How to Write Promotional Copy

Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash

"Why in the world should I be concerned about promotional copy before I've even started writing the first draft?" you may ask. Kudos to you. You're asking questions, and that's always a good thing. The answer is promotional copy will help you focus your writing so that you stick close to the promise you want to make to your readers. Nothing helps you sharpen your focus and attention on what kind of story you are writing than the process of trying to pitch it to your readers.

Trust me, it's a terrible feeling to finish a manuscript, have someone ask you what it's about, and then fumble for three minutes only to conclude that it's a really great science fiction story about a guy on another planet that ends up saving everyone because he's really cool.

I'm not saying you should have your promotional copy finished before you start writing. Just take a stab at it. Jot down some ideas on who and what you are writing about, so you can remain true to who you are writing to.

Say Hello to the Promo Pack

When taken together, I fondly refer to all your sales copy as "The Promo Pack." While there is no hard and fast rule about what a promo pack should include, here are my suggestions for meeting any and all promotional needs that may arise.

Tagline: 10 words max.

This is the hook. Taglines are all about pithy intrigue. The most famous one I can think of is, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” This tagline is of course for Aliens. They don’t tell you what the story is about. They tell you how you should expect to feel. Expectations and feelings.

Other famous taglines:
  • You’ll never go in the water again.
  • For Harry and Lloyd every day is a no-brainer.
  • War is hell…but peace is f*#!%!! boring.
  • Whoever wins… We lose.
  • On every street in every city in this country, there’s a nobody who dreams of being a somebody.*

*The last one is from Taxi Driver and is a bit of an exception for length. As always, rules are meant to be broken, if broken well!

Kicker (or high concept): 25 words max.

Kickers are all about the concept. Just how intriguing is your concept or idea? The kicker is more conceptual than descriptive. What makes your story special or different? This isn’t a summary or description. It should still appeal to the emotions, but it can be a little more descriptive of the type of book the reader can expect. If your tagline has hooked the potential reader enough to read a little more, your kicker should finish hooking them and propel them to read through the entire synopsis/description. The kicker will sometimes be used as the entire description on platforms that limit the summary to a couple of sentences.

One person defined “high concept” this way: “You tell me your amazing pitch for your book, and then I decide I have to kill you so I can steal your idea.” Our new brand of episodic, Kick-you-in-the-nuts serial fiction requires these kinds of kickers to really grab hold of the most spastic readers with short attention spans.

Here are some questions to ask when formulating a Kicker that will punch up your finished story:
  • What is unique and compelling about my central idea for my novel?
  • How can I tweak this idea and infuse it with something outrageous, tense, full of conflict?
  • Can I elevate the stakes dramatically for my main character to give the concept heightened drama and suspense?
  • What kind of goal can I give my main character that will seem impossible to reach?
  • What controversial issues/themes can be at the core of this idea so it will tug on readers’ hearts?
  • How can I twist the whole idea so that it poses an intriguing dilemma or conflict?
Synopsis or Description: roughly 100 words in one or two paragraphs

I hesitate to use the word “Synopsis” because you should avoid the impulse to create a Cliff’s Notes of your story. That’s boring. Don’t bore people! Why would you want to be boring when talking about your baby! That aside, this is the chance you have to be descriptive about your story. It’s a good idea to start with the main character’s name. State the dilemma that main character has. Use strong verbs. Focus on the conflict and the stakes. Then create a cliffhanger in regards to how the character can resolve that dilemma. If you have two main characters, then create a paragraph for each of them.

So the general gist can be something like:

“Frick-a-frack the subatomic garbage man had no clue that his rounds on January 1st, 2087 would leave him holding the fate of the universe in his greasy palm. But when Drack the Scientist was murdered on New Year’s Eve, his universe-ripping particle-crapper got thrown out with the holiday trappings. Can Frick-a-frack survive the hitmen who killed the Scientist and get home in time to celebrate one last New Year’s Day with his family before the Universe goes down the crapper for good? Or should he just do us all a favor and pull the trigger?

Obviously, this story is a mashup of humor and sci-fi, and I literally pulled it out of my butt while writing these guidelines. But hopefully you get the idea. (It’s only October, and I swear I don’t have holiday anxiety!)

Sales Pitch Paragraph: 50 words

Here is where you get the chance to be a smarmy salesperson in a non-smarmy way, of course. If a potential reader has gotten this far in your description, they are interested in being sold. So close the deal! The sales pitch should include all (or most) of your keywords. These will most likely include sub-genres (sweet romance, cozy mystery, colonization, etc.), related best-selling stories, interested/targeted tribes (underwater basket weavers, cancer survivors, Australians, transgendered, reformed hippies, etc.), and buzzword phrases (action-packed, steamy, laugh-out-loud, etc.). Help drive home expectations for the reader. Let them know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are your ideal reader!

So...back to The Universe Ends on New Year’s Day:

Fans of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will love this rowdy traipse through the metaphysical minefield that the Holidays have become. Laugh out loud one minute and cry into your fruitcake the next as Frick-a-frack deals with all the good and the bad in this Turkey-filled pressure cooker of a vent-your-gas comedy.

Maybe not the best example, but it gets across the main points. If a reader is looking for a humorous holiday-related distraction, this story should pop up in their search results and suck them right in!

Putting it All Together: less than 200 words

When you’re finished, all of this sales copy should be able to flow seamlessly together. For platforms like Amazon, we’ll use all of it--starting with the tagline and ending with the sales pitch. Some platforms will require extracting certain pieces. But make sure that the whole thing can work together. Let’s see if I can salvage what I started with...

The Universe Ends on New Year’s Day

The fruitcake’s about to hit the fan...forever.

If you had one last shot at a holiday with your family, would you choose to save the universe? or end it?

Frick-a-frack the subatomic garbage man had no clue that his rounds on January 1st, 2087 would leave him holding the fate of the universe in his greasy palm. But when Drack the Scientist was murdered on New Year’s Eve, his universe-ripping particle-crapper got thrown out with the holiday trappings. Can Frick-a-frack survive the hitmen who killed the Scientist and get home in time to celebrate one last New Year’s Day with his family before the Universe goes down the crapper for good? Or should he just do us all a favor and pull the trigger?

Fans of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will love this rowdy traipse through the metaphysical minefield that the Holidays have become. Laugh out loud one minute and cry into your fruitcake the next as Frick-a-frack deals with all the good and the bad in this Turkey-filled pressure cooker of a vent-your-gas comedy.

Here is a sci-fi example, Ranger’s War:

Never create a killing machine you can’t control.

Something’s gotta give in this space-operatic-love-triangle between a human killing machine, a woman bearing the genetic cancer he’s conditioned to exterminate, and the AI programmed to hold him accountable.

Equipped with a fission reactor heart, inexhaustible killing capabilities, and a supposedly foolproof kill switch, Ranger 878 is one of the Templar unleashed to purify the breeding stock of a post-human race known as Hibernarii. After 300 years of decadent, multi-galactic decline and constant slaughter, Ranger 878 emerges as the ideal assassin—ruthless yet creative. Conflicted between his murderous conditioning and the genetic trojan horse unleashed within his DNA, Ranger will risk everything to unravel the treacherous riddle at the heart of the universe before an ancient awareness triggers the next big bang.

In classic space opera form, Ranger’s War rips through episode after episode of tense and atmospheric adventure. Browncoats and Trekkies will find things to obsess over in this lavishly deep StoryVerse. From the new take on “Biomimetic Dark Matter” to the irrepressible human spirit that never quits pervading the technology we humans deploy, Ranger’s War thrills at a surface level while scratching some of those deeper, creeping itches that wake us up at night.

Now you're ready to blast through a first draft of a Promo Pack for your current project!

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dmb

David is an authorpreneur, and StoryShop co-founder, determined to discover the natural evolution of digital storytelling. His published works span across all ages and several genres. Mostly, he enjoys exploding things. If you‘ve read for twenty pages and nothing has been blown up or shot, then David must be losing his edge.

Feel free to google, poke, fan, or like him. But do so quickly, before he is disappeared by the FBI. Raised in Central Texas, David Mark Brown learned to ride horses at a young age. Then learned to hate them after a disastrous attempt to impress a girlfriend. He was five. Turning to a life of prose, he migrated north to the University of Montana (the Berkeley of the Rockies) and became the Redneck Granola.

David invites you to enjoy the show!

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