As you know, we’re always reading the latest books on productivity, marketing, leadership, and more so you know how to prioritize your reading list. But this month we wanted to give you some, let’s say, lighter reading.
This list of books includes works written by famous copywriters. (Well … copywriters who became famous from their books. There really aren’t “famous” copywriters in the sense that our field is extremely collaborative and the best ad concepts are often the result of multiple minds.) It’s no surprise that many copywriters love writing fiction, too. (If that’s you, you’re in good company. Just remember to keep drafts of your novel on a separate website from your online portfolio!)
But, as you know, copywriting is one of the only (if not the only) well-paid jobs for writers. So, like many of us, these writers had to write their novel in their off hours.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
A copywriter and creative director who worked in technology, medicine, and education, Bonnie Garmus wrote her debut novel Lessons in Chemistry
Her career, like many of the other novelists listed here, didn’t begin with writing fiction. Instead, she started her career as an editor for a scientific publisher. Fun fact: that’s where she met the scientist who fact-checked Lessons in Chemistry, which, though not a stuffy science manual, is packed with scientific facts.
She also briefly wrote computer manuals before, as you can guess, she got pretty bored with that. It may come as no surprise, then, that Garmus decided to set up her own copywriting business. As she’s been quoted saying, “if you work for an [advertising] agency you can’t ever turn down projects, and I never wanted to find myself writing about toilet paper.”
Language of Truths: Essays 2003-2020 by Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie has authored several acclaimed books, including Midnight’s Children, which won the 1981 Booker Prize. Many people know him because his work is controversial in some circles, leading to assassination attempts and death threats.
But what many people don’t know is that before Rushdie achieve fame with his literary writing, he was a copywriter at acclaimed advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather.
It was during his tenure here that he supposedly wrote Midnight’s Children. He’s also credited with coming up with the line “irresistibubble” to describe Nestlé’s Aero chocolate bars. He also spent some time at Ayer Barker working on the American Express account.
This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
After Fitzgerald served a brief stint in the Army during World War I (fortunately never deploying overseas), he moved to New York City. He began his copywriting career after he was unsuccessful at landing a newspaper job.
At the time, he worked for the Barron Collier advertising agency—and received over 120 rejections for his short stories.
(If you’re ever feeling down about your pitching, just think about this!) Fitzgerald eventually quit his advertising job to go all-in on his first novel, This Side of Paradise.
Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown
Helen Gurley Brown’s story feels a little bit like Peggy’s on Mad Men. Gurley got her start at Foote, Cone & Belding advertising agency as a secretary, but once the agency spotted her writing talent, she became a copywriter.
She is said to have been one of the highest paid copywriters in the 1960s.
After her advertising career, she went on to write the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times bestselling Sex and the Single Girl, an advice book that encouraged women’s financial independence, among other topics. She was also editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine from 1965 to 1997, where she evolved it from a literary magazine to one aimed at single career-women.
The Thomas Berryman Number by James Patterson
It may seem like James Patterson has spent his entire life churning out fiction, but his first job post college was in New York at J. Walter Thompson. As a junior copywriter at the advertising agency, Patterson wrote his first book The Thomas Berryman Number as a side hustle.
Yup, that’s right, fiction writing used to be a side hustle—for James Patterson! He spent 25 years (more than two decades!) of his career in advertising.
That first book? The one that launched it all? It was rejected by more than 30 publishers. When it was finally accepted, it won the Edgar aware for best first mystery. But he didn’t have a bestseller until age 40 and didn’t pursue writing full-time until a few years later.
These are just a handful of writers who have made their living from copywriting. Others you may have heard of? Kurt Vonnegut, Mary Higgins Clark, and Joseph Heller (who worked alongside Higgins Clark at Remington Rand).
But all of them prove one thing that bears repeating: persistence is the key to success in any industry. (And if you need some inspiration in the persistence department, we’ve got you covered with book recommendations. You can find them right here >>)
Your Turn! What other books are written by copywriters? Share your favorites in the comments!
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Dorothy L. Sayers! She worked as a copywriter at S.H. Benson’s advertising agency in Kingsway, London. Her detective mystery novel, Murder Must Advertise, draws on her experience as a copywriter.
The Filthy Rich Writer Team says
Thanks for the recommendation! Sounds interesting!