E-mail newsletters consisting of material based on your book are an inexpensive way to create pre-publication buzz and post-publication publicity, as well as to generate useful feedback. However, you must be careful with distribution and avoid several technical traps.
About a year before the publication of my book FusionBranding: How to Forge Your Brand for the Future, I started sending out excerpts, first to friends and family, and then to industry and other professionals. Sending excerpts of 700 to 800 words every two weeks taught me several lessons–some painful–and boosted initial sales substantially.
Don’t Get Seen as Spam
The most important rule to follow with a book-based e-newsletter is getting permission, or opt-in, from e-mail recipients. If you don’t, you can irritate potential buyers and place your messages in the same category as e-mails about marital aids, get-rich-quick schemes, and other spam. Additionally, if only one person reports your e-mail as spam, you may be blacklisted and lose your ability to send any e-mail. Since getting off the blacklist can take significant time and effort, some people recommend sending a confirmation e-mail to anyone who has subscribed to your newsletter, asking for a reply saying that they did request it.
Another issue: Many ISPs have installed automatic spam-blocking software such as SpamAssassin. These programs “grade” e-mail based on such common spam characteristics as using capital letters or such words as FREE! For a free test to see whether these programs will snare your e-mail, send the e-mail to email@example.com. Be sure to put the word “TEST” in the subject field.
Of course, every e-mail you send should have easy-to-follow “unsubscribe” directions and you should immediately honor all requests to “unsubscribe.”
Every message that goes out should also include two or three sentences about how you will protect subscribers’ privacy. Never sell or “lend” your list or information about subscribers to anyone.
The hardest task is building a subscriber list. Who’s next after friends and family? Begin by encouraging people to forward your messages. Ideally, this will result in more subscriptions to your newsletter. Check your files for business cards. Review Web sites or other sources for the e-mail addresses of members of your target audience.
Then send an introductory e-mail explaining that you are looking for feedback and insights for a book in progress. Include a sample newsletter. Because of the e-mail overload we’re all suffering from, you’ll get a lot of “no, thanks” messages back but enough people will sign up to make the effort worthwhile. Other subscribers can come from registering your e-mail offering at various sites that offer specialized newsletters, such as eZINEsearch, NewsletterAccess, or Marketing-Seek.com.
The issue is not quantity of subscribers but quality. As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to buy e-mail addresses, especially those offered in bulk. However, agencies like YesMail and PostMasterDirect can provide good, highly targeted opt-in lists for a fee.
When your list is small, you can send out the newsletter yourself with your current e-mail program. Virus-check each transmission, and keep your anti-virus program up to date to reduce the risk that a virus will hijack your list and send out infected messages. Put recipients in the BCC: field, not the TO: field. That way, they won’t have to wade through a list of e-mail addresses before reading your message and you’ll ensure each recipient’s privacy.
There are other pitfalls. Due to a problem in either my software or my ISP, about one-third of my list received four or more copies of my newsletter over the course of a day. About half of those hard-won subscribers unsubscribed. I immediately signed up with a professional e-mail distribution service.
Distribution services include Topica, Lyris, and SparkList, and fees generally depend on the number of subscribers. Some companies also offer e-mail personalization and click-through tracking, and some offer free distribution in exchange for ad space in your newsletter, which, in my opinion, dilutes the integrity of your information.
Just because a message looks OK on your computer, don’t assume it will look all right in other e-mail programs, especially AOL. To minimize graphic glitches, limit line length to about 55-60 characters, put line breaks between the paragraphs, and avoid bold or italic type as well as bullets or other special characters that may not “translate” well for various ISPs. [Instead of a bullet, you can use a lower case o (o), an asterisk (*), or even dashes (–).] Note that HTML programming can make your e-mail look like a professional Web site, but this requires substantial skill and even testing to ensure that it looks equally good to all subscribers.
- Subject lines are critical.
Recipients decide whether to open e-mails based on the sender name and title. Use a provocative, contrarian, or “how to” headline.
- All newsletter copy should be relevant and valuable from the reader’s viewpoint.
Don’t discuss writer’s block, why you like your font, or the terrors of staring at a blank screen each day. Save those topics for online publishing or writing forums
or start a Web log. Instead, provide specific tips and techniques that readers can apply in their personal or professional lives.
- Establish bonds with readers.
When I sent out an excerpt arguing that “positioning” was a mass-economy strategy that often backfires in the customer economy, numerous readers responded with vigorous defenses of positioning. After getting permission, I incorporated their responses in the next e-mailing. When I heard a speaker offer an innovative customer service strategy, I invited him to submit a “guest column.” I also gave subscribers a significant “early adopter” discount on book purchases.
- Remember that subscribers can provide valuable feedback during production.
I solicited comments on three potential cover designs. The response was quite impassioned, and I wound up going with the most popular alternative–even though it wasn’t my favorite!
- Watch frequency and length.
As a general rule, don’t send mailings more than once a week. Once every two weeks or even once a month is better. Keep the length down to three screenloads; some experts advise a maximum of 350 words. Use “bullet points” to speed the read. Once you set a schedule, keep to it; unexpected mailings may be perceived as spam.
- Keep the beneficial side effects coming long after publication
by placing versions of your newsletter copy as articles in online and offline publications and using them as a basis for regular “how to” or other press releases.
Nick Wreden’s “FusionBranding: How to Forge Your Brand for the Future” was selected as a “Best New Business Book” by The Business Reader Review. For additional information, visit www.fusionbrand.com. For samples of his newsletter, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.