Imitation: The Secret to Stronger Sales Copy

I had an old friend – no longer with us – who used to say, “If writers write, copywriters copy. Isn’t that how it works?”

I wince to hear it put that way, given the many times I’ve sat there staring at a blinking cursor and trying to come up with something “new.” But yes, in a lot of ways, it’s true.

And really it’s nothing to be ashamed of. After all, we’re not talking about stealing other people’s copy. We’re talking about learning from other copywriters by studying what they’ve done in a way that can only be accomplished deeply through verbatim copying – over and over – of their best stuff.

It’s more or less that simple.

To do it right, you have to make sure you are starting with a winning direct-mail package and not a dud. Either something you’ve seen mailed over and over or something you know for a fact was a control.

Then, before you do anything else, read the copy.

You’re not going to do anything complicated. You’re just going to copy out the package page by page, word for word.

All of it.

If it’s too big to do in one sitting, I recommend you spread out the task over a few days, a week, whatever you need. As long as each copying session is at least 45 minutes to an hour long.

And to get the full effect, don’t let too much time go between sessions – or what you’ve learned from one day to the next will go stale before it gels together as a whole.

And, yes, you have to do this by hand. Typing it out just isn’t the same. Why? Slower is better. As you copy out words, you’re hoping to soak up lessons between the lines. You need time between syllables for discovery.

It’s tough on your elbow, but worth the pain.

And, hey, if you REALLY want to learn from this exercise, go back and do it again. As soon as you’ve finished. You won’t be sorry, once you see the results.

[Ed. Note: To get more of copywriting expert John Forde’s wisdom and insights into marketing (and much more), sign up for his free e-letter, Copywriter’s Roundtable, at Or send an e-mail to Get a free report about 15 deadly copy mistakes and how to avoid them when you sign up today.

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