How to write your way to freedom (and more sales)

Did you know it’s possible to write yourself out of a prison cell?

That’s exactly what Louis Victor Eytinge did. A criminal with a track record for forgery, he was convicted of murder in 1907 and given a life sentence.

Arriving in Arizona State Penitentiary, Eytinge was put in the infirmary to recover from a bout of tuberculosis. While there he decided to write to the makers of curios who advertised in the magazines he read in his hospital bed.

Very soon, he had organised fellow prisoners to make hat-bands, buckles and other trinkets – while he wrote letters to companies to sell these wares. Soon after, he was writing advertising mail for companies, earning something like $5,000 per year from his prison cell.

He won awards for his commercial writing. He wrote a Hollywood screenplay. And ultimately he wrote his way to freedom – a popular campaign saw him released in December 1922.

But what made Eytinge so good at selling, using only the written word? Unfortunately, none of his prison work seems to be available, but there is one direct mail letter he wrote in the 1920s that is particularly interesting. It was designed to raise funds for a new cathedral and it uses a technique used by successful copywriters today – known as AIDCA.

AIDCA stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, (overcoming) Caution and Action, and they are the five steps you want your reader to take from opening an envelope to giving you their money.

It works just as well today as it ever did. But lets take a look at Eytinge’s letter and see how he pulled in donations in five, deceptively clear stages.

writing direct advertisingSource: archive.org

  1. Attention

Eytinge wastes no time in getting his reader’s attention, opening his letter with:

Have you ever heard of any one loaning money to God?

What can he mean? Few people are going to stop reading here. They’ll want to know what happens next.

  1. Interest

Now Eytinge quickly kindles your interest.

Yes – and having an actual 5 per cent interest paid, the loan being secured by mortgage? Not only would the investment be quite profitable and safe, but it can bring in tremendous happiness through contribution to the community welfare.

Who wouldn’t want 5% on a secured loan? A safe investment too, and one that makes you look good in the community. If you had the money to invest, you’d read on – and Eytinge knows it.

  1. Desire

It’s at this point Eytinge really ramps up your desire to get involved in the scheme.

A great magazine editor said recently that America today needs a great cathedral, but it must not be on the Continental plan, beautiful architecturally – it would have to be American in idea, serving the community in a material as well as a spiritual way. That idea is becoming a reality. Here upon the highest point in Manhattan is planned that American cathedral, to have a church auditorium seating 2,200, a social hall for 1,000, swimming pool, gymnasium, cafeteria, nursery for mothers and scores of practical, helpful community efforts that will make Washington Heights still more attractive as a residence section.

This is no scam. It’s a well-planned scheme on a grand scale. Being associated with it will not only make you money, it’ll align you with a project that will transform lives.

  1. Caution

It’s at this point, Eytinge realises that some readers will be thinking “This sounds too good to be true.” So he helps them overcome their caution.

No – you are not asked to contribute one copper cent. No one is begging you for a gift. We are trying to interest you in an investment – a loan to God first, secured by income-earning property – but better still, an investment that will give vital happiness to your neighbors and more to yourself. All that we ask is that you read and study the inside pages and that you align yourself now and practically with the forward-looking people of our section, regardless of sect or creed, who are our partners in happiness.

Not a gift, but an investment. And one that’s practically secured by God himself. Who wouldn’t want in? How do I sign up?

  1. Action

Perhaps the most important step of all, and one that so many modern businesses forget – asking for the sale. Eytinge makes it crystal clear what he wants his reader to do next.

Will you be one? Read the inside pages, then act.

As you can see, AIDCA is an incredibly simple formula, though often very hard to get right. But once you try it in your own sales writing, you’ll stick with it – it works and it makes you money.

It worked for Eytinge. Though what you do with the cash you earn is up to you. Eytinge was perhaps less wise on that front – he was convicted of grand theft in 1931 and spent the next seven years in prison until his death in 1938. Some leopards never really change their spots, do they?

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