9 Reasons Authors Need Newsletters

by | May 9, 2019

By Nate Hoffelder

In ten years of blogging I have always tried to follow two maxims.

The first is a lesson I learned from Penelope Trunk, which is that one of the secrets to a great blog post is to first ask a question that you don’t know the answer to, and then explain the answer in the post.

The second is that if you want to truly understand a topic, commit yourself to having to explain it to others in a blog post, conference presentation, etc.

So when Joel and Shelley invited me to be a contributing writer at The Book Designer, I thought it would be great to write a post on what I had learned from doing my newsletter over the past couple years. (I got a late start, yes.)

But they had a better idea: Why not turn the one post into a series of posts on newsletters?

Why Authors Need Newsletters

Newsletters are a vitally important tool that authors can use to connect with readers.

  1. They are the one connection that authors can make with readers that is not filtered through Twitter, Facebook, or some other third-party. All the social networks use algorithms to decide which updates to show to users, but they can’t filter your emails.
     
  2. Facebook has a couple billion users, and Twitter has hundreds of millions, but everyone has email. A survey conducted by Radicati in 2018 found that there are 3.8 billion active email accounts. That’s half the population of the planet, all waiting for you.
     
  3. Unlike social media, which is so ephemeral that your update will be lost from sight in moments, a newsletter will stay in your subscribers’ inbox until they take action. If you write something really useful, a reader might hold on to it for weeks before moving forward.
     
  4. Your newsletter can sell a lot of books. Even in this age of social media, creators are still finding that the best way to sell a book, or find supporters for a crowd-funding campaign, is to send emails.
     
  5. And not only can you use it to sell more books, but having this direct connection to readers will also give them the chance to tell you how they see your characters, which characters readers are shipping (inventing relationships for), and which characters that the readers like the most (and then kill them, like George RR Martin).
     
  6. You can help other authors and find new readers by doing group promotions with other authors in your genre. With a group promotion, all the authors involved contribute an ebook to use as a lead magnet and share the landing page on social media and through their mailing lists. A group promotion can help you gain thousands of new readers in a short time, and if you don’t have a newsletter you cannot participate.
     
  7. You can tell readers about your upcoming events including:
    • book signings
    • fairs and
    • festivals

    Your fans are dying to meet you, but they still need advance notice of an event so they can plan their schedule.

  8. You can use your newsletter to request feedback on:
    • a book cover
    • a title
    • whether you should expand a trilogy into a longer series

    Fans will have strong opinions on the topic, so much so that they will share their views before you even ask.

  9. A newsletter is free to start. Unlike advertisements, setting up and running a newsletter doesn’t have to cost you anything other than your time.
     
    Once I worked out the bugs in my processes, I have found that each newsletter takes about 90 minutes to set up and schedule. Most of that time is spent on formatting, so if you have a VA, you can out source that.

The Newsletter Learning Curve

Newsletters are a valuable tool, but at the same time, it is also very easy to be intimidated by the idea of putting out a newsletter. (I certainly was.) It can be very hard for a beginner to even get started. I struggled with figuring out how to put out a newsletter, and I can’t be the only one.

That is why I thought it would be great to approach this series of posts not as lectures from on high but as a journey where I will take you through the lessons I had to learn the hard way.

I’ll explain about:

  • welcome emails
  • scheduling
  • what your unsubscribe rate can tell you about reader satisfaction
  • and more

In this series I will walk you thought the technical side of:

  • setting up your account with several of the more popular mailing list services
  • integrating services with your site

We’ll get into detail on:

  • the best language to use for an effective sign up form that maximizes conversion (This is something that marketers have been working on for decades, how a lead magnet can either help or hurt. The wrong lead magnet can kill your conversion rate, yes.)
  • how to build your list by participating in a group giveaway with other authors

We’ll also give you opportunities to share your experiences and ask questions about the problems you are having with your newsletter. In fact, why don’t we start asking those questions now.

Tell me in the comments:

  • What topics would you like to see us cover?
  • What questions do you have about how to run a newsletter?
  • What problem has you stumped?

 
Photo: BigStockPhoto

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

12 Comments

  1. Jack Mulcahy

    I already get so much “junk” email that I hesitate to add to what others are getting and deleting! Besides, I don’t know how to start an email list.

    Reply
  2. Ardelle Holden

    What does ‘organically’ mean? I have 15 subscribers and I know every one personally. My FB author page has 107 at last count.

    Reply
    • Nate

      In this case the word means that each subscriber choose to sign up on their own, and not, for example, because they saw an ad for a free ebook.

      Reply
  3. Jaq D Hawkins

    From a reader perspective, how many newsletters can you make time to read in your overflowing inbox and still have time to read books?

    I do have a newsletter, but I only send out notifications of new releases. Why should anyone be interested in my author journey? I have a blog for that after all.

    Reply
  4. acflory

    I won’t use newsletters for two reasons. First, I almost never read them myself and can’t imagine what I could put in a newsletter that I don’t already put on my blog. That’s a personal bias, I know, but the second reason is based on privacy issues relating to the newsletter providers [such as MailChimp].

    If you read their small print carefully and follow all the tedious links regarding their privacy policy, you realise that newsletter privacy is a two tier process. You, the author, have a relationship with your readers. That’s the top tier, the visible one. You may promise faithfully not to misuse their personal information, but you are just the front man for the company that actually makes the newsletter possible. And that company reserves the right to use ‘aggregate’ data however they please.

    So what? Aggregate data can’t identify anyone, right? Wrong.

    The ad-networks, i.e. the companies that massage the data harvested by Facebook, Twitter, online games, purchasing behaviour etc etc etc, put all that diverse data together to profile users. They don’t do it manually. That would be impossible. Instead, they use algorithms that can do the job in moments.

    If you don’t think that’s possible then you’ve never searched for a product or service on Google only to find that you’re suddenly seeing ads for the exact same thing on all sorts of other platforms.

    The biggest problem with this aggregated data, however, is that it can be misused in the real world. If your mobile phone has GPS – and how many don’t? – that location data is added to everything else the algorithms know about an individual. Someone who had access to that data could easily personalise it down to name, address and phone no.

    None of us can stay completely anonymous these days, but I can’t ask people to trust me with their data when I /know/ that I can’t guarantee that it won’t be misused. :(

    Reply
  5. Amy M Reade

    Do you ever feel like the group promos merely stuff your subscriber list with people who are just there for the freebie? That’s my concern, and it’s why I’ve only done a couple group promos. For obvious reasons I prefer to grow my email list organically, but that takes forever.

    Thoughts? And thank you!

    Reply
    • Nate

      I do have concerns about group promos, actually. I have heard way too many stories from authors about people signing up for the ebook, and then dropping the list.

      I too think authors should grow their lists organically.

      Reply
  6. Nate

    Hey Frank,

    Off the top of my head, I can name two services that organize group promotions:
    https://booksweeps.com/
    https://storyoriginapp.com/

    “my content is all about me, with the suggestion that I should make it about the reader”

    I am still working on that myself (it is in fact one of the reasons I decided to write this series). I am hoping that working on improving my newsletter will spark new insights on the more difficult questions like this one.

    Reply
  7. Chris

    I’m not convinced about newsletters or social media. Have their been any large sample, academic studies about newsletter effectiveness? Most of what I see are anecdotes and isolated success cases.

    Academic studies are showing that social media is terrible for our mental health, so I wonder about the ethics of perpetuating such platforms. My book sales have increased in the year since I’ve sworn off social media, newsletters, and the like.

    I’m not certain why, but I’ve had readers message me about how they are glad I’ve stripped advertising from my blog and don’t bother them with newsletter sign ups. All I have its an email subscription option for my weekly posts. I guess it depends on your audience. What are you thoughts?

    Reply
    • Denise

      Chris, I’m with you; too much advice on what we writers “should be doing.” I write because it’s an avenue to express myself and to get all that “stuff” whirling around in my mind onto paper (ok, into the computer). I don’t worry so much about whether readers like my characters; I like them (it’s why I created them) and I know somewhere out there are plenty of folks who agree (based on my book sales and reviews). I have no use for a newsletter; at this point, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. Unless you’re offering something COMPLETELY UNIQUE (rare these days), it’s not a necessity. We’re busy enough with posting to our blogs and living life. Kudos to you for walking away from SM.

      Reply
    • Ernie Zelinski

      Chris, I agree with you that newsletters and social media are not necessary; in other words, neither is a “need.” I know this because I am an author whose books (mainly self-published) have sold over 1,000,000 copies and have been published in 22 languages in 29 countries. I have no newsletter. Nonetheless, a newsletter can be extremely effective for marketing books for certain authors, particularly those with self-books. Insofar as academic studies, I would disregard studies done by academics. You are not going to learn all that much from academics. An author has to find out oneself what works and what doesn’t work for whatever one is writing.

      Reply
  8. Frank Prem

    Hi Nate,

    I’m new to Newsletters (using mailchimp). Managing but lots of holes in my approach. I have a couple of questions:

    How to get involved in a group promotion when the genre is unclear (Free verse, storytelling poetry. Memoir and other true life.
    A criticism I get from close to home is that my content is all about me, with the suggestion that I should make it about the reader, to interest them more. Can you advise?
    What is the ideal frequency fro a newsletter.

    Thanks for thinking about it.

    Frank

    Reply

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