imageThe bookshelves are littered with "How to make millions in your underwear" books aimed at new copywriters — most of them pretty light on original thought.

What’s missing are the books that actually tell you how to do things — books that offer you enough information that you can confidently take on a paying job and expect to deliver a professional product.

That’s why I read Michael Stelzner’s Writing White Papers with such interest.

No, I haven’t written white papers in a long time (my last similar project was an 80 page book on hard drive technology written better than 13 years ago), but I clearly remember the confusion when I was first asked to write one.

You Copied. Sometimes Poorly

The valley was one of the early "boom and bust" cycles that plagued the high tech industry, and for a copywriter whose clients were slashing ad budgets left and right — cutting the legs out from under the campaign work I’d being living on — "no" wasn’t in the vocabulary.

Without resources like Michael’s book to fall back on, I took the job, found a white paper that looked presentable, and copied it.

Of course, it was poorly conceived, badly organized and the victim of an ugly layout, and yes, I largely repeated those mistakes. And — unlike Writing White Papers — that sample white paper didn’t come with interview tips, research help, and outlining hints.

Marketing the White Paper

Michael’s book moves beyond creating the white paper into marketing it; a nice, value-added touch that could separate you from other copywriters.

For all the value it delivers, the book isn’t without its weaknesses. I would have liked more formatting examples, and the chapter on marketing could have included a few lead generation flow charts to help the novice writer explain the process to a client.

Still, those are nitpicks — especially when balanced against the "Quick Start" chapter (actually Appendix 1) and the "White Paper Resources" Appendix.

Stelzner, of course, writes a leading copywriting blog, and he’s always adding relevant white paper content to his blog — essentially building atop the foundation provided by his book.

Writing White Papers is the kind of book I wish existed when I needed it (Michael, you did me dirty by waiting too long).

Of course, it’s of little value if you’re planning to write Nike TV campaigns the rest of your life, but for anyone who wants to enter one of the strongest markets in the copywriting universe, then this book is probably a must.

(Full disclosure: I have no commercial interest whatsoever in this book.)