How to make every word you write unputdownable

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How to make every word you write unputdownable

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Ever read a James Patterson novel? I have. Every one.

And, every time I do, I curse the bastard!

Not the character, but Mr. Patterson himself. Why? Because…I don’t want to stay up until 4am to finish, really I don’t. But, he grabs me with the opening line, hurls me in, then greases the slide thoroughly-enough to render me powerless to stop my screaming descent to the last page.

He makes it un-put-downable.

Is he a master of story-telling, plot-development and suspense? Sure. But, he’s also a master of a handful of literary techniques that appear in the world of direct-response copywriting. They’re the ones that compel you to read long after you’ve decided you really don’t have time to devote another second to the book, blog or ad.

And, once you know them, they’ll give you the near-magical ability to make almost everything you write, from ads to blog-posts and letters to books, a giant step closer to un-putdown-able, too.

But, rather than talking in the abstract, let’s use a concrete example of how powerful these techniques can be.

We’ll use blogging as an example…

For a while now, in the blogosphere, there’s been a raging debate about partial versus full-feeds.

For those not in the know, partial feeds are when you get your blog updates by RSS or e-mail and they feature an opening paragraph or two and then require you to click-thru to read the rest. They are the equivalent of of an advertisement for a product or teaser on the cover of a magazine for the full article.

Full feeds, on the other hand, include the entire article in the update. There’s nothing to click, it’s all right there.

Hardcore blog-audiences tend to hate partial feeds…

Because they force the reader to click through to the blog to read the rest of the article, which wastes precious seconds. And, while this doesn’t sound like a big deal, if you have hundreds of feeds to read..it can get pretty ugly, pretty quickly.

Bloggers, on the other hand, fear full-feeds…

Because they open the blog up to massive scraping (content-stealing by unscrupulous ad-driven blogs) and drop page-views, which, if you advertise, can really cut into your income.

But, what if, as a blogger, you could have the best of both worlds?

What if you could use partial-feeds to tease or advertise your content and learn how to make them so un-put-downable that pretty much everyone just had to click through? And, then, what if, once landing at the full article, you could make it so compelling, readers just had to stay with it until the end? You can, but to to do this…

…you need to take a few lessons from the world of direct-response marketing

Legendary direct-response copywriter, Joe Sugarman, once said the purpose of every sentence in a long-format ad is to get the reader to read the next sentence. And, so on and so on.

A-list copywriter, John Carlton, went further, adding that the headline stops people in their tracks, hurls them to the top of the slide and then each subsequent sentence greases the slide as they careen downward without so much as a glimmer of hope of pulling themselves out before they hit the end.

Reality is, all addictively-compelling writing greases the slide…

There are so many ways to apply the grease. Question is – which are most effective?

Here are 5 power-copywriting techniques you can adapt to not only make your partial-feeds so un-putdown-able everyone will not only have to click through to read the full-article, they’ll help make entire article immensely more suspenseful and compelling…

  • End pages or insert the “more” tag in the middle of a sentence – people have a natural compulsion to finish what they complete. I actually wrote about this in my earlier article on the Zeigarnik effect. And, this applies not only to projects, conversations and tasks, but to sentences, too. So, if you intentionally set up a circumstance, end a sentence in your partial-feed or blurb mid-sentence and then continue it on the blog, people will be naturally compelled to click through. They need to complete the task. This technique is used all the time in direct-response advertising with long-format sales letters and great suspense writing. And, it’s often combined with the…
  • Use of ellipses – You know, the old dot-dot-dot…these suckers work wonders! When I turned in the first draft of the book I am working on, my editor made a point of crossing out every dot-dot-dot and changing them to periods or commas. Which is fine for a book, but…when you are writing shorter articles, letters or posts and you want to compel readers to finish in one sitting, ellipses have a near magical ability to lead the reader to the next word and into the next part of your story. Periods or exclamation points, on the other hand, create a hard-stop in the readers eye-scanning pattern and thought-process and gives them an opportunity to opt-out of the rest. So, consider ending headlines and sub-heads with fewer periods and more ellipses…if you want people to keep reading longer.
  • Pique curiosity – Ask a question or set up a story that peaks curiosity, tease the answer, build curiosity, but don’t actually resolve anything until the very end. Curiosity is a massive motivator, tap it as an attention-keeping asset. Every great suspense-novelist uses this technique, often mercilessly!They open the book in the final seconds of a horrific crime, knowing this will plant the seeds of a curiosity that will lead the reader to keep reading until that curiosity has been satisfied.
  • End every paragraph with a teaser - make the last sentence of your paragraphs tease information that will be delivered later on in your content. This is like ending every television show with coming attractions for the next show. It sets up a desire and a commitment to get to the next episode or paragraph. “Just one more,” we tell ourselves, until we get to the next paragraph that teases the next…and so on, and so on…
  • Use headlines liberally - Sub-heads not only allow skimmers to decide whether to come back and read the details, they also break up the blocks of content, allowing for an easier reading experience. Plus, psychologically, it lets you say, “I’ll just read to the next heading,” and before you know it, you’re done. James Patterson essentially does the same thing with his use of 2-5 page chapters. Each one is so short and digestible, we are drawn to keep committing to reading “just one more” before we turn the lights out. And, before you know, we’ve devoured the whole book!

For an example of all of these techniques in action…

  1. Go check out the sales page at CareerRenegade.com, or,
  2. Go back to the feed, e-mail or front-page blurb for this article, then follow them back through this entire article and see if you can count how often I’ve used these techniques.

Then, tell me your total count in the comments below.

But, before we wrap this all up, there’s something you really need to understand. Something that will make or break whether these techniques draw readers in or alienate them…

Use them only for good, never for bad…

In fact, these tools are so powerful that they can override a fair amount of bad writing, poorly conceived stories and, even, blatant pitches for ideas, products or services the reader clearly does not need or want.

When you use these them as a form of trickery, without also delivering value, your readers will get, um, pissed off to say the least.

They’ll feel taken advantage of.

So, play with incorporating these tools into whatever content you create, but, remember never to cross over to the dark-side. Start with a foundation of value. Write the best, most-useful, inspiring, entertaining, informative content you can…then utilize these tools to help nudge your readers to stay long enough to get the point!

So, what do you think?

What other ways can you think of to create suspense and compel a full read?

Did you find all the places I snuck these tools in? How many did you find?

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33 responses

33 Responses to “How to make every word you write unputdownable”

  1. Hi Jonathan – your un-putdown-able mojo worked on me because I read every word.

    Nice job!

  2. Alright, you got me to click through. Why? Because the post related to my business and my views.

    But I still take a hard stance on cutting your readers off.

    It’s just not worth it. So no, you don’t want readers to put your work down, but you don’t want to frustrate them so much that they unsubscribe.

    (But congrats for getting me over here to comment!)

  3. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Mark – It’s the little things that add up!

    @ James – completely agree with the need to show absolute respect to your readers. In fact, nothing is more important.

    Which is why I ended by pounding my chest about the importance of using these techniques only as a means to help guide people deeper into content that you’ve worked hard to ensure has the greatest possible value. This was also a follow-up on last weeks article on innovation, marketing and value.

    But, I also know that once you’ve done the work of creating something you believe in your heart adds serious value to your readers’ experience and setting whatever viral wheels you can in motion, utilizing writing techniques to nudge readers to embrace that value, to me, is not in any way negative. Rather, it spurs people to take action to acquire knowledge that might have been left ignored.

    So, value and respect first. Always. Then nudge away.

  4. I think there are different ways, though, to channel readers into your blog and to your archives or older content. Chronological blogs tend to lead readers day by day – but how many look at the past?

    With trends leaning towards portal-style blogs, where the content is a buffet and readers pick and choose without chronological preference, wouldn’t you be accomplishing the goal of nudging them in deeper?

    Partial feeds, though, aren’t really writing techniques. They’re a traffic driving strategy to get people onto your site and into your blog. Accomplishes the goal of getting readers reading? Yes, yes it does.

    But how many readers – bloggers who don’t have the few extra seconds to come over – are you turning away? In a world where links count and getting people to link to your content matters, turning those bloggers away might hurt you more than you might want.

    No?

  5. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ James – There are definitely many different ways to channel readers to you. But to me, it’s always a value proposition.

    If I follow a partial feed to a full-article that lacks value, then, yes, it’s been a waste of the time it took to click over to the blog. But, if it has great value, then, at least for me, I tend to be pretty forgiving of the extra few seconds I spent clicking over, because I felt it was worth the effort. And, I’ll keep coming back, rather than turn away.

    To me, this really isn’t whole lot different than following a link on someone else’s blog to your content. A link is a tease. You don’t know exactly what you’ll get until you get there. If it’s got great value, you’re thankful to the linker for having shared it. If not, you feel scammed.

    Time is currency and I am willing to part with it, provided the value I am buying is worth the time.

    In any event, I fear I may have focused a bit too much on the “feed” example in my article and that may have taken away from the importance of the other writing techniques shared for actually drawing readers along once they are already standing toe-to-toe with the full-volume of content. Always more to learn, eh!

  6. @ Jonathan – I fall into the hardcore bloggers, so… yeah, I’m biased. And like you mentioned in your post, full versus partial is a big debate that rages, so I leapt on that first. I also treat the situation differently – where you see partials and links as teasers, I see them as business. The more benefit to me and my business, the better. (Harsh way of looking at it, but true – and I’ll note again, you did get me to click through on a partial feed, which I rarely do.)

    You’re very right, though. Time is money, and I only buy when it’s worth the money. You sold me ;)

  7. I’m writing a ‘why you should subscribe to my rss feed’ page, and this has got me totally inspired. Stay tuned for the results ;)…

  8. Thanks for these great techniques, now I am off to the …
    http://squidoo.com/japaneselearn

  9. how to make every word you write unputdownable:
    1. be extremely honest
    2. be sincere
    3. write about what you know

    PEACE!

  10. Yoav says:

    Brilliant.

    But you should link this post to your earlier one – the one that talks about the the unique outstanding idea.

    http://jonathanfields.com/blog/how-to-get-featured-in-magazines-and-newspapers-with-no-connections-and-turn-it-into-mega-bucks/

    A brilliant idea coupled with those techniques really makes an un-put-downable article.

    LOVE :)

  11. “-stealing by unscrupulous ad-driven blogs”

    Yeah, what is UP with that?? No comment sections so you can tell them to stop. No About Me section so you can email your grievance. I finally started ignoring them, because I am not convinced there is anything I can do about it.

    I read the sales page for CareerRenegade.com – Why do pages like this always give you a laundry list of:

    1) stuff that is awful about your life,
    2) stuff about how awesome the writer’s life is, 3) the I-am-in-demand section,
    4) the you-too-can-do-it-too section,
    …followed by (finally!)
    5) the actual product, and
    6) deals that always make you feel stupid for not getting whatever it is.

    Believe me, I am not trying to give you a hard time – I love your blog and it isn’t the same rehash of 10 Ways to Make $100. I just always feel like I am getting ‘worked over’ by pages like this. If it weren’t for the fact that I am familiar with you and value your content, I would assume you are yet another semi-scam artist.

  12. MillyToast says:

    I enjoyed your article a lot. I absolutely hated the author you mention though. I accidentally agreed to one of his books being sent to me from a book club and I found it so awful I could only read a couple of pages before I gave it to my guinea pigs to finish off. They love books.

  13. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ michael brito – true, true, everything must start from a place of authenticity and value.

    @ Yoav – thanks, yeah, I completely forgot to link it all together. Innovation + brilliance _ unrelenting value + a nudge of technique.

    @ Hayden – yeah, I’ve pretty much given up on fighting scrapers, I think Leo over at ZenHabits.net did something really interesting by open-sourcing his entire blog. Still trying to figure out how I feel about it.

    On your questions about the sales page, great observations. Most do have a very similar set of standard “sections.” The reason is that a sales page is trying to capture a live sales conversation, but, because you cannot know the preferences, personalities or motivating factors for every reader, you need to paint a picture with the broadest possible appeal to the greatest number of visitors to that page.

    This is why there are often similar sections that identify a problem that needs solving, better-defines or agitates it, builds credibility and then offers benefits and a solution to the problem.

    The reason for all the bullets (and mine actually is pretty light on bullets compared to most, because I prefer story-telling) is that, without being able to ask each reader what’s important to them, you need to offer up as many possible benefits, knowing that some will resonate with some people and others will resonate with others.

    Funny thing is, I read many of these pages, simply because I am fascinated by copywriting and the art of written persuasion, though I rarely ever buy, myself. And, I wont’ write for clients (or myself) if I don’t feel strongly passionate about what’s being offered having serious value.

  14. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Milly Toast – I wish I could say I hated James Patterson, too, because it’d save me a ton of time. Bu,t hey, we all have our guilty pleasures! ;-)

  15. I guess I would just like to know what the product or service is upfront. I don’t understand why I have to scroll down to the bottom of 5,000 words just to figure out what someone is selling.

  16. I like partial feeds because, as you say, if your title is compelling enough, people will go to your blog where they can view a few former articles.

    But, mostly, because they cannot comment on a full feed. I love comments and I answer every one. And I especially enjoy it when my commentors talk to each other and argue.

    We are all about communication, aren’t we?

  17. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Corinne – Great point about the impact of full-feeds on commenting, didn’t even think of that!

    I wonder how many people wouldn’t click through just to comment, but would comment had they already been on the page?

    Hmmm, anybody else have any insights or data on this here question? :-)

  18. Kris says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    Great article! I’m one of your subscribers and the first part of your article lured me to click the More link in the email to read the rest, so your techniques did the trick, at least in my case.

    If you like James Patterson, pick up one of Lee Child’s books. He’s another bestselling author in the suspense genre. His plots are riveting and he uses the same “propel you forward with every sentence” style but his stories and his writing are vastly superior to Patterson’s.

    ~ Kris

  19. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Hayden – Great questions! Two reasons the product and price are always at the bottom. One, because in a live sales conversation, you lose something like 90% of your sales if you quote a price before you have an opportunity to understand what is important and then explain the value of what you are selling in a way that is relevant to a prospect. Good salespeople, even very honest, easygoing ones, rarely ever quote price up front. And, this process is meant to mimic the live one.

    Two, most readers actually read the headline and sub-head, if there is one, then jump all the way down to read the P.S. and slide up to look for the price and product, so, in an odd way, if you moved the product description and price somewhere else, it might actually frustrate a lot of people who have come to expect it down toward the end and now have to search for it.

    Still, writing these things is very much a balance of art and science and things change all the time! And, I am always learning more every day, too. ;-)

  20. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Kris – Hey, thanks for the recommendation to check out Lee Child’s books. Man, I don’t think I’m ever going to sleep again! ;-)

  21. Jonathan,

    I’m new to your blog and am never disappointed with your topics and compelling writing style…

    But learning to write unputdownable copy and ending with ellipses means unlearning so much we were fed in English classes.

    I favor the partial feed so I can get readers over to my blog where I have more value and unashamed ads waiting for them. The folks who are too impatient to follow aren’t our rightful readers, just window-shoppers.

    As for the long copy in your sales letter

    I scan those long letters observing the writing style and techniques that draw me down. The more folks are being asked to spend, the longer the copy needs to be. You’re absolutely right, too, that you must paint with broad strokes in order to cover as many of your potential customers’ questions and concerns.

    Thanks for baring your soul, giving rich content and not being my mama’s self-help blog.

  22. @ Flora – …folks who are too impatient to follow aren’t our rightful readers, just window shoppers. While you may feel this is correct, I have to say that all window shoppers are potential clients, and while stores cater to the loyal (dare I say rightful) readers, they’re also desperate to add to their following.

    But I’m afraid since I’m impatient (blogging is my job) and probably not a rightful reader (if I’m considered not good enough to read, then I certainly won’t be stopping by), I’ll pass on that wonderful attempt to increase readership.

    @ Hayden – Jonathan is pretty right with his description of long copy. It has its purpose and it outsells all other types of copy in studies and experiments. Done well, it’s actually pretty cool to read. Done poorly, and it comes off like a circus act. But even poor long sales copy outsells poor short sales copy.

    @ Corinne – If a headline and the intro can’t catch my interest, I probably wouldn’t comment even if I was on the page. Comments are generated from a combination of many elements, and a great article, well-worded with the proper strategies – whether discovered by full feed or partial feed – will be what gets you that commentary. Just being on the page isn’t enough of a motivator for most people.

    Face it – folks are lazy.

    Also, feeds have the ability to show your “comment” link right there. A full feed lets people read faster and slam out a comment right away based on motivation. A partial means extra action to click through.

    It’s been said in online marketing that each click costs you 7% of your potential sales. That’s not really a risk I’m willing to take in my own feeds :)

  23. whatley says:

    It is like going some where with my sister. When you listen to her tell the story It sounds like you had a much more fun time then you really did. Eventully if you hear it enough it become the trip.

  24. Hi Johnathan, i have read the your article, from the beginning to the end, even picked up a tiny typo – directly above the line “…you
    need to take a few lessons from…” there is an extra “to” in the last sentence :)

    Great content you shared here, thanks!

    Wyatt

  25. CatherineL says:

    Great tips. Headlines really work as they make posts easier to read.

    And I know this is obvious to most – but do use paragraphs. I’ve seen some great posts ruined because the writer didn’t use paragraphs at all. And it makes it extrememly difficult to read.

  26. Akemi says:

    I was so intrigued with this article I reworked on my About page today.

    Marketing is new for me, and very exciting. I’d love to learn more about copywriting. How can I learn more, and get some work? Before, I had the wrong assumption that copywriting was about those “Open NOW! Free XXXX inside!”kind of thing, but writing web contents and brochures for good products / services will be fun.

    Yes, I am inviting you to check my blog, Gratitude Magic. That’s part of the reason I reworked the About.

    Thank you,

  27. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ whatley – very funny story about your sister!

    @ Wyatt – thanks for your kind words and for keeping me on the straight and narrow

    @ CatherineL – You’re right, headlines are a huge part of the game and, once you go online, paragraph size needs to drop qite a bit, too.

    @ Akemi – Love that you’re inspired to explore writing as a career. I actually write a healthy dose of both “editorial” style content and that pretty hardcore direct-response content you alluded to. But, for me, it’s like a puzzle, figuring out the psychology or persuasion and action.

  28. Stephanie says:

    Jonathan,
    I’ve only been reading your blog a week and it is wonderful. I think one of the best things you do is reply to those who comment. I do that also, but so far only have comments from family and friends LOL. I’ll be working on my blog this year and using your articles extensively, I’m sure. Thanks!
    Stephanie

  29. [...] the pile. The end result is that I have to go back and do a bit of shoveling. Today’s item is How to make every word you write unputdownable. digg_url=”http://havecoffeewillwrite.com/?p=6474″; digg_skin = [...]

  30. Khurt says:

    You very effectively used the technique for this article. Thanks.

  31. [...] The majority of writers want to have their stories/articles read and enjoyed thoroughly. If you’re a journalist or blogger, talent is essential to writing successfully, but there are ways to help your readers stay interested to the very end. This article gives advice on how to make your words, literally “unputdownable.” [...]

  32. John Smith says:

    about the “teasers”… You’ll just circle around nothing infinitely until you predictably crashland to that nothingness you’be been circling.

  33. Marie says:

    Very informative stuff – thank you for taking the time to share it!

    I’m also interested, which theme have you installed on this blog? Its a great design and I would like to know if it’s custom or not.