Author newsletters are one of those things that used to be super-hot when the first author stumbled upon one like the ape in 2001: A Space Odyssey found the black monolith of human evolution. But now that everyone’s got one, they’re less potent than they used to be. Who doesn’t have a black monolith they keep in their basement but now mostly use as a clothes rack, amiright?
So you might be wondering: do I need one or what? And what the hell am I supposed to do with it?
TL;DR: You should probably have an author newsletter if you’re serious about being a professional author, but it’s not going to make or break your career. I will admit they’re a pain in the ass, but the benefits of one done well are worth it.
Here are all your author newsletter questions answered!
- What is an author newsletter?
An author newsletter is an email you regularly send to a group of people who’ve signed up to receive your letter. How often you send out a newsletter is up to you, but having a regular schedule is better than sending one out randomly, or spamming your subscribers right before a big release. I used to do a monthly letter, but that became too much of a burden, so now I send one out quarterly, and also one (just one) right before a new book release.
- What’s the point of an author newsletter?
A newsletter’s job is to put you, an author either traditionally or self-published, in contact with your fans. These people care about you and your work, though some of them will have only signed up to get a freebie or giveaway prize (they’ll eventually unsubscribe). You can tell this adoring mass all about what’s going on in your life, as well as the projects you’re working on to build anticipation for an upcoming release. Fans want to connect with creators, to be more immersed and understand their work better. The author newsletter is your venue to do this.
Newsletter as website funnel: Some authors—particularly the ones who think a lot about marketing—consider the ultimate purpose of a newsletter to funnel traffic to an author’s website, where a reader will then peruse the author’s work and ideally buy something. I don’t agree with this logic, since if someone’s signed up for your newsletter, then they’ve probably already been to your website. Maybe that used to be the case, but not anymore. You might still hear authors advocating for the newsletter-as-website funnel paradigm (probably via emphasizing calls-to-action; see below for more on that), but I’d take it with a grain of salt.
- What’s in it?
You can put basically whatever you want in your newsletter, but the focus should be on who you are as a person, and how that relates to your work.
Be personal, but not too personal: You can write about personal stuff—for instance, a major life change such as moving across the country, or your thoughts on breastfeeding vs bottle—but don’t get too personal or it’ll get awkward, and only share what you’re comfortable with.
Stay on brand: Also, it’s a good idea to keep things as “on-brand” as possible. For instance, if you primarily write historical romance, maybe you’d include a paragraph or two about historical fashion trends in each letter (historical romance fans are SUPER into clothes, so makes sense).
Potential topics: Pick a handful of topics to write about regularly in your letter, so your letter has some structure and people know what to expect. Popular topics include: upcoming releases, what you’re working on, what you’re reading, food and/or drink recipes, upcoming appearances (if you’re doing the convention circuit), and fun facts about whatever your genre is (ala the historical clothes example above). Check out other authors’ newsletters to get an idea of what you can put in your own, and how it should be formatted.
Marketing: A newsletter is also a great place to market your latest book, since the subscribers are (mostly) people who are interested in your work and more willing than the average Joe to buy your books. However, don’t treat your subscribers simply as potential customers. Don’t bombard them with pleas to buy your stuff or pack your newsletter with ads, or they’ll quickly become your ex-fans.
Calls-to-action: I’ve heard some authors say you should include a “call to action” in every newsletter to encourage people to engage with you—for instance, writing “Tell me what you think!” or “What’s your favorite trope?” or “Click here to find out more!”…it’s equivalent to the Like-Subscribe-Comment trinity you always see on YouTube. I wouldn’t worry about it too much though, because I don’t think it’s effective in a newsletter, since newsletters are a one-way communication (and you don’t make money off views and subscribers like you do on YouTube). …I’ve never gotten any significant response from a call-to-action anyway, though maybe my fans are just coy little minxes. Including links to your books and website as a standard, unobtrusive feature is a good idea, though. You can put these at the bottom of all your newsletters.
Giveaway links: One newsletter item that deserves its own separate mention is a link to a giveaway or freebie. If you can, it behooves you to include a unique link to a giveaway where your newsletter subscribers can claim something for free, such as a novella prequel for a new release or a standard freebie like the first book in a series for initially signing up. To do this, you’ll need to enlist a service that distributes ebooks for you, such as Prolific Works and BookFunnel. How it works is that you upload your book to the site, and it gives you a link and code your subscribers can use to redeem the book for free. The service is free of charge up to a certain threshold, with monthly fee options available for more advanced features. Just cut and paste the link and code into your newsletter, and you’re good to go. You can also use the same service to send advance reader copies (ARCs) to reviewers.
- How do I get people to sign up for my newsletter?
There are three ways you get people to sign up for your newsletter: organically, through a giveaway, and through review requests. I touched on these in my blog on marketing, but I’ll go over it in more detail here.
Organic signup: Someone signs up organically when they read your work, like it, and then take the initiative to sign up for your newsletter. They sign up via a simple signup form on your website, which should be a standard feature on every page of your website (I’ll go into website specifics in a future blog). You see these signup forms on nearly every website these days, so examples aren’t hard to find. There are several online services which specialize in automated emails for businesses (i.e. your newsletter), including MailChimp and Mailerlite; both are free up until a certain number of subscribers, ~1,000-2000 or so. These services will provide embedded code you can insert into your website to create and feature the signup form. They’ll also catalog your list of subscribers so you don’t need to keep your own list, and provide email templates for you to create your newsletter (more on that below).
Usually you want to offer something other than your gratitude to entice people to sign up for your newsletter. These are known as “freebies.” Your own books are the best options; for instance a novella related to another one of your books, or the first book in a series. It’s not absolutely necessary, but helps sweeten the deal and also give people the option to read your work and let you touch their soul.
Specifically, how it works is that a person signs up for your newsletter using the embedded signup sheet. They’ll then receive an automated “welcome” email you’ve created from your service of choice, which will have the freebie link and redemption code in it as described above in “Giveaway links.” They can then redeem your freebie and become your biggest fan.
Giveaway signups: People also sign up for your newsletter via a giveaway. While promoting your new release, you might want to have a contest where you give away either your new book or something related to it. To enter the contest, people need to give you their email addresses, thereby agreeing to sign up for your newsletter; you then pick the winners randomly from whoever signed up. Many folks who sign up for a contest will unsubscribe right after it’s done though, so don’t be shocked or dismayed when that happens.
Review request signups: Finally, people who agree to review your new releases may also agree to sign up for your newsletter as part of the process. This is most often the case when you use a review request service. Expect a decent chunk of these people to unsubscribe as well (especially if they didn’t like your book), but don’t take it personally.
- How do I make one?
The automated email service provides a template you can manipulate to your liking, including where blocks of text and images are placed. Personally, I create the newsletter in a Word document first, so I can take my time deciding what I want to say and how I want it arranged. Then I cut and paste the contents into the service provider’s template, trying to get it as close to my Word doc format as possible. You probably won’t get it to match exactly due to the auto template’s formatting limitations, but don’t obsess over it; if it’s close enough, it’s fine.
Automated welcome email: I recommend, at a minimum, setting up an automated one-time “Welcome” email for when someone first subscribes. The welcome email can include a link for the subscriber to redeem their freebie, as well as a little bit of info about yourself. Keep it short and sweet. You don’t want to give the first impression you’re about to start spamming them with TMI and ads.
ARC list request auto-email: You can also follow up that first welcome e-mail with another one-time auto email giving people the option to sign up for your ARC list. An ARC list is a list that you maintain of people who’ve agreed to potentially read and review your future books. This is a great resource because they’re people who already like your work (and will probably give your future work a good review), and it helps you get those early reviews you’ll need for marketing.
Other authors—again, the ones who spend a lot of time obsessing over marketing—have a complicated series of auto-emails they send out for a variety of reasons, but be careful with the emailing. Like I said earlier, there’s no faster way to piss people off and convince them to never read your books again than to spam them with emails. A one-time welcome email, a regular update email, and maybe a one-time ARC list invite email are probably all you need.
- Oh no, someone unsubscribed!! Should I cry?
No! Don’t take unsubscribes personally. Everybody receives a LOT of email, and all of it is vying for our attention. If someone subscribed to your newsletter, they’ve probably subscribed to a bunch of other author newsletters as well, and maybe they’re just trying to cut down. It doesn’t mean they hate you and will never buy one of your books again. It probably just means they want to receive less mail.
Unsubscribes aren’t bad: Also, unsubscribes aren’t a bad thing! Ultimately you don’t want people clogging up your distro list who don’t actually care about your work and will never buy your books. Since most auto-email services are free for users with subscribers numbers under a certain threshold, uninterested subscribers could push you over the threshold into having to pay for the service, but without providing any benefit to you.
Ignore the haters: And honestly, even if some of those unsubscribers decide they truly dislike your books, there will always be people who don’t like what you’re puttin’ down no matter what you do. Some people don’t understand what they’re signing up for, and then think it’s your fault. You can’t please everyone. Haters gonna hate. It’s an inevitable part of the business. Just accept it as a fact of life and move on.
- Do I really need a newsletter?
You don’t need one. An author newsletter is essentially a form of marketing. Your ultimate goal is to sell books, even if you don’t care about making money as much as sharing your story with the world…which is probably the case for most authors. There are a lot easier ways to make money, after all.
A well-done newsletter is one of the only marketing techniques that will ensure you a decent return on your investment: you stay in contact with people who like your work, you can advertise with this pool of people who are more willing to buy your stuff than the average Joe, and you can build an ARC list out of willing subscribers.
Creating and maintaining a newsletter is labor-intensive though, so I recommend only doing so if you’re trying to go pro.
…And hey, you could always sign up for mine if you wanna see an excellent example. I’m just sayin’.