Book Review: “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together, Volume One” by John Carlton



This book was my introduction to John Carlton, one of the most respected and accomplished sales copywriters in the world.

As befits a sales genius, his title is irresistible. How many entrepreneurs don’t get a weekly (if not daily) case of “I really should get my shit together”? 

So I skimmed a few of the five-star reviews and bought the book. Nothing to lose.

A lot gained. This is a “turning point” kind of book. Really one of the best I’ve read since going all-in on making my livelihood as a writer.

Carlton doesn’t just stuff a bunch of fluff behind a great title. (No expert copywriter would.)

For $10, the amount of substance in these e-pages is, frankly, amazing. TEGTGYST goes far beyond about how to craft headlines, promises, proof, grabbers, closes, etc.

The really priceless stuff is on topics like:

  • Dealing with stress
  • Dealing with people — I especially liked the part about clowns who try to mask incompetence with overconfidence.
  • Time management
  • Brain management

Here’s what I think makes a great writer, of any stripe:

The ability to short-circuit the reader’s self-awareness that they actually are performing the act of “reading”.

Does that make an ounce of sense? Maybe it’s a poor description, but I’ll wager you have an idea what I’m talking about.

There’s no mental friction reading great writing. You don’t have to jerk your attention back to the page.  Focus is a non-issue.

There’s a mind-meld going on between what the writer was thinking as he wrote and what you’re thinking now.  It becomes your thinking for a moment, and leaves a mental imprint forever.

Actually, Carlton covers this in the book:

“Good writing is invisible to the reader — he should not be aware he’s reading something. Instead your copy should smoothingly melt into the conversation already going on in his own head.”

(It’s also the same general concept as John Gardner’s “fictional dream”, for any MFA-types who have happened upon this blog.)

Practicing what he preaches, Carlton pulls this effect off from the introduction to the last word (which, appropriately, is an upsell for his mastermind group.)

By two chapters into this book, I felt like I was having  the kind of conversation that begins with a fridge full of beverages, and ends six hours later with empties everywhere, overflowing ashtrays, and guitars leaning against chairs.

Seriously, the guy is all rock-and-roll. If I had an hour to spend with him, it’s hard to decide whether I’d want to talk about entrepreneurship and copywriting or get out my Les Paul and jam through some Cream and Stones numbers.

So that’s that.  Two days later I bought his Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel, and his Freelance Course. Worth every penny. Simple Writing System is next.

Jay Abraham talks about the “Strategy of Preeminence”:

Few embody preeminence  quite like John Carlton.

If you’re a professional writer or an entrepreneur of any stripe, I hope you’ll check this book out and see for yourself.

A Timeless Lesson From John Caples (Part I)

Did you know that Reader’s Digest used to be the world’s largest-circulated publication?

I just learned that on p. 104 of Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples.

And it turns out, according to Wikipedia, RD held the distinction of America’s Most Circulated  straight up to 2009.

I haven’t picked the old gal up in a while. The laundromat I used to go to when I was living on eastern Long Island usually had some tattered copies in a dirty plastic magazine holder next to the detergent vending machine.

I’d turn to the puzzle page and usually find them all 1/3 to 1/2 completed in pen.

The articles I remember  were  mostly about diets and health hacks… rounded out by some random-seeming travel, personal finance, and general “better living” tips.  They were all very short, many lists–sort of like webpages on paper.

I’m on their website now  trying to go through a slideshow about apple cider vinegar and I’m getting absolutely massacred with pop-ups. 

But it used to be such a pillar of quality and success that a top ad man like Caples used its articles as inspiration for how to communicate effectively.

Ever the data-amasser, Caples studied many issues and found six fundamental ways that heyday Readers’ Digest articles began.

They’re all great and I want to discuss all of them, so I won’t dare try to stuff them all in one post. Today the spotlight is on the Interrupting Ideawhich is:

“(A) startling statement or a novel twist that breaks through the boredom barrier that often exists in the mind of the reader.”

And among the examples he pulls is this brilliant one:

“While we humans think that penguins look and act like people, there’s sobering evidence that they think of us as just big penguins.”

My boredom barrier is obliterated, how about yours?


The value of a good interrupting idea has to be higher than ever today.

Boredom or whatever you call the glazed-eyes task-switching zombie-scanning that characterizes how we read stuff online needs a major kick in the face to free our attention.

Been interrupted by any good ideas lately?

P.S. Here’s another pair of Caples gems, from his New York Times obituary:

“He debunked humorous advertising copy, saying that ‘only half the people in this country have a sense of humor, and clever ads seldom sell anything.’ He also advised copywriters to ‘use words you would expect to find in a fifth-grade reader’ because ‘the average American is approximately 13 years old mentally.”’

The Milo Minderbinder Guide To Killing Your Friends and Betraying Your Country


“The rest of the officers fled toward the two exits in panic and jammed up the doorways like a dense, howling dam of human flesh as they shrank from going farther. . . Tents and trees were in flames, and Milo’s planes kept coming around interminably with their blinking white landing lights on and their bomb bay doors open.” –Catch-22

With Obama and Romney preparing to storm each other’s beaches at tonight’s foreign policy debate, I find myself reconsidering Milo Minderbinder, the war profiteer par excellence in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22Milo is either a repulsive, treasonous f-wad who murders his fellow American soldiers, or a business and PR genius who has winning in his blood.

And I find myself wondering: Who are the Milos of 2012, and, since neither candidate is much of a dove, who are they voting for?

And eventually I find myself not caring because this isn’t a post about politics, it’s a post about writing.

Charles Ruas: The first time you mention Milo bombing the squadron it comes as such a shock, and then you move on.

Joseph Heller: If I were going to do that with a straight narrative form, it would not be believable.” –Conversations With American Writers

There’s a really huge block quote right before this where Heller discusses how he prefers to reveal that a huge or shocking event happened, and only much later describe it actually happening. (As opposed to the “straight narrative form” where everything is chronological.) This technique sneaks credibility into what might have otherwise been incredible–it’s already somewhere in our consciousness when we get to the gory details, so in our minds it’s already “happened”.

This is an essential tool in the belt of someone like Joseph Heller, the maestro of wacky situations that may be implausible but tell us everything about everything.

And I think it’s a good one for all writers to get comfortable with, especially those of us who write to sell or otherwise convince the reader. Get the big claim or promise up front, and don’t be in too much of a hurry to break it down to its elements. By the end break it down thoroughly–describe each bomb falling, each tree flying out of the ground, each corpse burning, but don’t show your hand too soon. Your audience might just run away.

I’d be heartened if Mitt and Barack read this post as they get ready to brawl in a couple of hours, so they can land their blows on Benghazi, bankruptcy, and binders with maximum impact.