From The Golden Thread Mailbag …
Determining the Length of a Sales Letter

Hi Scott,

I thought you might be interested to hear my good news (even though it’s not directly copywriting related). An essay that I wrote called “An Angel for Two Sisters” was published on in September. I just found out it was nominated for a Pushcart Award! It’s quite the literary honor, and a dream come true for me.

“The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses” has been characterized by The New York Times Book Review as the “single best measure of the state of affairs in American literature today.” The collection features the year’s best short stories, poems, and essays originally published by small presses and literary magazines.

Cynthia P.

Congratulations, Cynthia!! That’s great. We wish you the best of luck. Let us know what happens.

Hi Scott,

I am two-thirds of the way through the copywriting program and am enjoying it very much. I would like to know how you determine the length of your sales letter. When given a real assignment, does the company you’re working for tell you how long they want the letter to be?

A basic rule of thumb in non-fiction writing is to keep things as brief and clear as possible. So wouldn’t people be more likely to read my letter if it was as short as possible? However, the examples in the Hall of Fame book are incredibly long, yet were obviously very successful. As you can see, I am a little confused.

Cheryl E.

Hello Cheryl,

The rule of thumb for the length of a sales letter is this: The copy needs to be long enough to convince your prospect to buy the product. For some products (credit card solicitations, for example) that might be just a page or two, while for other products, it might be much longer. (Our current control is just over 30 pages.)

It depends on what you are selling and how much it costs. A magazine subscription takes much less salesmanship to sell than … say … an opportunity to learn a life-changing new skill. The latter is a much bigger decision and the prospect has more questions that need to be addressed. Plus, not everyone reading the letter will have the same questions. If you leave out information that it takes to convince some of your readers … you’ll lose them.

Think about the way you use persuasion in you own life when you are trying to convince someone to do something. Do you give them just enough information to (hopefully) sway them to your way of thinking? Or do you kill them with proof, answering every question they could possible have … and the some?

Also, be sure and talk to your client about this at the start of the project. They’ll know what’s worked in the past … and what their budget it.

Oh yeah, one last idea to leave you with …

Since people started using direct mail to sell products, the length of the copy has only gotten longer. And this past year, direct mail was well over a trillion-dollar industry.

That’s it for this week. Thanks to one and all. And keep those emails coming!


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Published: January 2, 2006

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