Personalizing Query Letters for Better Response, Part 1

Psychologists tell us that people respond more positively when they’re addressed by name. For this reason, your self-promo letters will be received better when you address the marketing director by his own name, rather than with a generic "Dear Marketing Director."

Using individual names is not a challenge if you’re only sending out a few letters. But if you’re serious about self-promo, you’re going to send out far more than 8 or 10 letters at a time. You should be sending 50 to 100 … or more.

Personalizing a large number of letters presents problems – unless, that is, you master your word processor’s "Mail Merge" function. Don’t let those words scare you away. Using Mail Merge is not difficult … if you take a couple of hours to learn it.

The best way to master Mail Merge is have someone who’s used it a lot teach it to you … and then practice. The next best way is to use a good instruction book … and then practice. (If you’re working with MS Word, we highly recommend PeachPit Press’s excellent Visual Quickstart Guide for Microsoft Word.)

The three major steps in creating personalized letters with Mail Merge are to: (1) type pertinent company information into a database, (2) write your self-promo letter with merge fields, (3) merge the two parts … and print.

Since you have to type all this information anyway, why would you want to use Mail Merge?

The answer’s simple. With Mail Merge, you’ll save at least 50% or more of the time it would take to type the personalized parts of your self-promo letter. And you have less chance of making errors. You’ll also save time typing envelopes and other components of your self-promotional package, which you can personalize as well. Finally, you’re building a database of potential clients that will be a valuable tool for you in the future.

Here are three steps for building your database. (We’re using MS Word as our model – but it will be pretty much the same no matter what word processor you have.)


    You can go to a large number of places to get information on companies you’d like to work for.

    • Get the information from Target Marketing’s Directory of Major Mailers ( Though it’s expensive, this is one of your best sources. It has 5,000 listings of companies that are mailing, along with what they’re mailing.
    • Get the information from Fortune 1000 listings ( Click the "Fortune 1000" link on the side panel, then click the "501-1000: The Rest of the Best" link. You get access to the database of the top Fortune 1000 companies by subscribing to Fortune magazine for $4.95 for six issues on their secure website.
    • An earlier article provided information about the Oxbridge Directory of Newsletters ( Search for other directories using the Google Advanced Search option.
    • If you’re interested in the fundraising market, go to
    • And you can get information on local businesses from your local Chamber of Commerce.

    Once you get the basic information on companies you may be interested in, call to get the exact name, title, and mailing address of the person who’s responsible for marketing.


    MS Word uses its "Tables Function" as its Mail Merge database. Your word processor may use something similar … or it may use a separate database program.

    Set up the document and name it something that makes sense (like "Self-Promo Database01"). We recommend using the "Landscape" (horizontal) orientation.

    Insert a table at the very top of the document. Do NOT use a title or introductory copy. Specify at least 12 columns for the table. You don’t need to specify a certain number of rows, because they will be added automatically as you enter data.

    Name the columns something like: Company_Name, First_Name, Last_Name, Position, Address, City, St, ZIP, Phone, Email, Other1, Other2. These columns represent the "Fields" in your database.


    Enter the information you’ve gathered in the appropriate fields. You’ll save time by using the Tab Key to move from field to field.

    "Position" means the position the person you’re contacting holds in the company. In mot cases, this will be "Marketing Director" – but it could be something else.

    "Other1" and "Other2" are used for special information about a company that you might want to include in your personalized letter. For instance, if the company recently received an award for a product, this field could be "Congratulations on XYZ Corporation’s recent award for having the best widgets in 2005. Your company richly deserves this honor."

The secret to making the Mail Merge process work is to be sure your data is accurate and to be careful when entering the data.

Next week, we’ll discuss how to write your self-promo letter so it feels like you’ve written it for just one person.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: December 27, 2005

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