Author Newsletters--Yay or Nay?
By Katrin Schumann
Media marketing experts agree that maintaining a robust newsletter is one of the best ways for an author to build a core audience--a group of people who will be more interested and committed to you and your work than, say, that stranger lurking on twitter or the random people liking your Instagram shots.
Before my first book came out, I launched a newsletter which amassed 2,000+ subscribers (my co-authors were incredible networkers). This definitely helped us get a publishing deal. We maintained it for a few years and then moved on.
Since then, I've stopped and started working on a new one--my own special project--half a dozen times. But the numbers were intimidating: would I feel like a loser if I didn't have thousands of subscribers in short order? Also, I didn't have a book to promote. So there wasn't really any point.
Right? Well, no. I've been thinking a lot about what art and culture mean to us in times of social upheaval, and I've yearned for a community that shares my interests. So I decided to take a risk and pull the trigger. This time, it's more about me having fun and making connections.
If you're toying with the idea, here are some questions I asked myself as I designed the first mailing and started building a new list. (If you want to see an example, click here.)
#1 What do I want my newsletter to look like?
Even if you're not design oriented, it's important to establish a consistent and attractive look for your newsletter. Something clean and readable. You want it to be recognizable and aligned with your personality and the kind of work you do. It's the beginning of building your brand and extending your platform.
I like color and cool images (hence my Instagram addiction), and I wanted my newsletter to reflect who I am. So I signed up for Canva and lost days noodling around their templates and learning how to design a header. Warning, you might get hooked. The basic service is free, it's pretty intuitive, and you can use it for all sorts of other things too. Here's what I came up with. I know it's too busy and there are various flaws but I love it, and that's what counts!
#2 What is the purpose of the newsletter?
This is key because it determines content. If you have a book coming out, you'll want to find a way to write about it, while also including stuff that your readers find interesting. You have to add value, or no one will subscribe (duh).
Personally, I wanted the freedom to write about any kind of art I'm interested in, not just books, so I came up with a mission statement: to spark creativity and create community. When I ask people to sign up, I let them know this is what I'm aiming for. I also give them an example of the first one so they can see what they'd be getting. It's helpful for you to be clear about your purpose--it will make the writing and design much easier for you.
#3 Who is my ideal subscriber?
There are rules (see here) about how you can build your subscriber list. You can't just import a whole bunch of names, people need to "opt in." I could probably have used emails from my earlier list (those people had already given me permission to enter their inbox) but that didn't feel right. This newsletter has a different focus, and since I truly want people to get something from it, that means starting from scratch.
Given the purpose of your own newsletter, think about your readership. Are you writing for writers, or for a more general population? The better you know who your ideal reader is, the easier it will be to figure out how to reach him or her. What I really like about the way this works is that it's so easy to subscribe and unsubscribe. Readers are in control.
#4 What email service (if any) should I use?
One thing I loved about my previous newsletter was that I could do surveys, make it look pretty, track which links were actually interesting to people (number of clicks), automate delivery etc. I had already mastered Constant Contact so I figured that was a doozy. But they're expensive and have an annoyingly persistent upselling strategy. I decided to use Mail Chimp instead, which allows you up to 2,000 subscribers for free. There are a lot of choices, so do your research.
These services make the design part fairly easy. You can choose from existing templates and drag and drop pictures etc. It's time consuming at first--you'll be spending entire days learning the ropes, but you'll become more efficient quickly.
Katrin Schumann is the author of The Forgotten Hours (Lake Union, 2019), a Washington Post bestseller; This Terrible Beauty, a novel about the collision of love, art and politics in 1950s East Germany (March, 2020); and numerous nonfiction titles. She is the program coordinator of the Key West Literary Seminar. For the past ten years she has been teaching writing, most recently at GrubStreet and in the MA prison system, through PEN New England. Before going freelance, she worked at NPR, where she won the Kogan Media Award. Katrin has been granted multiple fiction residencies. Her work has been featured on TODAY, Talk of the Nation, and in The London Times, as well as other national and international media outlets, and she has a regular column on GrubWrites. Katrin can also be found at katrinschumann.com, and on Twitter and Instagram: @katrinschumann.See other articles by Katrin Schumann
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