Although I have recently publishedseveral children’s books about art , for the last 20 years I’ve earned a living as an advertising copywriter. As it turns out, writing ads has been great training for writing art books. In fact, you could say that what I’m really doing with my books is advertising art to kids. (If any of you harbor a less-than-charitable opinion of advertising, keep in mind that without advertising, the royalty checks we receive for the books we publish would be a lot smaller!)
The point I’m trying to make is this: Advertising is a way to provide people with information about a specific product, service or cause. Non-fiction writing is a way to provide readers with information about a specific subject. The more creative advertising is, the more attention it gets. The more creative non-fiction writing is…you get the idea.
Take my first children’s art book, NO ONE SAW. There are 18 lines of text in the entire book. Each line is paired up with a famous painting by a different artist. For example, the first line of text reads, “No one saw flowers like Georgia O’Keeffe.” Next to this line is her wonderfully large painting of Calla Lilies. Another line of text reads, “No one saw stars like Vincent van Gogh”, which is paired with his most famous painting, The Starry Night. In essence, each line of text in the book is a headline advertising a particular artist.
The trick is to write a headline that not only imparts information, but does so in an interesting way. We ad writers take pride in getting people to look at things differently, so that whatever we’re advertising will be remembered. The same skill applies to writing non-fiction.
For example, I could have said, “Georgia O’Keeffe became famous for painting really big flowers.” This “headline” is true enough, but it’s also fairly flat-footed and obvious. After all, readers can see from the painting that her flowers are big. But by saying, “No one saw flowers like Georgia O’Keeffe”, I allow readers to come to their own conclusions about how Georgia saw flowers. Not only that, the line makes her vision sound special. It gives her credit for seeing things in her own way, and seeing things in your own way is what the book is really all about.
So if you want your non-fiction to get noticed, consider taking a few pointers from advertising. After all, it has worked pretty well for me