Tips on writing really, really long online sales letters.

Hard working copywriterYou know the kind of sales letter I mean. When you look at the scroll bar on the right side of your screen, you can tell it’s going to take you a good half hour to read the page.

Of course, your friends and family will tell you that nobody reads these long sales letters.

And this week’s fresh crop of online gurus will tell you that nobody reads any kind of long copy these days. Period.

But people do read them. Lots of people.

There are companies making tens of millions of dollars a year from letters like these.

In fact, I just finished writing one of these long-form sales letters myself.

As a word document, single-spaced, the letter came out at 37 pages long…or a touch over 10,000 words.

Having just submitted the first draft, I thought I would share some tips with you.

1. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work to write one of these letters.

I don’t know how many hours it took me to write that draft. But I do know it has taken me literally weeks to complete it.

As a project, it’s all-consuming. I’m behind on my own newsletter. I’m behind on answering emails. I have barely had time to even look at my social media accounts. (And I hope someone has been feeding the dogs.)

A sales letter like this takes a long time to write not just because of the number of words, but because it’s really, really hard to write a letter this long that people will actually read from beginning to end.

In fact, as a copywriter, this is the Mount Everest of writing projects. It’s the hardest of all types of copy to write.

So my first tip is to give this kind of project the time it demands. You can’t rush it. You have to clear the decks and immerse yourself in the task for days on end. Weeks even.

2. Come up with a really strong theme or story for your letter.

The theme I finally went with was the fifth idea I had. Working with my client, we rejected the first four and gave a thumbs up to the fifth.

This was time well spent. If you don’t have the right “big idea”, your letter will be doomed from the start.

Why? Because you can’t write a 37-page letter that is all sales-pitch. For most of the letter, you have to be telling a compelling story that totally grabs your reader and has them nodding their heads, page after page.

That’s the only way to get people to read from beginning to end.

3. The transition from the story to the sales pitch has to be seamless.

This is really, really important.

A lot of long-form sales letters start off with a big idea and a story. And then, several pages in, the copywriter creates a transition between the storyline and the sales pitch.

This is what almost every long-form copywriter does.

But I think it’s a mistake.

Those transitions are often too obvious, sometimes even awkward. And when the transition isn’t seamless, you’ll be sending the reader a subtle message that they might as well stop reading, because the rest of the letter is just a sales pitch.

What I try to do is avoid that transition altogether.

In the letter I just completed, the story begins on page one and continues throughout the letter, right up to the final line. There is no transition.

And the sales pitch is woven into the story.

That way, you can use the story as a way to carry your readers forward, all the way to the end of the letter.

4. Avoid the usual “sales” signals.

I did a lot of research before writing my letter. And time and time again I found long pages that were using near identical “come-ons” as subheads, particularly towards the end of the letters.

Things like, “This time-limited offer expires soon.”

When you say something like that, you are sending a powerful signal to the reader that they are entering 100% sales pitch territory. And you’ll lose a lot readers as a result.

The message is fine. And it’s important to communicate it.

But try to find a different way to say it, so the phrase isn’t instantly recognizable as a well-worn sales pitch.

Wrapping it up.

I could write a lot more about long-form copywriting. And I will. But not until my letter has been published and the results are in.

If things go well…and I think they will…I’ll be able to share a lot more tips.

Fingers crossed!

About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach.

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4 thoughts on “Tips on writing really, really long online sales letters.

  1. Not fair! Keeping us in suspense!

    Looking forward to hearing about the outcome.
    And maybe getting a chance to read it? Hint, hint.

    Thanks for the article. I learn something every time.
    Steve

  2. Hi Nick,

    When your client rejected the first four story lines you proposed was it b/c they just didn’t like them or did they have data to back up their preference?

    I would imagine anyone commissioning such a project would be well versed in “scientific advertising,” so I’m guessing they had explicit reasons to oppose the first four stories. But then again, maybe you were acting as their consultant/guide along w writer?

    Thanks,

    Mike Devaney

    • Mike, hi

      No, the other 4 ideas were set aside based on gut instinct. I’m a big fan of testing, but while it’s easy enough to test a headline or a subject line…it’s very hard to test an “idea”.

      I have no argument with their final choice of idea. I think they were absolutely right.

      Nick

  3. Nick,

    I’m looking forward to more of your insights on long copy. I just finished one of the longest sales letters I’ve ever written last week. I spent 3-4 days just coming up with the Big Idea and another few days deciding on a story to incorporate. In hindsight, those 2 tasks were definitely the “heavy lifting” as once I decided, the actual writing of the letter came a bit easier. Thanks for sharing.

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