John Forde of The Copywriter’s Roundtable, part 3

This is part 3 of my interview with John Forde of The Copywriter’s Roundtable…

RYAN: You’ve got a new book on sales letter leads coming out. Without giving too much away from the book…Do you have any advice for starting a sales letter, i.e. the lead, or the first sentence after the salutation?

JOHN: Yes… buy the book! Ha… well, you might need to wait a little longer for that. So here’s a short version: Surprise your reader in a simple, relevant way. The lead is your first moment to shine and your last chance to stop a prospect long enough to convince them you’ll say something worthwhile.

You’re asking a reader to put his or her life on hold, after all. So the opening of your letter better contrast sharply with anything they’re hearing or seeing somewhere else. That contrast isn’t enough, though, because you need to sustain that feeling of surprise into the lead and all the way through to your offer page. That’s where simplicity and relevance start to matter. The clearer your message and the closer it is to the prospect’s emotional core, the better.

Then the idea of the book is that you can pull this off a lot more easily than you might think. My co-author and I spent a lot of time going through winning direct response samples and studying leads. We’ve come up with six clear “formulas” for lead types that seemed to have succeeded most often.

That might be surprising when you think about how many millions of sales letters get mailed any given day. But think about how many novels or movies are out there. And yet they all fall into a very small set of story types. How many different ways has the Romeo-and-Juliet story been told or those Horatio Alger rags-to-riches tales?

We’ve taken the same idea and applied it to sales letters. It’s been pretty fascinating for us, too, because we’ve had to revise the list as we came to understand it better ourselves — that’s the reason the book has taken so long — and now I categorize new copy as a reflex. I also think of it as one or more of the categories when I start. Only certain kinds of leads go well with certain kinds of products. Having those templates to work with makes it much easier to choose where to begin.

RYAN: Where can people go to learn more about you?

JOHN: If you like wine, beer, or coffee… you can always meet me for any of those at a Paris cafe. Or you could probably ask any of my old girlfriends. They’d give you an earful. Short of that, have a look around at You’ll find the obligatory “about me” page but I also post excerpts from what’s now nearly a decade of past issues, plus an opportunity to sign up free for my weekly e-letter. Naturally, I ran ads in the letter. But it’s also something I write just for fun and to stay on top of what’s going on in the copy world. So you can get plenty out of it even if you never spend a nickel toward sponsors (wait, did I just say that out loud?)

RYAN: Thanks John for a fantastic interview! Looking forward to reading your new book.

One Comments