| Don’t Write Alone
Shop Talk How to Build Your Author Newsletter
If you’re an author trying to promote your work, an email newsletter one of the most effective tools in your arsenal. Here’s a guide to get you started.
If you’re an author trying to promote your work, then I’m sorry to tell you that an email newsletter is going to be one of the most effective tools in your arsenal. I say “sorry” because anytime I mention newsletters among authors, there is always a resounding chorus of “I hate getting newsletters,” “I don’t know how to start one,” or “I wouldn’t know what to say.”
Oh, and my personal favorite: “I can just use social media to market.”
Fair enough. Those are all valid points. Well, except for that last one—but we’ll get to that.
I’ve worked in marketing for about fifteen years, and for a while, I was like everyone else. No one reads emails anymore , I’d think.
About six years ago, I was at Content Marketing World, listening to marketing expert Ann Handley talk about the power of email, and she said something along these lines: “Email newsletters are the only type of marketing consumers actively choose to engage with. They’ve given you their email address and told you they want more from you.”
That was a bit of an aha moment for me.
Think about how powerful that reality is when compared to ads, social media, or other forms of marketing where the consumption is almost entirely passive, where the only way to engage your audience is to shove it in their faces. Not so with newsletters—they’ve chosen to receive your messages. You’ve already moved them down the path to a purchase—or some other kind of engagement—and they will always be your highest converting customer.
Spoiler alert: You might not read newsletters, but I promise you there are millions of people who do. I’m one of those people now. I subscribe to everything I’m interested in so I never miss the important news. You might not like them, but never, ever base your marketing tactics on your own preferences or a personal sample of one.
But starting a newsletter can be daunting, so hopefully I can break this down a little for you. The information here will be specific to authors, but much of this applies to any type of industry. So let’s answer some of your most burning questions:
Why can’t I just use social media?
You can and should use social media. No one is saying you shouldn’t. But your social media audience doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok, and they can take it away from you tomorrow if they want. The platform could shut down, or they could lock your account (happens all the time), and that’s it. All that work is gone. But your email list belongs to you forever. And remember what I said about active versus passive consumption? A social media follow or like is the lowest bar of engagement you can cultivate, and it will always result in a much lower return on investment (ROI).
Okay, so where do I start?
The first thing to do is to consider how you’re going to attract a newsletter audience. Because you’re right, just starting a newsletter and waiting for subscribers isn’t going to happen. I recommend starting by writing a reader magnet. A reader magnet is a piece of writing that will get people interested in your work. Usually, authors use a short story or a novella. Ideally, this piece of writing will connect to your longer published works—for example, a prequel story that can both attract new readers and entice existing readers to subscribe to your newsletter.
I’ve written my reader magnet, but how do I get subscribers?
The reader magnet serves as your offering. It’s a free gift to those who subscribe to your newsletter. Now is a great time to start using that social media audience: Tell them you’re offering something exclusive only for subscribers, and watch the fans roll in.
Is it really that easy?
Okay, I’m kidding. They might not roll in right away. Building a newsletter does take a lot of effort and time. It’s much harder than building a social media audience, which is part of the reason I think people shy away from it. But you’re an author building a career, so you need to think about the long game. Every newsletter subscriber has the potential to become a devoted fan, and those people are going to be your most important audience and buy more of your books—which is why we’re here, right?
How else do I get subscribers though?
There are other ways to start building that newsletter audience:
Make sure you include the link to your newsletter sign-up everywhere you can think of. One of the most common places to put it is in the back matter of your novels. Put it immediately after the last line with something like, If you want to read more about characters A and B, then sign up to my newsletter and receive a free novella about how they first met . Include your sign-up link in your bios on your social platforms, your email signatures, your website, and any other place you’re promoting yourself. It takes time, but through consistent effort, your list will grow.
Another great way for authors to grow their lists is through author swaps and group promos. Find some other authors who write in your genre and do “swaps,” where they promote your reader magnet in their newsletter and you’ll do the same in return. You can also join a platform like BookFunnel or StoryOrigin , which both offer newsletter swaps and group promos. A group promo is essentially when a bunch of authors get together to promote a bunch of books on a single web page. These can be great when your list is smaller, as most group promos are open to anyone writing within the posted guidelines.
Another great option is to join a newsletter builder. Fiction-Atlas Builders , Book Queendom , or BookSweeps all offer newsletter builders where you and a group of authors in a similar genre buy into a contest that’s targeted to your ideal readers. This can be a great way to jump-start your list. These contest entrants won’t always be your most engaged audience, and many of them will unsubscribe after the contest, but in my experience, a good chunk of them tend to stick around.
How do I set up a newsletter?
The good news is that setting up a newsletter isn’t as hard as it sounds. First, you need to pick an email platform. There are tons of them out there; two of the most popular are Mailchimp and MailerLite . Personally, I use and prefer MailerLite for authors. It’s relatively affordable compared to many other platforms, has high deliverability, and integrates with both BookFunnel and StoryOrigin, making author swaps even easier. And your first one thousand subscribers are free! Once you pick a platform, use one of their templates to build a basic template to get you started. You can use that same template every time and just swap out information to make it easier on yourself.
Once you’ve got that set up, you’ll want to set up a welcome email. This is basically a “hello” email you’ll send to people when they first subscribe (well, you won’t send it—the email platform will because it’s all automated and oh so easy once you get it implemented).
Use this email to welcome them to your list and talk a bit about who you are and what they can expect—this is where you’ll include a link to that reader magnet we talked about earlier. This is their thank-you for subscribing.
One thing to keep in mind when setting up your newsletter is that you’ll need a real email address. By that I mean you need a email@example.com email versus a generic one from Gmail (for example). This is both to verify you as a legitimate sender of emails and to help improve your deliverability rate, ensuring you end up in people’s inboxes rather than their spam folders. Platforms like MailerLite won’t allow you to send emails until you have this set up.
But I have no idea what to include in a newsletter!
This is a common issue, especially if you don’t actually have a book published yet. First off, remember that you don’t need to write paragraphs and paragraphs of text. In fact, I highly recommend you don’t. Personally, I’ve always seen higher click rates with short, snappy text, bullet points, and more pictures than text—so don’t make it harder than it needs to be. You also don’t need to send newsletters very often. If you’re still pre-published, then send them every other month. If you are published, then send them maybe every month, or more around a release. Some authors send one every week, but that’s something you can work up to.
Having said that, here are things you can include:
highlights and mood boards of your WIPs (works in progress)
cover reveals and teasers
new releases and promotions
recent writing you’ve published in online magazines
links to your backlist
reviews of books you’re reading in your genre
a list of your favorites: books, songs, movies, whatever!
tidbits about your life
your latest holiday pics, or pics of your pets or your writing desk
a recipe you tried or a product you loved
literally anything (Remember how those people chose to hear from you? That means they’re interested in you and your writing.)
While there are entire courses out there dedicated to author newsletters, these are the basics to get you started. If you want go deeper into the topic, I highly recommend the Newsletter Ninja as a resource.