Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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June 19, 2023

How to Write a Newsletter People Will Actually Share, Part 1

by Lisa Norman

vector image showing newsletters and emails sharing and flying around

There's a hole in the bucket.

When I work with writers on their marketing, everyone has a firm opinion about newsletters. Many authors come to me aggressively denying their need for a newsletter. "You can't make me do one!" Others say they know they need one, but they don't know how to start. I've watched authors build their following from nothing. In this multi-part series, I want to show you not just why, but how you can build your newsletter following.

To start, let's change the definition of "newsletter," A newsletter is an email that you write to your superfans. Get rid of all other preconceived ideas about what that looks like and return to this basic definition.

Authors who don't have an email list that people can sign up for are losing a direct connection with their fans. In marketing funnels, everything brings people back to the signup forms. If you don't have an email list, your funnel can work better than any other funnel in the universe and it will fail because there's no bucket to catch your readers.

Why I believe in newsletters.

I've worked with quite a few clients with highly monetized platforms. They've built up their followings, and they have products that sell well. These are the ones where you can see immediately the value of an email list. I love it when you can track sales on a site, and you can hold the graph of sales up to the graph of when those emails go out.

There's a reason marketing professionals push writers to have an email list: they work. The email list that an author maintains is the most powerful tool they have for selling books.

Your email list is a direct connection between you and people who want to buy your books.

Why some newsletters work, and others don’t.

Some authors know their fans. They know what their fans want, and they give them exactly what they want. Others struggle with finding an audience.

Look in your email box for the next few days. Pay attention to which newsletters you throw away and which ones you open. Which ones do you open first? Why? Do you have a newsletter that you look forward to? Is there one that you would even pay money for? (Substack is a growing platform for monetized newsletters. Yes, people pay to receive newsletters.)

Why do you open some newsletters, save others, and delete most of them? The ones you keep have something for you, something you specifically want. You know you can trust those authors to deliver. Others are a waste of your time. You're busy. That author didn't respect your needs, and so you didn't even open the newsletter. Remember this when you put your newsletters together.

Finding your audience

We can find our audience in one of several ways: with a blog, with a newsletter, or with our books. Blogging and writing newsletters are a much faster way to connect with an audience than writing books! You can experiment with blogs and newsletters. You can also experiment with books, but they require a much greater time and energy investment. If you've learned to connect with your audience through your newsletter, you'll also be able to focus your books so that they'll delight your readers.

You're going to start small.

If you write in a genre with a well-defined readership, then you may be able to participate in a newsletter promotion or newsletter swap to grow your audience.

But most writers aren't that lucky. Most build up their fan base slowly over time, and that's okay.

Quality over quantity

I've seen some writers buy lists or participate in promos and get a bunch of signups only to end up with a list that is barely functional. It isn't the number of emails you have on your list. It is the number of true fans that you have. 10 true fans are worth more than 100 people who signed up to win a prize.

As your list grows, you will run into challenges: sending limitations, cost increases, and more. If that list is strong and clean, these issues will be irrelevant because the list will be generating income and paying for itself — more on that in a moment. If that list is weak, I've seen writers decide to scrap the list and start over. Don't get yourself into that situation. Be content with a smaller list, and let it grow over time. Remember: we don't just want to write good newsletters: we want sharable newsletters. Sharable newsletters will find new fans.

How can an email list earn its keep?

When you think of monetizing your newsletters, maybe you think of Substack or other subscription-based platforms like Ko-fi, Ream, or Patreon. And those work, but there are other ways that your newsletter will support itself:

  • Improving your discoverability
  • Increased book sales
  • Super-charging your fan base so they will tell others about you, share your newsletters, and purchase your books

Newsletter basics

A person's email address is a bit of personal information that has a high value. You're asking them to give you that email address and to allow you to put your messages directly in their inbox. That's a big ask! You want to make it easy for them to sign up.

Signup form on every page

Every page of your website should have a signup form. You may even want to include a signup button on your social media pages! Keep your signup forms simple: name and email address is enough. Sometimes just asking for the email address is enough! You don't need extra information. Sure, once you have a huge list, having more information can be helpful, but the more information you ask for, the less likely people are to sign up.

Pick a platform.

There are many platforms for sending newsletters. Most will let you send to a small list for free, but will charge as your list grows. MailChimp and MailerLite are both well-known and stable. My favorite for people with WordPress websites is a plugin called The Newsletter Plugin.

Why do I recommend one that no one has ever heard of? Because it lives on your website, alleviating privacy concerns. Their pro version also has all the tools of the more well-known platforms without a monthly minimum or per-subscriber fee. It does run on your website, so it will be subject to the limitations of your hosting. It integrates with tools like Send in Blue and Amazon SES to allow you to get around those limitations once you have a larger list. The Newsletter Plugin is fantastic for people just starting to build a list, but it has the power to handle lists of 10,000 or more!

Make sure your email reaches their inbox.

Look, technically these emails are promotional emails, so many email providers will filter them out. Increase your chances by setting up a branded email address (you@yourname.com) and then send a test email to Mail Tester (https://www.mail-tester.com/) to make sure that there aren't any technical difficulties. Mail Tester is a website that will check your newsletter and diagnose any problems that might cause it to go to spam.

Sometimes fixing the problems can take a bit of work, but there's no point in sending out an email that never reaches its destination! The best email in the world won't do you any good if no one receives it.

Create a template.

Keep it simple! I have a client who sends out a newsletter that is designed by a graphic artist. The content is on point and people pay to receive it. The #1 complaint she receives is that it is over-designed. People want simple, easy-to-read newsletters. Bonus points if they can be read easily on phones. Don't try to get fancy. Don't set yourself up with grand expectations and elaborate patterns you need to follow each month. Make it simple to send and easy to read.

Be welcoming.

Write a welcome email that goes out whenever someone signs up. If you want to be fancy, you can create a series of welcome emails. You can even create different ones depending on where people sign up. But know that you don't have to be fancy. Just a simple welcome email will suffice. You want people to know that you value them. Let them know what to expect from you. Let them know they've come to the right place.

Do you have a newsletter? What has your experience been with it? Share your wins AND your horror stories!

* * * * * *

About Lisa

head shot of smiling Lisa Norman

Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that her first novel was written on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, she can be found wandering the local beaches.

Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, LLC, an indie publishing firm.

Interested in learning more from Lisa? Sign up for her newsletter or check out her brand new classroom!

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39 comments on “How to Write a Newsletter People Will Actually Share, Part 1”

  1. Wonderful info Lisa, thank you! Newsletters are one of those things that, no matter what you’re doing, you feel like you should be doing something else! I’m going to check out the provider within WordPress.

    You’re the best!

    1. You're welcome, Laura! And that's it exactly. I recently asked a group of pros what their questions were... And newsletters were at the heart of most of them.

    1. I'll be curious what you think of it, byngnigel. A lot of it depends on if your host allows emails (most do) and then you have options once you grow beyond that maximum. For example, my favorite SiteGround does 400/day as a max. I've seen others with no max, but they set the 100/hour... and eventually you just want more speed. I love that this plugin allows me to work with Amazon SES or SendinBlue to send huge lists fast. BUT... that *is* in the pro (paid) version. Whatever you wind up using, our newsletter software is an important part of making the process smooth!

      1. Your posts are always very informative.

        I was wondering how you go about using the Newsletter Plugin with Amazon SES or Sendinblue. I’ve haven’t wrapped my head around how this works.

        1. Cynthia, the plugin has additional features that you can turn on. SendinBlue and Amazon SES are two of those. You set up an account with the service, turn the module on, connect it up the same way you'd authenticate an account (log in) and the system does the rest.

          These modules even handle bounced emails, etc. From there, when you send, the emails just go out via that service. Works very well.

  2. Thank you, Lisa. I look forward to more on this topic. I write a bi-monthly newsletter on topics of caregiving and growing older, but, alas, my list is growing quite slowly. I’m encouraged, though, by your words that a list of true fans is better than a long list of prize seekers.

    1. In part 2, I'm going to dig a bit more into the nuances of finding those people, but here's a question for you, Deb.

      Think about the people on your list. They're all in that space and they have unique problems (what marketers call "pain points") that you have the answers to. Why do I say that? Because your newsletter IS growing.

      So pick something that everyone who will love you has in common - maybe it is an encouragement they need, an answer they need, or just being heard. Write your next newsletter on that topic. Make sure your subject and snippet (teaser) for the newsletter make it clear you are going to answer that. (If your software doesn't have a teaser, make sure it is in the first line of the content...).

      Use all of your writer skills and answer that pain point with skill and style and super-powered writing. Whatever that need is, do your best to meet it.

      Then let's see what happens. These are experiments. If you hit it right, your existing folks will open, read, and forward it to their associates. And then hopefully some of them will sign up. Never guaranteed, but that's the process in a very brief condensed milk format.

  3. This is a just-in-time series for me as I've made it a goal to re-do my website and email sign-up process to garner more readers. Thanks, I look forward to more info on this topic. I know it is critical to have an email list of real followers.

    1. Lisa - the tidbit for you as you redesign the website: easy signup on every page, especially blog pages, because often a blog page is the only one people see before they wander off.

      Enjoy the process!

  4. I'm wondering about sharing. I offer perks and exclusives to my subscribers. Having my newsletter go wide seems to violate their trust that they're getting something special.

    1. Terry - you are correct, if you are using the newsletter that way, you may not want it shared. But then... think about it. Do you want more readers? You might be able to play off the "fomo" (fear of missing out) - which is what people are relying on when they use this strategy.

      So in your case, you want people to say, "OH... I just read the BEST short story, but I can't share it... but you can get it by signing up for this newsletter." So they're "sharing" with word of mouth, but not physically sharing the newsletter.

      Do be aware, though: there's no stopping people from just sending on an email. Best to find a way to use that and pull those extended folks back to your signup form.

      1. Thanks for sharing your reasoning. My subscribers get a reader magnet when they sign up. I have no objections to word of mouth sharing (obviously!) and I know people are free to forward it, but I'm not looking to encourage it at this time.

        1. Terry - and again: that's valuable insight that you have into your fans. You know this makes them more loyal and they feel special. That's wonderful!

  5. Lisa, I love this! I hope I'm not the only writer who has had trouble figuring out how to gather an email list and then what to do with it. I can't wait for the next installment.

    1. Lynette - seriously? From an outside view, you do fantastic. How often do I share your posts on social media, etc? Yes, I know: posts vs newsletter, but you're using your newsletter that way (and it is brilliant). You're repurposing content, post becomes newsletter becomes social share extraordinaire. (Seriously folks - Lynette's posts are fantastic...)

      The whole term "newsletter" is just riddled with misunderstandings. But yes, these things grow slowly. TOO slowly. I wish I had a magic bullet that would make them suddenly grow WELL. (Lots of newsletter swaps will grow a list... but quality isn't always there. Sometimes it is, though.) That's my goal for part 2. We'll see if I can cover it well!

    1. Lori - you did? Email me a link to the test results if you want. Let me see if I can give you some pointers. Forget everything else until you pass it. No one is getting the emails, so it doesn't matter if they are brilliant or not. We'll get that fixed!

  6. I have a newsletter with a small following. (Around 35) It has about a 33% open rate.
    My newsletter list has been about the same for several years. I've done everything we are told to get people to sign up. I have a free and exclusive short story for people who sign, but they don't.
    I get more people signing up to my blog than my newsletter. There I have nearly 500 who signed directly, and another 400+ who receive my posts via other social media.
    So, as far as I am concerned, my blog is a better bet.

    1. VM, I'd like to follow on with this to clarify the term newsletter, and highlight your power here. I hate the baggage around "newsletter". Let's call it a communication that goes from you directly to your fans' email box.

      With that definition, I think you have a much larger list.

      Yes, technologically, we may not have data on open rates, etc, but those that hit the inbox include your blogs.

      I don't include the social media not because they aren't good but because they aren't reliable and have a much lower conversion rate. Translation: if 100 people get an email, maybe 10-30 will buy a book. If 100 social media followers are on a list that gets sent a post about a book, statistically you'll get maybe a couple of sales just because most of them won't even see the post.

      So count your blog email subscriber list as "newsletter" subscribers. There are different approaches but there's no requirement that the newsletter be different than your blog!

      (See above, another user is relying on fomo technique. In her case the content will be different. Both are valid approaches and it requires knowing your ideal fans and what they respond best to.)

      In your case, this is working and brilliant. It is also possible that the people who are on your official email list are super fans. (30% open rate is pretty good.) In which case maybe you can think of how to reward them and leverage the power there.

      You're doing great!

      1. Lisa, I too agree with Sang above that blogging and social media has some advantages both for content and reach. I write a Reading Fiction Blog offering free short stories once a month by famous contemporary and classic authors on WordPress. Which has one of the highest social media keyword links. I often get 50+ visits on my landing page per day and many are new visitors. I also do an Author of the Week once a month. On my blog landing page are all my books linked to Amazon, so sales do happen. I think the advantage to keeping an active blog with twice a month posts can get far more online exposure to potential readers than an email list of fans. So my followers keep growing. I am sometimes tempted to try a newsletter, but the thought of adding another monthly task is daunting. Content for a long term monthly newsletter has me stumped.

        1. Paula - just a thought to consider: blog content and email list content does not have to be different. You have people who find you and like what you are doing, but they don't necessarily return. If you have your blog content set to automatically go out to your subscribers, IMO that counts as a "newsletter" and you might get a lot more reads on each post.

          Yes, frequency is helping you in SEO ranking, absolutely. So will comments and shares. So bringing your die hard followers in and getting them to start discussions and share... is just going to boost what you've got going. You may already be doing that, so I don't know. But if you aren't... might be worth experimenting with!

    1. Thanks, Suzanne! One of my brilliant customers found that and I've found it extremely useful. There's nothing worse than thinking you're getting crickets from your clients only to realize they never got the email!

  7. Hi Lisa,

    Your post is timely as I revamp my email list and hope to engage with it more fully.

    My list has grown to the point I now have to pay for it in various ways, but with your guidance, you are helping me to turn my quirky newsletters into a time-based reader connection that I can better use to sell my work and services.

    It's true - the sooner you start building your email list, the better it will become over time. Patiences has paid off for me, even if I haven't used bold and flashy techniques to sell, sell, sell.

    Thanks for sharing these insights!
    Kris

    1. You make a good point, Kris! As a list grows, it can become expensive. Making sure we aren't wasting money on those who are not our people is huge. You're doing great!

  8. Great start to a deeeep subject, Lisa. I'm one of those people who just couldn't figure out how to do the newsletter, and I promise I tried.

    For years I tried, but I think the biggest list I ever built was 113 people? Depressing, because they were not engaged either. Or rather, I didn't know how to properly engage THEM.

    Yes,...I will take full responsibility for my flop.

    For anyone trying to learn how to do this, I did get directed to Substack, and I have two platforms now. Just started, but so far I'm getting new signups every day, and the open rate of my emails hovers around 72-76%.

    I believe that's because my list is so small, but just having readers opening the newsletters has me excited.

    When you said simple is fine, my old self would have argued...thinking that it had to be designed perfectly, to catch people's attention. On Substack, readers are replying, telling me they enjoy my writing and voice...and I'm blown away.

    Never thought I'd have these results. Yes, I know I just started, but if there is a handful of people, mostly strangers, who like what I'm doing, there COULD be more out there.

    The best part about this process, is that I get to focus on writing and engaging people on a personal level.

    Looking forward to part 2.

    1. Jaime - that's the key to a powerful newsletter. You're being you and you are engaging people. People love what you have to offer. You're doing it right! 😉

  9. Thank you. Very informative. Will be looking for part 2. I am new at all of this and am promoting an idea/concept for family benefit/not my profit-although I would like to write for current magazines. A newsletter is on my list. Barbara

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