Elizabeth: Newsletter Deep Dive

Last week I talked a bit about the sessions at the recent RWA conference that dealt with marketing and author promotion.  Specifically I expounded, in my curmudgeonly way, about mailing lists and newsletters.

Spoiler alert:  I’m not a fan.

It turns out, however, that I’m hardly representative of the typical romance reader.  Based on a totally unscientific poll of readers, along with some actual numerical information from the aforementioned conference sessions, readers actually do like getting newsletters from their favorite authors – go figure – and newsletters can be an effective component of your marketing plan.

I’ll talk about how to go about building up your mailing list (besides asking all of your friends and relatives to sign up) in a future post.  Today, I’m going to talk about some of the basics to keep in mind when deciding to develop/launch a newsletter.

Time check

First, and probably most important, is to decide if you realistically have the time and the interest to devote to developing a newsletter and putting it out on a regular basis.  “No” is a valid answer.  There are only so many hours in the day and balancing the time you spend wearing your writing hat against the time you spend wearing your marketing hat can be a challenge.  It may be that interacting with your readers (both current and potential) via Facebook or Twitter or some other method is more your style than sending out a newsletter.  If so, great; choose what works for you.   There is no one-size-fits-all answer.

Choose an email service provider

Once you’ve decided that you have the time and inclination to put out a newsletter, you need to figure out the mechanics of how you are going to do that.    While you could compose your newsletter in your favorite email program, you’d probably be limited in terms of the look and feel you could create.  Fortunately, there are a variety of email service providers out there to help make the process a little easier – Constant Contact, Mailchimp, and MailerLite are just a few examples.  You can do a Google search to find more details about these and other providers.   There are pros and cons to all of them, as well as various costs, and you may not have a really clear idea about the features you want until you start to develop your newsletter style and content.

Build your brand

Speaking of style and content, you want to decide how your newsletter fits in with your overall branding.   That can include deciding on things like fonts and colors, as well as the writing style you use.  If you write quirky stories, for example, you want that quirky voice to come through in your newsletter.  If you write historical stories, then maybe you want to include an interesting historical fact or historical image in your newsletter, to get your readers in the mood.  Are you positioning yourself as that “writer-next-door?”  If so, maybe you want to include some personal tidbit in each newsletter to give your readers the feeling that they’re getting to know you, rather than that you’re just out to sell them books.  One of the newsletters I enjoyed reading for a while was from Eloisa James.  In each newsletter she had “5 things” – some were related to the book she was working on, some were fun bits of information, and there was always something about her or her family – the newsletter was really quite brief, but it was fun and made it feel like there was a real connection.

Related to Build Your Brand is deciding what your goal is for putting out a newsletter.  Do you just want to keep readers informed about your upcoming books?  Are you trying to build a fan base?  Do you have information to share?  Whatever your goal is (and you may have a combination of goals), you want to make sure you have it clear in your mind before you start to develop your content.  Think of it like deciding on a genre before starting to write a book.

Make it Interactive

A newsletter doesn’t have to be a one-way street, with you providing content to your readers that they passively consume.  Including a quick poll/question (“help me choose a character name”) or periodic give-away can be a good way for your readers to interact and to stay engaged.  One author I follow asked her readers for “wedding disaster” stories and, for the one she incorporated in her next book, she gave a shout-out in the credits to the reader who submitted it.  There was no cost to the process, the writer gained something, and the reader got something too.

Consistency is Key

Simply put, if you’re going to do a newsletter, then you need to commit to actually putting out a newsletter on some kind of regular basis.  If you go several months between newsletters, then it’s very possible your readers may wander off.  Building a reader-base is like building any other kind of relationship:  it takes time and consistent effort, time and effort that you may rather spend working on your next book.

The Devil’s in the Details

Once you’ve figured out all of the details above, there are a few last things you want to make sure to do before releasing your very first newsletter out into the world:

  • Make sure you’ve grammar and spell-checked it (maybe multiple times, even better, maybe had someone else do it too).  No one wants to get a newsletter with mistakes, especially one from a writer.
  • Send a sample to your computer and to your cell-phone to make sure it is readable both ways.  The last thing you want to do is spend a lot of effort developing something that your readers can’t read or can’t read easily.
  • Consider getting feedback from some beta-readers before you do a wide-release.  It’s always helpful to have a second set of eyes (or a couple sets of eyes) take a look at what you’ve developed, at least in the beginning.  They can often spot things, or raise valid questions, that you may have overlooked.
  • If you’ve incorporate “buy” links in your newsletter, make sure they actually work.  The last thing you want is to catch a reader’s interest enough to make them want to click the link to buy your latest book, only to have the link take them to the wrong place or to not work at all.

There’s a lot more than can be said about newsletters, but hopefully the information above provides a good starting point

So, what kind of content to you like to see in author newsletters?  Do you have any favorites that you subscribe to?

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