A newsletter is an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to sell something on the internet or connect with others. In fact, more small businesses and marketers are turning to newsletters to help boost their visibility online and make those all-important sales.
Why? Because it’s something that we 100 percent own and control. It’s not a flash in the pan platform that here’s one moment and gone the next.
And most importantly, newsletters let us build relationships with others, which allows us to sell more books, land publishing contracts, and form friendships with our fans.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s dive into the world of newsletters.
But first, have you signed up for my newsletter? If not, you should do so here:
It’s full of writing tips and advice, publishing opportunities, book reviews, and more. Plus, it gives you a direct look into my writing processes and sneak-peeks at what’s coming up on this blog and The Sunshine Review. You can check out our archives here to see what I have posted in the past.
What is a Newsletter?
I like definitions, so we will start with one:
Newsletter: a bulletin issued periodically to the members of a society, business, or organization.
It’s a simple definition that packs a punch when it comes to other aspects of your writing life, such as your fandom and marketing efforts. Yes, your fandom and marketing efforts.
While most of your fans will follow you on social media, you’ll also have some “super fans” that want to get as much access to you as possible (and not in a creepy way). So they’ll join your email list and interact with you there, and it’s these fans that will also buy most, if not all, of your merchandise. In other words, you get to market to them and make a decent amount of money off of them.
How Do They Help?
Aside from the marketing and money opportunities, newsletters allow you to show interested publishers that you have an audience, which is a significant factor in whether a publishing house picks your book up or not.
The thing about newsletters is they are comprised of people who already want to hear more about you and your products. You don’t have to convince them (too much) to do what you want them to do. They’re already there because they are interested.
They also allow you to make real connections with your audience. Here’s why it’s essential to build those relationships.
The longer you know someone, the more likely they will trust you. When a person trusts you, they’re more likely to do something for you, like buy your book. Because you have this relationship with them and trust you, this person will be more likely to buy more of your books or read more of your poems.
And because you’ve built these relationships up with these people who want to hear from you, then you have an easier time marketing to them. They become long-standing customers.
This is why publishers consider email lists and audiences when they debate picking up your manuscript. They want those sure sales, and I know that’s what you want too.
How to Set Up Your Newsletter
Thankfully, newsletters are pretty easy to set up. You’ll have to do some upfront work to get the look and feel you want, but once it’s templated, you’re good to go until you want to change things up again.
One of the more difficult decisions you’ll face is more about choosing your hosting platform than anything else. That is why we’ll start with the platform.
Hosting Platforms for Your Newsletter
There are so many different hosting platforms that you can use to start your newsletter (and give you a hint of their importance). So the decision paralysis is an understandable problem most of us face when presented with this many options.
The easiest way to decide which platform to use is to look for the things that will make your life easier in terms of scalability and time-saving features. If this is your first newsletter, you may not know what to look for, which is why I will give you a list of things that I think are important to watch for:
- Ease of Use. If you’re not tech-savvy, you’ll need to find a more intuitive platform that contains a drag and drop builder.
- Automation tools. Being able to send multiple emails to different groups of people with other interests is a game-changer. It saves you so much time and allows you to reach as many people as possible with only one or two emails.
- Segmentation tools. Being able to segment your audience helps you target them with personalized messages and provide them with value.
- Good analytics. You need to keep an eye on who is interested in what parts of your emails to segment people. You should also conduct A/B testing (sending slightly different emails with similar content and messages to see which does better).
If your email provider can give you those four things, you should be in good hands. If your current platform isn’t fulfilling your needs, feel free to upgrade. Your newsletter will scale, and you may outgrow what you’re currently using, so make sure you have a platform that allows you to switch over to a new platform with ease.
Hosting Platforms to Consider
Here are some of the top newsletter platforms out there:
- MailChimp is what I currently use. They’re good for dipping your feet into newsletters because you can rack up 2,000 subscribers on your list for free. After that, you’ll have to start paying them. MailChimp’s downside is that it lacks the segmentation and automation features that I’d like to incorporate into content magnets. I don’t want everyone to get funneled into one large mailing list because I can’t segment them.
- AWeber is used by many marketing professionals because it’s easy to use and has some great analytics tools. They’re free for the first 500 subscribers and then go to paid plans after that.
- ConvertKit is another popular option that I see frequently. It’s used most often by bloggers, authors, and marketers. They have many extra bells and whistles when engaging your audience, like referral badges, subscriber scoring, advanced reporting, and Facebook custom audiences. You get a 14-day free trial before paying.
- MailerLite is known for being easy to use and customize. They offer more advanced features like A/B split testing, built-in photo editing, email automation, contact list segmentation, click-map reports, and email delivery schedule. You need a paid plan for more than 1,000 subscribers.
Those are only four of many platforms that you can choose from. However, they are the four that I see the most.
Branding + Newsletters
After you choose a platform, it’s time to start thinking about branding and designing your newsletter.
Like with your website and social media accounts, you will want to consider your newsletter’s branding and look. And many things go into your branding.
I like to look at my newsletter as a more personalized extension of this blog. I use the same colors, fonts, and setup that I have here in my newsletter. The only difference is the type of content I post in my emails.
Do You Need to Name Your Newsletter?
In short, my answer is no. You don’t have to name your newsletter because having it model after your name is easy to do.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t. You definitely can! However, you’ll want to put some thought into it and think about what it means for your branding or how it’ll endear yourself to your audience.
Here are some resources to help you figure out how to name your newsletter:
- Creative Newsletter Names: 75+ Ideas and Real Examples to Inspire You
- 30+ of the best newsletter names (and how to name yours)
- How to name your newsletter (this one has a generator at the bottom)
So what do you put in your newsletter? Well, just about anything.
But if we go back to my post on author websites, we’ll come back to a critical idea of what purpose does your newsletter serve to further your business. Eventually, you want to sell your poetry or stories to a reader, and the focus should be on doing that.
However, it’s also about giving value back to your audience in some way, shape, or form. For those super fans that I mentioned earlier, this could mean discounts or flash sales geared explicitly for them. It could be contests or giveaways. Anything that gives them more access to you!
And the best thing about newsletters is that they do not have to follow traditional SEO rules, and you own them 100 percent. No one can (or should) tell you what to put into your weekly or monthly blast. While you can get more personal about what you write in your emails, I will still caution you to follow the fundamentals of good content and focus on user experience.
So make sure your newsletter is well-written and proofread, easy to skim (if necessary), and shows off your personality. And if you don’t believe me, you’ll want to check out this post by Ann Handley, which covers the top lessons that she’s learned in the past three years with her newsletter.
Must Include Links and Content
While I think that there is a lot of wiggle room here to personalize your message and create valuable content, there are a few steadfast things that you should include in your newsletter:
- A picture of yourself. People are drawn to faces and people, and because you are your brand, I think it’s a good idea to remind your followers of who you are and what you do.
- Link to your website. Where you link to on your website is up to you, but I’d seriously consider directing people to your book page (a sales page) or your homepage. Remember, your newsletter is there to help you sell books.
- Link to your social media accounts. If you can grow your audience on social media, that’s a good thing. Plus, it gives those super fans another way to connect to you.
- Add a call to action (CTA). You want to grow your reach and influence, so ask your following for something in return. This can be something simple like, “if you like this newsletter and want to support it, buy a book or pass it along to a friend.” You may not get many hits off of this, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Subject Lines and Posting Schedule Considerations
Like with blog posts, you need something that draws the reader’s attention to your email, so you’re email subject line matters. There are many best practices out there for what works and what doesn’t, but I find that it’s something you need to play around with because your list might like something else than everyone else.
The other thing you want to consider is how frequently you want to send out emails. You don’t want to post infrequently because your readership will forget that they opted-in. But you also don’t want to post too frequently and spam people.
Most of the newsletters I follow either post weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. There are a few outliers on either side, but for the most part, they follow a weekly or monthly posting schedule. Why? Because it doesn’t overwhelm someone’s inbox.
If you’re overwhelming your list with emails, they’ll question their decision to sign-up for your newsletter and unsubscribe. We don’t want to happen.
The other posting thing I want to mention is that you need to be consistent with your posting, more so than blogging. Your subscribers expect specific things from you because it’s what you told them would happen when they signed up. And if you need to deviate from the schedule, let them know.
Adding Sign-up Forms
Once you’ve settled on a hosting platform for your newsletter and created your first workflow, you’ll need to start collecting emails. Regardless of what platform you use, there will be a section to help you add a sign-up form on your website.
In Mailchimp, it looks something like this:
I use embedded forms for sign-up forms in my blog posts. Anything outside of that, I use an API key that’s inputted directly into the website.
But back to the embed forms. Once you click on it, you can customize the form to fit your branding guidelines by coding it. Unfortunately, you need to know HTML code to do that. Here’s what that screen looks like in Mailchimp:
Once you have designed everything to your liking, you’ll copy and paste the code directly onto your website. And if all goes well, it’ll look something like this in the end:
Encouraging Newsletter Sign-Ups
Just adding a newsletter sign-up form or two on your website won’t gain you many followers. You’ve got to let people know that you have one, and there are a few ways to do this:
Make an Announcement
First off, you could write a blog post or announce your new creation on social media. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but you want to let people know about it. For the blog post option, I’d include a sign-up form within the post, and for social media, announce your news and then give them directions on where to sign up.
For both options (and any others), always explain to a potential newsletter reader precisely what they can expect from you. That way, there will be no surprises, and it’ll decrease the odds of you losing subscribers as quickly as you’re getting them.
Pop-Ups and Landing Pages
The second option includes creating pop-ups and landing pages for your newsletter. I will be the first to admit that pop-ups are the most annoying thing in the world, but there are compelling statistics out there about why they work.
And they do work. Pop-ups can grab the attention of people who may want to engage with your brand, buy your stuff, promote your content and products to others, etc. They’re not just there for sign-ups, and it’s an excellent way to advertise for your newsletter.
You should also design a dedicated page to house information about your newsletter as well as a sign-up form. I’ve even added an archive section to mine, so people can get a feel for the type of content I include in my newsletter.
Use a Content Magnet
The third thing you can do is provide potential subscribers with something to entice them to give you their email. These things are called content magnets or lead magnets, and they come in various shapes and forms.
For instance, some people offer a free short story or novella, others a publishing checklist, an author’s budget tracker, passwords to resource pages, etc. There so many different things that you can do to collect an email.
You’ve Got Newsletter Subscribers! Now What?
Getting your first few subscribers is a heady experience, and there are a couple of things you should do before you send out that first official email.
First off, you should welcome the newest subscriber to the list. You can do this by creating an automated email that gets sent every time you have a new subscriber.
In this email, I would thank them for subscribing, remind them of what they signed up for, give them their freebie (if using one), and try to get to know them somehow (i.e., ask a question).
Here’s what my welcome email looks like:
And if you want, you can also have them click back to a specific page on your website, such as a book launch page or a thank you page.
You’ll also want to think about personalization. The more personal an email you send, the more likely the recipient will read to the end. Most people do this by addressing the recipient by their first name, but it’s not necessary. You can also achieve the same effect by talking to them as if you were a friend.
Track Your Metrics
Once you have followers and send them emails, you’ll want to track specific things, like open rates, click rates, and unsubscribes. These three metrics tell you how you’re doing with your following.
For example, if you have low open rates, you have an issue with your headlines, and you’ll need to work on them. And if you’ve got high open rates for other emails, you may want to replicate what you did there in another email.
As for click rates, they tell you what people are finding interesting enough to learn more about. This metric tells you how many people are interested in taking advantage of your offer.
According to Written Word Media, most unsubscribe rates are below 0.5 percent, and if you get anything over that, you have a problem that needs addressing. It’s often related to your posting frequency – you’re either posting too much or not enough. Both of which are easy fixes.
Sometimes it’s because the person did not like your content, which happens. And frankly, it’s a good thing that they unsubscribed because you only want people who want to be there. Plus, it saves you from having to remove them from your list manually.
However, you do need to watch for these spikes in unsubscribes because they can hurt your reputation. And in some situations, this could lead to a suspension of your account by the service provider.
The same goes for spam complaints, but these should not be a frequent occurrence.
Resources to Help You Start a Newsletter
I know that the prospect of starting a newsletter can be overwhelming because it is one more thing that you have to do on top of writing a fantastic book and other life considerations. However, I think they are more than worth the extra effort you have to clock in at your computer.
But that doesn’t mean you have to do this all on your own or that there aren’t any fabulous resources out there to help you create the best newsletter that you can. Because there are many resources out there that you can use, and I’ve compiled my favorites for you here:
- NewsletterGuide.org is an ever-evolving guide on how to create an awesome newsletter. It’s continuously updated to give you the current best practices.
- Hoot Design Co. created this infographic to help you visualize all of the important components that go into creating a template that lets you shine.
- Writer and editor Shayla Raquel shares her tips and tricks for author success.
- Jane Friedman has compiled all of her wisdom to help you write a kick-butt newsletter that subscribers will love.
- The Book Designer developed this list of newsletter ideas to help you start your own.
- 10 email marketing tips from best-selling authors
As great as all of these resources are, the best way to learn about writing a newsletter is to start one yourself and read someone else’s. You can learn a lot from just reading what someone else is sending their email list, and it gives you some ideas to try with your list.
Newsletters are a ton of fun. It’s a great way to let your personality shine, connect with readers, and sell your books.
I hope this guide gave you the tools and resources you need to start your own or improve upon the one you already have. I believe that newsletters are here to stay, and the authors that have them already are surpassing their newsletter-less peers in terms of sales. They see success because they have tapped into the power of human connection.
What about you? Do you think newsletters are an effective marketing tool for writers or a nuisance? What platform do you use to host your newsletter? Please let me know in the comments below!
Oh, and don’t forget to check out my newsletter. It goes out every Sunday and contains more tips, personal tidbits, publishing opportunities, and is a great way to keep up with what I’m doing. You can subscribe below or scoot over to the Newsletter homepage and get some more information.
Stay safe, everyone.
Until next time.