3 Copywriting Lessons Worth Re-Learning

One reason I wrote The Eight-Month Letter was this: it is much harder to persuade a person to a new belief than it is to get them to part with money. This is because we value our beliefs much more than we value money. In that respect, writing the letter was a monumental challenge for me. I asked myself, “How can I communicate in such a way that a person would reconsider their core spiritual beliefs? How can I do it so they will adopt new beliefs contrary to their old ones?”

As I wrote the letter, I re-learned a few lessons about copywriting. These are lessons I already “knew,” but hadn’t deeply absorbed. I’d like to share these copywriting lessons with you.

Lesson #1: Your tone matters.

I completed the first draft of “The Eight-Month Letter” in the summer of 2007. I thought I had really nailed it. So I began to share it with some close friends and family members. I wanted to get their feedback.

Guess what?

The response was nothing like I expected. One person said it was succinct and well-written, but didn’t say much beyond that. Another close friend literally ripped the letter to shreds. After he was done telling me all the things he didn’t like, I asked him what he liked about. He said, “Nothing! I don’t like anything about it!”

Whoa. I’ve got thick skin. But that comment really hurt, especially coming from a friend.

After that conversation, I had to put the project on hold. Not only did I need some time to process my emotions, I also needed time to reflect to see if what my friend had said was true.

Ultimately, I concluded my friend was right. The tone of my letter was all wrong. It had been written in a spirit of aggression rather than a spirit of love.

This is one reason it took me months to rewrite the letter. I had to get the tone right. I had to find the right voice. And now, looking back at the old version, I’d be embarrassed to show it to anybody. So I’m glad my friend called me to account, even though it hurt at the time. It forced me to focus on a single issue for months: saying the right things in the right way for maximum effectiveness.

Lesson #2: It’s not a sales letter; it’s a legal case.

Time and time again, I’ve heard about the importance of proof in making the sale. I totally agree with this. It is not wise to stop with testimonials. You also want screenshots, videos, credentials, etc. Whatever you can present to support your claims should be presented.

It’s one thing to preach the importance of proof; it is quite another to view your entire sales letter as a legal case.

This is the shift in perception that happened to me as I wrote “The Eight-Month Letter.” I realized I couldn’t toss everything together willy-nilly like a 10-minute meal. Rather, I had to methodically present the evidence in a logical sequence such that the “jury” (my readers) would issue the verdict I wanted.

How does a court case work?

Loosely speaking, you first introduce the problem. (What crime has been committed? What wrong needs to be rectified?) You then present your case, including all the evidence and a proposed solution to the problem. The defense then presents their case, which includes all the objections. You address those objections with all the possible evidence, logic, and emotional appeal you can use.

In the end, you hope the outcome (verdict) of your case is that your audience (the jury) takes the action you’ve prescribed, whether it be signing up to a list, buying a product or service, or requesting more information.

So why should you view a sales letter as the proceedings of a court case?

Simple. It takes the focus off of the promise you’re making, reduces hype, and refocuses your attention on the structure of the case and the evidence you present. Not that you should spend less time on crafting the promise of a letter. The promise you make and how you get attention is critical. But it’s far too easy to overlook the importance of how your letter is structured and how the evidence is presented. These greatly influence the success of a sales letter.

Said another way, where there is a sloppy letter and a paucity of evidence, you will not get the verdict you desire.

Lesson #3: Spend time away from your letter after you’ve written it.

Most of the projects I write for clients involve fairly tight deadlines. Rare is the client who calls me with a two- or three-month lead time. Usually, the client wants the copy ASAP, but no later than some date three weeks away.

I won’t say this is a recipe for bad copy, but working on an extremely short deadline has the potential to produce copy that is not as strong as it could be.

I view the writing of a sales letter in three stages:

  1. Research
  2. Writing
  3. Editing

I feel it’s imperative to have “down time” between each of these stages. One day at least. Preferably, two or three days between research and writing; and another three or four days between writing and editing.

Why do I say this?

One, because after digesting a large amount of information, your brain (particularly your subconscious mind) needs time to process. Lacking time, you will probably struggle to come up with the hook. But give your brain some rest and the ideas will begin to flow effortlessly.

The same principle applies to the the time you should give yourself between writing and editing. After writing a letter, you will often be too involved to see anything objectively. You need time away to pull your mind back… to quite literally forget what you’ve written.

After you’ve had time away from what you’ve written, you’ll be able to see the copy with “fresh eyes.” You’ll quickly and easily be able to spot errors, weak sections, bad transitions, and more.

Lacking this time away from your copy, you might end up calling a colleague in a panic because you “can’t see the forest for the trees.” You might need somebody else’s eyes because yours are too tired–and you haven’t given them any time to rest. Sound familiar?

Obviously, since “The Eight-Month Letter” had no deadline, I was able to spend a lot of time away from it between rounds of editing. After a month or longer away from the letter, I was amazed by the holes in the letter that all of a sudden seemed so “glaringly obvious.” If I had not spent time away from the letter, I would probably have never seen these holes.

Wrapping Up…

Of course, if you read “The Eight-Month Letter,” I hope you got some value out of it. But if you didn’t, I hope these copywriting lessons I’ve shared here will be of value to you and your business. I figure, at the very least, you can benefit from the lessons I re-learned through the writing of that letter.

So the next time you’re faced with a copy project, remember these three things: find the right tone; build your letter like you would a legal case; and give yourself sufficient time between each stage of the copywriting process. Your bottom line will thank you.

-Ryan M. Healy

Ryan M. Healy

Ryan Healy is a financial copywriter and the author of Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like WordStream.com, SmallBizClub.com, and MarketingForSuccess.com.

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