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.

How Good Content Can Avert Tragedy



“(Theodore) Dreiser in some ways, some of the time, is one of the worst writers who ever lived. An American Tragedy, for instance, is an endless  book with terrible sentences like ‘He found her extremely intellectually interesting.'”

John Gardner, quoted in The Writer’s Chapbook, ed. George Plimpton

For all the times John Gardner’s acerbic proto-snark bothered me in college, it was nice to have some validation that I was not out of my mind when I found Theodore Dreiser’s writing to be horrible.

I clawed through An American Tragedy in an elective 20th Century American Lit course in my final semester, mind fully blown that such a poor stylist was still required reading. I looked quickly through Sister Carrie and found the same shit. He wasn’t funny! He wasn’t clever! Reading his clodhopper sentences felt nauseously like riding in the backseat with a student driver at the wheel.

Nothing like cruising through say, The Great Gatsby in the same class.

Hey, let’s see what John Gardner has to say about that! 

“Fitzgerald is a good example–a fine stylist. But he never quite got to the heart of things.”

I’m not going to touch the substance of this, the thing about the heart of things, but those are some fighting words. Granted, Gardner was the dean of haters  in American letters so on some level it’s just part of his schtick to be such a bastard. Like those restaurants where they’re famous for being mean to patrons–which, like Gardner, are trading more on the attitude than the quality of what they’re serving.

Anyway, I appreciate this for drawing the line between content and style in any writing, especially having eventually seen that I was not “getting” Dreiser at the time, not seeing that he was saying important and true things. (I think Fitzgerald was too, but whatever). And this ends up being Gardner’s point:

 “What (Dreiser) does morally, that is to say what he does in terms of analysis of character and honest statement about the way the world is, is very good.”

So I’m only mentioning this here because this content/style tension is in all kinds of writing. You can always have one without the other. Ideally you get both but if you have to pick one you pick content. Otherwise the writer has had a little fun, but ultimately has wasted everyone’s time.