By Earl Pilkington
This is not a book review, and is not a paid endorsement of any of the books listed; it is simply a collection of books that I have found to be invaluable over the past 30 plus years of writing.
I have raided my bookshelf to uncover the essential books in my collection that would come to the top of the pile of books on my desk on a monthly basis to gain some creative spark for writing commercials. If you have any that you regularly use, I would love to know about it.
1. Master Lists for Writers – Thesauruses, Plots, Character Traits, Names, and more, by Bryn Donovan.
This is number one in my collection simply for the depth of research that Bryn has made available for us. From emotional descriptions and metaphors, to sounds from settings and plots for creative ideas. My most turned to section is dialogue and this section alone is worth the price of the book.
2. Power Sales Words – How to Write It, Say It, and Sell It with Sizzle, by Vicky Oliver.
Another amazing book full of lists that I regularly hit up for inspiration. From active and passive words, to tips about getting rid of the fluff. In my opinion, Vicky’s book is essential for any copywriter.
3. Words That $ell – A thesaurus to Help Promote Your Products, Services, and Ideas, by Richard Bayan.
I discovered this book in a second hand book shop in 1987 and have to say that it has travelled to every job I have had since then. It is another amazingly useful book of lists -- from headers and slogans to descriptions and benefits. I think I have used at least one term, phrase or sentence from almost every single page of this book.
4. Storyscaping – Stop Creating Ads, Start Creating Worlds, by Gaston Legorburu and Darren McColl.
More a book for branding and big campaigns and agencies, it is no less an important book on my shelf. Elegant, insightful and full of ideas and ways of achieving your client’s goals. I cannot go a couple of weeks without picking this up and flicking through it looking for some inspiration within the stories told on its pages.
5. 101 Hot Writing Prompts, by Boyd Nash.
This is not intended to be a book for writers of commercials, and being only published last year by Boyd, it is relatively new to my top 7 books list. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and I find Boyd’s’ take on writing prompts different enough to go back time and time again for a quirky idea or two.
6. The Essential Rhyming Dictionary – Merriam-Webster.
Sure, there are online rhyming dictionaries available to you, but who knows where inspiration may strike when you flick through these pages. It is not often you write a rhyming commercial – rarely when I think about it. But I still find this book coming readily to hand when I need inspiration.
7. And last of all… Raving Fans, by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles.
Yes, a business motivation book is in my top 7. Why? Because I like to think that all clients have fans out there, fans who talk about their ‘favourite’ business and why they shop there – or why they don’t. I cannot count the amount of times that Raving Fans has given me a thread to pull upon to give me just one line that I can hang a commercial idea on.
There are more of course in my collection of often looked at books, but I have taken note over the past 6 months of the top 7 that I regularly consult.
Honourable mentions also go to Comedy Writing Secrets by Mel Helitzer with Mark Shatz, and Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan and Edward Boches, and finally The Copywriters Handbook by Robert W. Bly.
Earl Pilkington works as a copywriter for West Coast Radio in Western Australia. He has mentored on-air talent, audio producers, journos and others inside and outside the industry, including TV, newspaper, voice talent and students. Earl welcomes your correspondence at