Years ago (or, as my grandchildren say ‘back in the stone age’), I had a newsletter. I put it together on my Wang word processor, added clip art, printed it out (usually on fancy colored paper at the Kinkos), folded it neatly, stapled it shut, added address labels for my 70 or so followers and then affixed a 32¢ stamp to it and dropped it in the mail.
The year was 1997 and while Lotus mail and a few other upstarts had infiltrated the work place, email was not readily available to the home user. Consequently, signing up for my four-page newsletter was even more involved than actually producing it. Most authors had sign-up sheets at conferences, or postcards the reader could complete and mail back to the author to get on the list. Authors kept P.O. boxes rather than give out their home address. All of this so we could keep the reader on top of what we were doing.
As email progressed, more and more authors began developing their fan base electronically. And, while the author was quick to jump on the technology bandwagon, it wasn’t always so for readers. Which meant, you kept two different mailing lists. One electronic and one the old-fashioned (stone-age) way. Unfortunately, though the email delivery was faster, without the fancy newsletter services we have now, there was no way to assess whether or not people were actually reading your email.
When I think back, I cringe at the thought of how much money I spent trying to boost book sales with absolutely NO idea whether or not the newsletter helped at all.
In the early 2000’s my writing career dwindled, more because of time-constraints and that dratted outside job, than because I’d stopped writing. I was still writing, just not in the same hectic way I had earlier. Without a new book to promote, it seemed like a huge waste of time and money to continue my newsletter. So … I stopped. To this day, I often wonder how many people even noticed.
Fast forward to 2014. I’d now been actively writing and publishing for six years with twelve new books under my belt, but still no desire to dip my toe back into the newsletter pool. In June, 2014, one of my publishers hosted a get-together for their authors and the guest speaker was the head of one of the online promo magazines. As a conference special, she was offering 50% off her usual annual rate … a really good deal for what you got in the way of promo. I set up an appointment.
Her first question? How many newsletter subscribers do you have? Uh … none. She then point-blank told me not to waste my money advertising through her. Without a “captive” audience to promote to, I wouldn’t see the return I’d hoped for, or that she guaranteed. I walked away scratching my head … wasn’t the exposure to an audience the product she was supposedly selling?
She did get me thinking though … maybe it was time to put together a newsletter and develop a new audience. Especially since I jump from one genre to the next, it’s hard for my readers to know where I’m at in any given month. The romance industry has grown so large and so diversified, word of mouth no longer does the trick.
So, my decision made, I set out to put my plan in motion. While doing my research, these are the three constants I discovered:
- There are a variety of newsletter delivery methods ranging from services like Mail Chimp and Graphic Mail to maintaining your own database through Google Forms.
- There is a huge diversity on what authors include in their newsletters. As part of my research, I signed up for a dozen newsletters from other authors in the romance field, and was blown away by some of the detail in the content.
- It’s not easy getting people who don’t know you well to sign up for your newsletter. Every author I spoke with had a horror story about getting started.
Here are my suggestions for those starting out:
- Use a newsletter delivery service. It’s far easier and less time-consuming than keeping your own database. Their basic models are available for free and that includes stats like opens, discards and unsubscribes. I found the last statistic of the most interest and, even though I’ve only had two unsubscribes since I started, I sent both an email asking them if there was a specific reason for leaving. Was there something I could do to enhance my newsletter that would bring them back?
- Maintain steady content. If you like to cook, include a recipe each issue. It will be something your subscribers will look for when they open the email. Include something informative. In my first edition, I regaled my readers with the history of the middle finger, or how ‘giving the bird’ originated. In my next edition, I listed some fun facts about the Roaring Twenties (since the book I was promoting was set in that time period). Finally, I promoted my current release, although I did my best to not go overboard. I also touted my award for my Soul Mate book, Home is Where the Hunk is (it never hurts to brag a little bit).
- Size matters. Don’t write a small novella. Keep your newsletter to one page, three columns. Quality over quantity.
- Sign up requires some sacrifice. I run a Rafflecopter draw every other month. One of the requirements for entry is that the reader sign up for my newsletter. Any time I do a blog tour with an associated drawing, sign up is an entry requirement. I recently did a Facebook party with a bunch of other authors and one of my timeslot contests was newsletter sign up. Fourteen people signed up that night and I drew from those names for a $5 gift card.
- Loyalty promotions are a good thing. Both unsubscribes I mentioned earlier admitted they’d only signed up to earn a Rafflecopter entry. Now I’ve instituted a loyalty program. I send out a newsletter in January. Everyone who was subscribed at the time has their name put into a draw. If they’re still around in April, when the next issue goes out, they’re eligible to win a prize. Since April will be my first time doing this, I haven’t decided on a prize just yet.
I have seen a slight upswing in sales since starting the newsletter last fall, I’m just not sure if it was due to the newsletter itself, the FB party and blog tour, or a combination of all three. I figure it will take at least 18 months to two years to decide whether or not there is value in this type of promotion.
With all of the avenues of promotion available to us nowadays, a new author starting out might want to wait awhile before committing to a newsletter. I’m not convinced a newsletter is of value until you have a book to promote. However, like anything else in this business, it is definitely an individual decision.
I would love to hear from those of you who have newsletters. Do you think they’re a valuable promotional tool? Also, I’d appreciate feedback from readers. Do you subscribe to author newsletters? If so, what do you enjoy most? Least?
Until my next turn on the Wednesday blog, stay healthy, stay happy, and stay warm. Most importantly, stay well-read.