Saturday, July 19, 2008

Helping a Client I Helped Myself

Making the Most of an Amazon Associate Account
by Alan Eggleston, writer and editor

In trying to help a client set up an Amazon Associate’s account to earn passive income from her book recommendations page, I learned a little something that may help myself. This is a good example of lifelong learning and the concept of advancing by applying the things you learn along the road of life (or work). (Because I’m benefiting from this I’m not charging my client for helping her, by the way.)

In 2004 or thereabouts, I set up an online bookstore. My initial idea was that most bookstores have a business section, but most booksellers don’t know much about business – they mostly know about books. What Grand Rapids needs is a good bookstore that caters to business people, someone who’s been in the business world and worked among books enough to know how to help them find what they’re looking for. So I set up as a way to meet that need.

The engine that drives is I know about books and I know a fair bit about business, but Amazon knows a lot about books and book distribution, so I’m letting them handle the warehousing and delivery while I handle the marketing.

My client is an executive coach. She helps executives and companies become better executives and better companies. I’m writing a website for her and she wants to recommend some books she thinks will benefit her clients and make them readily available. The easiest way to do that is to provide links to an online bookstore where they can find the book, add it to a shopping list, and have it shipped directly to their door. No fuss, no mess. For making a recommendation and for making a referral, my client can also make a very small percentage on the sale. Voila!

When I created, I programmed all the links by hand. Today there’s “
astore,” which allows you to set up a page very easily by category. It doesn’t allow you to customize as easily as by creating the links manually (which you can still do at Amazon, by the way), but it allows you to simplify creating pages of book recommendations that fit into a category. The Business section of my bookstore is set up by category – management, leadership, biography, investing, real estate, etc. – just like in a real bricks and mortar store. So this actually fits in with my format, which is how I benefit. It doesn’t fit so easily with my client’s. But that’s okay, because her list of recommendations is fairly short. Some day she may want to expand her associate program to do what astore allows her to do, however.

Just about anyone with a website can set up an
Amazon Associate’s account and sell books online. If you’re a business person in a profession with books to sell, this is a good way to make a little money on the side (passive income) just by referring your readers to Barnes and Noble also offers a similar program. And there’s at least one other:

Alan Eggleston is a Web writer and editor with e-Messenger Consulting Corp.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What Makes a Useful Newsletter?

Newsletter Content, Part I: Print
by Alan Eggleston, writer and editor

A LinkedIn question recently asked, “What makes a useful newsletter?

In the 10 years I spent editing five corporate print newsletters, two ingredients made them valued:
timeliness and newsworthiness.

Timeliness is important because no one wants old news. Sometimes current news repackaged or looked at in a different way can work, but old news is old news, and more important, news printed as new when it occurred but delivered old because of production or distribution issues is a killer for a newsletter.

Newsworthiness is important because that’s what newsletters are all about. You don’t buy a newsletter for its sidebars or opinion pieces, although a newsletter can have both. Instead, you buy a newsletter to get news you can’t get anywhere else or presented in a way you can’t get anywhere else.

Not every inch of a newsletter can be news. And the reader needs a break from just news. So there are other things that add value to a newsletter or that can make a newsletter useful.

  • Facts presented in an easy-to-digest format, such as graphically (see USAToday Snapshots)
  • Information presented as a game or puzzle that challenges the reader to find it
  • Data or interesting facts presented as fillers
  • Photo captions that present extra information
  • Charts, graphs, and tables with facts and figures
  • Short biographies, geographies, or other featurettes
  • Lists related to that issue’s theme or topics
  • Bibliographies or reading lists

Just as useful to the newsletter reader as subject matter is the newsletter’s format and layout. A newsletter should be a quick, easy read, something the reader can pick up and glance through and pick out detail but not worry about getting bogged down in yet can lay down and pick back up at will. So pieces should be short and pithy. Headlines should be short and punchy. Use lots of subheads to break longer pieces into bite-size chuncks and to help the reader pick through details at a glance. Use bold and italics sparingly but effectively to highlight keywords the reader may value to find information.

Finally, use design to punctuate the newsletter, to make it lively and fun to read. I did a lot with two colors, between colors and screens in print. You can, too.

Alan Eggleston is a writer and editor with e-Messenger Consulting Corp.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What Makes a Useful e-Newsletter?

Newsletter Content, Part II: Electronic
by Alan Eggleston, writer and editor

A LinkedIn question recently asked, “
What makes a useful newsletter?

Electronic newsletters are much different than their print cousins.

For one thing, they have much different space requirements – more freedom – but readers are less willing to read on a screen, resulting in additional restrictions. So while you don’t need to worry about run-over of an article, you do need to worry about losing your reader to eyestrain. So, to make your electronic newsletter useful, create a shortened “mail-able” version with shorter articles that link to extended versions.

Another important difference, you need to worry about download time, which means you can afford to use fewer and smaller visuals. Most electronic newsletters are e-mailed, so you don’t want to send a newsletter to someone that will make them wait a long time to open (they will wait for it to open while it downloads the visuals). To make your newsletter useful, minimize the number and size of graphics, including artworks and images.

In addition, most electronic newsletters feature short several short blurbs. The copy may be news copy or it may be promotional copy, either way it’s meant to attract you to going to the full-length article. To make your newsletter useful, provide enough detail and news to make it worth opening and reading your blurbs. Too much tease and they won’t bother to open it the next time! Keep the copy short and to the point, the headlines short and snappy – all of it easy to scan.

Finally, it’s an electronic medium, so provide links. Links to articles. Links to more information. Links to background information. Links to contact information. And don’t forget giving the reader a way to opt out of receiving your newsletter in the future, a requirement in the electronic world.

Some things in common
There are things print and electronic newsletters share in common:

  • Newsletters need to contain news
  • News needs to be timely and in electronic newsletters, it had better be hot off the press
  • Some if not most of your news should be unique to you or presented in a unique way
  • “News” can include biographies, interviews, features, and spotlights as long as they are first-runs

Some things to avoid
Things to avoid in an electronic newsletter:

  • Filler – space isn’t a problem so you don’t have to fill it
  • Games and puzzles – unless there’s a compelling reason to include one to impart information
  • Long copy – don’t overwhelm your reader; give him something quick to digest then move on
  • Long sentences – don’t get your reader bogged down in lengthy content of any kind
  • Scrolling pages – Keep It Short and Sweet (KISS)

Alan Eggleston is a writer and editor with e-Messenger Consulting Corp.

Monday, July 7, 2008

What I can't do another Alan can!

Alan Eggleston on opera's Alan Eggleston

I'm not musical in the least. I can carry a tune, but I can't remember the lyrics and I get too caught up in the sentiment of the lyrics to hold the tune for very long. So being in a choir or any kind of musical event was always out for me. You can imagine how amazed I was when I discovered through my Google Web Alert that there is an Alan Eggleston who can carry a tune.

Turns out there was an Alan Eggleston at Indiana University's Jacob School of Music during the academic years 1985-1988, and he appeared in some of the school's operatic productions.

I don't know how good he was, but he must have been fairly good because he is credited with roles in five operas:
  • Franciso, Court Gentleman in The Tempest
  • Antonio in The Marriage of Figaro
  • The Buffoon in The Legend of Tsar Sultan
  • Hobson in Peter Grimes
  • Satyr, god of the woods in L'Orfeo

Just goes to show, what I can't do another Alan can!

Who am I?

Alan Eggleston on Alan Eggleston

There are at least a dozen men in the world who go by the name Alan Eggleston. There is a senator in Australia, a wrangler out West, and financier out East. I am a writer and editor who lives and works smack dab in the middle, in Michigan.

On a whim I did a Google Web Alert on my name and at least once a week -- often more frequently -- I get a report on someone or something about an Eggleston, sometimes an Alan Eggleston, who shows up on a Web page. I'll do my best to tell you about the Alans and any of the occasionally interesting other Egglestons worth bragging about.

But this page isn't just about me or my name. It's also about the profession I love, which is writing and editing. I'll write about it, too. One of the things I like to do is hang out on LinkedIn, the professional networking site. I like to ask and answer questions there and I will likely expand on them here as I mentor other writers, editors, and Web professionals. What's the good of knowing something if you can't share it with others. I believe in lifelong learning -- all aspects of it.