Episode #176 Harlan Kilstein On Becoming An Overnight Copywriting Sensation
Harlan Kilstein was in education and switched to entrepreneurship with a hypnosis clinic.
Which is where he first saw direct-response in action.
He ran the ads given to him by the franchise…
and the phones rang.
When the ads from the parent company stopped coming and the promises dried up…
Harlan’s brother would send him Rich Shefren’s ads from New York.
It was Rich who told Harlan to study Jay Abraham.
When Rich gave Harlan a free ticket to Dan Kennedy’s last copywriting seminar…
he had a blast and loved what Dan was teaching.
It was the first time he saw and heard John Carlton.
Returning home to his clinic, he started to write his own ads and again, the phones rang off the hook.
Some of the ads people saved and were still calling five years after the clinic closed.
What happened next is the stuff of copywriting legend.
In his first year, churning out two or three projects a week he made over $300, 000.
He more than doubled it his second year.
Writing for marketing celebrities and legendary launches became his reality.
I pursued Harlan to come on the podcast for a long time to tell his story for one main reason.
So you can discover how to walk a similar path.
In this episode, you’ll discover:
- The number one thing copywriters don’t do now. Harlan says throw out the hand-copying and do this instead.
- How commonalities in great copy only reveal themselves when you do this. (Number two thing copywriters neglect!).
- Discover Harlan’s top secret for swiping winning salesletters.
- What did Harlan pay good money for that nobody seems to be doing these days either. (How he’s switched what he looks for as of late).
- The one step all the best copywriters take. If you don’t…it spells doom.
Intro and outro backing music: Forever More by CREO
David Allan: Hey, everybody We’re back with another edition of the podcast. I’m David Allan and we’re here with a very interesting guest I’ve wanted to get on the show for a long time. Someone whose programs I’ve taken personally some of his DVD programs and so forth I have bought. He is a fascinating copywriting story and I just want to welcome Harlan Kilstein to the show.
Harlan Kilstein: Hey thanks for welcoming me. Thanks for chasing me down. We won’t talk about how many years it took…
David Allan: It’s taken a couple of years for sure but here we are.
And I think you’re Of particular interest to myself personally and probably our audience which is comprised of largely freelance copywriters and people looking to get into that as a as a career vocation because you sort of had a very meteoric rise in your copywriting career and where it’s taken you since then and so maybe take us back Harlan to the very beginning like how you got what you were doing and then how you got involved in this wacky marketing world.
Harlan Kilstein: I’m sorry did you say mediocre rise or meteoric
David Allan: meteoric meteoric.
Harlan Kilstein: Just checking. Gosh I was the last person that I would have thought what a copywriter was to me. I probably would have been one of those idiots who thought that a copywriter writer was someone who copyrighted something that they didn’t get my share of inquiries of people going. Can you copy right. My new book and I explained to them that that’s not what I do. And they listened to the whole thing and they say OK well can you do it anyway.
So I was an education and left education to open up a hypnosis business.
It was hypnosis weight loss clinic. OK. And the hypnosis weight loss clinic they gave us full page ads on page ads whatever. And this was my first exposure to the rich response advertising. And it was really really interesting. We would have these ads put them in the paper and then shortly after these ads would do would appear the phone would start to ring and people would come in consultation we would sell them and money. And it worked really good. Except what happened was at the office which had
promised to give us tons and tons of new ads. All of a sudden there are tons and tons of new ads started to fade and we weren’t getting them. And just what happened that one of the people was involved in this franchise was rich Schaeffer. He had the New York office. And he was doing his own events. So my brother lived in New York would steal riches and send them down to me. I would copy them and my phone would ring. I’m like hey that was a good deal. And then I met Rich at one of the
conferences and everybody else was going around going OK I know this hypnotic induction. I know this hypnotic induction and I want on the site talking to retch about OK how can you really make money in this thing. And we became friends and rich say good. You got to study this guy’s advice. Jane perhaps. OK. So I started collecting Jane Abrahams stuff and then he said oh I got tickets to see Dan Kennedy
at his last copy writing boot camp. I have a free pass. Want to go. OK cerate price I’ll go. And. And there was this room of people who all of them knew who game Kennedy was but I didn’t. And I just loved what he was teaching and they had some really big speakers there who I had never heard of but everybody else did. And there were lots of assignments to come up with headlines. And I remember Jeff Paul taught the session and everybody broke up into groups to do
headlines and everybody else was struggling and they had cards they were looking at and their headline sounded awful and I was used to rattling headlines off the top of my head like there was no tomorrow. People were looking at me go how long were you trying to copy writing and I said I don’t really know what that is. I was just having a grand old time I had funny headlines serious headlines and none of the people that day was John called and called and spoke and he pitched and I was like did he just say fifteen hundred dollars for a program.
I was like OK I like the guy but fifteen hundred dollars for a program. A month later Gary Albert held a seminar in Phoenix and you could bring friends if you want it. So I went I bought it and brought chaffering and another friend and went down there and Colton spoke and he spoke the first day. First halberds spoke and then called unspoken spoken I really like to call it and I went up to the hall and I said you know I saw you in Kennedy and I didn’t buy it so today you know it’s really good but I’m very conscious. He looked at me and went
just do it. So I did it. I came aboard. He had a coaching program and it was email coaching and you could get as much coding coaching as you want as long as you did the work. And John likes to say today that I broke his coaching program because you know I would write some copy and John would write back and make some adjustments like two hours later I had redone the copy and sent it to him and he’d be like what. You know what’s with this guy. And he would give me more critiques and whatever and he
was trying to get rid of me so he later said that he was actually trying to make me cry. And I just kept coming back for more. And finally he shut down the coaching program because there was this idea of using it that was clever. But we became really friendly. And as I went along the way I would send him stuff and he would go oh man if I keep coaching you in the golf market my clients are going to get pissed at me. This is good. And then I would do sales letters and say hey look if I get a copy of this program put it where it is you’re selling.
You know we became friends and became part of his inner circle. I took some of the lessons that I was getting from Kennedy and Kalter and others a long way and I started writing my own rants and the phone rang off the hook. These ads would be successful and they were the phone would be ringing in the middle of the night. In a word often for people to go like they had to call. And we I learned to put codes in my head so you can track which. And then people would call like five years after the
office closing opening the carry around these ads calling in and saying hey uncle for department whatever. And we would start laughing is like you know they can carry the data around for that long because they couldn’t forget about it and they wanted whatever it was. So that’s how I got started in copy and then eventually left the hypnosis business and went into writing full time and came out like a house on fire. The name of my site which is being rebuilt right now is over and I need copy to come over and I didn’t copy that and
literally I would do copy overnight on dead lights. Wow. And I got a reputation and people started to hire me. Jay Abraham hired me. I started getting the reputation of the guy who got results. And through Jay Abraham I did a coaching program and a letter for him Stephen Pearson and rich Shafran. That was like the largest women are in history at the time. Then I did a coaching letter for them and they were making millions off that
I did a sales that are for rich Shafran for his Internet Marketing manifesto basically wrote the manifesto. And he sold it out in just a few hours and then sold out like a program with it or coaching in a few more hours. It was just insane. And I went on to write for people like Harvey Pekar and put his book Secrets of Millionaire Mind on the bestseller list. People like Wayne Dyer or Sonia show can’t buy now. I had just written for
hundreds and hundreds of people bring the umpteen times for mime Valley it’s just on and on and on. Along the way I started turning things into my own products making bundles and bundles money and taking all of the techniques that I learned and hypnosis and started applying them to copy his work. So that’s how I got to where I am now. I’m just like you’re a lovable recopy writer that everybody loves to hate.
You do seem to have a something that I quite enjoy I think is does you have a degree of infamy.
Oh yeah. Degree of it for me because I don’t I don’t put up with stupidity. All right. So I respond to the controlling and so forth. Yeah. Remember that’s where my interests lie. OK. Never. You know who I am and my notoriety has been brought up although calmed down in middle age.
Well you also wrote the letter you were involved in the writing of a letter for the Neil Strauss product as well right.
Yeah that was the annihilation method and I think it was the fastest mill a year and made online was I had written some crazy headline or Stephen Peirce’s logging program and I’m in a bar you know one of the internet marketing things and and Frank Curran comes up to me and he goes kill C.. Yeah. I read that letter that you wrote for the blog thing goes me and that was really good. So would you write for me. So he hired me to write
his Serializer letter that was around the time that John Reese had done his million dollar day. And so Frank wanted to beat George but he decided that he was going to do it in two sessions so he had 60 people at the first one and 40 at the second one just to get a million dollars. And I wrote the sales letter and the lead was so good that people prank calls me up the night before his friend and somebody broke into my site found the sales letter and bought it
and get what should I do. Should I return the money with no money. So I mean it’s sold out in hours and then I read a bunch of stuff from Frank. So then he decided that when he went to race and said hey you know I made a million dollars to reset here but you didn’t make it in a day. So it became his obsession. Frank Frank’s cousin Trey he saw this the business with the book. What was the. Neil Strauss the game
right. Was so big so they thought that there might be a product in it. And Frank came to me and he said you know I don’t care about this. I just want to beat them. Just beat Reece. OK fine. I was at Rhys’s frankly deserved to be so he came the idea and I went and got the book and I read it and they said OK. He said The only thing is you know we don’t have a product. I said Frank get a bunch of guys to come and watch the filming of
the product. Charge him some outrageous price and that will pay for the whole film and it’ll pay my fee and everything upfront it goes like you know like how much do we get for this.
And I said I don’t know like seven eight thousand dollars because if you’re serious I’m serious. So they sold it like seventy five hundred dollars and people flew from all around the world to be a ghost. And they had the money and they recorded it and they made it look really good. And he came back and said OK now we need a sales letter.
And I just had such a good time with that sales letter. His name was Frank was her doing the e-mails and the e-mails were saved. Also Neil Strauss was a very strange guy. Right. And Frank warned me that I really had to be careful you know don’t don’t hype it don’t exaggerate. And then goes it puts out a e-mail called the Magic Mirror where the get to an airplane and people just want to have sex with him and he does but don’t hype it. I don’t hide think the
people just want the product. The demand was great. So when I read the sales letter I actually did it live in about a 90 minute session. People were watching me. Wow. It went up on a Saturday morning and they made 1.2 million dollars in something like 20 minutes. Now you he got to be John Rees’s record and he was happy you didn’t do anything they didn’t do any further with and he was done. That’s crazy. No upset was no this no that no coaching program. Just
And you had it you were sort of became sort of known to I guess probably through the live writing of that letter of being somebody who is very good at adapting you know winning letters for different products or you know swiped my files and so forth that sort of became in my mind at least attached to you somehow I would swipe a letter so that the person who wrote the original letter never recognized it from me.
I sent a letter to call of once he goes this is a really good letter. Can I get a hold of this product. And I say I said John do recognize the letter. CRUZ No Sejong. It’s the one I get called for. He looks at it and goes You bastard. It’s totally past him he didn’t realize it. So that when I would swipe a letter the person never knew that it was with whatever letter it was. That’s one of your sort of secrets I would say. Yeah.
Because it’s you to talk about that in a lot of your products and sort of teach that throughout various places.
Yes I do. But the most important thing is when you do that you have to cross swipe you know swipe from the same niche. Right. I swiped from a golf product to a personal development product. I’ll swipe from personal development products to a supplement product because good sales letters have the same structure. They have a certain cadence of tone. If it’s a proven sales letter I’ll just swipe across the board.
What are some of the things you learned through your copy career perhaps about the early part of it where you rose to prominence and infamy and that things are maybe that are counterintuitive that maybe people just hearing your story will immediately recognize.
Look I don’t think that they recognize how much time needs to go into studying great copy right. And people just think you know or they don’t study they don’t read the guys today you know or they’ll think that the only thing they have to do is study the hauberk letter and they’ll you know they’ll copy every letter Halbert ever wrote and think that that’s making them a copy writer. And I don’t think that it’s done that much for them to tell you the truth. I don’t think that it’s helped them. And what do I know. I’m
just he just the just the man has done in a certain way just the man who’s done it certain way. I mean the bottom line is that I have different ways of doing things in the old ways are necessarily the best ways.
And when you refer to the old ways are you talking about people and copying out letters or you know I don’t think that that is even worth the time anymore.
What should people be replacing it with studying a copy that’s working as building swipe files reading copy every day that I consider worth it and they should be in there looking for the structure of these winning letters and how and like you said you can you name three or four things that I think are important too which is like the structure of it the cadence of the various letters and so forth because they all have their own meaning it reading it out loud.
Right. The stumbling points you hear by reading out loud. Yeah.
So I don’t see people doing that. I don’t see people with collections of Maggo Lawks like they used to do. I don’t see people collecting any of that stuff right.
Did you go back when you first started and look at ads from way back.
Actually what I did was I went on to e-bay and I bought every Swype file that I could get. And people knew that I would pay good money for swipe files like one or two copywriters and they were closing things down and they sent me out. They said hey Harlan You know I got this whole tons of stuff I want to buy them. And the answer was always Hellene right.
But just money sitting there waiting to be accessed.
And so I always said I always said yes and got huge collections I mean these days people couldn’t get it. You know we’re going to get Pennsylvania stuff. It’s a classic. Yeah. You know everybody knows about as Hannibal Lecter. But what about the other stuff that he’s done. You don’t see that any more. So I went home and started getting that stuff and studying that stuff. I remember when I went to the base of the
500 or whatever it was that nine hundred Indianapolis 500 for this seminar I took in a I had a mag a log of his that I blew up and took it to him to sign. And he looked at it and like somebody somebody has done his work and you know I made it a point to study this stuff that other people did. And because of that you know I got good really quickly pretty much because I studied stuff and
they would not study this.
So you would do the work and most people don’t. I would do the work I would study you know I would buy products I buy golf magazines wrestling magazines just to see what the latest compliments. Right bottom line is that started to make a significant significant difference.
Yeah obviously not. I mean I’ve heard Dan Kennedy talk about going I mean he studied ads from like the turn of the century and stuff and some of these old news had done stuff like that.
You know a while ago I stopped doing it and started moving to more modern stuff because I like change. Schwartz says you know stuff changes over time and you can’t do the old stuff. You can’t keep running the old stuff. So I want to see what’s working and copy people.
If there was a guy who took a change Ward’s letter and ran it as an ad today and of course because it’s not with the times someone thought oh there’s some magic to it it’s going to work because he did it. And guess what it didn’t. So bottom line is this stuff it works but I don’t find people really spending their time on on getting good. They you know they are all from overnight heroes and they haven’t spent any time in the trenches
screwing up and they don’t have people. Don’t get mentors. So their stuff is just like it’s pretty pathetic.
Yeah. So if people want to avail themselves of your wonderful teaching methods and so forth and get abused. OK. Where should they go or how did they get a whole year period.
Well easiest ways to find me on Facebook where I keep my disguise of Harlon kills steam and then reach out and send me a message. Lots of money you can see you know the first thing I’m going to do is just because someone reaches out to me does not mean necessarily that I’m going to work with them. What I’m going to want to take a look at what they’re doing. I’m going to want to see are they can I have an impact on them. And if I can then I’m going to take a look at work for them. But
unless they you know I can take someone from from from zero and make them a great copywriter quickly. I can take someone who is willing to learn and make them better. But somebody who knows way more than I do it’s probably not going to use it. And of course there are people who know a whole lot more than I do right.
Most people just ask them. All right well thanks Harlan for taking the time.
We want to thank you for finally coming on the same day I did it. I think we were victorious. Made it to David. I can’t wait. I think just maybe a second pod cast I’ve ever been on. Really. Yeah. What I feel you in the ass to everybody. And I kind of got that over the years.
But you didn’t do that back so I did not give up. Now I’m I’m a relentless have nothing else.
Well they are relentless relentless work.
Thank you so much for coming on Harlin and for everybody else. We’ll be back with another edition of people I guess hopefully is fun and entertaining.
The cities you could track down it’s got what else. Exactly. As soon as I get on earth yet another gem like our friend Harlan Goldstein there. Take care everybody. Thanks so much David. Thank you so much.