How many writers out there love to sell? I’m guessing not many. Yeah, copywriters sell. I did a lot of copywriting work in a previous life. That tailed off when I decided to write a book.
No matter what kind of writer you are, you still need to sell. Competition is too high to expect someone to read your stuff just because they know you. This inconvenient fact is true for serious pieces as much light-hearted or cheesy self-help.
I’m not going to write about headlines here. You’ll find a million other pieces about headlines. I’m going to share more subtle written sales techniques. These aren’t unheard of or unknown. I’m certain you’ll be familiar with one or two. They’re not flashy, push-button techniques that will beguile your readers into a trance. Instead, they’re robust techniques that take a bit of work, but they’ll keep your reader riveted.
This technique is similar to what you call show not tell. I prefer the word demonstration because it better describes the intent. It’s tempting to tell the world about your expertise, how many awards you’ve won and how many degrees you’ve earned. Yes, there’s a place for that, but it’s not the best way to sell yourself.
Your reader may or may not believe your claims and the social proof to back up your claims. Your reader cannot deny your demonstration.
How do you demonstrate your brilliance instead of stating it? Let’s reverse the question. Pretend you’re the reader. What kind of demonstration would it take to convince you of your expertise?
I can tell you I’m an expert at persuasive writing. You can easily dismiss my claim. But what if I teach you how to write persuasively? Yes, teaching is the single best demonstration tool.
A personal story about a success, written in third-person, can also be an effective form of demonstration, though it is not always appropriate.
Specificity in your details demonstrates that you’ve done your research and are privy to privileged information.
Incongruous — not in harmony or keeping with the surroundings or other aspects of something.
Things that are out of place, puzzling or don’t make sense grab our attention. When we come across an incongruity, we feel compelled to stick around until its resolution.
What would you think if I told you that I once stalked my way to a job interview or had a client who was a trial attorney with a severe stuttering problem?
You wouldn’t expect someone to stalk their way to getting a job interview.
You wouldn’t expect a trial attorney to have severe stuttering issues. The question that comes to your mind is: How? I have to know how.
Create an incongruity early on and leave it open until the end of your piece. You can also close out an incongruity and replace it with a new one.
Tell A Secret/Exclusivity
Don’t you resent when someone withholds a secret for you? Most humans hate it. Conversely, we love it when we’re privy to exclusive information. We love it more when someone shares a secret with us and nobody else. It makes us feel special. That’s not always possible in your writing unless it’s a one on one piece.
We also covet gossip. The gossip needs to be relevant to our interests. It serves our purpose, as long as it relates to our interests, social groups or peer groups.
Certainty is a simple concept, but I’m amazed at how often we violate the certainty principle. Most people crave certainty. We clamor for leaders who promise certainty. We buy from businesses that promise certainty. Would you buy a new car from a salesman who tells you you’ll probably love the way it drives?
Think about it in your life. Certainty makes you feel calm. Uncertainty causes anxiety. I don’t know what you write about, but most people prefer peaceful and serene over jitters and anxiety.
Throw-away phrases like these, weaken your conclusions and assertions.
I apologize if this doesn’t work for you
More often than not
Often (I’m guilty of this one)
There are dozens more of these qualifiers that weaken your writing. If you’re confident of something, say it with certainty.
Your One Of Us
Picture your ideal reader. What are her demographics? What is her day like? What does she love, hate and desire? Write down a list of ten (or more) different traits that your typical reader will have in common.
Now, pretend you’re one of those people, and you all belong to the same social group. Pretend you’re all sitting in a circle talking about the subject of your writing. Now, go and write.
A former mentor walked me through this exercise several years ago. It forces you to write in a way that promotes group cohesion. It makes the reader feel like they’re part of your elite inner circle. You want your reader to feel like they’re one of you and belong in your elite group.
Be warned; this exercise helps you create that feel. Editing often sanitizes that effect.