this kind of stuff, but sticking to one idea was a big thing. And then from Bill, the classic, ‘Speak to people, or write to people as you would be speaking to them in the bar.’ Those two pieces of information, if you can talk about a very simple idea in very simple language, there’s nothing really harder than that. So, it’s all about finding the idea and then just expressing it in a very simple and effective way.
Obviously, I could go into the nitty-gritty, there’s the four Us and four Ps and all this kind of stuff, but really, it’s just about finding the idea and then expressing that in its simplest form.
Kira: Can we dig deeper into that and talk about how to find the great ideas, and what your process looks like for finding great ideas, to the point where you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is it.’
Glenn: Sure. So, that’s the number one hardest question in the world, but I’ve asked it a lot myself, the thing that still sticks in my mind now, actually, it’s a good friend of mine, he still works with Agora in London in one of the offshoots there, and when I asked him about it, a guy called Nick, he said, ‘One of the best ways to find good ideas is to spot the bad ideas.’ So you’re kind of whittling out the bad ideas. You can usually spot when something’s not right. It’s harder to go, ‘That’s a winning idea. We’ll go with that.’
But, so, first of all, get rid of as much chaff and crap as you can. Then about, for my process, when it comes to generating an idea, I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned over the years is that the best way to try… Be weird, be out there, and be free with your ideas. Just jot as much stuff down as you can. Keep thinking, and this is a cliché number 306, but think outside the box. Just say as many mad things as you can connect, one old idea to something new, something strange, just keep writing as many ideas as you can down. And then, once you’ve got them, just ask as many people, try them out, test things.
My partner, Ruth, bless her because she’s kind of the main all I have these days working around the house. I will just be constantly saying, ‘Oh, did you know this? Or this? Or what about this? Have your…’ and she just keeps going, ‘What are you talking about, Glenn? Stop bothering me.’ So I’m always trying to test things and try things out with people around me, and I think having that opportunity to do that, that’s, it’s not very… well, it is quite practical, but it’s not very like the golden secret to finding good ideas.
But you’ve got to test people out, and one of the things that I encourage people to do as much as possible is test out your ideas on people who aren’t necessarily involved in the business that you’re writing for, say, so, everybody in like, if you go into a room of trained copywriters everyone there is going to have baggage and they all want to prove that they know, ‘Oh, yeah, I see what you’re doing with that. Yeah. Maybe do this.’
You want to go in with people who don’t really know anything about it and just have a natural, emotional reaction to it and go, ‘Don’t get it.’ Or, ‘Yeah, I like that,’ or, ‘Tell me more.’ And it’s that natural reaction that you’re looking for as much as possible. Or, what you need to learn to spot people’s reactions to ideas, I think.
Rob: So this is a really different direction, I think, but, you’re based in the UK, you were in the US and the kinds of ideas that we see between the two countries seem to be very different in a lot of ways, and my sense is, even with a company like Agora, which in the United States is very in-your-face and pushes a lot of lines that occasionally even make some people uncomfortable, maybe we don’t see that quite as much in the UK. Would you talk to us a little bit about the differences between the cultures and how that impacts copy, especially where you’re writing across the pond?
Glenn: Sure. It’s a funny one, this, and I’ve spent many years trying to figure it out and truly understand what the differences are and whether that’s actually my own bias of going, ‘Oh, well, we’re British and we wouldn’t react to such things.’ And I always… sticks in my mind is, I went to see Tony Robbins speaking in London. There’s a big arena there called the ExCeL Arena. The whole big building kind of thing is like thousands of people when it’s at capacity, and I thought, ‘Right. Tony Robbins for me is like almost the ultimate expression of American in-your-face copy like personified. He’s going to go out there and he’s going to have you all stood up, shaking your shoulders and pumping your fists, and all this kind of thing.’ I felt, well, there’s no way stiff Britain upper-lip British people are going to go for this. Like, no chance.
Anyway, we were working with the organizers and we got some tickets and went down and saw it, and I was just gobsmacked by the thousands of what you would assume were stiff upper lip British people absolutely going for it, fully on board, just absolutely with everything he was saying. And I think with more modern people like Gary Bennett you’re going to get all this kind of stuff, that, American brashness, of course, you’re going to get that natural British reaction of, ‘Oh, well, that’s a little bit too far.’ But, I think there’s still so many people that are engaged with that.
So, that’s always been my kind of like, ‘Ah, maybe devil’s advocate. Maybe there isn’t any differences.’ I think when you’re telling the way you tell the story, the way you present an idea, maybe there’s going to be some differences there, so, just in the nature of the language, the way you… In America, you basically, is built on the American dream and everybody believes they have the right to achieve greatness. In Britain, in England, it’s the opposite. It’s like, actually, well, we shouldn’t, we don’t deserve to have that, so we’ll just sit here and stand in the queue and not push forward.
So, this, in the way you tell it, I think, that’s slightly different and in that natural belief of, ‘Actually I can achieve something,’ I think that’s much more natural in America than it is in England. That said, and what I’m getting to is, I still… I’m more inclined these days to believe, if the idea is strong enough, if the concept behind it, if what you are actually selling, if what you’re trying to get people to engage with is sound, if it is interesting, if it is unique, if it’s useful, then it will translate it, be it in America or England.
We’ve seen letters like the End of America, which I’m sure everybody’s familiar with. That translated to the End of Brazil, the End of Australia, the End of Britain. It worked because it had a fundamental idea behind it that was easily adaptable. You have to do the new ones so it was a slightly different argument in America, which I think it was about the debt kind of thing, we had to adjust that slightly in the UK, but the idea was so strong that it naturally translated. It was just the telling was slightly adapted.
So I think if you go back to ideas and first principles, it’s the same. It’s just how you tell it and the voice that you’re using, so it really comes down to tone of voice I think more than anything.
Rob: Okay, because you mentioned Tony Robbins, I can’t overlook that. Can you talk about your experience with the Tony Robbins event, and also, maybe, you’re… I haven’t been to one yet, and also, what lessons you took away from Tony or from that event, that have impacted you the most?
Glenn: Sure. In fact, I use that experience to open my current talks because, when I became a speaker and started speaking to people and having to talk for an hour or something, I sat there and was like, ‘Right, how do I…’ I suddenly realized how much I could talk and how much information I had to share and I thought, ‘Well, how do I distill this down into an hour or half-an-hour or whatever.’ And that comes from, when I went to see Tony Robbins, he came on stage and the first thing he did, he went, ‘Guys, I’ve only got three hours so there’s no way I’ll be able to tell you…’
And me and my boss at the time, we kind of sat there, and was like, three hours, no one talks for three hours. What are you talking about? And he was like, ‘Sometimes I talk 24 hours, 48 hours, blah, blah.’ Is he… Get real, that doesn’t happen. Anyway, three hours into him, and he’s still at full flow, and his shirt, he’s wearing a jacket and shirt, and his shirt is sweating. And it’s slowly reaching from each armpit to the center of his chest, and I said, ‘When that sweat patch meets, then I think he’ll be finished.’
But that whole idea of the fact that he could talk for so long and share so much information, it stuck in my mind ever since, and I think actually now, I think, well, actually, fair play, because you can when you’re trying to share that much stuff. So, I was interested by that. I’ve always been respectful of anyone who can get up and talk and hold a crowd, and I’ve seen… I think before that, I think one of the best speakers I’ve ever seen is an old-school guy, I think he’s still going, I’m not sure, Alex Mandossian, is it? He did a great talk I saw an AWAI event one year, and he was fantastic. And I just like speakers and I like… there’s something genuine about the way he engages the audience, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s fair enough.’ It’s not necessarily my cup of tea, but he had a lot of qualities that I thought were good.
There’s a comedian in England called Lenny Henry, and this is a really weird thing but it just always sticks in my mind. But he was like quite an out-there presenter on TV, and I saw him interviewed once, and they said, ‘How do you engage the audiences in the way you do? Why are you so interesting?’ And he did a thing where he just went up to the camera, held the camera that was filming him and kind of moved his head around the camera so kind of breaking that fourth wall of speaking to you and just kind of shaking him out, and he was so engaging that way. And I think Tony Robbins was the same in that he could break that down.
So, my takeaway from him is just to go, turn everything up and just respect the fact that you’re the one that people have come to see and go for it. But, it was interesting. It was weird. What actually happened because we were far too British, about three hours in, when everybody… We were like, ‘We need to get out. Like this is going to go on for ages.’ So, when he got everybody to stand up and maybe like raise their hands in the air or something and cheer and say, ‘I am the mightiest,’ or something, as everybody did that, we ducked and ran between everybody’s legs and ran out because we could only take it [crosstalk 00:18:40]
Rob: So, you didn’t walk on the coals, the hot coals?
Glenn: Well, we didn’t. He was talking about that, and again, you kind of sit and go, ‘Get real. That’s not a thing that happens in real life, is it?’ And then it’s like, ‘No, he does.’ And then I did that intro, a talk I did in London recently, and someone came up to me afterwards and like, ‘Oh, I’ve been to one of Tony Robbins’s coal things, one of his retreats.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, wow. So you know exactly what I mean when I was talking about things.’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly what they do.’
I think it’s like any kind of spiritual belief, religious kind of thing. If you have faith in what they’re doing, then that’s fine with me. That’s cool. And he has a system that he’s worked out and it works for a lot of people.
Rob: Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting that you mentioned that, because we recently were at another conference that had some, almost quasi-spiritual elements to it, and it seems like, at least in the live version, speaking and on stage, that there’s this craving for meaning that some of the events maybe fill, and that probably also translates to copywriting as well. A lot of what we write gives meaning to brands or experiences that without good copy it’s not really there.
Glenn: Yeah. I mean, it’s funny. I spend all this time in this world and analyzing copy and all this kind of stuff, and this love-hate relationship, like the entire world has with advertising. I was listening to something today where a chap is saying how much people hate advertising and they hate the industry. They’ve got ad blockers and people don’t like seeing it.
And we were in London recently getting into the plane and Ruth pointed out, we were coming back from Japan and would not really notice the advertising while we were out there because it’s not quite as in-your-face, whereas if you’re on the London underground there’s adverts everywhere and what have you. But I do remember there being like a study that said that people actually prefer to see some kind of interaction rather than just blank walls, so there’s this weird world where you kind of think what you do as a copywriter is sometimes negative. It was, ‘All right, you’re in advertising, you’re selling things people don’t want.’ But actually, nine times out of 10, people do want this stuff, and if something is just a good product that you’re selling, then what you’re really doing is finding a way to confirm people’s views and reassure them that the thing that they want to buy is a good thing to buy.
I always… Flashes to mind, John Ford, another great copywriter, always, he was the one who brought the idea to me that you can only really confirm what people already believe. It’s very rare that you can change people’s minds, so that when you’re writing copy you should be trying to confirm people’s already held opinions and beliefs, and so call what they want to hear. So that always sticks in my mind, that really, we’re supporting people’s ideas and giving them reassurance.
The other side of that, the flip side of that, I always think with specifically long copy sales letter, you’re really… the idea is in the headline only. Like you’re making that emotional call, does this connect with me? Do I want this? Do I believe this? Do I want to believe this? Is this a good thing? Yes or no? And you make that judgment as a reader in the first six pages. The rest of the letter, therefore, like why is there another 40 pages, is to justify, to almost step next to that buyer and say, ‘Right, okay, you want this and I get why you want it. But you’re going to have to explain this to your partner, you’re going to have to explain it to other people, and to justify why you want this idea.’
And so, a lot of copywriting for me is about reassuring the reader about, ‘Yep, this is a good reason, here’s some proof. Here’s some testimonials. Here’s some social proof of why this is good. Here’s an amazing offer.’ And no one would throw this away with this opportunity. So it’s all about reassurance. I think you can look at copywriting and advertising generally as being this negative thing where we’re trying to get people to do stuff they don’t want to do, which is how like some of my best friends describe what I do, but at the same time, this is a way of communicating quite a major thing in our lives of how we interact with the material world. That sounds a little bit too philosophical, though.
Rob: Yeah, but I think you’re exactly right. So, we talked a little bit about how you got started and some of the things that you focused on as you were learning the skills of copywriting early on. As you’ve gone through the rest of your career over the past decade and a half or so, what other things have you done to grow your skill set and to get better at copywriting and some of the other things that you do today?
Glenn: Unfortunately, there’s no secret to it. You’ve got to read more than anyone else, and just read, read, read, read, read, read, read. The key thing is to read everything and anything. It doesn’t necessarily have to be highbrow literature or it doesn’t necessarily have to be copy or anything like that. It’s just read as much as you can and consume as much different literature as possible. And, in fact, if you only read Proust, your copy will probably be a bit crap. So, you’ve got to read as varied as possible. [crosstalk 00:24:29]
Rob: Does anybody read Proust, though?
Glenn: I don’t, well [crosstalk 00:24:31]
Rob: That’s the question.
Glenn: One of my best friends, he’s a teacher, and he thinks he’s brilliant. I tried to read it on a flight to America once, and I was like, I’m embarrassed because, I, ‘This is crap. I’m not enjoying this.’ [crosstalk 00:24:45]
Rob: Yeah. In my experience as well. Yeah.
Glenn: We can be together on that, but, yeah, no, I didn’t get on with it so I stopped reading. But, yeah, you read as much as possible, read as widely as possible. Read copy. You have people like Joe [Sharif 00:24:58] said some stuff, read a pack a day, and that’s good advice. Read bad stuff, like be aware of it, read critically as well. Don’t just read something and then just go, ‘Oh, yeah, that was okay.’ Think about what was good about it, where, if you saw a good turn of phrase, make a note of it. If you saw something done well, try and read things critically and analyze stuff.
That, obviously, is like, ‘Oh, I just got to go and read.’ The other thing is, write every day. I think I’ve probably written every day for like the past 15 or so years, which seems crazy to me now, but then, at the same time, people often wonder how I’m able to produce and write quite quickly and it’s because I’ve been practicing for God knows how long. So a lot of things. Just, I kind of believe in that rote learning idea about if you’re doing it all the time your natural base level will just slowly rise and rise. So, that’s something I can kick out much quicker than others, but will already be a decent level.
So, I would definitely do, write every day, write stuff that you enjoy and try and like, if you’re writing copy all the time, don’t just do that, flip things around. I spoke to someone who works for the BBC in the UK here, and they spoke about how, when they’re writing advertising, they don’t follow any form. They’ll just write like a poem, maybe, and like line break wherever they want to. They can put it all back together afterwards, but it was just that kind of, for that natural flow, you’ve got to find whatever you use and what suits your style.
I kind of write from beginning to end and keep going back to the beginning and flowing it and then get to the next sentence and then go back to the beginning and read through it again and develop it like that. But then other people will write in different sections. They might jump around, so you’ve got to find what’s natural to you. But, the best way to do that, as I say, is just read every day, write something every day, and just stick at it, and trust that one day you’ll get to a good place.
Kira: You mentioned earlier that you’re possibly a workaholic, which many people can relate to. So, can you just talk through your business today and what it looks like? How are you making your money today? How much time you’re spending speaking versus podcasting versus teaching versus writing books? Can you just talk through your time in the business structure?
Glenn: I have retainers with different people, so doing what I’d call my core copywriting work, which keeps the bills paid and what have you. Then I’ll have like little fun things that… and, when I say fun things, it’s like maybe companies that wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford my normal rates and what have you, but I want to work with them and do that stuff, so I’ll have that.
Then I have my kind of what I do… Well, then there’s the book side of things and the author headline which is, I have The Click which is already out and those royalties. I mean, it’s not really about that, but, that kind of does its work and promotes me around the world. I was going to say around the place, but it’s around the world. Some people in Mexico was raving about it the other day, which is lovely. But I’m trying to write the next book at the same time, so trying to find a little bit of time to do that each day.
But then, I love talking to people about copy, and that’s where the podcast came from. That, to me, is like a hobby which I’ll do in my spare time, because I see it as like a bit of fun. I do a lot of comedy. Well, I say comedy, that’s being bold. What people tell me is funny and I think is funny, but there’s like little skits in the podcast between interviews and stuff. That’s my enjoyment, so I’ll kind of put that in my spare time. But then, at the same time, that’s getting a return because people are finding out more and saying, ‘Oh, actually, well, can you do work for us as well?’ So that’s a kind of indirect business enterprise.
And then speaking gigs is when people ask me to talk and more and more people do so. That obviously brings in a bit of money, too, but the truth is, I’m at that stage where I don’t… I’ve kind of maxed out my time, so I am trying at the moment to figure out exactly where I want to be and whether I want to take it to kind of like an agency where you’d go through and get Glenn Fisher standard copy, but it might be written by my dog or whether I can just leave it at that, and that’s as much success as I want and like level it there. It’s a bit weird and I’m still trying to figure that out, like, we’re still talking about getting a system and that seemed like the most preposterous thing in the world, because I just see myself as this little guy from Grimsby, so I’m just at that stage now trying to figure it out.
The way I get around doing that and the way I manage to produce what many might look at and go, ‘How do you produce all this?’ is that I made a decision, and it was one of the big, lucky things about working with Agora was that, I knew early on when I changed career from being an accountanty person to a writer, I knew I needed to love what I did, and I do love every aspect of what I do these days, whether it’s doing a podcast, writing copy, and kind of finding people’s voices for them and all this kind of stuff. So, I enjoy doing it. So, as much as possible, I try and make sure that stays that way, and not start resenting things, because that’s when you get into trouble.
Rob: Yeah. You say you’re just a guy from Grimsby, but you’ve written a book that has gotten attention from a pretty amazing cast of other copywriters, you know, Drayton Bird and Andy Maslen and Vikky Ross. They’ve all said really nice things about your book, so, I’d love to talk more about your book. What was the catalyst for writing it? And, talk us through the process of putting all that stuff together.
Glenn: Yeah. Ego was the main catalyst. I just… I always-
Rob: Very nice.
Glenn: … I always knew I wanted to write a book and stuff, and that’s ultimately the kind of aim of why I became a writer. I always wanted to just write fiction and become the book reviewer for The Guardian newspaper here in England, but unfortunately not many people can do that, and that’s not how it works. But I knew I always wanted to do a book, or books, rather. But what was interesting, and I told this to someone else because, hopefully, it might give people pause for thought and look at things differently, but I always thought when you wrote a book you had to write your magnum opus. Like, ‘Right, I’m going to write. I’m going to sit down and it’s going to be Ulysses straight off.’
We’re not mucking about with like portrait analysis. We’re going straight into my masterpiece that everybody is going to be like, ‘Oh, my God, that man, look, oh, he’s great.’ And I thought like that for quite a while about the whole idea of writing books, and I actually deferred going to do a master’s because I just didn’t feel as though I was ready to write a book or do anything like that, and went to work.
So, over the time, whilst I was learning all this stuff, I obviously discovered the world of copywriting and marketing and seemed to have a natural knack for it, and suddenly… So, you say, how did the book come about. I suddenly realized, ‘Hang on a minute. I’ve been kind of writing little blogs and stuff for quite a while,’ and then they started adding up and I’m going, okay, I could see a book in it. I was like, ‘Well, actually, I think you’ve almost got a book with all this stuff that I’d been writing.’ So I collated all of that stuff together and saw where the gaps were and was like, ‘Ah, right, well, actually, you need a section on this.’ And I kind of scrambled it all together and went, ‘Right, there’s something there. That is enough content for a book.’
Then I went and put a proposal together with the publisher here in the UK, Harriman House, and that was really useful for me in the sense that they challenged me. I could have just self-published it. I’ve been publishing books for Agora and stuff in the UK, but I wanted to have that confirmation from someone who didn’t know who I was, and was like, ‘No, no, this is a book that you should publish, and it’s worth publishing.’
So, I did this whole proposal and that really pushed me to analyze how it was and how that book would look. Put that together and then the editing process with the editor I had there was fantastic. He changed the way I saw things, and I thought I was the writer but he was fantastic the way he broke things down and made it clearer. What became the book that is there now started out as just me jotting thoughts down on blogs, so that was a very organic way and at some point it turned into a thing, and it was like, ‘Oh, no, this is a book,’ and that’s when I had to think, ‘Well, this isn’t… Yeah, it’s not like my magnum opus. I feel as though I can write better books. But this has a value and it’s interesting.’ And I sent it out to, obviously, industry types and what have you, and they were like, ‘Yeah, this is really good.’
And then the reaction’s been really positive. So I see that book has what I learned in those first years, and now what is really positive for me personally is that it opened the door to say, ‘Well, actually, you can write a book about anything. You’ve written a book about copywriting,’ and I had no idea I was going to do that, but I have, and now that’s expanded my understanding of what you can produce and it’s allowed me to be more playful. So, the next book’s a bit broader, but at the same time I’ve got lots of other ideas for how you can do different things.
So, in conclusion, don’t just sit there going, ‘I’ve got to write this, like magnum opus, and produce this thing.’ Just start putting ideas together again, as it always is. It just comes down to little ideas. What I would advise anybody who’s thinking about doing a book or something like that is start with the contents page and break it down as to what you would cover. The hardest thing is, anybody who writes long copy will know it’s kind of trying to write 10,000 words, it’s hard enough trying to write 50,000. You can soon get lost. I have no idea what my book looks like anymore. It’s become too big for me to understand, so you need to write that contents page and to see if a natural narrative of the book that you can kind of hang everything on. That was probably the breakthrough moment before I felt, ‘Yeah, there is something here.’
Kira: Is there anything else that you would do differently or that you already are doing differently at the second round, especially for copywriters who want to work on their first book? Are there any other mistakes we should avoid that maybe you made?
Glenn: Yeah. Learn to spell. That would probably help. I’m a terrible speller for a man who earns his money writing. But, one, the biggest thing for me was, A) breaking it down into that content. So, what I did this time was I made sure I had that full narrative laid out and I’ve got Post-it Notes for each section filled in this time, which I didn’t before. I filled in kind of bullet points in each chapter of things that I want to cover. I probably, I researched on the job whilst I was doing it last time, because I was doing little bits of the book at a time, whereas this time I’m focusing my research more so I know I need to find out this about that, so by having that contents page it allows you to do that. You can go and be more focused on finding what you need to write.
But, otherwise, it’s just a case of… Oh, and write bits that you… If you’re not feeling… It’s the same when you’re writing a long copy sales letter, if you are not feeling that kind of lead that day, if you’re not feeling particularly creative and you need that creativity really in the lead section or in the headline complex, you might put, you’re not quite feeling it, write the offer. Like go and do something that maybe requires a little bit less creativity. That said, disclaimer, you should put as much creativity into every element of a sales letter, but, there’s different moments for writing different things, and I think it’s the same for a big book.
If you know that you’ve got chapter seven’s going to be about X and you know just exactly how to write that, go and write that before you’ve written chapters one to six, kind of thing. And the last chapter of the book, I wrote the first one, was written on a plane to America, in fact, and that was the first chapter. So, it’s just about moving around things and don’t kill yourself just because you’re stuck on a bit of a flow. I think it’s a Hemingway tip, he was always to like, ‘Stop in the middle of a paragraph when you’ve finished your writing so that the next day when you come back to it, you know exactly where to start and you kind of straight into it.’ So, always move around and give yourself freedom to do.
Rob: I think that Hemingway tip is a great one, unless you come back to your work and you can’t remember even with half of the thought where you were, so be careful.
Glenn: You know what, I did do… I’ve done that and I was like-
Rob: Yeah, exactly.
Glenn: … what was I talking about here? Like this is…
Rob: So, we’ve talked a bit about your writing business, about your book. You also speak on stage. You have a podcast. How have you leveraged… Maybe the speaking came first, I don’t know, but how have you leveraged your book in order to promote your podcast? You get on stage more, or what are the things that you’re doing in order to share what you know on stage?
Glenn: As far as the book goes, it’s probably quite a barrier to entry to get it because it takes a bit of work upfront to get the book, but as far as leveraging it as a promotional tool, and let’s put cynicism high on here, it is an incredible tool to use. There’s no doubt about that. I made millions and millions of pounds for Agora and what have you in my copy there, but no one really cares, but as soon as you’ve got a book, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God, this guy’s got a book. Someone’s approved him.’ So, it’s a really good credibility play, and it’s a really good way to kind of… Once, like do it… sounds ridiculous, but like a mind-dump of all of this knowledge and kind of go, ‘Oh, right, he knows what he’s talking about.’
I work with clients now who have come to me because they’ve read the book and been like, ‘Oh, my God, this is amazing. I never thought of things like that before. Could you apply that same thinking to our business and to our agencies and what have you?’ And that’s been really positive. So it’s produced a lot of direct, specific copy work, which has been fantastic. What it’s also done, though, is it’s raised my profile in the social atmosphere. I spend a lot of time on Twitter and all that kind of stuff, and having that there, it’s just, it gives you so many options. You can obviously do your testimonial kind of things where you might run testimonials, you can do competitions regularly so that people can win signed copies of it, you can take little pieces out of the book to promote and what have you, so it’s just an absolutely wealth of promotion material.
So, I would advise people to do that if they’re trying to market themselves as a copywriter or as a copywriting business. It’s a very good tool to use and I finally, a long time after I should have been, I’ve started asking people who contact me, ‘Where did you find out about me?’ And I’ve now finally started to put two and two together, but a lot of people go, ‘I read the book,’ or, ‘I saw the book,’ or, ‘I did this thing,’ and so it’s been responsible for a lot of work, which is fantastic.
One thing on top of that that what you can do is, you’ve got to still, for me, I think, you still got to run with it and be there with it. It’s not good enough just to go, ‘Right, there’s my book. Nice one. Come to me.’ You’ve got… I’m always on Twitter, I’m always trying to interact with people. I engage with people as much as possible. If you read the book and you email me, I will respond to you, I will talk to you, I will start a conversation.
I think in the book I’ve been saying, ‘This is the beginning of a relationship.’ Copywriting is changing all the time, so, I thought, hopefully, we’ll survive for a few years and be valid, but, things will change so it’s a conversation and I see that as a great way to open a conversation. If you read that book and you get on with it and find it useful, that means we’re probably going to be on the same page on a lot of things, so it’s great to start a conversation knowing, ‘Oh, yeah, I know this Glenn Fisher guy, I’ve read his stuff. I know he’s on the same wavelength as me,’ and then that develops from there. So, a really good tool.
Kira: This is tempting. This is making me want to write a book now, Glenn.
Glenn: Do it. Do it.
Kira: And so, we talked a lot about your wins and working in Agora, the book, speaking, podcasts. It sounds like you’ve got everything together. Then you’ve had a lot of success. Can you talk about some of the struggles you’ve had as you’ve grown your business? You mentioned one already, just that now you’re kind of out of time. You don’t have any more hours to give, so how do you scale at this point, which I know you mentioned you’re figuring out. What are some of the struggles you’ve experienced as you’ve grown your platform and as you’ve grown your business?
Glenn: For me, this is like a massive thing, and you’ll have to warn me if I get too philosophical about it, or what have you, but for all of the great success I’ve had and I’m having, I have enormous amounts of anxiety and all of the same things that I’m sure everybody listening to this has about impostor syndrome and worrying whether you… that their fear of missing out, like if you engage in social media and then you’re not on social media, you start getting panicky about that. Working freelance is a massive interesting nightmare that’s brilliant that you’ve got all this free time but at the same time I’ll be sat there if you don’t respond to my email, and I’ve sent you some copy and I don’t hear from you for two days, I’m thinking, ‘That’s it. It’s all over. They found me out,’ and then I get an email saying, ‘This was fantastic.’
All of these things are a massive cause of anxiety and worry and stress, which everybody gets and it doesn’t… I tend to believe, I’ve spoken to a lot of successful people now in the advertising world and I don’t think that goes away. And that could seem like a sad and depressing thing, but I think there’s some positivity in that in the sense that, no matter where you are, no matter what stage you are at your career, everybody is suffering that. So, it’s like the spider in the bath. It’s like, he’s as afraid of you as you are of it.
So, that, for me, I know, like we talk about a lot with my partner, it’s my anxieties, some of them are not founded. People are like, ‘Well, Glenn, you’re successful, you’re doing all this stuff.’ But I can’t get that out of my head. I just need to learn how to manage that, and as you mentioned, the time thing and my time being limited, that creates stresses in itself so it’s all about for me it’s trying to learn to manage that. Be reasonable, give yourself time to panic and feed the anxiety, because it’s real, that’s what we do, that’s human. But at the same time, give yourself some moments to relax and rest and do that.
One of the biggest things, this started when I was working in an office full-time in Agora, but it’s led… I do it now, still, with my life this way, but I can remember years and years ago, I was in charge of the copy team and my boss would come to me going, ‘Oh, we need this, or we need that.’ And I’d be going, ‘Well, we’re doing this already.’ And we had no workflow system in place, and we ended up using Asana. I know people use like Slack and Trello and all these things, and I think whatever works for you is cool, but I ended up using this Asana thing, and I was able to document what I had on, work-wise, and it changed everything for me because now I can see what I’ve got.
One of the biggest ways to get rid of a lot of the work anxiety for me was to use something like that. I still use that today with all of the… Like, I’ve got this call as a task today, I’ve got the other writing jobs I had today, and then I can move things around as and when, and that helps to take some of the anxiety off me.
One of my biggest problems, I find, is that because I work quite fast, I’ll get stuff done and then I think, ‘Have I done enough?’ And I often have, but if you haven’t got a record of what you’ve done, you kind of worry about it, so using something like Asana and using that kind of boring practical tool, I find that a lot of copywriters are creative people and for that reason you’re a bit kind of wangy and weird and all over the place. So, having that kind of boring thing that helps to stop me from going too insane. But that’s one of my biggest challenge, biggest flaw, has been my anxieties over the years, which I’m interested in and that’s part of the scope of my next book, to try and understand that and hopefully help other people overcome them.
Rob: I can’t wait for that next book. Glenn, if you lost everything in your business right now. You don’t have the book, you don’t have the speaking engagements, the retainer clients went away, no lists, no podcast, what would you do now to start over to rebuild what you’ve got? Where would you start? What would you do in order to become a copywriter again?
Glenn: Yeah. It’s a really good question that. So, if I’d lost everything but I’ve still got my skill, I would probably… I would go, and this is what I say to most people when they come and ask me how to get clients and stuff like that, which is one of the biggest, for freelancers certainly, but, I would go into, I was going to say, as many businesses, it depends how successful I was, but, I would start with the businesses that I was interested in, and I would go into them and I would show them how, why they were doing their copywriting wrong.
So, I’d go in and say, ‘Do you realize, because of the way you’re communicating with your audience, you’re losing… you’re leaving money on the table. Let me show you exactly how you could do that.’ Depending on how much secret money I had stashed away, whether I could do that for free and show them and give them evidence to prove it, or whether I’d try and charge very small for that to begin with, but I would go to businesses and show them how they can change. There is so many businesses in the world, I’ve come to realize, so much writing, so much copy out there, that is produced by… I was going to say like nutters, robots, but it’s not. It’s just predominantly produced by people who haven’t got the time to do it and have got all the skill sets. So, if you’re a business owner and you’re really behind the product and you know the product, that’s because you’ve got a skill to create that product. It doesn’t mean you necessarily know how to correctly write about it and sell it.
But if you can get a writer… As a copywriter, as a trained person who knows how to sell stuff, you have that skill set, so you need to go and tell these people, ‘This is how you can do that.’ And, so, I’d probably start with that. Literally, on a practical basis, that involves going to the networking events, the business networking events and that kind of stuff, locally, trying to speak directly to the business owners. Despite… I mean, everyone listening to this is a copywriter or a marketer who knows about this world, but I’m sure it’s the same in America. So many people don’t. So many people don’t even realize that someone writes the copy, and that’s a massive opportunity for copywriters who need to make that start, carve their niche out. So I would do that. I think that makes sense.
Kira: Yeah. And it goes back to what you were saying earlier about reading, daily, and not just reading books about happy, but reading the newspaper, reading magazines, and also looking for ads. When I’m reading magazines, oftentimes it’s just to see really cool products or subscriptions, and I’m constantly looking at these products and I’m like, ‘Oh, this would be a really cool client.’ Or, ‘You could make this a little bit better and the message a little bit better.’ So, I think part of reading to learn and to learn about messaging and the craft of writing is also, like, you can find ideal clients just in the newspaper and magazines, too.
Glenn: And if you’ve got… I mean, we’re talking from a desperate situation there, but, if are not desperate, if you’ve got the time, you can still just ask. You’d be really surprised sometimes by what you can get just by asking. And if you get rejected, that’s fine, rejection is going to happen all the time. Everyone gets rejected for jobs, for work, and that’s fine. But just keep throwing ideas out there. Be as liberal as possible with your ideas.
I’m figuring out my kind of top advice bit, pieces, and I would say, or, like, you’ve got to trust your own ability to come up with ideas and your own brain to renew those ideas and just keep coming up with new ones, and then give your ideas away. Let other people use them, because they will ultimately figure out that what they need are those ideas and they can’t come up with them, so, even if they steal one of your ideas, they’ll be coming back for more, and that time you’ll be prepared and charge a lot for it. So, be generous with your ideas because that’s what separates you as a copywriter right there.
Kira: I wanted to ask you about one of your blog posts, it said, it was basically about why copywriters should embrace their competition. Can you just speak to that topic a little bit? Why should we embrace our competition?
Glenn: I’ve got a lady called Mary Ellen Tribby flashing in my mind, at the moment, because I think it was, I think I read years ago Early to Rise or one of those old e-letters and she was saying about the abundance principle and why competition isn’t competition. And I think working at Agora taught me this as well, and the whole kind of, when you’ve got a list, a piece of data that like, you’ve got 10,000 people, they’re going to be connected with… So, if you’re reading a daily e-letter some of those people are going to be connected with the author, and whatever he or she says to buy, they will go buy. Some won’t be, but they’ll be connected with someone else, and if you can do a JV deal and get 50% from someone by selling through someone else who you’re not going to sell with, then that’s cool because everybody gets paid.
And that kind of principle, that kind of abundant principle, has always worked for me in all different areas. So even today, like in the podcast space, there’s this podcast which is a copywriting podcast, it’s my podcast which is a copywriting podcast, there’s other copywriting podcasts, you could say, ‘Oh, all right, okay, well, we need to not do this. Let’s not get him on the podcast because then these other people are going to find out about that podcast.’ But, the fact is, there is so many people out there, there is so many different angles for stuff that you’re going to find different ways of connecting and therefore you will reach different audiences.
I just spoke to a copywriter in Australia called Kate Toon, I appeared on her podcast, she appeared on my podcast, and therefore we have now both reached different audiences, and some people will want to connect, some people won’t. So, as a copywriter, it’s the same for a job. If I’m busy right now, I might not be able to take on a job. I give it to someone else. That person then is busy another time and they go, ‘Oh, actually, well, Glenn gave me that job so I’ll shout out to him.’ So, I feel, it’s more efficient from an economy point of view, but also, and perhaps more fundamentally, it’s just a nicer way to be.
If you see these things as your competition, then it kind of gets tiring to try and stay ahead. I like the idea of building everybody’s tower higher rather than knocking everybody else’s down, so, you’re, by de facto, the tallest. It’s just a nicer way to be, and I’m trying to be like that in my more mature, later years.
Rob: Yeah, that’s great advice. So, a final question for you, Glenn. Where do you see copywriting going in the future? What’s next for all of us?
Glenn: I don’t know, is the answer. I think probably… I don’t know, because once you’re in it, you can’t kind of get that distance. I feel like it’s getting weirdly a wider audience and people are becoming more and more aware of copy as a skill. I’ve entered a little bit into the agency world here in the UK more recently, and it’s interesting to see designers and creative directors really rule the roost there, and the copywriters are not seen as… they’re just brought in at the last minute, or what have you, which I think is a mistake. I think it’s a collaborative process. Any piece of copy, no matter whether it’s direct-response, indirect, or what have you, so I think raising the profile of copywriters is a good thing, and I think that will happen more as we go along.
I can tell you what won’t happen, so when people worry about AI and all this kind of stuff like making copywriters redundant, I don’t believe in that. I think you’ll never replace the need for emotional connections and only humans can deal with that, so I don’t worry about anything like that. I think you can actually use that stuff as a benefit, as a bonus, so that you can use the data that we collect from big data and from all this kind of stuff to understand more about the audience that we’re writing to and use our innate skill to develop that.
And so, I think there’s plenty of work. The amount of websites I land on that I need to rewrite and I’m just like, ‘What the hell jargon nightmare is going on here?’ It suggests to me that there’s plenty of bad copy to be converted into good copy to keep everybody happy for quite some time. I think what will become more and more prevalent is the whole personalization stuff, and I think that will run out. I think people are probably going down the wrong… they’re filing almost too niche and too personalized, and sometimes missing the universal emotions and experiences that we have, that the great advertising really talks to. I think it’s getting a little bit too specific data based. I think it ought to zoom out a little bit more.
But, other than that, I have no idea. I just come along for the ride, see what happens.
Kira: All right, Glenn. So, if someone listening wants to reach out to you or order your book, where should they go?
Glenn: They can find me at allgoodcopy.com. It’s probably the easiest website to go to that has links to blogs and my podcasts and stuff. You can find the podcast All Good Copy just by searching on wherever you listen to podcasts. You can buy the book on Amazon. I think it’s on the American Amazon as well, so you can get it there, or you can go to Home and House, it’s available there. It’s an Audiobook as well. And I think it’s being translated into Chinese at the moment, I believe, if there’s any Chinese speakers listening.
But otherwise, you can find me on Twitter as well, @allgoodcopy, which I spend quite a lot of time on there, and if you want to see pictures of my dog, then Instagram is more the place for that, which, I believe, is glenn.fisher, with two Ns, but that’s more the books I’m reading and what Pablo, my dog, is up to. He features quite heavily in my world of copy, as well, so… Or you can try me, I think I’m the most famous Glenn Fisher on the internet now. There was a Canadian hockey player, he went top spot. If he wins like a hockey trophy or something I’m screwed, I’m back down, but I think if you search Glenn Fisher, I’ll come out on top.
Kira: All right. Thank you so much.
Rob: Thanks, Glenn. It’s been great.
Glenn: No problem. Thank you.
You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive available on iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.