I’m delighted to welcome the wise and witty Eli Landes as a guest blogger.
Eli is a marketing writer by day and a fiction writer whenever he can squeeze in the time. His main genre is Jewish fiction, but he’s been known to dabble in the weird, the absurd, and the truly dark. Follow him at his writing website RE: Writing.
How to Use Copywriting Tactics to Improve Your Fiction Writing
He Said What?
I know, I know. It’s the type of title people get burned at the stake for (or, at the very least, earns you nasty comments on social media). Fiction writers are artists. Copywriters are salespeople. To even place the two in the same sentence is sacriligeous.
Well, you’re right.
Copywriting and fiction writing are very different disciplines.
But that doesn’t mean one can’t learn from the other.
See, I happen to do both. My passion is fiction writing, but I work as a copywriter (which I also really enjoy). And yes, my copywriting and my fiction writing are very different from each other. But at the same time, my copywriting experience has greatly influenced my fiction writing.
The Essence of a Copywriter
Copywriting is a complex field that encompasses a lot of skills. There’s blogging, SEO, research, editing, marketing—just to name a few. But those are simply layers to the copywriter cake (if I can make a really weird analogy). The essence of what a copywriter does is this:
A copywriter writes clear and concise content that communicates directly to the reader to persuade them to take action.
In short, therefore, the four key attributes of basic copywriting is:
- A focus on the reader, and;
- A call to action
And all four of these can be used to improve your fiction writing.
When Fiction Writing Needs Improving
Let’s talk numbers for a moment. How many books have you read that were in dire need of editing? How many books out there just aren’t good enough to get anywhere?
There are a lot of books that become wildly successful. But for every one that does, how many more don’t?
I don’t know the numbers, but I’m willing to wager it’s a pretty unfair ratio. And that leads us to the big question:
Does all this leave you wondering if your book is next to join the unknown and forgotten?
You’re not alone if it does. I know it bothers me about my book.
There are a lot of things you can do to make sure your perfect book gets found by the right people. I’m not going to talk about that, because I’m not qualified to.
What I am going to do is talk about the other scenario—when your perfect book isn’t really perfect at all. When you need to do some editing and don’t know where to begin.
And that’s where thinking like a copywriter comes in.
You’re Not a Copywriter—But You Can Think Like One
Obviously, I don’t mean that you should actually write your story as if it’s copy. What I am suggesting is that you use the four attributes of a copywriter as a focus for your book.
No, this doesn’t mean to always write bare-bone descriptions and skim through the action. It’s a story—you need to tell it properly if it’s going to impact anyone. But there’s a difference between an engaging description and rambling filler. There’s a difference between an important plot twist and a completely unnecessary side-trip that doesn’t add anything to the story.
Instead of “keep it as short as possible,” try, “keep it as short as possible without sacrificing your story.”
I can’t stress this enough. How many times have you read a paragraph in a book and then read it again because you didn’t have a clue what it’s saying? We fiction writers get away with it because we can blame it on art. Copywriters don’t have that luxury.
Art is beautiful and it’s engaging and it’s powerful. Poorly written sentences that nobody understands aren’t art—they’re just lazy.
No one will like your story if they don’t get what it means.
Focus on the Reader:
Yes, you’re a writer, and yes, you need to worry about writing the best book you can. But part of that involves thinking about the reader, too. What does he like? What does she want to read? If someone else had written this and you were the reader, would you enjoy it?
It’s readers who buy your books and readers who give them good reviews. So think like them. Write what they would want to read.
Call to action:
You may not realize it, but every single part of your book is a subtle call to action to your reader. You’re asking them to keep reading. To turn the page, to read the next chapter—in short, to not put the book down.
And just like in copywriting, everything you write has to be tailored to achieve that goal.
If you want them to turn the page, you need to give them a reason to. When the chapter ends, they have to be intrigued enough to read the next one.
You won’t achieve that if your writing is clunky and difficult to read. Write so the story flows. Write so it’s tense, write so it sweeps your readers away.
Write to keep them reading.
TL;FA (too long; fell asleep)? I won’t take it personally. Here are the key points:
- Every part of your story needs to earn its place to be there. You can—and even should—take the time to develop your characters and write engaging descriptions. But if it’s unnecessary filler, cut it out.
- This one’s non-negotiable: be clear. What’s the point of writing something if no one understands what you’re saying? Clarity is key.
- Remember that someone’s going to read your story. So forget, for a moment, what you want to write. Ask yourself if your readers will want to read it.
- Every part of your story needs to be written in a way that it keeps your readers reading.
I am a copywriter and I have a book that I have written. This is quite helpful in that I can now reconstruct it to make more sense. I just never thought of it before. It will also make it more interesting. I have read it a few times and to me it is just boring. May be because it happened to me and I have gone over it so many times. I think others will like it, but I need to now edit it better. Thanks Eli
Thanks for stopping by, Jo Ann. Eli does a great job of boiling the concepts down to their essence. Thinking about what the reader wants/needs is so important and too easily forgotten when we’re writing. Thanks, Eli, for making us more mindful of our readers.
Thank you Debbie, and thank you Jo Ann! I’m glad you found this helpful.
My pleasure, Jo Ann. I’m glad you found it helpful.
(Sorry for the late reply)
Thank you, Debbie!
Eli, it’s my pleasure. Fiction writers have much to learn from copywriters. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!