by Lisa Norman
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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 (email@example.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.
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.
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!
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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.
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