Innocent Little Facts that Make or Break Your Sales Story

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Anyone ever force you to read a story? Like the books of Chuck Dickens, scribbler extraordinaire of the Victorian age?

If so, that’s a shame (great way to kill a natural love for reading).

It’s also a howler of an irony — since Charles Dickens was the Stephen King of his day, pumping out reams of stories for an impatient public waiting to gobble them all down.

In fact, Dickens was also a story-entrepreneur, founding his own magazine that published his stories as “serials” or installments. Thus was born the cliffhanger ending and the original Soap Opera Sequence.

In other words, no one was forced to read Dickens. They couldn’t fork over their sixpence fast enough.

Dickens was a popular storyteller, a best-selling storyteller, so he knew a thing or two about hooking readers in and keeping them hooked for the ride …

… like how to sprinkle the beginning of his story with key facts that bear fruit later on.


Here’s an example from A Christmas Carol, one of my personal fave’s ever since I played Tiny Tim in my hometown community theater as a nine year old, cheerfully reciting “God bless us – everyone!” every weekend in December.

Here’s how the story starts:

“Marley was dead: to begin with.”

A few paragraphs later, well into his “lead”, Dickens repeats the point and adds:

“There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”

Why is Dickens spilling so much ink on this point? Because — * Spoiler Alert * — A Christmas Carol is a ghost story and Marley the chief specter.

Unless we believe in Marley’s demise at the beginning of the story, we won’t be thrilled by his chain-rattling entrance a few pages later … nor accept the cautionary advice he levels at Scrooge.

Little facts – introduced at the beginning of the story – set up important moments, like the climax, in a fictional story.

These “foundational facts” do the same thing in a sales story, by preparing the prospect to accept the Big Benefit, USP, or main sales argument for the product.

Here’s an example:

A decade ago, Porter Stansberry wrote a sales letter for an investment newsletter that brought in a big chunk of business. Often simply called “The Railroad letter”, it begins with:

“Imagine yourself wearing a top hat and tails, on the balcony of a private rail car, the wind whistling past you as you sip the finest French champagne…

“It’s 1850; the railroad is growing like a vine towards the west. And, although you don’t know it yet, the same rail that you are riding on today will soon more than triple your wealth, making you and your family one of the great American dynasties…”

This “imagine if” micro-story conveys an important point: sometimes … every once in a while … a new industry is born that transforms life as we know it and makes millionaires out of a handful of “on the ground floor” investors.

This is a fact we can all get behind – nothing controversial about it – yet it’s vital that we the reader think about it and accept it for Porter’s pitch to work a bit later on, when he introduces the concept of “Disruptive Technology” companies.

(Especially the company that is busy laying high speed fiber optical cable – the “railroad company” of the late 1990s.)

Another example — Gary Bencivenga’s “Olive Oil Controversy” letter.

The narrator, olive oil “hunter” T.J. Robinson, first learns the golden joys of fresh pressed olive oil when he’s invited to a harvest party by some friendly Sicilians.

To establish the point, the story drops a few key facts near the beginning of the tale:

“He [the friendly Sicilian] said that Italians call it ‘novello,’ and they love it so much, they throw parties at harvest time each year to celebrate its arrival.”

Here we learn two facts: a special term – “novella” – and the fact of harvest parties, which shows the significance of the event. (If there’s a party, it must be important.)

These facts are usually simple and easy to accept … but they are absolutely necessary for the eventual pitch to work.

When we read the sales story, we tuck those facts into the back of our minds as we follow the thread of the tale … but these facts don’t lie dormant – they’re active – they reinforce the believability of the tale and, most importantly, they lay the foundation for the Big Benefit of the product or service.

In the case of the olive oil, the fact of the harvest parties preps us to accept the Big Benefit of the olive oil club: you get fresh-pressed olive oil from all around the globe close to the time of its harvest.

That’s party-grade olive oil, my friends … the kind you celebrate, as if it were a new born babe, full of potential, full of hope.


Make sure to “seed” your story with necessary facts – facts that must be believed in order for the sales pitch to succeed.

What essential fact do you need your readers to accept before you can make your sales pitch? Let me know in the comments below. And,


 Stay Tuned For Next Week …

Wherein I ponder the power of the origin story.


Download Scott’s free guide to creating your Magnetic Sales Story

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Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry is a direct response copywriter who specializes in telling stories. You can contact Scott and learn more about using the power of stories in marketing at
Showing 9 comments
  • Reply

    Loved this post. I’m an avid (but fussy) mystery reader, where openings are everything. My all-time favorite opening line comes from Sharyn McCrumb’s novel The Rosewood Casket (quoting from memory): “Dying cost nothing and could be done alone; otherwise Randall Stargill would have lived forever.” That one line tells us about the character of the man whose death unfolded the events of the novel – building his casket.

    You’ve given me something to think about for my website and sales letters. I want to get across to my readers that I realize they might be in website overwhelm and I am uniquely able to help them get their site up and running. Just recently I was on a teleseminar where someone has been working on a site since *November* and I wanted to scream something impolite to the assembled listeners. Hadn’t thought of the “first line challenge” and I like it.

    • Reply

      Hi Cathy,

      Thanks for your comment — and great opening line. Mystery novels are a GREAT place to look at “fact-seeding.”

      Another great resource that the word-spinners at Agora recommend is the book “How To Hook ‘Em With Your First Ten Pages” by screenwriter William Martell. Early in the slim book, you’ll be treated to a great list of opening lines from some of Donald Westlake’s thrillers. (Like this gem: “When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.”)

      And that teleseminar comment could be worked into a good opening line for a sales story:

      “Robert has been fiddling with his website since November. That was five months ago. He says it’s still not ready.

      “That’s five months worth of missed leads … five months of zero sales (but plenty of expenses for hosting and domains) …

      “Worst of all, that’s five months of Robert’s precious hours sunk into “techy quicksand” (’cause once you stick your foot in wordpress themes, javascript, or html tags, you get stuck for years),

      “Those are hours that Robert could have spent growing his business — doing what ONLY HE can do — that he’ll never get back.”

      “As a fellow entrepreneur, that makes me sick at heart (and not a little bit ticked off!) Because it doesn’t have to be this way …”

  • Reply

    Really great post Scott – the way you set up each point and demonstrate it with examples of successful stories (some even used as copy) is easy to follow and inspirational.

    Reason being is that any success I’ve had has been when I wove lessons into stories for my readers to consume. Studying Andre’s new “Storyfluence Academy” and have been through ARM a few times too. Throw in a bit of Ben Settle style writing and well, I’m improving…

    • Reply

      Hi Scott (I like your choice in names:),

      Thanks for your kind words. Storyfluence Academy is great, no? I was there last Tuesday also and took a bunch of notes. (My main takeaway: you MUST establish a clear “visible goal” for the hero of your sales story to pursue.)

  • Reply

    What a perfect “SEED for success” sales story.

  • Reply

    Such a great reminder about the importance of a great opener.. many of the best sales letters I’ve learned from over the years have had great opening lines.

    The Nordic Noir writers of today (Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankell etc.) are masters of this. Also the first page of the Andre Agassi autobiography left such an impression I had to push through the entire thing even though it was a bit uneven in parts. It really matters a lot how you start the journey, whether it’s for sales or ‘just’ for the sake of a story…

    • Reply

      I’m with you on the Agassi beginning — it hooked me too. I forgot how it opens, so I “looked inside” at amazon …

      Starts off — “I open my eyes and I don’t know where I am or who I am.”

      That’s pretty good, but things really get cooking at the last sentence of the third paragraph:

      “I play tennis for a living, even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion, and always have.”

      Yikes — this ain’t gonna be a fairy tale — but I’ve got to know why a great athlete has devoted his life to something he hates.

  • Reply

    The left brain–where I tend to live–revels in it’s own smugness. Setting and achieving goals. Moving forward. Tending to details. Solving problems. Making life better …

    Like gleaning the details of how to inject “innocent facts” into a story to keep the reader engaged. And facts are right up it’s alley. This will expedite the achievement of those goals. Read. Absorb. Apply.

    Then, six paragraphs later, the realization hits that left brain is napping. Right brain has taken over, and is fully invested in the STORY. Goals? What goals? This is where life is lived. Read on. Enjoy. Feel.

    I am sooo impressed by you. Your credentials lie in every sentence you write. You are stimulating my right and left brains to work in unison. Thanks! I needed that!

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