The Best of Times and Worst of Times …

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” So begins Charles Dickens’ great novel A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens grabs the reader’s attention immediately and never lets it go. He knew something that good copywriters also know: a story lead can be very effective – it’s one of the best.

Want proof? Go to the grocery store and do a little market research. Head straight to the checkout line. Notice the headlines of the magazines and newspapers. All of them promise to reveal a secret, tell a juicy story, or show you how to be thinner, happier, or sexier.

These publications (I use that term loosely!) are placed there strategically. They are spontaneous purchases that people make because they are hooked by the headline, and then reeled in by the rest of the story.

A copywriter is able to do the same thing, and there's no better way to do it than through story lead.

Learning the art of leading with story has always been important in writing traditional, long-copy sales letters. In this age of web writing, it’s vital. You only have a moment to capture the reader’s attention. And in that moment, they decide if they will click to read on or just move on to something more enticing.

It means you must have an attractive headline. There are great copywriters that have mastered this skill. That’s why I don’t want you to create headlines; I want you to swipe them instead!

I’m not encouraging you to plagiarize. But I am telling you to start a swipe file. Some of the best copywriters teach this very strategy.

Here's how it works. When you see a headline that catches your attention, save it on your computer or in a physical file. Every time you see a riveting headline or story lead, repeat the process.

Each of these headlines can be turned into a formula for projects later on. When the time comes, just open your folder and see which headline or story lead works best. Then rewrite it with a bent toward your product or service.

One of the most popular headlines ever written is “They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano. But When I Started to Play …” Since it was so effective, rewriting it could work for your product or service.

For example, a personal trainer or weight loss coach could revise it to say, “She laughed when I told her she could lose 20 lbs. with little effort, but when the pounds started melting off …” Obviously, some headlines lend themselves to easier rewriting than others, but the process itself will get your creative juices flowing.

I started this practice almost a decade ago. And I still regularly add to and raid my own swipe file! It’s my own personal well that contains hundreds of headlines, story leads, snippets of copy, and ideas that I can dip into when needed. There's no use reinventing the wheel.

Writing a good headline or lead-in is the determining factor as to whether your copy, advertisements, or email marketing campaigns ever get read. After all, what use is having a great product or service if no one wants to hear about it?

Have a favorite story lead or headline? Why not share it in the comments section?

Tomorrow, in my final installment of The Writer’s Life, I share a great “TIP” on how you can keep your stories simple and powerful. Don’t miss it.

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Published: June 14, 2012

2 Responses to “The Best of Times and Worst of Times...”

  1. Great article, good information, thanks for sharing.

    Guest (Mary M Hooker)June 14, 2012 at 6:17 pm

  2. Thank you for writing this article. Your article is sure to add value to the lives of copywriters.

    Having a swipe file for leads and catchy slogans is great, but maybe it is more effective to carry around a note pad wherever you go.

    A note pad can enable you to put your ideas down in writing.

    The muse can visit without notice. It is your job to make sure you are prepared for the challenge.

    Keeping a pen and note pad can help you reach this goal.

    Capturing ideas is a key point. Cheers.

    Archan MehtaJune 15, 2012 at 4:39 am


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