If you want to watch an author’s face fall, ask them about their marketing plans. Some authors have everything lined up in their calendar and are planning a nonstop whirlwind of cross-promotional advertising, public relations, email campaigns, social media ads, and more. But often authors tend to focus on the book and not too much on the sales and marketing aspect.
That focus, of course, can have a serious effect on exposure and your book sales. An author’s goal is to not only find new readers but to ensure that their current readers remain committed fans. Nothing gives better exposure than good word of mouth, and that means staying connected with your readers.
There are a number of ways to do this, but today, we’d like to focus on the oft-overlooked author newsletter.
OK, but what’s the big deal with a newsletter? Is it that important?
Newsletters can seem pretty daunting. Who has the time to create original content, throw in some offers, and make it both sound and look professional? The truth is that once you have a system in place, a newsletter can actually be a fairly simple part of your marketing plan while also keeping your readers up to date and informed about you and your writing.
Done consistently—if you send out a newsletter, do it regularly and commit—a newsletter can be a fantastic chance to offer limited-scope giveaways, announce news, and nudge readers back to your website for additional sales. (Don’t have a website sorted out yet? Check out our The WC Guide to Planning and Creating Your Author Website: Part I.) But it also offers authors a unique way to engage with their readers—and get their name out there.
“Regular email contact with your readers creates a long string of impressions, so that your name stays at the forefront of their mind,” writes Jane Friedman in Email Newsletters for Authors: Get Started Guide. “When an opportunity arises—a book club needs a new book to read, a publication is searching for a freelancer to hire, a journalist is looking for a good interview subject, or a conference needs speakers—people are far more likely to think of you if they frequently see your name.”
The irony, as Friedman points out, is that many authors assume that newsletters only add more junk to the readers’ inboxes and aren’t effective like social media. But in fact, the opposite is true. “Because most people are overwhelmed with unwanted email, it may seem counterintuitive to categorize the email newsletter as one of the more effective, even intimate, forms of digital communication,” Friedman says. “However, email has so far proven to be a more long-term and stable tool than social media, which is constantly shifting. Emails can’t be missed like a social media post that disappears in readers’ feeds as more posts follow it. You truly own your email list, unlike Facebook or Twitter accounts. And if you use people’s email addresses with respect (more on that in a minute), those addresses can become resources that grow more valuable over time.”
How much work is involved?
Start by committing to a schedule. A newsletter can be as much or as little work as you desire. Consistency, as we’ve just mentioned, is imperative. Some authors send out a newsletter every week. Others prefer once a month.
Ask yourself what you want to offer readers. Just want to offer recipes? News? Perhaps you want to create a book club where you review books or link to content from other sources or blogs. Make a list of ideas and think about what you’re offering readers. And then (this is the important part), communicate that as part of the sign-up process so your readers will have a clear understanding of what they’re getting.
Make sure your website is ready to go. Whether you’re offering new content such as a blog or short stories, selling books, or even inviting readers to get in touch with you, you’ll need to have a functional (if not awesome) website up and running.
Ensure you have both a dedicated email and mailing address for your newsletter. You don’t need to include it, but depending on where you live, you may be required by law to submit a valid mailing address.
Sign up for a newsletter service. There are a number of businesses offering free and low-cost email services (Mailchimp, MailerLite, and Substack) that allow you to craft and customize your newsletter and content.
Customize your template. Depending on how much work you’ve done for your site and author branding, creating templates can take some time. You’ll want to use your logos, customize colors and fonts, and find a newsletter format that best suits your style.
Add the newsletter widget or code to your website. Most websites will allow you to create a subscription page for your newsletter. Make sure you also add a subscription link to any pinned social media posts or user profiles.
Test your emails by sending them to yourself. It’s one thing to put together a newsletter but quite another to see how it will arrive in your readers’ inboxes. This will allow you to spot any errors or tweak the format of the template for optimal results.
Check your newsletter stats. Most newsletter companies allow you to look at your stats. These can usually indicate how often people are reading your newsletters and if they’re engaging with the content. You can also try splitting your subscribers to do A/B testing (testing different subject lines or content) to help you identify what might be most appealing to readers. Sometimes the best way to learn what works for your readers is through trial and error.
How long does this thing have to be?
Once you have everything sorted out, a newsletter can be as much or little work as you want it to be. Some authors have long and rather involved newsletters, some of which include articles, creative writing, or just friendly chats with their readers. Others are a little shorter, opting to say less but show more. Both have their advantages. Some readers love a good read, especially by a beloved author. Others are short on time and patience, and anything they don’t see in the first few seconds of opening their email is promptly ignored.
We’re advocates of the “brevity is good” camp. After all, you can always offer additional content on your site or blog and use the newsletter to draw attention to it. Plus you have the added bonus of ensuring that content is available to folks on social media. A few well-chosen lines with clear calls to action (“Buy the next book,” “Check out the latest blog,” “Sign up to win”) tend to engage readers more effectively than a lot of prose, which can often alienate even the most committed readers. How often do you open a longer email that looks like it might be interesting, only to vow to read it later because it is a bigger time commitment than you have at that moment? Did you, in fact, read it later? Did you?
Newsletters are a fantastic way to share information. The trick is to make it interesting enough to click through.
This all sounds reasonable enough. What else?
Keep in mind these handy-dandy tips:
- Set up a welcome email. When new readers sign up, you have the option to trigger a welcome email, which is your first chance to introduce yourself. A good welcome email should be warm, upbeat, and not geared toward click-throughs or sales.
- Don’t underestimate the power of a good subject line. A compelling or inviting subject line can mean the difference between delete and open. Remember, readers are likely subscribing to multiple newsletters, and you want yours to stand out. Don’t be afraid to change it up.
- Don’t count on your images to load. While images can make for a powerful newsletter, they don’t always load, and a lot of your subscribers may default to text only. Make sure you use alt text (which can also assist folks who are blind or visually impaired) to get your message across.
- Easy on the exclamations, tiger. Enthusiasm is great! But sometimes a lot of exclamation marks is distracting! And then they become superfluous and not very effective! So don’t be afraid to trust your friend the period.
- Double-check and triple-check for mistakes. Once a newsletter goes out, it’s gone. Make sure you are careful about copyediting and ensuring all your links and images are correct.
- Create a clever bookend. A lot of newsletters end with either an image or a bit of text—perhaps a great quote, a piece of advice, a (tasteful) joke, or a personal anecdote just for your readers. Done consistently, this can sometimes ensure your readers stay tuned right until the end.
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.