Ask your reader’s questions, says Donald Murray

Tuesday, Jul. 29th 2014

When you write, ask the questions your readers want answered, as journalist Donald M. Murray suggests in Writing to Deadline: The Journalist at Work.Writing to Deadline by Donald Murray

Murray found that the most important questions

…were not the questions I wanted to ask or even the questions my editor told me to ask. They were the questions that the reader would ask and if I did not answer them the reader would be unsatisfied.

For example, let’s assume you’re writing about education savings accounts. As a financial professional, you may be fascinated by the gritty details of each account time, the exceptions to the account rules, or how the accounts can help you with a specific client in an unusual situation.

Your questions will differ from those of your readers. They may ask the following questions:

  • What are the “big picture” differences between account types?
  • Which account is right for me and my family?
  • Are there any pitfalls I should understand?
  • How do I start an account?

Murray suggests that writers should seek to identify five key questions from the reader’s perspective. Sometimes, he admits, you’ll end up with fewer or provide the information that your that your reader seeks. The main thing is to provide information that your reader seeks.

Murray also says that “When I come to write the story, I order the questions in the sequence I think the reader will ask them.” This is a good tip for you, too.

As I emphasize in Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients, it’s important to understand the perspective of your target audience. When you address their concerns, you’ll deepen your connection with them.

Disclosure: If you click on the Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.


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Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Top posts from second quarter 2014

Thursday, Jul. 24th 2014

Did you miss something? Below you’ll find a list of my most popular blog posts from last quarter, as measured by Google Analytics.

Posts with a personal story often do well, as with my #1 post about my bad experience with LinkedIn, and my #10 confessions post. I noticed that my e-newsletter with the “Ouch, LinkedIn” subject line also pulled more readers than usual. Some titles and subject lines are more powerful than others.

The #2 post surprised me. I didn’t think this post would do as well as it did. I think the practicality of the “20 topics for your financial blog” appealed to many.

Posts featuring outside experts did well. They’re highlighted with red text below.

  1. Ouch, LinkedIn, why did you do that to me?
  2. 20 topics for your financial blog
  3. Top problems in asset management firms’ blog posts
  4. Blogging Q&A with advisor Lazetta Rainey Braxton
  5. Blogging Q&A with advisor Richard Rosso
  6. How to live-tweet a financial conference
  7. Three Decisions You Need to Make Before Setting Up Your New Blog <–Guest post by Elizabeth Kricfalusi
  8. Key Steps in Writing a Research Report <–Guest post by Tom Brakke
  9. Simple language helps your readers, even when they understand technical terms
  10. Confessions of a lousy writer—and 6 tips for you



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Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Tweet your quarterly investment commentary for more impact

Tuesday, Jul. 22nd 2014

“Second Quarter Market Update”—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this boring status update in my Twitter streams or on LinkedIn, man yawningFacebook, or Google+. You can attract more views, and get more people to click your links when you strengthen the status updates you share via social media. I have some tips for you.

1. Highlight your opinions, not the date

Everybody knows what quarter has just ended, but they don’t know your opinions about what drove the period’s returns or how you view the stock and bond markets’ future. This is why you should highlight your opinions with subject lines such as “3 reasons why stocks will continue to rise [LINK TO YOUR COMMENTARY].”

By the way, use a link shortener, such as bitly or the link shorteners in HootSuite, to make the best use of the limited character count available to you in status updates, especially Twitter.

2. Pose questions

People are curious. Take advantage of that by asking questions in your status updates. For example, “Which sectors are positioned to outperform for 2014? Read our views: [LINK TO YOUR COMMENTARY].”

3. Use images

Images increasingly drive social media engagement, even on Twitter. A powerful image will boost views and clicks. This may mean including two links in your tweets—one to the image and another to your commentary.

By the way, your logo or headshot photo doesn’t count as a compelling image. A graph or photo could work.

4. Link directly to your commentary

Many investment management firms force their social media readers to click twice to reach their commentary which lives on their websites as prettily formatted PDF documents. However, every time you ask readers to click, you risk losing them.

To avoid this risk, put your commentary—or at least a big chunk of the opening text on an ordinary web page.

5. Tweet more than once

Don’t expect one tweet to reach all of your target readers. Share your quarterly commentary more than once. Mix up your status updates, perhaps highlighting a key finding in one, but asking a question in another.

Your tips?

I’m curious to learn what works for you in getting readers from your social media status updates. Please join the conversation.

Image courtesy of artur84 /


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Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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How to capitalize financial acronyms

Tuesday, Jul. 15th 2014

Is it “LIBOR” or “Libor”? I’m startled by seeing the acronym for the London Interbank Offered Rate spelled with only the initial letter capitalized. I LIBOR vs. Liborbelieve that every letter of an acronym should be capitalized to communicate that the word is an acronym, a form of abbreviation created from initial letters or syllables of a term such as the London Interbank Offered Rate.

Garner’s Modern American Usage agrees that using all capitals is common in American English, but the British tend to capitalize only the first letter. Perhaps the U.K. is the origin of this practice spreading to the U.S. According to Amy Einsohn’s A Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications, many newspapers now use “Initial cap only for acronyms five letters or longer that are pronounced as words.” For example, “Nafta” or “Erisa.”

I don’t like the trend to mix the upper and lower cases in acronyms, turning LIBOR into Libor. Spelling an acronym using only upper-case letters gently reminds the reader that the term is an acronym. This is helpful, in my opinion.

To define and use parentheses or not?

Acronyms are often spelled out when first used in a document. For example, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). However, Einsohn says, “In documents addressed to scientists, technical experts, and other professional experts, acronyms that are standard in the field may usually be used without any introduction.”

In the case of LIBOR, the spelled-out term doesn’t mean much to readers. It’s useful described how LIBOR is used, for example, as a benchmark for short-term interest rates.

How do YOU spell and introduce LIBOR? Please join the conversation.


Disclosure: If you click on the Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.


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Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in writing | 4 Comments »

How to market your self-published book: Lessons from my experience

Tuesday, Jul. 8th 2014

Your self-published book won’t sell itself. In my opinion, writing and publishing your book is only half the battle. It’s equally important to inform book cover: Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clientspeople about your book and its benefits for them. I used nine techniques to promote my book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

1. Plan ahead

I started planning my book’s marketing campaign when I thought my book’s publication was a few months in the future. In fact, due to glitches, my book was published more than a year later. The extra time helped me to prepare better, although I probably could have limped through my book launch with a shorter preparatory period.

One of the best things I did for my book marketing was signing up for my friend Sandy Beckwith’s book PR class, “Book Marketing 101 for Self Published Authors” class. Sandy also offers a class for authors who go with a traditional publisher. She also offers a self-paced, non-interactive version of her class instead of the more demanding, interactive version. I opted for the demanding version with homework assignments because I wanted the discipline of deadlines and the benefit of feedback on my assignments from Sandy and my fellow students.

Sandy’s class yielded the following written pieces:

  • Analysis of my book’s audience
  • Press release announcing my book’s publication
  • Press release in the form of a tip sheet
  • List of potential hosts and topics for a virtual book tour
  • Action plan for PR

By the end of the class, I had a roadmap for marketing my book.

By the way, if you prefer books or newsletters to classes, check out Sandy’s Build Book Buzz Publicity Forms & Templates and her free Build Book Buzz e-newsletter.

2. Solicit and highlight recommendations

Testimonials help to sell books. People are more likely to buy books recommended by people whom they trust. As soon as I had a close-to-final version of my text, I asked people for feedback on my manuscript. I also requested testimonials for use in my marketing, but only if they felt comfortable endorsing the book. I was delighted by the generosity of the responses I received.

Testimonials don’t help if no one reads them. By my publication date, I’d shared them in the following places:

  • Inside my book, where a page of testimonials follows my title page
  • On the book’s cover and back page
  • On a book testimonials page on my website
  • In promotional emails

3. Use email

I relied heavily on my e-newsletters to publicize my book. After all, the folks who volunteered to receive emails from me were likely to make up a high percentage of my book’s first buyers.

Here are some of the steps I’ve taken since starting my book:

  • Mentioning my forthcoming book in my monthly e-newsletter and Weekly Tips
  • Creating a new newsletter list for people who wanted to be notified once my book was published
  • Sending a special book publication announcement, including a limited-time discount code for $15 off the price of the PDF or paperback versions of my book.
  • Mentioning news about my book in the body of my newsletter
  • Including book testimonials and purchase links at the bottom of my newsletter

These steps built awareness and drove sales of my book.

Another email-related tip: Include a link to your book in your email signature.Here’s what mine looks like:

Susan's signature with book link


4. Create your virtual book tour

Unlike a traditional book tour, where the author must trudge from one bricksandmortar bookstore to the next, a virtual book tour happens on the Internet, as the author makes guest appearance on different blogs to introduce your book to new audiences. If you make multiple appearances in a short period of time, it can create momentum for your book.

Here are the main steps for running your virtual book tour.

    1. Identify blogs read by members of your target audience. Find contact information and any guest post submission guidelines  provided by the blogger. Make notes about why you like each blog and what guest post topics might be appropriate. You’ll use this information when you contact the blogger. By the way, you should also mention on social media that you’re seeking hosts. I found a couple of good blogs that way.
    2. Write guests posts in advance. If you’re like me and can’t face spewing out a lot of blog posts at the last minute, then start stockpiling your guest posts in advance. This took pressure off me during my hectic book launch. I think my hosts appreciated that I proposed specific topics instead of burdening them with idea generation. Also, advance production allowed me to have most of my virtual book tour’s guest posts professionally proofread. I didn’t want embarrassing typos to mar my tour.
    3. Contact blogs about your virtual book tour. One to two months prior to my tour, I emailed my potential hosts. I explained the concept of a “virtual book tour” and suggested a guest post topic or blog post “reprint” for them. To entice them, I also mentioned that I’d publicize my guest appearances via my website and social media. In addition, I told them I’d  like them to include an image of my book cover, along with a bio containing a link to my book’s sales page.
    4. Give your hosts what they need. After a host says, “yes,” ask them what they need from you and by what date. I created a standard email reminding them of our target publication date–—I was trying to visit one blog/day for one month-—  along with a Microsoft Word file of my guest post with bio, book cover image, and my headshot photo, in case they could use that in addition to my book cover. I was surprised by how many of my hosts said I could send materials as little as a couple days ahead of the publication date. I tried to send the materials at least one week in advance, in case of problems.
    5. Publicize your guest posts. To maximize the reach of your book tour, share links to your guest posts via social media and other methods. If you tweet them it’s courteous to include your host’s Twitter name to improve their exposure. The same goes for other forms of social media that allow you to create clickable links to names. I also posted links to my virtual book tour on a virtual book tour page on my website, my blog, and in my e-newsletters.

5. Write and distribute press releases

I wrote two releases-—one was a standard “A new book is available” release, and the other was a tip sheet, “Top Tips for Creating Financial Blogs That Attract Clients.” I sent the first release to a select list of reporters, in addition to distributing it via PRWeb. I can’t attribute any positive results to these two releases. However, writing them helped me to clarify my thoughts about how to better discuss my book in other places. I imagine that I’d have achieved better results if I’d worked with a PR professional on distributing the releases and developing pitches for reporters. In fact, many months later, I’ve been much more successful in approaching reporters individually, with pitches tailored to them.

6. Use social media

Use all of your social media channels to inform people about your book, but don’t let your book overwhelm your social media updates. Following my book’s publication, I focused on letting people know about my limited-time $15 discount and linking to my virtual book tour posts, which demonstrated my ability to deliver content that helps financial professionals. I also continued to share other people’s content that I found interesting. I used HootSuite to schedule many of my promotional status updates. This helped me to space out my promotional content so it didn’t overwhelm.

7. Use your purchase confirmation emails

Your marketing shouldn’t end once you make your sale, especially not if you can send messages to your book buyers. While I can’t access the buyers of my paperback, the buyers of the PDF version receive an auto-generated confirmation email that I customized. I included click-to-tweet messages to share their purchases with their social media network. I’m also capturing emails for a book buyers email list that I’ll use rarely. So far, I’ve used it for one message that tells buyers about bonus content and asks them to review the book on Amazon and LinkedIn if they enjoyed it. (Alas, LinkedIn later eliminated the page where I collected book testimonials, as I described in this post about LinkedIn.)

8. Tap the power of Amazon

Don’t underestimate the power of Amazon, as I did initially. I’d thought that most of my book sales would come from people who already knew me and who’d click to buy the PDF version of my book through E-junkie or the paperback version through my CreateSpace store. In fact, people quickly discovered me via Amazon. My book received its first review in a print publication thanks to an editor who searched on “blogging” on Amazon. Once my book’s introductory discount code expired, sales started shifting to Amazon.

An Amazon listing and reviews on Amazon carry clout. Justified or not, a book seems more legitimate when it’s listed on Amazon. Buyer reviews may make the difference between an individual’s browsing or buying.

Here’s what I suggest to take advantage of Amazon’s potential.

Here are the steps you can take to exploit Amazon.

  1.  Sell your book through Amazon. Luckily for me, the paperback version of my book was automatically made available through Amazon because I published it through CreateSpace, an Amazon company. Amazon provides instructions on how to sell your printed book through its website. It also offers instructions for Kindle e-books. Unfortunately, Amazon won’t sell books published in the PDF format.
  2. Inform readers how they can post reviews. It’s tacky—and a violation of your agreement with Amazon—to solicit phony positive reviews. However, you should let your fans know that they can post reviews on Amazon, even if they didn’t buy your book there. I believe the only requirement is that the reviewer be logged into an Amazon account from which they’ve made a purchase within a certain amount of time—I believe it’s 90 days.
  3. Set up your Amazon Author Page. Amazon offers you an Author Page, where you can provide information about yourself and publications that you’ve made available through Amazon. In most cases, this is information that you can enter at the time of publication. One exception: Amazon lets you load short excerpts from other people’s reviews of your book. As your book adds reviews, it’s worthwhile to expand this section until it is maxed out. To keep your page from becoming static, take advantage of the ability to send your blog posts and tweets to your page.

If someone contacts me with a positive comment after reading my book, I’ll ask that person to leave a review from Amazon. Aside from that, I don’t ask specific people for reviews.

9. Solicit book reviewsor other coverage

Book reviews sell books. I’ve noticed little spikes in my sales around the dates of book reviews, especially when Janet Mangano reviewed my book on the CFA Institute’s Enterprising Investor blog.

Your best bet is to target publications and websites that regularly run book reviews. They’ll be the easiest to interest in your book. I’ve used a twist on offering my book for review. I’ve asked, “Would you like to review my book or write about some of the tips in my book?” This broadens the range of publications that may highlight your book. You can also offer to let the publication run an excerpt from your book.

Try something that I’ve skipped

I haven’t used every means possible to promote my book. I’ve listed some of these methods below.

  • Book launch party or book signing–—try this if you have the budget and the means to gather a good group. I’ve also seen people run paid events with two prices, one for the event only and the other for the event plus the book.
  • Paid advertisementsI’ve heard of authors who’ve had some success using targeted Facebook ads. There are many options for you to consider.
  • Affiliate sales–—with affiliate sales, you pay a prearranged percentage of your sales price to the person whose affiliate link was the source of your sale. I’ve considered using this technique because E-junkie offers the capability to track such transactions. However, I done much with it yet. A twist on this technique is to sell through online marketplaces other than Amazon. Of course, they’ll also expect to receive a percentage of your sales as compensation.
  • Giveaways or contests—I’ve stayed away from these because I think they’re more trouble than they’re worth unless you run your giveaway or contest through a website that’s heavily trafficked by members of your target audience. It’s embarrassing to see a contest or giveaway with only a few people vying for the prize.
  • Events related to your book—-podcasts, radio shows, talks, webinars and the like are all potentially powerful promotional techniques. People are more likely to buy once they’ve sampled your wares. At events unrelated to my book, I bring my book postcard to use instead of my business card. It’s a conversation starter.

Other techniques suggested by expertsthere are scads of book promotion experts who can give you ideas. I’ve already mentioned Sandy Beckwith. D’vorah Lansky of Book Marketing Made Easy is another whom I like.

Start planning now!

If you have a book in production, it’s not too soon to start planning your marketing campaign. Get started now!

Disclosure: If you click on the links to Sandy Beckwith’s products in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to classes and books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.


Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in marketing | 6 Comments »

It’s wrong to be right

Tuesday, Jul. 1st 2014

Writers, sometimes it’s wrong for you to write in a way that’s technically correct.

Here’s how Claire Kehrwald Cook explains this phenomenon in Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing:

Idiom, the normal pattern of the language, sometimes runs counter to both grammar and logic, but it must prevail. A construction that sounds wrong to the educated ear works against you, even though it’s arguably correct.

In other words, if a sentence is correct, but sounds funny, consider rewriting it so you don’t distract your reader.

For example, Winston Churchill is reported to have said, “This is the sort of pedantry up with which I will not put.” He didn’t believe in mindlessly refusing to put a preposition at the end of a sentence.


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5 proofreading tips for quarterly investment reports

Tuesday, Jun. 24th 2014

Proofreading quarterly investment communications stresses people. Tight deadlines and client demands add to the pressures on a small department. However, creating checklists and processes will ease the strain. I have some suggestions to help you be accurate and avoid stylistic inconsistencies and typos.

This post started as a response to the tweet you see here.Tweet asking about proofing

1. Create checklists for data

There’s nothing worse than sending out a third-quarter report that’s labeled as a second-quarter report. This almost happened to me early in my days as a director of investment communications. That near miss inspired my love of checklists.

When writing quarterly communications, create a list of data that must be updated. This is especially important if you start writing in a quarterly template document that holds the last quarter’s data.

Another way that I manage this when updating documents with previous-quarter data is to turn on Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” feature. I know that most of the document should turn red with changes before I “accept all changes” and start proofreading.

A variation of this data checklist is a list of common errors that you review just before you hit “send” on your document.

2. Create a style guide

Typos, poor punctuation, and stylistic inconsistencies are more likely when you lack a style guide. You can adopt a standard style guide, such as the Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style. However, you still benefit from a style guide specific to your company. Your guide will cover issues those guides avoid, such as how to spell the plural of “Treasury” or whether a portfolio is overweight “in” or “to” a sector.

3. Use technology that identifies weaknesses

Your word processing software’s grammar and spell checker isn’t perfect, but it’s still worthwhile. I supplement mine with PerfectIt software, which checks for consistency in your usage. A free version is available as the Consistency Checker.

There’s also software that will help you to identify larger issues of style and grammar. Hemingway is a free app that assesses the difficulty level of your sentences and suggests some ways to improve them. I thank Bill Winterberg of FPPad for pointing me to “hOw wE eDiT wRiTTeN cOnTenT,” Alyce Currier’s article on Wistia  that introduced me to Hemingway. Grammarly is another option, but I haven’t tried it.

4. Read your work out loud—or get software to read it

When you do heavy editing, it’s hard for you to see the typos and other weaknesses in your work. That’s why I use Adobe Acrobat Pro to read out loud, as I described in “Why I love Adobe Acrobat Pro for proofreading.” I can hear problems that I can’t see.

5. Use a fresh pair of eyes

In an ideal world, a professional proofreader will review your work. That happens at some of my larger clients. When my client agreement permits, I often hire an outside proofreader to review the first complete draft. A pro who knows the industry will do the best job but any set of competent fresh eyes is likely to help.

If you lack the luxury of outside help, see if a colleague can review your work. Or, leave your work overnight—or at least for an hour—before you review it with fresh eyes.

More resources

For more proofreading tips, check out “Six ways to stop sending emails with errors.” You can test your proofreading skills weekly with Mistake Monday.  Check the Investment Writing Facebook page on Monday mornings.

Six ways to stop sending emails with errors
Six ways to stop sending emails with errors


Do you have tips for proofreading? Please join the conversation.


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Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

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Wonder if people read your LinkedIn status updates?

Thursday, Jun. 19th 2014

If you’re like me, you sometimes wonder, “Is anyone reading what I post to LinkedIn or other social media?” I believe they are, for reasons I discuss 780 LinkedIn viewsbelow. I also have some tips to boost your readership.

I’m fortunate that people sometimes “like,” comment on, or share my social media updates (Thank you very much, if you’re one of those folks!) However, plenty of my status updates go without any explicit recognition.

However, that doesn’t mean that my updates—or yours—go unnoticed. People don’t acknowledge your updates for a variety of reasons, even if they read and enjoy your updates. For example, they may:

  • Be too busy to take any action beyond reading your update and clicking on your link
  • Not realize that clicking “like,” commenting, and sharing are a valuable part of social media culture—your connections probably include plenty of social media newbies
  • Be scared of getting in trouble with the compliance department—they may be especially wary of appearing to endorse financial advice

Ironically, it takes meeting with people face-to-face for me to understand the power of social media. At one of the last events that I attended in person, I said “hello” to a woman whom I hadn’t seen or corresponded within more than five years. I thought she might not remember me. Instead she responded to my greeting with “I love what you post on LinkedIn!” Wow, that gave me a jolt of positive energy. You may have similarly enthusiastic yet silent readers.

3 ways to discover whether people are reading

If you’d like to know for sure that somebody—anybody—is reading your updates, here are some techniques you can try.

1. Use your updates to pose questions

Ask a simple question in your social media updates to make it easy for people to engage with you. Simple doesn’t have to mean a yes/no question. It could be something like “What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about saving for your children’s college education?”

2. Ask people if they’re reading.

You can use a poll on your blog, e-newsletter, or other location to ask your clients, colleagues, and other connections if they’re enjoying what you share on social media. You can also ask how you can improve.

3. Use tracking links.

Some of the links you share via social media can provide statistics that tell you how people have clicked on them. Check out or the link shorteners in HootSuite or Buffer for more information. Also, LinkedIn has a built-in measurement tool that’s shown in the image above of “Who’s Viewed Your Updates.” You can click on the arrows in the upper right-hand corner of your box to see that statistics on other updates that you’ve posted.

3 reasons no one reads your status updates

If your statistics disappoint you, it may because you’re making one of the following common mistakes.

1. Your updates are all about you.

Your connections don’t want to read a steady flow of self-promotional updates. Focus on content that helps your target audience. You’ll earn their interest.

2. You don’t post often enough.

Most members of your potential readership don’t spend all day scouring the Internet for your updates. You must post regularly to catch them online. The ideal frequency varies by social media channel and individual preferences. For example, people expect more frequent status updates on Twitter than on LinkedIn. In an informal poll on LinkedIn, respondents suggested that posting up to four times a day—with breaks between your updates—is ideal.

3. Your status updates are poorly written.

Have you seen status updates that consist solely of a website address? That’s an extreme example of an unappealing status update. Another example is simply posting “July newsletter” plus a link. When you share links, it’s for better to offer an enticement, such as “3 tips to save on taxes.”

What’s YOUR experience?

What kind of feedback do you get on your social media updates? What’s working for you? I enjoy learning from you.


Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in LinkedIn, social media | No Comments »

Key Steps in Writing a Research Report

Thursday, Jun. 19th 2014

Securities analysts want to write better. I know this from conversations and the fact that “Writing resources for equity research analysts” is one of my most popular blog posts. I’m delighted to share tips for writing securities research reports from Tom Brakke, author of Letters to a Young Analyst. Many of Tom’s suggestions apply to other forms of writing. For example, “Don’t try to tell them everything you know.”

Key Steps in Writing a Research Report
By Tom Brakke, CFA

Tom Brakke, CFA“How do I write a good research report?”

There are many kinds of answers to that question, starting with this one: Good writers produce good research reports. The basics matter: a strong narrative structure, clear sentences, and compelling content can make a research report better, just as is the case with other forms of writing.

Taking a wider view, I think the responsibilities of investment professionals can be viewed as a combination of analysis plus communication. Throughout my years in the industry, I have observed that far too little attention is paid to the second half of that formula.

Therefore, the need for effective communications is a persistent theme in my book, Letters to a Young Analyst (which includes advice and commentary from me and a number of veteran investors, plus an extensive collection of resources). Most professionals – and most organizations – underestimate the power that comes from the proper delivery of an idea; they think that a good idea will naturally thrive on its own merits.

To stand out, you should care about and focus on the quality of your communications, whether they are verbal or written (and whether they are brief or encyclopedic). That pays dividends over time.

Of course, you have to work within the norms and templates of your organization. That can constrain your ability to communicate as well as you otherwise could. For example, look at the range of reports from sell-side firms. They are remarkably alike one to another and a great many are fill-in-the-blank exercises rather than sound communications tools.

Whatever the constraints within which you are operating, a few simple reminders can be very important (as I explained in greater depth on Quora):

Know your audience.

Don’t do what everyone else is doing. If you’re going to add value, your content needs to be different and, optimally, your presentation of it should be too.

Don’t try to tell them everything you know. Most analysts get tripped up here. Usually there are two or three things that matter. And sometimes one chart can tell the essence of a story.

Let them understand the “how” of what you have done. The narrative of your analytical approach can be very persuasive.

Put your unique conclusions in the context of the prevailing opinions on the stock. Plus, you don’t need to reiterate what everyone knows.

Use images. And, please, use good ones. I’m aghast at the poor quality of charts and tables in most research reports.

A helpful set of steps for communicating stock recommendations comes from Jim Valentine, the author of Best Practices for Equity Research Analysts. (In my review, I called it “the book on equity research.”) His guidance for clients includes three steps:

Ensure the content has value. Valentine uses his ENTER™ framework as a guide: The information should be Expectational, Novel, Thorough, Examinable, and Revealing.

Utilize the optimal channel. There are so many ways to communicate your messages. Consider which (or which combination) will be most effective.

Ensure the message has value. This is his ADViCE™ framework. Aware, Differentiated, Validated, Conclusion-oriented, and Easy-to-consume.

Finally, be yourself. A unique voice is more valuable than a common one.


Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in writing | No Comments »

How to price your self-published book—lessons from my experience

Tuesday, Jun. 17th 2014

How much should you charge for your self-published book? That’s one of the many questions I agonized over during the production of Book call-to-action boxFinancial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients. In this blog post, I share suggestions from my experience. I don’t have all the answers, I don’t know if I priced my book correctly. However, I’ll give you food for thought.

1. Consider your costs

There are three sets of costs that you should consider in pricing your book. They include the costs of:

    1. Producing an electronic file of your book that’s ready for distribution—think about whether you need to recover the costs of writing, editing, formatting, and marketing your book. These can run thousands of dollars, as I discussed earlier.
    2. Producing each individual book—if you’re selling printed books, there’s a cost associated with printing each volume. You’ll also incur shipping costs if you sell from your personal stock. If you sell e-books, there are no printing or shipping costs.
    3. Selling through different distribution channels—I’ll illustrate the costs using my three channels.

Amazon is one of my three distribution channels. I earn the least when I sell paperbacks through Amazon, which is why I priced my paperback higher than the PDF. Amazon pays royalties of 60%, according to this explanation of royalties on its CreateSpace unit’s website. It also deducts a fee for the cost of producing each paperback through its CreateSpace subsidiary. I fare a little better if you make your Amazon purchase through my Amazon affiliate link because I’ll earn a small commission on your purchase.

If you buy your paperback through my CreateSpace store instead of Amazon I earn a higher royalty of 80%.

The fees associated with my book’s PDF version differ from the paperback. I pay a monthly $5 fee to E-junkie, the provider of my online shopping cart. I also incur PayPal fees of about 3% on each transaction.

2. Think about why you’re publishing 

Your reasons for publishing a book should influence your pricing. Why did you write a book? If you’ve written a book with best–seller potential, with the goal of boosting your already-hefty speaking or consulting fees, you’ll probably price your book low. Selling lots of books—and generating buzz about your expertise—will enhance the demand for your services. On a related note, I’ve seen people like Guy Kawasaki, the author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book, offer limited-time free giveaways of their e-books. Tactics like this may also boost a book’s sales ranking in its Amazon category, which can help it attract more buyers.

If you’d like to maximize your income from your book, it’s not as easy to suggest what part of the price spectrum your book should target. To oversimplify, would you rather sell one book at a price of $300 or 1,000 books at a price of $3 apiece?

3. Consider your genre and format

Your book’s genre and format matter. If I’d published a novel in the Kindle format, I probably would have priced it at $2.99. That seemed to be the going rate for Kindle novels.

To provide context for your pricing decision, look at how comparable books are priced. It’s easy to do research on Amazon. As a point of reference, textbooks with limited print runs can run $40-$100. That range became a touchstone for me.

4. Consider your book’s value to readers

I struggled with this point. My book captured all of the content in my five-lesson class for financial advisors, “How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read”—a class that advisors had paid as much as $600 to take. In fact, the book offered additional content, too. I really wanted to price the book relative to my class. After all, I would sacrifice teaching income once the book took the place of the class. (Yes, I know I can still offer a class, but I’m struggling with how to structure and price it.)

I spoke with some consultants who’ve sold so-called “information products” to advisors. They thought that I could succeed with a volume priced around$200 and sold from a web page emphasizing the book’s practical worksheets and checklists. That was mighty tempting.

However, I received a shock when I implemented this blog post’s fifth suggestion.

5. Ask your potential readers

I’m a big fan of crowdsourcing by asking my colleagues, friends, and followers for advice. I sent some emails asking, “How much would you be willing to pay for this book?” Folks came back to me with a range of $9.99-$39. One noted that Technology Tools for Today’s High-Margin Practice: How Client-Centered Financial Advisors Can Cut Paperwork, Overhead, and Wasted Hours sold well with a list price of $60, although the hardcover was discounted to $39.01 on Amazon when I checked.

I was struck by a friend’s comment that advisors won’t think about the cost of your class when they see your book’s price. If you price it at $199, they’ll just suffer from sticker shock, he said. This was a valuable reality check for me. However, I also remembered what I’d learned in a class taught by small business coach Karyn Greenstreet. People tend to understate how much they’ll pay for your products and services.

6. Pick a price, any price

I ultimately priced my book at $39 for the PDF and $49 for the print-on-demand paperback. For the first month after publication, I provided a discount code for $15 off the list price on the PDF or paperback (but only when sold through my CreateSpace store because I don’t control the price on

While I agonized over the price, I took comfort in my friends’ advice. They said, if your pricing doesn’t work, you can change it, so don’t worry!

Did I make the right decision?

My biggest fear was that no one would buy my book. I was relieved when the first few books sold. I was excited when my sales broke into double digits and then exceeded 100 volumes.

Ultimately, I’m glad that I’ve given my book a broader audience by skipping a three-digit price in favor of a more accessible, but still premium price.

If you’d like to learn more about my adventures in self-publishing my book, check out the following posts:

Good luck with your pricing decisions!

Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers. I am also in the process of becoming an E-junkie affiliate because it’s a service that I use successfully.


Learn to write better! Hire Susan to critique your writing or buy Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

Copyright 2014 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

This content may not be reposted without the author’s written permission.

Posted by Susan Weiner, CFA | in marketing | No Comments »