By Donna Schlachter
Back in the day, newsletters were printed, folded (or stuffed in an envelope), hand-addressed, and mailed to recipients. “Desktop Publishing” was a term bandied about when computers got involved, instead of mimeograph machines. And now, most newsletters are digital. Unless a recipient chooses to print it out so they can read it away from their computer, not a single tree suffers.
Which is really ingenious. No more having to take our own photos—we can simply search sites such as Pexels.com for free stock images (always attributing the source, of course). We can vary the fonts, choose templates from our web host’s online marketing/email marketing module, or employ other sources, such as MailChimp, Brevo, Campaign Monitor, and more. We can choose the options we want, the colors, designs, and templates we prefer, and pull together a newsletter in under two hours.
So why would we want to invest even that much time in an email that lands in the recipient’s Inbox? Because, as writers and human beings, we like to connect. We like to share. We like to talk up books we enjoy, vacation spots on our bucket list, and recipes we use over and over again.
For writers of any genre, a newsletter helps you stay in touch with your readers. You have the opportunity to share a little about yourself, in exchange for their time. You can let them see your reading list, your writing process, your flowers or puppy or kitten. Readers love to feel like they know the folks writing the books they love.
Newsletters also let you promote other authors’ books. I realized early on that I couldn’t write fast enough to keep my readers satisfied, so I decided that promoting other authors would give my readers something to do until my next release. That sense of non-competition is good for me. You can reach down into your readers’ lives, too, by giving them the opportunity to participate in some way with your books. Street Teams are great for that. I make sure to include an invitation to receive free ebooks in exchange for reviews, for hosting me on their blog, for talking the book up on their social media platform, or chatting up their local librarian or book club organizer about my book.
Birthday Clubs are another way to thank readers for sharing with you. I send a small gift in a card during their birthday month. For example, signed bookmarks, magnetic bookmarks, earrings (I make those), small notepads (I buy them in museum gift stores), and so on. I try to keep the gift at less than $1 or so, but the price is up to you.
Hosting a Question of the Month is a favorite, too. I ask the question, usually in relation to the month itself, and draw randomly for a free ebook. I have also asked for a recipe, then compiled the responses into a PDF document, sharing the link the following month. I make certain to attribute the recipe to the sender (First Name, First Initial of last name, and town/state). Folks love to see their words in print. And I have another Freebie for my website, and I drive more traffic to the website as contributors and other readers download the document.
Producing a newsletter is easy. Perhaps the most difficult thing is getting folks to subscribe. I use Facebook Events to do this, and I gift the new subscriber with 2 free ebooks, because I write both contemporary and historical, and I want them to like and review at least one of those books. If you don’t have a published novel, you could gift the subscriber with a prequel story about a book you’re working on now. Or you could do a list that they’d enjoy. For example, 50 books to read before you die; 50 places to visit; or anything related to your genre/books.
I’ve also used paid services, such as book promotions, to generate subscribers. What I’ve found is that folks who subscribe to your newsletter to enter to win a book are more likely to unsubscribe more quickly than those who choose to subscribe through your website.
You can use a form on your website that uses an aggregator, or an HTML form provided by another aggregator, to accumulate your subscribers’ emails. I use MailChimp, who sends me an email each time somebody subscribes. MailChimp, for a fee, will also fulfill the subscription by sending your newsletter magnet (whatever freebie you’re sending as a thank-you), but I choose to fulfill my own.
Some readers’ Facebook groups allow you to share your link there so you can post and ask members to subscribe, but that is often only done on the weekends. Check the rules before you post. As you can see, newsletters can also be a great way to let readers know where you’ll be online. If you guest blog for others, include a list so they can click on over on the date your post goes live. Or, if you’re physically appearing, for example, at a bookstore or library, let them know, so those who live in that part of the world can come and visit. Perhaps you host a podcast or are a guest on one, include that information, too. And, of course, don’t forget your preorders and upcoming releases.
I use my webhost to produce my newsletters, so check your provider and see if they offer that service. WordPress, Blogger, and many others offer newsletter services, so do your research and choose according to your needs. For most authors starting out, you’ll be able to use the free service, since the expansion point is usually 2,000 or more subscribers.
Choosing the frequency of your newsletters is up to you and how much time/energy you have to invest in the process. Let your readers know that you’ll send one every week, every two weeks, every month, or whatever. I recommend you send one at least every month, but for about 5 years, while I wrote and hosted an alter ego (aka pen name), I sent my contemporary newsletter in even months, my historical newsletter in odd months. Now I send one each month, and I include both contemporary and historical books.
Most important of all is to enjoy the process. Otherwise, your readers will sense something isn’t quite gelling. See readers as your friends, and they will think of you the same.
A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky-clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 60 times in books; is a member of several writers’ groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both, and is an avid oil painter. She also coaches writers at any stage of their manuscript. Learn more at www.donnaschlachter.com/Tapestry and www.DonnaSchlachter.com
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Need a writing coach? www.donnaschlachter.com/Tapestry