Said to be the foundation of any marketing plan a newsletter is something all authors should have. While frequency of release is up to you (conventional wisdom is weekly but lately I’ve been struggling to even get one out monthly due to big life stuff) it is nevertheless important to have a regular release of content your readers are interested in. Here are some tips I’ve learned on my journey.
Cull your own mailing list subscriptions – I recently went on a culling spree of author newsletters from my own inbox. It was nothing personal against the other authors. My inbox was getting inundated with emails. As I primarily check my email from my phone, and I use Gmail, a lot of my “deleted emails” were getting archived instead of deleted. When I found where the archive was I had over 15,000 emails to go through. It took me hours. So, I decided to cull my subscriptions. I am a busy person with a limited amount of time – your readers will be too. Culling my own subscriptions was a time management choice.
Sidenote: most of these emails I subscribed to during promotion campaigns from BookFunnel (i.e. subscribe and get a free book). These are not all authors I’ve read yet – some I have and found their books weren’t for me. Others sent multiple emails a week, or their emails simply didn’t interest me (or were in a genre I don’t read, like alien romance). Most of the newsletters I subscribe to are not because I’ve loved a book and went looking for the author’s newsletter. Keep an eye on where your main source of subscriptions come from to get a better idea of why your subscribers are there. People coming to get a free book from a promotion might unsubscribe fairly quickly once they have their book. Subscriptions from a widget on your website are more likely to stick around because they were interested in your work.
Curate your mailing list – So how did I choose who I still wanted to be subscribed to? I chose authors whose style or content I admire, authors whose stories I loved and who I genuinely wanted to get updates from, and newsletters of some of my author friends. Author friends, apart from being friends, can be a hugely supportive network and a source of inspiration or collaboration on career moves. They can also teach you things to do or avoid (like I try to do with these articles) to help you learn how to author (and business) better. Keeping the subscriptions of bestselling authors, authors who are creating engaging content, and authors who are just downright entertaining was a choice I made to be inspiration and education for my own newsletter (think of it like learning from others on the job).
Cull your unsubscribed regularly – This is a big one. Most mail servers have limits on free subscribers and subscribers who aren’t actively supporting your art who leave make room for readers who will want to support your work. That could be by buying books, sharing links, writing reviews, joining ARC teams etc. I want subscribers to want to get my emails – not see them in their inbox weekly and delete because they have no interest, and part of that is because I don’t want to pay to market to a brick wall. I don’t recommend keeping unsubscribed readers active on your list for two reasons. Firstly they unsubscribed for a reason – if they change their mind they will re-subscribe. Secondly, it can land you in legal hot water if you continue to market to unsubscribed addresses. Europe in particular has laws against this.
Realise not every reader us going to like your book and unsubscribes are a part of the process – This is good. As mentioned in the last point, most mailing services charge you based of subscriber count. You want people who are actively interested in your content to be on your list. Your list is your way to connect with readers, market directly to them, and cultivate a relationship where they want to support you.
Fill it with 90% stuff that benefits the reader not the author – Newsletters are a delicate balance of marketing and engagement. As an author, newsletters allow us to market directly to readers who have shown interest in our work (otherwise they wouldn’t have subscribed) without the limitations of everchanging social media algorithms and paid advertising. But if your newsletter is like a junk mail flyer 100% chucking products at a customer it can be a real turn off. Create content that your target audience will enjoy and slid small advertisements of your own work in there. For example, I include a little of what I’m working on or any new releases, links to free or discounted books, reviews of books in the genre I write in and other things. If you write crime fiction you might want to include links to research articles you found on blood splatter analysis, or a high fantasy author might include links to the portfolio of an artist they found that inspired their work.
Focus your newsletter – I used to include links to these articles in my newsletter. I’ve decided to stop doing that. Most of my subscribers are coming to my newsletter for the links to free books and the book reviews. They are not necessarily authors looking for tips. There may come a time when I run a second newsletter focusing on my author services side of my business (editorial services, mentoring, these articles etc) but I’m struggling just to find time around my day job and writing schedule to do my current mailing list. Find the focus of your newsletter and cater to it.
Keep it short – Like seriously. Everyone’s busy and I can’t remember the last time I read an entire newsletter unless it was from a friend or all-time favourite writer. Mostly I just skim the contents and click the freebie links – and honestly most of your subscribers will do the same. Especially if they have a lot of authors (and therefore newsletters) in their inbox. Additionally, I read my email on my phone usually and Gmail cuts newsletters to make them shorter. If I have to click “view entire message” there’s a 95% chance I’m not going to do it. If I do click the button it’s to get to the unsubscribe link at the bottom. A shorter weekly email will serve you better both in time to create it, and in readers actually reading through it, than a newsletter jam packed with a lot of stuff. “But B!” you say, “Doesn’t packing a lot of stuff in my newsletter provide value?”
I’m going to go with a “no” on that one. I believe you’d be better off doing two short newsletters a week and splitting the content across them, than one massive email, for all the reasons above. Plus it takes away from your writing time to write a long newsletter. Of course, that’s my opinion, but longer newsletters have not worked for me as a writer or as a reader. Let me know about that promo. Tell me about your upcoming release. Hell, tell me about your dog eating your shoes (any story with dogs is going to get me to continue reading) but don’t fill your newsletter with book ad after book ad because if my eyes glaze over you’ve completely lost any chance I’m going to buy something.
Keep an eye on your stats – A lot of finding what works for you as an author, and a business, involves trial and error. I have only used MailChimp for my newsletter host, but I believe most hosting services offer statistics such as how many of your sent newsletters were opened per campaign and other relevant information. By regularly checking these you can gain valuable insights on what content your particular subscribers are interested in. Find you get more opens/clicks when you offer dog pictures? Include more dog pictures (no I’m not obsessed… okay maybe just a little). Find absolutely no one opened your newsletter titled, “The World Sucks And I Hate Editing”? Perhaps include less of your back of house anecdotes. If you’re new to having a list and you don’t know what to include, trialling a few different formats or content ideas for a few months can help you find your groove.
These are the things I’m taking forward with me on my new and improved newsletter. If you’re interested in WitchLit or Mythlit you can subscribe on my home page and get a free ebook set between the two Kingston Chronicles books. Each week you’ll get links to any promos I’m taking part in, you’ll generally get a book recommendation in the UF or PNR genre, and a quick update on what I’m working on. If you’re interested in those author services I mentioned, you can check out my offerings in the Services tab, or flick me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.