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How 1 HN post compelled me to leave Intuit and create a new startup for startups (copyhackers.com)
252 points by bloggergirl on Oct 18, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 96 comments

Copywriting is taken for granted. Period. It's taken for granted in the Fortune 500 world, where marketing departments view it as a cheap commodity. And it's taken for granted at a lot of tech companies (Apple's being a notable exception).

But it shouldn't be. And a project like this one -- not to mention the founder/author's innovation and tenacity -- will help turn the tide.

There's certainly a fair amount of dark art to quality writing, but there's also science. And it's refreshing to see a results-focused approach that seeks to separate the merely mellifluous from the legitimately effective.

Big kudos on this one!

Another example of an organization that takes copywriting seriously is Zappos. I actually read what they send me because it's generally pretty good.

Wow, jonnathanson, you couldn't be more spot-on! That's unfortunately how I see it ---- the Fortune 500 world forgets that copy can have a huge impact on sales/signups. (On the other hand, Groupon takes writing very seriously... but I haven't heard that they pay very well; I'd be interested to hear how they compensate writers.)

You should do a post on the subject!

Pay is a big issue. Hell, it's probably the primary -- if not sole -- reason why I haven't grown the stones to toss aside my golden[1] corporate shackles and ply a trade I actually love. I flirted with copywriting, be it on a consulting basis, or perhaps in-house at a former employer. But, as we know, a lot of companies just don't take it seriously; that attitude is reflected in the pay scales.

That's why I have a boatload of respect for you and for this project. It's up to writers to differentiate commodity wordsmithing from genuinely powerful work. And it's up to a few daring employers to know the difference, and to demand it. Your startup makes a fairly bold declaration of the importance of an underappreciated skill. And it's positioned well, in a market full of entrepreneurs who are more open to new ideas than most F-500 middle managers would be.

[1] OK, maybe they're only electro-plated. At any rate, they glitter significantly less than Goldman, for instance.

The company I'd like to know about is Woot.com; they need to pay their writers by the truckload. I hit that site every day.

The woot "we got acquired" letter[1] was hilarious.

[1] http://www.woot.com/Blog/ViewEntry.aspx?Id=13390

shortest footnote marker-to-footnote distance ever?

Immediately went to go buy the bundle of 4 books (good copywriting!)

But, some friendly startup advice:

1. There should be no reason to ask for my address and phone number and such for a digital purchase with PayPal as the purchase option. Your close rate would go up if you just let people go straight to PayPal -- and ask for those details after the purchase is done (eCommerce companies learned this a while ago).

2. You shouldn't have PayPal as the purchase option. It sucks for a number of well documented reasons, and there are better options now.

3. Once I tried to complete the PayPal transaction, got this error message: http://screencast.com/t/c5crNpyDg

Happy to try again when you're ready. Just ping me.

Oh, and one more thing: When creating a user account on your site, the password is emailed out in cleartext to the end user. That's a very bad thing generally, but particularly for the HN crowd.

Asking for the address for digital downloads is about your only defence against PayPal's chargeback frenzy. Anyone who has sold digital downloads knows how PayPal randomly returns money to customers (and let's them keep the product) because "something triggered a response" in their system.

With physical goods, the seller is paid by default (when the seller responds). With intangible goods, nothing the seller says can get the chargeback reversed. You only get the money if the buyer responds, which they rarely do because they are about to get a full refund and free product. PayPal's only recommendation is to capture the address (and send a free CD). I found that just capturing the address made the problem mostly go away. And with the couple of chargebacks, when I responded with the address, I was paid.

1. I never experienced the described problem.

2. Nothing prevents me from putting a fake address into the form. I just did.

3. The web page does not use SSL-encryption. It doesn't process credit card information, but it surely does process personal information such as my address, which is enough to be a violation of privacy terms in Europe.

So, while I found the copy of this web page extremely interesting and it just "worked" on me, the technical aspects were almost a deal-breaker for me and I only circumvented the problem by providing a fake address.

Except Paypal is the only viable option if you're from outside the us. If she has used Amazon Payments or Google Checkout, I could not have purchased his books.

I can use google checkout in Europe, when did you last try?

What's very cool about this is that the page itself is actually a sample that will sell you on the book.

Best marketing of the year award.

Really awesome.

:) I'll take that award with a great big smile. Thanks!

You've earned it. I like to think of myself as being somewhat hardened against being marketed to and I found myself continuing to read right up to the payload. That's not easy.

I may start a single-product(fruit) online store next year. I'm not a webdev though do have programming bkground. Does your copy books have examples or help to write copy for such websites or is it targetted more towards SaaS products?

Maybe my Qn itself is unreasonable and maybe same principles apply everywhere, in which case do let me know.

Secondly, since my potential usage of this will be sometime in future; when I come down to it, will you be available offline for some clarifications help needed with the material? If my help reqd becomes too much we can even discuss some kind of compensation/consulting for you.

HN Mods/PG: Someone pls tell me how to recover my passwd of a very old account!

Mail pg, he can reset it for you. The email address is not a secret, you can find it easily enough.

I've searched everywhere: here, YC, TC, his personal site - didn't find anywhere. Or maybe my GoogleFoo is just failing me today. Mind sending me on my throwaway ID: forwebsites AT gmail

throwaway because I'm just too embarrassed to expose my stupidity

Bought this yesterday, only half way through the first book, but wow - awesome stuff!

An epub version would be great though, if that would be possible?


I suggest (um...plead?) spitting them out as Kindle books, or at least making the pdf less Kindle-hostile. I bought the bundle (great offer, thank you :) and dragged it onto my Kindle. Font tiny, most prominent thing is the bottom bar.

Yeah i bought the bundle too and own a kindle keyboard... if you make a kindle version, please don't make me buy it again...

I would also love a more ebook reader friendly format like Mobi or ePub. I still bought it, because I might be able to convert it to something usable for myself, but a version that is actually made for ebook readers (like the sony prs-650 that I have myself :)) would be even better.

I find it interesting how the HN post title isn't something like "Check out these Copywriting books I wrote", but rather something that sounds like a simple blog post but is instead a landing page for some ebooks.

Worked for me! I'm considering buying now...

It's funny how it goes just like a standard blog post for several paragraphs and then.. BAM, it does a complete 180 into a sales pitch. Quite striking and rather effective!

Can we stop calling it "copy" outside of our niches? For most readers they will infer the meaning you ascribe to the word from reading this article or look it up... there are ample other, non-ambiguous, commonplace methods to refer to text (that is one).

Its easy to slip on stuff like this when you are immersed in your speciality and don't often talk to people outside of it... although as a programmer at least I have the excuse of there not already being multiple unambiguous ways to describe my subject matter. :)

However, I will not be surprised if this usage of copy becomes more popular - both times I've seen it were on Hacker News in the last week.

Someone posted a similar comment on my blog, too. I hadn't realized that "copy" was such an unknown term that it would require defining or otherwise explaining. That's my bad!

I don't think it's because I'm too close to copywriting (my sisters and brothers constantly remind me that they have no idea what I do) but because I assume people in this particular community will know about "copy" just as they know about "interaction design" and "UI" --- and other terms my siblings don't know.

Or maybe it's because I watch too much Mad Men and assume everyone else does, too. ;) (In which case you'd know that Donald Draper and Peggy Olsen are both [albeit fictional] copywriters.)

Joanna, you really are a pro. Your generosity and your talent shine through. I have no doubt this will be huge success.

Just bought the bundle. What a deal!

Bought it as well. I couldn't find the "coupon" textbox though.. but nevermind, $33 is still a good deal!

Oh, no! Please contact me at joanna AT copyhackers.com and we'll get that discount sorted out for you!!!

In case this is a problem for anyone else, the coupon code box is on the first page of the cart/checkout, on the left side of the screen, just below the product thumbnail.

This got me as well, luckily I saw this post. I went straight to the checkout rather than the cart and never saw the coupon area either.

Bought and anxiously waiting for my email with the books! I've always had trouble writing wishy washy content and need to do a huge update for SEO so this couldn't have come at a better time!

Congratulations, thanks and best of luck all in one!

Yup, I just tried it out again, because I felt stupid for not seeing the textbox before. It seems I clicked "Add to Cart" and then directly "checkout" last time. Because there is a cart icon next to "checkout" I didn't think there would be another "cart"-view. But as I said, never mind! You can keep the 15 dollars if you keep up the good work! :)

Oh, no! We need to get that sorted out.

I don't want you to lose out on the discount! I don't want anyone to.

So please, if you're ordering, do not click the 'checkout' option but rather be sure to start your 'funnel' process at the page marked "CART".

(I had a pro QA person do the QA on the site, and he didn't notice this glitch either... so we're both quite unhappy about it.)

FWIW, I mainly went to the site on the offer of a 50% discount, but wasn't held up at all when I didn't see where to apply the coupon code and I completed my purchase anyway - as mentioned upthread it seems like great value even at $33...

Awww... you're so nice! Thanks. :) Hope you enjoy the books...!!!!

This is what HN, as an extension of the startup community, is about. Awesome product and awesome back story. [Sorry, I know this isn't a particularly "productive" post...]

As the author of the post, I find it particularly productive. ;)

This itself is a compelling example. The bundle discount + the 50% off further hacker news discount makes it a very attractive purchase, and that itself is a compelling demonstration of his knowledge and reason to buy the books :) He knows how to sell

sorry to nitpick but she's a she.

I'll nitpick too because those are marketing decisions which are only aided by being well described.

I believe you have confused marketing as a whole with authoring the textual element of it... or possibly misinterpreted copy because it has specialised meaning in the context of publishing.


I'm sure there is a market for companies who would rather pay to have it written for them -- I know I'd certainly be interested. Any thoughts on launching a startup that does copywriting for companies/people? Perhaps charge by the word or page?

I second that. I'm lucky you do all my copywriting for free, but I would have been happy to pay hundreds of dollars for your time.

It's not an unserved market. There have been professional copywriters since the beginning of the last century. It's also not a very well paying market for most writers. Most companies do not value the work of copy writing as much as they perhaps should.

There are copywriting agencies, definitely. Some good ones exist, and I do consult. But it seems to me that startups - those who are bootstrapping, at least - don't often have that much to spend. And it's hard to tell a good copywriter from a great, high-converting writer. But very good food for thought, thematt! Merci!!!

I think the site is buckling under the HN stress lol, especially the checkout cart. I doubt that this would be an issue under normal circumstances, but I just wanted to let you know that the site is getting tons of attention. Congrats! =D

I really wanted to purchase but would rather not send CC info over non-SSL connections. Are you going to be putting the store on SSL at some point?

Or maybe it is supposed to be but there are some fallbacks being used under the current heavy load.

AFAICT the credit card processing all happens through PayPal. However, I don't particularly want to provide all the other billing information on a non-SSL page either.

I tried manually going to https://www.copyhackers.com/ , but that tries to serve an SSL certificate for webcopygirl.com (which looks like a parked domain).

Configuration problems, or lack of SSL certificate? If the latter, do you already know about StartCom (https://www.startssl.com/)? They provide domain-validated certificates for free.

We actually are working on this. We're relying on PayPal's security where the credit card information comes into play. Where my site is concerned - the sales side of it with only your address taken - we are working on it.... PayPal's already got this covered off, of course.

Oh, no! We'll look into it. It's a high-class problem to have... lots of traffic jamming up the cart. :) Thanks for the heads up.

Sorry to anyone who's experiencing trouble. The discount lasts a few days, so please do return - or email me, if you need any help: joanna AT copyhackers DOT com.

I'm curious, there is a "money back guarantee" line on the site. How does this work for ebooks? I buy it and I can ask for my money back? How do I "return" the ebook?

Is this usual for other electronic goods? (ie. software)

I think this is a way to show the author isn't pulling a bait-and-switch or just interested in taking your money. If you're not happy, you can have your money back, period.

There is a certain level of trust involved, because there is indeed no way to "return" the ebook (well, set aside complicated and broken solutions like DRM). Most people are honest enough to acknowledge the usefulness of the ebook, and won't ask for their money back if they're satisfied (even though objectively they could lie and get that money back).

I've seen this a few times, and it seems like a great way to build confidence.

I know people who do this on $1000+ training courses. It's priced into their business. The refund rates aren't as high as you'd think :-)

I do it too but only on small things. I haven't done a single refund yet over several hundred sales.

Other than increasing the likelihood of a sale, the benefit of offering a guarantee like this is you get less flack from your payment provider (since they can see you'll refund if anyone's dissatisfied) and you can avoid nearly all chargebacks. If someone doesn't want to pay, they'll find a way to get around it anyway, so you might as well make it frictionless.

Yeah, those things are all true --- I know that the satisfaction guarantee can increase conversions, so that's something I consider from a marketing perspective.

But I really do want people to tell me if the book doesn't meet their expectations and to know that they can get their money back. It just seems wrong to offer no recourse. (Hopefully the ebook samples will help people before they buy, though, so fewer people return products.)

And, yes, there's no way to return a digital copy. It's just a trust/honor thing, I guess. :) You tell me you're not satisfied, and I give you your money back. Done.

I bought a copy. Very happy to support a fellow HN reader.

A couple of humble suggestion for you:

$$$: You may want to sell this as lifetime subscription to each mini-book/magazine. Have each buyer opt-in to receive a life-time update once every quarter. People lose digital assets all the time so it is nice to get an updated one regularly. Also every 4 months you get change to nudge people to read it or re-read it to see what is new. If someone forwards it along you will end up capturing a percentage of people that got the pirated version because people don’t want to read stale content. By a putting an issue/version number on it you make people feel left out and upgrade to the latest version. ( ☺ hehe. I have worked for Microsoft for too long.)

Every time I get a new email from you I would not thing it spam if you attach a updated version of the book to it. ☺

Then you can sell additional book chapters to your subscriber base over time. Or bundle in other services that people would find interesting.

Branding: Copy is a very specific term. To increase your audience I would suggest re-branding your content and call it text or something to that effect.

Domain name: You have a great domain name. You can rebrand your content as “copy from the best hackers” meaning copy ideas from the best hackers.

Looking forward to reading your book.

I bought it - but why do you need my billing address/phone number for an ebook. I was glad to see the PayPal option, but I was slightly put off by giving you all that info.

I can see wanting my name for doing a watermark and my email so you can send me an update when the next book in the series comes out, but the rest seemed unnecessary so you might want to consider removing them as "Required Fields".

I had the same reaction "This is cool, but why do they need my phone number just for an ebook download?" I went ahead anyway, but it definitely struck me as odd.

As a second nitpick here, some countries don't have states. You shouldn't make it a required field either.

That's a great catch, Mandar. We'll have to do some behind the scenes work to figure out how to resolve state/province issues. Apologies!!! It's required 'cos that's what the credit card companies need to process your info.

All good questions. I'm using WooCommerce theme for WordPress, which ties into PayPal, and those are required fields. We don't store any personal information... unless you choose to create an account (and then you can modify that account, too!). Oh, and - obviously - we don't collect or store any credit card info; we leave all of that to the experts at PayPal. Sorry if it's a problem at all!!!

I also bought it, and didn't have a problem entering my information assuming it was for billing reasons. Then I see the paypal option which was a huge turn off, but understandable since it's a new company.

I actually disliked the entire check out process. Database connection errors, failed to accept a strong password (randomly generated and including symbols) and failed with an uninformative error requiring me to navigate back to the checkout process and re-enter all my information. Then I check my email and my user name and password have been sent back to me. Everything about the site is great until you get to the checkout process which is really clunky.

I'm glad to help you with that. I ran into the same problem too. Didn't want to leave my personal info when you're already going through paypal.

it is disconcerting to have your password emailed to you. are you storing the passwords in cleartext? Would definitely prefer if you didn't.

I'd guess that's the standard Wordpress account reg email - Wordpress _does_ email you a cleartext password, but it does also hash the password and only stores the hash.

I think it's a reasonable tradeoff - those of us with properly managed password storage can delete the email, but the 99% who _don't_ use some form of password safe can keep using their email archive as their place to look up passwords they've forgotten. (I see this a _lot_ in our clients non-technical Wordpress site subscribers...)

I know this is "standard wordpress". The problem with this is that your email isn't secure password storage, neither is the delivery of your email. Reset forgotten passwords, don't store or transfer them in plain text. Please.

You're right. Except most of the world doesn't know it (yet).

_Lots_ of (mainly non-technical) people _do_ use their email archive as their "(not so) secure password storage".

As someone who regularly deals with website owners with non-technical audiences, I see all the time that this decision by the Wordpress devs is almost certainly a sensibly pragmatic choice. Those of us who know and care about password security can deal with it - delete the email when it arrives, if you're particularly paranoid go back and change it (I'm pretty sure Wordpress only does this on signup, not on password changes).

Until my mom uses 1Passwork or KeyPassX or PasswordSafe (or an equivalent), I can easily see why many many Wordpress site owners think this is the right compromise between password security and useability.

Yes, bigiain is right ---- it's standard. I don't keep or store any of your personal information myself... unless you sign up for copy tips, in which case I keep your name and email address (using MailChimp).

the problem with writing copy is that a lot of companies that do it suck at it. I wrote my own copy, ran with it. Then decided to do it "right" and hire a professional to do it for me. Well the copy I got was pretty average, to a point where I felt my own copy was better.

I think part of it, is that when you do the job yourself, you can revisit it time and time again to polish it. Hiring someone just gets you that first rough draft, that might be better than your own rough draft, but is subpar, since the person didn't spend the time to perfect it.

Thanks for offering the discount to HN - I just purchased the collection and look forward to diving in.

I think it was a fantastic idea to scrap the 300-page book and focus on more bite-sized readings. Tackling a 300-page book can be a lot to ask of a reader, especially if they are spending a lot of their time producing products. A 50-page book makes more sense to me. I can work through 50 pages in a short period of time, feel like I've just learned a complete concept, and start implementing it right away.

Best of luck and great work!

I just bought the bundle using paypal. Will I receive an email with a download link soon? That part of the process wasn't very clear...

You should get an email with a link - it took a couple minutes for me to get mine. Then my link didn't work but Joanna was very helpful over email - if you are having trouble just drop her a line.

You should get an email with a download link, I got an email with the download link and I have it available in the account area.

You have to go back to the site and log in, then click on your account link. The download link can be found there

Crap! I didn't bother creating an account when I checked-out :(

I just sent an email to Joanna, and she responded within a few minutes offering to personally email me the ebooks. Now that's what I call customer service!

I have the exact same problem. Paid, but no ebook. Sent an email an hour ago but haven't heard back :(

Clearly this is an opportunity for a startup helping startups that write books for startups.

I'm working on the replies to those emails! A few people are having troubles with the Order Confirmation email, which is where the download link is.

You shouldn't have to create an account to get the download link. It should be in the Order Confirmation email (which is separate from the PayPal receipt email).

Working on replying via email right now....

I browsed it at work and it looked great!

Unfortunately, I came home to order and found this: Database Error - Error establishing a database connection

I had that happen to me. Just wait a sec and retry. It will work if you do this.

Thanks, just downloaded and it's on my reading list. I already powered through the first few pages of book 1 to check it out and you've made me want to go and rewrite all our copy immediately! Brilliant stuff that will really, really help us. Thank you!

Great deal and one of the things I have been needing for my start up (www.flyinghighcoffee.com). I saw a few load issues when checking out but I stuck with it and got it done.

Safari won't download the file, though when I try to get it from my iPad.

I just realized there's an app for zip files on the iPad (which I don't have). I already unzipped them on my PC and emailed them to myself. Ignore my nitpick! And thanks for the resource - it looks like it is going to be a great help to me.

I hope it is a great help! Checked out your site, too (I love coffee but am not much of a flyer). Maybe I can offer you some copy optimization tips in an upcoming [video] optimization session, to be posted on my blog. Free, of course. I'd be happy to.

Hate to be a bother, but as someone curious about getting into copywriting I wonder if you'd mind trading a few emails with me? No pressure, obviously. And I know you've got a lot going on right now, just, if you get the time.

Totally would! Fire me off an email at joanna AT copyhackers DOT com. Very happy to chat.

I want to buy this, but the checkout fails for me (bad merchant address?) and there's no email address to contact you in either your HN profile or the site. How do I seek help?

Love it, great read - only half way through the first book, but so much useful stuff!

Any chance of an epub version though? Would then be easier to read on my phone and ebook reader.

From your site:

Eack book is dedicated to one topic you can master, like writing headlines

"extended acknowledgement book", advanced subliminal typo marketing :)

Someone else emailed me about this typo! So embarrassing. Will correct. Thanks for letting me know...

I've never bought an ebook before, but I'm highly considering this. Great job "selling" me on something I don't overly need!

I'm glad that you're receiving all this praise because of your exceptional product, and not just because you're a girl ;)

Woman, boy.

Hopefully others will order this without using the coupon code as well. It's worth the full thirty bucks

Thank you so much, i really needed good copywriting advice, take my 17 Dollars!

This looks interesting. Can I get these books on my Kindle?

You could run it through Calibre, looks like most of it should convert cleanly (not tons of diagrams/graphics).

Bought it and loved it. Thanks for the discount!

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