My Mentor Gene Schwartz: His Rules of Great Copywriting

Direct marketing copywriterIn 1988, I participated in a workshop for professional copywriters presented by veteran Milt Pierce. He would read my completed assignments out to the class each week, praising my skills and encouraging me to keep up the good work. I credit Milt with being the impetus behind my pursuit of copywriting as a full-time career.

Milt was also responsible for introducing me to my mentor. Enthusiastic about my ability, he suggested I meet with another veteran in the field of direct marketing copywritiing – the inspirational Eugene Schwartz. If you’ve been in direct marketing for any length of time, you know Gene was the brains behind many a successful direct mail promotion for the likes of Rodale Press, Boardroom Books and his own company, Instant Improvement. I was blessed to have worked with and learned from him.

While going through my archives recently, I came across a transcript of an interview with Gene where he highlighted the “rules of great copywriting.” Though it dates back to 1993, his rules are timeless. Here is a summary of 8 of them:

1. Be the best listener you ever met. Talk little, listen much.
2. Work extremely intensely, in spurts.
(NOTE: Gene’s “spurts” were usually 33 minutes & 33 seconds. He used a timer.)
3. Never “create” – know the product to the core and combine the details in new ways. “Creation means make something out of nothing…So, let’s throw creation out and let’s talk about connectivity. What you are trying to do is connect things together.”
4. Write to the chimpanzee brain, simply, directly.
5. Channel demand – never sell.
6. Think about what your product “does”, not “is” – and demonstrate it.
7. Make gratification instantaneous.
“…nothing feels better than being proved right.”
8. Failing often, and testing big differences, shows you are trying hard enough. “A very good copywriter is going to fail. If the guy doesn’t fail, he’s no good. he’s got to fail. It hurts. But it’s the only way to get the home run the next time.”

I miss Gene, but am fortunate to say he was my mentor. I read and re-read his book, look over my archives and review all the highlighted points and, inevitably find new points to highlight. He taught me, not only about copywriting, but about business and relationships. He was a great man with a great mind.

Do you (or did you) have a mentor? What pearls of wisdom do you carry with you from him/her today? Please share them here.

Debra Jason

Marketing & writing with heart, not hype at at The Write Direction
A recipient of the “Creative Person of the Year” award, Debra educates and empowers creative solopreneurs and enthusiastic business owners to create a lifestyle business that provides them with the flexibility, fun and freedom to do what they love. She also inspires you to communicate your marketing message in a way that captivates and converts your prospects into loyal, raving fans - even if you have been struggling with how to transform your ideas into words in the past.


  1. Great stuff, Debra.

    I never had the privelege of meeting this legendary character, but he is one of my heroes.

    Thanks for reminding of these 8 rules (and yes, Schwartz says they are RULES). Timeless and powerful.

    • Glad to see that you admire Gene’s pearls of wisdom. He had so much to share, not only about copywriting, but about life. He was a mentor to me in more ways than one. I consider myself very lucky to have known him and was sad when he left us. I’ll continue to share more from my archives in the future. Thanks for your comments!

  2. I now have a new and different appreciation for “creating.” And I agree with writing — and speaking — with a chimpanzee brain; remove the jargon no one else may understand. Lastly, you do have to fail or fall before succeeding; how else can we learn?
    Thanks for sharing your mentor with us.

    • Peggy, glad you were inspired by Gene. He touched many people’s lives and I was fortunate to be one of them.
      Jargon may work with certain specific audiences, but it’s best to keep things simple and to the point. I always tout the benefits of clarity or KISSing (i.e. keep it simple sweetheart) your prospects & customers.

  3. Great that you acknowledged Gene, a larger-than-life character, who was not only my friend for thirty-five years, but also my mentor for the last ten or so of those years. I gave him a hefty endorsement in my intro to the book I co-wrote, Relieving Pain Naturally, and I find myself regularly recalling something enlightening (or amusing) that he said. After all this time, I still miss him, but how fortunate we were, Debra, to have him in our corner as long as we did. Bobby W.

    • Yes Bobby, Gene was a special man and while we were both fortunate to have him in our lives, you certainly had the added benefit of knowing him way longer than I.
      And, a beautiful side benefit is that we got to connect. Even though it’s been years since we’ve seen one another, it’s nice to know we’re still in touch now & then.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

  4. Debra,

    As a new copywriter, I appreciates your article very much. It’s always great to see reminders like this to keep us on the right path to writing great copy. Thank you for sharing.
    Shelly Moreau
    Shelly Moreau recently posted…Why Did You Lie? Where Is The Honesty in Your Copy?My Profile

    • Hi Shelly, I’m always happy to share information that keeps you (and others) on the right path to writing captivating content that converts!
      Good luck to you as you being your endeavor as a copywriter!
      Here’s to your sweet success,

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