A little over a year ago, while recovering from my stroke, a song kept playing in my head from the Broadway show Hamilton.
It came back to me again in recent weeks with the release of the movie.
It is titled “Why do you write like you are running out of time?”
(The link above has the tune for you to listen to…and more importantly an anonymous post from someone who found deep meaning in this song for similar reasons to mine.)
Despite dying in a duel with Aaron Burr when he was only 47, Alexander Hamilton left us an archive of his writings that would have rivaled someone double his age.
And his face on the $10 dollar bill makes us remember him often (even if we never read anything he wrote).
I guess the show being a big hit brought him into the public view in new and bigger ways as well, especially if you only trade in larger bills which I know many of you do! 🙂
Whether he knew he was going to die young–or he was simply highly driven to write as much as he could as fast he could–no one can be sure.
But what we are sure of is that he was super productive in the years he had.
No writer’s block for Alexander.
I have thought about this in the way we all write (and also what we might leave behind after we depart this world) and it occurred to me that if we can’t be as productive as Alexander Hamilton, we should still be as effective (in our own niche)—and always use the right tools.
Making sure anyone and everyone can understand you instantly (and they can also remember more of what you say or write) should always be your highest priority.
One way to be more memorable is using images which your listener or reader can de-code for themselves; another is to remember that “grammar is overrated”; and yet another is to meticulously choose the right words to craft your story or argument.
Note that those words are often a bit “shorter” (i.e. understandable) too…or at least they need to be 100% comprehensible to the audience you are writing to.
That is, matching words to your list…or better yet, for the readers of this blog, matching your creative and copy to your online or offline family.
I hate to sound like a broken record but there is no one in the history of copywriting or marketing who understood the power of using images that create words better than Gene Schwartz.
He got there by unleashing the power that comes with not caring much about grammar in the process, at least initially…and to always choose the right words.
“Grammar is overrated” was the subject line I used when I first told you about the second “Gene Schwartz lost classic” that I re-published (after Breakthrough Advertising) which is called, The Brilliance Breakthrough, How To Talk And Write So That People Will Never Forget You.
I followed that up with a blog post titled “Use smaller words” which has created a bit of a s%$t storm on Facebook when I used that post as an ad.
The linguists and copy police came out of the woodwork, many condemning me for being far too simplistic…and even one saying I was suggesting “dumbing down the English language so we end up destroying it…which is the beginning of the destruction of all mankind.”
Yowza! I didn’t mean anything by it…really.
“Grammar is overrated” and “Use smaller words” were simply (what I thought were) compelling subject lines–but I had no idea there were so many purists of grammatical correctness who would misinterpret what I was trying to say.
And when you read The Brilliance Breakthrough you will see that Gene is not giving anyone permission to mangle the language.
Rather, what Gene is teaching is that starting with perfect grammar is not the most important consideration when you write, especially when you are writing promotional copy. The key is first to have your reader read pictures…then the words.
When copywriter David Garfinkel, (who is also one of the top coaches for copywriters today), released an awesome podcast two years ago titled, “The Secret to Instant Understanding” (based on Gene’s work and specifically The Brilliance Breakthrough) it was just additional justification for re-publishing this hidden masterpiece.
In it, David goes deep on how you can make anyone you talk to or write to understand you instantly–and completely–by talking or writing in images.
The goal: Have your reader remember more of what you say or write…or, as Gene put it, “How to talk and write so that people will never forget you.”
David credits the lessons he teaches in this podcast from this core concept from The Brilliance Breakthrough…and I encourage you to give a listen here.
(It’s one of two free giveaways in this post…the other is the P. P.S.)
Calling The Brilliance Breakthrough a “lost classic” is far from hyperbole.
When I released Breakthrough Advertising almost five years ago, many of you who are Gene Schwartz enthusiasts asked me about The Brilliance Breakthrough, knowing that it was so rare (and so good).
I realized reading those emails that you, my online family, were true students of the craft…and I had to deliver The Brilliance Breakthrough to you as well. I convinced Gene’s wife Barbara to allow me to bring it back to life.
I also needed to do it affordably since at the time I started putting this new edition together, there was only ONE used copy available on Amazon for $4,000.
See the P.S. for more details about that.
And for the hundreds of people who have discovered this gem already, drop me an email and let me know how you are applying it to your verbal and written communications. I’d really like to know and share some of those applications in future posts.
I’ve heard from many of you already and it’s been rewarding to hear how much the book has helped you.
And this is not just a book for professional writers.
I mentioned in a previous post that someone bought a copy of The Brilliance Breakthrough and then bought three extra workbooks, not for his copywriting team, but for his kids.
My second giveaway for you today (the P.P.S. of this post), in addition to David’s podcast, is the foreword to the Titans edition of The Brilliance Breakthrough, which will give you a flavor of what it is all about (and how important it is) even if you can’t afford to buy a copy yet.
You will also read about how “lost” it really was–and I think you will enjoy the story.
The podcast and the foreword will give you a sneak peek into this lost classic…why it is so important…and also why I thought it was critical, with my publishing partner Jim DiCola, (more about him in the P.P.S too) to create the accompanying workbook (which was his idea).
Feel free to forward this blog post to your own online families if applicable…and on social media…so we can tell many more folks that this book is now readily available. And at least, listen to the podcast and read the foreword.
It’s been a long time coming.
As a friend and mentor, Gene was so influential in my life and in the lives of countless others.
His wife Barbara cannot believe the appetite for his work today, among so many young writers, marketers and entrepreneurs all over the world…much more than when he was alive.
We’ve shipped books to over 50 countries to date.
And I take being the shepherd of his books very seriously.
I appreciate 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 thank you for being on this journey with me.
I am not running out of time (at least I don’t think so)…just filling my time bringing forward as much useful work from (and about) all of my mentors…both dead and alive.
Which, I believe, keeps them ALL alive a lot longer.
P.S. I am not the only one who saw the huge value in bringing this book back to life (which I did three years ago)…not only for its value but also because of the outrageous prices people were charging for used copies on Amazon and eBay:
The Brilliance Breakthrough: How to Talk and Write So That People Will Never Forget You Hardcover – March 1, 1994
2 Used from $900.002 New from $450.001 Collectible from $2,000.00
Well…that one copy at $2,000 was signed by Gene Schwartz to my mentor Marty Edelston…but no workbook available even at that price! 🙂
The Brilliance breakthrough: Eugene Schwartz
$28 for 24 months with PayPal Credit*$28 for 24 months. Minimum purchase required.
Ships from United States
You can buy it here for a lot cheaper.
P. P.S. Bonus #2 (and don’t forget Bonus #1, David Garfinkel’s podcast, “The Secret to Instant Understanding”)
Here is the 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. Guaranteed.
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! Or worse!
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 also 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.