Often the first few lines of a direct response sales letter are redundant.
Sometimes, even the first few paragraphs are too.
Look again at the opening of any sales letter you’re working on and ask if it would not be stronger to start a little further in.
You see, when we start writing we are heading into the dark. Even with a well thought-out idea and a tight structure in mind, those first words are exploratory – they will not necessarily be essential in the final edit.
Of course, they are necessary in their role: without writing them first, you wouldn’t know where to go next. But please don’t become attached to them. Think of them as pencil marks, guidelines that will later be erased.
In fact, think about it like this…
Why so many Bond films start with a chase
We’ve all seen films where the opening few scenes involve some kind of action sequence (James Bond films are particularly good examples).
The aim is to engage your attention immediately so that you don’t walk out of the cinema bored. It’s a basic technique, but it works.
You might not like how the rest of the film plays out but you sure need to stick around long enough to see if the train that’s hurtling towards the station loaded with explosives will stop or not, right?
The opening of a sales letter is the same.
Nine times out of ten the best way to capture someone’s attention quickly is to be as direct as possible – to drop the reader into the action first and explain what’s happening later.
Take this very article as an example…
I thought I’d start it in a direct way with that line: “Often the first few lines of a direct response sales letter are redundant.”
To be fair to myself, that seems pretty direct.
But hold on.
Consider a later line: “Look again at the opening of any sales letter you’re working on and ask if it would not be stronger to start it a little further in.”
Couldn’t the whole article just start with that?
Yes. And it would probably have been a stronger opening. Indeed, as the reader, would you really have missed those first two lines? Hardly.
Inadvertently I’ve proved my own point with this very piece. Even when I thought I was being direct, I was still just warming myself up. Those first lines were for no one but me; they were the pencil strokes I needed to get started. (If it wasn’t for the fact they form the proof of my point, I’d delete them now.)
Be honest with yourself and your copy will stand out
Now, this little piece of advice isn’t difficult to apply in a practical sense – often you can literally just delete the first few lines of your lead and no further editing should be required.
It’s simple in that sense.
But the problem here is a psychological one: when self-editing, you must be honest with yourself.
And you must be strict.
I’ve just spent a few days away with a few fellow copywriters – some of the best in the business – and this idea cropped up several times.
In each case, the opening of the sales letter we were discussing could be improved simply by deleting the first few paragraphs. Each time the writer realised this and deleted the lines accordingly.
But it’s hard to delete work; especially if you’ve spent a lot of time already editing it.
I mean, if you’re like most direct response copywriters, chances are you spend 80% of your time working on the headline and lead of your sales letter. I often do.
So, to think that someone can come along and almost arbitrarily tell you to delete the first few lines… it’s hard to deal with.
But, as I’m sure you know, to get to the top of this copywriting game, somewhere along the line you’ve got to get over your ego and accept that it’s a damn sight easier to edit things than it is to create them.
So, don’t sweat it too much. Have faith in your ability to create and be thankful of those who take the time to edit your creation.
Indeed, take the advice and delete accordingly. When you do, you’ll soon see that your leads will be much stronger and your reader will be engaged in what you have to say much quicker.