Six Ways of Writing Red Hot Openers that Get Readers Eager for More

“A good headline gets your foot in the door of the reader’s mind. An unfortunate lead paragraph can cause you to lose a couple of toes.” – Howard Newton, J.M. Mathes, Inc.

Where to start? Knowing how to starta sales letter is always a challenge. And so it should, because a weak opening can cost you dear. If it doesn’t maintain the interest you’ve painstakingly built with your headline, your reader’s interest can plummet faster than Felix Baumgartner strapped to a cannon ball. That’s if people continue reading at all.

“Remember that your readers will not go far along with you unless your first paragraph holds the attention and interest which your headline and layout have aroused.” – Victor Schwab, How to Write a Good Advertisement

Nick Usborne recently posted about the problem of weak openings. He explains that the reason so many sales letters fail right out of the gate is because too many copywriters write before they are ready. They don’t take the time to distil their thoughts on their message, proposition and why readers should be interested before they put fingers to keyboard.

John Caples in Tested Advertising Methods compares the opening paragraphs to how baseball pitchers warmup. They’ll sling a few down the line before they are feeling ‘red hot’ and ready to throw for real. So it stands to reason that the first few paragraphs of a sales letter’s first draft aren’t going to be putting firecrackers under anybody’s chairs. The copywriter simply hasn’t had time to get into the zone and to get into the groove where they know what they want to say.

The only problem with a ‘warmup’ is that you can’t expect readers to wait around.

“Too many miss their chance to make a sale by starting with a few introductory remarks that lose the reader’s interest instead of holding it.” – John Caples, Tested Advertising Methods

Six ways of writing red hot openings that fire readers into the body copy

Joe Sugarman in the ‘Adweek Copywriting Handbook’ states that: “The sole purpose of the first sentence in an advertisement is to get you to read the second sentence. That is all.” It’s part of what he describes as a ‘slippery slide’, where every element must be compelling enough that readers find themselves unable to stop until they’re filling out the reply form at the end.

But what to write? One simply approach is to carry on the conversation started with your headline.  Reward the reader for sticking around by telling them about some of the benefits they can expect to get from your product. But there are plenty of other ways you can get the ball rolling. Here are some powerful ways of writing sales letter openings:

  1. Startling statements that challenges the reader’s prepositions e.g. ‘Losing weight is hard. But the hardest part isn’t losing the actual weight – it’s keeping it off.’
  2. Shocking fact or statement e.g. ‘Cutting out fat intake from your diet alone doesn’t guarantee weight loss success. You could still be storing fat if you consume too carbohydrates at each meal.’
  3. A news announcement e.g. ‘Weight Smashers has found a new way of burning twice the fat with half the exercise.’
  4. A brief preview of what’s in the article e.g. ‘Before the internet, the only people working from home were either looking after the house or the children.’
  5. A quotation e.g. ‘Pain is just weakness leaving the body. We’ve all heard this in gym classes a million times. But does getting the body you want have to be painful?’
  6. A story e.g. ‘One Sunday last autumn, I took my son to watch the local junior football game. It was the greatest example of discipline and organisation I’d ever seen. And I’m a sergeant in the army.’

These tried and tested ways of writing openings that are specific, fact packed, that arouse curiosity and create interest. For more ideas, flick through a magazine and see how they take you from the headline to the main body copy. But if you are still find yourself writing openings that feel like ‘warm up copy’, try chopping out the first few lines altogether and dive straight into the good stuff.

8 thoughts on “Six Ways of Writing Red Hot Openers that Get Readers Eager for More

  1. Kevin (web copywriter)

    I find that I spend almost as much time writing the headline as the main body copy.
    And surely that makes sense – if the headline isn’t up to much then virtually nobody is going to read the rest anyway.

    I really do like the headline suggestion above of challenging the reader’s preconceptions.

  2. Oh yes, that lead paragraph is crucial.

    I’ve learned that using bullet points immediately following the subheading (or headline) helps draw in the reader, especially if they have short attention spans! That is of course, when its applicable.

    Great tips here by the way!

  3. I always try to let the opening paragraph roll on from the title. The last thing you want is for the the reader to become confused when the title and opening lines don’t link up in some way.

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