Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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August 7, 2023

Being Hacked Made Me Realize the Importance of Newsletters

by Dr. Diana Stout

In the far left corner is the back of someone in a black hood and black jacket superimposed over an image of 1s and zeros with the image making a bulging circle in the center and in the center of that circle is the word HACKED in red capital letters.

Do you struggle with creating and maintaining a newsletter?

I have, and from the first time I heard that authors needed to have a newsletter, I've struggled to find my newsletter niche, where writing one isn't a chore.

Because the experts insisted, I kept trying to write and mail a newsletter out regularly but found myself giving up after a few months every time.

I became convinced that my friends, fans, and followers' needs were being met through my blog posts and other postings in social media.

And then, I was hacked.

To make a long story short, on May 23 of this year, my Facebook account (Diana Stout) was hacked. Not cloned (copied) where one still had access to their account and can warn friends to ignore any friend requests.

No, I was hacked, which meant I had lost all control and access to my account, pages, private groups, and even groups I participated in.

I had ceased to exist. Worse, I had no way to contact my followers. (The hacker's name still shows up in my place on those pages and groups.)

The experts were right: I needed a newsletter.

I started over. I deleted those subscribers who had never opened any of my newsletters. At least, I was starting with 80 subscribers rather than 0.

To improve my newsletter and make it work for both me and my readers, I did some research.

What sage advice offered.

  • That a newsletter should be sent out regularly but irregular works, too. The point is to provide value to your subscribers.
  • That you want a strong following for agents and publishers if publishing traditionally.
  • That you want a catchy subject heading that creates curiosity so that they want to open/read the newsletter.
  • That you want a newsletter with 80% content and only 20% promo.
  • That you want it to be eye-catching and relatively short. Readers scan these days, giving newsletters mere seconds, not minutes of their time.
  • That you want to provide links for engagement.
  • That you want to provide a call-to-action element for further engagement.

The struggles of creating a newsletter.

To create a better newsletter, I needed to consider how and where I've struggled in the past.

  • With the masthead/header. I kept changing it. Why?
  • With my content niche. Other than any promotions, I felt like I was all over the place.
  • In finding content that didn't repeat my blogs.
  • In not wanting to repeat what others were doing in their newsletters.
  • In not sending it out regularly.
  • Too often, I had more promo than I did content, with more of my links promo-related, too.

Using the five Ws of journalism.

The best way to gather information for any project, is to use the five Ws of journalism: the who, what, where, when, and why.

  • WHO – Determine your audience. Be specific. It's better to have a smaller, narrower audience than a larger general audience.
  • WHAT – Determine the newsletter's content so it can be delivered consistently in every newsletter.
  • WHERE – Determine which newsletter platform to use.
  • WHEN – Determine how often the newsletter will be sent out.
  • WHY – Determine the newsletter's over-all purpose.

Additionally, I thought about the newsletters I prefer to receive and have remained subscribed.

  • Monthly newsletters that provide lots of links to classes, workshops, conferences, contests, and helpful how-to articles.
  • Irregular content newsletters that provide important information or insight due to an event that has altered their writing ability, and those that are short announcement newsletters only. Often, these are writers I know personally.
  • Newsletters from favorite authors, sent out once or twice a year announcing a new release. Of course, they can afford not to have regular mailings because they're best-selling authors and have been for years. For the rest of us, we're still growing our newsletters.

Consider what your preferences are. Why do you like them?

Find what works for you.

As a professor of writing classes and as a writing coach, my advice has always been: use and do what works for you.

In following my own advice, I discovered I needed to brand my newsletter to my website. I needed to use a photo, too. I decided I was okay with an irregular announcement newsletter, since I'm publishing several times a year now and because I have promised every subscriber that their mailbox will love me due to my infrequent emails. But now, after this new look at newsletters, I want to add a couple more elements to add interest and helpful information for both writers and readers.

Your result may be totally different. Again, find what works for you!

Tips to growing your newsletter subscriber list.

Cartoon style drawing of four smiling people with an envelope above each of their heads and above it all is an envelope with the @ sign on a paper inside it.
  • Know that it will take time to grow your list.
  • Know that everyone starts at the beginning with zero subscribers. Everyone.
  • Know that you can test your newsletter by using the A/B option in your newsletter platform. It's a great way to test subject lines and to compare open and click rates.
  • Know that you can build a list more quickly by providing freebies and giveaways. Also know that in doing so, you'll see more unsubscribes, but they aren't personal. It just means your newsletter wasn't a good fit for them. After all, don't we provide our email addresses for freebies to which we then unsubscribe because their newsletter isn't a good fit for us?
  • Know that you can make changes to create your best newsletter style, to obtain better open and click rates.
  • Promote your newsletter everywhere by providing links on your website, social media, and email signature.

The best thing about having a mailing list is that you own and control it. I have yet to hear of any newsletter being hacked.

How about you? What's in your favorite newsletters, the ones you open consistently? Do you struggle with creating regular newsletters? Have you started one yet?

* * * * * *

About Diana

Diana Stout, MFA, PhD

Dr. Diana Stout is an award-winning writer in multiple genres who enjoys helping other writers. The author of Finding Your Fire & Keeping It Hot, and the Laurel Ridge romance series, she's teaching a Master Class, Punctuation and Grammar Made Easy, in January 2024, with limited seating. To receive immediate news of the class and of new releases, be sure to subscribe to her From the Desk of Diana Stout MFA PhD newsletter.

Learn more about Dr. Stout at her website, Sharpened Pencils Productions. Follow her new Facebook account here: DrDiana Stout. (She's the only Dr Diana in Facebook.)

Image Credits:

Top image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Second image by Kate Stejskal from Pixabay

17 comments on “Being Hacked Made Me Realize the Importance of Newsletters”

  1. I actually look forward to a few newsletters - I'm thinking of ones from Ann Garvin, Jacqueline Mitchard, Rebecca Makkai, and the other Maggie Smith (the poet) - because they are pithy, funny, wry, and interesting. Rebecca recently did a series on novel endings that was scholarly but fun and Maggie routinely dissects poems, giving us a deep dive into her creative process. Each has a unique style but it usually involves them telling me an actual story that happened to them in real life and how they grew, changed, reacted, or sloughed off whatever occurred.

    1. OOooo, Maggie, thanks for the suggested newsletters! I love newsletters that reveal personal speed bumps and how they were managed. Love your reply! Thanks for visiting.

  2. I am sorry this happened to you but thank you for sharing this important and helpful information. I'm saving this.

    I struggle with what my readers want as content in my newsletters. What provides value to them. Thanks to Maggie Smith's reply, I now have a few more ideas for content.

    1. Lynette, as much as I hated how it happened, for two years prior I kept talking about how I needed to cut back: get rid of a few pages, unjoin from some groups, etc. The Universe heard me! Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  3. I've been thinking about using Substack. It's seems to be the on-trend one at the moment. Free options, and paid content, too. A lot of people are using it from celebs to bestselling authors.

    Any thoughts?

    PS. I have seen a newsletter get hijacked and received some inappropriate content.

    1. Denise, I've never heard of Substack but hopefully, there will be others who comment, who will see your comment and respond. Wow, you've actually seen a newsletter get hacked! So, it CAN happen. Ouch. Thanks for responding!

  4. Good post - and a reminder to use things like two-factor authentication on all accounts, if it is available (don't know if you did).

    But 'having a newsletter' goes onto the list of 'things that are hard to do because they take time' when you are a disabled author, and are barely managing as it is.

    So far, the best I can do is to post on my blog and the books' blog when I have an idea, and to have that post go out to those who are signed up.

    So many things I can't do - but the writing has to come first IF I have time, energy, and a functional brain, so I just say, "Oh, well," and do the little I can.

    I get behinder every day!

    1. Hi Alice,

      Yes, I'm aware of the two-factor authentication, though don't remember Facebook pushing it like other social media did/does. As much as I hate having to do it, it's definitely worth doing! So thanks for that reminder.

      I'm right there with you about getting behinder--love the new word!!! I was spending so much time promoting and dealing with social media, the writing was getting neglected. And, it's the writing that matters more! I just finished a writing chore that's been on my to-do list for nearly a year because it came after the writing and there were so many other writing chores--more important chores than it--yet, it was just as important. (Sigh.) So many tasks, so little time. So much writing to do and wow is the time ever speeding by!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  5. Having Facebook hacked is a very real and often permanent problem that I wouldn't wish on anyone. I know of large businesses who have lost their whole business page with thousands of followers and attached group. Devastating.

    I don't think newsletters have ever gone out of fashion, but they do take work to provide ongoing value. Thanks for the tips.

  6. This is a great post, Diana! Goes well with the series I've been doing on newsletters!

    I'll add a tip for you. People who read newsletters usually don't read your blog, so there's nothing wrong with repurposing blog content for a newsletter. In fact, there's absolutely NOTHING wrong with having a newsletter automated to send out your blogs! Think about the email you get from WITS when new blog posts are released.

    Many fans will APPRECIATE that type of newsletter, because then they don't miss your updates.

    I'm so sorry your Facebook got hacked. But if it means you put energy into your newsletter, I suspect that in the end, it'll be a huge win for you.

    1. Ooooo, Lisa! Thank you so much for the info that newsletter readers enjoy & appreciate receiving blog materials. In fact, I was thinking of creating blog summaries with links to blogs posted between newsletters. You helped me confirm that decision! Thanks for commenting! Much appreciated.

  7. Diana, since I know you, I know how much you struggled to put it all back together after the hacker took away your account. But you did it! Thanks for taking such an awful experience and turning it into a learning experience for the rest of us in more than one way. So much good newsletter wisdom and advice here.

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