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Janet Roberts

Interview, Part Two: Randy Cassingham
By Janet Roberts

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Pop-up boxes: Love 'em or hate 'em? How can you cross-promote more effectively if you publish ezines on multiple topics?

Randy Cassingham must be doing something right, judging by the circulation figures (This is True 103,000, HeroicStories is 30,000, and The True Stella Awards is around 12,000 after two issues).

In this continuation of our interview, he describes how he gets results without irritating readers:

Janet Roberts: Your sites (except Stella, I think) use pop-up boxes in which the reader can opt to subscribe to one of your other newsletters. I found it interesting that HeroicStories and This Is True share this co-reg, and Stella Awards and This is True are co-reg, but not Heroic and Stella. Is that a strategic decision?

Randy Cassingham: TRUE is the only one with a pop-up, but I feel it's pretty utilitarian -- I have only had one or two complaints about it being there, and that's fairly amazing considering many hundreds of thousands of people have seen it. I think that's because it helps people accomplish what they came for (to subscribe) -- and it's ONLY on the index page, not on any inside page which indicates they're looking for something specific.

Also, it has a "close and leave me alone" option that sets a cookie to keep it from popping up again -- and that's set automatically if you use the pop-up to subscribe.

The result: even though it's a dreaded pop-up, virtually everyone sees it as helpful because I'm careful NOT to shove it in their face. It's the #1 spot people use to subscribe to TRUE.

HS doesn't have a pop-up because the people that come to the site are very different: they tend to be a little less 'net savvy, and in search of a more gentle form of entertainment, so I want to stay out of their face even more. I may add one to Stella later as I do more work to develop that site.

As for co-reg, TRUE and Stella are very simpatico, so once I finish with setting things up they'll co-promote very strongly. In keeping with HS's style, HS promos will be a bit more low-key -- it's mentioned in the "thank you for subscribing" page you get after entering your address. (That screen also tells them about the confirmation message that's now on the way to their inbox; I use double-opt-in for ALL subscriptions.)

JR: What is your best source of newsletter subscribers? What are some other methods that have been successful? (Cross-promoting among all your newsletters, co-registration using an outside service, seeking publicity, submitting to list-announcement services, off-list promotion from your books, etc.)

RC: The best, by far, is a good newspaper or magazine article in a BIG circulation publication -- or a widely watched TV show. I'd wash Jay Leno's car with my underwear to be on his show.

Naturally, and not coincidentally, all of these things are VERY hard to get.

Of the other things you mentioned, I'd say NONE of them are "best," or even all that great. But they all have their place. Cross-promo is important, not just among the newsletters you own but with other newsletters too. I do swap ads with zines with similar distribution sizes, but there just aren't all that many of them!

All the things you mention are useful and are just part of a puzzle with many pieces.

JR: What has absolutely NOT worked for you?

RC: Press releases. Even though I've been pretty clever with them, they haven't been worth the effort. I didn't even try one for years, since the press was coming to me just to have something to write about, but once that dried up I tried to stimulate some coverage -- but I don't think the releases I've done has led to any coverage at all.

JR: What else do you suggest for publishers who want to beef up their promotions or subscriber sign-ups?

RC: It's so obvious most don't think of it, but it's critical: offer quality. Not just good (and preferably unique) content, but spelling and grammar count! Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, but most of the stuff I read is rife with misspellings, typos, and plainly wrong information.

Your readers, especially the ones you care about, DO notice errors, and they're delighted when they don't find them, or find ONE and realize that hey, that's unusual for you! Poor writing means a lack of professionalism, and unless that's a plus for your niche it leads to a lack of respect from your readers.

I like using the right word for a concept, even if it means some of my readers have to get out a dictionary; that shows I respect THEIR intelligence. This is, again, a long-term concept, but as I said earlier, list-building IS a long-term project. It's very powerful -- and widely ignored, and one big reason so many lists fail.

If you need help, take some classes! Basic journalism and reporting is probably more helpful than English, since the entire focus there is getting to the point with accuracy.

Randy's newsletter sites:
This Is True:
The TRUE Stella Awards:

Read Randy's anti-spam expository:

Ezine-Tips for September 19, 2002

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