In this marketing tip, we look back on an article of ours that addresses the questions: “Should I have an author newsletter? And how do I start one?” These questions have become even more relevant over the last two years, so read on to find out what’s new in the newsletter space.
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. Fans who don’t log on to Twitter the day you drop special news 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 drop content right into readers’ mailboxes, which has its own benefits.
Another benefit is instant feedback. Different services give you different tools 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 and/or paid content, giveaways, behind-the-scenes info, and anything else that you might not post broadly on social media.
Newsletters have many pros, but there’s also one big challenge: they can take a lot of time and energy. 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?
Relatively new to the scene but growing massively in popularity, Substack allows authors to send newsletters directly to readers and monetize their work by putting selected content of their choice behind a paywall. This is a departure from the more traditional forms of newsletters and email marketing, but it might be a good fit for you. Offering exclusive content (essays, short fiction, recipes, or whatever is relevant to you!) is a way to monetize your work while engaging a core audience of your most engaged readers. An additional option is to provide certain bits of your newsletter for free and put the juicier parts behind a paywall, in order to entice readers. It’s worth noting that Substack takes a cut of earnings (as des the payment company Stripe), so keep that in mind when researching.
MailChimp remains a leader in the email marketing space. Their free option is a great place to start, as you can send mailings to up to 2,000 contacts. Their paid plans include automations, email scheduling, A/B testing, larger and more frequent sends, signup forms, and more. If you’re looking for an email service you could build into a larger marketing platform, this could be a great choice.
Often considered one of the easiest and most straightforward options is TinyLetter—which is also owned by Mailchimp. With TinyLetter, you build a simple signup form and share on your website, across social media, etc. You can send short, simple email updates to your audience whenever the time calls for it. If you want to throw together a quick email announcing a new book, cover, or anything else your readers might be interested in, this might be a good option for you.
There are many other free and low-cost services out there. To figure out what you need for your audience, 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. 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, divide 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 types you want to include in every mailing and which are flexible, then use that as a guide as you create 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, an image of your book cover will 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. 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. But also make sure to do whatever feels natural to you!
Check out our recent Author University panel discussion Finding and Growing Your Community Online and Offline for tips from fellow authors on how to get the most out of your newsletter and online brand.
Phil Stamper-Halpin is Associate Director, Author Development for Penguin Random House.