From The Golden Thread Mailbag …
The Lead vs. The Big Idea

Hi Pat,

I’ve got a quick, hopefully simple, question. What, exactly, is the difference between the LEAD and the BIG IDEA? I’m not seeing a distinction between them. With the section about the lead up first in the copywriting program, followed by the info about Big Ideas engaging the reader … it’s a bit confusing.

Terri M.

Hello Terri,

Great question. There is an important distinction here.

If you re-read Section 23 of the program, you’ll see that it identifies the lead as “the copy directly after the headline. The lead delivers your big promise and introduces any important ideas that will be woven throughout your letter.”

I would suggest that you think of the lead/Big Idea relationship like this: The lead “houses” the Big Idea. The lead’s job is to emotionally hook the prospect into reading the rest of the letter. You accomplish this with a powerful, compelling Big Idea. The program gives a very good example on Page 226.

Hi Pat,

I am two-thirds of the way through the copywriting program and am enjoying it very much. My question is, how do I determine the length of a sales letter? For instance, when I land a real paying assignment, will the company I’m writing for tell me how long they want the letter to be?

A basic rule of thumb in non-fiction writing is to keep it as brief and clear as possible. However, the examples in the Hall of Fame book are incredibly long, yet were obviously very successful. As you can see, I am a little confused.

Cheryl E.

Hello Cheryl,

A general rule for sales letters is that the more expensive a product is the longer the copy will need to be. There is also a link between the type of product and the amount of “salesmanship” it takes to sell it. For instance, a magazine subscription will take less copy to sell than, say, a program designed to teach you a career-changing skill … because buying a magazine will have much less of an impact on your life.

You can get a feel for how long your copy should be by looking at promos your client has sent out in the past. Always ask for those promos – successful and unsuccessful. They provide a wealth of information to a copywriter.

Good luck and thanks to one and all. Keep those emails coming!


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Published: September 25, 2006

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