Unlike social media posts, your author newsletter is a direct line to people interested in hearing from you, and receiving your content. It sits in an inbox where interested people can read it a their leisure, instead of on a social media feed where it may be drowned out by thousands of posts vying for attention. Newsletters effectively reach your people, but what you can offer in yours to make it worthwhile for your subscribers?
What Should I Write About?
Imposter syndrome can hit hard when it comes to writing a newsletter, especially if you don’t have a release date for your first book yet (I would know, being about to send out my fourth newsletter, and still querying and researching self publishing, with no release date in sight yet 😉). The good news is, a newsletter can be a lot more than just a means for people to learn when and where your next book is out.
In considering what to offer in your newsletter, I’d think about:
General interests and life experiences (ones you’re comfortable sharing) which you have in common with your readers.
Things that will make you relatable to your readers, or help them connect with you.
Things that may entertain or educate your readers.
Your own thoughts or experiences related to major themes in your writing, which are likely to also impact on your readers lives, or be topics they care about.
Personal/ Wip/ Book Updates
Share your personal, wip or book updates first with the people who trusted you with their email address. Give them more of the juicy details than you do on social media. Tell them the jokes or show sides of your personality that don’t fit into your social posts. Share your reflection on a life event you and your main character have experienced and your readers are likely to relate to. Tell your subscribers how your pet’s or child’s demands for attention forced you into making productive use of what time you have to write without interruption. Think about experiences, actions and thoughts which make you human and which your readers can relate to and marry the two in your update. This is what I meant above when I said ‘things that make you relatable to your readers, help them connect with you.’
This isn’t just for published authors. If you’re editing or querying a novel, you may also want to include blurbs about your characters, settings or the struggles your characters face, to generate interest in and allow your subscribers to enter the world of your stories. This could be blurbs, or creative writing, eg. news sources or diaries ‘produced’ by characters in your fictional world.
If you commission character art or create mood boards for your book, this is a good space to show them and or cover reveals off. Again, give your subscribers the v.i.p. treatment and share these things with them first. (This being one of many reasons monthly newsletters are a good idea, as I find it impossible to tell my subscribers things first when my newsletter is only quarterly).
The thing a reader gets when they sign up to your newsletter. A common recommendation is a short story. For example, take a character’s backstory and write a short story about an episode from it. Later in a series, write a short about an event between books, or a scene after the series finishes, possibly wrapping up any final loose ends.
I know, not everyone writes shorts, but as your newsletter will appeal to people interested in your books, its worth giving them a sampler of your fiction as your reader magnet. I put off writing one for ages because I don’t do shorts, but after writing four picture books and a Middle Grade novel, I was surprised how easily I adapted my knowledge of story structure and character arcs to a 7,500 word story.
Alternately, or better yet additionally, you may like to use merchandise. For example, Emma Lombard created postcards using character art from her Historical Fiction debut, Discerning Grace, as a reader magnet. What digital merch could you include in a welcome email?
If you blog about topics like the inspiration for your books, book reviews etc, there’s a good chance your subscribers will be interested in your blogs. Sharing a concise blog blurb and a link to it lets you repurpose something you’ve already put the work in for. (I started off sharing my blog’s opening paragraphs in my newsletters, but I think a concise, personalised introduction for subscribers creates a more welcoming tone).
These can be interviews you’ve given, or conducted. I’d consider who you’re interviewing and how the interview relates to your subscriber’s interests. For example, are you interviewing an author who writes a similar genre or themes to your books? Or sharing your interview with an ‘expert’ that you did as part of your book’s research?
These could be events you personally are involved in. Or third party events of topical, thematic or genre interest to your readers, like festivals, readings, conferences, competitions, related identity group events, etc.
You might sponsor other writers giveaways and share them in your newsletter, an option for collaborative book promotion, particularly if you’re an Indie Author. A giveaway may also be merchandise (if you have it), or a query letter/ first chapter critique (especially if you’re also a freelance editor, or an agented author giving back to querying writers).
If you know authors writing in similar genres and audience ages, sharing a blurb and sign up link to their newsletter, and them doing the same for you in theirs, can help grow both newsletters. If you’re a fellow SFF writer, here’s a Facebook Group for arranging newsletter swaps.
Your email provider probably has a footer block to add to your newsletter template, with icons to link to your social media accounts. I display this below my sign off for each newsletter, to make it easy for my subscribers to visit my social media.
How Often Do I Send it?
The most common recommendation I’ve heard is monthly. Often enough for people to remember who you are, what you’re about and to eagerly open your newsletter. I’ve started with quarterly because I have too many balls in the air to manage monthly newsletters as well, and I suspect its negatively impacting the amount of opens I get. I know authors who are able to write fortnightly
How to Design & Write My Newsletter?
Before designing yours, I suggest (if you haven’t already), subscribing to the newsletters of a few writers you know (including some same genre authors). Look at what they include in their newsletters, how their content is organised, but also their presentation, tone etc. Consider what will suit your personality/ brand and your goals in designing and selecting content for your newsletter.
My favourite author newsletters are by Emma Lombard (Historical Fiction Author) for her personable tone and bookish content (you can read her January newsletter here). And Rue Sparks (Magical Realism, Mystery, Spec. Fic. Author), who illustrates what I mean when I talk about personal reflections on topics in this newsletter. If you’re wondering what my attempts to do the above look like, my January newsletter gives you a good idea and my April one will improve on it.
If you haven’t looked into branding yet, the main thing to bear in mind here is using consistent fonts and consistent colour schemes across your site and newsletter, and for any promo graphics you make which include text. You may also like to design your own newsletter graphic to promote your NL on your site, socials etc. I use the image on the right (made on canva), and another version as my email header.
This is something to consider throughout your entire newsletter.
What style of writing suits your personality and how you want to interact with your subscribers? How does your newsletter style compare to your books and their tone?
Are you aiming to invite readers to connect with you, to entertain them, to inform them and or to educate them in some way? What type of tone best suits your style and that purpose/ those purposes?
I’m Aussie, and we tend to be blunt, so my newsletters (like my blogs) speak quite directly. Entertainment isn’t my main goal, but I like to include some humour and show some personality in my personal updates, to make them an enjoyable read. My blogs aim to share my learnings as a writer and to help fellow writers on their journeys (which will shift gears to focus more on potential readers when I prepare to publish my first book). So at the moment, my blog and external resources sections aim to help writers (when my blog focuses on readers, this purpose/ aim will also include entertaining, connecting with and engaging readers.)
As you figure out your style, tone and purpose, you may also like to consider:
What do you want your reader to feel as they read your newsletter? How do you want them to respond to it? How can you style and structure your newsletter to meet those aims?
If imposter syndrome is on your back, and or you don’t think you’ve found your author platform voice yet, I suggest trying blogging before drafting a newsletter. Chances are your blog readers aren’t signed up to your blog. They haven’t made a commitment to you, so you’re under less pressure on a blog. And you’ve got space to practice writing longer-than-social-media messages to your readers, in your author voice.
It took me around six or seven blogs before I felt comfortable drafting a newsletter. My blog is where I’ve experimented with and developed my newsletter voice, developed my non-fiction writing style and played around with how to use those to connect with my readers, and to entertain and help them. I suggest experimenting with all that on your blog. And installing a page visit counter to see which blogs and styles are getting the most reads, and considering what worked well with your blog when writing your newsletter.
Developing a blog (and sharing it on your social media) gives your potential newsletter audience a chance to sample your content and realise that they may want to sign up. Alternately, giving your blog readers the chance to subscribe directly to your blog opens up a line of communication with people who don’t want to subscribe to your newsletter.
Mailing List Providers and Set Up
Which Mailing service provider should I use?
Mailchimp is free until you hit 2,000 subscribers (then pricy), Mailerlite being free for up to 1,000 subscribers, while Convertkit is expensive. To help you choose a provider, here’s a guest post on Jane Friedman’s blog comparing the three (courtesy of @RSJoneseeAuthor).
What Does a Mailing List Do?
If the term ‘mailing list’ is new to you, you may be wondering what’s physically involved in setting up your newsletter and mailing list, so I’ll unpack that. Whether you set up a sign up form on your site or on a landing page via your provider (more on sign ups below), once someone signs up to your newsletter, your provider will store their emails on a list. From there, it will provide you with newsletter templates. If the templates aren’t much chop, you should have the option to add content blocks of your choice from a menu. When your newsletter is finished, you can send it to everyone on your list via your provider.
Where do I send Emails to my List From?
Not your personal email account. Attempting to do this can cause tech issues (yes I know people who’ve tried it and had a lot of trouble). Most website hosts offer an email account to match your site, email@example.com, which looks more professional and doesn’t have those issues.
Which Emails Should I Set Up?
I recommend setting up an automated welcome email, thanking subscribers for signing up to your newsletter and stating its name. If your name isn’t clear in your newsletter title, I’d state your name too, so people know who’s speaking to them and that their sign up was successful. If you’re using Mailchimp and can only set up one automated email, I’d include your reader maget in this welcome email.
Then I suggest creating (and saving) a template for your regular newsletter. If you save it as both an email and a template, you can use the template (with your choice of fonts, colour schemes etc) to populate next month’s newsletter.
A goodbye letter for un-subscribers. I’m sure you’ve seen the ‘sorry to see you go’ type emails you get from third parties. As my newsletter is called ‘Fiction Frolics’, I sign it off by wishing them well in their fiction endeavours. You might also like to remind people that they can follow you on social media to stay in touch in this email.
Do you still want to receive these newsletters? This email is important to send out periodically, to the people your provider thinks aren’t opening your emails. Why? Because if people persistently don’t open your emails, your sender rating can be effected, which means your newsletters are more likely to end up in everyone’s spam folder. For more information about this and comprehensive newsletter set up tips, I recommend buying Newsletter Ninja.
Where Do I Promote My Newsletter On My Site?
If you have a single page site, at the top (for attention) or bottom of that page (by then, people will have some idea of what they’re signing up for, from your homepage’s content).
If you have a multi page site and no blog, you may like to put your newsletter blurb and sign up form on your contact page. However, if your contact page also includes your social media and or is crowded (like mine), its worth giving your newsletter its own page, mine being here.
The advantage of a newsletter-only page is that you can link your newsletter sign up directly to your Twitter bio, as well as your main site or blog (I’m trialling this on Insta too). I’m established and quite active on Twitter, and via my Twitter bio, my newsletter page gets more visits than any other single page or blog on my site.
If you have a blog too, I would do whichever of the above applies AND place a sign up form and newsletter blurb, or a link to your newsletter sign up page at the bottom of each blog. That way, people interested enough in reading your blogs to the end get another chance to sign up for more content.
Do I Need a Separate Landing Page for my Newsletter? If you’re using Story Origin or other external newsletter promoters, they may have landing pages for you to use for their set up. But for your set up, why give Mailchimp or other providers page visits from say Twitter, when your site could get those visits, and people could then browse your site from its newsletter page? (Making everything involve as few clicks as possible is an effective SEO strategy).
What Should Your Newsletter Blurb and or Sign Up Say and Look Like?
I suggest creating a newsletter header. Here’s mine again, which you’ll see in my site’s sidebar, its footer, and as my Twitter and Facebook page headers.
Every newsletter blurb I’ve read says at least ‘sign up for updates.’ That doesn’t tell potential subscribers anything specific or let them know what value they personally will get from your newsletter. So whatever else your blurb says, I’d at least tell people about the reader magnet they get for signing up. And don’t just say, ‘free short story.’ What genre? About what? As you can see, I went as far as describing my newsletter and providing a blurb for my short story, including the genre, audience age and title.
If you have an option for site visitors to subscribe just to your blog, I also suggest displaying that sign up on your newsletter page. For a visual, visit my sign up page.
Join my Fiction Frolics for quarterly fiction updates and behind-the-scenes, plus recent blogs by theme. Your welcome email includes: 10 Effective Phrases for Critical Readers, and a YA Fantasy short story.
15yo Urmillian rails against injustices his people suffer under foreign rule. When his father leads Tarlah’s rebellion, Urmillian abandons his family -risking their lives & his- to fight on the front line.
—Urmillian: Rebellion is due
Further Reading & Mailing List Resources
Newsletter Ninja (book), by Tammi L. Labrecque.
For blogging and site tips, see my Author Website Set Up Tips.
Story Origin, popular among my author friends for gaining newsletter subscribers.
Bookbub, an even more popular, general book promotion site.