Many Barefoot Writers ask us,

“What, exactly, is a lead? And how do you write really good leads?”

Here’s the quick answer:

The lead is the introduction to a sales letter or other piece of writing. It has to grab your reader in the few moments it takes to decide if he’s going to keep reading it… or toss it aside.

The lead MUST…

  • Make a big, attractive promise (and a second, subtler promise)
  • Convey that big promise in the most compelling way
  • Appeal to your prospect’s beliefs, feelings, and desires

The lead CAN…

  • Share a historical perspective
  • Debunk a common belief
  • Formulate a prediction
  • Ask a provocative question
  • Provide facts and figures
  • Impart data
  • Tell a story
  • State your offer

According to Master Copywriter and AWAI instructor Will Newman, a good lead can do other things, too. It can build excitement, establish the tone of your piece, build rapport with your reader, earn trust their trust, and develop the promise in the headline.

Pretty important, wouldn’t you say?

How Do You Write Good Leads?

Articles tend to have shorter leads, usually just a paragraph or two. The lead for a sales letter may be much longer, sometimes even several pages. No matter which one you’re writing, the same basic principles apply.

Above all, the lead must make a big promise to your reader. What will he get out of this article or sales letter if he continues reading? Think about your reader’s beliefs, feelings, or desires. The lead should convey your article’s big promise in a way that appeals to him.

Almost all successful leads can be classified as one of six types. Here they are, from most direct to indirect:

  • Offer – tells the reader the offer right up front
  • Promise – makes a promise to the reader
  • Problem-Solution – identifies a problem and then offers a solution
  • Big Secret – an offer of a formula, a system, or hard-to-come-by information
  • Proclamation – makes a bold claim that will get the reader’s attention
  • Story – a popular and powerful lead type, because everyone loves a good story

Which type of lead you use depends on what you’re writing about, and who your reader is. Choose your approach based on the subject or product you’re writing about, and the reader’s interests.

You should also think about your reader’s awareness. If they already know a lot about your subject, you can be more direct. If not, you have to be indirect.

You must keep your reader in mind while writing your leads. His hopes, his thoughts, his worries, and what keeps him awake at night — these will all affect your leads.

The lead is vital to setting the tone for your writing and convincing your reader to continue. You can increase your chance of having your reader stay to the end of your article by using one of the six lead types from the list above.

To get the lead right, review your prospect’s core complex and find out what he’s worried about RIGHT NOW. The lead doesn’t have to be perfect, but it must be appropriate for that particular person.

Next to your headline, the lead is one of the most important parts of what you write. Knowing how to write good leads is a valuable skill. If you can craft a good lead, your writing will be more effective, and you’ll be in demand as a freelance writer.