The Most Diverting Direct Mail Letter Ever Written
A number of years ago, a guy named George Kurian, an encyclopedia author, wrote me a letter proposing that we co-author a book. His title: “Advertising as Literature.”
I had never heard of Kurian, but he seemed well credentialed, with contacts in the publishing world, so I agreed and put together a book proposal. My subhead: “What Authors Can Learn from the Great Copywriters.” In my spare time I amassed a huge file of material. All I needed was a contract and I could produce the book in six weeks.
Kurian liked it, shopped the proposal around and got zero response. A top editor I know at W.W. Norton sniffed and said, “My authors have nothing to learn from copywriters.”
I changed Kurian’s title to “HOW TO WRITE: What Authors Can Learn from the Great Copywriters.” Occasionally I tinker with the proposal, but the thing is in limbo and I haven’t time to pursue it.
This past Sunday, I dutifully looked at The New York Times Book Review and began reading some of the reviews. Their dismal prose reduced me to marginal consciousness.
What can everyone who puts words on paper—or onto a computer screen—learn from the great copywriters?
The Importance of a Strong Lead
Many writers feel that they have to roll up their sleeves, rub their hands together and clear their throats before they create anything of substance. The result: a tedious opening with the best lead to their piece found somewhere around paragraph six.
The worst offenders: academics and book reviewers.
Book reviewers generally start with at least one paragraph of thumbsucking drivel. Their object: to let the reader know that they are worthy to criticize the work in question and to prove they are smarter than both the author and the reader of the review.