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The Art of Successful Letter Writing Part 3

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

"The post is the grand connecting link of all transactions, of all negotiations."—Voltaire.

IN business there are three chief kinds of letters which technically are designated—

(1) "Inquiry-Bringers" or "Canvassing Letters."

(2) "Answering" or "Sales Letters."

(3) "Follow-Up" Letters.

A man manufactures some article that has a limited appeal. Generally he knows that say one out of a group of a hundred people will be interested in what he has. What he has is sufficiently complex and sufficiently costly to be described in a rather expensive booklet. If he has to virtually throw a hundred booklets away to reach one buyer his campaign is going to be expensive. To avoid this he keeps the expensive booklets on his shelves and sends out a letter either giving a brief epitome of what the booklet contains, or giving a brief summarization of the goods, offering to send exhaustive details on request.

The request sorts out the one out of the hundred who is interested. The expensive booklet goes to this name and, possibly, an expensive "Follow up." Perhaps, in the course of years a good deal of money will be spent on that "prospect" and thousands like him who answered the first "Canvassing" or "Inquiry-Bringing" letter, so the utility of the letter ought to be apparent enough. It has prevented waste.

This "Canvassing" or "Inquiry-Bringing" letter has also done something else; it has insured an attentive audience. People in this world are apt to dodge what you throw at them and catch what they ask you to throw. This is a very important psychological principle to recognize and act upon in all mail order work. The idea in business is not to send a booklet to an uninterested man (he won't read it) but to an interested man, he will read it. We have absolutely no chance of converting a buyer who will not read what we write, but a most excellent chance of converting the man who will read the message intended for him.

Nearly all the great advertisers proceed on this principle. They do not send out their booklets indiscriminately to the population of America, but advertise their business or their booklets describing it, and form their mailing list of people who have evinced interest by inquiring. The man selling a fairly expensive article or service is foolish to waste his printed matter and energies by following a different method—hence the "Inquiry-Bringer" —a letter fulfilling, in the mails, what the advertisement does in newspapers and magazines.


The "Answering" or "Sales Letter," as its name indicates, answers the interested inquiry (ordinarily a booklet goes with it). It may do one of two things: it may heighten interest in the booklet accompanying it (thus making doubly sure the question of perusal) or it may, in conjunction with the booklet, drive direct for the sale, endeavoring to clinch down the order and get the money there and then. The phraseology and policy of this letter may vary to the above extent, according to circumstances.


Follow-Up letters deal with two classes of people in the main: First, the obdurates, who have failed to respond to the first sales letter and booklet; and, second, those delayed in their response by want of the necessary money. Betwixt and between these lie those who were sold but were negligent in buying, and those who were partly sold, but not sufficiently to order.

It is the work of the follow-up to

(1) Find new arguments to win the orders from the obdurates.

(2) To keep those who intend to order continuously reminded so that when they can order they will.

(3) To "ripen" the half-ripened "prospect," deepening and strengthening the original impression created till they are worked up to the buying point.

Understanding now the three most important types of letters we will be better enabled to construct one or more of its peculiar kind, in the most effective way, which means that we will not try to sell with an "Inquiry-Bringer" or procure an inquiry from a "Sales Letter" except to the extent special conditions indicate.


As a general rule an article fairly high in price cannot be sold through a single letter; this means any price from $1 up.

A low priced article, ranging from a dime to a dollar, may be sold on a single letter.

To both these rules there are exceptions.

The elements of the sale require that----

The "prospect's" ATTENTION be gained. That his INTEREST be aroused and held till,

We find his DESIRE burning strongly to possess, at which time we STIMULATE HIM TO ACTION.

The "Sale," it will be seen, therefore, comprises four steps or stages of mentality through which we must bring the "prospect." We must, before we make the sale, accomplish the feat of making him think in four consecutive directions at certain periods of the sale, and as the sale progresses. If, like the chameleon, his colors changed as his emotions changed we could imagine such a prospect passing successively through shades of White and Red and Blue and Gold, in precise proportion to the extent of our success in passing him through the four stages of "The Sale."

Now the first step in selling is to find a "Possibility." We do not want to deal with "Impossibilities." If I was in New York City with a horse for sale I would endeavor to find men who had horses, or bought horses, or who liked horses, and who, generally, were in a position to house the horse I had.

A man must approximate his market place before he can market what he has; he would be foolish to attempt to sell furs to ladies in the tropics or Palm Beach clothing and underwear to exploring parties bound for the frozen wastes of the north.

Well, I am in New York City with my horse—thoroughbred, we will say, valued at some thousands of dollars. I either find my "possibilities" with a "Canvassing" letter, or reach them through the "Horses and Carriages for Sale" of the New York Herald.

Keeping consideration to letters, suppose I went and bought a list of horse owners from a list broker. Those names, if accurate, would be my "possibilities." I send out my "Canvassing" or "Inquiry-Bringing" letter describing my horse in brief, succinct terms, and offer to furnish full information to those interested. Those interested reply. These replies are now my "prospects." Those who have not replied do not interest me any more because, manifestly, they are not interested in me, or in what I have.

Now, my horse is worth say $ 5,000 and I have to get that for him. If I do I make a handsome profit. Possibly I have other horses to sell, "Back on the ranch." Remember, The Written Word has to make the sale, or bear nearly its full burden.

Now, the average letter, typewritten and single spaced, contains about three hundred words. When I tell you that a single letter should not be relied upon to make the sale of an expensive article you will begin to see why. Would you attempt to make $5,000 sales in three hundred words? Instinctively you would feel you could not do that. If you were a professional business writer your instinct, transmuted to knowledge, would tell you that was not possible, because to make a sale you must pass through the four stages of Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action, and you know three hundred words is woefully insufficient for that purpose—you know just as certainly as the naval architect knows that he cannot build a hundred foot vessel in a fifty foot building. There are limitations that bind us mentally just as they do physically, and the art of mental achievement is to know what time and space we must have to achieve a certain fixed purpose.

Do not confuse the issue in this case. I could of course so describe the horse that an interview would be requested, and, at that interview I could so demonstrate that horse that a sale would be effected. In that case the letters have helped towards a sale but not made the sale itself. The interview and demonstration did that. Letters are frequently used just this way, and this is one of the most effective ways in which letters can be used to arouse sufficient interest to insure a call, or to be requested to call, replying on subsequent conversation and demonstration to make a sale.

I am assuming, however, that the sale of this horse has to be made without me and the buyer meeting—that title passes eventually through The Written Word.

Keeping these factors in mind you will find that while the "Inquiry-Bringing" letter can be short (say one page) the "Sales Letter" must be relatively long (say twenty pages) —please don't gasp, this isn't as bad as it looks when we come to methods!*

So far, then, we have got a list of "possibilities" made up of, say, 10,000 names. We have canvassed these "Possibilities" with an "Inquiry-Bringing" letter and got, say, ten per cent replies, making a list of one thousand "Prospects." Assuming we have a string of horses perpetually for sale, "Back on the ranch," we then have to see how many of these one thousand prospects we can eventually make customers and buyers.

In the process we will use an "Inquiry-Bringer" or "Canvassing" letter (or a series of them) , a "Sales Letter" (aided probably by a booklet) and a "Follow Up," comprising a series of letters mailed say ten days apart till exhausted. These are the Tools through which we make the Sales. I sincerely hope that before we get through we will be first-class workmen, able to do creditable jobs of mental carpentering. We will, I hope, get to actual construction, with all its rules for architecture, with examples to follow, in our next.


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