Life insurance. It may not sound exciting, but as an insurance tele-sales coach it’s my job to turn a yawn into a yes, and there are certain sales techniques to make that task a lot easier. When we’re writing, our job is the same. We have to convince the customer our product is worth their time and money. So while there are a million rules on how to write, sometimes it pays to look at how to sell.
And yes, you can hook readers without resorting to free steak knives.
So here’s a salesperson’s guide to turning boredom into boo-yah. It might make the difference between readers hanging on, or hanging up– — —
1. Nobody Likes A Survey
Have you ever watched a poor main character struggling against bad cop bad cop in your favourite crime show and thought ‘that looks like fun?’ No, neither have I. We know mystery and suspense can create some of the best introductions of all, but imagine yourself as a sales rep., and your reader as the customer who ducked out of work to answer your call. The first thing to note is that THE CUSTOMER HASN’T SIGNED UP FOR A QUIZ.
Example: “Have you thought about life cover? No? Why? Well what about this?”
See what I mean? Do you? Really? J Jokes aside, using too many questions is rude, invasive, and leaves the customer wondering why they’re doing all the work to keep the conversation going. They don’t want to be stuck trying to understand the point of your call, and the same could be said of readers starting your book. Intrigue is great – but if you have too many questions and no promise of answers, they’ll just hang up.So what if you said it like this?
“I’m following up a letter sent to you about a new life cover with a few extra features you can use yourself. Just wanting to run through the benefits to answer any questions and save you some time.”
You’ve still got the mystery with the ‘extra features’ but you’ve given the customer a hint, saying they can use the features themselves. The difference may seem tiny, even obvious, but recently I discussed this with a new agent who had made two sales in three weeks. He wrote it down and made three sales that day.
So how do you know whether you’re being intriguing or confusing?
- Go through your opening paragraph/page/chapter and write down every question you introduce.
- Of each question ask yourself/a critique partner: would you care enough about the answer to stick around and wait?
- If no, consider removing it or possibly introducing it later, as a separate plot arc. Maybe it can tie in to a scene you already know is a bit flat? Maybe the question can be raised by another character, to build their personality at the same time? Consider every possible option. You never know where it could go.
However you choose to play out your mysteries, remember that the easiest answer to a list of questions is ‘don’t know, don’t care’. And if readers are saying that about your opening pages, it’s a sure sign they won’t be signing up today.
Like this post? Part 2 coming soon…
P.S. This is a new blog. Anything you could do to spread the word would be much appreciated. Thanks!