The Wild West of--Gasp!--DM by Reb MacRath

You could exhaust the alphabet, attempting to describe it, Abominable, Boring, Cretinous, Disgusting, Enematic...Those dreadful two words:


Why wouldn't we toss it straight into the trash?
1) Almost none of it is targeted specifically to us, so our mailboxes are filled with 'blind shots.' 
2) Aside from supposed savings--reductions on deliberately overpriced items--it offers us no reason why.
3) And too much of it is amateurishly written,

Hold on just a second, though.

Actually, there is most excellent news: set your pants on fire lessons that can be learned from the junk mail each day. Experiment for  a week or two, swiftly dividing the junk into piles: coupon booklets and store flyers, junk addressed To Occupant--

and the rare pitch or letter that somehow draws you in. Understand why and whatever you're selling will have a fighting chance. In the new wicked Wild West where literary agents receive up to 500 queries a week and rival job applicants may number even more, your mindset had better be savvy and sharp. 

Conduct your own study, For now, here are my conclusions about what gets through and what doesn't.


1) Winners come on fast and strong, within the first sentence or two of a query or proposal. And they keep their letters to less than one page.
2) They give the clear impression that they care about us, not their own silly selves.
3) They segue from their razzmatazz openings to perfectly crystalline pitches. Within the next 4-5 lines a bold but convincing claim is made...a claim we already would love to believe: For your consideration: a sugar-free, organic, zero-fat chocolate bar with proven aphrodisiacal powers...For your consideration: the one candidate of all your applicants who can tell you how and where you're losing money daily...
4) Here we are now at the crux: not an outline for a novel, but a one-paragraph summary that leaves us panting to know more. Not an over-detailed case for the magic chocolate bar but just enough to let us know the claim isn't bogus or mad. Not a long, egotistical list of our creds--a short and snappy summary: 'a candidate with twenty years' experience in retail, both sales and managament.'
5) Time to switch from You to Me. Now we're open to hearing about the author's, or company's, short. E.G. 'I'm the award-winning author of 5 top-selling fantasy novels and a lifelong Ripperologist.' Or: 'After graduating with honors from Duke, I went on to serve as Assistant Manager at Macy's and Nordstrom, New York.' But once again: one paragraph.  The goal's to lead them eagerly to the more detailed attachments: the outline, the resume, the testimonials, etc. There, at last, is where you get from You to Me to Us.


Exercise: close your eyes and picture the overworked recipient of your own piece of DM. Imagine your letter arriving after 99 letters that start: Dear Sir, I need...Dear Sir, I hope...Dear Sir, I want you to represent my book...Now, imagine the look on this person's face when he opens your letter to read:

Have you ever wondered if anyone remembers that little speech you gave in London back in 1966? Has anyone ever told you how that speech changed his/her life and brought them, fifty years later, to your desk today?


Sandra Horn said…
Thanks, Reb - if only I hadn't always thrown them in the bin without opening them, which is what I suspect happens to submissions sometimes!
Bill Kirton said…
Sound advice, Reb. My only reservation (and this may just be a personal quirk), is that my general cynicism always provokes the same reaction when I receive a letter or flyer beginning with a question. I agree completely that your final example is far superior to those which preceded it but as soon as I read the words 'Have you ever wondered...?' I think 'No'.
Anonymous said…
I love the deconstruction here - from You to Me to Us. Never thought about the key to successful direct mailing before but this is fascinating! Thank you.
glitter noir said…
Sandra, you're right: 90% of queries, or more, aren't read past the opening paragraph or two. And, according to one agent, submissions are usually judged on the first couple of pages--and another page or two picked randomly from the middle.

Bill: Did you get the check I sent you last month for $10,000? (I've got a sneaking suspicion you wouldn't scrap a letter that began with a question like that.)

Griselda, thank you. We have to remember that even the greatest direct mail, or query/cover letter, will fail more often than not. I've received thousands of rejection letters. But, following these principles, I've also landed good agents and aced the competition in my quest for jobs...even across country.
Bill Kirton said…
No, Reb, the check didn't arrive. Could you resend it please?

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