Writing Leads that Sell

I recently started writing for the Helium marketplace. Aside from a few paintball articles tossed up on Bukisa, this represents my first foray into content sites. Although others have recommended Associated Content and other sites, I like Helium because:

- the quality of writing, in general, seems better than some of the other sites
- the topics offered appeal to me
- the "marketplace" provides opportunities to be paid upfront for work.

Contributing to the marketplace is essentially writing on spec, so I'm careful to choose only topics I can use elsewhere if they are not selected for publication, or are so quick or interesting to write it doesn't bother me.

For instance, I wrote about the "Cash for Clunkers" program. I wanted to research the program anyway, and I've been doing so much finance writing lately, I figured the topic is bound to come up in an assignment soon.

Helium provides its members with an opportunity to "rank" stories written by other members. And during this process, I was reminded of the importance of a good lead.

You see, like many other people, I didn't sit and read every single article for ranking. I read the first paragraph and skimmed the rest. In many cases, a strong lead caused me to vote for one story over another.

In SEO writing, writers often neglect a strong lead, focusing instead on getting those keywords in the first sentence or paragraph. Like titles, though, the best leads appeal to real-life readers as well as search engine spiders.

Some examples of strong leads:

Anecdote – Stories engage. Marketing gurus and professionals from Dale Carnegie to Seth Godin have shared this principle. Start your article with an engaging, personal story (yours or someone else’s) and you’ll captivate readers.

Statistics – Startling – truly surprising – statistics capture people’s attention. It’s even better if you can share a statistic and illustrate it or personalize it in some way.

The Question – Some editors dislike the “hypothetical question” device. But if you can ask a question that gives your readers little choice but to answer, “Of course! That’s exactly like me!” you’ve got them hooked from word one.

Amazing facts – Like amazing statistics, it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate amazing facts from ho-hum statements. Test your lead by sharing the fact with a spouse, friend, or colleague. Don’t tell him it’s the first sentence of an article. If he responds with an enthusiastic, “Oh, really?” you have your lead.

My 8-week writing course, for sale for $129 at www.abundantwriter.com, takes you step-by-step through the process of writing a good lead and incorporating it into a query that sells.