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Email Newsletters for Authors: Get Started Guide

30 June 2015

From Jane Friedman:

Early in actor Bryan Cranston’s career, when his gigs were primarily composed of guest-starring TV roles in Matlockand Murder, She Wrote, he sent postcards to casting directors about his upcoming appearances. He told the New Yorker, “I knew 99 percent of them wouldn’t watch, but my face and name would get in front of them, and it would plant the subliminal message ‘He works a lot, this guy!’”

Later on, when he received three Emmy nominations for his role as the dad in Malcolm in the Middle, he took out “for your consideration” ads promoting his work. He said, “The whole idea is to put yourself in a position to be recognized for your work so opportunities increase. False humility or even laziness could prevent that.”

If Cranston’s career had begun in the Internet era, his communication tool of choice might have been the email newsletter rather than the postcard. While email lists have many uses (from selling your books to delivering paid subscription content), their most immediate use for freelance writers and authors is to keep readers and professional connections informed about what you’re doing.

Regular email contact with your readers creates a long string of impressions, so that your name stays at the forefront of their mind. When an opportunity arises—a book club needs a new book to read, a publication is searching for a freelancer to hire, a journalist is looking for a good interview subject, or a conference needs speakers—people are far more likely to think of you if they frequently see your name.

Because most people are overwhelmed with unwanted email, it may seem counterintuitive to categorize the email newsletter as one of the more effective, even intimate, forms of digital communication. However, email has so far proven to be a more long-term and stable tool than social media, which is constantly shifting. Emails can’t be missed like a social media post that disappears in readers’ feeds as more posts follow it. You truly own your email list, unlike Facebook or Twitter accounts. And if you use people’s email addresses with respect (more on that in a minute), those addresses can become resources that grow more valuable over time.

. . . .

Decide on your frequency and stick to it. Your efforts will be doubly successful if you’re consistent with your timing. For example, freelance journalist Ann Friedman (no relation) sends an email newsletter that reliably arrives on Friday afternoons. Weekly is a common frequency, as is monthly, but the most important criterion is what you can commit to. If you choose a low frequency (bimonthly or quarterly), you run the risk of people forgetting they signed up, which then leads to unsubscribes. The more familiar with your work your subscribers are (or the bigger fans they are), the less likely you’ll encounter this problem. High frequency is associated with list fatigue, when people unsubscribe or stop opening your messages. Fatigue is higher with weekly or daily sends, so daily sends tend to be more appropriate for news- or trend-driven content. For example, Alexis Madrigal does a daily send called 5 Intriguing Things.

Keep it short, sweet, and structured. Hardly anyone will complain that your emails are too short; the more frequently you send, the shorter your emails should probably be. It can also help to deliver the same structure every time. Every newsletter Ann Friedman sends has links to what she’s recently published and what she’s been reading, plus an animated GIF of the week. I send a 2x/month newsletter Electric Speed that focuses on specific digital media tools and news of interest to writers.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman


11 Comments to “Email Newsletters for Authors: Get Started Guide”

  1. I recently started a list and have a tiny number of email subscribers. It hardly seems worth writing a newsletter. But I’m still writing one because I remember that every list started out with a tiny number of subscribers.

  2. The most important thing is if you send out a newsletter, please have something to say. Too many authors just send out newsletters to send them out. If you don’t have anything relevant or interesting to say in that message, why bother to even do it.

    • This +100!

      Those that ‘talk’ just to hear themselves can turn more people off than they do on …

      • I pretty much leave my list alone unless I have a free short story for them. I try not to send out anything unless I’m making it worth their while to open the email.
        Later this summer I’ll give out a free tie-in novella (@20k words) to my next full length novel and then, a few weeks later, the notice that the novel is going live on all retailers.
        We’re into the summer doldrums right now so I’m seeing one or two subs a day, but once the kids are back in school…

  3. Is this the agent Jane or the digital media expert Jane?

  4. Suburbanbanshee

    Does anybody actually read email anymore?

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