Email Copywriting Archives

How to write email copy if you aren’t creative


A reader asks:

Amid all of you experts in email marketing, how do you think I can differentiate myself as I’m not really that creative as a writer :) …my experience is more in finance/accounting and enjoy using software such as Excel…any thoughts would be appreciated thanks

It’s a trap all of us who write copy fall into from time to time: “But I’m not creative!”

If you like using Excel, that is actually an advantage. I like to use Excel too and enjoy the challenge of using well-designed charts to tell a story in as few words as possible. Excel is also a way to keep track of email topic ideas and map out a series of emails.

You can use those analytic skills to set you apart from other email marketers. Here are my recommendations:

Use the computer as little as possible to write your copy. It’s when you are in front of a screen that “I’m not creative!” kicks in all too often.

Instead, go for walks. Record your thoughts with the voice memo on your smartphone as you get ideas.

Indulge in people-watching and people-listening as much as possible. Sit in a coffee shop or on a park bench and simply watch and listen. What are people talking about? What are they doing? Write down these observations. These are seeds that you will turn into emails.

Then, when you are at your computer to write emails, you are basically just taking dictation as you go through your notes and write down the words from your voice memos. By all means, use Excel to organize these thoughts and topics. Go ahead and even write the email drafts in Excel if you want to.

It boils down to this: do the brainstorming and coming up with ideas when you are away from the computer and the left-brained organizing and structuring of the emails when in front of the computer.

Writing email copy is a craft and as an analytic person you already have the skills to approach it as a craft, so you are more ahead of the game than you think.

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The comic strip approach to email copywriting

Creating comic strips resembles email copywriting in certain ways. If you write email copy you can learn a lot from your favorite cartoonists.

For starters, like a cartoonist, you must create on a daily basis and work under deadline pressure if you write for clients.

Sometimes a comic strip is a single gag and other times there is a running story line for several strips. With email copy it’s best to mix it up in this way too (although usually without gags, alas).

Therefore I’m always drawn to interviews with and articles about cartoonists.

I recently discovered a 37 page interview with Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes, in the book Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue. You can probably find it at your local library.

It’s one of the only interviews with Watterson, who is something of a recluse. He ended the strip 20 years ago yet it endures in popularity even though he doesn’t do a thing to promote it. I read it in one sitting and savored every word.

Here is something he said in the interview that resonates:

Richard Thompson…said he likes to work with small things he notices and his example was “gravel in the street.” That might be a little too small, but I agree with him. Daily minutiae are not actually trivial. It’s a wonderful thing to draw your attention to tiny little moments and small episodes. There can be something simple, grounded, and true when you observe those generally unnoticed small things. I tend to like that scale. Whenever I go to a computer-animated movie, I think, “Oh, please, not another quest.” You know, must we always journey to discover ourselves, find home, and save Christmas?

I love the unpretentiousness of cartoons. If you sat down and wrote a two hundred page book called My Big Thoughts on Life, no one would read it. But if you stick those same thoughts in a comic strip and wrap them in a little joke that takes five seconds to read, now you’re talking to millions. Any writer would kill for that kind of audience. What a gift.

Indeed. Those daily details and small episodes are critical components of email copy. The “journey story,” not so much, that is for the about page or sales page. The “gravel in the street” components of the journey story are appropriate for the email copy, however.

My current favorite comic strip is Bloom County, which Berkeley Breathed resurrected on Facebook in 2015. Without the deadline pressure of a newspaper his creativity is free to flourish once again. He publishes 3-4 strips per week and it’s well worth following his Facebook page for these gems.

Scott Adams of Dilbert is my other favorite. I’ve listened to his podcast interview with Tim Ferriss a couple of times and it’s one I know I’ll continue to revisit. He gives writing tips and explains his philosophy of humor, among many other things.

I also like Frazz and Pearls Before Swine. Even Garfield can get a smile out of me sometimes even though that strip isn’t as good as it was back in the 1980s. Garfield Minus Garfield is more fun.

If you read comics, what are your favorites?
If you don’t like Calvin & Hobbes, then you won’t care for lesson #18 in my A Year of Email Copywriting Course. And lesson 12 will be especially soporific because I analyze the storytelling structure of comics and apply it to copywriting. Oh well. Can’t please everybody.

If you like books, please check out my book reviews.

Is there a “we” in your email copy?


Last Sunday, even if you don’t like golf, you probably heard about Jordan Spieth’s collapse during the final round of the Masters.

He was leading by five shots halfway through the final round. He had a spectacular front nine. Then after two bogeys he got a quadruple bogey on the 12th hole. “Buddy, it seems like we’re collapsing,” he said to his caddie.

And that’s the thing with Jordan. He always uses the pronoun “we” when talking about his golf game.

“Of course we’re going to fight back. There’s no give up in us. We tried but it was just one bad swing.”

“I’m confident in the way we play golf. When we’re on I believe we’re the best in the world.”

Sure, you could dismiss it as false humility, but I think it’s the case that golf at this level is now a team sport these days, and he fully recognizes and appreciates that.

Copywriting is similar to golf in that it appears like it’s an individual sport but in reality you need to view it as a team sport.

Do you ever say, “We wrote a great email series?”

It can be hard to do if you’re a freelancer, or if you have your own business and write your own copy, but it’s a perspective shift that makes it possible to write better copy.

It’s important to develop a team, and by team I mean more than Facebook groups, a mentor, and masterminds.

I devote a lesson to this in A Year of Email Copywriting.

The more voices your team has, the stronger your own voice will be.

Why an email is like a mustard seed



As Seth Godin likes to remind us, small is the new big.

Jesus had the idea first:

“The kingdom is like a mustard seed that a person planted in his field. It’s the tiniest of all the seeds, but when it matures it’s the largest of the garden plants and becomes a tree.”

A mustard seed is so tiny you could easily overlook it.

Yet Jesus chose this as an image for describing a kingdom

Email is easy to overlook too.

Sales letters and VSLs get so much attention.

But a single email and blog post, sent one by one, builds rapport and trust, and yields more fruit than a sales letter.

In thinking of my own freelance email copywriting experience, I recall two times I wrote an unsolicited email for free for two prospective clients, who then went on to hire me for many projects.

There was the time I left a comment on a John Carlton blog post, buried way near the bottom of 100+ comments, yet a few years later a prospective client came across it and hired me for a project.

Those little seeds add up.

If you were looking for an image for your own business, a mustard seed might not be the thing that would immediately come to mind.

But it’s those tiny mustard seeds that will entirely transform your business.

If you’d like 52 of my mustard seeds, you’re invited to my A Year of Email Copywriting course.

Should you email your list every day?



I’ll let Jesus answer this one:

“Salt is great, but if salt has lost its tang, how can its saltiness come back? It’s not good for the soil or for the manure heap. Throw it away. If you’re not deaf, listen.”
— Luke 14: 34-35

Replace the word “salt” with “email” and you have yourself a maxim that every email copywriter should read regularly.

I love how blunt and to the point Jesus is. Not only is lost of tang not good for the soil, it’s not even good enough for the manure heap. Throw the salt away.

How many emails are you throwing away?

That is probably the more pertinent question to ask rather than how many emails you send per day or week.

In a recent interview Seth Godin, who writes a daily blog post and sets the gold standard for every marketer, says his ratio is about 3:1. He usually writes three or so different post drafts and only publishes one.

The reason the composers Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven are remembered today is because they wrote a much greater volume of musical works than any other composer. Their fantastic works are only a tiny fraction of what they actually produced. Because they threw away more music than other composers, they had more great works than their peers.

Therefore, the more blog posts or emails you write, the more you’ll be throwing away.

If you’re not throwing some away, then the emails will lose their tang quickly.

Throwing away is painful. I write a weekly humor column for my local newspaper and it pains me when I have a great idea but can’t come up with a great closing sentence. So the draft just sits there in purgatory.

I’ve thrown away countless emails for clients that my clients never saw.

They may have hired me for seven emails but I threw away more than that.

So if you have a commitment to writing an email every day is a commitment to throwing away perhaps as many as 100 email ideas per month.

Inside my A Year of Email Copywriting I share a strategy I observed from my behind the scenes perch writing email copy for successful clients. It gives a more nuanced spin on the “to email every day or not to email every day” question.

I also show you can get tips on writing daily emails from a small town police sergeant, of all people, who writes for over 100,000 Facebook fans.

After you sign up I’ll send you a separate email with a document that has all of the emails I’ve written so far in the course, Plus you’ll continue to get the emails one by one each Sunday for 52 weeks.

Do you like business books? I’ve started regularly posting reviews of business books here on my blog. Click here to check out the recent ones. I also occasionally post my humor columns. To see all my posts as they appear, feel free to subscribe to the RSS feed or follow me on Twitter.

The cold in your email copy never bothered me anyway

Frozen is the tale of sisters Anna and Elsa, whose relationship is captured in music by songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.

There’s a little known fact about the movie Frozen that, once you learn it, will improve your email copywriting.

Before the song Let it Go was written, Frozen was a very different story.

Elsa was originally meant to play the role of villain. But the songwriters viewed her as someone struggling to come to terms with her powers. They decided to not make her a villain and focus on what they thought Elsa really felt.

They went with their gut and the result was the hit song “Let It Go.”

But then the producers had to make a decision.

Keep the song and change the story?

Or keep the story and ditch the song?

They went with the former and the rest is history.

Now, how does this apply to business and copywriting?

An email is like a song in a soundtrack.

It advances the larger story in your business. The Hero’s Journey story, as I like to call it, and as I go into detail about inside my A Year of Email Copywriting course.

Like the “Let It Go” song, sometimes a single email story will have such an impact that it changes the overall Hero’s Journey story or the direction of your business.

Years ago I wrote an email for a list of mine that resulted in dozens of new opt-ins to my list because, apparently, the readers enjoyed the story so much that they forwarded it to friends. It was a funny story about driving around in a Wisconsin snowstorm and I never would have guessed that one email would have an impact.  It prompted me to change my business approach and the way I communicated with this list.

Not only do you have to understand the importance of stories, but you also need to be open enough to know when your story should change. The more you include stories in your email, the more dynamic your product will be and responsive to the needs of your market.

The first three months of A Year of Email Copywriting are complete and three of the lessons are all about how to write stories. When you sign up, I will email to you a document that the first three months of emails in it. You will also receive each email on a weekly basis for 52 weeks. I enjoy interacting with students by email and look forward to your questions and input.



Tips for finding a copywriting mentor


The best thing you can do – and potentially the worst thing to do – when starting out as a copywriter is to look for a mentor or coach.

When I first started out almost ten years ago I was part of Michel Fortin’s Copywriting Board, where I served as a moderator. I received a ton of invaluable informal mentoring there. It was a free resource. Today you can find such online forums on Facebook or there are a number of paid forums. But back then the Copywriting Board was the place to go.

I approached an email copywriter there who offered paid training. To receive this training for free he gave me the opportunity to do some grunt work for him. He had a bunch of articles he wanted me to add keywords to and upload to his various mini sites so he could get Adsense revenue. It was tedious work, which is why he hated doing it, so it relieved a pain point for him. In exchange I received his training for free. He also was available by email anytime if I had questions and he sent referrals to me, one of which became a lucrative client, which got me established as a copywriter.

This training was valuable to me precisely because I didn’t pay for it. I had to be scrappy and humble enough to do grunt work. These are the same qualities needed to be a successful freelance copywriter. Because I didn’t pay for the training I didn’t fall into the trap of holding this copywriter responsible for my success. This is the biggest danger of paying for a mentor: it is a certainty that you will, at least subconsciously, hold that mentor responsible for your success and seek his or her approval and permission.

I recommend that you only pay for expensive mentoring if there is a guarantee that he or she will refer paying clients to you. But even then you should proceed cautiously. The experience of learning on your own and networking informally with fellow copywriters is very valuable. There are also many affordable courses and resources out there, such as my own.

Above all, proceed with your work with the intent of making a positive difference in the world and encourage your fellow copywriters along the way.

The Stephen King approach to writing email stories



The dumbest reading decision I ever made was the time I read Stephen King’s Cujo novel.

I was living in a rental house with four other ladies during my junior year of college. One weekend all of them were away, which normally never happened.

For some reason that’s the time I chose to read my first Stephen King novel.

I scared myself half to death reading about that crazy dog Cujo. All these years later I still remember that dog attacking people trapped inside a locked car.

I couldn’t sleep because reading Cujo made me afraid of my own normally safe surroundings.

Every little noise was a potential thief – or Cujo – trying to get into my house.

Yet I couldn’t stop reading and finished the whole thing that weekend. I did have to pull the damsel in reading distress routine and sheepishly ask my future husband to come over and sleep on our ugly flower print couch so that I could get some sleep.

Such is the power of a great story. It pulls you in even even if you don’t want it to. This is why stories are an important part of email copywriting.

In Stephen King’s book On Writing he talks about how stories create themselves and it’s a writer’s job to let them grow. He doesn’t believe in plotting.

He describes a one sentence question you should ponder before writing a story.

If you don’t have this one sentence then you won’t have a story at all.

This applies perfectly to copywriting, because I couldn’t help but notice this is the same formula used for a certain type of copy headline. In uncovering this nugget about your product or service’s story, it will expand into headlines, bullets, and email stories. These three elements all feed off each other.

I go into detail about this in week 11 of my A Year of Email Copywriting course.

When you sign up I can get the first 11 weeks to you right away if you ask, so you won’t have to wait. Just let me know.


Is there a formula for creating a personal bond with subscribers?


What’s the first thing that comes to mind when people think about you?

It’s worth thinking about, because that’s how you’ll define your personal brand.

If you make a list of things your friends, family, co-workers, etc. have said to you, there will be one or two that stand out.

You know, things like “you crack me up,” “you’re such a nerd,” and “I can always count on you.”

When you write your email copy, you should do so in the voice of your personal brand. This will be the secret sauce of your emails.

Next question:

When you hang out with a friend do you follow a formula for how you interact with your friend?

I didn’t think so.

That’s why the idea of a formula for creating a personal bond with your subscribers via email can be cringe-inducing.

That’s because in real life the way we interact with people is done reflexively without thinking about it. If I’m going to a casual restaurant for a burger, I know instinctively not to wear an evening gown. If it’s a birthday celebration, I know it’s inappropriate for me to talk about something depressing. And so on.

When it comes to email,  however, it doesn’t come naturally at first. People make very basic mistakes. So it helps to have a formula.

Week 9 of my A Year of Email Copywriting course gives a formula, which you can use as a checklist before writing an email, to make sure you aren’t making an embarrassing mistake.  Moreover, it provides the framework for creating a personal bond with subscribers.

You will receive 52 weekly lessons. After you sign up, I can send you the first nine weeks right away if you want me to, just send me an email and let me know.

You can also email me anytime during the 52 weeks with questions and I’ll be happy to help you out.

Looking forward to having you on board.



Photo: Stefano Principato

An email copy vending machine


short story vending machine

Your email copy could take a lesson from France, which has vending machines that dispense short stories.

You can choose a story that takes one, three, or five minutes to read. There are 600 to choose from and they are free of charge.

Pretty cool, huh?

There’s something special about print that stands out in a way a website of 600 short stories couldn’t match.

Along those same lines your email copy can stand out in a way social media posts can’t.

The best way is through stories.

The Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats says the basic structure of a fairy tale story is like a Mad Lib that you fill in with your own elements: “Once upon a time, there was ________. Every day, ______. One day, ________. Because of that, _________. Because of that, __________. Until finally, _________.”

Most stories basically fit into that type of formula. The above formula would work great with a testimonial story.

And speaking of stories, your business should have a Hero’s Journey story.

And your emails should regularly have micro stories.

I go into detail about how to write these stories during the first month of my A Year of Email Copywriting course.

You’ll get one email a week, every Sunday, with lessons you can apply to your email copywriting right away.


P.S. And speaking of print, I recently started writing humor columns again for my local newspaper. Here’s my latest one,, in which I make fun of my introverted approach to fitness.

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