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A Sharp Opener

In sales-letter writing, it's the most important weapon for capturing your reader's attention.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the September 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

So you want everyone to glom onto your sales letter? And you can't imagine why they wouldn't, because you have such a terrific product or service and a great message?

You can fuhgeddaboutit . . . unless your letter has an interesting headline and opening sentence. Take a lesson from e-mail marketers, whose online solicitations live or die by their subject lines and opening sentences.

That's my message to Sue McMillin of Georgetown, Kentucky, who runs consulting firm With Time To Spare, which specializes in office, home and computer organization. McMillin's letter is manicured and well-written, but, as any salesperson will tell you, those traits won't get you the contract.

A sales letter needs to provoke from the get-go, so start with a headline that compels the reader down to the opening sentence and then, hopefully, into the rest of the letter. The opening line must be short and provocative, and it should be set off as a paragraph. That way, the whole letter will appear easier to read, versus wordier three- to five-line opening paragraphs.

In the case of McMillin's letter, I'm suggesting a headline that reads, "Are Your Company's Lips Turning Blue?" Then the first sentence would expound, "In medicine, that's a sure sign of suffocation." The letter then explains why clutter and disorganization choke off productivity and profits. This new lead-in should give McMillin's missive a better hook to reel in prospects.


Despite a handsome, attention-getting letterhead and earnest salesmanship, this letter has no teaser and looks laborious to read.

1. A 45-word opening paragraph is a no-no. Readers are more enticed by the "welcome mat" of a one-sentence opening.

2. Paragraphs that are four lines of small type turn off the reader.


This effort offers a provocative teaser headline and the perception of an easy-to-read letter.

1. Let an unexpected headline force the reader to read at least the first line of the letter.

2. The letter's message is now expressed in about half the words, plus there's a brand-name testimonial included for credibility.

Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter in the San Francisco Bay area and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising (available through Bookmasters, 800-247-6553). If you'd like Jerry to consider your materials for a makeover in this column, write to him c/o Entrepreneur or e-mail him at

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