A Great Sales Letter Is Mostly a Matter of Getting the Formula Right

woman measuring ingredients in kitchen with laptop

When my youngest son was little, he was always curious about how I was cooking and baking. He’d ask what I was putting into the food, why was I adding cornstarch or what did putting that bay leaf into the stew really do?

And then he would offer suggestions … why don’t you add this, Mom? I think ketchup would taste great on that salmon. Can we try that?

He still likes to experiment with ingredients in the kitchen, but his instincts are much better now.

It took time and practice, but his ideas generally turn out to be really tasty.

He still follows the basic formula, for say, baking a cake. But he adds his own creativity and flair to each cake to get to what he wants the final product to taste and look like.

He’s not reinventing the wheel each time he goes into the kitchen ─ he’s just putting his spin on the basic recipe.

The Sales Letter Recipe

When I started writing sales letters, I was intimidated. I had questions, just like my son.

Why did the copywriter ask that question at that particular spot? What did that piece of proof do to move the sales letter along?

Why do they have to be so darned long?

What do I do if my client doesn’t want to use a strong guarantee?

What is a false close and how do I execute it?

And what I found was that writing a sales letter is not much different from learning to cook. There are basic principles and formulas every sales letter follows.

But the reason you, the writer, get paid so much for them, is that you add the flavor. You decide which ingredients work best together to make a quality final product.

At first, you may end up with some ketchup-covered salmon. But the more sales letters you write, the better your instincts will be about what works well together, how to deliver a higher-quality letter, and hopefully, how to write a control that beats all other promos.

You’ll always start, though, with the basic recipe. Just like cake is always made with flour, eggs, sugar, salt, and baking powder, your sales letter is always going to have a headline and lead. You’re always going to use subheads, the 4 U’s, and the 4 P’s, the false close, the close, the offer, and the call-to-action.

What you add to each of these ingredients is what makes your letter stand out above the others.

So what are the ways you can make the recipe your own?

The Headline

This is one of the places a copywriter can shine, by creating a headline full of intrigue and interest that makes a prospect eager to read the sales letter.

And practicing writing these is worth the effort: the more you write, the better you’ll get at them. You’re striving to have a headline that is Unique, Useful, Urgent, and Ultra-Specific. And makes a big promise.

So, there’s your recipe for a good headline … that’s it. Mostly. But how you make it, for example, useful and unique is your secret sauce. Your ideas and creativity will deliver the big promise your reader needs as incentive to keep reading.

Then comes …

The Lead

Just like a cake recipe has to have the right ratio of dry to wet ingredients in order to function as a cake, a lead has two things it needs to do in your sales letter in order to make the sales letter work.

It must deliver the big promise you made in your headline … and it must introduce the Big Idea.


There are six proven lead types. It’s like choosing do you want to make chocolate cake, carrot cake, or yellow cake? The lead types give you a base — a framework to use as your starting point. They help you convey the big promise and the Big Idea by hooking your reader into a story … or by presenting a problem and delivering the solution … or by utilizing any of the other main lead types.

And if your lead does its job properly, your prospect is still reading into the …

Body Copy

This is where you’ll paint pictures, present proof, make promises … and eventually push for the sale.

How do you know what to do when and where? Again, it’s kind of a formula. Anytime you make a promise, for instance, you need to back that up. What proof do you have? How does your reader know you can deliver on that promise?

As long as you learn the structure and you follow the formula, your letter will work. The better you are at painting those pictures and proving your promises, the longer your reader will stay with you.

And you really need them to. You want them to get all the way to …

The Offer, Close, and Order Device

When you go to the trouble of baking a cake, you want to present your cake in an attractive way that entices your guests to eat it. You ice it, decorate it with shapes and colors, maybe even add confetti sprinkles.

Your offer and close need to be enticing. Here, you’re pushing the reader by recapping your big promise, reminding them of the benefits they’ll get, and presenting the offer … what they’ll get, for how much.

Make your offer as attractive as possible, then make it as easy as possible for your reader to say yes.

Ask for that sale with urgency, probably a guarantee, and in a way that convinces your reader to act now.

Of Course a Sales Letter Is Not Cake or Salmon

But it’s not as complicated as it seems from afar. If you follow the overall structure of a sales letter and the formulas within it for each section, you’ll have the basics of an effective sales promotion.

Then, you just need to add your extra spices or unique ingredients … before long, your ketchup-covered salmon will be more like Roasted Verlasso Salmon with Saffron Date Vinaigrette, Celery Root, and Almonds … yum!

Both of them follow formulas … one just takes a little longer to perfect … and probably tastes a whole lot better.

Do you have any questions about the direct-response sales letter writing opportunity? Please share in the comments so we can help.

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Published: October 26, 2021

1 Response to “A Great Sales Letter Is Mostly a Matter of Getting the Formula Right”

  1. I think Formula for writing effective sales copy was great.

    Guest (Bob Pahus)

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