SKILL SETS: COPYWRITING
Honest Copywriting Does Sell Books
by Shel Horowitz
I confess: I’m a marketing heretic. I’ve built my career on breaking all the rules—and I break one of the rules by refusing to hype. This can be a challenge when marketing books. It’s a very crowded universe, and people won’t respond to just “Here’s a new book.”
Among the common copywriter tricks that I avoid are:
Duplicitous deadlines.“If you order in the next 24 hours, you get these extras . . . ” In many cases, the offer will hold longer than announced. Deadlines are very effective motivators, but I will put a deadline in my copy only if it’s real.
Suspect testimonials.“‘This is the best book ever written on the subject, and if you don’t read it, you’ll regret it forever’ — B.J. in Austin.” Who? Good testimonials are critical tools for marketing success, but endorsement providers should be identified at least by name and relevant credentials. Not Aunt Thelma, but professors, authors, business leaders, sports and entertainment figures, and so on as appropriate for the particular book. And the quote shouldn’t be some vague generality; it should present a concrete, specific reason that the book is a must-read.
Bogus boilerplate.“Here’s the information you requested.” A great statement if it’s true, but I get five or six of these a day in my e-box, from companies I’ve never heard of. Similarly, “Hi there, long-lost friend!” (And you sent it BCC?)
Puffed-up promises.“This book will surely make you a fortune in real estate, give you whiter teeth, and of course ensure a better sex life.” Yup, and the Tooth Fairy, Santa, and Peter Pan will personally deliver all these wonders.
Why don’t I like this kind of copywriting? And how do I write copy that sells books without resorting to deceit?
Well, first, I believe that if I want words to sell a product, that product must be strong enough so that tricks aren’t necessary. I know that if I trick someone, I may make a sale—and lose a customer for life. But if I show a book’s merits, back up my claims, and focus on the way it solves a problem, eases a hurt or fear, or satisfies a need, I will build a lifetime relationship.
Second, I like to look in the mirror and see someone who is honest with himself and with readers.
The So-What System
When I write copy for a book cover, press release, Web site, or direct-mail letter, what I do instead of using hype is tell the story behind the story. I take an obvious starting point and keep asking myself questions like: “So what?” “How does the reader benefit?” “What problem does this solve—and how?”
And then I try to answer these kinds of questions in a captivating, attention-grabbing, but hype-free way.
Here’s the headline for and the beginning of a press release about a book on electronic privacy issues. The easy headline would have been “Electronic Privacy Expert Releases New Book.” But that’s not enough to grab people. (Another rule I broke—never use the headline as the lead sentence. This is the only time I’ve ever broken that one, but in this case, I think the repetition made the point stronger. Names have been changed to protect the author’s privacy.)
It’s 10 O’Clock—Do You Know Where Your Credit History Is?
HIBBING, MN: It’s 10 o’clock—Do you know where your credit history is? How about your employment records? Your confidential medical information?
How would you feel if you found out this sensitive and should-be-private material is “vacationing” in computer databanks around the world—accessible to corporate interests who can afford to track down and purchase it, but not necessarily open to your own inspection?
According to electronic privacy journalist and technology consultant Mortimer Gaines, this scenario is all-too-common . . .
And here’s the headline and the first paragraph of back-cover copy for a recommended reading list for high school students. Yes, even a directory like that can benefit from exciting but totally accurate copywriting:
“Yikes! With 1,892,729 Books Out There, How Do I Pick the Right Ones?”
Start here . . . with nearly 1500 of the “best books ever” for high school students, gathered into subjects and with a description of each one. These books are “good reads” . . . and great sources of information. Fiction, drama, poetry, biography, non-fiction . . . they’re all here. Even a section where high school seniors chose the books that made a difference in their lives. Each category also includes a “Reader’s Toolbox” that gives context to the choices.
No falsehoods, no hype; no “New Book Released by Publisher.”
Without tricking people, I want to capture interest, move the reader to action, and still feel good about myself in the morning. I hope you do too.
Shel Horowitz is the author of Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, and six other books. To read free articles for entrepreneurs and marketers, visit frugalmarketing.com and principledprofit.com. To contact him, email email@example.com; or call 800/683-WORD or 413/586-2388.