How to Write Copy that Reads Like a Bestseller

How to Write Copy that Reads Like a Bestseller
Jamie Lee Wallace - Thu Jul 14, 2011 @ 08:13AM
Comments: 38

manreading.jpgDoes your marketing copy grip your readers, drawing them in and pulling them along; or does it send them into a semi-catatonic state more conducive to REM sleep than taking action on your offer?

As a writer who makes her living as a content marketer (website copy, e-books, blogs, etc), but aspires to be the next J.K. Rowling, I’ve found that many of my fiction writing skills can be put to good use in the marcom world. Good business writing does not have to be staid and boring. It should be lively, relevant, engaging, and make the reader want to turn the page … even if the “page” is a virtual one, or a matter of clicking more deeply into your website. 


Here are four fiction techniques that can be used to make your marketing copy read like a bestseller:


Sense of Story:

Every good story has certain elements that invite the reader in and then keep him interested to the end. When you are writing copy, ask yourself who the protagonist (hero) of your story is. (Hint – it’s not you or your product.) Consider the theme you’re working with. Are you writing about courage, transformation, growth, discovery? Guide your reader into the right mindset by setting your scene with careful attention to detail. Paint a world that he can identify with immediately. Play with different ways to add drama to your copy. Don’t just lay out the facts; think about how you would tell the story if you were at a cocktail party. Think about the different characters and what their personalities, motivations, and style are like. Try to work those into what you’re writing so you can bring the players to life in the readers mind. 


Story Structure:

The classic story structure is a 3-act play. In it’s simplest form, it looks like this:

Act 1: We establish the characters, the situation, and the stakes

Act 2: The protagonist tries to reach a goal, but comes up against obstacles

Act 3: The protagonist resolves the problem and comes out a wiser/kinder/happier person

Story structure is about a story “arc” that takes the reader on a journey from one point to another. Any good story has a point and involves some kind of transformation. 

Larry Brooks, a fiction writer and teacher, has some excellent articles and e-books about the art of story structure at his Storyfix blog. I highly recommend his work.


Strong Vocabulary:

The technical aspect is about using words well. You may think that this applies more to poetry and novels than your latest white paper, but I would argue that strong vocabulary is at least as important in business writing as in fiction writing. Fiction writing must entertain and sometimes enlighten. Marketing copy has to persuade the reader to take action, often in as few words as possible. The right word choice can make all the difference in how your reader perceives your brand, your offer, your company’s philosophy. Stay away from the clichéd phrases and buzz words and search out fresh, clear, specific words that will wake your reader up and drive your point home.



Finally, we return to the artistic side of things. Tempo or “musicality” may not seem to serve any purpose in marketing, but you might be surprised. The best way to determine if your copy has a smooth and pleasing tempo is to read it out loud. If you stumble over a word or phrase, your writing has lost its tempo. Readers (even if only reading to themselves) will also stumble, and – for all intensive purposes – fall out of your “story.” Breaks in tempo are distracting. You don’t want any distractions when you’re trying to move your reader to action. Read your work aloud and polish up those rough spots. 



These fiction tips aren’t just for use in case studies. Though case studies do lend themselves most easily to the use of story, you can also take advantage of these techniques for your “about” page, your team bios, your product pages. Bringing the elements of good fiction to your marketing copy will keep your prospects and customers reading long past the cover and inside flap. It will sweep them up and persuade them to become part of your story. 


Do you use fiction techniques in your writing? Have you seen good use of these techniques on other websites or e-books? 



JME5670V2smCROP.jpgAbout the Author: Jamie is a freelance strategist, teacher, and copywriter who partners with solo entrepreneurs to define and market their brands. Her specialties include brand development, social media strategy, and content marketing. Enjoy more of her posts, visit her site at Suddenly Marketing, or drop her an email.

More posts by Jamie.

Image Credit: Martin Gommel


Comments: 38


1. Kimmo Linkama  |  my website   |   Thu Jul 14, 2011 @ 01:01PM

Thank you for this reminder, Jamie. I'll have to go over my own website and blog from this point of view -- all too often forgotten amidst all the "being useful & SEO" thoughts.

Oh, and by the way, special thanks for not headlining this post "4 ways to - -".

2. Jamie Lee Wallace  |  my website   |   Thu Jul 14, 2011 @ 03:33PM

Hi, Kimmo! :)

I'm glad to have provided a reminder & am sure that you have LOADS of great stories running through your life and business.

You made me laugh about the "4 ways to ..." TKS for that.

Always a pleasure. See you around the web!

3. Nick Stamoulis  |  my website   |   Tue Jul 19, 2011 @ 09:19AM

It's important to always keep the reader in mind and write in a way that will keep them engaged. When writing for the web, it's important to think about SEO, but the primary focus should be on the reader. After all, they are the ones making the decision to buy, not the search engine spiders.

4. Richard Bellikoff  |  my website   |   Tue Jul 19, 2011 @ 03:47PM

Storytelling skills are especially useful for writing press releases. Too many of them, especially on company sites, are just announcements of new product or service launches. To get attention these days, a press release should be newsworthy. It should tell a story and draw the reader in.

And now that Rowling has ended her Harry Potter series, the time is ripe for Jamie to step into her shoes with a new character. Meanwhile, the age-old advice still applies: Keep your day job.

5. David Crankshaw  |  my website   |   Wed Jul 20, 2011 @ 12:19PM

Hi Jamie - Great post on the use of storytelling. I also think Larry Brooks is good and enjoy his guidance on story structure.

Another resource that might be useful for people is Robert McKee who teaches and advises screenwriters in Los Angeles. His book is titled, appropriately enough, "Story."

Here's an HBS interview with McKee about the use of story in business ( And here is a funny clip ( from the movie Adaptation where Nicholas Cage plays a "struggling screenwriter" who goes to one of McKee's seminars. (Note: language in this clip may not be safe for work.)

Thanks again,


6. Jamie Lee Wallace  |  my website   |   Wed Jul 20, 2011 @ 06:00PM

@Nick - Your comment gave me the funniest image of a huge spider trying to make a buying decision. I love your philosophy - even more so knowing that it's coming from an SEO guy. There is definitely a balance to strike that can serve both the reader and the spider. ;)

Thanks for coming by!

7. Jamie Lee Wallace  |  my website   |   Wed Jul 20, 2011 @ 06:04PM

@Richard - Hello! I couldn't agree more. Far too often, press releases are boring, internally-focused boilerplate. Whenever I'm asked to write a release, my first question is, "What's the bigger context?" The people you're pitching need a story with a hook - give them one, right?

BTW - Floored by your range of experience and expertise - from sitcoms to marcom ... that must be quite a wild ride you're on! ;)

Thanks for adding your two cents.

8. Jamie Lee Wallace  |  my website   |   Wed Jul 20, 2011 @ 06:52PM

David - Thanks for sharing those links. I love that scene from Adaptation. McKee knows how to make his point!

I haven't read Story, but it's on my list. He is, after all, the master. Really great article on the Harvard site - I've captured that in my Evernote files for future reference.

Thanks much!

9. Jennifer   |   Thu Jul 28, 2011 @ 05:34PM

Fun suggestions! I would love to see some more examples of how a business can use this type of writing style to intrigue their audiences.

10. Jamie Lee Wallace  |  my website   |   Fri Jul 29, 2011 @ 02:08PM

Maybe I'll do a follow-up!

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