Sales Secrets from a Novel Writer

Do the rules of writing great fiction come in handy when you’re writing to make a sale?

Conventional wisdom might say no, since sales writing isn’t really supposed to be “art”… and your average fiction writer would shiver to share a table with copywriters.

But the truth is, they’ve got plenty in common.

For instance, we all know one of the greatest ways to draw somebody into a sales pitch is simply by telling a good, well-constructed story. Here’s what fiction-writing great Kurt Vonnegut had to say about that…

First rule: Don’t waste the reader’s time.

Then, he says, the fiction reader needs a character they can root for. In sales, I’d say that’s equivalent to giving the prospect HOPE that you can solve his problem. Which is what sales teasers are all about.

 Vonnegut also urges fiction writers to write sentences that “reveal character and advance the action.” The analogy here is also easy. In sales, your every sentence reveals a little more about the proposition… and tempts you to read on.

 One more good tip that translates, “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible… to heck with suspense.” What he meant was not that you blurt out the punch line, but that readers need to know early why they’re investing themselves in the story. Obscuring that only risks making the tale you’re telling seem not worthwhile.

 So, instead, try dangling that in front of them right away. In your first line, give them a glimpse at the heart of your message. Maybe even of the ending you’ll drive them toward. Done right, you’ll almost guarantee that they’ll read on.



  1. Jack,

    That’s an interesting analogy. And one I’d never thought of before. Probably from living near the Left Bank, eh?

    I don’t know if it’ll help me to write better fiction or copy, but it’s reassuring to know that the underlying structure of these forms is somewhat universal.

    Which explains why it’s a good idea to stick with the tried-and-true (or the “gun-to-the-head” just sell the damn thing! formula) most of the time.

    Thanks for your insightful posts. i really enjoy the blog.

  2. Thanks… yes, I definitely think “get to the message” quickly is part of the insight. Still, there’s a tension in the telling that can’t be sacrificed every time. For instance, anyone selling information products or services has a more abstract challenge than, say, selling a gallon of milk, a printer, or something more material. I think that’s where knowing how to pace a story or reveal a sales pitch one tantalizing bit at a time really comes in handy. It can be overdone too, of course. But I’m always amazed at how close the parallels can be.

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