Last summer, I talked about why writers should consider creating an email newsletter to better engage with others. I proposed the following reasons:
- Email is a less crowded channel
- Email is a communication channel people actually check, and they’ve given you permission to communicate
- Email is a proven sales tool
That post prompted some great questions in the comments, and I wanted to revisit the topic, adding another layer of detail.
SKEPTICAL ABOUT EMAIL? YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Some people worry that email is too crowded a channel — recalling their frustration of waking up each day to an overflowing inbox, a reminder of all the things in life that we “fail” to manage effectively. Others argue that younger people don’t even use email these days.
It’s easy to be skeptical, not just about email but about social media, websites/blogs, and yes, even books. There are more books published today than ever. I remember a few years ago when people I know began admitting they could no longer keep up with blogs they love, just as they sheepishly admitted to recycling a pile of unread newspapers at the end of the week. Nowadays, I hear similar comments with regard to Twitter, which to many feels like a virtual fire hose.
This is exactly why I focus so much on a direct connection with your true fans. And email is one way to do so. It is a way to reduce the flow of of media out there and engage in meaningful communication.
Email, in its most basic form, is a letter from one person to another. Whether you write to a list of 10 people or 100,000, each person reads it alone, and reads your letter as if you wrote it just for them.
WHAT TO SHARE? YOUR ENTHUSIASM
Some who commented on my post asked what they should share in a newsletter. Their concerns seemed two-fold. The first was not wanting to market themselves again and again – essentially becoming a spammer. The other was that they simply didn’t have the time to write a separate missive each week — they already struggle to find time to write their books.
I encourage people to share what they are enthusiastic about. It can be whittled down to a simple prompt: “What were you excited about this week?”
The output could indeed be a long post, but it could also be a link, a photo, a sentence. At it’s core, it should communicate why you love what you do as a writer.
Email newsletters don’t have to be long or complicated. The simple route is often the most effective. It is also the most honest.
An author I was speaking with recently had gone three months between newsletters, and just couldn’t figure out what was worthy of sharing. I told her to just be honest about what she was enthusiastic about. She ended up sharing an email about how hard she was working on her book, and reiterated why this writing meant so much to her.
It turned out that 70% of the people on her list opened her email, and were reminded not just what she was working on, but why it mattered so much.
Another trick I myself sometime use is to write a draft addressed to a specific friend. This ensure I don’t feel I am “sending to a list,” but writing a letter that feels 100% personal both to me and the reader. The trick here: remembering to remove their name before I actually send it!
WHEN AND HOW OFTEN TO SHARE?
Someone else in the post comments asked “How soon is too soon?” to begin sending an email newsletter. This writer’s book was not yet finished, so they wondered if anyone would want to hear from a ‘not-quite-yet-an-author’.
To me, the answer is always “now.” People want to become part of a journey, and a newsletter list is one of the best ways to connect with people who hear about your work and would like to be a part of the journey.
I recently read Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking. In the book, she details how she jumped on email early in her career, and how it became the linchpin to connecting with fans she met one at a time. This is one of the biggest regrets that I tend to hear from successful authors — that they wish they had begun connecting with people before they were successful. So many small connections fell through the cracks.
I tend to recommend a weekly newsletter because it is often enough to share something small and meaningful, yet not so infrequent whereby if someone misses a newsletter, they don’t go months before hearing from you again.
The real answer: Send one often enough to be a respite.
If you share what you are enthusiastic about with like minds, they will ideally be looking forward to that moment of connection — where in the middle of their busy day, their busy week, you are a breath of fresh air.
TOO BUSY TO SEND A NEWSLETTER? I GET THAT
Every single person reading this can justifiably say they are too busy to send an email newsletter. I know that it can be a daily struggle to find time to write your books amidst personal and professional responsibilities.
I tend to find newsletters to be a great tool for breaking up the loneliness of being a writer. I am constantly hearing from writers that a note they sent to their email list received a response that was deeply meaningful to them. In this process, they learned what resonates with their biggest fans, and got a small amount of the validation they hope to receive from their work. It’s the best kind of boost – to know that you have been heard, that your writing affected the life of someone.
Yes, of course your books are the primary way to do that – the craft of your writing is always first and foremost.
But I suppose I look at an email newsletter the same way I look at a reading at a bookstore. The book itself is the goal, but when you are there in a physical location, with chairs lined up and sitting empty, the thing you desire most is for people to show up. And a newsletter is just one way to help encourage that habit.
Even more than asking readers to show up, newsletters are a practice in how to talk to them. I have seen many authors at those signings sheepishly sign the book, desperately looking to the person asking for the signature to ask a question, or create a meaningful moment. This is the first time they are face to face with a reader, and are not sure what will resonate. Email is research and practice for that moment – of knowing who your readers are, and what they truly want to talk about.
DO YOU NEED TO HAVE AN EMAIL NEWSLETTER? NOPE
Are email newsletters a requirement for the modern author? Nope! You can absolutely skip this, just as you have the choice to skip so many other potential actions you can take as a professional. Beyond the writing, you are often asked to become an expert at finding partners in the business side of publishing (agents, publishers, distributors, retailers.) Oftentimes this means reshaping your vision based on their feedback (edits, cover design, marketing language). You become involved in when and how the book is shared with the world, and the many decisions around publicity and marketing — and so much else.
I don’t bring up the topic of email newsletters as a way to topple this tenuous pile of responsibilities. I offer it as a small way to feel a direct connection to those who you care most about: readers.
What I love most about the options the modern author has is the very fact that they have options.
If you do have questions about how you can develop or improve your email newsletter, please ask below. Happy to be of service if you like, or to get out of your way if you prefer to skip this.