43 Critical Books Every Direct Response Marketer Needs To Read

I make a note to spend at least 2 hours reading every day.  With the advent of the internet and on demand tv, media is ever so abundant.  Last year I decided to cancel my cable service and spend my time reading important books instead of watching the tube.  It was a good decision.

Here is a list of books that I highly recommend you read:

Direct Response Copy and Marketing Tips

1.  Cashvertising, by Drew Eric Whitman.  Cashvertising shows you how to use more than 100 secrets of ad-agency psychology to make big money selling anything to anyone.  This is my personal favorite direct response marketing book.

2.  Dan Kennedy, Ultimate Sales Letter.  A powerful sales letter is the ultimate marketing tool for all types of business owners, sales reps, and advertising professionals. However, most sales letters end up getting tossed in the junk mail pile. The Ultimate Sales Letter, 3rd Edition shows you how to write letters that get read, generate leads, and make money.Coverage includes:

  • The twelve best headline formulas
  • Strategies for building a customer base
  • Sales letters for Web sites and online use

Ultimate Marketing Plan, by Dan Kennedy.  Find Your Most Promotable Competitive Edge, Turn It into a Powerful Marketing Message, and Deliver It to the Right Prospects

Outrageous Advertising, by Bill Glazer.  Created for the 99% of Small Business Owners Who Are Dissatisfied with the Results They Get.

Magic Words That Bring You Riches, by Ted Nicholas.

The Boron Letters, by Gary Halbert (free).

Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel, by John Carlton.  John Carlton is “The most ripped-off and respected copywriter alive.” 

Making the most of your time and energy

The first and most important thing to do is to get focused and productive. If you aren’t making good use of your own time, how will you make good use of somebody else’s?

1. StrengthsFinder 2.0, by Tom Rath. The recipe to real success begins with the words “know thyself”, and that’s exactly where this book starts you off by preaching that you can get more out of focusing on your strengths than you can by trying to compensate for your weaknesses. The book is small, and you don’t have to read most of it; the real value is in the online strengths assessment, to identify your top five strengths.

(For a shortcut, see the Copyblogger post on Discover Your Strengths and Supercharge Your Business.)

2. The Goal, by Eliyahu Goldratt. This is a particularly fun read for a business book, written as a novel about plant manager Alex Rogo, who has 90 days to turn around a problematic production environment. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s a fun-to-read novel, this book has become the bible of operations management, and is required reading in most MBA programs. The key takeaway is an understanding of bottlenecks, which matter even more to a blogger than they do on the factory floor.

3. Brain Rules, by John Medina. A lot of our normal, day-to-day practices just aren’t conducive to getting the best possible results (from the book: if you get a team of the best cognitive psychologists in a room and ask them to use everything we know about the brain to design the worst possible work and learning environment, they’d design a cubicle and a classroom). In this book, Medina reveals – in plain English – 12 ways that our brain works, and how we can harness it to get the most out of our days.

4. Getting Things Done, by David Allen. Now that you’re primed to work productively, you need a system for actually getting things done – that’s where David Allen’s book comes in. You will learn to group your next actions (what normal people call your to-do list) and manage your time for maximum results, which is exactly what you need to build your blogging business.

5. The 8th Habit, by Stephen Covey. Most lists recommend Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but I think this book is a lot better. It starts with a quick overview of the first seven habits, and then spends most of the book talking about how to really bring things to the next level, from effectiveness to greatness.

6. Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. Outliers surveys the (sometimes surprising) research on what it takes to achieve real excellence, and makes it interesting in the way that only Gladwell can. This book is less of a “how-to” or even “what-to-do” book than most of the books that I recommend, and more of a “what to think about” addition to the list.

(Spoiler: the secret to excellence is working your tail off.)

7. Personal Development for Smart People, by Steve Pavlina. This book is by Steve Pavlina, author of the biggest personal development blog on the internet. It aggregates his thoughts, ideas, research and experiments into a thought-provoking book about how you can make your life more interesting and productive tomorrow than it is today.

Thinking like an entrepreneur

Being effective isn’t enough — you have to be effective at something. So let’s turn our attention to entrepreneurship — figuring out what we really want to be doing, testing the idea to make sure it’s profitable, and then turning that idea into a functioning and productive business.

8. The Monk and the Riddle, by Randy Komisar. I was originally introduced to this book by Austin Hill, a celebrity entrepreneur in Montreal, where I’m from. This book bearing the subtitle “The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living” is a novel about a Silicon Valley entrepreneur seeking funding for his idea. The book strikes a great balance between offering valuable insight into the founding and funding of a new business, and making sure that what you’re investing in is really something that matters to you. This book is a “must read” for any serious entrepreneur.

9. Business Model Generation, by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur. This fun and fascinating book was co-created by 470 practitioners from 45 different countries. It shows you a visual structure for examining the different elements of a business model, and then shows you the different “patterns” that business models can follow, so that you can map your own business onto them, and change as needed.

10. Getting to Plan B, by John Mullins and Randy Komisar. This books takes a much more rigorous approach to business modeling, by teaching you a system of identifying “analogs”, “antilogs”, and “leaps of faith” for each of the five key components of a business model: revenue model, gross margin model, operating model, working capital model, and investment model. Don’t worry about the technical jargon, the book is very accessible, and illustrates everything with great case studies.

11. Four Steps to the Epiphany, by Steven Gary Blank. The author of this book founded 8 startups which “resulted in five IPO’s, and three very deep craters”. Through it all, he developed a process of “customer development”, which is vital to identifying and effectively serving your customers with a new business.

(If you want a “cheat sheet” version, get The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development, by Brant Cooper & Patrick Vlaskovits.)

12. The Art of the Start, by Guy Kawasaki. Reading this book will make sure you’ve got all of your bases covered — from the early planning stage, to raising money for a business (if you need it), straight through to building the business, creating relationships with happy customers, and building revenue.

Playing nice with others

You can only go so far working alone, no matter how productive you become. The next step is to find partners, and in order to find partners, you need to be able to work well as a team.

13. Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni. This fun to read classic (I read it in one night, because I couldn’t put it down) tells a story of dysfunctional teams to illustrate what they all have in common, and how these “dysfunctions” can be overcome. The end of the book has the actual “model” in it, so that you can then easily apply what you learn in the story to your own teams and work groups.

14. How Difficult Can This Be? by Rick Lavoie. This isn’t a book, but rather a DVD of learning disabilities simulations. This might seem like an unlikely addition to a business books reading list, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how eye-opening this will be about working with people in all contexts. The DVD is just over an hour long, fun to watch, but intense at the same time. Highly recommended!

15. Mindset, by Carol Dweck. Are our abilities fixed, or can we get better? Many people have opinions, but this book makes a strong, research-based case that we in fact can get better – and not just us, but all the people around us, too. Useful and inspiring, this book is also practical, and gives you tools that you can use to cultivate your own abilities, and the abilities of those around you.

(Editor’s note: Sonia Simone considers this absolutely essential reading for pretty much everyone.)

16. Switch, by Chip & Dan Heath. In this book about changing behaviors (our own or someone else’s), the Heath brothers use the metaphor of a rider (the conscious mind) riding an elephant (the unconscious mind) down a path (the external environment), and teach you how you can direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path to make the changes that you want actually happen. The book is fun to read, and full of great examples.

17. The No Asshole Rule, by Robert Sutton. This aptly named book is all about why it is so important to be nice to people at work, and surround yourself with others who do the same. You will learn how to calculate a business’ TCA (total cost of assholes), and you will learn how to deal with the assholes that you might be stuck with today. This book is as entertaining as it is crucial!

Making the most of other people

It’s not enough to play nice with your partners — whether you’re working with a VA (virtual assistant), or you’re outsourcing your coding or design work, these people need to be managed.

18. First, Break All the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham. This is the book that popularized Gallup’s research on what makes a great manager (12 things, it turns out). It is eye-opening, engaging, and is absolutely crucial reading for anyone who will be in a position to manage anyone else.

19. Death by Meeting, by Patrick Lencioni. Those of you who either were or still are in the corporate world can probably testify to the enormous frustration and time loss caused by meetings. In this great book by the author of Five Dysfunctions of a Team, you will learn how to manage meetings so as to make them interesting, effective, and short — a valuable skill learned from an enjoyable book to read!

20. Difficult Conversations, by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen. Managing people isn’t hard when everything is going well. It gets hard when things aren’t going so well, and difficult conversations need to be had. This book, by expert negotiators and authors of the classic Getting to Yes, will teach you how to do exactly that — have difficult conversations without offending people, while still getting the outcome that you want.

21. Drive, by Dan Pink. What really motivates people to do a good job? Is it money? According to Dan Pink (and the research that he cites), the answer is no. People are motivated by interesting work, exciting work, and a sense of fulfillment. This book is a great read for managers and leaders.

(If you want a free preview, check out the RSA Animate video on YouTube.)

22. Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense, by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton. I like research based practices, so all it took was the title to sell me on reading this book by the author of The No Asshole Rule. It completely lived up to my expectations – the book is fascinating and insightful, and sheds important light on some of the management practices that don’t work, even though we all “know” that this is what managers are supposed to do!

Understanding the dollars and cents

This is the part where most bloggers cringe. Relax, it’s easy. You have to know some numbers, but it doesn’t have to be a chore. I’ve found the best resources available to make the subjects of accounting, finance, and economics painless, and even interesting.

23. The Accounting Game, by Judith Orloff and Darrel Mullis. Accounting intimidates almost everyone, but this book makes it clear and easy. Through the easy-to-relate-to example of setting up a lemonade stand, you will learn the basics of accounting, and how they matter to any business.

24. I Will Teach You to Be Rich, by Ramit Sethi. This book by the well-known blogger and entrepreneur is the best introduction to personal finance that I’ve read. It is conversational, easy to read and clear. It will give you an understanding of key concepts in finance, like discounting and compounding (not to mention how to be rich!).

25. The Teaching Company on Economics. Okay, I admit that this is a bit of a cop-out, but I just couldn’t find an interesting book on basic economics. Instead, I refer you to the Teaching Company, which seeks out the best professors in the world (as rated by their students), and films them delivering their courses. The courses are interesting, and are broken into short lessons that you can watch or listen to at your convenience. They offer huge discounts on their courses on a rotating basis, so if you click through and it is listed at full price, you might want to wait until next month to look again.

26. Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. This book applies the analytical principles of economics to everything that you thought has nothing to do with economics. This is another one of those books that will really get the wheels in your head spinning about broader ideas – fun and valuable! For extra credit, you can also check out their second book, Superfreakonomics.

27. The ValueReporting Revolution, by Eccles, Herz, Keegan and Phillips. This book about cost accounting will help you figure out what your projects and activities are really costing you, and how to make more profitable decisions about how to allocate your time. You probably thought that there couldn’t be an interesting book about cost accounting, but I found one!

Thinking like a marketer

The connection between blogging and marketing is pretty obvious, so this is where most bloggers heave a sigh of relief.

28. The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. This is the book that skyrocketed Gladwell to fame, with a discussion of what causes some ideas to spread, and some not to. He talks about the three types of people that are crucial to the spreading of ideas: Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople. Like all of Gladwell’s work, you will find this book insightful and fascinating (just for fun, you should read Blink, too)!

29. Made to Stick, by Chip & Dan Heath. Following in the vein of The Tipping Point, this book by the Heath brothers explores why some ideas stick and spread, and others don’t. In addition to a good time, reading this book will give you a six-part formula for creating messages that stick and spread.

30. Influence, by Robert Cialdini. This book, which has become a classic in sales and marketing circles, explores the seven principles of influence that Dr. Robert Cialdini identified over the course of his research. These are the principles that get us to do things day in and day out – it’s only fair that you should understand them, and be able to use them too!

31. Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore. You may not know what it’s called, but you’ve probably seen depictions of Rogers’ model for diffusion of innovation. With innovators on the left, followed by early adopters, the early majority and late majority, and finally the laggards, all the way on the right. Well, the one thing that he missed is a giant chasm between the early adopters and the early majority — and a lot of businesses die in that chasm. Moore’s book is a fascinating roadmap to understanding and crossing that chasm, to the profitable lands on the other side.

32. Six Thinking Hats, by Edward De Bono. This classic book by creativity expert Edward De Bono teaches the “Six Thinking Hats” process for generating creative ideas. The process involves assigning six different roles (each role gets a different colored hat) to people within a brainstorming meeting, and each role has specific responsibilities to take on and make sure that good ideas are brought up and survive.

33. Firepole Marketing, by Peter Vogopoulos and Danny Iny (hey, that’s me!). This is 26-week long training program will take you by the hand and make all of your marketing clear and easy. It’s not technically part of the reading list, but you can still check it out for extra credit.

Thinking like a CEO

If you’ve read everything on this list, and implemented everything that you’ve learned, then your blog will begin to grow rapidly. That means it’s time to start thinking about things like vision, legacy, and strategy.

34. Built to Last, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. This is a classic book about building a truly great company that stands the test of time. This book is the source of business metaphors that have become commonplace, like BHAGs (big, hairy audacious goals), and the importance of cult-like cultures. If you’re building a blog, then you’re building a business. Why not make it a great one?

(Also take a look at the Copyblogger take on Jim Collins’s ideas, Three Steps to Take Yourself from Good to Great.)

35. Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. Why stay in the red ocean (a market that is saturated with competitors), when you can go to a blue ocean (where you’re the only game in town)? This book explores the concept of the blue ocean, and shows how companies like Starbucks and Cirque du Soleil made fortunes by creating a blue ocean.

36. It’s Not Luck, by Eliyahu Goldratt. This book by the author of The Goal continues the story of Alex Rogo, who is now Executive VP for a major conglomerate. Through the novel, Goldratt teaches you how to use his Thinking Processes to analyze business and life situations and make the best decisions.

37. The World Is Flat, by Thomas Friedman. This is another one of those books that will really get the wheels in your head turning. After reading this book, you will understand just how small our world has become, and just how many incredible opportunities are available to you as a burgeoning business owner.

38. The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins. This book is about the very practical side of management and leadership. When you take on a new project or a new company, you have a very limited amount of time to make a real difference. According to Watkins, the exact amount is 90 days, and in this book you will find a blueprint of everything you need to do during that time to make the most of the opportunities before you.

Final Note

This is an important one.  Discover whether you’re a visual or auditory learner.

As a visual learner, it’s important to read with a dictionary in hand.  Have you read a page in a book only to realize that you have no clue what you just read?  Ninety-nine percent of the time this is caused by coming across a word that you didn’t understand.   When you come across that word, pause, look it up in your dictionary, then move forward.  If you need to reread the entire page do so, just make sure you understand the meaning of the words you read.