“What is the writer’s first job?”
A few attendees ventured educated guesses like “develop plot” or “sit down and write.”
Some enlightened soul soon voiced the answer Coleman was seeking: “To entertain.”
Exactly. He expanded this concept by restating it as “to engage the reader.”
The goal of the first sentence is to grab readers by the throat and convince them to read the second sentence, which is designed to propel readers toward the next sentence… and the next… and the next.
While Coleman was educating a room full of mystery writers on the editing process, his advice also applies to marketing copy.
- In creating a direct mail package, for instance, the job of the envelope is to get the recipient to open it.
- The role of the headline is to encourage the recipient to read the lead paragraph.
- The goal of the lead paragraph? To invite the recipient to read the next paragraph.
And so it goes until, hopefully, the prospect has reached the end of our brilliantly crafted pitch and found himself powerless to resist the compelling call to action.
If only it were that easy… Still, if you lose the reader before that point, your chances of a sale or donation go into the trash, along with your package.
Taking the Mystery out of Better Sales Copy
Follow these tips from the fiction pros to improve your response rates:
- Hit the ground running. People are too busy to wade through the marketing equivalent of “It was a dark and stormy night.” Find that emotional hook that will snatch the reader’s shirt collar and hold his attention. To gauge your success, copywriting great John Forde recommends covering your lead with a sheet of blank paper. If the second paragraph works just fine without the intro, start the message here. Repeat this process, cutting all unnecessary paragraphs.
- Read your work aloud. According to Coleman, we write with our eyes, but we edit with our ears. If the language sounds awkward and stilted when read aloud, it needs work. Make no mistake: readers “hear” your voice in their heads. Either this voice rings true, or they move on.
- View the writing with fresh eyes. Once you’ve finished the draft, set it aside at least overnight—ideally, for a few days or more. Then, go back and read the work out loud. Again. This distance from the writing process often uncovers new problems you might have overlooked.
At the end of the day, good writing is good writing. Whether you’re a mystery writer spinning a tale of whodunit or a marketer promoting a service or product, you must respect the reader’s time by making every word count.
Try these tips and let us know what you think. Did they work for you? Do you have other suggestions to help marketers—or mystery writers—cut out the parts that people skip? Please share.