Interviews John Carlton

Click to Share:

Q1. Where are you from?

I was raised in Southern California

Q2. How did you discover copywriting?

I found a low-end job in the art department of a computer supply catalog, doing paste-up and helping with the photography of products and getting the beast printed and mailed out every quarter. This was in the late 1970s, before personal computers. I was living in a co-op house, however, and among the residents was the guy in charge of the mainframes at the university. He was actually wired into the early version of the Web, so I got a taste of what was coming down the pipe. (I also briefly dated a girl who worked at Atari, and she would sneak us into their super-secret warehouse where they had all the latest arcade games spread around. They would bus in kids during the day and track which newly designed games they played. I can testify that the best arcade games never made it to market – anything that appealed to adults was ignored by the kid demographic. Y’all missed out on some awesome games because of that.)

It was a revelation when I found out there were professional copywriters pounding out the headlines, captions and body copy for the catalog pages. I asked one of them, a former New Yorker named Arlene who was forever sulking about being stuck on the West Coast, how a guy like me might break into the copywriting gig. She told me “It’s very hard work, and you’ll never figure it out.”

That pissed me off so much I stole her copy of Tested Advertising Methods (by John Caples)… and read enough of it (before she stole it back) to realize I very much COULD figure it out.

My anger at Arlene fueled my self-education project on becoming a copywriter, and soon enough I was ready to go freelance.

Q3. What forms of copy do you write?

I’m old school – there is no media I haven’t written for. I took every client that came along, and worked with a couple of great mentors in Jay Abraham and Gary Halbert who had their hands in everything. I’ve written infomercials, print ads, direct mail, radio ads, all of it. When the Web came along, I immediately realized it was the biggest medium possible, and quickly perfected styles of email and webpage design that worked like crazy in those wild west-like early days.

Q4. What are your favorite niches to write in?

I’ve written for every niche out there. I became notorious for the golf and self-defense ads I wrote, though. My writing style, when I was allowed to go balls-to-the-wall, fit perfectly in those male-dominated niches. But I also wrote for female-centered markets. A good writer is versatile.

Q5. What is the #1 lesson you've learned as a copywriter?

The best tool in your kit will forever be empathy: The ability to walk a mile in another person’s shoes, and understand everything about their needs, their frustrations, their dreams, and their quirks.

Empathy is the fundamental tool for all effective salesmanship. No chatbot will ever take your job if you understand the vagaries of human behavior and buying tendencies.

Q6. Who is your favorite copywriter & why?

I love all my colleagues, and I was lucky enough to be a connector between the older generations of Halbert and his ilk… and the new breed of Internet-oriented writer. The geezers taught me, and I in turn have been teaching the young guns the ropes.

As for a favorite… I believe a great writer needs to keep perfecting their craft, always. So, you should strive mightily to become your own favorite writer.

Q7. Do you have any recent wins to share?

I’ve been on sabbatical for over a year, not thinking about biz or copy or marketing. You get to do that once you hit the major leagues, you know. For the last 30 years of my career, I’ve always taken off huge amounts of time.

That said, I’m still getting paid for most of the big winners I wrote years ago. Royalties are a wonderful thing.

Q8. What would you say to a prospective client who wants to hire you?

I would respectfully decline. I haven’t taken on an outside client in years. My biz partner and I have been concentrating on our own products and offers for a very long time.

You can always see what I’m up to at the blog: (Twenty years of archived posts and ebooks and good stuff, all free.)

Q9. What is a good email address for prospective clients to contact you?

You can reach my assistant Diane at

Want to Get Interviewed by