I met world renown copywriter and soon-to-be-mentor Gene Schwartz shortly after graduating college…and he hit me with a shocker in one of the first meetings I ever had with him.
Shocking to me because I graduated with a degree in English, almost going to graduate school to become an English literature professor.
Lucky for you that didn’t come to pass…where would you be without these Sunday blogs? 🙂
“Grammar is overrated”
Since it was no longer a career choice to continue the pursuit of making the English language my top priority, shock turned to curiosity to learn more.
Gene didn’t disappoint.
He was certainly not recommending that we mangle the language; but for him, grammar could be a bit of a nuisance.
What he is essentially saying: Don’t let proper grammar ruin a good story.
A better way to write is to choose the right words for the job first…regardless of syntax, morphology, inflections, agreement, semantics…and any other terms under the definition of grammar.
Great writing and storytelling, especially in a sales environment (and often in a content environment too) has more to do with choosing perfect words first, leaving the dangling participles for the editing stage.
An additional benefit from following Gene’s guidance: Any bad grammar in these blog posts is now officially justified. 🙂
This is how my real postgraduate education into writing promotion copy…and writing in general..began.
The next lesson after “grammar is overrated” from Professor Schwartz is to painstakingly choose “picture words” as often as possible…words that evoke images in your mind…and more importantly, in your reader’s mind.
Keep reading for some specific pro tips on how to do this from another student of Gene.
Lessons like these, and many others, done in one-on-one lunches and meetings during what I call my “Gene Schwartz sessions,” went on for over a decade, from the master of “copy assembly” (i.e., Gene always said he didn’t write copy but he assembled it).
Did it make me a better promotional copywriter?
To this day, as many of you know, I consider myself a “copywriter wannabe” which is a title I wear like a badge of honor.
Because it has nothing to do with Gene being a bad teacher or me being an unreceptive student…but rather, it’s the realization Gene instilled in me that world class copywriting is not a commodity…and there were magicians of the written word who could do it far better than I ever could.
However, all of this learning did make me a better writer…while leaving “soup-to-nuts promotion writing” to the professionals.
It also made me a keen (and dare I say) an above average observer of what makes “good copy.”
When people asked me before meeting Gene, Why did you major in English?, my answer was always, “to learn to read and write.”
Now my answer is still the same, but additionally, under the tutelage of Gene Swartz, I rarely get bogged down with proper grammar, I always search for the perfect word, using picture words whenever I can…and everything else Gene taught me and I’ve read in his two classic books.
Thanks, Gene, for the “real” PhD in English.
Fast forward to 2016…Gene had passed away years earlier…and it was a year after I launched my business (Titans Marketing).
While negotiating with Gene’s wife Barbara for the exclusive rights to bring Gene’s lost masterpiece Breakthrough Advertising back to life, I recalled another “lost classic” that Gene wrote which was titled, The Brilliance Breakthrough: How To Talk and Write So That People Will Never Forget You.
While lost is lost, there is also “more lost than lost”:
Breakthrough Advertising had hundreds of copies available online at the time at $500 each or more…while there was only ONE copy of The Brilliance Breakthrough available (on Amazon) …for $4,000.
Well…it was signed by Gene Schwartz to my mentor Marty Edelston.
However, for $4K you didn’t even get a workbook (which I sell it with now).
I made a two for one rights deal with Barbara and republished both.
I’ve sold Breakthrough Advertising since 2016…thousands of copies in over 50 countries…and The Brilliance Breakthrough…known as “that other Gene Schwartz book,” I launched in 2017 (and if you read on you will find out why it took an additional year to see the light of day).
I have since found out that many students of copywriting and fans of Gene Schwartz knew the existence of The Brilliance Breakthrough, assumed it was lost forever, which made it even more rewarding to share it with the world in a bigger way.
For grins I just went to Amazon and there are three copies of The Brilliance Breakthrough (starting at $499) …better than $4,000…but I sell it for a lot less
It’s a very different book than Breakthrough Advertising, which as you probably know, is a bible about human behavior…followed by applications as to how people behave in the marketplace, with lessons in copywriting, marketing and selling…congruently and intelligently.
Written in 1966, it is 100% relevant to everything we do in marketing today, online and offline (and by the way, there is no internet in 1966).
With The Brilliance Breakthrough, written almost 30 years later, Gene wanted to teach everyone to write (and talk) more powerfully…and it didn’t matter whether you were a copywriter, a marketer, a salesperson…or an English major. 🙂
I mentioned the workbook that I publish with The Brilliance Breakthrough…more on that in the P.S.…but it speaks to the book as a hands-on utility and not just a wonderful read.
When buyers began buying the book with extra workbooks, some for their copywriting teams, some to practice repetition of the exercises…and even some for their kids to learn from Gene (despite not being copywriters or marketers), I knew this book had a huge reach, full of universal writing instruction.
While I can’t give you the book and workbook for free, I want to give you two bonuses just for being part of my online family.
These two bonuses will give you additional details of the color and flavor of this “once-very-lost-classic” whether you ever buy it or not.
I have pasted into the P.S. the draft of the foreword I wrote for the Titans Marketing edition of The Brilliance Breakthrough.
And…if you would like to order one (with a workbook), please go to:
Feel free to forward this blog post to your own online family if applicable…and on social media…so we can tell many more folks that this book is no longer “more lost than lost.” 🙂
It was a long time coming.
If you have been part of my online family for a while, you know I have written a lot about Gene Schwartz in the past…and will in the future.
He was a true Renaissance Man in our industry…and I even profiled him with five other legends of advertising in my first book, The Advertising Solution.
Click here to buy that book and you will receive an amazing swipe file of Gene’s signature work and the work of the other legends profiled. Plus, access to some videos of Gene and others and a PDF of another classic book by legend Claude Hopkins.
Call this Bonus 1a if you were unaware of these treasures.
The second free bonus just for reading this far is a podcast with copywriting coach extraordinaire, David Garfinkel titled, “The Secret to Instant Understanding”.
It is David’s take on The Brilliance Breakthrough…and it is superb.
He goes deep into the “image-word/word-image cycle” which comes directly from Gene but David’s take is magnificent (with specific examples of how it works).
I hope you will listen to it and absorb and apply David’s wisdom.
The appetite for the work of Gene Schwartz is not only alive and well today, it is at an all-time high, something Gene’s wife Barbara cannot comprehend…but she is grateful…as I am.
So many young writers, marketers and entrepreneurs have become students of Schwartz…most of whom were not alive when Gene was dominating the world of direct mail copywriting…but his work is timeless.
And I take being the shepherd of his books very seriously.
Thanks for your continued enthusiasm and support for all I am up to…sharing classics like The Brilliance Breakthrough is a big part of my mission and I appreciate you for being on this journey with me.
P.S. Foreword to the Titans Marketing edition of The Brilliance Breakthrough: How To Talk And Write So That People Will Never Forget You
This masterpiece you now hold in your hands, which has been a lost classic from almost the day Gene Schwartz wrote it, might be the most influential book you will ever read assuming you plan on communicating with other human beings in the future.
It is for me…and it has taught me more about communicating verbally and through the written word than anything I learned in my four years of college as an English major.
Back story on that: When I returned home from my sophomore year of college and told my parents I would be majoring in English, I came dangerously close to being cut off from my “college funding”; and even worse, I thought my parents would kick me out of the house.
But things worked out (or so I thought).
I was able to graduate with a degree in English and I believed that by sticking to my guns and not changing my major (and convincing my parents I would use my English degree for good rather than evil), I learned how to read and write and I was destined for greatness.
But everything changed when I got to know (and learn from) Gene Schwartz just a few years after graduating from college.
This book will forever change the way you think, and have been taught, about expressing yourself and your ideas.
It’s the next best thing to having Gene Schwartz as your personal copywriting coach.
From the outset, Gene makes it perfectly clear what you need to know about this book with the opening sentence of Chapter 1:
“The first thing you have to do with this book is forget everything you were ever taught about grammar!”
Gene’s thesis (and subtitle of the book) of teaching us, “How To Talk And Write So That People Will Never Forget You” has less to do with grammar and “proper English” and more to do with choosing the perfect words to make up the sentences we speak and write for maximum impact.
And yes, this is a marketing book at its core so “maximum impact” means “maximum sales.”
One more thing: Please don’t tell my English professors from college that grammar is no longer relevant to me…they might just take back my diploma…although I think I prefer the “graduate degree” I received from Gene rather than the undergraduate degree those professors gave me…
Why have I been obsessed about bringing The Brilliance Breakthrough back to life?
I think the main reason is that everyone practicing copywriting or marketing today needs as much Gene Schwartz in their life as possible.
I believe he might be the most important figure in the history of advertising when it comes to the merging of human behavior with copywriting and marketing.
And since I like to say, “marketing isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” (in the context of how to get your mission or vision out to as many people as possible and as powerfully as possible), learning how to write like Gene (which you will from this book) is your ticket to creating the most powerful messaging possible.
As Gene says at the conclusion of chapter three:
“…from words, you have generated images. And now from these images you will generate sentences. And from these sentences you will then generate entire discourses. Stories, reports, instructions, poems…a universe of shared emotions and thoughts.”
Despite the fact that Gene never wrote anything for an online promotion, what he is talking about here—and throughout the book—applies to all media and forms of communication: Sales letters, space ads, email, video scripts etc.—any written communication that has as its main purpose to get the reader to respond…and buy.
Online or offline.
I think you will also be struck by how simple Gene’s writing approach seems to be and his willingness to peel back the curtain on that approach…word by word, sentence by sentence.
The exercises at the end of each chapter—almost like “Mad Libs” for copywriting (but way more productive and with “correct answers” in the book!)—will guide you through a process that will make you a better writer.
Also, please follow Gene’s instructions on how to use this book best.
He emphasizes the importance of applying the lessons from each chapter immediately. So if you can, please attack the book as Gene recommends…you won’t be disappointed.
And since I was always taught to never write inside the pages of a book (until I got to college!)—especially one as valuable as this one—I wanted to make it as easy as possible for you to apply Gene’s techniques.
That’s why I created the accompanying workbook which includes all of the exercises which appear at the end of each chapter.
The workbook will also make it easier to toggle between the book and the exercises in the workbook.
These exercises will enable you to write in ways you never thought possible.
I firmly believe that when we are working inside our passion—when our work is truly our play—you can become the best copywriter for your business.
That’s not to say that if you ever have an opportunity to hire a copywriter of Gene Schwartz’s caliber you shouldn’t jump at that opportunity—but most of us will not be given that opportunity in our lifetime.
However, this book, and the process Gene lays out for us step-by-step, is the best way for you to bring out what is inside of you…enable you to write incredibly powerful copy…with the possibility of needing only a proofreader when you are done.
And remember…the proofreading will have little to do with proper grammar…
So that’s why this book needs to be brought back to life…and it is no accident why the price of used copies of this book have been offered online for as much as $8,000…and as of this printing, the cheapest used copy I’ve seen is around $4,000.
Only a select few have been able to apply The Brilliance Breakthrough…until now.
What makes this book different from Gene’s other masterpiece, Breakthrough Advertising?
In a perfect world, I would have preferred re-publishing The Brilliance Breakthrough before Breakthrough Advertising since this book, while not a primer for copywriters, is not nearly as dense as Breakthrough Advertising–and it is immediately usable and practical to many more people.
I think if you read The Brilliance Breakthrough first, you will get more hands-on training before diving into what is clearly Gene’s “advanced course” (i.e., Breakthrough Advertising).
But no biggie if you have already read Breakthrough Advertising and you are now beginning to read this treasure.
I would highly recommend, however, that you re-read Breakthrough Advertising after you have been through The Brilliance Breakthrough.
The fact is that neither of these books can be read just once to garner their full impact anyway.
In short, The Brilliance Breakthrough is all about execution on the theories Gene Schwartz penned as copywriting rules of thumb (and universals about human behavior) in Breakthrough Advertising.
You need both of these books in your library…they complement each other beautifully…and this is the first time in decades that both are easily accessible to all generations of marketers and copywriters.
How lucky are you to have easy access to The Brilliance Breakthrough?
Well…luckier than when I was a lad…
The stories I have heard over the years about smuggling copies of this book out of libraries are legendary.
Publisher and direct marketing historian (and my partner in getting this new edition printed), Jim DiCola, told me this story:
I went to my library [many years ago] and requested an interlibrary loan. After checking across the country, the only copy they could find was from the Library of Congress.
A month later the book showed up at my local branch.
However, they had strict instructions that they would not let the book leave the library due to restrictions from the Library of Congress and that it was only on loan for a short period of time.
So, every Saturday morning (and some weekday evenings) I would trek a mile to my local library, go to the front desk and request the book, and then a staff member would have to personally go to some secure part of some back room and bring me the book to read on the premises only.
And as the due date approached for when they had to return the book to the Library of Congress, I had been successful in my secret mission to photocopy the entire book, one chapter at a time over many months, unbeknownst to them.
And Brian, I will not tell you where this library is located…ever!
They will take away my library card for sure if they find out!
Of course, I asked Jim if I could make the story richer by saying he walked 12 miles each way to the library, in the snow, and barefoot as well…however, what he told me above was the best he could do…
But you get the idea.
I’ve heard other stories from folks who had to leave significant “collateral” at the front desk at their library in order to read The Brilliance Breakthrough on site.
I was frantically looking for someone who might have forfeited their Rolex to sneak out of a library with the book…hey $4,000 could buy a pretty nice watch, right?
Sadly, I couldn’t get that story and decided not to make one up.
But the good news is that the book is no longer rare.
And congratulations that you now own a copy.
Are you ready to become your own best copywriter?
I want to thank Gene for being such an incredible mentor to me and so many others during his lifetime.
And I also want to thank his wonderful wife, Barbara Schwartz, for being so generous with Gene while he was with us…and to this day.
Her generosity is the main reason this book is now available to you.
When I approached her about re-publishing this book, she only had one copy of the original text herself…which I have not let out of my sight while using it to print this new version.
Yes…I did a little photocopying myself…
And I made a very cool discovery which was clearly a message from Gene to me (and to you): There were a couple of notes from Gene inside Barbara’s only copy with changes he wanted to make to some of the chapter titles should the book ever be reprinted.
Of course, all of those changes have been incorporated into this edition.
And seeing those notes made it abundantly clear that Gene also wants to be part of getting this book back into circulation…and to share his wisdom with all of you.
Like Barbara, Gene was very generous too…and I am so gratified seeing the appetite for Gene’s work today, even among the youngest copywriters and marketers…but I am also not surprised.
And this book in particular, while on the surface looks like it is targeted at copywriters and marketers, is really for anyone who desires to speak or write more clearly.
I know of quite a few people who want to give it to their children…one friend is buying a copy for his 11-year-old son.
I know Gene is also smiling down on all of us, seeing the impact his work has had on multiple generations already…and also how much more impact he will be making on generations into the future.
It’s obvious that Gene practiced what he preached:
He knew better than anyone how to talk and write so that people will never forget him.
P.P.S. I have books and workbooks in inventory…and they are ready to ship today.