3 Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing & Increase Sales

Image from the movie "Office Space", sales
Image from the movie “Office Space”

Sales can be scary, so today I’m going to give you three ways to instantly improve your writing and also sell more books. I’m blessed to have a broad base of experience/expertise which includes corporate consulting and branding. I also spent years in sales and can honestly say, Coffee really is for closers. 


What Do You DO?

Among being a long-time author, ghostwriter, speaker and teacher, I also do a lot of freelance work in the corporate realm. Only mentioning this bit because it can help you guys improve.

I once accepted a leviathan project to redo copy for a website and rebrand a struggling company. I first explained my plan and reasoning in a detailed SWOT analysis. The owner was on board and signed off. The existing copy was outdated, bloated, confusing, and failed to appreciate the vast changes in our digital age culture.

I hacked through, reduced as much as possible and reshaped until the site showcased a truly fabulous company. To my horror, the owner came back and wanted me to add a deluge of changes which included mass amounts of extraneous information, charts, etc. and all of this content grossly deviated from the agreed rebranding.

I politely declined and we parted ways.

What’s funny is the owner never got around to changing the site from my version and was approached by a Richard Branson-type investor for potential partnership. Ironically, part of what piqued his interest was the site I designed.

Unlike the competition, the my version was visual, brief, and powerful, whereas the competition was like reading Wikipedia Articles from Hell.

Office Space Meme, sales

This desire to cough up too much and “oversell” is common (namely because regular people believe writing is easy and fail to hire a pro). Business owners are passionate and so they want to tell EVERYTHING about their services, industry, product, whatever. Also, overselling is a mark of the insecure. Think “padded resume.”

We authors can fall into a similar trap if we aren’t careful.

Attention Spans are Shrinking

The average time spent on a website is roughly 54 seconds. I’d wager most people give a website 5.4 seconds to catch their attention and so we have a challenge when it comes to not only attracting the click, but also making people STAY.

***The same can be said with books. A cover and title catches the eye, but the opening sample pages only have a paragraph or five to win over the audience enough to stay and pay (and then read).

We can apply these business lessons to our writing, because we writers also have something to sell.

Our job is far tougher because 1) discoverability is a nightmare 2) less than 8% of the literate population are devoted readers 3) the remaining 92% equate reading with homework and a chore. Thus, we have the task of convincing 92% of the population to spend time they don’t have engaged in an activity they believe they dislike…and spend money to do it.

The other 8%? Sure they like to read books, but why ours?

Omit Needless Words

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Strunk & White

Trust the reader. If a character opens a door, we know he “reached out his hand” to do it. We assume he isn’t blessed with telekinetic powers unless we’re told otherwise.

Resist the Urge to Explain

Image via "Office Space", sales
Image via “Office Space”

This tenet applies in a lot of areas. We don’t need flashbacks or lengthy details of why a character thinks or acts a certain way. The more we leave to the imagination, the better. Years ago, Hubby and I fell in love with the mini-series Defiance. We ate through Season One and began Season Two.

Interestingly, Episode Zero was a compilation of all the flashbacks cut from Season One—the explaining how and what and why…and it was painful. I just wanted to hit stop and move onto the new episodes. The flashbacks added nothing and only wasted my time. The series was better without backstory being spoon fed to me.

I got it.

This over explaining happens a lot with characterization, but sci-fi and fantasy can be particularly vulnerable. I recently had a client who took four hours to explain all her world building. Most of this information was for her, not the reader. She didn’t have to explain every last detail about how her world had collapsed into a dystopian nightmare.

It just did.

All that had happened BEFORE her story even began, so the reader just accepts the world as it is presented.

Think about cartoons. Kids accept that a group of dogs can be public servants, talk and operate heavy equipment (Paw Patrol) or that a sponge with tighty-whities can work a burger grill at the bottom of the ocean (Spongebob Square Pants).

Belief is already suspended.

Value the Reader’s TIME

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 9.51.29 AM

Get to the point quickly. The first sample pages of any book are our greatest selling tool. When I hear, “Oh, well the story really gets going by page 50″? My instincts tell me we probably need to cut 47 pages. When it comes to sales, we cannot afford to be boring.

Remember earlier I mentioned that we’re artists, but we also have a product to sell. In fiction, we’re selling escape. So think of it this way. How are you helping your customer escape reality?

Sales Route One

First, my dear (potential) reader, I need you to pack this list of gear, then sync this app on your smartphone. After that is downloaded, I’m going to text you coordinates for a geocache. Use the app to locate the cache, dig up the key, catch the L Train, wait for a guy with a blue hat and the code phrase is, “Duck, duck, goose.” He’ll then hail a cab and take you to a wonderful place you will enjoy.

Sales Route Two

Open a wardrobe and step through.

Which would you choose?

What are some ways you refine your work? Are you guilty of overwriting? I know I’m working super hard to lean down all my writing. It is NOT easy. Are there areas you could condense? Stage action or explaining that could be chipped away?

I LOVE hearing from you!

Can you articulate what VALUE YOUR book offers? What will your book make readers FEEL? How will it help them escape? What problem will it solve? Sales is all about offering a SOLUTION to a problem. So why is YOUR book a solution?

Does it reignite our belief in love? Offer us food for thought about modern culture? Challenge our beliefs? Provide an escape?

See if you can SELL me in the comments. Sales, like other skills, improves with practice.

If you keep scrolling, you’ll see ON DEMAND classes I have available. USA TODAY Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds also has some fabulous OD classes that I’ll have listed by next post for all of your holiday shopping desires.


ON DEMAND: Bring on the Binge: How to Plot a Series

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  1. Wonderful article! I will take your pitch challenge. So this is for my current work in progress, tentatively title “Zebra Zorp”. Have you ever experienced a synchronicity? Maybe you are thinking of an old friend, and then they just happen to call? Or maybe a heavy dose of deja vu? Like traveling somewhere new, and yet feeling like you have lived this moment in time before?

    These themes and many more will be explored in my new novel “Zebra Zorp”. This Philip K. Dick inspired novel will address the issues of the Simulation Theory in ways you have never considered. In it, we find a seemingly Edenic world outside the Simulation, and follow the lives of several technicians called “Wakers”, who are the one’s that pull you like a new-born baby out of the simulation pod. The mission of the simulation, to avert an impending catastrophe, has been accomplished. And yet, the existential crisis of the simulation itself seems to be seeping back into the real world…

    1. NICE! I’m sold.

  2. ah yes. so enticing at times to write the full-on backstory into the first 40 pages (no, not any longer). I note a lot of writers do this (because they don’t have an editor). I’ve learned over the years, put it in ‘your research and dribble that in, ‘if’ needed.’ I had a ‘brief’ intro to the main character and it was like 1/2 a page. I looked again. Bleh. So I started with a line that I hope is catchy after I slashed the majority of the page. Yeesh.

  3. Well that was too easy, now I just need to write the thing.

    • Roger L Nay on November 14, 2022 at 3:50 pm
    • Reply

    Great 54 second read.

    1. LOL. Actually my website does remarkably well as far as how long people stay on here. Then again, this isn’t just a website, it is a teaching blog. BUT, we still only get a split second to earn the minutes.

        • Roger Nay on November 14, 2022 at 4:27 pm
        • Reply

        I’ve watched several videos on your web site. You’re a great comedic actress.

  4. I write good books. According to me, anyway. Readers have called them wonderful, brilliant, fantastic, captivating, riveting… But despite their enthusiasm, readers of my books remain a small group. Maybe I need to level up from “wonderful, uplifting, optimistic, and slightly bananas” (according to one reviewer) to “so amazing I vowed my eyelids should know no rest until I had told everyone I know about it” (according to no reviewer – yet).

    • Sharon Lippincott on November 21, 2022 at 1:45 pm
    • Reply

    Amen to the Strunk & White paragraph about vigorous writing. It hooked my attention after a fast scroll down. You managed to snag 2:52 from me instead of my usual website average of 0:43! Great work.

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