We have a larger post on promo and marketing coming, but I wanted to focus in on one particular strategy for marketing yourself as an author: the author newsletter.
The first question you might ask about starting an author newsletter is: do I need to start an author newsletter?
The answer is a resounding no. Like all things marketing and social media, you should really only do the things that you feel like you want to do, can do well, and won’t just be a huge chore for you. The reality is that self-promo and social media can only do so much for your book, and you shouldn’t waste your energy on doing things that don’t bring you at least a small amount of joy. So before you dive into the hows, whens, and whats of starting your author newsletter, first decide if it’s even something you want to pursue!
Now your next question is probably, if I don’t need to have an author newsletter, why should I start one?
Author newsletters are useful for a variety of reasons. You might start one because you prefer a longer form way to communicate with your readers than what you can do on Twitter or Instagram. You might start one because you have a lot of writing resources you want to share with prospective writers (Susan Dennard’s newsletter is an amazing example of this type of author newsletter!) You might start one simply to keep readers updated on your book news and events.
For me, I started my newsletter because I wanted a consistent way to connect with my readers that was a more in-depth medium than something like twitter or instagram, but I also knew I didn’t want to write and maintain an entire blog (after all, I already contribute to this blog!) I love twitter and instagram, but there are certain drawbacks to those mediums, primarily that you don’t have full control over how and when people see your posts. With a newsletter, I knew I could provide a more in-depth look at my books and my writing process for those who were interested, in a slightly more private environment than social media.
Next question: ok, I’ve decided I want to do a newsletter. Now what do I put in it?
There are a lot of different strategies for the type of content you want to put in your newsletter, so I’m going to do my best to break down how you should go about deciding what to put in there.
One question you might ask yourself is, who is the audience of my newsletter? Is it readers who are already fans of my books? Is it possible future readers? Is it prospective writers looking for advice to level up their writing? Is it bloggers and booksellers and people more entrenched in the industry? Is it a little of all four?
For the most part, when you first start your newsletter, the main people signing up are going to be people who are already interested in reading your book. For that reason, your newsletter can offer content that would be exciting to readers and potential future readers (who already know who you are and are at least somewhat excited about your book). But what exactly does that mean?
One great way to get ideas for content is to subscribe to other author’s newsletters. Look at how other authors communicate with their readers and the types of content they offer. And notice, particularly, what kinds of content you respond to as a reader. Follow these newsletters for a few months at least to see how authors use their newsletter templates. Most newsletters will have the same few predictable sections that get reused month-to-month. Once you have a template in place, it’s a good idea to stick with that basic template for a while so that subscribers learn what to expect from your newsletter. This is not to say you can’t make changes and tweaks as you go, but try to stay fairly consistent and introduce new sections gradually.
For my newsletter, I have a section that’s essentially a round up of what I’ve been up to for the past month (literally just called What I’m Up To) where I can stick any announcements that have gone up about covers, preorder campaigns, etc. Then I have a section where I give subscribers a quick peek into what I’m watching/reading/working on. Then I do a writing advice section, which is usually some craft advice or a look into my specific writing process (for example, I’ve done posts on How I Generate Story Ideas, Writing the End, How to Revise After the First Draft). Sometimes, though, I use this section to write about the more emotional or philosophical aspects of writing, like my newsletter on How to Draft Happier. I have a short section to highlight any major upcoming events readers might want to know about. Last, I have a section where I feature bookstagrams of my books, which is a fun way to connect to social media, and a list of buy links for my books.
But there is really no limit to what you can put in your newsletter. It all really depends on what you like to talk about and what you can connect with your readers over. I always think it’s nice to have a mix of book-centered stuff and things that will appeal to a broader audience, like recommendations, craft advice, links, or anything else you’re particularly passionate about! I know a romance author (Jasmine Guillory) whose newsletter often includes recipes, which is the kind of fun, added touch that might encourage people to sign up who aren’t necessarily already readers of her books.
When should I start my newsletter?
I don’t think there’s a really hard-and-fast rule for how far out from your debut you should start your newsletter. Some authors will start a newsletter the moment their book deal is announced. Some may not have a newsletter until after the book comes out. Some may have started a newsletter prior to their book selling! It really just depends on what the aim of your newsletter is.
I started my newsletter just a few months out from the publication of my first book. This felt like the right time for me because by that point there were a lot of things I wanted to keep readers informed about–upcoming events, pre-order campaign info, ARC giveaways, etc. It felt like the right time to start a newsletter because I already had content that potential readers would be interested in. So my advice is to start your newsletter once you already have some of those other marketing pieces in place–a book cover, pre-order links, etc. But if you feel like you have things you want to share or just want to start a newsletter earlier, then I don’t think there’s any harm in going for it!
How often do I need to do a newsletter?
Again, there’s no strict rule for how often you should put out your newsletter. Maybe you only want to write one when you have some news to share (a book deal, a cover reveal, etc.) Or maybe you want to do one quarterly. I do mine monthly because that seems to be the best cadence at which to grow my newsletter audience, and a good rate for me to write newsletters. Any more often would be too much work, and any less often I would feel like my subscribers are going to forget my newsletter exists. So I try to put out newsletters on a fairly consistent monthly basis, but you might find some other schedule (or non-schedule) works for you. Some of this may also depend on the content you’re including!
What should I use to create my newsletter?
Mailchimp, tinyletter, and substack are all various mailing list clients you can use for your author newsletter. A lot of them have a free version you can get started with, and various features for helping you with the design and content. If you want to get really fancy, you can hire someone to design your newsletter for you, but in my opinion when you’re first starting out, a simple template will do just fine! Just make sure that it matches your author brand in some way–for instance, if you’re a writer of dark fantasy your newsletter probably shouldn’t have super cutesy pastels. Think of it like an extension of your author website (we’ll probably have a post on that at some point too!)
How do I get newsletter subscribers?
Well, first and foremost, make sure you have an easily accessible sign up form on your website. That will hopefully garner at least a handful of sign ups from people who have checked out your website and decided they want to see more content from you.
Giveaways can also be a good way to get many sign ups relatively quickly. When I first started my newsletter, I offered a giveaway for an arc of There Will Come a Darkness to those who signed up. Giveaways like this, that are directly linked to you and your work, can be a good way to get initial subscribers, but do be aware that people may sign up for a giveaway and immediately unsubscribe. That’s why it’s important to offer content in your newsletter that people are willing to stick around and read. Offering other kinds of exclusive content can also be a great help–behind-the-scenes stuff or previews of a new book is sure to pull at least some new, curious subscribers.
I also recommend posting on your social media channels before each new issue of your newsletter. Give your followers a short and succinct description of what they’ll find in the next newsletter and be sure to provide a link to a sign up form! I am usually able to get a dozen or so followers each month just from doing this. Ideally, your newsletter subscriber growth should be slow and steady–I just aim to get a few new subscribers each month and try to cut down on the number of unsubscribes (a few is inevitable and nothing to worry about!) So far this strategy has worked fairly well for me, and while I don’t have thousands of subscribers, I do have more subscribers each month than I did the one before, and the goal is just to maintain the newsletter as a consistent form of communication with my reader base.
So if you’re thinking of starting an author newsletter, I hope this post is helpful! And if you’re interested in checking out how I do my own newsletter, you can sign up for it here.