Newsletters and Discoverability

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 Newsletters Before 2011

Writers have had newsletters long before email newsletter services came into being, long before the internet came into being. The indefatigable Debbie Macomber has done a newsletter for more than twenty years, and she has used it to great advantage. She used a lot of strategies that helped her hit the bestseller list, but also kept her readers loyal.

A May 2010 article on the blog lists three reasons why Debbie Macomber is a bestseller, and they all have to do with her newsletter.  Please note that the post got published just as the indie world was starting to take off. Debbie’s still traditionally published, so she was doing all of this stuff before Constant Contact and MailChimp.

She wrote, printed, and snail-mailed a newsletter.

. . . .

The three things the 2010 newsletter had were:

  1. Coupons for upcoming books
  2. Stickers and bookmarks with her 2010 releases listed on them
  3. Folksy news of Debbie, along with recipes and tips

The coupons and stickers weren’t in the newsletter. They were with the newsletter, in the same envelope.

Here’s what the BookPage blogger said about the coupons:

Here’s the smart part: they’re only valid during the first week of a book’s release, when sales are especially crucial.

. . . .

But in her newsletters, she hasn’t just offer coupons to her fans. She’s done all kinds of promotions. Debbie has been the queen of sharing and promotions as long as she’s published. She published her first novel in 1983. I don’t know for a fact whether or not she started doing newsletters then, but I do know that she’s been an innovative promoter since the early 1990s. A lot of the things you see romance writers do for promotion were ideas that Debbie had first and did better.

. . . .

I’ll be honest. I look at everything Debbie’s done or doing or plans to do, and I get instantly tired. I know how brilliant her promotions are. I know how much work she did from the very start to create this bond with her readers. She’s amazing.

What you need to know about her is that she does not cynically cultivate these connections. She enjoys them, and does them really well. There’s a reason her newsletters resemble the chatty letters that my aunt used to send me.

First, Debbie is that chatty, driven, organized person. Second, the newsletters reflect the kinds of books she writes, the books that appeal to her readers. And third, I’ll bet she can’t imagine doing this work any other way.

. . . .

The newsletters let fans know about upcoming releases. Every newsletter Debbie and Kevin release assumes that the people who get the newsletter are familiar with the author’s work, like the author’s work, and want more of the author’s work.

Keep that in mind.

. . . .

All newsletters—from Debbie’s to Kevin’s to some brand new indie writer’s—are advertising.

And like all advertising, the person who is writing the ad copy needs to know where the ad is going.

If you are trying to use your newsletter to get it in front of people who have never read your book, you’re using the newsletter for a different purpose than Kevin and Debbie do.

To put this in better marketing terms: when you’re using the newsletter to attract new readers, what you’re actually doing is some kind of ad flyer. Or, if you’re a good writer (and I’m assuming all of you are), you’re producing an advertising circular.

. . . .

How to communicate.

It’s all about audience, baby.

If your newsletter is for your constant readers (to use Stephen King’s term), then your newsletter will have information a regular reader wants.

That information includes:

  1. When the next book is coming out
  2. Where you’ll be appearing to sign books or to give a presentation
  3. Special perks

The newsletter for possible readers, which I am going to call the ad circular only for clarity’s sake (not as a judgment because, again, I think it’s a valid way to go), also includes that same information.

  1. When the next book is coming out
  2. Where you’ll be appearing to sign books or to give a presentation
  3. Special perks

But…this is where the content varies.

The old-school newsletter will then have chatty commentary. For Kevin’s newsletter, that includes where he hiked while writing certain novels, inspiration he found in other places, some of the fun trips he’s been on that weren’t writing related.

In Debbie’s case, she often discusses her family or what she’s knitted recently (seriously) or recipes that she loves. One newsletter on her site includes her wedding photo.

These newsletters assume the readers will want to know these personal things about the writer. I’ve seen newsletters that discuss upcoming books which will feature favorite side characters or include some material that was excised from a novel but isn’t a standalone story.

These are things that fans and long-time readers are interested in, but that people browsing the bookshelf for their next read have no patience for.

The ad circular newsletter will have (or should have) basic information. Where can the reader find more books by this author? What order should the books be read in?

The ad circular should be shorter and to the point. But it should also have a lot of voice in the body copy so that the potential book buyer actually reads the newsletter rather than deleting it.

It’s a trick to write that kind of copy, especially on a monthly or quarterly basis.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

18 thoughts on “Newsletters and Discoverability”

  1. I’m a non-fiction author and teacher.

    I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting lately with promotions.

    Each week I’ve been making a special offer. One example was 1/2 off on my ebook bundle. Or a big discount on one product. These have been super popular. The specials represented 25% of my income last month.

    I wanted to mix it up, so earlier this week I started a thread in my facebook group. It was simple. I said, reply to this post with one thing you have learned from the group and you will get a prize tomorrow morning.

    That’s it. That’s all I said.

    Rather than a typical 2-3 replies to a post, this one got 41 replies. Lengthy replies at that!

    The prize I gave was a discount on private sessions. Upon revealing that prize I received three bookings and three others said they plan to book before the prize expires.

    I also did an online retreat. I had a HUGE response to it compared to the activity I get in my FB group. The difference? I offered prizes. I didn’t even say what the prizes were going to be, just that there would be prizes.

    The prize ended up being $25 gift certificate to my site. Twenty-one people did all 40 exercises over the course of two weeks to get the prize.

    In summary,
    Try PRIZES in your newsletters / social media!

    Fiction authors have tons of options for juicy prizes. The first one that comes to mind: name a character, location, business, etc.

  2. What I love about Rusch is that she’s very good at explaining the big picture, particularly from a historical understanding of the publishing business. (Her book, Discovery, is great too.)

    I think in the early days of self-publishing there was kind of black and white categories of writers that were willing to market and those who weren’t (and usually failed to sell any books). Now I think it’s becoming clearer that there are a lot of different ways to market, and I think she’s correct in saying that not every way is right for every writer.

    She’s right on about the difference between using an email list for a newsletter or an ad flyer (though there is crossover).

    While I totally get that ad flyer type giveaways and contests and email blasts work, it’s just not really my style. (And probably not my target audience.) And for me, newsletter type updates don’t seem to make sense because I simply don’t publish new books often enough to justify bugging people with updates on my writing. So as much as I hear that email lists are critical to marketing, I’ve held off putting any effort into it.

  3. I stopped putting any effort into building my list when I saw I had a 30% open rate and assumed that was poor. Turns out, it’s fairly awesome.

    So, I lost a couple of years of list building.

    These days I have a popup when folks visit my site which offers them a freebie. That builds my list nicely and I don’t have to do anything.

      • You are welcome!
        I tried a few before I found one that worked well for me.

        I use Mailchimp for my list. Mailmunch powers the popup. If I’m remembering correctly, Mailmunch is a wordpress plug in.

        I’ve had 1181 sign ups via popup in the last year. I also have 141 sign ups from my side bar newsletter sign up box.

        I like those numbers 🙂 and they grow without my intervention.

          • On my WP Dashboard, under Mailchimp, there is a section called Forms.

            They display all Mailchimp forms there with stats. It’s also where I can create new forms.

            The stats include a list of email addresses and when they signed up.

            I have the pop up and the side bar set up to deliver different freebies and go to different lists.

  4. Wow, I opened up Mailmunch to make sure I was posting the correct information above. While there, I realized that Mailmunch will also make landing pages. I recently cancelled my Leadpages account due to cost and it being pretty much insanely hard to use. I didn’t realize I had the ability to make the landing pages right inside Mailmuch! Yeah!!!

  5. As much as I admire and respect KKR, I’m going to pass on her advice on newsletters. She admits in the post that she does not really grok newsletters. On newsletters, I’ll get my advice from them what does it better — Nick Stephenson et alia. And I can get better and more timely help from Kboards.

  6. I don’t grok newsletters either. I have no idea why people would want me to send them emails about my life, what I’m doing, what I’m eating, or whatever. I’m very boring. I don’t travel, I don’t live near any exciting places, don’t know anyone, don’t have the time nor the inclination to wander the web looking for people/stuff to talk about.

    I don’t want to talk about things I did years ago, or my kids, or whatever. I don’t want to post pictures of stuff. I tried blogging, and really didn’t like it much. I don’t grok tweeting or updating Facebook, either. Tried it, had to force myself to do it. Stopped doing it. Life’s too short to hate your life. And mine’s getting shorter by the day.

    And I get it. Today readers want to know us, to feel a part of our lives, and we have to do this, that and the other to build a fan base. Except, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, though I’m sure there are many who will roll their eyes and write me off as a loser. ‘That girl’s never going anywhere.’ Go on, you know you want to say it.

    So be it. I don’t see myself writing in series, either. Oh, just double-down on the eye-rolling. I don’t mind. I’ve gotten worse from people for less. And yes, I understand I’m starting out losing a big career building opportunity. I’m not stupid, just different.

    And, I do actually have a newsletter. I have fourteen people subscribed. I seldom send out anything, don’t have a freebie to offer (yet, working on an exclusive novella because, well, it seems I should), and likely won’t darken their inbox more than every couple of months or longer.

    Meh. I think I’ll just keep being me, and get to the writing. That’s what I want to do.

    • Today readers want to know us, to feel a part of our lives…

      Some readers may want to know the author, but I think this varies by genre quite a bit, and I suspect there are vast numbers of readers who just want to enjoy the book… and the next one… and the next one… and don’t give two hoots about the author. IMO. 😉

      • I’ve begun to avoid learning anything about authors whose books I like. Too many of them turned out to be nutjobs I’d avoid in meatspace.

        Hint: when you use your blog to slag off demographics that comprise at least half of your readers, don’t be surprised when they don’t buy your books any more.

  7. I’m not a huge fan of the newsletter either. I do get some newsletters from a few authors but they only send out when they have new releases and that’s it. They don’t talk about themselves and that’s okay by me. I don’t want to know about their personal lives.
    For the most part I would rather have their next book.

  8. I can’t even keep a steady stream of postcards to my friends and family… so there’s no chance in hell I can keep a blog or newsletter going.

    Al the Greatly Unable to Blog Powerfully

  9. I think it really varies by genre. From what I’ve seen the super prolific romance writers swear by their newsletters. They have dedicated fans that want to hear about their stories constantly and the newsletters keep them going.

    On the other hand, I read mystery and scifi. I don’t care what the author is up to. I just want to know when the next book in the series is coming out. So I treat my readers the same way.

  10. I was “whatever” about my newsletter list, and the problem became that every time I actually did send out a newsletter with info about a new release I had a wave of people who unsubscribed, and my guess is that it was because they had forgotten who I was.

    So now I’m attempting to send one out once a month. I’ve been doing okay. Sometimes I accidentally skip a month. I’m another one who feels like I’m boring and nobody wants to know what I’ve been up to.

    Plus, I’m not a chatty person. I generally want people to leave me alone. There’s no way I can send out a folksy type newsletter.

    I also don’t think I can do some of these modern methods where you try to “befriend” your newsletter list members. Like the method where you offer a freebie and then immediately start emailing new members with details about your personal life and trying to engage them so that they become more dedicated fans. I thought 1) I don’t want people knowing all that stuff about me (and I know proponents of that style of list building that have more than one crazy, stalkerish type fan) and 2) if I signed up for a newsletter list and was hit with three or four emails in a row and then was emailed on either a daily or weekly basis, I would immediately unsubscribe. I seriously can’t imagine anything more annoying than being emailed constantly by somebody who wrote a book I sort of liked.

    I’m with KKR. I’d rather have a thousand organic true fans on a list than 50,000 people who signed up because I utilized Instafreebie.

  11. I don’t think a newsletter has to be folksy to be effective. You don’t have to talk about yourself even. Talk about your characters. Talk about your settings. Talk about why you do what you do (write) and why you write about what you write about.

    I also don’t think an author newsletter has to be sent out all that often. I signed up for an author newsletter recently and he is just on the edge of sending too many for my taste. However, the most recent email was soliciting beta readers and that appealed to me.

    You can also set up your newsletter subscriptions so that folks can choose how often or for what reason they receive an email from you. ie: when there’s a new release or monthly updates

    I talked myself out of focusing (even minimally) on my newsletter for a couple of years and really wish I hadn’t.

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