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Named to "Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites," this #SharingwithWriters blog is a way to connect with my readers and fellow writers, a way to give the teaching genes that populate my DNA free rein. Please feel free to add to the conversation using the very tiny "comment" link. For those interested in editing and grammar, go to http://thefrugaleditor.blogspot.com.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

To Gussy Up Your Newsletter-Or Not!

This is a reprint from a past SharingwithWriters newsletter. If you'd like to subscribe so you don't miss a single thing that might be healthy for your book, just send an e-mail to HoJoNews (at) AOL (dot) come with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line and I'll do it for you. (-:

Criticism Turned to Self Reflection: What Style for Newsletters?
You may recall that I received a bit of, ahem, criticism that didn’t seem particularly constructive at the time, but it gave me something to mull over. The letter suggested I quit being so frugal and start using a service that prints newsletters all gussied up in color. Actually, I had considered that before, but times are changing and it had been awhile since I had visited the problem. At the time, I had read about a politician who published a flier and included the anecdote in The Frugal Book Promoter (www.budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo). It went like this:

"Newsletters needn’t be fancy. In his column for Time magazine, Joe Klein told of Bryan Lentz’s choice of a simple flier to promote his run for Congress. Lentz said his staff '. . . wanted something splashy.' His simpler choice cost less and, he says, 'They look real. People open them and read 'em like a newspaper.' Klein notes, 'It was true, people [nearby] were reading the Bryan Lentz news.'

"That’s the way it can be for your newsletter, too. I once asked my readers about my plain-text Sharing with Writers e-newsletters and they voted overwhelmingly for keeping them long and simple rather than short, colorful, and in HTML."

But when I receive this not-so-kind suggestion that I was being cheap, I thought I should look again in case I should also reconsider my frugal advice to you, my readers. I mean, theoretically I am not saving much by publishing my newsletter the plain old generic way because AuthorsDen charges for the higher level of their service that includes newsletter distribution. So I could disregard the frugal aspect of my choice—something I will never give up completely because I hate, hate, hate seeing authors spend more on promoting their books than they need to with so many free ways to do it out there—and change to something like ConstantContact if I wished. It’s never too early (or too late) to change one’s mind.

At first, I thought I’d poll members, but I did that before and most of you said to leave things the way they are with a plain text in their e-mail and a link to a pdf file for those who prefer something a little snazzier. Then I started looking at the newsletters I get in my e-mail box, my favorites. One that comes from Penny Sansevieri is long and anything but fancy, but full of all kinds of good pointers I can use every week. Another of my faves is from the legendary Dan Poynter who basically sends a link to his pdf file. It's also long and includes a lot of free benefits for his readers like a review service. Another is from Joan Stewart (The Publicity Hound) who now uses HTML and it looks gorgeous but I liked it better before when I didn’t have to click on so many links to get at the good meat and potatoes she always has in her letter.

That’s when I decided I wouldn’t change. You are stuck with plain old vanilla pudding SharingwithWriters. Well, not really stuck. If I get a rash of people who complain about this decision, I may reconsider again. So do let me know!

I believe that newsletters are still one of the most viable ways to connect with writers. And I believe that two features make them or break them. One is content. The other is to offer ways for readers to contribute in some way. This one does both. And if you don’t know what those ways are, you need to go back and read this letter from top to bottom and start using those features as a prompt to help get the word out there about your book.

But just in case you have decided to use a gorgeous format for your newsletter, here are some services you might explore, especially since many of these services are also spam reducers.

  1. Find vendors to consider at www.espcoalition.org/members.php
  2. Swiftpage.com
  3. GetResponse.com
  4. MyEmma.com
  5. MailChimp.com
  6. ConstantContact.com

Most price according the size of the list you have. Many offer free trials, but I would imagine you’d be loathe to change once you’ve gone to the trouble of setting up with one. Some have limits on the number of e-mails you can send in any month—a distinct disadvantage, I’d say, especially if your subscriber list grows beyond your wildest dreams. Some charge based on the number of e-mails sent daily—like $14.95 if you send no more than 250 which would, I think, discourage you from trying to grow your list.

Some good reasons to go with pretty:

  • You letters look good—maybe even great.
  • We know that images sell. You can include them in a pdf file but not in a plain text newsletter.
  • These services may force you to keep your letters short (which may be bad for content, but good for style and your busy schedule)
  • These services give you statistics like who pens your e-mail and who clicks on the links you provide.

Some big drawbacks of these services:
  • If you already have a newsletter of considerable size, many services require your subscribers to re-opt in.
  • They won’t let you provide the personal service of subscribing for people if they have given you permission. I consider that a service and wouldn't want to give it up!
  • They also often won’t send to generic addresses like the ones that begin with info or editor. I’d hate to lose a single one of you—on the outside chance that you might benefit even if you only open one letter a year!
If you decide to stay old fashioned with me, watch next week for a list of things you shouldn’t do or say if you don’t want your newsletter to get caught in spam folders and other techy devices. If you decide to go with an HTML service, I’ll help you keep your letter free of spam assassins that may make your newsletter show up DOA (dead on arrival).
Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second edition of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use the little Green widget to let them know about this blog: