Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Email Newsletters : Frequency and Content

Yesterday we looked at some of the reasons you might want to consider building a mailing list and starting an email newsletter. Today we’ll cover the frequency and content questions that arose from Dani’s introductory post.


How Often Should You Send a Newsletter?

Susan Wittig Albert has a long-standing weekly newsletter, as does Angela Hoy of WritersWeekly and Hope Clark of Funds for Writers. Our own Terry Odell told us she sends her newsletter out quarterly, which she has found to be sufficient (and Terry will tell us more about her strategies and the email service she uses on the 18th). However, Terry blogs daily, so she already has the element of predictability and reliability with which to draw her readers.

Sending a newsletter weekly is a good strategy. You can become part of your reader’s weekly habits. For example, she knows your email pitches up in her inbox on the same day she goes to the gym and it’s ideal for a quick read while she finishes her coffee.

An infrequent newsletter is risky because someone may forget they signed up for your mailing list and hit the spam button. Even a month is a long time in our high-speed high-tech lifestyles.

What to Write About

If you’re not blogging to a regular, predictable schedule, a newsletter is an excellent way to let your readers know there’s something at your site for them to read.

If you blog daily or a few times a week, your newsletter could function as a weekly wrap up, and I would suggest this option to someone like Terry, if she wanted to increase the frequency of her mailings. Not every reader has the time to read their favourite blogs every day, but receiving a list of headlines with the introduction or a summary and the links means they won’t miss the topics they’re really interested in.

Another option is to pick a theme and list all your old blog posts on that theme. This is a great way to get eyeballs on your older content without resorting to reruns. Neither of these options require that you write any additional content for your newsletter.

Susan Wittig Albert also pointed out that she recycles her newsletter content knowing that new subscribers have joined and older subscribers would have forgotten the articles from several years ago. Jeri Westerson told us she writes articles of interest for her newsletters (historical in her case) that relate to her books, and this is a great way to make more use of your research material.

A Word of Caution

To wrap up this post, I want to draw your attention to the CAN-SPAM Act regarding Email Marketing. It’s a legal requirement in the US to comply with these obligations, but even authors outside the US should know about and follow the CAN-SPAM conditions of business. Most email- and autoresponder management services have these requirements built in to their features, notably the “double opt-in” setup, and providing unsubscribe links and a snail-mail address in each email sent. The latter may cause you some reservation due to privacy issues. Most people choose to pay for a Post Office box, but I have also seen authors using their agents’ business addresses in a “care of” capacity at the end of their newsletters.


Elle Carter Neal
is currently building up her own email mailing list (again) after mistakenly believing email correspondence would die out. Elle is the author of the teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, due out later this year. Visit her Writer's Workdesk for more writing-related articles.

16 comments :

  1. Very helpful, Elle. As soon as I can I am going to start working on a newsletter. Not sure I can do one weekly, but once a month seems doable. Thanks for all the tips.

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    1. I'm glad it helped you, Maryann. I'm sure most people start out on a more "doable" schedule, like monthly, and gradually work up to producing weekly content. It's like blogging; it takes time to build up the writing routine, as well as streamlining the delivery method. Good luck with it.

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  2. I wondered about the "unsubscribe" option. I've been doing a lot of that lately. I'd be interested in what kind of content authors send out if it isn't their blog? Hopefully there will be more on this topic!

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    1. Have a look at Jeri's newsletter, Diana (she posted a link directly to one in the comments on Dani's post). It's a very good example of using your research material to create extra content. But it is the wealth of choice we as modern authors now have and have to work out each for ourselves: which publishing platform does this particular piece of writing best suit (traditional, indie, print, ebook, newsletter, blog, Twitter, etc.)

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  3. Love these oh-so-helpful tips, Elle! Since a newsletter has long been a goal for sometime in the future, you're inspiring me to make it a current project. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks, Linda. I'm glad I've inspired you.

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  4. I sure wish I had the initiative to do this kind of stuff ... I issue one post per week on my blog ... here's how is goes: Tuesday I start thinking about next week's post, Wednesday I think about it some more. Thursday I might pen a few sentences, but normally that doesn't happen until Friday ... Sat/Sun, well it's the weekend, for heaven's sake ... Monday, I panic and finish the post ... and, then it's Tuesday again. A newsletter might just over-tax my poor little underworked brain.

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    1. That sounds very much like my working schedule, Christopher! Discipline, grasshopper, discipline.

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  5. I'll talk about unsubscribes at month-end, Diana. Also, I would strongly recommend you NOT send a weekly newsletter if the content is mostly about you, instead of "added content" for the reader. Susan Albert's weekly newsletter works weekly because it offers information the READER can use in their life - herb lore, holidays coming up, recipes. If you are emailing weekly about YOUR book process, YOUR life, YOUR views (YOUR YOUR YOUR), you will be spamming. It's as simple as that. Don't do that. It gets very tiresome for even your biggest fans to hear from you that often. Monthly is plenty for book updates, with the occasional special offer like a contest. Quarterly is probably optimum for most authors who see it as just another chore.

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    1. I agree to a point, Dani. Some truly wonderful content has been produced based on "me, me, me" - but one has to be an amazing writer with a very special and unique angle to pull it off.

      Your fans are signing up probably for one or both of two reasons: they want to know when your next book is coming out (if they're already fans), or they want a taste (for free) of your writing. You can give them that in the form of short stories, annecdotes, interesting information, etc. The shorter the email the better - one little snippet each week.

      Australian author Kate Forsyth used to write the most amazing newsletter, but it was so long and so full of content that it was something I always flagged to come back to when I had more time (and then forgot about). Then someone suggested she start a blog instead and send out a shorter newsletter, and, from what I can tell, the result appears to be a much better open and click-through rate.

      It can be hit and miss. It does take a bit of experimenting to get the right note.

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  6. I used to do a newsletter that was aimed at new writers. It had a set format that included an upcoming contest or event for writers, excepts from an article about writing or publishing, news about agents, etc. It only went out to those who had subscribed.

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    1. And an excellent newsletter it is (was?), too. Have you shelved that, Helen? I was just thinking things seemed very quiet from your end lately.

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  7. I've never done a newsletter--like Christopher, I don't know where I'd find the time to do one more thing!! And, frankly, the newsletters I subscribe to often get put aside for reading "later" and then I never get around to it.

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    1. I know what you mean, Heidi. I'm thinking the same thing, but I'm determined to give the newsletter a real go this time. What I've read up about connecting directly with your readers makes a lot of sense. I've dropped a lot of other lower priority stuff in order to "find" (invent, perhaps) the time.

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    2. I kind of like this new reply stuff, don't you?

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  8. Heidi, your newsletter is mostly recycled work you've already done. You can just collect things in a file and then choose the items that work for a newsletter that month - and one page is best. Having a template that you fill in is the best approach for readers. That said, if you feel like it's just one more thing on your plate... then take a pass, because the project is probably not a good idea for you at this time.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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