SHAREWARE AUTHOR ETIQUETTE
There are thousands of shareware authors, but only a few make a decent living from registration fees. In conversations with the authors who don't earn much, there's a common theme—"Nobody registers!" A few have even gone public with this complaint.
The complainers are dead wrong. Just ask the authors of PC- WRITE, QMODEM, and PC-FILE, among others. These shareware authors have taken this unique marketing technique directly to the bank, earning princely incomes for their efforts.
Why the difference? It's a complex question, but this is the simple answer: Give the customers what they want and they will register.
The following shareware etiquette is based on a look at thousands of shareware programs and on comments from shareware users.
- Be innovative. Avoid duplicating the efforts of other authors. There are probably enough hard disk menuing and directory display programs.
- Make your program easy to use. Whether it's a simple command line utility or a full-blown application, it should be logical and intuitive.
- Test programs before releasing them. Give them to other users for beta testing; then fix the inevitable problems.
- Keep programs flexible. Some users lack a hard disk and others have drives up to G. If your program uses color, don't forget the millions of monochrome systems.
- Include online help for your program. Command line utilities with options should display a help screen if started with no options.
- Provide good documentation. Users who can't figure out your program won't register. Organize your manual. Put installation and setup procedures at the beginning. Long manuals should have a table of contents and an index. Finally, use a spelling checker and a grammar checker. Poor spelling and grammar don't inspire confidence.
- Don't force users to read revision history and registration pleas at the beginning of your manual. Users want manuals to tell them how to use your program—up-front.
- Make your registration fees reasonable. For a simple command line utility, $25 is too much.
- Offer incentives like printed manuals or advanced features to registered users.
- Provide registered users with online and telephone support.
- Respond quickly to users who register. Send out the registered version within 48 hours, and answer support questions promptly.
- Constantly improve your software, and make the updates available from as many sources as possible. Keep your program in the public eye.
- Listen to your users. Make suggested improvements if you can.
- Study successful shareware programs. Shareware authors who have succeeded know the right formula.
- Be patient. Shareware typically doesn't take off for several months. It takes that long for a program to get to the thousands of BBSs around the country.
- Never cripple a shareware program. Every feature in your program should be fully implemented. If the registered version offers additional features, tell the user about them in the manual. Don't disappoint users with a nonfunctioning menu entry.
- Don't annoy your customer with shareware requests. Put these at the beginning or end of the program and let the user press a key to end the display. Never interrupt the user in the middle of a program.
- Avoid interfering with your user's system. If your installation program needs to alter an AUTOEXEC.BAT or CONFIG.SYS file, inform the user and always make a backup of the original file.
- Don't use unusual keystrokes for common operations. Your users are used to pressing F1 or Alt-H to call up help screens. Why confuse them?
- Never lock a user into your program. Too many shareware games offer no exit command. Ctrl-Alt-Del is not an acceptable exit.
While this month's column is aimed at shareware authors, users make the shareware concept successful. We all benefit from the wealth of shareware software available online and from other sources. If you use shareware programs, it's time to take another look at your responsibilities. Pull out your checkbook and reward the author for his or her labors. You'll encourage that author to produce more valuable programs and help keep this unique resource healthy.
This month's hot program is Graphic Workshop 3.1. It can display or print graphics files in any of nine popular file formats, from EPS and GIF to MacPaint and TIF, and it converts between formats. It supports the LaserJet and most dot-matrix printers. It's better at what it does than most commercial competitors.
Graphic Workshop is from Alchemy Mindworks, P.O. Box 313, Markham, Ontario, L3P 3J8, Canada. You'll find it on CompuServe, GEnie, or ExecPC, with the filename GRAFWK.ZIP or GRAFWK31 .ZIP. Registration normally costs $35, but you can buy the author's novel, Coven: A Novel, for $3.95 and then send a comment about the book to receive full registered status. The book, by Steven William Rimmer, is published by Ballantine Books.