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Sales letters are powerful selling tools. They give you a simple, direct way to generate sales leads and orders. But for many businesspeople, they present a daunting writing challenge and a host of questions to consider. How do you start a letter? When should you present your offer? How long should the letter be?

I've been writing successful direct mail, including sales letters, for many years. And I've learned that writing a letter is like building a house. You must go step by step and put every element in the right place.

Here are 10 tips for building your own successful sales letter.

1. Consider headlines and photos

If you want your letter to appear businesslike or highly personal, I suggest that you not use a headline or graphics. However, many types of sales letters can benefit from either or both.

I often use those items for straightforward consumer mail. In a newsletter subscription offer, for example, I showed a large photo of the newsletter at the top left of page one, with a bold benefit headline on the right side. I also included a reference to the offer and a call to action.

These techniques liven up the letter, draw the eye, telegraph the offer and the main benefit, and push the letter text to the lower half of the page, making it shorter and easier to read. If you can get someone to start reading a letter, you've won half the battle.

2. Use a fitting salutation

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Dean Rieck is a direct-mail copywriter and consultant, and publishes the popular Direct Creative Blog and ProCopyTips blog.