I have been threatening to do a newsletter for sometime but haven’t felt like I know enough about the subject to whip one up. So, you can imagine my excitement when historical romance author Emily Royal told me she had a guest blog post for me on the subject of newsletters. Now, I am on Emily’s newsletter distribution list and I love them. They’re filled with photos, info on her new books and a lot of Emily Royal book vibes.
This blog post is packed full of Emily’s top 10 tips for newsletters and I am so grateful she’s here today.
Right I know you are keen to read on. Please give a warm welcome to Emily Royal:
Many authors have a newsletter, and you might be wondering whether it’s worth the effort—or even what it involves. A newsletter is basically an e:mail which is sent to a list of people who have signed up to hear from you, and could be anything between a couple of paragraphs, to something a bit longer with images and links. The benefit of having a newsletter is the direct contact with readers—you’re not advertising through Facebook or Amazon, or using a service which sends details of your book out to its own list (such a bookbub)—you’re contacting your own readers, so you have total control over what they read, and when they get it. To me, a certified control freak, that sounds ideal.
Newsletter frequencies vary. I know some authors who send one out at the same time, on the same day, each week. Others send newsletters out monthly with perhaps the extra one slotted in if there’s major news such as a cover reveal, a special offer, or a book launch.
But for many of us, the prospect of staring a newsletter is, frankly, terrifying. Will anyone sign up? Are they going to get annoyed with me clogging up their inbox with my nonsense? What should I include in my newsletters? Will they all hate me? (Ok, that last one stems from my chronic imposter syndrome, but I’m sure many authors can relate to that).
This time last year I had 34 subscribers to my newsletter and no real content to give them. I had a few books out, but no idea what to say without appearing crass or fake. I’d been running my newsletter for about six months, and didn’t know where to go with it.
Fast forward a year, and my subscriber list has multiplied by 50—OK, not spectacular by any means, but I now know what I want to achieve with it, other than “having a newsletter because it seems like the thing to do,”—and I have an increasingly active list of subscribers who I love engaging with.
If the thought of setting up a newsletter makes you run for the hills, here are my top ten tips for making a newsletter work for you.
- Get started – the first step.
As with most things, the hardest step is usually the first. But it needn’t be scary! Dedicated newsletter services will handle all the technology for you. They’ll enable you to create weblink for your sign-up page, collect addresses from there, and store them for you, as well as send out your newsletters without you having to copy hundreds of addresses into your “to” field. Most services have free plans up to a certain number of subscribers (usually 1000-2000), and offer some functionality, to enable you to get used to how it all works. The most popular services include Mailchimp, Mailerlite and Sendfox. Don’t agonise too much over which one to choose, as you can migrate your subscriber list to a different system if you want to change. Just pick one and get cracking!
Tip: Just do it! You’ve nothing to lose by signing up to a newsletter provider. Ask around in author groups on social media if you want advice or help.
- Comply with anti-spam law
Anti-spam laws sound scary, but you must abide by them. I’m not a legal expert, but one principle is that you mustn’t collect e:mails that haven’t been willingly handed over, neither can you re-subscribe, or contact someone who’s unsubscribed (basically, “don’t be a dick”). You must also show a postal address in your newsletters. Many people are reluctant to give their home address, but there are workarounds. Use your work address (if you have permission), a PO Box, or some companies will provide an address service for a modest fee. Some authors use their publisher’s or agent’s address.
Tip: Be aware of anti-spam laws, but know that they’re not scary! The main newsletter systems are set up to ensure that anti-spam laws are met.
- Size doesn’t matter!
Don’t be scared of the prospect of sending an email to thousands of strangers. And don’t worry about nobody signing up, either! When you start out, you can sign up yourself and perhaps persuade friends and family, and a handful of obliging author pals to sign up and give you feedback on your first newsletters. The process is exactly the same for 5 people as it is for 5000. As my flying instructor at university once told me, the principles of flying are just the same for a 2-seater glider as they are for an airbus A380. It’s only the passenger numbers that differ.
Tip: Write your newsletter as if you’re e:mailing a friend who’s interested in your books – and interested in you. Don’t think about the crowd!
- Content does matter!
You’re a writer, so content should be easy. But a newsletter is different to a book – it’s more personal. This is your opportunity to show readers a little bit of yourself. Your newsletter is part of your brand, and brands need consistency. So, think about the sort of content and style you want to go for. I never planned this, but I’ve ended up including a bit about me and what I’m up to outside of writing, a bit about writing projects, and a bit of promotional stuff with links to new releases or special offers. Personally, I don’t want to hit my subscribers with repeated sales links. My non-writing material is a mix of photos and text, such as snaps of the countryside where I live or photos & recipes of my baking experiments.
Tip: Think about your brand and aim for a consistent style of material. Go for a balance between promotion and other information. Sign up to other authors’ newsletters to see how they do it.
- Magnetic attraction! Getting subscribers to sign up
How do you persuade someone to give you their e:mail address? Your e:mail address is an asset. You wouldn’t give it to just anyone—not in this day and age when unscrupulous agencies are collecting and selling personal data (see 2. above). So a reader needs an incentive to give you their address—something other than the simple fact that you’re an author. This is where a “reader magnet” helps, ie a free book for subscribers. Remember all those insurance adverts when they’d offer you a free pen if you took out a policy? An e-book is better than a free pen because a) it’s highly relevant given that you’re an author and b) it’s a scalable gift because it costs the same to send to 10,000 subscribers as it does to 1. My “magnet” is a novella, tied in with a series, formatted like a proper e:book, with a fit-for-purpose pre-made cover. It’s exclusive to subscribers, and, only accessible via the link in my welcome e:mail—which gives it a bit of extra intangible value. (I’ve also got a stack of buy links at the back of the novella, so anyone who enjoyed reading the freebie can buy the rest of the series).
Tip: Have a magnet such as a free novel/novella to give subscribers – exclusive is best. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but a decent cover and a good edit & proofread ensures you have a professional product, gives a taste of your writing, and shows your readers you mean business.
- Down the funnel – getting visibility
This is the tricky one. You’ve got your magnet, but it makes little difference if nobody knows about it! Tweeting or posting on social media about your newsletter can feel like shouting into a void. But there are ways to get readers to notice. Here are just a few:
Front and back matter in your books: If you’re self-published, include a sign-up link at the front and/or back of your book. My formatting software makes this easy. When a happy reader finishes the book, a call to action immediately after “the end” could land you a subscriber straightaway. Even if you’re traditionally published, your publisher might be willing to include a link to sign up. After all, it’s in their best interests too, if you gain a fan.
Website: If you have a website, or blog, make sure your sign-up link is prominent, and on every page (eg in the side bar) Make it clear what you’re offering, eg “for a free book, click here.” Some authors use pop-up windows. Personally I find them irritating, but it works for some.
Ask a friendly author to cross-promote: Check out author groups on social media in your genre to see if you can find someone happy to swap sign-up links with you. Don’t worry if your list of subscribers is small. Every author started at some point, and many are willing to share links.
Promotional platforms: Services such as bookfunnel, booksweeps, or story origin enable authors to sign up to bigger joint promotions which gather e:mail addresses. Some of these, (such as bookfunnel), incur a cost, but it’s worth it. Bookfunnel has plenty of genre-specific promotional events happening, run by authors, as well as providing technical support for readers wanting to download your book—which means you don’t have to answer endless “my download hasn’t worked, can you help?” messages. The promotional events are like mass author newsletter swaps, so it pays to sign up for promotions specific to your genre to get the right readers. The event will gather e:mail addresses for everyone downloading your book, and you can add them to your mailing list.
Tip: give your signup as much visibility as possible, but make sure it appears in the right place for your genre. Newsletter swaps with other authors, whether individual, or organised through services such as bookfunnel, can boost your subscribers significantly.
- What about freebie-hunters?
Ah – the dreaded double-dippers! There will always be people just wanting a free book. I get a lot of subscribers who download the free novella, then unsubscribe as soon as my next newsletter goes out. But that’s Ok. My magnet is there to encourage people to sign up, rather than to make money, I’m happy if people download it for free – that’s what I want them to do! And many of the new sign-ups will stick with me and stay subscribed.
Tip: Don’t let it get to you if people download your magnet then unsubscribe. It’s not personal, and happens to everyone.
- Regular Spring clean—keeping readers engaged
You may have heard of open rates, click rates and so on. These statistics tell you how successful each newsletter is. Some newsletter providers show you comparable statistics for authors in general. The higher the open rate, the more people were interested enough to open and read your newsletter. If your open rate starts to reduce, you might want to check your content. Is it interesting and varied enough, or is it just salesy spiel? Is it on brand, or have you changed your style? What about the e:mail header? Is it enticing enough to want someone to open it?
Some readers will be unengaged no matter what you do—the ones who signed up for the freebie and never opened a newsletter since, or who’ve just lost interest over time. Mailing list providers will charge more for larger lists, so unengaged subscribers can cost you money as well as lower your open rates.
You should be able to filter your address list to identify who’s not engaged for a while. You could then either send them a targeted e:mail asking if they’re still interested (eg ask them to click a link, and if they do, keep them on the list), or you could simply delete them from your list. I’ve recently removed the least engaged subscribers from my list, and my open rate has risen.
Another benefit of having a “clean” list is deliverability because the system recognises that you have good engagement. Cleaning off the really uninterested individuals also reduces the risk of abuse reports (see 9. below).
Tip: Spring clean your list to remove the unengaged. This helps with overall deliverability in the future, keeps costs down, and minimises the risk of complaints.
- Help, help, I’m being abused!
Abuse reports happen when someone marks your newsletter as “spam”. This is often done accidentally, or as a lazy way to unsubscribe. If you get an abuse report, don’t panic, but do consider why it might have happened. Have you been sending too many e:mails? Or, bizarrely, too few? If you go months without sending a newsletter, your readers might forget you and mark your next e:mail as spam because they don’t know who it’s come from. Is your content too repetitive and filled with a volley of “buy my book” posts? Check your brand and style to ensure consistency, so readers get what they’ve come to expect.
I had a couple of abuse reports a few months ago and since then I’ve added a more prominent piece at the bottom of my newsletter, reminding readers why/how they signed up and pointing them to the unsubscribe link. If you get too many abuse reports, your mailing list provider might contact you asking for proof of how you collect e:mails, and could even suspend your account while they investigate. I don’t know anyone this has happened to. I think it comes back to the rule “don’t be a dick”. Clearly I don’t know any authors who are dicks!
Tip: Don’t panic if you get an abuse report – just review your content for next time and clean off the unengaged subscribers to minimise the risk of it recurring.
- Two-way street
The best thing about a newsletter is having contact with readers. I consider it a win if readers respond back and strike up a conversation, and I’ve chatted to several really lovely people through my mailing list, as well as recruited an ARC team. If, like me, you love engaging with readers, then look for ways to make your newsletters more interactive. Ask them a question, or ask for suggestions such as running a competition to choose the name of a character in your next book. I once shared an ice-cream recipe and asked for ideas for flavours for my next batch – and received some great suggestions! I also run giveaways, asking readers to respond with a screenshot, or comment, or even just to click on a link, to be in with a chance of getting a gift.
Tip: Be interactive! Asking your readers a question, or running competitions and giveaways, can boost engagement. Communication works both ways.
So that’s my top ten tips! I’ve only been running a newsletter for a year, but I’ve been having such fun with it, so why not give it a go? Everyone has their own style or preferred approach, but I hope these tips have given you some ideas on how to get started and what to watch out for.