Writing copy is often a misunderstood art form. Yes, I used “art form” and “writing copy” in the same sentence together, because effective copywriting requires just as much creativity and reader engagement as writing an effective poem, novel, or essay.
In fact, I’d argue there’s one key to copywriting that helps all writers. That key is what drives agents and editors to request a full manuscript. That key is what triggers readers to buy and then promote books by complete strangers.
That key of copywriting is to communicate value from beginning to end.
Communicating value in nonfiction
In most forms of nonfiction, writers have the same tools as a copywriter. However, many nonfiction writers don’t take advantage of communicating value from beginning to end in their queries, proposals, and book manuscripts.
From the subject line of your e-mail to the title of your proposed book or article, communicate the value of your proposed piece. If your book shows somebody how to do something, then title it How to Do (Whatever That Something Is). If you have a clever title, make sure this value statement is in the subtitle.
I’ve talked about this in the past, but writers should never lead with their bios. They should never lead with the features of their books. Instead, they should communicate what the proposed book (or article) will help the reader achieve.
Will the reader lose weight? Become a better parent? Cook amazing dishes? Win more games of poker? Find more exciting travels? Identify birds by sight and sound? Uncover secrets to the universe or political conspiracy theories?
You might have facts, figures, research, expertise, spreadsheets, etc., but what people care about the most is value. Communicate that value from beginning to end.
Communicating value in fiction (and poetry)
That’s great that nonfiction writers can be so blunt, but how does this benefit a writer of fiction or poetry? Easy, the stories and poems deliver the value to the reader. If your story is truly exceptional, you should be able to explain why.
This means being specific about the value that your story brings to the table. If I were to describe the Harry Potter series as a collection of novels, that tells the reader nothing. It communicates absolutely no value.
However, I can start to get closer to communicating value by identifying the main characters: The Harry Potter series of novels follow an orphaned boy wizard (Harry Potter) through 7 years of wizarding school as he learns magic, comes of age, and saves the world from an evil dark wizard.
Here’s one for Watership Down: Fiver and his companions are forced to leave their home and create a new place to live or face certain death in this adventure novel–about rabbits!
Find out how to break into copywriting with the online course Breaking Into Copywriting: Use Your Creativity to Kick-Start a New Career. In just 4 weeks, learn how to generate a professional Creative Brief, write headlines and taglines that sell, create a killer sample ad for your portfolio, find and secure work as a copywriter, and more. Click to continue.
Here’s another for Bridget Jones’s Diary: A lonely secretary (Bridget Jones) creates a new identity for herself while changing careers, screwing things up (royally) regularly, weaving in and out of relationships with two bitter enemies, and ultimately falling in love.
You could actually make a game of communicating the value in various novels and stories. And these are just one-liners. Queries would continue communicating the value of the story in more detail. Adventures should be adventurous; thrillers thrilling; romances romantic; poetry poetic. You get the idea.
Top tip for communicating value
Regardless of your genre, here’s my secret for communicating value effectively. Sit down with your manuscript, your product, your service, and think. Think about how your offering benefits your target audience.
Remember: Don’t think about features. Don’t get distracted by setting or structural complexity. Instead, think about what is the benefit for the reader?
When you know the answer to this, you will know what the value is for your reader. And this is really the secret to communicating value: Know what the value is.
Once you know, you may even find that you need to revise your book, proposal, or article to match your value statement. And that makes the book more valuable and important for the reader, which isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer
Check out previous posts for writers: