“It is all very well to copy what one sees, but it is far better to draw what one now only sees in one's memory. That is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory.” – Edgar Degas, Born Jul. 19, 1834.
“They” say you should take old winning sales letters by the greats, and hand copy them longhand.
And by “they” I mean typically crusty old fossils or dead guys or people who don't actually have any valuable tips to impart on how to get better at copy.
I mean, honestly. “Just go hand copy this pile of old crap” is something you tell someone to do if you want them to piss off and stop bothering you.
I've heard various bullshit reasons for why this Sisyphean task will allegedly make you a good copywriter. Muscle memory. Osmosis. Subliminal conditioning.
Basically a bunch of mumbo jumbo. Not a drop of proof.
It’s busy work. Anyone can go copy something and you never have to address if they suck so bad they should quit and find another dream of making easy money elsewhere.
Some people swear by it. And hey, I'm not even saying it WON'T do SOMETHING for you.
But here is why I hate it.
I feel like it's a waste of precious time.
Meaning whatever it is you can “learn” by doing that, you can learn by doing other things you can actually USE and PROFIT from.
So why not do that instead?
You certainly can't make any money with someone else's old letter you've simply hand copied word for word.
BUT if you take Degas' advice (and Ben Franklin's too, incidentally) you can study the “greats” and try to internalize the lessons and insights you find there…
Then EMULATE them in a piece you create in your own words, to sell your own thing. Because now it's transformed by your own memory, insight, and experience.
You are still putting study into physical practice, but you end up with something that is yours at you can use and test.
You're still benefitting from the pairing of knowledge and action to create a solid foundation of understanding and skill.
You're just not wasting time and effort while you do it.
And I believe this is a faster way to learn and level up than flat out hand copying anyway. Unless you need penmanship or transcription practice.
If you want to write copy, then write some already. It's called copy, but that's a noun, not a verb.
<!—- lagniappe This is what I recommend doing instead of hand-copying old ads, specifically. [HOW TO STUDY AND ANALYZE ANY GOOD AD COPY SO YOU CAN LEARN FROM IT AND REPLICATE IT EXACTLY] 1. Read the ad from beginning to end. Uncritically, as a consumer would. Note: this is hard if you are an ad pro. 2. Skim the ad, just looking at sub-heads, pop-outs, visual treatments. How well does it help the skimmer find interesting info and pull you back into reading? 3. Go through the ad and identify each time it suggests or tells you specifically to do something beyond reading the ad. Commands to take action. 4. List all the separate people in the ad. Speaker, characters in stories, testimonial givers, etc. Why are they there? How do they participate? 5. Look to the description of the product/service on offer, and try to separate copy that describes the item itself, and copy that describes the results that the item gets. Look for the ratio. 6. Break it down section by section. What does each section try to accomplish as a unit? Why is that information grouped together in that way? Why are the sections in the order that they are - look for callbacks and transitions. 7. Break it down by paragraph, and by sentence. What information is trying to be imparted to the reader? How would that information factor into the decision to buy or not? If you’re only going to do one of these, #7 is the one to rely on. That’s how sales copy works - it is transferring information from the writer to the reader, for the specific purpose of influencing the decision to comply with the behaviors suggested/commanded. When looking at a successful ad, presume that this has occurred - information has been communicated, processed, believed, and then acted on. How did they do that? How can YOU do that? This post just told you more than several really long books and expensive courses. No fancy video. No pivot into a pitch to hire me or buy from me. I am posting this because someone is trying to tell you to hand copy some bullshit, or buy a $200 book, or tell you that this one course or coaching program is going to give you the missing magic powers you need. I’m giving you the keys. Do it yourself. I love you and want you to be free. NO ONE ELSE DOES!! —->
9 thoughts on “Why Hand Copying Old Sales Material Is a Big Dumb Waste of Time”
Better size font, thank you.
As to copy or not copy this is NOT the question.
What makes a piece of advice relevant is the ability of the one who receives it to adjust it to their own needs and the honest, deep felt value they develop towards the advice giver.
What makes the one you are studying click with you`? why? How? when ..
This is not necessarily a piece of copywriting but an attitude in life where you go against the current stream and retain, develop, sharpen your sense of analysis, understanding and learn to use it for whatever it is you are doing or experiencing.
Alas , this ability is very much abandoned, undervalued and driving us straight to smashing what is left of our brains on the proverbial wall.
Can it work by some copying? In some cases why not IF the one copying finds this a good way to absorb in concentration. Certainly far less if you are just going through mechanical motions whilst checking your social trappings account.
One thing though is relevant, and that is hand writing which is a recognized method to reconnect with your brain and sharpens the awareness of your environment- again a dying skill..
Should you genuinely not focusing on the $$$$ outcomes but on the efficient elegance of a writing style that matches yours or one that you can see yourself developing find this style adjusted to your way of thinking and what your particular clients would respond to, then use any means that works for you to go beyond the surface of the piece to truly absorb its mechanisms, its "vibes" the effect it has on you and let it come back as your own style adapted to your nature and needs.
But then it depends if you consider "copywriting "a skill purely to make $$$ or a skill that reconnects you with your environment, your work, the people you assist in your professional circle of influence.
I don’t get what you’re trying to say here.
I should have stuck to
I agree with you or
I don't agree with you.
as all other sensible comments did
Nowadays copywriting = use K4 vocabulary
keep sentences to 5 words max .
Dont try to analyse anything .
you stated your expert opinion a few times
"I truly think the origin is a guru tired of newbies asking for advice on how to begin. So you send them away on some busywork errand. Only talk to the ones who come back. At a minimum, back then when hand writing was how copy was created, at least you’d proven you had the chops to set and scribble for hours sufficient to make a full time job of it."
If it is expert, it must be true 🙂
with best wishes
I broke all above ;( ! simply because you triggered some further thoughts.
heretical , I agree 🙂
Hand copying doesn't work without the proper mindset.
If one were to imagine that the copy is being written for the first time ever, while copying…
And after, imagine deeply that the copy "you wrote" went on to make fuck tons of $mula$…
and become one of the greatest sales letters ever written…
And emotionally really get into it…
Then write your own copy.
This would really help in ways I won't now detail because I'm not getting paid to.
But there is a genuine science to hand copying, when done correctly🍻
That’s wrong, but if you like doing it, you’re free to enjoy it. For anyone else that thinks it’s a silly waste of time, good news! You never have to do it.
I like the grownup font size. I concur with you. I always thought it a waste of time to copy copy over and over. Read it, study it but write your own and modify after testing.
How dare you sir!
Pistols at dawn….
I think this all started with Gary Halbert’s letters to his son instructing him to do this.
I guess it’s about the flow…
Who did you copy?? Keep it coming
I truly think the origin is a guru tired of newbies asking for advice on how to begin. So you send them away on some busywork errand. Only talk to the ones who come back. At a minimum, back then when hand writing was how copy was created, at least you’d proven you had the chops to set and scribble for hours sufficient to make a full time job of it.
This font size is a lot easier to read. It does not really matter which font you use I will be able to read it.Your daily devotional is an inspiration good for me because I now look forwards to receiving it.