How to Write a Product Newsletter That Will Get Raves

Distilling what people have written over the years about why they liked our newsletters, here’s my advice on how to write a successful company newsletter:

You first need to decide: is your newsletter only about selling things, or is it about building relationships with customers and a sense of community among them? Obviously, I favor the latter approach, and believe it’s a more effective sales tool than a purely commercial newsletter. Assuming you agree with me, the points below follow naturally.

The bulk of every edition has to be something other than a blatant sales pitch – most of your readers are not ready to open their wallets every time they open a newsletter. Give people information they value, and they will think of you kindly – and will remember you when they are ready to buy.

This doesn’t mean that you have to have a feature article in every edition – that’s nice to do, but can get expensive. But there’s likely other information that will be of interest, e.g. (in the case of software) announcements of new updates available, or useful new pages on your website.

The information you publish doesn’t have to be only about your own products. In the Roxio newsletters I published two articles on “Choosing a Digital Camera”. Digital cameras are related to CD-R only in the sense that people who own one likely own (or are thinking of buying) the other, and digital camera owners find CD-R a great way to store and share pictures. Nonetheless, these were among the most popular articles I ever published. Other popular articles had little or nothing to do with the day-to-day use of our software, e.g. Bob Starrett’s “The History of CD-R”.

Avoid publishing the usual corporate stuff (press releases about a new executive); unless you’re running a newsletter for investors, most of your subscribers are not interested. If you must, give a headline, a URL, and maybe the first few lines.

Tell your readers how your product will improve their lives, by letting them do things they couldn’t before, and have more fun. If you have lots to say on this topic, the product will sell itself. (Kathy Sierra later became my guru on creating passionate users.)

Don’t just tell them how to do it, but also why to do it.

Own and display a sense of humor in your writing. (Sorry, I don’t have any quick tips on how to grow a sense of humor!)

Keep the style informal, friendly, and warm. Pretend you’re “an old friend, who has some helpful tips to pass on.” However, stay on point – people like an informal tone, but they don’t want to read long rambles about what you ate for lunch or did last weekend (unless you’re a restaurant critic or travel writer).

Make sure that every email is signed by a real person, that the reply-to address actually goes to that person, and that she or he is willing and able to answer every subscriber who replies. Yes, answering every response will take a lot of time (I used to receive and respond to 400 emails for every newsletter sent out). But it’s a critical step: it lets people know that the company really is listening.

Make sure the rest of your subscribers also know that you’re listening. When you hear from a subscriber expanding, correcting, or asking for more information about a newsletter article, mention this in the next edition: “So-and-so asked for clarification on… Here’s the answer.” (Caveat: Be sure you ask so-and-so’s permission before you mention their name in a newsletter! Otherwise use the generic, e.g. “a subscriber wrote to ask…”)

Hearing from subscribers in this way is also helpful to you, the writer/editor – subscribers have great ideas for future articles!


When I stopped writing the newsletters, I said goodbye. And that got some amazing reactions.

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English Not Spoken Here

At least not very well. English is taught in Italian schools from third grade on, but most people who want to learn it properly take courses outside of school and try to do a study tour in the UK or US as well.

Still, things are changing…

When I first arrived in Italy 10 years ago, all film titles were translated into Italian, with sometimes peculiar results. The first James Bond film, known in English as “Dr. No” was translated as “Licenza di Uccidere” (License to Kill). So the film distributors presumably found themselves in difficulties many years later when the English-titled License to Kill (with Timothy Dalton) was released (but I wasn’t in Italy at the time, so I don’t know what they did about that).

Almost all films are still dubbed into Italian; in Milan, you can see English-language films only in selected cinemas on certain nights of the week (one film per week). Personally I find this annoying – I like to hear the original voices. But they do it extraordinarily well. The same doppiatori (dubbing actors) tend to dub the same actors year after year, film after film, and some of them are prodigiously good – especially the guy who does Woody Allen – sounds just like him, if Woody Allen spoke Italian that well (for all I know, he may – he spends a lot of time in Venice).

What’s annoying, however, is the insistence on dubbing even the songs in musicals – it’s very difficult to translate a song so that it maintains the meter and rhyme scheme of the original, especially when it also has to maintain exact meaning in places where a song is accompanied by action. So most of these translations are abject failures.

Fortunately, this is no longer done for the few non-animated musicals that Hollywood still produces; Evita was entirely subtitled. But it’s done to all cartoon musicals, presumably because kids aren’t expected to be able to follow subtitles. So, much as I love Disney movies, I either see them in an English-speaking country, or wait til I can get them on DVD.

Dec 3, 2003

Since I wrote the above, I’ve grown less tolerant of dubbing. Perhaps I’m spoiled now by the greater availability of English-language films: at my local Blockbuster, via Amazon, via cable TV (if we had it), and occasionally even at the cinema. The few times we have seen dubbed films at the cinema recently, I’ve found them hard to follow, although I have no difficulty following Italian film or TV. I suppose the difficulty of dubbing dialog that makes sense and suits the mouth movements in the original language makes for some occasionally convoluted phrasing that is simply harder to understand. And, some of the time, half of my brain is busy wondering what the original line in English was, which distracts me from the next line.

There is a growing tendency, in Milan at least, to show some big movies in English for a week or so, I suppose for the benefit of a fairly large non-local audience. We can be confident that The Return of the King will be shown in English somewhere that we can get to it. However, it is opening in Italy far later than anywhere else in the world ­ late January! Augh!

Subscriber Comments About the Adaptec Discussion List

In response to complaints of censorship on the discussion list, Stan (a long time Adaptec/Roxio List recipient) wrote:

Adaptec/Roxio has always ‘paid the freight’ for their own, honestly identified “moderated” <news group> & openly controlled forum.

“Their” newsgroup exists as a wise, long term business decision to: 1) Cultivate real world user feed back – good & bad, 2) Demonstrate a competitive degree of dynamic, end-user help & self-help, 3) Monitor for and accept or ignore trends etc. and I assume other benefits to Roxio.

Adaptec/Roxio’s <NG> is voluntary and still cost free the last time I checked.

If one does not like the moderation/control/restriction yada, yada, yada, [insert your own catch phrase here] one remains free to go to one or more of the thousands of USENET <NG’s> to revel in unrestrained freedom to find as productive & efficient & focused CDR info resource as exists here. (Good Luck finding another Mike Richter)

1 Apr 1998 – Many thanks to Deirdre for her tireless work in moderating this forum. It is one of the few really useful tech discussions of this depth and usefulness on the Web, and much more in the spirit of the original Internet. Thanks also to Adaptec for allowing her to do this. It is the very thing that creates an image of a firm worth doing business with. Consumers are Not blind to service. I have read every digest since signing on about 2 weeks ago, and all backlog, and have found the information has in one way or another solved all my problems to date

10/31/95 – …I plan to try Easy-CD in part because I am so happy Deirdre’ is active on this list. [This referred to the now-defunct CDR-L list, a third-party list in which I was active before starting the Adaptec CD-R list.]

8/18/96 – Just wanted to shoot an email over to you thanking you for your excellent job with the “Easy-CD mailing list.” Unfortunately the Easy CD Digest now has so much volume that I no longer have time to read it, so I must regretably unsubscribe (don’t worry…I unsubscribed the correct way <g>) I guess it’s an example of too much of a good thing.

I’m writing ’cause I just wanted you to know your efforts are appreciated… and I’m sure I’ll be asking you a few questions here and there.

30 Nov 1998 – Thanks for the service you provide. Between the LIST, Mike Richter’s CD-R Primer & Andy McFadden’s CD-R FAQ I have a resource library that will soon go to a second binder. Appreciate your work, efforts, comments, and information.

10 Dec 1998 – You guys (Adaptec) make a great product and you guys (D’) run a great List!

26 Jan 1999 – It’s good to see a forum that allows discussion and also criticism/praise of a company’s products.

26 Jan 1999 – Having signed up to your list some time ago now, may I congratulate you on a splendid job well done. I was advised to read the list when I invested in a CD-RW Drive and I have managed to solve all my problems so far with the assistance of your subscribers having encountered and solved the problems before I experienced them.

13 Feb 1999 – I’ve been subscribed to your list now for a few months (and very helpful have I found it).

24 Feb 1999 – Congratulations on a great mailing list. I subscribe to many and I know what it is you go through. It is obvious that you enjoy the job, and that shows through in your “list mom” comments to your cyber-community. It is not “just a few minutes a day”, as some would suspect. It looks to me like you have a full-time job with this large list.

3 Jun 1997 – I offer this information to others because this list has helped me figure problems before they became serious problemsThank you for this forum and making it the best on the net

8 Apr 1997 – this is unique and effective. Lately it seems to me as if most software support units provide mostly PR and guidance at the hardware equivalent of finding the power switch. Here folks at least are able to get forward-going suggestions from people that have some knowledge of the problem.

1 Nov 1996 – [The list] has been a great help to many people using your software and your hardware products. The knowledge and help that contributes to this list is much greater than the sum of the participants. I, personally, have learned many things on this list and I have also contributed to helping others. The participants of this list vary widely, from home customer, business user, to vendors of devices. To me, Adaptec was becoming a very respected name, mainly for the people behind all the services you were providing.

I’m sure this list was also taking some load off your tech support people because answers could be obtained from this list. You’re also missing out on a lot of free advertising. I’d seen many suggestions to buy an Adaptec host adapter that had more capability for their applications.

If there is anything that I can do to help convince you that this list is an asset for your company, just drop me a line. [Refers to a period when the Adaptec mail servers could no longer handle the list load, but we hadn’t yet outsourced it.]

17-Feb-97 – First let me thank all of you on this list for your informative and expedient support. This has to be the best location for tech support I have found for ANYTHING. I am now happily and successfully burning many a disc

15-May-97 – you have definitely got one of the best-run lists I’ve encountered in my 14 years on the ‘net.

14-May-97 – you are providing a vital and otherwise outstanding service to the CDR community

25-Mar-97 – I have been a recipient of this forum for a few months now. Quite a service for learning and growing with this changing technology!

04-Apr-97 – Subj: D. J Parker’s “Seven Steps . . .” Article [Emedia magazine]

I found Dana J. Parker’s article, “Seven Steps to Successful CD Recording” ( April 1997, Vol 10, No 4 ) to be well written and very informative. I wish you had published it a year and a half ago when I was struggling with many of the issues she covers.

Unfortunately, she neglected to mention one of the best resources anywhere for both novice and advanced users of CDR technology. This resource is the EasyCD mailing list. ..The list is a moderated free support forum sponsored by Adaptec. Three of the experts mentioned in the article ( D. Straughan, P. Crowley, and D. Grimes ) regularly provide solutions and answer questions on the list. Representatives of Yamaha, Phillips, and Adaptec also monitor and clarify hardware related problems. I would highly recommend the EasyCD list for quick and accurate answers to basic or advanced CDR questions.

26 Jan 2000 – Man, that was nasty. I would like to thank Adrian for posting it. I goes to prove that he/Adaptec (Yes, I have had my problems with their software too) have a good list here. The fact that the previous message was posted gives me re-newed interest in the list. And just so you know, I am not an employee of Adaptec or any software or hardware company for that matter 🙂

11 Feb 1998 – The list alone is a service many firms don’t offer. It’s moderated to keep the content relevant and eliminate the spam, we’re notified whenever there’s a product upgrade available or when the website changes. Just the cost for the, ummm, ‘person-hours” to maintain the list would cause many firms to shut it down.

The End of an Era

Yesterday I said goodbye to the subscribers of the Roxio newsletters. And the email came pouring in. Sure, I’ve heard from people about the newsletters before. I always knew I was doing something right there. But (in spite of my considerable ego) I didn’t expect the warmth and kindness of some of the messages I received. Nor had I realized the extent to which I seem to have touched some people personally. Would I do this again? Yes, absolutely!

I don’t really know you, but I have the impression to know you from this tiny link. You’ve been a valued, *trusted* voice on many fronts.

I have found your writing to be “my kind of style”, very informal, sounding like it’s coming from a real living, breathing human instead of some corporate stuffed shirt in some cube somewhere.

In the short time I’ve been reading your Roxio newsletters, I’ve seen that you usually put some personal [HUMAN] touch in your work. So folks feel like there’s someone there, not just machines and programs. I like that.

Now you’re leaving Roxio and you’ve done something I’ve never seen anyone in the business sector do. You said goodbye. You didn’t just disappear. You’ve bid farewell. Lady, I appreciate that level of consideration you have extended to others. In today’s full-streaming online world, that is truly a nice little gift to receive! And I thank you for your gift.

You don’t know me, but you really has been a mentor in my World. I always thought you were some sort of gimmick to the company and that you were not real!

Like many others who have written you, I feel that your Adaptec/Roxio newsletters were much more than the typical “corporate communication”. I felt very strongly that there was a person who cared about the people on the mailing list — someone who wanted to empower them through Toast (and related technologies) to be the best that they could be. While sometimes the content was largely written by someone else, it was always useful, relevant, and clear — the hallmarks of a good editor. They were always a pleasure to receive… Not just for the information content, but because of the human face that accompanied them.

It was always good to find your newsletter in the intray – just like hearing from a old friend, who had some helpful tips to pass on. I will miss your warm and personal newsletters.

You have a very good writing style and it is this style that has kept me subscribed to the newsletters. Sorry to see you go.

Thanks for being a great support person who answered my questions perhaps before I even thought of them.

Your Adaptec/Roxio articles are among the MOST INFORMATIVE and accessible stuff I’ve read on CD-R Topics. …wonderfully chatty and friendly newsletters…

A really innovative, imaginative and charming person came through every time. I always enjoyed your e-mails and they made me a loyal customer of Adaptec/Roxio.

Your column was innovative, helpful and unique. I’ll miss your enjoyable, informative, and gracious reports. “You’re a Hard Habit to Break”

I’ve also appreciated the caring tone of your newsletters. I will miss not only your expert advice, but your clear, witty and superb writing style.

I have come to depend on your newsletters for hints, tips and a lot of humor. It’s been delightful having you as our hostess at Roxio.

Thanks to you, I went from a babbling idiot to master of all things CDR / CDRW. It was always a pleasure to read your newsletters, your personal touch made them so much more enjoyable. It made them standout and made the corporation seem a more friendly one even if it had an identity problem.

I feel as if you are a personal friend who always took time to help us discover new things with our computer-related hobby.

…it’s like losing a sister …feel obliged to you for much excellent advice, a great sense of forthright humour and a very human face, indeed.

You did something few can do on the net – you came through as a person, and friendly too.

We have enjoyed your help and friendliness. [Our workplace] won’t be the same after you are gone, it’s as though you were right here with us. We just want to say thanks for all the help and tech support. I know you don’t know us, but we all feel as though we know you.

Though we have never met, I looked forward to you regular e-mail as much as those from friends and family. I will personally miss the one on one feeling that I felt from you. You had the knack of putting a human and articulate side to the inanimate and often faceless e-mail.

I’ve enjoyed your e-mails … have had a sense of you as a ‘friend’ … Keep up your style and tone … it works.

How could you do such a thing I have only just got used to receiving e-mails from you being a new customer.

thanks for your wisdom – perky sense of humour – unflappability – and ever sincere honesty.

Thanks for being a human person that listens to the people.

Somehow Deirdre, you made friends whom you very seldom heard from. This newsletter of yours became so much part of my regular post, that maybe I’ll unsubscribe now.

I always looked forward to your news letters. I never really viewed them as Adaptec/Roxios letters but called them “Deirdre Grams”.

Just a note of applause for the info, energy you expend, and the tone or flow of the Roxio newsletter. I find it extremely informative . . . and user-friendly.

Probably what I enjoy most is your tender and gentle and loving approach. Makes me want to read and re-read it. …a warm, friendly writing style

BABY PLEASE DON’T GO

{D: …and ‘the experts’ say that email is a poor medium for communicating emotion!]

Some comments that were less emotional but nonetheless very sweet (and flattering!):
Your emails are kind of like the National Geographic magazine, you never throw them away.

You’re such a clear writer; you remind me of J.K. Rowling.

Digital Photos – Display and Storage

“WILL BAKER’S digital camera has helped solve quite a few problems around the house. Several old PC’s that Mr. Baker would otherwise have placed in deep storage have been put to work in the capacity of dynamic photo frames or, as Mr. Baker likes to put it, “picture flippers.” Mr. Baker, a 46-year-old entrepreneur, cut holes in walls throughout his house in Corona del Mar, Calif., installed monitors and used the old computers to display slide shows of the 15,000 or so digital photos he has collected. The pictures change every three seconds. The frame in the dining room generates the most conversation among family members and guests.”

Every Picture Still Tells a Story, but ‘Family Album’ Is Redefined By KATIE HAFNER, New York Times

This is an interesting idea, though of course it works better in flimsy American houses where you can easily cut holes in the walls. Even if we had any space behind our walls, cutting holes in them would involve drilling through concrete blocks and brick. So instead I’m experimenting with one of WinOnCD’s features, making slide shows that run automatically from a Video CD disc which will play in our set-top DVD player. (A great way to embarrass our daughter at parties!)

I would add a word of caution about storing the family mementos on disc: recordable CDs will not last forever. I’ve been archiving both work and personal files on CD since about 1993, so I have hundreds of discs, containing many duplicate copies of files. Every now and then I get into a housekeeping frenzy. To reduce the piles of old stuff, I recopy sets of files from CD to hard disk, consolidating the multiple copies from various backups into one final copy of each file Then I burn a new CD.

Recopying data from old discs has been a kind of ad hoc testing, with extremely mixed results. I have the uneasy feeling that recordable CDs are not reliable beyond about five years. There are many variables, such as the brand of disc, the recorder used, the recording speed, and the drive you read it back on. But it boils down to this caveat: if a digital photograph, file, or other data is really important to you, recopy it to a fresh disc once a year or so, to ensure that you don’t lose it.