For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved writing. Even before my love for music which, for those who know me, might be hard to believe.
Maybe it was because as a child I grew up covertly reading publications like Mad Magazine, and then as an angsty adolescent I was digging into books like The Naked Lunch and The Gunslinger. Regardless, I’ve always been heavily drawn toward writers (and stories) that are unforgiving and uncomfortably transparent. While most like to label it as “alternative”, I prefer to label it as honest writing.
A few years back, I was hiring for a role within the acquisition department of a software start-up, specifically the content marketing team. For those of you reading who have hired in the digital marketing space, you’ll know that quality applicants are few and far between. With the average LinkedIn job ad bringing in several junk applicants each day, I had to be certain we were asking the right questions while screening.
One of those questions was, “Are you currently subscribed to any content-related newsletters?”
Aside from the textbook “Neil Patel”, “Moz”, and “Hubspot” answers, one applicant in particular replied with Honey Copy. After a quick Google search and a few clicks, I was whisked away into the wildly seductive world of Tennessee-based writer Cole Schafer, and his personal brand of fearless, thoughtful, and entertaining content.
I was hooked.
From writing a $500,000 crowdfunding page to penning winning copy for brands like Butterfly IQ, Lockin, and Bowflex, Cole writes words that read like poetry and sell like Ogilvy.
While his personal brand and style of writing might not be everyone’s cup of tea, something tells me he is okay with that. Having nurtured a hugely successful email list, as well as publishing two books and countless short stories, sales pages, articles, and musings, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a few years on a Top 30 Under 30 list of most successful writers.
Needless to say I’ve become a huge fan, so I reached out to Cole to see if he was interested in doing an interview for our Influencer Spotlight series, and to my surprise (after inspecting our content and social reach like any good marketer) he agreed.
Do you remember the first book/film/or song that made you cry?
C: I swapped out your font for Libre Baskerville (on account that it’s a great deal better looking than Ariel). I hope you don’t mind.
Now, to answer your question: I don’t.
However, I can give you a title to each that has made me cry recently…
Book: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.
Movie: The Family Stone (I’m unfortunately a f****** sucker for rom-coms).
Song: Elephant by Jason Isbell.
Have you ever embarked on a literary pilgrimage?
C: I have not. Mainly because I’ve found “literary pilgrimages” and writing workshops as very good excuses not to write (and the only sure way to fail in writing is to not do much writing).
Though, I would love to eventually explore The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
C: Whitepapers. I can’t write whitepapers. I won’t. I hate them. I hate them the same way an overweight kid hates a stick of celery (coming from a kid who was once reasonably overweight). I’ve found that hating an aspect of writing is a surefire way to bad writing. So, I fight desperately to avoid writing the s*** I hate.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer or marketer?
C: Books. A writer who does not read is not a writer. I try to read a book per week and this consumption has led to thousands of dollars in hundreds and hundreds of spines that decorate my shelves like the ornaments on a Christmas tree. I cherish every one. This is the best money I’ve spent and will ever spend.
If you didn’t write, what would you be doing for work?
C: I’d be a tattoo artist, a Formula 1 driver, a professional assassin, a painter, a sushi chef, a Shinto priest or a barista.
As a marketer, do you Google yourself?
C: Yes. But, only to make sure I haven’t been cancelled.
Do you have a favorite childhood book?
C: What do you do with an idea? by Kobi Yamada is the best children’s book in existence that every adult should read (whether or not they have kids).
Star Wars or Star Trek?
C: The former.
Have you ever hid a secret or inside joke in content you’ve written that only a specific person you know would get?
C: Does a bird s*** in the air?
As a reader, are you inclined toward fiction or nonfiction? Both?
C: Fiction. Writers don’t read as readers. They read as writers. And, for me, as a writer, it’s impossible to read bad writing. Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad writing in non-fiction (save for a select few gems like Kitchen Confidential by Bourdain). Fiction on the other hand… well, that genre is home to the best writers to have ever s***, pissed, drank and f***** on this planet.
In your experience, where do you feel most content clients miss the mark? Expectations, communication, lack of preparedness etc.
C: Their material isn’t very interesting. You can’t bore people into reading and you can’t bore people into buying.
As a copywriter, where does psychology fit into your bag of skills?
C: You buy something to move closer to pleasure or further away from pain and that’s all there is to it. The rest in regards to psychology is just noise.
Let’s take your company and use it as an example. The Influence Agency helps brands put saddles on the mustangs that are social media influencers. While these audiences can work wonders for brands, the folks who possess them are notoriously difficult to work with and wildly expensive. That’s a pain in the a** to manage. You’re hired to help brands move further away from this pain.
As one of your email subscribers, how important is your email list to the overall health of your business and personal brand ?
C: My email list will generate a Maserati and a half for me this year in sales on my courses, books and moscow mules. And, since I don’t drive a Maserati (but instead a beat-up 1979 Range Rover) this is pretty good for a twenty-six-year-old writer. In all seriousness, running and building Sticky Notes (my newsletter) has been the single greatest business decision I’ve ever made and it’s one of the great joys of my life. It has allowed a kid from Southern Indiana to be read by lovely folks in Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Toronto, Dubai, Shanghai, Beijing, Mumbai, Buenos Aires, Moscow, etc.
It’s been everything.
Do you have any favourite “must subscribe” email lists?
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process as a writer ?
C: When a client whose only writing experience was an underwhelming best man’s speech back in 1999 tries to tell me how to write his copy.
What’s the last ad campaign you saw that really made you cringe?
C: I try not to talk too much s*** about advertising I see, even if it sucks harder than some extraterrestrial cyborg elephant with a Dyson-powered vacuum trunk. This is primarily because I respect anyone who is doing the hands-in-the-dirt work of writing advertising. That’s hard to come by nowadays. Most people just j***-off on LinkedIn, bragging about the work they’re not doing.
Do you listen to music while you write?
C: Yes. I will often loop the same song over and over again. Right now it’s City of Angels by Miguel.10
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