The Boron Letters


A collection of Gary Halbert's (a revered copywriter) letters to his son that impart wisdom on direct marketing and life lessons. Practical advice towards copywriting, or as Halbert puts it - "We don’t focus on writing better copy. We focus on creating better deals". ‍

The Boron Letters
Gary Halbert


Chapter 1

  • Improve and maintain health and physical fitness
  • Do "road work" (jogging, exercising, running, etc.) right after you get out of bed
“It cleans you out, it settles you down and it gives you a nice glow that will stay with you throughout the day. “It will also make you more clearheaded and improve the quality of your thinking”
  • "How You Feel Affects How You Think"
  • writers need a strict routine to give you the chance to be in the best possible mood for work

  • "Try Things At Least Twice"
  • Everyone wants to climb the mountain, but the big difference between those at the top and those still on the bottom is just showing up to give it one more shot.
  • People decide whether they like things based on their first experience.

Chapter 2

  • again, do an hour worth of "road work" each day in order to "order your day"
  • an hour of exercise, etc.
“nothing is impossible for a man who refuses to listen to reason"
  • many people are naysayers, there is no benefit to dealing with people who have nothing but negative things to say.
  • convince people through silently going about proving or accomplishing your goal.

Chapter 3

  • talks about maintaining a consistent daily routine, and asserting independence
"When most people tell others of any plan to make money, they are met with instant negativity"
"Once you set out to actually do something which may elevate your status, many people will tell you it can't be done, it isn't worth it, or remind you of all the pitfalls that they can think of."
"I don't care what you think of your friends or family, it is in most people's nature to stop you."
“Write down your goals and go over them every day, not just once a year.”
“I think it is because your peers translate your success into their failure for not becoming rich.Let’s face it, most people judge how well they have done in life by comparing themselves to their peers, and if one of their peers has become a multi-millionaire and could retire young and rich, then they will have to question their own choices.”
  • It's a self-defense mechanism
  • Getting Rich Makes People Around You Feel Sick
“Write down your goals and go over them every day, not just once a year.”

Chapter 4

"Defensive Behavior Invites Aggressive Action"
  • "I'm scared. I'm a pussy. I'm easy. I'm vulnerable".
  • Don't appear as a weak target
  • rely on your own strength instead of someone else's compassion
  • nothing is as satisfying as self-reliance
  • Halbert had a "rare and enviable ability to eradicate people from his life if they were not a positive influence"
  • If someone doesn't add to your enjoyment of life, cut them right out of life for good.
  • Cut out those who hold you back
“The first person to try and hold my dad back was his own father. On several occasions, my dad told me of how my grandfather told him he wouldn't be able to breakout of the average working Joe's existence.
“Once my dad stopped seeking his father's approval, he realized he was in control of his own destiny.”
“...[Halbert] had the ability and more importantly the WILL to eliminate or marginalize anyone in his life he felt was too negative.”
“ self-reliance is the real motive of great business men and not money.”

Chapter 5

  • Chapter deviates from self-help/health/life-guidance of prior chapters to direct marketing
  • Deduce what people want to buy by observing what they do buy
  • People will put down the purchase the feel they should make (i.e. the "right" answer) rather than the one they actually do make
  • same with National Enquirer, people love to say they hate it, but it is the largest selling newspaper in the world
  • People display their Bible, but few have actually read the whole thing
  • Find out what people actually buy. Learn "how it is"
“Money, in my opinion, especially big money, is most often a by-product of enthusiasm. ”
“Always look for the most enthusiastic person, not necessarily the most qualified.”

Chapter 6

  • Find starving markets, people who crave a certain product or service
  • How to measure hunger?

                - Call people in a telephone book (outdated)

                - Create mail promotions to people who live in high income areas

                - Find people who have a high enough income to maybe be interested in buying or investing whatever the thing it is that you're selling

                - Mail promotion to list of upper income people who are proven mail order buyers.

  • Gradually escalates how to find the perfect audience.
"Someone who is wealthy, is a mail order buyer, buys similar products by mail, are repeat buyers/have bought several times, and paid big money for what they bought"
  • Develop your own satisfied customer list (e-mail list)

Chapter 7

Three Guidelines to rely on when picking lists to test

  • Recency

            - More recent someone buys something, more receptive they will be to your offer

            - "Most important"

  • Frequency

            - More often a person buys an item, higher their desire for that type of service

  • Unit of sale

            - People put their money where their true desires are

            - $100 prospect for diet pills is hotter prospect than a person who has only paid $10

  • Sell People What They Want to Buy
  • Looks for ads you see over and over
  • Get paid as often as possible
“Clients, although they would never admit it, most often feel relieved with someone who takes a "don't you dare mess with my copy"
“My brother Kevin and I know far more about Gary Halbert-level copy than anyone else on Earth, but we don’t focus on writing better copy. We focus on creating better deals.”

Chapter 8

  • target specific audiences, e.g. people at emotional turning point in their lives ("having a baby, getting married, losing a loved one"
  • talks about a report for "Raising Your Child's IQ Before It Is Even Born"
“Most of the world's work is done by people who didn't feel much like getting out of bed.”
“All of us, including thee and me, have a slightly shrewd idea of ourselves. We often try to convince others and ourselves that we are something we are not, something we have an idea we "should" be
  • people saying they prefer plays over movies, but when pressed on what they watched in the last week or so, nobody's seen a play and instead more watched movies

Chapter 9

  • winning formula - create a letter and only customizes the last 1/3, makes the mail scalable
  • e.g. "How to Make Money" ⇒ target towards chiropractors, lawyers, doctors, etc.
  • More custom tailored a promotion, more successful it will be
  • "How to Buy Real Estate with No Money Down" vs "How to Buy L.A. Real Estate With No Money Down"
  • Customize your ads as much as possible towards your target audience

             -" How to buy real estate with no money down" =>

             - "How to buy LA real estate with no money down"

            - How Cardiologists in LA can buy real estate with no money down"

  • It costs nothing extra now to customize letters, before it did (book advocates measures, but was published in 1984 before any Internet was available)

Chapter 10

  • When in a rut or stuck, best way to get "unclogged" is to just keep moving. Movement is key.
  • Read Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins

             - Read 3 times

  • Read The Robert Collier Letter Book by Robert Collier

             - Read 2 times

  • Read 2001 Headlines
  • Read "SuperBiz" by Ben Suarez
  • Create a "swipe file" of good ads and direct mail pieces and take notes
  • Emulating a direct marketing promotion

             - Find an ad you want to try to work

             - Pretend you have a list of people who bought a book on how to make money in real estate. Get 3 or 4 books in investing in real estate, read, and take notes

             - Get as many DM pieces and ads on real estate investing you can find, read and take notes

             - Review notes from Collier and Hopkins' books and read headlines again. Presumably, you'll have a "central selling idea" ("Did you know there's a way for cardiologists to buy LA real estate without any down payments?")

             - Create the product

             - Extract good ideas from the source material on the topic (e.g. real-estate, overlay them with your own ideas, arrange in some logical form, and start writing)

Chapter 11

  • people divide their mail into two piles - "A-pile" and "B-pile"
  • A-pile contains letters that appear to be personal
  • B-pile contains envelopes with a commercial message
  • create messages that look personal to get into the "A-pile" (work/personal email addresses)
  • People have a tendency to open things that seem intriguing or personal, or might be from someone they know
  • Grab attention to ensure message gets read
  • Uses unorthodox example of mailing people part of a plastic bag with dirt so that people would think "I better read this and find out what it's about."
"It's better to be in the spam box of a primary email address than to be in the primary box of a spam email address"

Chapter 12

  • putting dates, where you are, what you are doing in messages/correspondences makes the letter more personal
“For example, right now I am sitting cross-legged on my back here in room 7 of dorm 6 in the Boron Federal Prison Camp. I have just finished running the hill five times (4 miles), and I did it in 57 minutes and 5 seconds.”
“this type of personal, specific info bonds the reader and writer closer together"
  • makes the message seem like a more important communication
  • uses Dear {name} instead of Dear Reader for salutations
“Well, here I am once again starting to write without knowing where I am going. All I know is that when I keep moving and writing and flowing, generally something decent emerges. We'll see.”
  • common theme throughout - just keeps writing until something coalesces into something
“One key question every business owner should ask is “how can I make it so ordering is even easier. Many great burger stands went out of business when the competition across the street added a drive thru.”

Chapter 13

  • reiterates - move in some sort of positive direction when in a rut
  • Induces guilt in a sales pitch to get a response. Lesson - implore people to reply.
“...and so, Mr. Jones, as you can see, what I am offering you is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own a piece of a legalized Nevada whorehouse. I hope you can take advantage of this offer. But, if you can't, would you please drop me a note and tell you can't participate at this time. That way I'll feel free to make this exciting offer to someone else. I've enclosed a self-addressed envelope and I have even put a stamp on it because (either way) it is important that I hear from you right away. Please, please — reply today!"
  • when you ask someone to tell you why they won't order/ that they won't agree, they get a pen/pencil/start writing email and ironically, may actually get in on the deal when responding.

Chapter 14

  • don't go for "cheap shot" headlines
  • e.g. "A submarine that flies" → "No we don't have that, but what we do have are pink pills that...."
  • Sends a plastic baggie to the top of a letter about selling real estate, but contextualizes it as "What is inside that baggie is a very tiny amount of what is the most valuable thing on earth. I'm talking about real estate and, in this case, Hawaiian Real Estate!"
  • Keep a power word list - words that can help bond with an audience (e.g. "keen" vs "epic", "cool", "problem" v "crisis". Divide it into positive and negative - and look at it before you start your copy
  • Write from start to finish in one setting (writing on different days can create a disjointed piece and integrate conflicting moods). When done, look for things you can enhance/add to your word list.
  • Use "picture words" - phrases and terms that paint a picture (like "cherry red").
“Describe what it looks like when happy customers receive the benefit of your product.”
  • "Yuck factor"
  • Avoid talking about yourself, overly busy webpages, unexpected autoplay videos
  • Disguise pitch until you want the prospect to know you are selling something
  • Sometimes changing the text of "BUY" to "NEXT", their decision-making will change. The length of the copy will affect the decision to read rather than the position of something being sold to you.
“If you are online, add a few videos. They probably won’t watch, but it makes the reader feel like they can just pick and choose what they are interested in reading.”
“The proper time to let people know you are pitching is after you have started seriously fueling their desire.”

Chapter 15

  • get a swipe file ready that contains everything relevant to your promotion
  • can include copies of DM pieces other people have used to sell products or services related to what you want to sell
  • copies of good ads even if they're not related to your niche
  • copy of books/reports on your niche
“Now here are a few things you should always include.
A complete description of your product including how many pages, how many words, how many photos, who wrote it, facts about the author (his age, background, success stories, etc.).
You should also take notes on what this product will do for you.

Will it make you wealthy?
How will more money help your customer?
Will he be able to buy a better car?
Take more vacations?
Afford a better home?

If so, put it down.”
  • after writing, let the project go for a day or two and come back to it. After revisiting, you're bound to find some other great idea ("aha experience")


  • Attention
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

“So, to make it clearer your letter should:

  1. First, get his attention
  2. Second, get him interested
  3. Third, make him desire what you are selling
  4. Compel him to take whatever action is needed to get whatever it is you are selling.”
“Brainstorms come at the times when your brain is well nourished and the most relaxed, which means the ideas come when you least expect them.”
“ ALL great copywriters write their nugget notes, bullets, and headlines by hand. You will lose ideas trying to remember how to record a note on your phone”
  • (I disagree and my iPhone notes app + notion ( is my go-to for writing down ideas.
  • "nugget notes" - take notes in the form of little nuggets of information on a piece of paper (
“Sometimes, my nugget notes consist of just one word. Sometimes they consist of meaningless phrases. Many times my notes make sense but many times they don’t. No matter. I never worry about it. I just keep writing. I write what occurs to me as I read the list cards, the jackets of books, the ads, the DM pieces, and all the rest of the material I have assembled.”
  • rank everything in terms of what the buyer cares about.
“Remember, the copy is only about you in so much as it proves how you can help the prospect solve their problems.”

Chapter 16

Elaborates on AIDA

1. Attention

“Attention comes first. Naturally, we must get our readers attention before he can become interested in and desirous of our offer. Getting attention is CRUCIAL. If you don’t get it, your letter or advertisement will never be read. That’s why I like to attach things to the top of my DM letters. I have attached coins, dollar bills, 2-dollar bills, Japanese “pennies”, Mexican pesos etc. and there gimmicks has always gotten a lot of attention.”
  • attention needs to tie in naturally with your letter

2. Interest

“How do we do this? Well, let’s start by feeding him interesting facts. Like how much money there is to be made by investing in Maui real estate. By telling how much sand (cubic tons) is on the beach where we got the sand in that baggie. By telling how this is one of the best beach front investment opportunities in Maui. By telling how many pretty girls there are around. By telling the specific kinds of fish you can catch right off the beach. Etc.”

3. Desire

“What we do to create desire is we describe the benefits our prospect gets if he buys our product or service.

Now, in the case of an investment-orientated offer, what we have to offer is the prospect of making money. At least this is our main attraction.

So, what's let's do is let’s help him to picture in his mind the benefits of having more money. Don’t think it’s not necessary. Remember, you must always do even the obvious. Here then, are some benefits of having more money:

New car - impress your friends and family, ride in comfort and luxury

Nice house - comfort, luxury, and status

Peace of mind - no worries about bills or financial emergencies

Vacations - money lets you travel the world, go where you want when you want”

Attract the opposite sex - money, as any fool knows, makes you much more attractive to the opposite sex - it gives you more opportunities to meet them in nice places also

Leisure time - money buys time: perhaps the best reason of all for having fun goes”

4. Action

  • sending an offer
“Would you like to get in on this great investment opportunity? Would you like to be one of the privileged few who actually own a piece of the finest beach in Maui? If so, it’s easy to order. All you have to do is fill out the order coupon and send it to me with your payment, etc., etc.”
“And, above all, tell him to do all this RIGHT NOW! TODAY!”
  • tell what get if hurries, what lose if delays
  • Get a reader interested by telling their story through your story with the problem your solution solves
  • describe benefits emotionally
  • “you will be able to choose what to do with your day” ⇒ “you will have the freedom to choose what to do with your day.”

Chapter 17

  • Copy the best ad/DM pieces by hand. It "internally imprints on your mind and body, the process of good writing
“Not everyone who followed this writing exercise became a good copywriter but everyone who did become great wrote out the winners.
This lesson should also be applied to online copy as well as sales scripts, ”
  • Use simple common everyday words
  • Use "get" instead of "procure"
  • Write short sentences and short paragraphs.
  • Use "transition" words and phrases to make your writing flow smoothly.

              - "Well, as a matter of fact"

              - "Now, naturally"

              - "And, of course"

              - "Onward."

  • "Ask questions once in a while and then answer them yourself"
  • "How do we get the benefits? The answer is simple"
  • Great writers make things perfectly clear.
  • The best writing goes unnoticed. Don't write for applause.
  • Use "word pictures"

            - “You will have the freedom to choose what to do with your day.”

  • Break up sentences into shorter versions. If you're writing for online, use one to two line paragraphs.
  • parentheses helps provide "eye relief" and clarify text

Chapter 18

  • people will look at blocks of text and not read because it's so long ("long paragraphs, narrow side margins, small type, little white space"). break it apart.
  • use wide margins, certain amount of white space, double-spacing between paragraphs, short words, short sentences, inviting layout (in my own words, the "eye test")
“The Layout Of Your Advertisement Should Catch The Attention Of Your Reader... But... Not In A Way That CausesHim To "Notice" The Layout!”
  • ads should look like a rave review written by a reporter in an editorial
  • tells story of selling a report about custom family name research reports (gave history of family name, family crest). Wrote a letter called "Coat of Arms Letter", (available online).
  • Then offered people a catalog of 70 items to order personalized products that would show their family crest. This sales letter bombed.
  • Then wrote another letter around the 3 best selling items in the catalog. Bombed again.
  • Then tried again with the best selling of the three items, with a very personal sales letter.

“Dear Mr. Noble,

I thought you might like to see what the Noble coat-of-arms looks like in full color so I am sending you the enclosed snapshot.”

  • Made 40 million dollars.
  • Offer first-time buyers three price points
  • “The Cheapo Option Which Has What You Need
  • The Deluxe or Mid-Priced Option With Some Bells and Whistles
  • The Supreme Package With Prestige Service”
  • then upsell after putting in payment info
  • "others who bought this also enjoyed..."

Chapter 19

“Listen to this: When a person goes for a job interview, the interviewer decides whether or not to hire that person in the first 40-seconds.
And this: In a jury trial, the members of the jury make up their minds as to whether the accused is guilty or innocent during the first half hour or so (during the opening argument), and they spend all the rest of the time the trial takes in finding ways to justify the decision they have already made.”
  • bit ridiculous, but the point is clear
  • You either hook a reader or lose them when they look at your ad or DM piece. not when they read, but when they first read
  • Most of the time, a person will never alter his original impression, will just "edit" all new info and "process" it to validate their original opinion
  • Ad or DM piece should "give your prospect life"
  • When a poker player gets card they want, their eyes widen because they like what they have. conversely, eyes shrink when cards not favorable
  • most of our decisions are made in the first "fraction of a second" we see something new. then we spend the rest of our decision-making searching for justification on a decision we have already made
  • "Sale" or "no sale" decision made the instant a prospect sees an ad and reads a headline
  • Women like to see pictures of women in ads, men like to see men
  • Use serif font and emphasize that every photo, paper used is crisp
  • For underlining, use red

Chapter 20

  • don't make decisions on ego
  • HALT
  • don't make decision when Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired
“What should you do? What I did. Write, run, walk, talk, jog, etc."
“What matters is that I am going through the "process" of writing it. And it is the process or physical act of the writing and the road work that does the therapy”
“My father taught me to wait 72 hours after being emotional to make any important decisions.”
"It is hard to stay emotional for 3 days and if you still want to sue someone, leave your wife or quit your job start the process.”

Chapter 21

  • Propositions - the "deal" you are offering.
  • If you buy one item, you might get another free
  • If you buy right away, you'll get a big discount
  • If you buy more than one, you'll get a discount
  • Props are the "reason why" ⇒ an explanation as to why you are offering a good deal

            - "i'm going out of business"

            - "im having a fire sale"

           - "i owe taxes and need to pay them off fast"

  • again, conjure up "word picture" ⇒ "dramatically increase sales volume" vs. "make yourself a bushel of money"
  • Your messages should convey how your customers are unique and valuable to you

            - “A mutual friend of ours, Tom Smith, said I should write you because, he says, you are the best judge of value of a book like this that he knows.”

             - “Did you know there are only 117 So & So families in the entire U.S.?

             - Yes, it's true. And, because you are one of them, blah, blah, etc., etc.”

Chapter 22

  • Always read your copy out loud
“What happens when you read your copy out loud is that you will verbally stumble over all the places that are not smooth. Then, of course, what you do, is rewrite the rough spots and read the copy out loud again”
“You see, advertising writing needs to be the best writing of all. It needs to flow from start to finish without a bump or a bubble.”

Emphasizes again:

"“Get yourself a collection of good ads and DM pieces, read them aloud, and copy them in your own handwriting.”
  • Identify a target audience, and then start thinking about a product to sell to that list
  • Halbert Titles

            - "How To Raise Your Child's I.Q. Before It Is Even Born"

            - "How To Fix Your Car To Get 50% More Miles Per Gallon"

            - "How To Collect Social Security At Any Age"

  • Steps for direct mail success:

            - Find a hot market (mailing list)

            - Find or create a product (preferably paper and ink) to sell to that market.

            - Create a direct mail promotion that describes the product (or service) and the benefits of owning the same.

            - Make a test mailing (1,000 to 5,000 pieces)

            - Analyze results

            - If results are good, mail 20,000 to 100,000 more letters

If results are still good, start rolling out and taking care of business”

You must always find the market first, and then focus on a product.
“ The mistake is finding or developing a product FIRST and then looking for a market to sell it to.”
“Products are a dime a dozen. They are important, but much less crucial to success than finding a hot market. I'll tell you this: A guy with a new product cannot always find a hot market for that product but a guy who has uncovered a HOT MARKET can always find a product to fill the needs of that market”

Chapter 23

“It doesn't matter how much you learn if you don't use what you learn.”
“[People who stay up to date in their fields] Have idea files that contain newspaper articles, notes of unusual info, hot new ideas, good layouts, unusual propositions, and so forth. They also know who the leaders are in their respective fields and they communicate with these people on a regular basis.”
  • Believability is one of the most important ingredients to a good offer
  • “ Instead of 'most car owners' write "77.6% of all car owners”
  • “ Instead of 'you can lose lots of weight" write "and the average reported weight loss over a 31-day period was 37.5 pounds for men and 26.3 pounds for women'”
  • If you can't tell the time to within 7 minutes, go outside and walk or do something physical.
  • Use video testimonials as proof of believable marketing.
  • Put the "main thing" you want people to hear, in a quote directly under a video in the description. That way, readers don't have to look at the video to get the main point. The video being there adds more believability than static testimonials.

Chapter 24

  • Achieve impact - people see a lot of ads/commercial messages in a day (1500+)
  • Achieve impact by attaching things to your letters
  • "Dollar Bill" Letter
“This was a first class letter that was designed to raise funds for a children's hospital. When the recipient opened the envelope, he discovered a... dollar bill attached to it.

The copy explained that the writer wanted to donate a thousand dollars to a certain children's hospital, but that he realized that a thousand dollars wouldn't go very far.

So, what he (the writer) had decided to do was divide his $1,000.00 contribution into 1,000 - one dollar bills and then mail these bills to 1,000 different people.

Now, he went on to say, what he hoped is that everybody who received one of these dollar bills would decide not to keep it and, instead, send it straight to the hospital with one or more dollars of their own.”
  • can do the same with local currency in other parts of the world

“Dear Mr. Everett,

As you can see, I have attached a crisp Iraqi Dinar to the top of this letter."

“Now I like this better using the Dinar better than the dollar bill for several reasons:

- The reader can't spend it so it can sit around reminding them

- It's cheaper than a $1

- It is more memorable.”

“The ability to remind them of you previous message is priceless because the prospects feel they got to know you [better]"
  • whatever you attach to the top of your letters should tie in with the rest of the letter and what you are selling
  • e.g. dont put an ad that's designed like a traffic ticket and put it on people's cars, they'll remember you with distaste
  • don't use cheap tricks
  • Evolution of copywriter

            - study copy, then struggle to land jobs

            - after failures, write a winning ad

            - all of sudden become the "new hot shot"

            - not wanting to deal w/ hassle of finding new clients, they stick with one or two clients

            - then either ads fail to produce profits, or client refuses to keep handing over money for what they consider to be a few hours of work done a long time ago

“The best copywriters love to write and keep taking clients, but to get them, you need something profitable, easy, and very interesting to snag them away from other opportunities.”

Chapter 25

“Namely: I pay attention to myself and when I am off, I drop out of sight and do what is necessary to strengthen myself.”
“It is important here, it is important out there, and it is especially important in business dealings. People can smell it when you are weak. When you are vulnerable. They can smell success too.”
“nobody wants to help or be with the sulking kid.”
“My relationship with my father and mother has always been really strong, but one thing I learned from both of them is not to waste time with people who are simply dead weight....time is too precious to waste on people who undermine your confidence, hold petty grievances and don't add to your enjoyment of life.”
“You can learn to respect yourself by creating your own moral code and standing by it.”