As the train pulled out of station Montparnasse in Paris I was surprised by who I saw at the end of the car.

I already knew that Michael Masterson, one of the world’s top copywriters, was on board and heading to the French countryside for the three-day writing conference I was attending. But now I saw John Forde taking a seat beside him. To have Forde presenting at the conference as well as Masterson would be a fabulous extra bonus.

I walked up towards the front of the car to say hello, but as I approached, the two writers were embroiled in an animated discussion. Michael had already laid out a few pages of scribbled notes on the spare seat beside him. It turns out these were the seeds of some golden writing nuggets that I would be getting at the conference… and which I’m going to share with you today.

At 8 a.m. sharp the next morning Masterson and Forde began revealing the secrets of their copywriting craft to some 25 fortunate protégés at the conference center in Courtomer.

The first order of business?

“Introduce yourself, where you are from, and what got you interested in writing,” John Forde said.

We started going around the room.

“I was raised in a family of book lovers in Johannesburg. There was never a television. Our house overflowed with the classics, from Aristotle to Shakespeare. As a life-long reader I naturally drifted towards trying out writing myself,” said a charming young lady from South Africa.

A portly Englishman was up next. “I love rock music, and I used to read the Rolling Stone magazine from the U.S. They had some good journalists… Hunter Thompson and some others,” he said. “It got me hooked on the whole writing thing.”

Lars from Deutschland spoke next. “I read The Sun Also Rises eight years ago and immediately knew I wanted to be a writer.”

By the time we’d gone around the room, John Forde had noticed an interesting trend.

“No less than half of you have mentioned great storytellers as being a major influence or at least something you’re interested in. And maybe that’s not a coincidence,” Forde said. “Because the ability to tell good stories – even in sales copy – can be a powerful skill.”

“And as luck would have it,” Masterson chimed in, “over the next three days, you’re going to learn all about how to write more powerful story leads… and five other kinds of leads as well.”

An ETR Reader Faces a Common Problem

If you’re not familiar with the term, a “lead” is the beginning portion of an article. I was reminded about story leads, and my trip to the France writing conference, when I received a letter from ETR reader Heidi Walter.

Heidi writes, “I have recently started creating and selling e-books and other products online. I am a fairly good writer and an excellent editor.  But where I fall down is in getting ideas to begin the sales letter.”

She continues, “I make a list of features and benefits and write some headlines, then I stare at them and nothing happens! Do you have any tricks you use to get your own creative writing juices going?”

Well, Heidi, yes. It just so happens that thanks to John Forde and Michael Masterson, I do have a “trick.” And it’s a very powerful one that Early to Rise readers have never heard about until today.

You already know that copywriting is a lucrative career opportunity. And writing – whether it’s sales copy or articles for your e-mail newsletter – can help you become an expert, gain recognition, and make more money.

That’s why I want you to resolve – today – to use the technique I’m about to show you to write better and more often.

There are dozens of ways to begin a sales letter. But at the France conference, in a breakthrough session, Masterson and Forde explained for the first time ever that there are six core ways to begin a sales letter:

  • Offer/Promise
  • Invitation
  • Prediction
  • How To
  • Secret
  • Story

So as a writer facing that blank screen, the first thing you can do is think about your product or service and then decide which approach you would like to use.

Let’s say for example you have a llama obedience training service. You should come up with some headline ideas for each lead type that would indicate how your sales letter would then start.

Examples:

Offer: “Now Raise Healthy, Happy Llamas in 90 Days or Less for Under $100 – or You Get Every Cent Back.”

Invitation: “You Have Been Selected to Join a Private Group of the World’s Leading Llama Enthusiasts.”

Prediction: “This August 15, a Global Crisis Will Strike the Animal Kingdom. But a Few Savvy Pet Lovers Will Profit Dramatically.  Here’s How to Get In…”

How To: “How to Make a Killing in the Surprising New Llama-Training Franchise Market”

Secret: “Bizarre ‘Miami Method’ Behavioral Program Shocks Experts”

Story: “We Were 15KM Outside Brisbane When the Road Began Trembling…”

Masterson and Forde went on to explain how these six leads further fall into two broader categories, direct and indirect.

An example of a direct lead is, “Here’s a pill that will lower your cholesterol level.”

An example of an indirect lead is, “John  felt a sharp pain in his chest…he bent over…”

Direct leads are more “in your face” because they come right out and tell you about the offer.

Indirect leads do NOT come right out and say what the subject is all about. The reader needs to follow the story; he needs to get into the action and the emotion before any solution (product or service) is offered.

Deciding Which Type of Lead to Use

Typically, the closer the relationship between the reader and the writer, the more direct the message is. So in your marketing, you would often use direct leads for ads or promotions to your existing customers (i.e., back-end packages).

Offers to prospects who don’t know you yet (i.e., front ends) need to be “softer” so that in the writing you have time to lay the groundwork of trust.

Entire books could be written on this topic of leads. In fact Michael Masterson is doing exactly that (stay tuned to ETR for details).

But until Michael’s book becomes available, the next time you are facing that blank screen, here what to do.

First decide: direct or indirect.

Then pick out one of the six core lead types.

At the very least, you’ll have a fairly well-defined frame of reference or starting place that can help you get the ball rolling. And as we all know, once the ball is rolling, it only gets easier from there.

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Charlie Byrne

Charlie Byrne is a former Senior Copywriter and Editorial Director for Early to Rise. Charlie spent the earlier part of his business career as a systems analyst, project manager and consultant in New York City for Fortune 100 companies including Philip Morris, Digital Equipment, and Citicorp as well as New York University and Columbia University. He then spent over ten years at Reuters Ltd and Interealty Corp designing and implementing financial, real estate and news information services. In 2003, he joined Early to Rise as a senior editor and copywriter. Since then he has helped publish over 1000 editions of ETR, resulting in gross revenues of well over $25 million. He has also produced dozens of winning sales letters and promotions, including two that brought in over $200,000 in under 24 hours, another two that have grossed over $1 million each, and a single sales letter that sold 25 units of a $10,000 product.

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