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Copywriting

20 Copywriting Lessons from Stephen King

Shock! Horror!  That’s what Stephen King’s name calls to mind. But it’s not all he writes. In my opinion, Stephen King has written one of the best books around about writing. It’s about the development of his writing career and writing tips and it’s called On Writing. And I reckon, it’s not just good for learning about writing in general, but about conversion-centered copywriting. See if you agree with me.

[tweet_box design=”box_5″] 20 Copywriting Lessons from Stephen King @SHurleyHall[/tweet_box]

King outlines 20 rules for good writing, described in detail on the Barnes and Noble and Open Culture blogs. Here’s how I think those rules apply to copywriting for conversions.

1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience.

When you’re focusing on conversions, you have to think about the audience, but there’s another way to think about this advice. It’s all about focusing on the story you are telling. If you make it compelling even for you, then it will be compelling for your audience and that’s when you’ll see a conversion boost.

2. Don’t use passive voice.

Using the passive can weaken the story you’re telling, which is why most copywriting focuses on action verbs and the active voice. This isn’t a blanket rule, because sometimes you need the passive. Most times you don’t, so be ruthless about cutting it out.

3. Avoid adverbs.

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4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”

Stephen King isn’t the only one to recommend avoiding adverbs. Scott McKelvey says:

“Flowery adjectives and adverbs are the enemies of content clarity and credibility.”

And Hubspot says that verbs are more effective than adverbs in getting people to take action. The bottom line: your copywriting will be stronger and convert better if you follow this rule.

[tweet_box design=”box_7″] Flowery words are the enemy of content clarity, says @Scott_McKelvey #copywriting [/tweet_box]

5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar.

As a grammar nerd, I tend to like my grammar perfect, but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not appropriate in every scenario. If you’re creating copy that addresses a specific audience, you’ll need to write copy they will relate to, whether the grammar is perfect or not.

6. The magic is in you.

I find this rule particularly inspirational. It’s about tapping into the most exciting aspects of your product or service so you can convey those to your audience. And it’s also about harnessing emotions and waving a magic wand to dispel your audience’s fears and doubts.

7. Read, read, read.

All writers need to read, and that applies to copywriters too. Reading helps you educate yourself about your industry and learn what your audience is concerned with. The better your knowledge, the better and more successful your copy will be. These 25 books on marketing are a good place to start.

8. Don’t worry about making other people happy.

For me, this rule is about defying expectations, avoiding conformity and taking the occasional risk. As Hubspot points out, knowing your audience can help you feel comfortable doing something wacky with your copy, as Red Bull did.

[tweet_box design=”box_7″] Don’t be afraid to take the occasional risk,  says @Hubspot #copywriting [/tweet_box]

9. Turn off the TV.

I don’t know if this applies so much to marketers, as TV might be one of your sources of information and inspiration. But this rule is all about looking inward for imagination and inspiration, which can help you deliver innovative, exciting copy.

10. You have three months.

This rule is more about writing novels. Stephen King suggests writers have three months to complete a first draft, but as a conversion-centered copywriter, sometimes you’ll be lucky to get three days. Look a little deeper, though and there’s some sound advice: don’t let the quest for perfection stop you from getting that draft done, even though you will have to edit later.

11. There are two secrets to success.

Stephen King’s secrets to success are staying married and healthy, which can be an advantage for some. My suggestion is to work out what your secrets for successful copywriting are and use these as your guide. Scott Martin has a couple of suggestions.

[tweet_box design=”box_7″] What are your secrets to #copywriting success? Read Stephen King’s here [/tweet_box]

12. Write one word at a time.

This dovetails nicely with previous rules about getting the work done. It’s also a reminder to focus on the power of every word you write and avoid fluff and unnecessary words.

13. Eliminate distraction.

While this is similar to rule 9 about avoiding TV, it’s also a good reminder to cut out anything that distracts your audience from your message. That’s not just about the writing but about design and layout too. Eliminate distractions so prospects have no barrier to action.

14. Stick to your own style.

You want to know how to lose your audience? Make what you write sound like everything else ever written. Dex Media calls this “wallpaper copywriting” and it’s best avoided if you want your copy to convert. The more you write, the easier it will be to develop a unique style and tone that will resonate with your audience.

15. Dig.

This is about unearthing stories. Storytelling is at the heart of copywriting for conversions, because if your readers relate to what you tell them, they will want to take action. Find a human element to hang your story on and you’re sure to notice an improvement in conversions.

16. Take a break.

Stephen King takes a six-week break after writing a draft. You should be so lucky. But the point is that letting your copy sit for a couple of days so you can assess it with fresh eyes will help you make it better.

17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings.

Every copywriter knows that it pays to tighten your copy and that’s what this rule is all about. It’s about keeping your copy interesting for the audience and eliminating those verbal tics that weaken its impact. The golden rule is: if it kills the flow, it has to go.

[tweet_box design=”box_7″] If it kills the flow, let it go.  #copywriting advice inspired by @stephenking [/tweet_box]

18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story.

Using data can really boost conversions, but don’t use statistics at the expense of the story. Excessive focus on the background research can result in boring copy. Instead, marry data and story to create a synergy that gives people the information they need while skillfully drawing them into the tale you are weaving.

19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing.

This is all about practice. The more copy you read and write, the more you will develop your skills so you can deliver a polished piece of conversion oriented copywriting.

20. Writing is about getting happy.

Finally, Stephen King says that writing is about getting happy. He thinks of it as magic. As a copywriter, it’s your job to share that magic with your audience to win conversions.

Do you see any other ways in which these rules can apply to copywriting for conversions? Which one is your favorite?

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Sharon Hurley Hall.


Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. She's written about digital marketing for publications as varied as IBM, OptinMonster, CrazyEgg, Jilt, Search Engine People, and Unbounce. In her previous life Sharon was also a journalist and university lecturer (teaching journalism, of course!) You can learn more about Sharon at sharonhh.com.

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