Producing Your Own Newsletter


nresletterimageWe’ve all received newsletters or ezines via email. They target specific audiences, and are produced for a specific purpose. They range from the very short ‘joke of the day’ type that is merely a medium for delivery of an advertisement, to the very long technical discussion of the hydro-dynamics of a sphere moving through a normal saline solution. They can be used to entertain, inform, enlist and sell.

As booksellers, we would use the ezine to sell books. Keep that mission in mind.

You should be convinced (rightfully so) that email advertising is very profitable. You should know that it has an almost zero outlay in reoccurring expenses, and returns are high and predictable. Even start-up costs are relatively low.

If you have a couple thousand addresses of people who have bought books from you in the past it is time to start using this information to your advantage, and to the benefit of your customers. This is a highly targeted list, and is therefore very valuable. Your customers want and need your guidance to keep them informed as to the goings on in the book community, and provide them with buying opportunities. It is your duty as a successful bookseller to keep them away from your competition. Nobody can do a better job of serving your customers than you so do it.

Where do I get my addresses?

I’ll tell you where you DO NOT get them. You don’t run to your favorite search engine and find a website where you can buy a million addresses for $19.95 and send them your ezine. That is a quick way to get yourself in a LOT of hot water, and put out of business.

If you have Outlook Express as your mail program, there are a lot of addresses in your address book right now. Probably 99% of them are past customers. If you do business with Amazon, there is quite a list of your past customers there too. Almost our entire address list comes from past customers. Some come from requests to be added to the ezine list from an opt-in box on the homepage of our website, and other readers refer some to us.

We were able to accumulate just over 5,000 addresses in the first six months of saving them, and are currently at just over 11,000 after three years.  

Bulk Mail Programs.

For the last three years we have used Desktop Server 2000. It is a very powerful and easy to use program. We send about 10,000 emails via ISDN (128k) and it takes about fifteen minutes, and our ISP does not get hit with big bandwidth usage because the DS2K package acts as a mail server. The ISP doesn’t even know you are sending them. It will maintain both the addresses that you mail to, and the remove addresses (more about the remove list later).

Besides filtering out the remove addresses, it also filters out specified domain names, such as .gov or .edu if you wish to avoid mailing to them. It will even filter out specific words or strings of letters within the address. We filter words such as info, order, webmaster, adult, nospam, book, read, page and others.

It costs about $300 and comes with a bunch of other programs and email addresses that you should THROW AWAY. It can be purchased at:http://www.desktopserver.com and is worth every penny. They will pitch other programs that “harvest”email addresses. Don’t buy them, don’t use them. If they come packaged with DS2K, toss them as soon as you get them. They will also give you a free disk with kabillion “hot, new, fresh addresses” on them it’s a coaster. All you want is the mail management program, Desktop Server 2000.

Remove Requests.

Dealing with remove requests is probably more important than the acquisition of new addresses. Maintaining and using a remove list is very, very important. As a merchant, you have every right, both legally and morally, to keep in touch with your customers. If someone has purchased goods or services from you in the past you can contact them to ‘service their account’.

But if they ask to be left alone – if they specifically request that you stop contacting them, you MUST. A merchant (or anyone else for that matter) is not allowed to harass anyone via email. Sending unwanted material to your customers AFTER being requested to stop is bad business, and may even be illegal. Don’t do it.  

Am I Spamming?

If you buy lists from a list service yes you are. If you ignore requests to be removed from the mail list you are spamming. By doing so you are opening yourself and your business to all kinds of nasty repercussions. Don’t do it.

If you email your customers, you are not spamming. If you make an honest mistake and mail to someone who is not a customer, you are not spamming. If you mail from your own email account, with a real email address to reply to, use and maintain a remove list you are not spamming.

But, sending out several thousand emails comes with a lot of responsibility. Tolerance for error is right around zero. If you bump into the wrong person (the rabid anti-spam activist zealot with a cause that really should get a life) they can bring down a lot of misery on you (we call it ‘heat’). They don’t have to prove anything – and you don’t even get to defend yourself. With some ISPs, accusation is the same as conviction, so it may be a good idea to have your website hosted somewhere other than where your mail is processed.

In three years of mailing our ezine out we have had very few problems because we religiously maintain and protect and use our remove list. We have had more problems and complaints from book dealers than from our customers. I suspect that it is jealousy more than anything else, and a willingness to sling mud instead of competing fairly. It is interesting to note that book sellers don’t complain about getting our newsletter. Owners of businesses that actually sell books are interested in what their competition is doing, how they are doing it, why they do it that way and what the result is.

Desktop 2000 has several features where you can filter out certain email addresses. We set words and phrases in that filter that block out book dealers; we have a very high percentage of ‘anti-spam kooks’ in our numbers, and they are not good customers anyway. As soon as we find out that an address on our list is that of a book dealer, we put it on the ‘remove list’. Book dealers, as a group, have very narrow margins and they are bound way too tight.

OK. So, you’ve saved up some addresses, you have acquired and installed and learned your bulk mail program and it is rolling around to the first of the month, you are about ready to do your first mailing. It’s time to write.

Before you begin banging it out consider these points:

  • Make it personal.

Write the newsletter the way you would write a note to a friend who shares your interests. Keep the sentences short and simple, keep the paragraphs short and simple. Interject personal touches; tell something about yourself, something about your store, the work at the store. Tell amusing anecdotes about interactions with customers at the store, or the mailman, or even the weather – whatever.

Share an interesting or funny or informative website address as long as it is not direct competition to you.

The best commercials make us laugh. The “Happy California Cows” commercial and the “Counting Sheep” commercials or the “Budweiser Frogs” on TV are excellent examples of this. Remember WHY people buy books. It is entertainment. The act of buying books is entertaining. Reading is fun. Be entertaining, have fun with your ezine and have fun with your customers. They will reward you for it.

Invite them to write back to you with comments or stories of their own. Let them participate. Sometimes you’ll get great material for the next ezine that way. Tip: If you are going to use a story or information that someone sent you, ask them if it’s ok, and change names.

Your customers want to know what’s going on in the book store, they want to hear about characters you’ve developed over time (customers, pets, employees, etc.) They want to hear the next installment of the book store news. As time goes on they will start to actually look forward to the ‘special offer’ of the month. People buy from stores that they feel comfortable in. Familiarity has a lot to do with comfort levels. The more they hear your store name, the more they are able to feel a connection to you personally, the more time and money they will spend in your cyber store. That is one of the reasons that Amazon is so successful.

  • Incorporate the sales pitch into the theme.

The sales pitch should be incorporated into the theme of the newsletter. Ads should not be clearly marked. They don’t need to be precluded with a heading that says, “This Is An Advertisement”, or “A Word From Our Sponsor.” Ever listen to Paul Harvey? Notice the way he makes the advertisements part of his gig? He is half way into a commercial before you realize that you are even being pitched. He talks to his audience the way he would talk to a group of friends that he’s having dinner with. He delivers a verbal Ezine. Study his style, and adapt it to your ezine.

For example: Tell your audience a story about that day you took a day off last week and an employee bought a whole truck full of books, nice stuff all of it. Now there’s books stacked in the isles, and you’ve had to explain to the soon to be ex-employee that she may have to take some of them home with her instead of a paycheck… “And hey, now that we’re all overstocked in merchandise we’ll offer you free shipping if you order five or more books, but you MUST act NOW because the fire department will be around for their annual inspection soon and this offer expires next Tuesday…”

  • Plain text no HTML.

When you write a friendly email to your friend, do you fill it up with HTML? Bouncing frogs, and twirling batons, and exploding fireworks and the sound of a 40-piece brass band? Of course not. And you shouldn’t do it in your ezine either. Keep it simple, low-key and friendly.

  • Keep it short.

Keep it under 1000 words not including the legal stuff at the end (how to be removed from the list). People just don’t have the time or patience to wade through a small book. And the second mailing of the month (more about that later) should be VERY short, about 300 words.

  • The “writer/sender” of the ezine should be female.

I hesitate to even share this idea because it is politically and emotionally charged, and I’m sure that someone will be offended. But it is important, and the reader can choose to disregard it if they wish.

Women are treated differently than men. I make no comment as to the sociological or political aspects of that statement I offer it only as a statement of fact. Women are treated differently than men. Females have raised most of us. From the time we are minutes old we learn that the female is the giver of food and comfort. Later we learn that she is the dispenser of discipline. She holds both the carrot and the stick. Her power is immense – and absolute. It is probably the first thing we learn and we never forget it.

The Israeli Army did a study a few years back about women in the battlefield. They found that men took orders from a female superior officer better than from a superior officer who was male, especially while under stress (combat situations). The order was carried out with fewer reservations, and less hesitation. Men are accustomed to taking orders from women and not challenging them. Women are usually neutral. They tend to consider the order, not the person delivering it.

What does this have to do with our ezine? Odds are that an ezine sent by a woman will be better received, more widely read, and less likely to draw heat than one sent by a man. Assuming that half of the receivers are going to be men, it will make things better by a factor of 50%. More will read it, more will take the action they’ve been ordered to take (BUY THE BOOK) and fewer will complain about receiving spam. We’ve tested this theory, and it works.

Let’s assume that this theory is bunk, it just isn’t true. The women’s liberation movement over the last twenty years has been successful in changing basic animal instinct and everyone is treated equally. What have you lost or gained by using a woman’s name in the ezine? Nothing. If it is true, what have you gained?

Right in the ‘From’ line of our ezine we put “Marian @ GentlyUsedBooks.com.”

If you are male, and doing an ezine sell some of your ego and sign a female first name.

  • Do it no more than twice a month.

Any more than that is just too much. Remember that real clever advertisement you saw on TV last month yes, the one you laughed at. Now that you’ve seen it four dozen times in the last eight weeks is it still funny? Is it becoming annoying?

 

Not only do you risk annoying your customers but your customers will begin to get the idea that if they miss this coupon offer, its ok because there will be another one next week. It does away with the urgency to act factor which is very important.

 

  • Make your advertised special have a very short expiration date.

We have found that an expiration date of seven days is just right. Why? Any shorter and you miss people who are out of the office, away on vacation, etc. Any longer and your customer will procrastinate and forget. You don’t want your customer to think like this: “This doesn’t expire until the end of the month, I have plenty of time.” Create urgency. Tell them in the ad to “act now!”

After a lot of trial and error testing we have found the best pattern is to send two per month. The first one goes out on the first Tuesday of the month, with an expiration date of seven days. Why Tuesday? Many people get their email at work (we can tell by the addresses), and they are not there on weekends, some aren’t there on Monday (physically or mentally). By Tuesday the universe is back in balance. Our best sales and traffic day, overall, is Thursday. Our worst is Saturday. The seven-day expiration date allows them one weekend in case they are shopping from home.

On the following Monday, we send a brief reminder. Just a greeting, and “the sale is going well, we’re getting a great response and take advantage of the coupon before it expires TOMORROW,” and a copy of the offer. That’s it. Two or three hundred words, very short. We also may thank everyone who purchased, and let them know that they can purchase again. Invariably we’ll get at least one repeat order, and usually they are large orders. In the second mailing, we also invite our regular customers to share this sale with their friends – and we’ve added new customers to our lists that way. The second mailing dollar return is sometimes larger than the first again because of the urgency factor.

By timing it the way we do, it makes for two mailings, but only one offer. We are very stingy with the number of “special offers” we make. How can something truly be special if it happens all the time? One coupon offer per month is all our customers get. Sometimes we even skip a month (usually when we are real busy, and don’t NEED to discount). We will do the ezine, but make no offer, and we’ll still get orders from it.

Immediately after (I mean within minutes) sending your first mailing you will get a lot of bounces for bad addresses and a few remove requests. Set your mail program so that these go to a separate folder. You’ll deal with them later (before your next mailing).

Read ALL remove requests immediately. Sometimes, heat can be avoided by responding to comments right away. If you get a question like, “How did you get my address?” respond with a nice note that your email addresses usually come from previous customers, “but it appears that yours was placed on our list by error – sorry to have bothered you and we will remove it right away.” Even though they didn’t ask to be removed, do it anyway. Even if they email you back and ask to remain on the list remove them anyway. You have probably just bumped into a ‘spam nazi’ or a book dealer, and one address is just not worth the risk.

Before doing your next mailing, process all the bounced mail and remove requests. Bounced mail I just take off of the list, I don’t add them to the remove list. Remove requests I take off of the mail list, AND, I add it to the remove list. Do both.

The first few times you mail you will have a lot of this type of processing to do, you are establishing a useable list. It does take time, especially in the beginning. Our remove list contains about 1300 addresses. That is a remove request rate of about fifteen per mailing, on average. You will get a lot of remove requests like this: “We are getting your ezine at two addresses, please remove this one …” or “I’m not supposed to get personal mail at work, please remove this address and add this one …” Well over 99% of the remove requests are nicely worded, they just don’t want it any more. And that is ok, because we don’t want to send it to anyone who doesn’t want to get it.

Overall, we have had very little problems with our ezine. It is fun to produce, our customers enjoy them and it is very profitable. We keep in personal touch with many of our customers and there really are a lot of very nice people out there. People who read are, by and large, a great group.

A newsletter is a very important part of any on-line business marketing plan. It contributes a lot to the profitability of GentlyUsedBooks.com and properly executed it will contribute to the overall health of booksellers everywhere. In an age of corporate type mega-sites, it is imperative that a bookseller establish a niche and a following of loyal customers. A properly executed ezine is an excellent way to achieve those ends.

By: Chuck Pierce
GentlyUsedBooks.com

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

Check out the Independent Online Booksellers Association Website