This topic, as is often the case considering the overall intent for this website, will be approached from the perspective of an independent (indie) author. Nevertheless, much will also be of interest to other on-line entrepreneurs; small business users; etc.
Note: The original intent for this article was to combine the topic of newsletters with the why and how of building an e-mail list (utilised for the distribution of newsletters). However, doing so would make the article very lengthy; not to be desired when so many are more than busy. Consequently, the topic has been separated into two parts: This one will look at the ethos of newsletters while the eventual second part will consider the building of an e-mail list.
Why have a newsletter?
Whereas, in the past, authors were not really required to have direct contact with their readers (publishers did all the publicity work) modern society demands a very different approach. Present-day fans and readers, generally, want to know who the person behind the story/book is. They like more personal information about life, habits, likes, dislikes, hobbies, knowledge, etc. Though, to some extent, famous, popular authors can afford to ignore the trend, indie authors really cannot. Of course, social media obviously provides opportunities to share some details of an author’s life etc. however, as detailed further on, newsletters have distinct advantages.
Creating regular newsletters is a time consuming occupation. Authors therefore need to carefully consider why they would want to do it.
- What would be their overall aim (what would they want to accomplish)?
- Who would they want to reach (type of reader/person)?
- What would they want to promote (project, website/blog, book, etc.)?
- Realistically, what content could they include (personal, book related, knowledge. etc.)?
- What subject matter would help achieve their identified purpose (as above)?
- Would they want/need more than one type of newsletter (divided by interests etc.)?
Of course, the above is not infinite, an author may have a completely different take on the matter. Nevertheless, the important thing is for them to sit down beforehand and ensure they understand what they want and what it is going to take to try and hit the target. Time is a commodity not to be played with.
Social Media v Newsletter
Throughout the years, since the advent of free digital publishing platforms (and prior for business corporations), indie author’s will have seen consist advice to grow an e-mail list, primarily for the purpose of distributing newsletters, as part of their publicity and marketing campaigns. (The topic of building e-mail lists will be dealt with in a later article.) Why, when there are so many other options for communicating with their readers and fans (e.g. social media) should an author even consider a newsletter? The principle differences between the main two available options (social media v newsletter) will now be considered.
Many ask why go to the bother of newsletters when there are so many opportunities to share information, updates, knowledge, etc. through sites like Facebook; Google Plus; Twitter; Goodreads; etc.
The first think to note is NEWSLETTERS ARE NOT A SUBSTITUTION for social media but an addition to/enhancement of it. To only rely upon newsletter distribution would be a mistake.
However, there are limitations to social media:
- Many sites frequently change the algorithms utilised to determine who sees each post. (Usually reduces the number.)
- Posts are transient (quickly passing through) thereby giving readers little time to see them e.g. Twitter.
- The most popular sites have billions of active users which, understandably, results in many posts becoming lost among the ‘noise’.
- Users have no control over a site. (The company may collapse, with the loss of all material, or may have to reduce their market share for some reason or other.)
- There remain a number of people (admittedly mostly in the older range) who are not active in social media.
- Unless commented on, shared or liked, there is no record of who has seen a post. (Consequently, authors are unable to follow up or build a relationship with them.)
These have many advantages over social media though again it is stressed they are not a substitution.
- Personal: Effectively a one-to-one communication. (Though sent out in bulk the recipient is receiving a personal copy.)
- Have a degree of permanency unlike social media posts. (Remains in recipient’s inbox for them to open and read whenever they choose.)
- The recipient wants the information. (They had to choose to subscribe to the newsletter.)
- Content may be geared to recipient’s interests.
- Recipient knows they are not going to be inundated with unwanted communications. (As likely after liking/following etc. a post or someone in social media.)
- Contain unsurescribe options. (Recipient will feel, and be, in control.)
- Less aggressive than other forms of marketing. (Though on a different level and hopefully more personal, newsletters are still part of marketing.)
- More effective in establishing long term reader/fan relationships.
- May build a reputation for quality.
- Keeps name and products (books) in front of readers/customers.
- Those who are not active in social media are more than likely to have an e-mail account (modern society, especially utilities and some banking services, make it almost a requirement). They may still be interested in hearing about an author’s new book or other product(s).
The above list is simply an attempt to highlight the more obvious benefits, of course, there are bound to be other advantages readers of this article may readily think of.
It is an accepted fact in today’s society that most people, even those supposedly retired, are busy. Time is accordingly a factor to be always kept in mind. In addition, many often comment upon having overfilled e-mail inboxes. Authors therefore need to consider length and structure for their newsletters. They should neither be too short to contain anything of real interest or so long that the reader tires of trying to get through all the content.
Most e-mail newsletter service providers (anticipated author will be using one) (more about them in the subsequent article relating to building an e-mail list) have readymade templates available. These should provide the author with some guidance, at least as to structure.
From the start, authors should try and decide upon an optimum length as well as structure and, as far as possible, stick to it. Doing so will create a familiarity for the recipient and allow them to know what to expect (thereby enabling them to judge reading time). Of course, it is accepted there may be some element of trial and error when first establishing a newsletter and consequently, some changes may be required. Nevertheless, authors should try and determine upfront what they are going to aim for.
When determining content for newsletters authors should take into account:
- What, overall, they want to achieve.
- What they anticipate readers will be looking for.
- What they normally share in their website/blog.
- What their books are generally about.
- What information they want/do not want to share.
As with anything where there are multiple recipients, it can be difficult to determine what readers are looking for: the uniqueness of each individual means what one likes/enjoys another may not. It may therefore help if the author includes, at the end of the newsletter, a request for readers to let them know what they liked/did not like. It may also help if subscribers are asked for information about their interests when they subscribe (more about that in the next forthcoming article regarding the building of e-mail lists).
Again the aspect of a recipients time and full inbox must be taken into account. The author should also take into account their own time availability; drafting a newsletter is not a quick easy task.
Bimonthly or Quarterly: Too infrequent. (Recipient may have forgotten that they have subscribed and may simply unsubscribe when a newsletter unexpectedly turns up.)
Weekly or Daily: Unless contains real important new news, too frequent. (People will become fatigued and possibly annoyed and may consequently unsubscribe even if they have found the newsletter of interest before.)
Monthly: Considered optimum frequency. (Not so long as to allow to be forgotten or so frequent as to become irritating.)
Naturally, it is for the author to determine (taking into account what they infer readers want) frequency. However, whatever frequency they decide upon they should be consistent. Of course, if some important interesting news arises they may consider sending an additional, interim, letter but this should not occur regularly. They will build a mistrust if it does.
This is just a quick note on the subject. Fuller consideration, or perhaps repetition, will be included with the subsequent article regarding the building of e-mail lists.
If an author, entrepreneur, business, etc. wishes to regularly communicate with (market to) readers, fans and customers, they are obliged to use a newsletter format. Legislation prohibits marketing type material being sent through normal e-mail channels e.g. Gmail; Yahoo; Hotmail; etc. without permission. (As previously mentioned, newsletters tend to form part of authors publicity and marketing campaigns.) By actively subscribing to a newsletter the recipient is seen as granting permission for it to be sent to their e-mail inbox.
Legislation also requires newsletters include an easy unsubscribe option.
Recipients: Authors etc. are responsible for maintaining recipients privacy, including their e-mail address. This is a serious matter that must be treated accordingly.
Senders: Legislation requires the actual, physical, address of a newsletter originator be included in each and every newsletter sent. This naturally poses some privacy issues for authors etc. (More about this and ways to possibly deal with the issue will be shared in the subsequent article regarding the building of e-mail lists.)
Newsletters are a useful means for more personal communication between author and reader/fan/follower.
A severe time commitment is required meaning authors should carefully consider whether newsletters are a realistic option for them.
There are legislative and privacy issues that must be taken into account.
If the option is taken up, authors need to be consistent with format, content and frequency.
Further/additional information and detail will be included in a subsequent article regarding the building of e-mail lists.
Apologies for the length of this article, despite attempts to shorten it by splitting information into two parts, but it was considered important to include all the above information here.