Stephen King And The Long Copy Debate

This is another article was written by one of my junior copywriters, Joe Valente, as an introduction to one of mine — which I published on this blog already (the link is further down). But Joe’s article is so good, I decided to reprint it here. Take it away, Joe!

Life’s too hectic. Go on, tell me I’m wrong. Well, maybe that’s not so for you, but for me, there’s just so much going on, such as:

Writing and editing web sites, technical manuals, tutorials… Car repairs, some done in my driveway, and some done by others, but always under my watchful eye (remind me one day to tell you about my Talon and the plans I have to get back into Autocross with it)… Household maintenance (thankfully the lawnmower died, buying me an extra hour!)… Hockey season (I coach and referee)… And of course, the band in which I’m the bass player and lead singer.

So it was quite a surprise when…

… For the first time in quite a while, I found the time not only to read a book for pleasure, but to actually finish it.

The book was Wizard and Glass, by Stephen King, the fourth novel in the Dark Tower Trilogy (yeah, yeah, I know…) and perhaps the weakest of the bunch in my humble opinion.

For those of you who aren’t following this particular series of books, I’ll give you the short version: A gunslinger sets out to find the Dark Tower, a sort of hub that binds several parallel universes together. It seems the Tower is in major need of repair — plumbing, I suspect, although that’s not entirely clear — and the parallel worlds are beginning to feel the effects.

Anyway, the gunslinger meets and adventures with several characters along the way. By the second book, his posse (which you knew he would eventually have to have) is formed, and together, they carry on, following The Beam, a hidden structure that ties the worlds together through the Dark Tower.

So with that background in mind, I bring you into my living room just last night. The lamp above my favorite reading chair is lit, and my dog Amber is curled up between my knees on the ottoman.

The ottoman, as an aside, is the only piece of furniture on which she is allowed other than her own chair, and then, only by my own graces — Heather, my wife, scowls at me when she sees her curled up in my knees like that, but I’m an old softie and Amber keeps my knees warm.

I had just finished the fourth book, and felt oddly unsettled. I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong, but I had the distinct feeling I’d somehow been robbed. But my wallet and watch were still intact, so…

And then it hit me.

It was the book. I had waited years for this installment of the Dark Tower (there were five years between Book 3 and Book 4, and I hadn’t seen Book 4 until this summer) and I had read it with a voracious appetite for the trail of The Beam first started way back in Book 1. But when all was said and done, I felt like I got nothing to feed my cravings.

Here’s the deal: The book is largely a retrospective. It starts out in the gunslinger’s “Today,” and then reaches back — way back — into his past, before returning to his “Today.” About 100 pages of current events on either end of the book sandwiching close to 500 pages of the gunslinger in his youth playing with characters that, so far, don’t figure into his travels on The Beam.

I hate it when authors do that, I really do.

But the issue wasn’t so much the 500 pages — it was a very well-told story with an interesting plot — but the fact that those 500 pages contributed very little to the gunslinger’s current situation. It was a great story, but had little bearing on the adventure.

Those 500 pages were, in a word, irrelevant.

What the King of Horror had done, basically, was the old bait and switch. I wanted more of the adventure that I had been following, and instead, I got another adventure sandwiched between snippets of what I considered important to that book.

And I felt a little cheated.

“So what,” you may ask, “has that got to do with writing copy?”

Well, judging by that ageless debate going on in the world of copywriting, just about everything.

There’s a thread in my forum in which the battle rages over long copy versus short copy. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the different approaches taken by different people to copywriting:

On one side the argument is that only bad products require long copy, so long copy is a scam (badly oversimplified, that synopsis, but it serves well-enough).

On the other side of the argument is the idea that well-written long copy sells better than well-written short copy (again, oversimplified, but you get the idea).

In Michel’s article, found here, Mike explores the two sides to the debate, and weighs in with his thoughts on the matter. We think you’ll find the article more than just informative: We hope it’ll prompt you to really consider the value of the words you’re putting on that screen before you decide: Is more really more or is less actually more?

Or something like that.

Because long copy is often appropriate, and does sell better — when done right. But short copy is also sometimes the right tool for the job.

As for me, as your intrepid editor, it’s not for me to cast my runes into the ring and tell you what I think, because you’re the writers, and no one knows better than you what the current project really requires.

But I will tell you this: While reading that middle 500 pages of the latest Dark Tower novel, I seriously considered not finishing the book. Several times. Because the information felt irrelevant to the story. If that were a long copy ad and I had no reason to trust the author, that would have been a sale lost.

Just something to think about.

And now, Mr. King, let us return to The Beam, shall we?

About The Author

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Michel Fortin

Michel Fortin is a certified SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor helping plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, and medical aesthetic clinics attract more patients. Since 1991, he helps cosmetic and aesthetic professionals increase their visibility and grow their practices. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.

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