Is “Warm Up Copy” Killing Your Promotion?
By Will Newman

Mario is one of the first people I got to know when I moved to our small mountain town. He’s one of my closest friends. But, when he has something important to say …

 … I feel like shaking him and yelling, “Get to the point!”

Do you have a friend like Mario? Someone who takes a long, leisurely start at what he wants to say?

Worse, is your writing like Mario? Does it wander around before it finally says what it needs to say to snag your prospect’s attention?

In wandering around, do those first paragraphs push your prospect to dump your letter into the garbage?

Or, are they fulfilling your lead’s four crucial objectives:

  • Building a relationship with your prospect …
  • Developing credibility …
  • Establishing urgency …
  • And, most important, getting your prospect to read on!

If you’re like most copywriters – including me – the first few paragraphs you write for your promo are what I call “warm up copy.”

This is copy that tries to guide your reader into the important part of what you want to say. Maybe it explains the reason you’re writing. Maybe it establishes the background for your copy. Maybe it’s a personal little story you think helps get you in touch with the reader.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say you’re writing about a nutritional supplement. You start by explaining how depleted the nutritional value of our food is. It makes sense to do this. Or, so you think.

You’re setting up a rationale for using supplements. You’re going to get your prospect to buy into the idea that nutritional supplements in general are really needed. Once you do that, you’ll “spring the trap,” and get him to understand what you’re selling is the best possible solution.

But, what you’re really doing is losing your prospect. Warm up copy like this kills response.

Don’t worry. You’re a normal writer if you write warm up copy. All of us do it. Journalists even have a name for what happens when you write warm up copy. They call it a “buried lead.”

“Buried lead” hints at a solution.

The solution to eliminating warm up copy is to find your buried lead. The way to find it is by using Mark Ford’s “Rule of Thumb.”

After you’ve written your copy – or at least a good amount of it – go back and read the first page or two all the way through. Once you’ve read the entire page, read it again. But this time, block off the first paragraph with your hand, an index card, or your thumb. (That’s why the name “Rule of Thumb”).

If you don’t lose any power of your writing by eliminating that first paragraph, it’s not part of your lead. It doesn’t belong in your lead. Get rid of it. Either delete it or use it someplace else in your copy.

Do this again for the next paragraph. If you don’t lose any power by blocking it out, get rid of that one, too. Do this with each paragraph in your copy until you get to a paragraph you honestly feel your copy cannot do without.

That paragraph is your buried lead. Make it the first paragraph of your promo.

In all likelihood, the paragraphs that follow this true (buried) lead are stronger than the ones you eliminated with the Rule of Thumb. Evaluate them anyway using the Rule of Thumb until you feel your lead is strong enough to fulfill its four crucial purposes.

Something interesting happens after you’ve used Mark’s Rule of Thumb religiously on all your promos. You write less warm up copy. You write it less often.

You’re able to instinctually and naturally start writing leads that get right to the point … leads that pull your prospect into your copy in the first two or three paragraphs. Leads that generate sales … and success.

I’d love to hear your experience with writing warm up copy. Do you regularly write it? Has Mark’s Rule of Thumb helped eliminate it and strengthened your leads?

Let us know below.

I look forward to seeing you here again next week. Until then, remember the one most crucial thing you need to do to become a successful writer: WRITE!

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Published: February 15, 2016

10 Responses to “Are Your First 100 Words Killing Your Copy’s Success?”

  1. I'm just starting on 'the Program,' and have not yet written much copy. But when I read the comment about 'buried lead,' I was mentally pronouncing it as 'led,' and thinking of old fashioned cast type that would be discarded, actually more likely remelted rather than buried.

    [COMMENT FROM WILL: Newspaper editors traditionally spelled 'lead' as 'lede' to avoid that very confusion. My father-in-law was a printer who started in hot type and finished his career at the Oakland Tribune proofreading ads (he was THAT good). I learned a great deal about the printing art from him.]

    PhillOFebruary 15, 2016 at 10:50 am

  2. I'm rather new to copywriting (I signed up for AWAI's Accelerated Copywriting a week ago), but your advice on the rule of thumb and how it can strengthen writing is spot on. I use this rule when writing fiction, poetry, and college essays (I'm also a full time graduate student in English at the moment), and when I really work at the beginnings of my writing, cutting the inessential, my writing drastically improves. I look forward to using the rule of thumb for the copy I write in the future!

    BenRFebruary 15, 2016 at 11:13 am

  3. Guilty as charged! Good article. On my honor, I will do my best to avoid future first fluff.
    Robert Phillips

    Robert PhillipsFebruary 15, 2016 at 11:26 am

  4. Making my buried lead, alive has really helped me to improve not only my copy but my every piece of writing.
    Rule of thumb rules the world of writers. It makes their writing powerful, attention grabbing and prominent to outstand the world of printed words.
    Practising rule of thumb in speech is equally useful and keep listeners interested in your spoken words same as the copy written under the rule of thumb.
    Thanks Will for the reminder of the golden rule to write copy.

    Nusrat February 15, 2016 at 1:06 pm

  5. Brilliant. I have 2 clients. We'll call them client A and client B.

    Client A works with direct response copywriters. And every piece of copy goes through Peer Review. The buried lead ALWAYS gets attention. And I'm grateful for someone pointing it out if I missed it.

    Client B works with several very good copywriters. But doesn't use Peer Review. It's either great copy. Or needs some work. Working with Client A keeps me on my toes so I don't succumb to buried leads with Client B.

    [COMMENT FROM WILL: Peer reviews are golden!]

    David TomenFebruary 15, 2016 at 4:19 pm

  6. Thank you for your article.

    I refer to this: "Let’s say you’re writing about a nutritional supplement. You start by explaining how depleted the nutritional value of our food is. It makes sense to do this....

    But, what you’re really doing is losing your prospect. Warm up copy like this kills response."

    So, my main take-away is that one should not state the problem in the lead; that is, the problem for which one's product/service is the solution.

    I'm not sure I understand this. Thanks!

    Don JonesFebruary 15, 2016 at 4:48 pm

  7. Hi Will, I have heard this before but I must be thick headed because it never sinks in. Thank you for the reminder; I hope I can make it one of those things that you just do by instinct. Meantime any reminder is fine with me!

    Guest (Joe Reynolds)February 15, 2016 at 7:45 pm

  8. Thank you Will, I love to read everything you write. I am writing a book at this time about life from a child to now. My wife and I developed and ran a very successful farming enterprise for 39 years. We are now retired. This book apart from some handwritten letters is the only writing I have done so far. I do try to write every day. I will try the thumb rule to paragraphs in my book, thank you so much.

    Dave E AustraliaFebruary 16, 2016 at 7:26 pm


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