With two kids in diapers at home, it’s hard to sit down and read fiction. Non-fiction can be justified; after all, you’re learning something useful.
But reading… for entertainment? Are you crazy? I’ve got diapers to change…
A few months ago, I was blessed enough to stumble upon a novel which is both highly educational – and watch out – wildly entertaining.
Oh, here’s the kicker: It’s about direct response copywriting. As well as how to steal an airplane, the mysteries of the universe and how to win comps in Vegas.
The novel: God Doesn’t Shoot Craps by Richard Armstrong. Richard is a top direct mail copywriter, having written packages for Rodale Press, National Review, The Limbaugh Letter, Phillips Publishing, and many others. So when it comes to copywriting, he’s the real deal.
I recently had a chance to interview Richard about his novel.
And here it is….
RYAN: You’re well known as a top direct-mail copywriter. What inspired you to try your hand at writing fiction?
RICHARD: I really don’t know! I’d never tried writing fiction before. No novels. No short stories. No screenplays. In retrospect, I think it was the power of the story itself that compelled me to write it. Once the idea took shape in my mind, it had to come out. I called the direct-mail client I was working for at the time, told them my grandmother had died or something (she’d been dead for years), sat down at my keyboard, and wrote the whole enchilada in about 3 weeks.
RYAN: What is the origin of the story of “God Doesn’t Shoot Craps?” Was there a single genesis of the idea?
RICHARD: My old friend and colleague, Bob Bly, is in the habit of sending magazine and newspaper clippings to his friends and clients if he knows the topic is of interest to them. Both my wife and I have received dozens of these clippings from Bob over the years, always marked “FYI-BLY.”
One day, Bob sent me an article clipped from a scientific journal about a new mathematical theory called “Parrondo’s Paradox.” The theory states that, under certain circumstances, two losing gambling games can be combined in such a way that they yield a winning outcome. I thought to myself, “Wow, this might make a terrific craps system!” Then I thought, wait, it might make an even better novel.
RYAN: So how much of this novel is “based on a true story.” Do you play craps? Are you a pilot? Attend a church? Visit Vegas often?
RICHARD: All of the above. Avid craps player. Student pilot. Regular church-goer (well, not as regular as I should be). And I used to visit Vegas all the time until it became so crowded that I couldn’t get a cab or a dinner reservation. But I still go to Atlantic City quite often. Atlantic City has an even more colorful past than Las Vegas does, as people are finally beginning to realize thanks to the new television show, “Boardwalk Empire.”
RYAN: Telling a great story is important in direct mail. Do you have any suggestions to help copywriters with their storytelling?
RICHARD: I’ve always been a big believer in using first-person narrative leads in direct-mail copy. For a while, the technique was falling out of favor and sometimes it seemed like there were only a few of us still doing it. (Check out Josh Mannheimer’s work if you get a chance; he’s a wiz at it.) But recently, I’ve noticed more and more copywriters trying it.
My advice to fellow copywriters would be to write your copy in the first person whenever possible. Try the product yourself and tell the reader a story about your own experience with it. That’s the easiest way to do it and probably the most effective.
RYAN: What’s next for “God Doesn’t Shoot Craps?” Any interest from Hollywood on optioning it for a movie?
RICHARD: Already done! It was optioned by the producers of the musical comedy “Xanadu,” which was a big hit on Broadway a few years ago. Of course the chances of it actually making it to the silver screen are rather remote. But the producers do send me a check every 18 months. Believe it or not, I’ve now made more money from “Hollywood” than I have from the book itself!
RYAN: What’s next with Richard Armstrong? Are you still writing copy? Writing fiction?
RICHARD: Still writing copy every day. I wrote another novel, too, but I’m having a hard time finding a publisher for it. It’s about a young actor who isn’t having much success until he gets involved with a diabolical religious cult. Suddenly he starts to have a lot of success … and a lot of problems. I think it’s great, but so far the publishing industry has been somewhat less impressed.
RYAN: Where can people go to learn more about “God Doesn’t Shoot Craps” or about your copywriting?
RICHARD: If you’re interested in buying God Doesn’t Shoot Craps, you can get it on Amazon. But first go to the website www.goddoesntshootcraps.com and find out how to get all sorts of free gifts for copywriters.
If you’re interested in my peculiar career as a copywriter, go to www.freesamplebook.com and download the free booklet, “My First 40 Years in Junk Mail!” It’s all about my trials and tribs trying to get started in this business, making a name for myself, and how I gradually learned to write decent copy. Plus I’ve sprinkled a few of my direct-mail samples in there, too.
RYAN: Thank you Richard! And do visit the websites Richard mentioned. You’ll thank me later.