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Writing promotional copy

Promotional copy consists of words that aim to sell. Writing it is not the same as writing an essay, or a memo to explain a proposition. You should always remember that the reader of promotional copy has a choice – to read or not to read – and consequently you must make it as easy as possible for them to absorb what you have to say. In achieving this, your most useful asset will be a grasp of the importance of selectivity.

For example, you may be able to think of 20 reasons why a potential reader should decide to represent you or publish your book, but you should probably restrict yourself to two or three; perhaps even just one, depending on the time and inclination of the market to listen to you. And do make sure that the one or two you choose are relevant to the market, rather than to your own interests (e.g. a whole new look at the subject offered in your new text for first year university students, rather than a systematic debunking of a much-quoted but erroneous theory of a rival).

Think first about the audience

Your starting point should always be to concentrate on the audience to whom you are writing. What kind of people are they; in what kind of circumstances are they reading your material? How much time do they have to read? What else did they receive in the same post? How interested are they in what you are describing? If you adopt this approach, your material is far more likely to be appropriate – and hence be read.

The needs and priorities of your audience must be uppermost in your mind all the time. Talk about what interests them and how your product meets their needs. Describe the advantages and benefits of your book, rather than its features. For example, instead of: ‘This book includes a chapter on marital therapy,’ consider: ‘A valuable chapter on marital therapy allows you to try out the techniques that top consultants recommend.’

A good way of finding out whether your copy is sufficiently benefit-laden is to add the phrase ‘which means that …’ to the end of every product feature you describe. For example: ‘200 top cooking tips included’ would become ‘200 top cooking tips included, which means that you can start saving time in the kitchen immediately’.

Keep it simple

There is a temptation to dress up explanatory copy in long words, in an attempt to really convince. When writing promotional copy, however, it is usually far more effective to concentrate on simple benefits and promises, which can be grasped immediately. For example, instead of: ‘A detailed explanation of marketing techniques that have been developed and practised over Mr Kenchington’s entire career in manufacturing,’ consider: ‘Here is the wisdom gained from a lifetime’s experience in industry.’

Along the same lines, try to write in the present tense, using words you are familiar with yourself (rather than ones that are part of your ‘reading’ vocabulary – words you understand but do not use in speech very often). A useful method of finding out whether or not your text is easy to read, is to read it out loud. If you stumble over particular words or phrases, or cannot reach the end of the sentence without needing to pause for breath, the odds are that it is difficult to read.

The words you use should be immediate in their impact, and are more likely to be of Saxon origin, rather than Latin. For
example:

Saxon

Latin

news

information

now

immediately

hurt

injured

eaten

digested

In addition, try to use terms that are vivid rather than hackneyed, for example:

Vivid

Hackneyed

love

like

hate

dislike

adore

love

deranged

mad

Be very careful in the number of adjectives that you use. Try not to be ‘over-regular’; for example, giving every noun two adjectives can get very boring:

  • This useful and timely book …
  • This current and up-to-date title …
  • This accessible and readable manual …

One, none, or perhaps three might be more effective.

Asking questions is a good way of involving the reader, provided they are not questions which attract a swift ‘no’ and a jettisoning of the promotional piece!

Link the sentences and paragraphs using easy-to-read phrases like:

  • It follows that …
  • This means that …
  • In this way you can see how …

Having said keep the text simple, the insertion of interesting and unusual words can be extremely effective if they are surrounded by simpler terms. For example:

There was nothing to commend him but his smile. And she was surely too old, and had too much common sense, to be beguiled by a smile.

The use of ‘commend’ and ‘beguiled’ lend an intriguing aspect to this cover blurb for a historical novel.

For interesting words, use a thesaurus on a regular basis, and try to read good English and listen to articulate people – it’s catching!

Extract from Marketing Your Book: An Author's Guide


If you found this article useful, you might want to take a look at:

Can you sell your book?

How to write a book blurb

Match your vocabulary to the market


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