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Copywriting Standouts: A Compendium of PMA Members’ Best Lines

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The question we recently asked you about “best lines” was, “What’s the most powerful headline you’ve ever used for cover copy or other promotional material?” Selected answers appear below, and they’ve now given rise to a second question:

What do these lines–or at least some of these lines–have in common?

If you discover commonalities that can serve as guidelines for promotional copywriting, please share your insights in an e-mail to JAppelbaumPMA@aol.com. We’ll feature them in an upcoming issue of the Newsletter.

–Judith Appelbaum


“If you’re this successful doing work you don’t love, what could you do with work you do love?”

This line is about my book This Time I Dance! Trusting the Journey of Creating the Work You Love/How One Harvard Lawyer Left It All to Have It All! which was originally self-published and then picked up by a major house. I’ve had folks tell me they took my seminar based on that question and bought the book because of that question, and I’ve even had readers use that line for their personal stationery and personal e-mail sigs (with my permission).

When I was soul-searching with career issues, someone asked me something like that, pointing out that I’d gone to Harvard Law School, hated it, graduated with honors, and pursued a successful (though soul-killing) legal career. The question stayed with mei4qK helped me find the courage to change my life. Now it’s the question I pose to readers, audiences, students, and clients.

Tama J. Kieves

Awakening Artistry–The Art of Living Your Dreams



“The book advertising agencies don’t want you to read”

We used this line to promote our first book on word-of-mouth advertising. The copy in the ad argued that word-of-mouth advertising is the most effective, least expensive form of market promotion available because a satisfied customer who tells a friend about a product, service, idea, or event does not lie, embellish, or have some hidden agenda. Better, it is free. The line was very effective, not only in generating sales through ads where it was used, but also in seminars we give. The audience always sat up when they heard the teaser, and we always used it as the last line before a break. It brought the audience back on time to hear exactly why ad agencies hate us. We are still using the line with our sixth title, The Hottest Ideas in Word of Mouth Advertising, which is just out.

Godfrey Harris

The Americas Group



“This Time, It’s Revolution”

Created in-house for Jesus Freaks, Vol. II by dc talk, this line was successful.

What evidence shows that it was? High sales–183,691 copies.


Teresa Fogarty

Bethany House Publishers



“The Way of the Gladiator”

The best copy line we have ever had was a change in a book title from For Those About to Die (by Daniel Mannix) to The Way of the Gladiator. The book, originally published in the late ’50s, was a nonfiction volume on the history of the Roman gladiators. We replaced the famous, but somewhat arcane, original historical phrase with a title that would appeal to patrons of the Russell Crowe film. The book has been reprinted repeatedly and is one of our best backlist sellers.

Byron Preiss

ibooks, inc.



“Achieve Fame for Your Expertise”

The best headline I’ve ever used for a promotional campaign is the one I am currently using on advertising and flyers publicizing my new Expertizing.com books and workshops. In the past six months, I and my books have been featured in major media including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, PBS, Voice of America, Inc., Fortune, Entrepreneur, Redbook, Oxygen, Health, American Advantage, Family Circle, Women’s World, First for Women, Babies First, Parenting, ePregnancy, Glamour, Self, Christian Science Monitor, AP, and even The National Enquirer. Expertizing.com’s books and workshops teach others with a particular expertise how to achieve this same level of publicity.

But I wanted something even stronger–strong enough that my target audience would realize they just had to sign up for the workshops.

What I ended up with was the ad headline “How Most People Get Media Attention.” Below that is the central image of the ad–a newspaper listing

of an obituary (we blurred the type so you can’t see whose it is). And beneath that, above the contact information, I’m using a variant of the line that worked so well: “Achieve Fame for Your Expertise NOW.”

The ad has just come out (in the Boston Women’s Business Journal and other professional/corporate media), but I’ve already got people signed up for both the books/CDs package (at $695) and the one-day workshop (at $2,500). I don’t know how successful it will ultimately prove to be, but judging by the response I’ve seen so far, I think it may be one of the best campaigns I’ve ever done.

Fern Reiss



“How Chocolate Can Help You Lose Weight (Really!)”

This headline was created for my book Your Final Diet and used in Radio-TV Interview Report (RTIR). I got many more interviews with it and with “How Sugar and Fat Can Help You Lose Weight” than with “Learn Why You Should Resolve to Eat More Cookies and Ice Cream This Year.” My guess is that nobody took the last one seriously; the others have a better combination of zing and credibility.

Abby Aronowitz

Your Final Diet



“Greene County Deputy Butts Head with Local P.I.”

My novel, What You See, is set in Stanardsville, a small town nestled in the mountains of Virginia where everyone knows everyone’s business. So you can imagine the furor when I ran an ad (designed to look like a real story) in the local newspaper with the headline above.

This ad turned out to be one of my best marketing tools. Orders started coming in immediately. Within two weeks, I was booked for two signings. I ran it again in another local newspaper, and although it didn’t generate many book sales, I got an invitation from a book club and another signing. I now use the ad (cropped and framed) with many of my book displays.

Ann Mullen

Afton Ridge Publishing



“Where is bin Laden?” and “Bush was right!”

These headlines were created for Winter in Kandahar by Steven E. Wilson, a

reality-based adventure-romance novel that begins in Afghanistan just a month prior to 9/11.

Our evidence of success is that the marketing program, including Radio and Television Interview Report, has only been going for three months, and Dr. Wilson has already had more than 45 radio interviews (including several one-hour specials) all across the United States, with more requests pouring in every day. In large part, we believe this is responsible for the novel’s rank at Amazon.com–rising from 1.6 million to as high as 250–and for continued excellent and rising sales there and with Ingram and Baker & Taylor.

Jennifer J. Jackson

Hailey-Grey Books



“Ground-Breaking Study Shows African-Americans Misinformed About Their Roots”

When we created this line for African Legacy: Solutions for a Community in Crisis by Bernard Lugan, we got encouraging sales and great reviews, including praise from Publishers Weekly, Le Figaro, and a former ambassador to Senegal and Guinea.

Asad A. Lalljee

Carnot USA Books, Inc.



“Smart Move . . . Texas Hold’em Poker Is the World’s Hottest Game”

This line (created by Graham Van Dixhorne of Susan Kendrick Writing) fit thematically with the front-cover artwork for The Intelligent Guide to Texas Hold’em Poker, which shows a poker hand superimposed on a chess board.

After the book was printed, we sent a copy to a distributor that handles large bookstore chains. Of course, large distributors are very cautious about taking on new small publishers, but the distributor was so impressed by the way the book was packaged that she agreed to try the book out. I asked how many books to send initially; she said to send 300 and then we’d see what happened.

The book went on sale in October 2003. As I write this, four months later, we’ve already had to do two more printings. So far, 9,000 copies have been shipped to bookstores nationwide, and back orders are still piling up. We’re completely out of books and considering a fourth printing. Naturally returns are always a concern, but so far they have not been occurring. In a recent conversation, the

distributor’s sales rep for the Books-a-Million chain told me that Books-a-Million wanted 1,200 more books because “the book is blowing out of the store.”

Joseph Ganem

Intelligent Games Publishing




“Put On Your Garden Boots to Read Where’s Petunia?”

This was about my new children’s book, Where’s Petunia? We put it in a mailing to my retail mailing list and got a 22 percent response rate with multiple orders. Some customers ordered as many as 12 books; three to five was the average order. We also used the boot headline with an image on a wholesale-gift-show ad and added 72 stores to our customer list at that event.

Ellen Jean Diederich

Givinity Press



“How Do You Tell the Feed Salesman That the Cow Is Dead?”

Several years ago, when I “presided” over the demise of a children’s periodical of which I had been the editor, we had to return hundreds of unsolicited articles and stories, telling the writers that the periodical was being terminated, ended, discontinued. There didn’t seem to be a good word.

So I wrote a return slip/card that said, in effect, that you can dance around the issue, identifying several reasons why you will no longer be buying feed, but finally you have to say, “The cow is dead.”

Someone sent the card to Publishers Weekly. They reproduced it as one of the best rejection slips of the year.

Leonard Flachman

Kirk House Publishers



“The Book for Italians, and those who wish they were!”

When I published my first book, Heritage Italian-American Style, in 2000, I came up with a headline that I would use for all my promotional materials (magazine and newspaper display ads, sales brochures, back-cover copy). Now I have adapted it for my new title, Heritage Hispanic-American Style (“The Book for Hispanic Latinos, and those who wish they were!”) Both these books are bilingual cultural compendiums in a fact-filled question-and-answer format, covering the many significant contributions these ethnic groups have contributed to Western civilization.

What evidence shows that it was successful? To date, the Italian book has sold 9,000 copies nationally and has been endorsed by every major Italian-American organization. The Hispanic book, which debuted in November 2003, promises to do even better.

Leon J. Radomile

Vincerò Enterprises

www.italianheritage.net and www.hispaniclatino.net

“Retire in Style–New Book Names Top 50 Affordable Towns in Which to Retire”

The release with that headline–for Retire in Style: 50 Affordable Places Across America, by Warren Bland, Ph.D., an award-winning geography professor at Cal State–was reprinted in Jacqueline Deval’s Publicize Your Book and gained the attention of almost every major newspaper across the United States, including The New York Times, which ran a feature article in the Sunday Business Section with a color photo of the book.

I write all our press releases. Marketing (specifically publicity) is my favorite part of publishing.

Barbara Kimmel

Next Decade, Inc.



“I Do Bad Things for Love”

When I advertise, I work on branding for the company as well as for individual titles. My most successful slug so far has been the company’s branding slug (above). I use it on bumper stickers and on my Web site, business cards, and bookmarks, and I give the bumper stickers and bookmarks away free at book fairs and the like.

Of course, it’s a very titillating phrase and one that gets attention instantly. No matter where their minds may go initially, I find that a lot of people have no problem approaching us and asking what it means.

The slug is tied in to the mission statement for Small Dogs Press (we publish fiction that deals exclusively with love, or the lack thereof, although we do not publish romance titles). Once people understand the meaning of the slogan, they are interested in learning more about our books.

I don’t know how successful it’s been in terms of sales, but I do know that it creates an instantly identifiable phrase for the company, so much so that we trademarked it. I’ve gotten e-mails and phone calls from people who have seen the stickers on cars and want one for their own.

The best example I can cite of how effective this is at getting people to notice us is from last year’s L.A. Times Festival of Books. We attended the festival, even though at that time the company wasn’t fully formed, and our first book was still in the editing stage. I had 1,000 bumper stickers printed up and ran out within an hour on both days. We literally had people chasing us down to ask for the stickers; some people were complaining that we gave so-and-so two and they had received only one. The funniest moment was when I went to the line

where people were waiting for Gene Simmons (from KISS) to sign his

autobiography. All I had to do was walk past the line while holding up one of our bumper stickers to disperse that line of people. They surrounded me, begging to get stickers.

I still get e-mails from people who first heard of us through our stickers, and we plan on expanding the slug line to a line of T-shirts.

Susan Sabo

Small Dogs Press



“The first almanac that doesn’t read like a phone book” plus “The only Ohio reference you’ll ever need”

The first part appears on the front of a postcard and the second part appears on the back. We created the card for The Ohio Almanac, 3rd edition. (Our editors took the most recent Ohio census information and turned it into 860 pages of stories and history. For example, one spread reads, “The Fifteen Ohioans You Want on the Barstool Next to You When the Fight Breaks Out.”)

What was our ROI? Ever since we sent the postcards out to our targeted audience–schools, libraries, government offices, and media–we have been receiving orders from them directly. And bookstores have been selling more too. The book has been out for only a little over two months, and the orders keep coming in. It won’t be a bestseller for us like Woody’s Boys (a book that interviewed over 20 old Ohio State football players who played under the legendary coach Woody Hayes), but it does show the power of marketing materials that are clear and direct. It is important to tell your audience why they need your book.

Sarah Hawley

Orange Frazer Press


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