The “Rodney Dangerfield” of copywriting

Feb 19, 2021

Issue #120—February 19, 2021
Emails may well be the “Rodney Dangerfield” of copywriting.

They just get no respect.

And by respect I mean, many companies don’t value them as much as they should.

When I hear the paltry fees some clients want to pay copywriters who write them…as little as $25 an email…it makes me want to scream!

Sure, once you get good at writing them, you can crank these babies out pretty fast.

And if they’re all part of a series where you’re just changing a few words here and there with the same theme, I can agree those should be discounted accordingly.

But it really doesn’t matter how much time it takes you to write copy. It matters whether the copy gets results.

That’s true for long-form sales pages, VSLs, and direct mail promos…and it’s true for emails, too.

If you can write GOOD emails that get opened and clicked through…and boost conversions of the sales page or VSL they’re sending traffic to…then you deserve to be paid handsomely for that.

And if you get to the point that you’re writing “control” emails for clients, then you should be able to ask for and get top dollar.

On the rare occasions I write emails for clients (that aren’t already part of a sales page promo or other bigger project I’m already doing), I’ve always charged anywhere from $750 to $1,000…per 1-2 page email.

And I’ve often gotten performance bonuses worth at least double the fees on top of that. If my email copy results in becoming their new control email and gets more people clicking through to their sales page or VSL and primed to buy (boosting conversions), smart clients know those seemingly high rates are an outright bargain.

It doesn’t matter that, in many cases, it takes me less than an hour to write one of these emails. It’s all about the value that I’m providing for my clients.

And that’s why you never want to charge “by the hour” for copywriting.

That’s a lesson I learned long ago…before I even became a freelancer…from the great Denny Hatch, one of the legends of direct marketing.

Denny is the founder of “Who’s Mailing What“, a great resource for copywriters if you want to stay on top of successful promos that are currently being used by some of the biggest mailers.

I remember hearing Denny on stage in Philadelphia when he hosted a copywriting conference back when I was working at Phillips Publishing.

He talked about how he had spent a few decades accumulating his knowledge and practicing his craft…to the point that a sales letter that used to take him 16 hours to write now only took him 6 or 8 hours.

So why should someone pay him for just 8 hours of time and pay someone else for 16 hours of their time? And that’s not even factoring in the time we as copywriters spend thinking about our projects while driving or walking the dog or whatever.

And, of course, it doesn’t account for the quality and results the copy generates. That’s why I’ve pretty much never charged for copy on an hourly basis, and neither should you.

Back to emails…I believe emails are such an important factor in the success of the online sales pages I write, I always write the emails that drive traffic to them myself. I may occasionally have some of my mentees write test emails once I’ve got the control, but I don’t want to leave anything to chance when they’re testing my copy.

And I can assure you, other top copywriters do the same thing. So yes, emails deserve more respect…lots of respect! As do the copywriters who write them.

(I sure hope Rodney is getting more respect up in heaven…)

(Next week I plan to share with you a brand-new program created by one of my long-time mentees who’s become known as one of the top email copywriting experts out there. He and a colleague have created a proven, easy-to-implement email copy “formula” that’s gotten huge results for companies in the health and fitness spaces.)

Every once in a while, I like to share some emails and subject lines with you that I think are working well, or even share some of my control emails. You can find some of these email breakdowns in past Copy Insiders issues on my blog.

(My blog only goes back to January 2019, so if you want to get all of 2018’s packed issues, you’ll want to get my Copy Insiders 2018 book here. Use CIHALF as your discount code to save 50%.)

So let’s take a look at the latest goodies that have landed in my email inbox…

What’s in Kim’s Mailbox?

Whenever I come across a promotional email in my inbox that makes me HAVE to open and read it, I like to save it in a special folder so I can back and reference it again.

This is now one of those times. Here’s a peek at the email subject lines (and note the sender names as well) that I decided were so good they deserved a space in my folder. They’re all ones I’ve gotten over the past few months…and several I’ve seen multiple times, so I know they’re controls.

That first one, “Natural ‘Drano’ for your arteries?” is an email I’ve seen again and again. It always jumps out at me in part because more than a few decades ago it was actual copy I saw used in health magalogs.

I even recall using this same copy phrase back when I was running the Healthy Directions business to promote Dr. Whitaker’s heart supplements.

It obviously is working because everyone knows that Drano unclogs pipes, so this is a great way of clearly making a claim that instantaneously conveys the desired benefit (and is compliant to boot!)

That second subject line is working because “Ive league docs” conveys instant credibility…without potentially landing the client in trouble by naming the actual institution (some of them have been known to complain about unauthorized use).

Note the sender name on that third subject line “Belly Pooch (Joe Barton)”. It’s another way of calling out the prospect and agitating about the problem, while still assuring them it’s from someone familiar (this went to people on Joe’s list).

There are several other good ones here. Note how using an unusual word or phrase like “Zombie cells” grabs attention…or the curiosity stirred up by the Pennsylvania farmer stumbling upon a treatment for cancer, with “just” to add newness and urgency.

There’s an “unbelievable” speed of result claim made believable by asking it in the form of a question in the “Arthritis Pain GONE in as Little as Two Minutes?” subject line.

And then one subject line that made me laugh: “Your Buy Button Won’t Click Itself…” from Michael Senoff, whose information products I’ve bought before and whose emails I often find brilliant and entertaining.

Now let’s take a deeper look at one of these emails…it’s the one with the subject line “QUIZ: Which 1 Out Of THESE 3 Liquors Should You Drink?

(Maybe it’s jumping out at me since I’m not drinking ANY alcohol the next 6 weeks having given it up for Lent…)

It’s short, simple, and to the point. The opening copy seamlessly and directly transitions straight from the question posed in the subject line to give the prospect what they clicked to find out.

The visual is effective and appealing with the question marks, deepening the mystery and curiosity.

Then there’s the hook: some (not just one, which I find surprising) contain a “compound for feeling younger, almost like age rewinding” which is a new way of saying the same old “reverse aging” or “turn back the clock”.

It continues on with the “quiz” format (all of the links take you to the same sales page–if you click the image above it will take you there).

But I want to point out the call to action “clincher” at the end of the email: “Click here to find out which liquor is better for your health — and the weird reason why.”

There’s a desired (albeit vague) benefit that generates curiosity to find out the answer…but what really makes it juicier is the idea that it’s something surprising: “the weird reason why”.

(By the way, they cover all the bases with this very long headline that’s on the VSL this link takes you to:)

Hidden Chemical In Certain Liquors Helps Strengthen Memory, Reduce Pain From Overworked Joints, Improve Sleep, And Even Enhance Sex

They’re hitting 3 of the biggest (and hottest) pain points their older market is experiencing (memory, arthritis pain, sleep)…plus throwing in “sex” which, I learned early on as a copywriter, is always a good “side benefit” to mention when promoting health info and supplements to the 60+ market.

Definitely take a look at the VSL (or read the transcript when the pop-up box comes up). In the meantime, let’s give our emails (and our email copywriters) more respect. Hope you got some great ideas and creative inspiration from today’s issue!

Yours for smarter marketing,


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