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Reaching Readers with Author Newsletters

Debbie, Self Publishing AdvisorWhat can an author newsletter do for you that you’re not already getting from Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Google+, your author website and blog? This excellent question was raised recently within our private Facebook group, and many members shared their own thoughts and experiences. ALLi blog editor Debbie Young sums up their advice and provides tips for setting up an author newsletter, should you decide to add one to your book marketing toolbox.

What will an author newsletter do for me?

  • provide a more intimate, personal communication than can be achieved by a blog post or social media message
  • target specific, named individuals on your mailing list and ensure the message is delivered into their email inbox
  • remain in their inbox until your target reader takes action (unlike social media messages, which are quickly pushed off the screen by subsequent updates in social media feeds)
  • offer an alternative means of communication that might better suit those who don’t feel comfortable with social media messaging
  • be as flexible or regular as you wish: the discipline of a strict, regular publication date or a”special occasions only” issue for book launches or other big announcements
  • give you a means of reaching readers entirely within your own control – not at the mercy of social media which, worst case, might disappear, taking your contacts with them

How do I create and manage the required mailing list?

  • options include specialised services such as Mailchimp and Aweber (used and trusted by many ALLi members)
  • or simply compile your own list within your email account (just be careful to mail subscribers only in small batches, e.g. under 30 at a time to avoid spam trappers, and bcc’d so no-one can see each other’s addresses)

How do I get people to sign up for it?

  • include a sign-up form in an unmissable place on your author website, at the back of your e-books (add the URL in print books), in the footer of your emails, and anywhere else you can think of
  • offer desirable content available exclusively to subscribers only e.g. let them be the first to know of new releases, set up subscriber competitions or prize draws for signed copies or other relevant prizes
  • offer an incentive e.g. a free short story or how-to guide for all new applicants (this has a high perceived value but will cost you nothing)
  • ask nicely!

What should it contain?

  • topical news, announcements and events
  • acknowledgements of readers’ comments
  •  reports on your work in progress
  • reports on past successes and sales
  • an invitation to forward the newsletter to anyone else who might be interested

What format should it be in?

  • something that will be universally accessible, not requiring any particular software to open it
  • PDF or Word document would be fine, or simply use a regular email message (though nicely formatted to make it look more special)

How will I know whether it’s working?

  • ask for feedback from your readers
  • if you’re using a specialised mailshot software, you’ll be given reports on how many newsletters are opened and read
  • new subscribers continue to sign up

What are the reasons for NOT doing a newsletter?

  • if you’re already very active and visible on social media and elsewhere and feel that a newsletter would be overkill
  • if you’re too pushed for time and have other priorities (not least writing new books!)
  • you simply don’t want to do one! – spend your time on what you enjoy instead
  • if you start one but decide it’s unsustainable, or not worthwhile, it’s fine to close it – just make sure you send a final note to your subscribers to let them know

Should all authors run newsletters?

  • if you’re already doing lots to reach readers and be accessible to them, e.g. you’re very active in social media, run a great website, and a regularly updated blog, you shouldn’t feel compelled to add a newsletter to your workload – if you’re not careful, you’ll have no time left to write
  • if you’re not very comfortable with social media and/or hate blogging, a newsletter is a great alternative, allowing you to bond with readers without submitting to something you hate
  • but there are no absolute rights or wrongs – do what makes you happiest!

Where can I find some author newsletters to study for inspiration?

  • check out your favourite author websites to see if one’s on offer there
  • scroll through the list of comments below – where we’re hoping some authors will offer their own as examples!

Calling self-published authors who publish regular reader newsletters – please leave details of yours in the comments box below, and you may find you pick up some new subscribers! Further questions or comments about author newsletters are also welcome.

With thanks to the ALLi members who took part in the lively Facebook discussion about newsletters: Michael La Ronn, Amira Makansi, David Ebsworth, Karen Myers, Orna Ross, Matthew Wayne Selznick, and John Yeoman.  

Thanks also to David Ebsworth for his recent insightful interview about his own newsletter on my  Off The Shelf Book Promotions website, which you can read here: www.otsbp.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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21 Responses to Reaching Readers with Author Newsletters

  1. Patrice Williams Marks May 14, 2015 at 8:05 am #

    Hi Debbie, thank you for the informative article. I created a newsletter 2 years ago, but barely used it. I’m only now starting to publish more regularly (once a month) now that I’ve released my book trailer: https://youtu.be/zwkvpQoli7o to my book THE ABDUCTION OF NELLY DON.

    Because it had been over a year since I last published, I had about 45 people unsubscribe out of about 600 subscribers.

    I’m looking to increase my subscribers using a squeeze page. Will work on that shortly.

    Here is the link to my latest newsletter:
    http://us6.campaign-archive2.com/?u=5e8e9763514c34eed3418b4d6&id=1e95735a2b

    Here is the link to subscribe:
    http://readtheunfinished.us6.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=5e8e9763514c34eed3418b4d6&id=a9b9f3802a

    I’m still looking for creative, giveaways I can offer subscribers besides free books.

    Thanks.
    Patrice

  2. Adam Maxwell April 26, 2015 at 4:48 pm #

    I set up a mailing list years ago but it’s gone through phases of neglect before I reached a point where I’m finding it useful. Twitter and Facebook I enjoy but haven’t found them to be as good (for me). Originally I set up the list just… because! Needless to say it just sat collecting the odd email address. Then I committed to sending a short story every month and the list grew. Unfortunately when I started to write longer fiction I didn’t really know what to do with it so just stopped sending. After a bit of research I’ve refocussed the list and now I pretty much do all the things you mention in this great post!
    I email the list fortnightly with a chatty, friendly style telling them what I’ve been up to, what’s coming up and try to engage them (a bit!) I’ve had some great feedback, got some new beta readers from it and it’s becoming a better marketing tool. I just need to stick with it.
    Since I redesigned my website (http://www.adammaxwell.com) I’ve seen a much better subscribe-rate probably because of the better focus on getting subscribers combined with the Popup Domination plugin and giving subscribers a free novella as a reward.
    Still learning though!

  3. Marisha March 26, 2014 at 8:23 am #

    The author newsletter is a must in my opinion. As Debbie and many others have noted, building your fanbase on social media is dangerous as the plug could be pulled at any time, and with Facebook deliberately manipulating the visibility of your posts via its algorithm, you cannot guarantee that they are actually reaching readers. Building your own e-mail list is really the only way to ensure that you will be able to connect with your readers personally in the long term – e-mail is not going anywhere!
    I use Mailchimp for my newsletter and although I am still experimenting with what sort of content I include, the templates are really easy to use and I like that I am able to customise the e-mails to match the branding on my website (got to love consistency!). I mostly include updates on the commercial progress of my book and on my own journey as an author and entrepreneur. I’m going to start including progress on my next book shortly too.
    If you would like to sign up for my newsletter, and I hope you will, you can do so here (on the right!): http://www.marishapink.com

    • clare weiner March 26, 2014 at 10:50 am #

      Very encouraging, Marisha. I’ve just sent out my first MailChimp generated newsletter (and need to re-send to the next set of signers-up!)… MailChimp was a bit of a puzzle at first but worth persisting with, and does so much for you – reporting back on your ‘campaigns’. I am also hoping that this will really begin to build relationship, loyalty, interest, and hopefully even two-way communications with readers. I blog – but how best to alert readers to that? Sometimes it;s as if the blog is sitting out there and nobody is looking at it – with an e-newsletter, the readers know … so hopefully this will raise awareness of what else I;m doing besides writing the books! Blogging (in my author name) at
      http://writethinkedit.blogspot.co.uk/

  4. Rosemary February 27, 2014 at 6:05 pm #

    I resisted this for a couple of reasons: 1. Personally, I don’t like to get a lot of stuff in my email, and 2. I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to communicating on a regular basis. However, everything I read about marketing emphasizes the importance of this, and a post “The Author With The Biggest Mailing List Wins” convinced me.

    So I recently started doing a “Weekly Review,” and a quick compilation on Flipboard. (See http://dailyplanit.com/2014/02/17/2014-2-17-review/) I didn’t want to start something that took a lot of time to create, but this is fairly painless! However, since it has to be public content to share, it’s not exclusive. Any thoughts about that?

  5. Joanne Phillips February 2, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

    I have a newsletter/mailing list (sign up here: http://eepurl.com/mXguz) and for a while it used to be a monthly thing with prizes and giveaways, but the response was very low and I decided to turn it into a news-only mailing list. I have a link at the back of all my books, and on my blog, and I do special things exclusively for mailing list subscribers – for example my Christmas novelette was sent out free to them before being launched on Amazon. I am thinking of going back to a newsletter more regularly because I don’t think it’s a good idea to do nothing for months then suddenly people get an email and they forget they signed up in the first place! But it’s hard to know how to pitch it. Every time you send something out you will probably get a few unsubscribers, but that’s the way it goes unfortunately 🙂

  6. Victoria Howard February 2, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    I use Mailchimp for my newsletter too, although this is something I have only recently considered. I agree with Eliza, Social media is great, but the changes to the way in which Facebook distributes status updates from pages as opposed to personal updates means that many of my followers no longer receive updates. If you would like to sign up for my newsletter, and I hope you will, here is the link; http://www.victoriahoward.co.uk

    • HL Carpenter February 2, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

      That’s a nice, clean site, Victoria. Looks like you post about once a month–is that your schedule? Or do you just post when you have news to share?

      • Victoria Howard February 2, 2014 at 10:08 pm #

        In the past, I’ve posted when I have news to share, but am planning to post monthly,

  7. Eliza Green February 2, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    I use Mailchimp for my newsletter, but I’m looking at ways to streamline the formatting so that the content is clearer. Mailchimp has some good templates but there are limitations with design, esp for the free version.
    I like the newsletter because I can engage with readers on a one to one basis, and offer them exclusive deals or tell them what’s happening first. Social media is all great, but you are not giving personal time to those who want to know more about your work. The sign up sheet, which was designed in Mailchimp, makes it easy to customise it for your website/series. Link below.

    http://elizagreenbooks.us5.list-manage1.com/subscribe?u=71e97630ba614d0c189ae341b&id=29f00572b8

  8. Alison Morton February 2, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    Clear and succinct post, Debbie.

    I’ve had a newsletter since 2012 when I started getting requests for updates on my progress towards publishing my first book. Although I’m busy on social media, I felt that people who had supported me since the start of my writing journey should get the inside track on what was happening.

    I use a WordPress plug-in called ALO EasyMail Newsletter (http://wordpress.org/plugins/alo-easymail/). It could do with an ‘average person’s guide’ to using it, but I’ve found it very straightforward once I’d sorted out how to find my way round it. 😉

    Apart from book news and what I’ve been doing and will be doing, the odd writing tip, sneak peeks, and Roman research or stories, I try to include at least one photo, sometimes of me, sometimes of something Roman. The one of naked men bathing in a 2,000 year old Roman baths went down very well with most (female) readers!

    All my links are there and I try not to make the whole thing too long. As a chatty, informal personal I combine that tone along with trying to be informative, and/or entertaining. There’s a subscribe button top left (second row of tabs) plus another mention further down in the left sidebar for people who have scrolled down.

    And here comes the commercial…
    If you’d like to sign up, and I hope you do, here’s the link: http://alison-morton.com/newsletter/

  9. Dave McCall February 2, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    Hey Debbie. Great post! I think the Carpenters’ point about getting “authorial” personality established is really important, and the newsletter format helps me do that, I think, more than anything else. When I’m doing all the other social media stuff, it’s all for marketing purposes – to help market the David Ebsworth brand, one way or the other. But I keep the newsletter really for folk who’ve already made contact and with whom I want to develop the relationship. The simple fact that the newsletter goes to each individual subscriber (through a BCC copy) helps with that, and also the fact that I always sign it with my real name, rather than my pen name. I never make a presentation now without inviting attendees to sign my visitor book and become subscribers. I never let a month go by without checking Goodreads to see new folk who’ve “listed” my books, thanking them and inviting them to receive the newsletter. As you say, not for everybody – but certainly works for me.

    Thanks to Amy as well for sharing her example and here’s a link to my own, as it appears on my website. I don’t like this format very much and prefer the original e-mail version – but I was persuaded that I needed a copy on the website too, so here it is…
    http://www.davidebsworth.com/page4.html

    • Amy Shojai, CABC February 2, 2014 at 1:57 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your link too, Dave. Looks clean and easy to navigate. A caution for folks, too. These days I use limit pictures in the newsletter, and iContact (and probably others) have an option to also send a plain-text version. Not everyone’s email service plays nice with images. My puppies.about.com site sends a weekly newsletter and I’ve totally eliminated images from that, and subscriptions increased.

      I also agree, Dave, that it’s a great way to establish a connection with readers and be “real.” I do this on my blog, too, and there’s some cross-over but also unique readers of each.

      • Alison Morton February 2, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

        Hi Amy,

        I wasn’t too sure about photos at first – the first first few times I didn’t get it right, but with a bit of practice it seems to work now. But all the photos are left justified irrespective of where I placed them when editing the newsletter!

        People have commented on the images, so I think I’ll still put one or two in… 😉

        • Amy Shojai, CABC February 2, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

          It looks terrific! And yes, if your readers like the images, give them what they want!

          • Alison Morton February 2, 2014 at 6:24 pm #

            Thanks, Amy. Yep, give the readers what they want – agree 100%!

            These things are all an experiment and I can already see some excellent tips on this thread.

  10. Amy Shojai, CABC February 2, 2014 at 4:51 am #

    I write lots of nonfiction as well as my new thrillers, and have a 3 X weekly blog. Using iContact.com I’ve been sending newsletters to announce appearances, new books and the like. I also give away books upon occasion or hold “name that dog/name that cat” contests and my newsletter subscribers get first notice of anything new. Here’s a link to the most recent newsletter…yes, you can archive them!

    http://tinyurl.com/kg6z6hp

    It’s pretty reasonable and based on the number of subscribers you have, with templates for setting up your “look.” Right now they’ve got a “refer a friend” plan so message me your email (shojai@verizon.net) and I can send that link, it’s supposed to be for $50 account credit–so that way you could try the service, anyway.

    • Amy Shojai, CABC February 2, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

      I suppose that I should also have included my sign-up for my Pet Peeves newsletter for the cat/dog behavior and care…and publishing…info. The iContact signup is available either on my blog at Bling, Bitches & Blood http://amyshojai.com or my website http://shojai.com/guestbook.html (sent only quarterly…folks get hissed off and unsubscribe if you pester too often *s*)

  11. HL Carpenter February 1, 2014 at 11:48 pm #

    We’re a mother/daughter writing team, and we publish a regular newsletter called Top Drawer Ink. We’ve recently revamped the format, using MailChimp (as you mention above), to automate sending our posts.

    We have indie published our NewAdult novella, Jack and The Fountain of Youth, and we post installments each week. It’s very difficult to tell if this has actually boosted readership, since there’s no need to sign up to the newsletter to read the installments.

    Because we write in multiple genres, and have had our work published by a traditional press as well as an e-publisher, we also post other topics, some geared toward writers, some toward readers, and some to a general audience.

    While we have had discussions with other authors about the “lack of focus” inherent in being what we call “generalist” writers, we believe all of our stories have common elements, and the main purpose of our newsletter is to get our “authorial” personality established so that readers are curious enough to have a look at our work.

    We appreciate your balanced post. Author newsletters are not for every author, in the same way that certain social media platforms are not for every author. We agree with your conclusion: What works best is what works for the individual author.

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