SKILL SETS: COPYWRITING
Bullet Points: Give Your Book Some Beach Muscle
by Susan Kendrick
Welcome back to the copywriting gym. Like “Copywriting Fitness: Testimonials” (March) and “Positioning Statements: Build Your Core Strength” (May), this article is designed to help you give your book the high-visibility, buy-me-now advantage. Bullet points are beach muscle for marketing your book.
Get Noticed Fast
Let’s face it, bullet points are for show. Their job is to stand out, get noticed, and attract the attention of people who might not read anything else in your marketing copy.
While your core positioning statement gives your book power for the long haul—power with readers, your industry, the media, and your partners—bullet points are meant to be a little more flashy. They should function as a teaser, offering just enough information to make someone want to get their hands on your book—now!
That’s why bullet points are among your best sales tools, whether in your back-cover copy, on your Web site, in media pitches, in catalog copy, or anywhere else you publicize and promote your book. They quickly assure your readers that what your book delivers is something they need and want.
Why Bullet Points Work
There’s never any guarantee that people will read all your book-marketing copy, or read it from top to bottom. They may look at your headline, your endorsements, your call to action, and/or your bio. But bullet points, because they stand out visually from everything around them, tend to pull people in first.
Exposure to decades of advertising copy—in print ads, on TV, online—has conditioned consumers to react to bullet points this way. That’s where they expect to find the real reason to buy a product or service, the real story of what’s in it for them.
Capitalize on their expectations by making your bullets tight, punchy statements that instantly bring out the benefits of your book for the reader. Note: creating bullet points is not about conveying all the great things you and your book have to offer; in other words, it’s not about the features of the book. It’s about describing those features in mouth-watering, benefit-rich sound bites.
One disclaimer: Not every book needs bullet points. You should decide to use them or not to use them depending on what kind of copy will work best to attract your target audience. A gift book for new mothers, for example, may deserve more of a narrative style, a dialogue with the reader. But for most nonfiction books and some novels and short-story collections, a few well-crafted bullet points will heighten marketing power exponentially.
Specific Tips for Powerful Points
Anyone who sees your sales copy—either in print or online—will spend only about 15 seconds reading it. Your main selling points have to pop and be highly visible, almost at a glance. So bullet points, too, must be kept short and focused.
Here are some guidelines:
Use five to seven bullet points. Sometimes you can use even fewer than five, but using more than seven will mean losing the at-a-glance appeal.
Start each bullet point with an active verb. (See “30 Power Verbs to Get You Started.”)
Keep each point short. Remember, you want to make these points inviting and easy to read. Avoid excess description or flowery prose.
Use punctuation at the end of a bullet point seldom or never. You do not need a comma, period, or semicolon as a break between points. It’s OK to make rare use of the exclamation point (or question mark) to make an important point really pop. Use a period only if the bullet point is more than one sentence long.
Try hard to keep a bullet point on one line, and be strict with yourself about limiting each point to two lines at the very most. Remember, at-a-glance visibility is key here, especially when bullet points are included in quick-read book-marketing copy like that on your book’s back cover or your Web site.
Focus on the what more than the how. People are more interested in what your book will do for them than in how it will do it, at least initially. Give them the benefits, and do that fast. You can explain how this happens later, or inside the book.
Before You Start Writing
Have a definition of your target market firmly in mind. Don’t say it’s “everyone.” To reach out to people who need what you have to offer and sell them on the expertise in your book, you need to identify your particular market niche—that group of people who have specific questions or problems for which you offer specific solutions.
For example, if your book is about personal finance, is it for people who want to manage their money differently in the current downturn? For people at the end of their careers and ready to retire? For young professionals who have more time to develop retirement strategies? For parents eager to save for their children’s college education? For investors who want to do good while doing well?
The differences are important. Knowing the specific wants, needs, hurts, hopes, and deepest desires of your target market will help you create bullet points that magnetically pull them into your message to see what your book can do for them.
Examples to Emulate
Here are bullet points from a few well-known bestsellers. See how each of these instantly pulls you in and makes you say, “Yes!” Wouldn’t you like these things for your life? And see how each one starts with a powerful verb.
For The Success Principles by Jack Canfield:
Ask for and get everything you want . . . from people who can give it to you
For Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki:
Explode the myth that you need to earn a high income to become rich
For The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss:
Eliminate 50% of your work in 48 hours using the principles of a forgotten Italian economist
And here are some bullet points we developed for clients of ours to use, first on their book covers—a great proving ground for concise, powerful book-marketing copy—and then to sell their books on their sites and through various other promotional materials.
For a book on succeeding in business:
Use only those marketing techniques that will be most successful for you
Grow your business, even on a limited budget
Get corporate sponsors on your side—they’re looking for a good idea, too!
For a book on achieving personal success:
Attain all your dreams and goals while keeping your family a top priority
Use this menu of everyday smells to help you learn faster and retain more
Scan your home, job, and relationships to get rid of Joy Busters™
For a book on personal finance:
Contact the people and companies that want to help you re-establish credit
For a book on parenting:
Be a great mom without losing your identity
Understand what dads offer that babies can’t get anywhere else
For a book on health and wellness:
Use simple home remedies to reverse everyday damage to your immune system
Now, Inspect Your Work
Once you’ve drafted your bullet points, stand back and look at them. Will they:
Get noticed at a glance?
Create a thirst for what your book has to offer?
Give people irresistible reasons to buy?
If all your answers are Yes, congratulations. If not, I hope you’ll keep at it until you can say Yes! to each and every one of these questions.
Susan Kendrick and Graham Van Dixhorn are partners at Write To Your Market, Inc., which specializes in book branding, copywriting, and coaching. They develop book titles and subtitles, back-cover sales copy, testimonials, and other book-cover copy, as well as business names and taglines. Their clients have won major book awards and received national TV coverage. To learn more, visit WriteToYourMarket.com. To read more of Susan Kendrick’s articles, visit BookCoverCoaching.com.
30 Power Verbs to Get You Started
As you create bullet points, try leading into the list with a phrase like, “Learn how you can” or “Discover how simple it is to” and then start each bullet point with a powerful verb, such as: