It can help you if you’re writing fiction, too (you could argue that most copywriting is fiction as well, but let’s focus).
Using AIDA in writing
Attention – obviously you have to get the reader’s attention in order to get them to read your book. One key element is the title, although some books with terrible titles do break through. Test your title—you may be so used to a working title that it feels like the obvious best choice, but ask a few people what they think of it. Better yet, give them a few choices. If you have a mailing list of people you can create a short survey using SurveyMonkey.com (it’s free).
Interest – A title can make people curious but then you capture their interest. When people are browsing, typically they look first at the title and the cover image, then they turn over the book to read the blurb on the back, then they turn to the first page.
While the blurb on the back cover usually is created by the publisher, with your input, the all-important first paragraph is down to you. It should raise a question in the mind of the reader.
The next time you’re in a book store, check out the first paragraphs of a bunch of books in your genre. Notice which ones grab you and figure out why. You can also do this using the “look inside” feature on Amazon.
Desire and Action -- The desire in this context is the desire to know more, the action is to keep reading. This means you have to continue to pique people’s interest throughout the entire book.
With many books and films there’s a lull in the middle. This is when people’s attention wanders and they may put your book aside and never come back to it. I think the key is to introduce new information and new conflicts but make sure they’re foreshadowed in the first third of the story.
Another element of desire and action can be to create a book series featuring the same protagonist. This is done most commonly in crime fiction and also in Young Adult novels like the Harry Potter or Twilight series. The advantage is that you don’t need to win the reader’s attention and interest all over again. Not every genre or story lends itself to a series but it’s worth consideration.
Using AIDA in query letters
Attention: In a query letter the opening paragraph should arouse their curiosity without being too cute or gimmicky.
Avoid starting with boring statements like “I am a writer based in London and I have finished a fiction manuscript I would like to have you read in order to consider representing me.”
Instead, get right to your project. It could be something like, “A terrorist who has infiltrated the highest ranks of the CIA is the target of a manhunt—but the search turns dangerous when chief investigator Matt Conrad finds out the mole has knowledge that could bring down the President. That’s the plot of my thriller, ‘The Deadly Truth’…”
Interest: A sexy hook is not so hard to create. Sustaining a story at a high level of interest is more difficult. The rest of your summary of your plot has to suggest that you’ll keep ramping up the interest level for the reader.
Desire: Assuming that the recipient finds your story interesting, you need to increase their desire to work with you. This is where you give relevant information about yourself and your author platform—for instance, a popular blog. I emphasize “relevant”: mention only the things that establish your credibility or that would help a publisher market your book.
Action: Most of the time this is clear, but you can mention it in a final sentence along the lines of, “If you’re interested, I’d be happy to send you the complete manuscript,” because that’s the next step you want them to take.
Using AIDA in pitching
A good pitch basically follows the same pattern as a strong query letter. If it’s an “elevator pitch,” that is a few minutes to tell someone the story, you may not get into much more detail than you do in a query letter.
If it’s a formal pitch, which is more typical for a screenplay, the producer or studio executive will expect you to tell the entire plot, including the ending, in about ten to fifteen minutes.
In a pitch a lot of the interest will come from how you tell the story as well as the content. The key is enthusiasm in whatever form is natural to you. There’s no right or wrong way. Some writers are great performers who are happy to jump up and act out a key scene. Others are more reserved but still get across their passion for the story. If you’re very shy, take an acting or public speaking class to gain confidence, or join your local chapter of Toastmasters.
Finally, if the action you wanted isn’t the one the listener is taking, have a fallback in mind. For instance, if a producer likes your idea but feels the protagonist is weak, thank them for that useful input, say you’re going to take a crack at solving it, and would it be OK to come back when you’ve done that? Or if they reject an idea because it’s too similar to something they’re already doing, mention that you’re working on another project and ask whether you can come back when it’s ready to present. Most of the time the answer will be yes. Don’t take too long to take advantage of that open door.
(More helpful guidance is in my book, Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon and other online and offline retailers.)