#007: 2 Million Books Sold In 2 Years – Part 1

Lillian Eichler, Image Courtesy of Luke Spencer and Messy Nessy Chic
Lillian Eichler, Image Courtesy of Luke Spencer and Messy Nessy Chic

In 1922, a young lady named Lillian Eichler (later married as Lillian Watson) authored and sold 2,000,000 copies of The Book of Etiquette.

At $1.98 each, that’s nearly $4MM ($60.6MM today) in revenue… in just two years.

To put that in perspective, in the story of how Sherwin Cody sold $70 Million in English courses to native English speakers, you discovered how it took 4 decades to reach that number.

Lillian generated $60.6 Million in sales… in 2 years.

And she used her talent to overcame both racism and sexism and get the chance.

But despite such achievements, history has forgotten her.

This is her story.

“We Don’t Hire Jews… Or Women.”

Lillian Eichler was born in 1902 to Jewish Hungarian immigrants. Her parents ran a cigar shop in Harlem, NY.

Lillian never went to college. She studied at night and spent her time in the day trying to find a job at an ad agency in Manhattan.

She went to the biggest agency in the city, Ruthrauff & Ryan Advertising. Ironically the same agency in the Sherwin Cody story.

At Ruthrauff & Ryan, she was not received well. To be blunt, they said they don’t hire Jewish people or–to add insult to injury–women.

Lillian wasn’t one to quit. This little Jewish girl stood inside the biggest agency in NYC and refused to leave until they looked at what she’d written.

They skimmed through. Then they started reading. And they kept reading.

Lillian was hired on the spot.

She was about 18 years old.

Doubleday Publishing

Etiquette books were BIG business in the early 1900s. The American people were very concerned about first impressions and having good social graces.

One of the biggest publishers of the time, Doubleday Publishing, wanted a book of their own. In 1922, they published ‘The Encyclopedia of Etiquette’ by Eleanor Holt and had a tough time selling them.

Doubleday went to Ruthrauff & Ryan. Lillian was handed the account and the task of selling the remaining 1,000 copies.

She wrote one ad. They sold out in days.

And customers sent them back faster than they sold out. Customers thought the book was too outdated.

Doubleday recognised Lillian’s writing talent and asked her to rewrite an updated version of the book.

A few months later, she finished the new Book of Etiquette. And of course, she was in charge of writing the ads for it.

She wrote a set of at least 5 ads. These ads ran for 26 months in national magazines used for mail-order business.

Combined with direct mail costs, the campaign cost $1,500,000 ($22MM today). It sold 2,000,000 copies and raked in about $4,000,000 ($60.6MM today).

Of those 5 ads, I could find 2 ads that survived into modern day.

Again She Orders — “A Chicken Salad, Please”

Again She Orders A Chicken Salad Please Ad 1920 Lillian Eichler Lillian Watson Book of Etiquette

The Structure

Everyone loves a good story. It is why novels, movies, and TV shows are multi-billion dollar industries. It is why a good storyteller can hold the attention of an entire party or social gathering.

A love for stories is just a basic fact of being human.

This is the first story-based ad we’ve covered in this series. Story ads talk about a certain relatable situation. And goes into how the product/service either has already helped or can help that situation and others like it.

In this ad, here’s the situation:

  • A woman is on a dinner date.
  • She is nervous and wants to make a good impression on her date.
  • She doesn’t know how to do that and berates herself.

But she would know how to do it if—you guessed it—she had owned the product being sold.

The Image, Headline & Introduction

The image, headline and opening paragraphs are all about creating this story. So it all reads like something you might find in a novel.

It describes what she’s wearing, her inner feelings and observations, the physical space, and so on.

It only starts becoming “copywriting” after she orders the chicken salad. It takes that problem she is feeling. And starts poking at it.

He would think she didn’t know how to order a dinner. Well, did she? No. She didn’t know how to pronounce those French words on the menu. And she didn’t know how to use the table appointment as gracefully as she would have liked; found that she couldn’t create conversation — and was actually tongue-tied; was conscious of little crudities which she just knew he must be noticing.

Rapid-fire shots at the different things she didn’t know how to do.

She wasn’t sure of herself. That was it — she didn’t know. And she discovered, as we all do sooner or later, that there is only one way to have complete poise and ease of manner, and that is to know definitely what to do and say on every occasion.

It sums up the problem: she just doesn’t know what to do. And then it smoothly (‘as we all do sooner or later’) introduces a solution in a matter-of-fact way.

Are You Conscious of Your Crudities?

Note the phrasing of the subheading.

This is a brilliant, loaded question.

It doesn’t ask if you have ‘crudities’ or certain things you do that aren’t tasteful. That’s a yes or no question. And out of ego, most people will say no and a good number will stop reading.

It asks you if you’re aware of the crudities you have. If the answer is yes, you read on to fix them. If the answer is no, you read on to know what they might be.

It engages the reader with a “heads I win, tails you lose” question to keep them reading.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re selling something to help with chronic pain: You should ask “When’s the last time you weren’t in pain?” instead of “Are you in pain?”

See the difference there?

It is not, perhaps, so serious a fault to be unable to order a correct dinner. But it is just such little things as these that betray us—that reveal our crudities to others.

Are you sure of yourself? Do you know precisely what to do and say where you happen to be, with whomever you happen to be? Or are you always hesitant and ill at ease, never quite sure you haven’t blundered.

Every day in our contact with men and women we meet little unexpected problems of conduct. Unless we are prepared to meet them, it is inevitable that we suffer embarrassment and sometimes keen humiliation.

Here, Lillian expands the problem and shows she understands what she’s really selling.

It’s not about being embarrassed on a date. She’s not selling how to order food from a menu.

It’s about being embarrassed, period. She’s selling confidence and social grace. She’s selling social approval. She’s selling relief from the fear of being a social outcast.

These are very, very powerful desires “hard coded” into us. And much more powerful than the desire to know how to order food from a menu.

I like to use an analogy: People don’t buy drills, they buy holes.

Too many business owners are busy trying to sell drills when they should be selling holes. This is why hiring a copywriter is important.

Now that Lillian has sold the hole, time to talk about the drill.

Etiquette is the armor that protects us from these embarrassments. It makes us aware instantly of the little crudities that are robbing us of our poise and ease. It tells us how to smooth away these crudities and achieve a manner of complete confidence and self-possession. It eliminates all doubt and uncertainty, tells us exactly what we want to know.

There is an old proverb which says “Good manners make good mixers.” We all know how true this is. No one likes to associate with a person who is always self-conscious and embarrassed; no one likes to associate with a person who is constantly blundering, whose crudities are obvious to all.

She offers a solution: etiquette. And she explains why etiquette is the correct solution.

Then she introduces her specific book of etiquette.

Do You Make Friends Easily?

This subheading is just a direct statement of a benefit. It could have been “Make Friends Easily!” or “Make Friends More Easily!”

Lillian opted to use a question for a bit of added engagement from the reader.

By telling you exactly what is expected of you on all occasions, by giving you a wonderful new ease and dignity of manner, the Book of Etiquette will help make you more popular—a “better mixer.”

Note a couple of things.

  • Feature: Tells you exactly what is expected of you on all occasions
  • Emotional Benefit: Ease and dignity of manner
  • Practical Benefit: Make you more popular–a “better mixer”

In copywriting, it is basic practice to translate any and all features into benefits. But you also need to understand that there are 2 types of benefits: emotional and practical.

So, when you make a list of features, go down each feature and ask TWO questions:

  • What is the emotional benefit?
  • What is the practical benefit?

And you’ll do what Lillian did, writing more effective copy.

This famous two-volume set of books is today the recognized social authority—is a silent social secretary in half a million homes.

Notice how she “upscales” her product. It isn’t just a book:

  • It is famous
  • It is THE recognized social authority
  • It is a silent social secretary
  • It is in half a million homes

So it has plenty of social proof AND more than just a book.

From here, the rest of the ad is just a rapid fire set of different scenarios where the Book of Etiquette is useful.

Book of Etiquette Gives Lifelong Advice

One of the big worries we have when buying is: How long will this last? In other words, long-term durability or value.

This subheading covers that in 1 word: lifelong.

Hundreds of thousands of men and women all over the country today know and use the Book of Etiquette and find it increasingly helpful. Every time an occasion of importance arises—every time expert help, advice and suggestion is required—they find what they seek in the Book of Etiquette. It solves all problems, answers all questions, tells you exactly what to do, say, write and wear on every occasion, under all circumstances.

This is social proof + usage instructions + what sounds like an encyclopedia.

Makes sense. The original was an encyclopedia, so this claim is sound.

If you want always to be sure of yourself, always to have ease and poise, always to avoid embarrassment and humiliation, send for your set of the Book of Etiquette at once. Take advance of the special bargain price offer explained in the panel to the left. Let the Book of Etiquette give you complete self-possession; let it banish the crudities that are perhaps making you self-conscious and uncomfortable at times when you should be thoroughly at ease.

Clip and mail this coupon now while you are thinking of it. Be sure you are among those who take advantage of the great special offer.

In the story of Kodak 1888’s $1 Billion in sales, I mentioned how repetition is important. How important it can be to say the same thing in different, interesting ways.

I count NINE separate phrases that (with slight edits) could be a call-to-action:

If you want always to be sure of yourself (1), always to have ease and poise (2), always to avoid embarrassment and humiliation (3), send for your set of the Book of Etiquette at once (4). Take advance of the special bargain price offer explained in the panel to the left (5). Let the Book of Etiquette give you complete self-possession (6); let it banish the crudities that are perhaps making you self-conscious and uncomfortable at times when you should be thoroughly at ease (7).

Clip and mail this coupon now while you are thinking of it (8). Be sure you are among those who take advantage of the great special offer (9).

Twelve if you count the special price offer.

A Social Secretary for Life!

The Famous Book of Etiquette
Nearly 500,000 Sold for $3.50
Amazingly Low Priced at $1.98

We have on our shelves at the present time several thousand sets of the Book of Etiquette in the regular $3.50 edition. To clear the shelves quickly and make room for new editions now being printed, Nelson Doubleday, Inc., makes this wholly unusual offer: To the next few thousand people who order the Book of Etiquette, the special bargain price of $1.98 will be extended (10). In other words, if you act without delay you can secure the complete, two-volume set of the Book of Etiquette at practically half the usual publishing price (11).

Use the special coupon (12). It will bring the Book of Etiquette to you promptly, at the special bargain price.

And lastly, we have a low price offer and a picture of the Book of Etiquette. It uses many of the elements already mentioned above.

What is unique here is… I couldn’t find anything that saying these books were more than $1.98. Maybe in bookstores, but not over direct mail.

This is probably “fake” urgency and a “fake” low-price offer to motivate people to buy now.

Key Takeaways – Part 1

In your business…

  • Learn to spot talent. Doubleday Publishing could have gotten upset their books were returned and ended their hopes there. Instead, they had the bright idea to have Lillian rewrite the book as well as to put her in charge of advertising the same book. If you’re in need of a copywriter, don’t be afraid to call one.
  • Talk to your customers. If you ask, they will tell you EXACTLY what they think about your product/service. But you have to ask. Once Doubleday Publishing knew the problem, they fixed it and went on to make lots of money.

In your business…

  • Control the conversation in your prospect’s mind. One useful tool is to ask “loaded” questions based on the premise your reader has the problem. Another is to speak matter-of-factly about certain things. Note Lillian’s tone throughout the ad.
  • Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. In your Call-To-Action. Lillian’s ad has the most layered call-to-action I’ve ever seen. And it seems to be a unique trait of hers that you’ll also see in the next article. I have no doubts in my mind that it’s one of the big reasons her ads sold so well.
  • Tell stories. We all love stories. And I’m sure many of us can relate to being nervous on a date. If you’re ever stuck on how to start an ad, consider using a story related to the product/service.


Credits to Luke Spencer and Messy Nessy Chic for interviewing Lillian’s surviving family members for this story.

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