Email Copywriting Archives

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.

Putting the WHOAman in email copy


“He wants you to make it more ballsy,” his team would sometimes say about my sales copy drafts.

There I was a female copywriter in the testosterone world of Internet Marketing.

Furthermore, this big name client was the complete opposite of me in personality, background, and everything else.

What was I thinking?

How could I be ballsy enough for this environment?

It seems like such a disadvantage to be a woman (or WHOAman, as Mr Subtle used to call us female copywriters back in the day of Michel Fortin’s Copywriting Board) in a testosterone world.

Or was it?

I was on retainer for this client for almost a year, churning out over 100 emails and a few sales pages.

It was where I cut my teeth as an email copywriter and learned how to tell micro stories – the everyday stories that are told in a single email that build rapport with customers and lead to more sales.

As it turned out, his team never asked for my email drafts to be more ballsy, only my sales letters.

It was clear that the email storytelling, in his direct, assertive voice, but including details only my WHOAmanly intuitive eye would think to include, worked as it was. No other copywriter wrote this much email copy for him.

He tacked a bonus onto one of the retainer payments because an email I wrote about a roller coaster ride made him so much money.

Telling stories is the best way, and perhaps the only way, to add personality to your email copy.

Stories are also the only way you can send emails daily, or on a regular basis, without wearing out your list and getting a ton of opt-outs.

Copy that has hype and reads like it was written like a used car salesman might work for a sales page.

But in the emails you have to talk like a real person, demonstrate you understand your customer’s fears and wants, and even show your weaknesses sometimes.

So how do you write stories day in and day out for your own business?

If you’re an email copywriter who writes for clients, how do you tell first person stories in the client’s voice and sound authentic?

I’m so glad you asked.

Week five of my A Year of Email Copywriting goes into great detail about this.

I also show you the roller coaster email, plus three other emails I’ve written for clients over the years, in demonstrating to you how to write stories.

Week four is all about the Hero’s Journey story that every entrepreneur must have and how as a copywriter you uncover this story if you or your client don’t already have one.

If you sign up for A Year of Email Copywriting, and want me to send you weeks four and five right away, just email me and I’ll be happy to do that.

How to use the Star Wars approach to storytelling in your email copy


Star Wars. Yawn.

Way back when the first movie was in theaters our class took a field trip to see the movie, but I was underwhelmed.

In college I sat through marathon viewings of however many Star Wars movies were available at that time (I was probably trying to impress the guys), but I still wasn’t impressed

I haven’t attempted to watch a Star Wars movie since and lately have happily been binge-watching House M.D. on Netflix instead while others are going off to the theaters to watch the latest movie.

Star Wars has one big thing going for it, however. As soon as I learned it I saw instantly how it applies to developing the storytelling skills necessary for writing email copy.

George Lucas was a friend and student of  writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell.

Lucas followed Campbell’s stages of the Hero’s Journey when writing Star Wars, which is why that story endures and endures.

In thinking back over the clients I’ve had over the years, the most successful are those that have had these types of stories and used them in their marketing.

It was never difficult to write email copy for them, because I could always use elements of their story in the emails when necessary.

Some entrepreneurs don’t have a story they want to share even if you try and browbeat it out of them and have no interest in stories. These are clients to run away from.

The worst are entrepreneurs who insist they want stories in their emails, but it quickly becomes clear they request this only because they think it’s the latest fad. Oddly, these folks won’t pony up any details you can use for a story, so you either have to write fiction, or run away. I recommend the latter.

Fortunately there are many sane entrepreneurs out there who recognize they need a copywriter’s help to draw out their story. In week three of A Year of Email Copywriting I give you the template to use to create a story for a business based on Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

It’s a 17 steps process that gives you a story from which you will be able to write many emails that build rapport with customers and get more sales.

Photo: JD Hancock

Trump’s email copywriting malpractice


Imagine having an email list of thousands of true fans and not sending them any email.

That is the huge mistake Donald Trump has been making in Iowa. One strategist called this “malpractice.”

As a result Trump hasn’t reached key benchmarks in his campaign and lags behind other candidates in readiness for the primaries.

This lack of email might end up hurting him more than his controversial statements.

What’s interesting is that this email oversight was mentioned on the front page of the New York Times. It made mention of other old school techniques of door to door visits and phone calls. The article made no mention of Trumps’ Facebook fan page, Twitter, or other social media.

It’s yet more proof that email marketing is as important as ever.

And there’s no reason you have to neglect your list.

You could write the emails yourself. My Copywriter’s Notebook on Kindle and A Year of Email Copywriting will give you tips and a good headstart.

If you’re in the weight loss and fitness niche, my 12 Days of Christmas sale on 12 pre-written emails will give you emails you can send without having to write any copy.

If you are Donald Trump, or are ignoring your list like him, and need an email copywriter, contact me

A copywriter’s “third ear”


This week on Facebook I came across yet another long list of must-read copywriting books.

It’s a great list, and I’m pleased to see Herschell Gordon Lewis on it. He’s one of my favorites.

There’s one huge oversight though: on this four page list there is only one book written by a woman.

To not even list Bernice Fitz-Gibbon’s book, the copywriter David Oglivy said is the best retail copywriter of the 20th century? I mean c’mon.

Also, I don’t see enough lists for copywriters of books NOT about copywriting that make you a better copywriter.

The whole reason to become an entrepreneur is to become a better person.

A skill that improves your copywriting skills and your life is the sweet spot.

One of my favorite books like this is Win Your Case by Gerry Spence.

Half the book is about how to use storytelling in a courtroom, or at work, in the boardroom, or in any situation where you need to make your case about something.

The other half is about how to listen and prepare yourself for telling a story.

In this section he talks about how to hear with your “third ear.” He also calls it “nonhearing.”

He gives a listening exercise that every copywritier – and anyone who wants to improve in their relationships – should do regularly.

I talk more about that exercise, and other tips from this book, inside A Year of Copywriting.

It’s a weekly email that will give you practical exercises to do to improve your copywriting.

We will also rap about more books that will improve your copywriting that aren’t specifically about copywriting

There will also be discussion of Bernice’s book too, of course (so there).

Unlike most copywriting courses, this isn’t one-way communication – you can interact with me by email. No noisy forum or FB group.

Click here to sign up.



Photo: Anne Elliott

Say what? Extroverts suck at sales?


If you’re an introvert don’t get too cocky.

The sales research by Adam Grant at University of Pennsylvania shows something a lot more nuanced than the typical introvert vs. extrovert stuff out there on social media.

As it turns out, extreme extroverts suck at sales.

So do extreme introverts.

The ones that kill it are the ambiverts.

Introverted types tend to over-identify with the introvert label. Probably because they feel they’ve been misunderstood too long, which can quickly lead to feeling like a victim, which is never good.

Extroverts don’t seem to cling to their extrovert label, maybe because they are too busy yapping.

Anyway, the truth is that the great majority of us are ambiverts, with both introverted and extroverted traits.

Why do ambiverts make more sales?

They know when to interrupt and speak up and they know when to STFU.

They are more agile and can adjust to situations.

Emails are like having an ambiverted sales team working for you.

Both your extroverted and introverted traits can come into play.

A sales page is static and probably has one dominant tone.

Emails are where you can be nimble and the most like yourself.

Selling is a human activity and emails let your online selling be more human.

What if you don’t have time to write emails? My special deal on 427 pre-written emails ends at the end of the day today. That will give you plenty of email copy you can tweak and make it your own.

Or you can contact me for a consultation or to write custom copy for you.

Basketball coach gives me a PHD in copywriting

LaunchParty_TrustWriting a 100 word story gave me the chance to meet coach Bo Ryan last September. Bo is a revered figure around these here parts in Wisconsin.

He took the Badgers all the way to the NCAA championship game last March.

My dad, an avid Badgers fan, died suddenly last March hours after watching the Badgers beat Oregon on their way to the championship round.

Meeting Bo was important to me because it was a way to honor my dad’s memory.

Even though this was a brief meeting, I prepared in earnest and read Bo’s biography the week before meeting him.

I researched online.

I took notes.

I practiced pronouncing the name of Bo’s favorite author, David Maraniss.

I found out the day I was to meet Bo was the same day Maraniss’s new book about Detroit was to be released.

I learned how Bo is a master persuader. He excels at recruiting kids by meeting them where they are at and getting to know them as people.

In his book he talked about his PHD.

It’s his favorite acronym and stands for Poor, Hungry, Driven.

He says it’s a mindset all old school coaches who worked their way up from the bottom talk about and maintain, even during NCAA championship games.

Finally the moment arrived when I met Bo.

As we shook hands he said, “We’ve met before haven’t we? Didn’t you attend one of my basketball camps in Platteville?”

I didn’t expect that and felt flattered and honored by the question.

Bo thinks I’m a former basketball player!

Unfortunately I had to tell him I did not attend one of his legendary camps back in the day.

I loved playing basketball as a kid but a junior high coach ruined it for me.

Bo wanted to know where I was from and we exchanged pleasantries for a bit.

Then I asked my question.

“Did you know David Maranis’s new book about Detroit comes out today?”

Now it was his turn to be surprised.

He did not know that was the book release date and said he would go out later that day and buy the book.

He went on to tell me a great story about his friendships with the authors James Patterson and David Maranis.

There are many lessons I took away from this meeting with Bo:

Keep the focus on your customer and ask them very specific questions.

Build a rapport with them and meet them where they are at (email is the best way to do this of course).

Have a PHD mindset at all times.

It also set me to thinking about the role coaching plays in my own career.

Copywriting and coaching are two activities I perform regularly, but separately.

Now I am finally combining the two.

Go here to get the details.

Hope to literally talk to you soon.
P.S. Here is the 100 word story I wrote that gave me the chance to meet Bo: “My dad, a devoted Badgers fan, passed away suddenly on March 23, less than 12 hours after he watched the Badgers beat Oregon in the NCAA tournament. In our grief we gathered around the TV for the other games, as a way of honoring his memory. It was bittersweet to watch the Badgers make the championship game without him; we couldn’t help but wonder if he somehow had a hand in it. If dad was still alive he would get a kick out of knowing I met Bo Ryan. I simply want to shake Bo’s hand and say “Thank you.”

Clouds in your copy, clouds in your copy


There probably isn’t enough negativity in your business.

For starters:

When is the last time you looked up at the clouds?

I mean stopped and really looked at them.

Maybe it was the last time there was a storm in your area.

We alll look at the clouds then to gather information about the storm.

The last time I really thought about clouds was during the lunar eclipse last month.

I hoped clouds wouldn’t block the view.

I was only thinking about how clouds get in the way.

Even though the sight of clouds in a nightime sky is a very cool thing.

Anyway, philosopher Byung-Chul recently wrote about how we constantly follow the incessant command to achieve.

When every experience must be exceptional, even a lunar eclipse.




Creation fatigue.

These are the norm.

He even goes so far to say, ““Depression is the sickness of a society that suffers from excessive positivity.”

This is why a not-to-do list is even more important than a To Do list.

It gives you negative space in your business.

Sending email can quickly eat up most of your negative space.

Especially if you send email to multiple lists or are an affiliate marketer.

Which is why I have 427 pre-written emails for sale.

Your email copy itself needs negative space too.

I’ll have more on that next time.

And, hey, it’s Sunday.

Time for some of the “profound idleness” Byung-Chui prescribes.

Step outside.

Spend a couple minutes giving the clouds your full attention.

Not to get information, but to get inspiration.

They will remind you to stop and not-to-do.

Maybe you will be lucky enough to see cirrus clouds.

Those are the wispy ones that move 200-300 mph hour but, to us on the ground, appear to be moving gracefully.

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