Gary Halbert’s Timeless Copywriting Tips

Gary Halbert's How to Make Maximum Money in Minimum TimeBack in April of 1991, when my business was just 2 years old, I had the good fortune of attending a seminar hosted by copywriter Gary Halbert. A legend in the industry (and he probably would have said in his own mind as well), Gary provided us with his book How To Make Maximum Money In Minimum Time!

While doing some much-needed housekeeping, I came across Gary’s book (a compilation of his newsletters) and sat down for a re-read. Released in 1990, before the Internet took the world by storm, Gary focused on tips for direct mail copywriting. As I re-read the book, I found myself thinking “these points are still vital ones in today’s online marketplace.”

Yes, whether it was a quarter of a century ago or today, there are copywriting tips that stand the test of time. If you’re writing a printed direct mail piece, newsletter, online sales letter or Web site, here are five timeless tips from “The Gary Halbert Letter” along with my update/outlook on each.

1. Gary’s copywriting tip (9/1/1986): “The primary and most important thing in all of Direct Mail Land is to get the envelope delivered and opened.”
Update: While the Internet doesn’t involve an envelope that can be thrown away, it doesn’t take long for a prospect to click away from your site. So be sure your Web page catches attention and gives your prospect a reason to keep on reading.

2. Gary’s copywriting tip (9/1/1986): “It’s a matter of timing. Selling is like seduction. If you ask a woman to go to bed with you, whether or not she says ‘yes’ is largely a matter of when you ask her. If you ask her immediately, as soon as you’ve been introduced, most likely she will think you are a creep and tell you to get lost. However, if you wait a while, wait until she gets to know you a little …. your chances of getting a ‘yes’ for an answer are much, much better.”
Update: You’ve probably heard this a lot regarding social media marketing. Whether you’re posting on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, it’s not about hitting the ground running with a sales pitch. It’s about building relationships, providing information and getting your fans to know, like and trust you first.

3. Gary’s copywriting tip (9/1/1988): “Credential the promotion! . . . the #2 reason they don’t buy from you is that they are not completely convinced you are for real.”
Update: While Gary touts the benefits of using celebrities in your promotions, I think you can build credibility in other ways – especially when your budget won’t cover the cost of a celebrity endorsement.

I’m guessing you’ve heard the phrase “social proof?” Getting endorsements and testimonials from your satisfied customers helps you strengthen your credibility . . . get prospects to know, like and trust you . . . convince them you are for real. Not sure how to go about getting testimonials from your raving fans? I share my tips here.

4. Gary’s copywriting tip (7/3/1987): “Selling is not yelling. Selling is not tricks.”
Update: It’s not about hype and trying to trick your prospects into something they don’t really want or need. It’s about being honest, providing your prospects with benefits that motivate them to respond – not out of trickery, but out of a true need to access your product or service. If you show you understand their concerns and provide a solution, you’re on your way to converting a prospect into a happy, loyal fan.

5. Gary’s copywriting tip (12/1/1986): “PASSION. . . Let your excitement and enthusiasm spill out all over the page. Don’t hold back. Put that pen to the page and RAVE!”
Update: There isn’t much of an update to this. What was true in 1986 is true today. Let prospects know what’s in it for them. Provide them with the benefits of how your product or service helps them with one of two desires: 1) to gain something they don’t have or 2) avoid losing something they do.

Gary Halbert had many great “pearls of wisdom” to share and share he did up until 2007 when he passed on. Have you incorporated any of his timeless tips into your marketing efforts? If so, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below because I’d love to hear from you. Thanks a million!

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. Apesar de ser novo em aprender copywriting. E Gary ter partido tão sedo, seus ensinamentos ficaram para sempre enquanto existir pessoas a compartilhar suas cartas.

    Ótimo Artigo Debra Jason!

    • Hi @Rodolfo. As a newcomer to copywriting, there are many great lessons you can learn from Gary Halbert and other veterans such as Eugene Schwartz. They were each talented & skilled at their crafts. ~Debra

  2. Passion, without question, needs to be there. I think it’s less in my writing but completely evident when I speak. Still working on it coming through better in print. I think it lend credibility – when you are passionate about what you do you are more genuine and care more about what you do.
    Robert Nissenbaum recently posted…What If? Rethinking Use Of The Automated Direct Message.My Profile

  3. Wow, I’ve never heard of him until just now, but I’ll have to look him up! These are amazing tips (and it’s not like direct mail has disappeared!) Great post Debra; thanks for sharing some copywriting history with us.

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