Copy Edit Tips
Mini grammar lessons, storytelling tweaks, and persuasion hacks that takes you from an average copywriter to an A-list copywriter.
My brain on Bénédictine
Let me tell you a story:
In 1510, there lived a Benedictine monk who was gifted in alchemy. He wanted to create an elixir to lengthen life. So during his free time at the monastery, he mixed a few dozen herbs and plants with honey and alcohol to make this concoction. One day, King Francis I visited the monastery and tasted the monk’s mixture. He exclaimed, “On my honor! I’ve never tasted anything better!” From that day forward, King Francis I drank nothing but the elixir.
This is the origin story of the herbal French liqueur, Bénédictine.
It’s printed on the back of every bottle.
And it’s completely fictional.
No monk. No magic potion to extend life. No endorsement from a king.
Just the delicious boozy elixir.
Why bother printing it on the label? Because stories sell.
Instead of creating this origin story, the brand could’ve simply printed a bland statement on the label like:
Bénédictine is an herbal French liqueur made since 1863 in Fecamp, Normandy. It’s made with 27 different ingredients on an 80-proof base of distilled beetroot, sweetened with acacia honey and aged in oak for at least 15 months.
You know why this brand (and every other European liqueur) prints origin stories on its bottles?
Because emotionally charged stories grab attention, are remembered, and skyrocket perceived value.
You’re not just drinking any $50 liqueur.
You’re drinking an elixir that might extend your life. The same elixir that a monk dedicated his life to creating. The same elixir that a king drank every day.
In your brain, that practically makes you royalty.
And what’s that experience worth? Way more than a Ulysses S. Grant, that’s for sure.
P.S. Your prospects experience so many things in a day, which is why it’s vital you create copywriting that’s worth remembering.
So I challenge you to create an origin story for your signature product or service.
I’m not encouraging you to tell tall tales like the European liqueur brands. But writing with a little exaggeration while under the influence of your favorite libation won’t hurt anyone.
P.P.S. Need help with the origin story of your signature product or service? Reply to this email.
40 different one-sentence endings
Did you know your brain attaches the quality of a piece of writing to the ending?
It’s true. Hemingway knew this when he wrote the ending of A Farewell To Arms 40 times.
That’s 40 different one-sentence endings.
You see, he knew that if you didn’t stick the landing like a gold-medal pole vaulter, you’d fall on your face. And no one would care that you had an…
- Interesting headline (making readers want to know more)
- Compelling benefits (helping readers visualize how their lives could be happily different)
- Mind-blowing social proof (causing readers to scream “take my money”)
Because they’d only be focused on how bad your ending was.
The story’s job inside your sales page is to take readers on a journey.
A good ending — where the story about how readers’ lives will be changed because of the product or service — leaves your readers in a different place than before. And it demonstrates how what you’re selling will affect them.
A bad ending — where the story isn’t complete — won’t impact them. And it renders your entire sales page meaningless.
- Who cares about compelling benefits if readers don’t understand how they relate to their lives?
- Who cares about social proof if readers can’t picture their own lives being transformed by the product or service?
- And who cares about looking past the headline if readers aren’t enticed to take action?
No one cares. (They’ll simply click away from your sales page.) Except for me.
I care. And I want you to nail the ending of the story on your sales page.
So in 2021, I challenge you to be like Hemingway and write your call-to-action 40 times. And it should be more than one sentence long.
PRO TIP: your call-to-action should wrap up the sales page’s story by…
- Completing the readers’ journey from life being a challenge to life being a triumph.
- Demonstrating how their lives will be better because of the product or service.
- Enticing them to take action.
Here’s to ending every sales page you write (and 2020) on a high note.
P.S. Want to make sure your 40 calls-to-action are as readable as Hemingway’s 40 endings of A Farewell To Arms? Try the Hemingway Editor. It’s free.
P.P.S. Want me to teach you every copy editing tactic I know so your copywriting hooks your readers’ brain bits and turns them into raving fans? Check out Drool-Worthy Copy here.
P.P.P.S. I created ink & fire paintings for my siblings for Christmas. They’re hot! Check em out below.
Don't let bad repetition kill your copywriting
Human brains are fascinating. (And apparently, zombies think they’re tasty.)
When you read, hear, or speak…
- Neurons fire
- Pathways light up
- Connections are made
The communication networks in our brains are so visually striking that they’ve been compared to mini universes. (I can’t wait for Neil deGrasse Tyson to host a special about the similarities between the universe and our 3-pound think tanks.)
But when your brain makes a connection, what it’s actually doing is translating sounds into ideas.
For example, when your brain sees or hears the word zombie, it turns it into the idea of a decayed corpse with a bloodlust for human brains.
The psychology behind communication is to take that idea and add other words with it to create a more complex idea. (Like every script for season one of The Walking Dead where Rick tries to escape those creepy bastards.)
Not really a fascinating concept by itself. But that’s where copywriting makes its glittery entrance.
Repetition (a psychologically sound principle for committing information to memory) is a copywriting tactic based on the rule of three.
To use it correctly, you have to repeat the same key points three times.
But there’s good repetition. And there’s bad repetition.
The bad repetition is called semantic satiation and happens when you repeat the same word too many times.
Instead of committing it to memory, your brain no longer recognizes it as a word. So your brain breaks it down into sounds again. Only it’s not the same sounds as before. And those sounds have nothing to do with the meaning of the word.
For example, the word zombie goes from zom-bie to zo-mbie or zomb-ee.
Your brain becomes immune to the original word. Flags it as meaningless. And no longer translates it into an idea.
This is why a seemingly normal word turns into gibberish. And it’s also why copy editing is bullet-to-a-zombies-brain important.
To use repetition successfully in your copywriting, you have to use different words to repeat the same three key points.
For example, turn zombie into:
- Rotting walkers
- Brain eaters
- Reanimated corpses
Different words. Same idea. No semantic satiation.
Don’t use bad repetition in your copywriting. Zombies won’t want to eat your brain. They’ll run away like it’s poison. And readers won’t buy anything you’re selling.
P.S. Semantic satiation does have a positive use — it reduces speech anxiety associated with stuttering. Repeating the same words leads to semantic satiation, which reduces the negative memories and emotions that can be triggered while speaking. How cool?!?!
A tip for concise copy
Some days, I’m purple with spite. I end up looking like Violet from the Willy Wonka movie.
Sugar and spice don’t go with my attitude.
For example, last year my neighbor cut down 26 oak trees on his one-acre lot.
All the squirrels that used to live near him, now live at my house. Those fluffy-tailed demons ate all the apples off my poor little tree 2 falls in a row. I can’t even grab enough to make a pie. (Can you feel my purple spite?)
So I decided to get even with my neighbor.
In August, I picked up all the acorns I could find and sprouted them. I’m going to sneak into his backyard and plant them this spring.
Two weeks ago, my other neighbor died. He was an 82-year-old German immigrant. He had the best cookouts (to know me is to understand that I don’t fraternize with neighbors). And I actually asked him if he would adopt me because that man knew how to grill.
As I was reading his obituary (that’s what adults do, right?), I discovered that in lieu of flowers, he wanted people to plant trees in his name.
Sometimes, I think I need to trim my attitude. But not this time. Spitefully planting trees is actually honoring my dead neighbor’s wishes.
I don’t always trim my spitefulness, but I do trim my words.
What’s the simplest way to trim excess words?
Take each sentence you wrote, highlight the action-packed verbs, and rewrite your sentence.
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Action-packed verbs are in bold.
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Now, let’s cut the clutter…
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It may seem difficult at first. But I promise, once you highlight action-packed verbs, it’s easy to make your sentences concise.
Which warms my grumpy heart and stops me from planting spite trees in your yard.
Jumping to assumptions higher than a wide receiver.
I like watching professional football. (Yes, I know it’s problematic. But old habits die hard.)
I’m not invested in the game like some men. (Talk about emotional creatures.)
I tune in for the commentary.
While witnessing the Giants failed comeback 2 Sundays ago, the quarterback was forced to run the ball himself. He got clobbered by two of the Bears defensive players. This double-whammy hit resulted in a penalty.
One of the commentators said, “his linemen should’ve been there to defend his honor.”
As soon as I heard that, this chiseled piece of man meat turned into a sweat-soaked, messy-haired princess.
His burly linemen turned into a flustered king drawing his sword.
And those defensive players turned into a stable boy running for his life while trying to pull up his pants.
With one comment that inferred linemen should protect their quarterback, I created a whole story in my mind filled with stereotypes and misinformation.
I jumped to assumptions higher than Plaxico Burress leaped to catch the game-winning touchdown during the 2008 Super Bowl. (Too long ago to use as a reference? No, I just remember unimportant information.)
No one should jump to assumptions when it comes to copywriting. But in the 18th century, the logicians of English grammar did.
They randomly decided that singular masculine pronouns should always be used in indefinite expressions: “Will everyone remove his hat?”
Care to guess how this came about? (Hint – they were all men.)
You should chuck this outdated grammar rule in the fuck-it-bucket after writing your copy.
First, the notion of gender has evolved (just like grammar). In an effort to be inclusive, never assign a label unless you definitely know someone’s gender.
Second, using “he or she” and “his and her” is awkward phrasing in advertising copy. Even Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage concedes:
“The plural pronoun is one solution devised by native speakers of English to a grammatical problem inherent in that language – and it is by no means the worst solution.”
And using a plural pronoun like they/their in an ad campaign can be wildly successful.
For example – Honda Civic’s, “To each their own.”
Honda Civic buyers didn’t care about the grammar rules.
In fact, the company’s profit margin increased from 2.98% in March 2012 to 3.62% in September 2012 – the same time the campaign ran.
So clearly the “grammar mistake” didn’t affect the bottom line. Probably because nobody on the planet gives a crap about whether this is grammatically correct. “But are they following the rules of the English language?” is rarely a question a prospect asks before buying a car.
What grammar rules do you break like the confidence of a new quarterback getting tackled?