The Secret Copywriting Code of Deadeye Dick…

Kurt Vonnegut was a literary giant in the late 20th century. He published 14 best-selling novels — including Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions and Dead-Eye Dick — along with a ton of short stories and essays.

So what’s he got to do with copywriting?

He also wrote eight timeless tips for writing a great short story.

And those tips are especially true for copywriters.

So let’s take a look at Kurt Vonnegut’s eight timeless tips and how they can make your copy a best-seller…

Rule #1: “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.”

Reading is a transaction.

A reader only gives you their attention in exchange for something.

And people will not let you waste their time.

That means 1) Your copy has to deliver some sort of value. Ahas! Solutions! Surprises! New insights…

And 2) It better be interesting. Engrossing. Fascinating, if possible.

Tease a big idea your reader never thought of before. Then knock them for a loop when you reveal the payoff.

A promise of value has to be made… and delivered.

Anything else gets you deleted.

Rule #2: “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.”

Every story needs a hero. Someone the reader can identify with and cheer for.

So does your copy.

And there’s only one hero that matters in your prospect’s mind.


The hero of your sales copy has to be your prospect.

They have to see themselves overcoming the challenges they’re dealing with and enjoying the spoils of victory. (The money, the great health, the perfect relationship…)

You, your product and your offer are all important “supporting characters.” Like Obi-Wan Kenobi, they can give your reader the tools and training they need to overcome their biggest challenges.

But in the end, your prospect has to be the big winner.

So make sure your copy focuses on your reader seeing themselves as the hero.

Rule #3: “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

“Wants” drive a story’s plot.

They also drive sales.

In sales copy, your prospect has to want something — I mean really want something — before they’ll dig out their credit card.

Your job is to fire up those wants.

And don’t confuse “wants” with “needs.”

Needs are for commodities. You need a new toothbrush or a new pair of underwear.

Nobody needs a Lamborghini or a Rolex or a Louis Vuitton chainsaw (Yeah, it’s a thing).

Those are wants.

So what’s the key to stirring up wants instead of just appealing to needs?

Wants are emotional.

Wants fill a need that goes way beyond anything physical.

Dig for the emotional reasons your prospect will want what you offer.

And tap into them…

Rule #4: “Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.”

This rule is simple. It means no fluff. No flowery descriptions. No rambling monologues.

Keep the story moving.

In copy, it means every sentence must move the sale forward.

Every line’s job is to get the reader to read the next line.

Your copy needs to be as tight as possible.

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings,” as Stephen King once said.

Edit mercilessly.

Start with the “Rule of Thumb” exercise.

Put your thumb over your first paragraph and start reading at the second. If things still make sense, move your thumb down to the next paragraph and start at the third.

Keep going until all the “warmup” copy you wrote is gone.

Your copy needs to drop your reader in the express lane of your message. So they get to the sale without any distractions.

Now… I’m not saying short copy is better than long. Your message needs to be as long as it needs to be to make the sale.

Just don’t take your reader on a guided tour of the local botanical gardens when they need to get to the emergency room.

Rule #5: “Start as close to the end as possible.”

Copywriting legend Robert Collier said your marketing has to enter the conversation going on in your prospect’s head.

That means you need to start where they are now.

Your prospect doesn’t care about how you discovered your solution. They don’t care whether you know the 27 reasons they got to where they’re at. So don’t spend time explaining that. (These explanations can come later.)

They only care that you know where they are.

And that you have a means to get them where they want to be.

Starting where your prospect is and not before is one of the most effective ways to earn your reader’s attention.

Rule #6: “Be a sadist…

“…No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

When bad things happen to good people in a story, we naturally cheer for the hero. And the badder the things, the more we pull for them to win.

In copy, the bad things need to happen to your reader. (See Rule No. 2.) So she can triumph over the challenges and pain that inflict her life.

Fear and pain are great motivators.

And the more painful the problem your prospect is dealing with, the more desperate they’ll be to solve it.

So go ahead and be a sadist when describing the pain their problem is causing them.

Even if they’re not in actual pain at the moment. (Neurological studies have proven that things that happen in a person’s mind create the same physical effects as things that happen in real life.)

Don’t hold back on agitating their problems and frustrations in your copy.

Ratchet up what they’re struggling with now. Then show them what’ll be waiting for them if the problem gets worse. Make it real.

Just one word of warning…

Don’t overdo it. A few paragraphs of well-written pain are enough to get their motors running.

Rule #7: “Write to please just one person…

“…If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

You spent all that time creating that perfect avatar…

And then you throw it out the window by writing copy like you’re preaching to a crowd.

Your copy needs to be personal. Like you’re speaking to a single individual.

You need to address that person. Their concerns, worries, doubts and fears.

Their wants and needs.

Not them and all their friends.

When you sit down to write, pretend you’re talking to someone sitting next to you at the bar. Or to your grandma at her dining room table.

If you read it out loud, your copy should sound like a conversation between two people. (And don’t worry about the grammar.)

If there’s one person out there struggling with a problem you solve, there are thousands (maybe millions). But your copy should always sound like you’re speaking to each one individually.

Rule #8: “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible…

“…To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.”

Never be coy or clever with your reader.

Don’t assume they’ll understand the point you’re trying to make.

And never think for a second they’ll take an action you only hinted at.

You have to be direct. Give them all the information about your product or service they need to make a buying decision.

So by the time they get to the last few pages of your copy, they should see a clear path to your purchase. Being sophisticated, witty or clever never sold anything.


There’s an important caveat built into this rule.

It’s the phrase “as soon as possible.”

You must give your prospect all the information they’ll need to make a buying decision. But you have to consider how familiar your prospect is with you and your product first.

Gene Schwartz calls it your prospect’s “level of awareness.”

If your prospect has never heard of you before or they don’t know a solution to their problems exists, you can’t just lead with a ton of information about your offer.

Depending on your prospect’s level of awareness, your copy has to guide them to your offer.

Then deliver the goods…

Keep these eight tips from one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century in mind when you’re writing your next piece of copy. And see how what you produce is transformed.

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Chuck is a copywriter, editor and die-hard Cubs fan. His copy has generated millions of dollars in sales for clients includingThe Sovereign Society, Rich Schefren, Todd Brown, Pete Williams, Newsmax, Profits Run and more. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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