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Want to Write Good Copy? Think Like a Novelist

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Copywriting is a keystone skill of any marketer.

Hubspot describes copy “like a call-to-action, but on a bigger scale: Copywriters are trying to get people to feel, think, or respond -- or, ideally, to Google the slogan or brand to learn more about the campaign. And where a blog post has the luxury of hundreds of words with which to make a case, copywriters only have a few words to make their case.”

Translation: copywriting is hard. To be really effective at writing copy, you have to understand your audience and feel their problems. Then you have to grab and hold your audience’s attention and convince them that you understand their problems. That’s a tall order.

To take your skills to the next level, you need to take lessons from someone who does this well.

So who’s the best at grabbing your attention and holding it for hours? Who understands other people’s problems so deeply that they can make an unsuspecting passerby also understand and care? A novelist, of course!

Get into the Action, and Get There Fast

A good novelist is a master at capturing your attention and holding it for hours over the course of hundreds of pages and several days. The best do this by introducing the action early. They send a wizard, followed by a party of rambunctious dwarves to the doorstep of a peace-loving hobbit at the very start of their story.

Don’t make the reader of your copy wait. Like a good novelist, get straight to the point. State the problem from the get-go. Get into the action, and get there fast.

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Show, Don’t Tell.

This is common advice for writers of fiction, and should be for copywriters too.

Have you ever read a book that introduces each character explicitly like, “This is Tim. He’s an engineer and gets mad when people interrupt him?” Me either. A good novelist would show Tim’s disdain for being interrupted by having him huff when people poke their heads in his office.

In the same way, you should approach addressing your audience’s problems the same way. You’ve got to understand their problems so well that you can speak as if they’re your own problems.

"Show, don't tell," can be translated from novelist-speak to copywriter-speak as, "Sell the benefits, not the features."

People are rarely so self-aware that they can say, “This interface is distracting and cumbersome to interact with. I need a product that is more intuitive and simple.” Instead they say, “This is confusing and I’m annoyed.”

They can’t identify the problem with a product, so the features your product has may not resonate with them. You don’t want to have to sell them a product AND a problem. Instead, you have to latch on to their emotions and sell the experience.

Take this copy from Evernote as an example:

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Evernote describes the benefits the user will experience after using their product. They focus on selling the benefits rather than the features.

Be Human

Novelists are lucky because they get to literally impersonate people. But... wait a minute, so do copywriters!

You are a human being. So act like one! Forget about trying to use the most powerful adjectives known to mankind to describe your products, and use the words you would use if you were talking to your friends.

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Think Like a Novelist

Good novelists suck you into their world and hold your attention for hundreds of pages. They’re so good at understanding the human mind that they can create lifelike characters from thin air. Their characters’ problems are so well-understood that readers like you and me are drawn in, compelled to care, and convinced that these imaginary problems are our problems too.

Take a line from the novelist’s book. Get straight to the problem your audience faces. Think like them, address the benefits of your products instead of the features, and don’t forget to be human.

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Copywriting is a keystone skill of any marketer.

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