Reality Blog: Engage Your Readers the Elmore Leonard Way

Thoughtful female person sitting in modern coffee shop interior

One great thing about copywriting is that you tend to hear the same advice over and over. It may be phrased differently, but at its core, the message of a lot of these nuggets is the same, whether it’s “focus on one point” or “know what the customer wants.”

And hearing these tips so frequently gives them credibility…

Which isn’t to say that some advice might not sound questionable when you first hear it.

Consider the common wisdom to “Write conversationally.”

A lot of people have a hard time wrapping their head around that one. The reason being that writing is supposed to be more formal than spoken language. And they think they need to adhere to existing grammar rules and language conventions.

But as the late, great author (and former ad agency writer) Elmore Leonard said, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

Why? Because formal writing with lots of flourishes can be boring and confusing. These are not the effects we want to have on our audience. It’s true for all writing, and it’s especially true in direct response where your goal is to get readers to take action.

Writing conversationally is an important enough principle that AWAI has given us a measuring stick: the Barstool Test.

The idea is — would you say what you’ve written if you were having a casual, in-person conversation with your reader? This test has certainly made me go back and fix some of the more literary word choices in my writing.

And there are lots of other ways to help your writing sound more conversational, too. Here are a few that’ll help your readers feel like you’re talking with them, not at them.

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Candice Lazar

Candice Lazar is a copywriter and marketing consultant. Her specialty is copy that helps clients develop long-term relationships with their customers.

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