8 Rules for Copywriting

Before penning Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut was a professional copywriter. Working as an advertising copywriter, Mr. Vonnegut used his creative background to create product descriptions.When I read his novels, it feels as if the copywriting spark never left him.

As a teacher, Vonnegut gave his students 8 rules for creative writing that will also set the foundation for killer marketing copy.

Keep reading to apply these rules to your copywriting!

Rule 1: Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

Time is our most valuable resource. You have a limited window to grab attention of your readers, so don’t waste a second. If you’re writing a landing page, always include an attention-grabbing headline, then move on to the pain points and benefits.

Rule 2: Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

The reader is the main character of your copy. No matter what the reader’s needs are, let them know that the product or service helps them succeed or overcome a problem. This rule is especially important in coaching practices, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give readers a pep talk in other industries. Show prospects you’re rooting for them, and they’ll see themselves succeeding.

Rule 3: Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

Desire is a quintessential ingredient in quality copywriting. Concentrate a good portion of your copywriting on the desired results that your product or service produces. The reason a reader sought you out in the first place is because he or she wanted something. For the conversion to happen, you have to show readers that you can provide them with what they want.

Rule 4: Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

Mr. Vonnegut is absolutely correct, especially when it comes to copywriting. Once you finish a draft, read each sentence carefully. If you find that one sentence does nothing to enhance your message, cut it.

Rule 5: Start as close to the end as possible.

Have you ever read a book you loved, but the story went on too long? The same criteria apply to copywriting. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sales page or an FAQ page, length can be a make or break factor in conversions. Hit all the necessary points, but keep it as short as possible.

Rule 6: Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

In the case of marketing copy, this rule means you have to be honest. The best copywriting speaks to specific pain points. To accomplish this task, be as detailed as possible about what your prospects feel, and show them you understand their situation.

Rule 7: Write to please just one person.

This rule speaks one of the biggest truths about copywriting. That big truth: you can’t please everyone, and you shouldn’t try. Writing about how anyone can use a product or service means you won’t speak to your target market on an individual level.

Rule 8: Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible.

Here are four words of advice: get to the point. Copy that dithers about without a solid focus will result in readers clicking the back button or closing your email. You have a few seconds to grab their attention, then drive the point home.

For Vonnegut-style messaging, check out our copywriting services.


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