How to charm your readers so they hang off your every word
I once heard a high-level diplomat describe diplomacy as ‘the art of letting other people have your way.’
The same can be said of persuasion, and if you’re a speaker, coach, or thought leader whose work revolves around helping people to move from one mental state to another, you’ll be familiar with its power. You’ll understand that things don’t happen because you’ve told someone they should do them, but because you’ve laid a path for them they can’t help but follow.
When you know how to do this in your writing, your book will become a force for change.
Make an introduction
The introduction is often the chapter people find hardest to create, and yet it’s the most important because it’s the one that will make or break your readers’ decision as to whether to buy and read your book. Once they’ve checked out your title, cover, and blurb, they’ll flick (or scroll) through the first few pages to see if you’re the kind of person they want to learn from.
For reasons I’ll explain in a moment, it’s not a great idea to write your introduction before the rest of your book. But from my experience of working with my coaching clients I know that’s what you might be intending to do, so I’ll cover how to write a compelling introduction now.
When was the last time you read the first paragraph of a book and thought to yourself, ‘Hmm, this looks pretty tedious but I bet it contains some useful information. I’ll buy it and make myself read it from cover to cover, even if it kills me.’
I’m guessing never, which brings me to the central purpose of an introduction: it’s to capture your readers’ interest and earn their trust. You want to draw them in and convince them that their lives won’t be the same if they don’t buy and read your book right now. So many authors use their introduction as a place to expound on their book’s theme, and why and how they wrote it; these factors are not what will persuade people to invest time and money in it. Your potential readers don’t frankly care what drove you to spend three years creating your magnum opus, at least not until you’ve convinced them they’re going to get something valuable out of it.
So why is a book’s introduction the final chapter you should write? Because you’re setting the book’s scene for your readers, and it’s tricky to do this before you’ve written the rest of it. Also, your writing style will improve as you write everything else, and given the introduction is the most important one to do well it makes sense to draft it the last.
How do you write an introduction so it persuades people to buy your book? Here’s a helpful framework:
- Tell your readers in your first few lines what the book’s about. In other words, what problem you’ll be solving or what subject you’ll be exploring. They want to know up front whether it’s of interest to them.
- Empathise with your readers, showing you understand their pain or curiosity; the phrase ‘they don’t care what you know until they know that you care’ is spot on here. At the same time make it clear you’re familiar with who your target readers are, because they need to feel confident this book is for them. You should be happy for the ‘wrong’ readers to leave you at this point.
- Briefly present your solution or explanation. This is the gold in your book.
- Explain your credibility: what makes you qualified to write about this topic?
- Tell your readers what they’ll get out of the book: advice, information, entertainment, or knowledge. Be concrete and make a big promise.
- Encourage them to read on now – create a sense of urgency.
Your introduction can also be a good place to tell a relevant story, thereby creating interest and the desire to read on. It’s not usually the place to launch into your full life history, though – save that for later if you need it.
Keep ‘em hooked
The attention and trust you earn in your introduction isn’t a one-off thing – you have to keep earning it in every subsequent chapter you write. Think of yourself as a supermarket with a loyalty card scheme, giving rewards to your consumers not just on their first visit but every time they return. Winning this repeat business means being persuasive. There are two elements to this: using the way you write to win people over, and creating interesting content so they want to read on.
The good news is, there’s only one thing you need to do if you want to be a persuasive writer, and that’s to be able to put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Ask yourself if what you’re saying is relevant, and if you’re making a difference to the way your readers feel. Because without a shift in emotions, there’s no change at all. Your mission as a business book writer is to inspire your readers to do something different, and to do that they have to feel different.
So sensing how your readers think and feel is key, but there are a few other tips and tricks for writing persuasively that you’ll love.
The end of one chapter and the start of another create a natural pause point at which your readers will ask themselves if they want to carry on. So each time you begin a new chapter of your book, you’re asking people to make a decision.
There’s a simple strategy canny business book authors use to make their books unputdownable (if that’s a word), which is to start each chapter with a hook. This can be a story, a surprising statistic, a controversial fact, a provocative question – anything that piques readers’ interest and prompts them to continue. Once they’re a page into your chapter, they’re usually yours for the duration.
People are happier to remember and trust the specific than the general; when your readers trust you, your book will have a profound effect on them. This means specific elements such as quotes, statistics, facts, and examples automatically make your writing more persuasive.
Being specific also means being concrete, which in writing terms involves you describing things in a way your readers can experience through their senses rather than their rational minds. Everyday examples are ‘sign on the dotted line’ instead of ‘agree the contract’, or ‘I smell a rat’ instead of ‘there’s something wrong’.
One of my favourite ways to show the power of specificity is to look at how comedians do it. Comedy actors are masters and mistresses of the specific comment, because they know it drives a strong reaction. The late Victoria Wood is my go-to example; her writing was funny for many reasons, but one of them was because she was so particular with her details. For her this made her audiences laugh, but for you it might result in your readers feeling touched, understood, impressed, or moved. I can’t resist giving you some examples:
‘Foreplay is like beefburgers – three minutes on each side’ (it’s the ‘three minutes’ that makes me laugh, along with the visual image of burgers being flipped).
‘You know that building in London where all the windows blew out? That wasn’t a bomb, it was fifty-six pre-menstrual women the day the chocolate machine broke down’ (it had to be fifty-six).
‘I once found myself in bed with a man who was a real do-it-yourself enthusiast . . . He ripped off all his clothes and said, “What would you like me to do?” I said, “Well, really I’d like you to fix my overflow and re-point my brickwork” (if she’d just said ‘do some jobs around the house’ it wouldn’t have been half as funny).
For Victoria it was never just a biscuit, it was a macaroon; it was never just a magazine, it was a Woman’s Weekly; and it was never just DIY, it was lagging the pipes.
So try to avoid too many generalised statements such as, ‘By improving your communication skills your team will deliver more effectively’ – that’s the kind of stuff readers gloss over. Instead, give an example of a client who raised their revenue by a certain percentage, or a statistic that backs up your argument. You could even tell the story of someone who did something particular to improve their communication skills and achieved a result.
You’ll be memorable, and your readers will believe you because you’ve made what you’re saying real to them.
So now you know how to be a professional persuader, you’ll bring your readers along with you every step of the way. Why not start putting it into practice right now?
This is an extract from Your Business Your Book, which was published last week. It’s the only guide you need to planning, writing, and promoting the book that puts you – and your business – in the spotlight.