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Book review

Poor Richard's E-mail Publishing, Chris Pirillo

Top Floor Publishing, 1999, ISBN 0966103254. Order from Amazon or Order directly from the publisher.

Cover image of Poor Richard's E-mail PublishingReviewed by Jean Hollis Weber

Top Floor Publishing had done it again, publishing a book just in time to help me do something I was planning to do anyway, and explaining what I need to know in terms that I can understand easily. I felt confident in following the instructions in this book because it's written by people who are successfully doing what they're writing about.

This book covers e-mail newsletters, discussion groups and similar marketing and communication tools. The author, Chris Pirillo, is the publisher of the extremely successful Lockergnome newsletter, which provides tips on Windows 95, 98 and NT, is published weekly, and grew from very modest beginnings to a huge mailing list over a few years. He definitely knows what he's talking about.

After a brief description of common e-mail publishing concepts and some Internet etiquette, Pirillo discusses the advantages of e-mail publishing, why to choose a plain-text or HTML publishing format, how to communicate without spamming, how a website might fit into your newsletter plans (but isn't essential), publishing tips, running a discussion group, promoting your newsletter, and making money from your mailing list.

Along the way he emphasises the importance of content, of having something to say that people will want to read, and of writing in a way that subscribers find easy and interesting to read. He mentions that if your writing isn't that great -- or even if it is -- you should have someone else read (if not edit) your work before publishing it.

He also covers some technical issues like configuring a domain's e-mail account, subscription management, choosing list management software, finding a list server that meets your needs, and working with text and HTML newsletters.

A large section of the book is devoted to real-life publishers' stories, which serve as inspiration and sources of good ideas and cautionary tales, while emphasising some truths that too many (mostly unsuccessful) e-mail and web publishers ignore: the secret to success is to focus on the end-user; learn to write, spell and punctuate, and have someone check your work; have something to say; provide great customer service (answer questions promptly, courteously and accurately); and so on. You and I don't need to be told this, of course, but our clients might.

The publishers talk about their goals, how their newsletters got started, how they advertised (lots of good tips there), some of the mistakes they made (including trying to do everything themselves and not being prepared when their mailing lists got large, then larger), how they make money with the help of their newsletters, and the relationship between their newsletters and their websites.

Appendixes include mailing-list service providers, mailing-list software (not necessary if your service provider handles your list), online electronic publishing resources (including places to register your newsletter, similar to places you register websites), and e-mail programs and tools. Finally, there's an index.

I recommend this book to anyone considering publishing an e-mail newsletter or looking for a new way to use the Internet to promote a website or a business.

For more information, a table of contents, sample chapters, and other reviews, see