Selling, Honesty, and Imagination


Never hide what you’re after. Hiding what you’re after makes people hate you. When you’re talking business, speak directly.


Are you writing a poem? Are you writing a song? Are you writing a novel?


That’s great. If you’re doing those things, it’s fine to be as cryptic as you want to be. But when you’re talking business, speak directly.


I know people will tell you all this malarkey about how you’re supposed to build customer personas and figure out exactly who you’re dealing with and who you’re selling to before you even talk to them. Maybe it works for somebody, but the fact is: most of the time that stuff comes off as incredibly creepy. Worse than that, it leaves you feeling slimy and manipulative.


(And to make it even worse, it doesn’t even work very well!)


Selling is simple. Here’s how it should go:


Person A: Do you want to buy my thing?


Person B: Yes, I want to buy your thing.


See that? It’s simple. There’s none of this mindless, masturbatory song and dance where you act like you’re not trying to sell something and end up making an asshole out of yourself. If you’re selling something, own it. If you’ve got the goods, you don’t have to play a lot of subtle tricks.


There’s nothing people resent more than when you pretend you’re not selling something when you really are selling something.


Take pretty much the entire internet as an example. This whole wrongheaded, bullshitty idea of “content marketing” is just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. Sure, make your marketing look like it’s a blog and that will lead customers to you in droves.


Does it work? Eh, maybe, sometimes, sort of. But it’s worth a try.


Or this whole insipid idea of SEO. “I know, let’s junk up our articles with a lot of keywords and slap a lot of complex terminology on commonsense website development.”


That’s what SEO boils down to. But there’s a whole industry built on that one god-awful idea.


Now, I told you there’s nothing people resent more than when you pretend you’re not selling something when you’re selling something. So it’s time for me to come clean.


I’m selling something. I’m a writer, and I’m selling my writing services.


Before you ask: no, I do not want to join your company full-time, no I don’t want to talk to you on the phone, and no I don’t want to visit you in your office. Pretty much the whole point of taking up freelance writing for a living is so you can avoid human contact as much as possible. So unless you’re an insanely beautiful woman with a thing for writers I’m much too busy. Just let me do my writing thing while you do your business-running thing.


And another thing: for the love of God, quit asking me if I’ve got extensive experience in your field. I’m twenty-five years old and my degree is in philosophy—so unless you’re trying to puzzle out the Pure Categories of the Understanding, I probably don’t know a ton about what you do.


But guess what? I know how to read, I’m a quick learner, and I’ve got an appetite for knowledge. The simple fact of the matter is that copywriting doesn’t take a ton of previous knowledge in your field.


I know you’re probably getting all up in arms over there, thinking “My field is so special you could never understand it in all its complexity!”


And you’re probably right about that. But all I need to know is a few simple things I can pick up fairly quickly: I need to know a little terminology, I need to know who your buyer is, and I need to know what your offer does for them.


It’s not all that complicated. No matter how arcane your market is, it’s accessible to that approach. Copywriting is copywriting, whether you’re selling condoms, Communist revolutions, or Tic-Tacs. Human psychology is the same everywhere.


People try to complicate copywriting, as if they’ve got this need to justify their rates. Copywriting isn’t complicated. You grab a reader’s attention and you keep them reading until they feel a strong enough desire to buy. The fact is, the longer your reader reads your thing, the more interested they are in buying.


So don’t shy away from letting people know exactly what you’re up to. People are smart. They’ll figure it out whether you tell them or not, but they’ll like you a hell of a lot more if you’re honest and forthright with them.
Maybe that means a bunch of people are going to quit reading as soon as they realize you’re trying to sell something. That’s great! Because it means the people who stick around are at least willing to stick around to read even after you’ve made it clear you’re trying to sell something.


Guess what? That means they haven’t ruled out the possibility of buying from you. They may even have taken the critical leap toward imagining what it would be like to purchase your product or service.


That’s key. Imagination is key. If you can draw someone’s imagination into what you write, you can tap into their interest on a deeper level. I know that sounds a little woo-woo and airy-fairy, but in all honesty that’s what copywriting is all about. It’s about creating desire, and desire is nothing without imagination.


Let me give you an example: why is a woman in lingerie almost always more alluring than a woman not in lingerie? It’s because the lingerie engages the imagination. You imagine peeling it off her smooth skin, and that simple bit of imagination inflames the desire.


That’s an example of what I’m talking about. Imagination and desire are inextricably linked, and if you’re going to channel desire into sales, you have to know how to direct the imagination.


That’s the artistry of copywriting. That’s the importance of the imagination. And that’s the value of a good copywriter.


3 Ways Your Copy can Grab Attention


You’ve got a major problem when you’re writing copy. Do you know what it is?


No, I said that wrong: you’ve got about a million and five problems when you’re writing copy. Do you know a few of the biggest ones?


Just give me a minute and I’ll let you know about some of the most important ones I’ve come across:


  1. You Don’t Capture the Reader’s Imagination

Bad copy is like a cake that nobody thought to put any sugar into.


Now, I want you to take out a needle and tattoo this sentence into your brain: If it doesn’t taste good, nobody consumes it.


Your reader has a thousand other things clamoring for her attention right now. Speak to the imagination, entice the senses, and ensnare their attention.


Because if you don’t seize the imagination, you don’t get read. And if you don’t get read, you sure as hell don’t do any selling.

  1. You Don’t Assume Any Authority

Sure, you’re good enough at it in real life, but the moment you sit in front of a keyboard you melt into an apologetic mess of “Excuse me, but…” and “If you don’t mind…” and “I hope it’s not too much trouble…”


Quit that. It’s nauseatingly bad. It’s almost as bad as the emails you sometimes get with the grammar so bad you’d like to break the sender’s knuckles one by one.


It makes you look like the guy in the bar who can’t approach the pretty girl because he’s so worried she’ll say no. And when he finally gets the guts to walk up to her he’s so busy apologizing for the fact that he exists that it’s almost like he’s asking her to reject him.


You’ve got too much self-respect for that. You’ve got authority in real life. Show it in your writing.


Don’t ask for attention. Command it.

  1. You Don’t Speak to the Reader’s Desires

This one’s the most common, and it’s by far the worst. This is the one where you assume your wants and needs are so much more important than your reader’s that you end up talking around them instead of TO THEM!


Because I’ve got news for you: your reader couldn’t give less of a damn about the design specs on your product if they tried.


Since the dawn of civilization, precisely nobody has bought anything because of the design specs. People aren’t interested in facts. They’re interested in what the facts can do for them.


Napoleon Bonaparte put it best when he said of his soldiers, “A man does not have himself killed for a half-pence a day or for a petty distinction. You must speak to the soul in order to electrify him.”


Design specs won’t sell your prospects. So ask yourself: how do you electrify their souls?