As the Penguin Random House “News for Authors” newsletter begins its eighth year, one frequently asked question from authors has become increasingly relevant: “Should I have an author newsletter, and how do I start one?” In this article, we share what’s new in the newsletter world and give some best practices for starting your own.
Should I have my own author newsletter?
The answer to this question is always… it depends.
Newsletters give you a direct line of contact to your readers, in a way that can’t be matched on social media. If a fan doesn’t log on to Twitter the day you drop special news, she may never see it. Newsletters also give you more space to get your point across (with links and photos!) than most social media platforms. Not as much space as a full blog post, true—but you’ll be dropping content right into readers’ mailboxes, which has its own benefits.
Another benefit is instant feedback. No matter which service you use, it’s easy to interpret your analytics. Open rates, click-through rates, clicks per link—all of these pieces of data tell you what resonates with your fan base, so you can respond accordingly.
A newsletter also gives readers the feeling of exclusivity. This is why newsletter lists are often full of an author’s most passionate supporters. You can leverage this by offering exclusive content, giveaways, behind-the-scenes info, and anything else that you might not post broadly on social media.
So newsletters have many pros, but also one big challenge: they take a lot of time and energy, and adding stressors to your already busy schedule is not always a good idea. If you’re not sure if it’s worth the investment, ask your marketing or publicity team if a newsletter could be right for you and your brand.
Which service should I use?
Recently, popular newsletter service MailChimp made some extensive changes to their service, including a new tiered-pricing structure and better integration with social media for their users—but they also showed their plans to pivot toward a broader marketing service platform.
That said, MailChimp may still be a good option. With basic email templates and straightforward sending for up to 2,000 recipients, the free option may be perfect for you and your audience. But the price increases the farther up the ladder you go, and you might be paying for services you don’t need. Learn more here.
TinyLetter, owned by MailChimp, is an easy-to-use, basic email newsletter service—one without all the bells and whistles of a broader marketing platform. It’s still unclear how MailChimp’s recent pivot will affect the TinyLetter platform, but it offers free service for up to 5,000 subscribers, as well as a dashboard with simple analytics. TinyLetter is a great place to start, even if the company’s overall future is unclear.
Another simple service is MailerLite, which boasts a “Forever Free” plan for up to 1,000 subscribers. Their pricing structure is also flexible, with dozens of pricing tiers and an annual discount. It’s arguably the most-discussed platform outside of MailChimp, and it ticks all the boxes for usability and features.
Other free (to a point) options include Sender, Benchmark, Omnisend, and more. Think about what kind of emails you plan to send. Will you need a simple plug-and-play design? Do you expect to keep your list below 2,000, or do you hope to reach tens of thousands one day? Once you know what you’re looking for, examine the various pricing structures to see what features help you the most and how many subscribers you can reach.
What content goes into my newsletter?
Start by determining how frequently you want to send a newsletter. There are no rules to this—don’t feel pressure to throw together a weekly newsletter if you only have enough content for a monthly send, for example. You can send monthly, bi-monthly, weekly, semi-annually, or just whenever big news happens.
Content can be flexible, but a consistent structure will be appreciated by your readers. Here are some tips on creating good content for your newsletter:
- First, determine the angle of your newsletter: Just as you have your own unique brand on social media or within your books, your newsletter should have its own angle. It can be focused on updates about you and your books, themed to match well with your genre (for example, a thriller author providing a section on her favorite true crime podcasts), or focused on tips—writing tips, wellness teachings, or professional advice, for example. Maintaining a theme is a great way for you to pitch your newsletter as succinctly as you’d pitch your own book.
- Structure your subject lines: A simple structure like “Jane’s Author Newsletter: Issue #1” works just fine, but you could also tease the content more creatively, like: “Jane’s News #1: Podcast Interviews, Book News, and More Updates!”
- Break down your content: In a separate document, separate your content into sections. Examples could include Author Updates, Press, Advice, Q&A, Upcoming Events, Sneak Peeks, What I’m Reading, and more. Decide which you want to include in every mailing and which are flexible, then use that as a guide as you create the content for your posts.
- Include visual elements…or don’t: Every service mentioned above makes it easy to include images alongside your text. If you’re talking about a $.99 ebook sale, for example, consider including an image of your book to help catch readers’ attention. Think of email newsletters you enjoy—what visual elements catch your eye? What do you find distracting? Take note of that and build it into your own newsletter.
- Keep it short: Concise emails keep your readers’ attention, but also make sure to do whatever feels natural to you. Consider teasing and linking to outside blog posts on your website (like we do!) instead of pasting an entire 1000+ word article into the email. Keep your intro short and to the point. Use visuals and subheadings to break up the text.
Check out some of our historic posts on newsletters (dating back to 2012!) for more tips on how to get the most out of your newsletter and online brand. Here are some of our favorites:
- How to Boost Your Reach with Newsletter Segmentation
- How to Build Your Online Author Community
- Newsletter Know-How: Ways to Effectively Reach Readers
Phil Stamper-Halpin is Senior Manager, Publishing Development & Author Platforms, for Penguin Random House.