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The Art of Successful Letter Writing Part 1

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

IT is worth a great deal of money to know how to write a resultful business letter; I speak from experience, having, as a composer of business letters, unexampled opportunities for seeing just what the right kind of letters are capable of.

For instance, I know of one letter that maintains a business house in New York employing some ten people, and which yields the proprietor, over and above all expenses, an income of approximately one hundred dollars weekly.

I know of another letter that maintains a big collection business in the lower end of Manhattan Island. This business is now run by a woman who inherited it on the death of her husband; absolutely without business knowledge of any kind, she was compelled to lean on this letter for support and its automatic mailing to certain specified lists of people has enabled her to maintain what is a profitable business, and to provide her two sons with a fine education, and a beautiful home in expensive apartments up-town.

These are merely chance recollections of what a single letter, used continuously day after day and year after year, is capable of doing, and from this angle I have always been very much impressed with the fact that a single good letter of the right kind, mailed to the right list of people, is frequently worth more to its possessor than a big investment in Government 3 Per Cents.

The writer, in attempting to show how to compose a resultful business letter, will ask that he be acquitted of any idea of personal egotism or personal advertising if he brings the fact rather prominently forward that he has for years been engaged by a great number of business firms in originating letters different to what they were sending out, and designed, of course, to get them bigger business, because this fact has a very large bearing and significance on one point that I desire to make and here emphasize with as much power as I can, and that point is this,

Exceedingly few of the firms that order letters from me ever dream of sending with the order a copy of the letter-head upon which the letter is to be written and sent out, or a specimen of the envelope in which said letter is to be enclosed.

Here then is a very important clue as to the reason why many good letters fail to get the expected results—the writer simply overlooks the importance of the letter-head on which he writes that letter.


When you send a letter to a man, recollect that you do not go to him yourself, and neither does he come to you. Your personality has no chance to influence the deal. Your office and surroundings have no chance to influence the deal. The only thing that can influence the deal is the look of the letter, and what is said in the letter. The average man is well aware of the value of appearances in the climb for business success. He keeps himself dressed well and he keeps his offices and surroundings looking as well as he possibly can because he realizes that these things go a long way in getting and closing business.

It has been said, "Clothes don't make the man," and it has also been said, The apparel oft proclaims the man." It remained for a Russian philosopher to combine the two maxims when he said, "You are introduced to a man by his clothes and you know him by his character." Keep this maxim in mind when you sit down to write a business-winning letter, remembering its mission is to introduce you right to the favorable attention of your prospect; see that this is done by the message being carried on the right kind of letter-head in the right kind of envelope.

The slightest reflection on this subject will show that all a man has to judge you by, in a business solicitation through the mails, is the thing that the postman hands him, representing the envelope and letter-head carrying the business message; these flash through the eye, to the brain, a mental image or photograph upon which the prospect acts. If, in lieu of a letter, you were required to send the business prospect a personal photograph of yourself or of your business offices and surroundings, it is safe to say you would not send a photograph that would either not do you justice or that would actually misrepresent your business, yet this is precisely the thing that a good business firm does when it sends its message out on a poor letter-head.


In London, Paris, or New York there are any amount of men doing business on their nerve—and their letter-head. The financial faker of Wall Street realizes to the full the power, strength and business-winning qualities of the letter-head upon which he writes his message, and it goes out finely engraved or finely embossed on the finest procurable kind of bond paper, enclosed in an envelope that crinkles and crackles like a five-pound Bank of England note. Such a letter conveys an atmosphere of financial strength and reputation that couldn't be got in any other way. Men of this stamp know the value the commercial value of the right kind of letter-head and willingly pay from thirty dollars to one hundred dollars per thousand for them because they realize that the engraver or embosser or printer is but the vehicle through which they are buying favorable mental impressions. Does any legitimate reason exist why a reliable, responsible house should use poor letter-heads, and the unreliable, irresponsible house the best letter-heads that are procurable?

In considering a point like this we should bear in mind the historical fact that, although the sway maintained on the mind of Queen Elizabeth by the celebrated Dudley, Earl of Essex, was undoubtedly due to the exercise of his remarkable mental powers, yet he was a firm believer in the value of dress as a supplemental aid to a career, as we see in his reply to his brother, the Earl of Suffolk, who reproved him, saying, "Parts like yours needs no such varieties." Dudley replied: "The writing of a clerkly scribe takes not from the wisdom of the epistle, but rather tempts to a frequent perusal thereof. Why should a well-fashioned exterior or a nice casket lessen the value of the jewel within it?"

Following my own mental processes I can personally say that my decisions in all mail-order transactions are swayed very largely by the look and appearance of the envelope and what I take out of it. I class the firm or the writer as good, bad or indifferent after such a scrutiny, and subsequent business relations are naturally strongly influenced by the decision I have mentally reached.

A number of years ago I was handling a business upon which decisions as to cash or credit had to be largely reached by the look of the letter. The credit door was shut to many, and opened to many, and looking back I can recall very few errors of judgment made in the light of subsequent experiences. I remember particularly where a very large line of business hung on the question of extending credit or otherwise. I was called into consultation on the matter, sized up letter-head and envelope, and recommended unlimited credit on the account. I could just feel that the firm was right.


I personally have always appreciated the value of a first class letter-head and have seen a great many demonstrations of such value. I take long yachting cruises and at times need things that it is not possible to get in out of the way towns or villages and it becomes necessary to send to big centers like Chicago, New York or San Francisco. Frequently the proposed transaction involves a C. O. D., or the shipment of something on credit though the price not being known when being ordered, and it has been my experience that the letter-head carrying the order has been a very important factor in securing the prompt action so earnestly desired.

If this preliminary chapter will make clear the fact that the look, feel and appearance of the envelope and letter-head are frequently equal to a business rating or recommendation it will have accentuated a point that in my opinion has not been accentuated enough in the minds of business men; therefore I have opened this series of articles in the form of a plea or brief for the printer, embosser, engraver and paper maker, asking men who wish to buy good mental impressions to go to such men and procure from them the very best they know how to deliver, simply because it will pay, and will pay big.

In chapters following I will show what principles I follow in the construction of the message that goes on the letter-head, in such fashion, I hope, as will show any man of ordinary ability how to construct a resultful business letter according to principles as final and as fundamental as are the rules of mathematics; I will endeavor to show how to use letters to the best advantage and point out errors in circularization that are committed by a great number of business men and which are responsible for an enormous loss annually to the business houses of America.


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