The Chaotically Seductive Path to Persuasive Copy

In this article, author, writing coach, and copywriter David Pennington teaches you the simple secrets of excellent copywriting.
Publish date:

I have worked with a legion of solopreneurs and small business owners; each stopped cold at the same word: copywriting. After a handful of searches for guides and how-tos, they are targeted by hundreds of ads for free guides and premium courses designed to teach them how to write “amazing copywriting, overnight.”

Apparently, there are just three simple writing hacks to create lifelong customers. Get access to this guide now before the sun sets on your future. Time is running out on this once-in-a-lifetime offer.

And so on.

There isn’t a guide, course, or Google search that will help you if you need riveting, persuasive writing by this time tomorrow. Do yourself a favor and hire a copywriter. A good copywriter will be far more expensive than you think; it will be worth it. If you have the time, a crash course will do wonders for your persuasive writing learning curve.

(Copywriting: A Crash Course for Writers Looking to Break In)

I hate to be the one to tell you this: There are no rules to persuasive writing. There are no industry secrets, hidden techniques, or cheat codes to effective copywriting or keeping your readers engaged. There isn’t a “best copywriting course.” If you’re lucky, you’ll find your way to a decent enough crash course where you can experiment, go wild, and have fun with the thing. When it comes to persuasive writing, few will tell you how there is nothing new to learn. Just by reading this, you have the tools you need: language.


All language starts as persuasion. Cavemen used a series of grunts to warn of predatory tigers. Children figure out how to communicate to get what they need to appease their needs. Securing jobs, mates, groceries, entertainment—all acts of language. The best and worst of our kind use language to get others to do our bidding. Call in persuasion, call it manipulation—it is language all the same.

But if we all use and comprehend language, then how is it we aren’t all masters of persuasion?

When we assume people pay attention to us the way we pay attention to them, persuasion falls apart. This isn’t a game of quid pro quo. We can all understand what others say, but we’ll be damned if we know how they tell it to us.

Instant Appeal, Overnight!

When is writing persuasive? When the reader buys in. Not just buying into your product, but buying into you and your message. Persuasive writing works when they come back for next week’s episode or the next book in the series. It works when they open email after email and engage with your content. More subtly, it shows when readers work their way from page to page, onto the next paragraph, into the next sentence. Persuasive writing gives readers permission to engage and a reason to stay to the end of the page, the story, and the pitch.

How hard is it to buy in? You can always lower the bar, simplify your language, or break up your sentences. Meet your audience where they thrive, and they will find a reason to follow you home.

(The 8 Secrets of Great Copywriting)

Built for the Brave, the Bold, the Rulebreakers

There is an old chestnut about how you should pick apart competitor ads to see how they are going after your audience. Like most chestnuts, the digital age roasted this one.

Assume this: The ads you see likely don’t work. Just because they found their way to your feed doesn’t mean they are effective or worth the screen they take up. Anyone can buy an ad with their own creative and target it directly to anyone in the world.

They won't tell you this: Ads work best when you don’t notice them working. Consider the logic of how a specific brand of shampoo came to balance itself on your shower shelf. You likely can’t. You will find the best ads in the world listed on your shopping receipt. Forget the competition, pick apart the ads from the brands who got your money.

It’s Time to Take Action…

There is an old sales trick: Get them saying “yes.” The idea is to ask your prospective client a series of questions, regardless of topic, that will yield positive and agreeable answers. If you say “yes” five times, you’re likely to say it a sixth. Are your readers saying yes?

The goal of persuasive writing is to get someone to do something. Whether it is to subscribe to your mailing list or commit to changing their lives, they have to do something, to take action. In other words: Use verbs in the active tense.

Language is influenced by our grey matter and vice versa. Armchair psychology tells us getting people to do something starts with telling them to do something. This is as simple as writing instructions for your audience to follow. Read the word “duck,” and something lights up in your brain—you might need to duck down or take a punch, and your synapses prep themselves to take action.

No one wants to take a punch. Then again, maybe it’s just time to feel the ducks?

Lab-Tested, Mom-Approved

Use the sword to cut both ways. Anyone can target an ad to you, and you can show your copy to anyone else. Is your writing persuasive? Is your copy effective? Drop ten bucks on it to find out. Test it with a thousand people, learn from your triumphs and mistakes, and test with another thousand. Small business owners all over the world, usually without the guidance of copywriters, push out millions of ads every day to find out what might work. Why not do the same?

Every test of your writing, of your copy, is a chance to create a new draft and rephrase what you are trying to say. On a long enough timeline, the copy you write turns from why you would buy your product to why someone else would.

Can I Be Frank With You?

We all want the real, authentic, tangible, and genuine. In most cases, we’ll pay more for it.

Persuasion falls apart when you recognize the other person only wants one thing from you. Like a used car salesman with a lemon on their lot: Yry too hard and you come off as insincere. We stop talking to our high school friends when they message us with a great new business opportunity or when family guilts us into traveling for the holidays. With sincerity, the audience wants to buy-in to you.

Were persuasion easy, everyone would get what they wanted. There is no shortcutting the practice and experience needed to craft compelling and persuasive copy, but you can blaze your own path. The only guide you need along your course is the answer to the question: Is the reader buying in? 

Writing is your passion. Why not make it your day job, too? Learn how to become a copywriter by building your portfolio and marketing your services through this online workshop.

Writing is your passion. Why not make it your day job, too? Learn how to become a copywriter by building your portfolio and marketing your services through this online workshop.

Click to continue.

Lacie Waldon: On Writing What You Know ... But Keeping it Interesting

Lacie Waldon: On Writing What You Know ... But Keeping it Interesting

Debut novelist Lacie Waldon discusses how her agent encouraged her to write what she knew, but then her editor made her realize that what she thought was boring might not be the case.

Pedal vs. Peddle (Grammar Rules)

Pedal vs. Peddle (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use pedal and peddle with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Marissa Levien: On Pinning Down Your Novel's Middle

Marissa Levien: On Pinning Down Your Novel's Middle

Debut author Marissa Levien discusses how she always knew what the beginning and the end of her science fiction novel The World Gives Way would be, but that the middle remained elusive.

Drawing the Line for Withholding Secrets in Young Adult and Middle-Grade Novels

Drawing the Line for Withholding Secrets in Young Adult and Middle Grade Novels

Middle-grade and young adult author Ren Koppel Torres shares the top tips for how you can keep secrets from your characters and readers.

Payal Doshi: On Letting Rejection Bring You Clarity

Payal Doshi: On Letting Rejection Bring You Clarity

Middle-grade author Payal Doshi discusses the sometimes-disheartening process of querying a novel and how she used rejection to fuel her passion for writing.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Writer’s Digest Conference Announcements and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce that our 2021 Annual Conference will be virtual, registration is open for our 2021 in-person Novel Conference, and more!

Rajani LaRocca: On Letting Your Synopsis Guide Your Writing

Rajani LaRocca: On Letting Your Synopsis Guide Your Writing

In this article, middle-grade author Rajani LaRocca discusses how the synopsis for her newest release, Much Ado About Baseball, guided her writing process.

From Script

Adding Your Personal Connection to Your Stories and Building Your Brand As a Writer (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by, Script’s Editor Sadie Dean interviews Dickinson creator/showrunner/EP Alena Smith, learn how to divide and conquer as screenwriter in the business and creating fruitful relationships. Plus, a brand new Script Talk video interview with writer/director/actress Djaka Souaré about her journey as a mentor and mentee in the WOCUnite and #StartWith8Hollywood mentorship programs.

Poetic Forms

Englyn Penfyr: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the englyn penfyr, a Welsh tercet form.