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The Art of Successful Letter Writing Part 5

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Curiosity is lying in wait for every secret.—Emerson.

Curiosity is as much the parent of attention as attention is of memory.—Whately.

The first and simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind is curiosity.—Burke.

IN the last chapter I introduced a typical "Inquiry-Bringer" and illustrated the physical, psychical and mechanical principles (order and sequence of ideas) through which it was made productive (for, be it remembered, this letter went through the fire of experience and trial and proved extraordinarily productive) .

We find such a letter is a mental wedge—that it plays on the mind of the "prospect," putting him alternately into mental conditions of Attention, Interest, Desire and Action—these are the principles and motives that move him to Act on receiving and reading that letter.

I stated there was another motive in which the four named were bathed, as it were, and asked my readers to express that motive by a single word—that word is—curiosity.

Read the letter again and you will see it lacks a positive subject—we explain the properties of a thing without saying what the thing itself is. In a sense the letter is an interesting conundrum that it is to the interest (through the Desire section) of the reader to have solved. His only method of getting the answer is to write—hence 45 per cent did write.

Curiosity is a two-edged sword; like all other forces it must be used with great care and discrimination; in its place, under right conditions, it is exceedingly effective. In this case the letter did not seek to provoke the curiosity of everyone indiscriminately; on the contrary, it was mailed to a carefully selected list of names from every one of which it was most desirable to receive the reply that indicated the necessary attention.

The letter in reply deepened attention to interest and conviction and the order was landed because we had taken care that when we had a convinced man we also had a man of sufficient means to put up the sum asked from him.

Working on picked lists of names the principle of CURIOSITY can be legitimately and effectively employed as the first step in mail salesmanship. The same principle might be disastrous if employed indiscriminately on a newspaper or magazine advertising campaign, flooding, as it would do, the sponsor with a mass of undesirable inquiries.

The principles of Attention, Interest, Desire and Action have been pretty well expounded by others in the past, though I hope to have something new to say about them before I have finished, but the principle of CURIOSITY has not been explained as it should, because, perhaps, it has not been perceived in its true relationship as The parent of Attention."

If space permitted I could here stop and write chapter after chapter rich with citation and example on this CURIOSITY theme alone and I could tell some extraordinary instances of prolific results accruing from it when judiciously and intelligently used. Space is strictly limited, however.

A few illustrations may be permitted; take gold—it is an extraordinary metal—a paradox. In times of panic when all other values fall its value rises. The world has never had enough of it, and cannot get enough of it; it is free from competition; patents and inventions cannot hurt it, monopolies cannot "corner it, and it is good throughout the world, in any shape or form, provided it is pure, for things that no other things could exchange for.

Take "Gold" out of that sentence and you have a "Conundrum" letter that, linked with a gold mine, makes it look distinctly to the reader's interest to solve by replying and reading the answer to his reply.

If that reader was a known buyer of gold mines, or of mining shares, you have gripped his attention by a method that is not ordinarily followed, and, provided skill and ability is used after that stage, results must be in exact proportion.

We pick up a letter physically and mechanically right—it is shaped like a wedge and we can trace (as per example given) the various steps from Attention to Action.

This, according to the critics, might constitute an exceedingly good letter; as a matter of fact, it might be an exceedingly bad letter; it is one thing to mix a dish up from the proportions given in a cook book, but quite another thing to bring out of the pot or oven the thing of flavor and savor it was designed to be.

Various writers on the subject of letter writing have (and rightfully) placed great stress on the opening paragraph. My own method, in determining whether I consider a piece of printed matter worthy of the time necessary to take for perusal, is to "sample" it, quickly and thoroughly, in a score of places. The man who had an ingenious "Opening paragraph" would get my attention for a second of time and lose it a few seconds after did not my test reveal a continuous thread of cleverness and thought throughout what he had written.

I arrive at decision, I have found, by what I may term "stabbing" the manuscript or letter with my eyes; in other words I pick out, with lightning-like rapidity, bits of the Mss. "five words long" that literally "bleed" (or otherwise) with thought as I pounce.

I do this consciously—the average man does it unconsciously; if the words are mediocre, drab and dead, down goes the Mss.—down and out so far as I am concerned. If, on the other hand, I find something approximating Tennyson's specifications,

"Jewels five-words-long

That on the stretch'd forefinger of all Time Sparkle forever."

Then I am interested—then that Mss. goes either into my pocket for leisurely perusal, or into an arm chair with me for instant reading. The information of a letter is one of its points of contact with the human mind, but its success lies,—not with its information, nor with its opening nor closing paragraph, but in the sustained skill and thought throughout it, on the page, in the paragraphs, in the sentences, and sections of sentences "five words long."

This fact explains why what seems to be an extraordinarily bad letter from the standpoint of the "Experts" will still produce extraordinary results. It is a fact that the writer of a letter, intensely in earnest, will violate all rules of construction and have his presentation topsy turvy, and it is also a fact that the reader, gripped by that earnestness, will mentally reconstruct the letter and give it its right setting and sequence. That both parties act subconsciously and without conscious knowledge of what they are doing mentally in no wise alters the fact that it is done.

In the light of all this we may draw a few helpful conclusions I think, the first being that no man in whom earnestness and enthusiasm burns need despair of being a good letter writer simply-because he lacks a knowledge of the technique of the art, and I think we may as fairly conclude that if we take this earnest, enthusiastic man and give him a knowledge of the technique of the art his results will triple or quadruple.

Now what, in the last analysis, makes for earnestness and enthusiasm? Simply the consciousness of being enabled to render a fellow-being service. The man with a thing that saves the world time, or labor, or money, is a man working a great economic benefit—he can teach us to do things better, cheaper, faster.

Bring this man opposite another man—a cynic if you please, and watch him warm up and tell and demonstrate what he has till he has the other fellow convinced in spite of Hell. Why? Because a living, breathing man is before him into whose face and eyes he can look and watch and be stimulated by the effect of his words as mirrored in the other's countenance.

Take our service man away and place him opposite a typewriter, a blank sheet of writing paper, carbon paper, and an envelope, and watch what happens; his eyes see material where before they saw spiritual things; he is no longer faced with flesh and blood and heart and brain and soul and spirit but with cold, immobile dead things—he is demagnetized.

Yet, through and by these things he must achieve the miracle of personality—he must learn to sway a thousand or a hundred thousand minds precisely as he swayed that one—this he must do if he has to spread his message broadcast by means of the mails—this he must do if he wants to achieve in a year what would represent a century of time under other conditions—this he must do, and can do, if within himself he has that rare, fine, ethereal quality termed IMAGINATION that,

"Gathers up
The undiscovered Universe,
Like jewels in a jasper cup."

We will, in our next, take up this great subject in the hope that we may find new and useful things that will assist us in the art of resultful letter writing.


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