Suddenly Marketing

Brand Messaging | Content Strategy | Writing

How to Write Copy that Reads Like a Bestseller

This post was originally published on Savvy B2B Marketing where I hang with my Savvy Sisters and write about business-to-business marketing.

Does your marketing copy grip your readers, drawing them in and pulling them along; or does it send them into a semi-catatonic state more conducive to REM sleep than taking action on your offer?

As a writer who makes her living as a content marketer (website copy, e-books, blogs, etc), but aspires to be the next J.K. Rowling, I’ve found that many of my fiction writing skills can be put to good use in the marcom world. Good business writing does not have to be staid and boring. It should be lively, relevant, engaging, and make the reader want to turn the page … even if the “page” is a virtual one, or a matter of clicking more deeply into your website.

Here are four fiction techniques that can be used to make your marketing copy read like a bestseller:

Sense of Story:
Every good story has certain elements that invite the reader in and then keep him interested to the end. When you are writing copy, ask yourself who the protagonist (hero) of your story is. (Hint – it’s not you or your product.) Consider the theme you’re working with. Are you writing about courage, transformation, growth, discovery? Guide your reader into the right mindset by setting your scene with careful attention to detail. Paint a world that he can identify with immediately. Play with different ways to add drama to your copy. Don’t just lay out the facts; think about how you would tell the story if you were at a cocktail party. Think about the different characters and what their personalities, motivations, and style are like. Try to work those into what you’re writing so you can bring the players to life in the readers mind.

Story Structure:
The classic story structure is a 3-act play. In it’s simplest form, it looks like this:
Act 1: We establish the characters, the situation, and the stakes
Act 2: The protagonist tries to reach a goal, but comes up against obstacles
Act 3: The protagonist resolves the problem and comes out a wiser/kinder/happier person
Story structure is about a story “arc” that takes the reader on a journey from one point to another. Any good story has a point and involves some kind of transformation.
Larry Brooks, a fiction writer and teacher, has some excellent articles and e-books about the art of story structure at his Storyfix blog. I highly recommend his work.

Strong Vocabulary:
The technical aspect is about using words well. You may think that this applies more to poetry and novels than your latest white paper, but I would argue that strong vocabulary is at least as important in business writing as in fiction writing. Fiction writing must entertain and sometimes enlighten. Marketing copy has to persuade the reader to take action, often in as few words as possible. The right word choice can make all the difference in how your reader perceives your brand, your offer, your company’s philosophy. Stay away from the clichéd phrases and buzz words and search out fresh, clear, specific words that will wake your reader up and drive your point home.

Finally, we return to the artistic side of things. Tempo or “musicality” may not seem to serve any purpose in marketing, but you might be surprised. The best way to determine if your copy has a smooth and pleasing tempo is to read it out loud. If you stumble over a word or phrase, your writing has lost its tempo. Readers (even if only reading to themselves) will also stumble, and – for all intents and purposes – fall out of your “story.” Breaks in tempo are distracting. You don’t want any distractions when you’re trying to move your reader to action. Read your work aloud and polish up those rough spots.

These fiction tips aren’t just for use in case studies. Though case studies do lend themselves most easily to the use of story, you can also take advantage of these techniques for your “about” page, your team bios, your product pages. Bringing the elements of good fiction to your marketing copy will keep your prospects and customers reading long past the cover and inside flap. It will sweep them up and persuade them to become part of your story.

Do you use fiction techniques in your writing? Have you seen good use of these techniques on other websites or e-books?

About the Author: Jamie is a freelance strategist, teacher, and copywriter who partners with solo entrepreneurs to define and market their brands. Her specialties include brand development, social media strategy, and content marketing. Enjoy more of her posts, visit her site at Suddenly Marketing, or drop her an email.

Image Credit: Martin Gommel


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  1. This is great Jamie! Thanks! I have a bit of a formula I use for my posts – sometime – and I like to mix it up so it doesn’t become predictable. I like the part about the classic story structure. It’s fun to learn more, isn’t it?

    • Jamie Lee

      So glad you liked the ideas in the post, Lori. It’s definitely fun to learn more & I love applying the lessons learned in new ways. Blog on!

  2. Jamie, so much of what I hear and read these days suggests that writing is a dying art. So reading your post today felt like a drowning man taking a huge gulp of clean, cool fresh air. Are you discouraged by the overwhelming evidence that young people today just can’t write?

    • Jamie Lee

      I do find the decline in the art of writing very discouraging. Much of our “written” language is being abbreviated and mutilated by short-form venues like text messaging and Twitter. That type of writing may make sense in our sound byte world, but – unfortunately – constant practice means that it begins to leak into our other writing and our language. We begin to devolve into what I call “telegram-speak” – a language that is devoid of color and flavor, focusing instead on the down-and-dirty dissemination of basic facts.

      I take solace, however, in the fact that – no matter how far gone the masses are down the road of poor writing skills – strong writing will always have the power to capture and hold a reader’s attention, persuade, and inspire action.

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