Ins and Outs of M/M Romance: Building Your Author Newsletter by Jordan C. Price

Everyone on the site knows Jordan Castillo Price so she needs no introduction. This is her follow-up post to the one on Marketing a few weeks ago linked here. Since I did the big intro the last time I won’t do it again, 🙂 I’ll just say that she is one fabulous writer. You go Jordan!

Here she is to talk about your author newsletter:

*****************

Your author newsletter is critical to keeping your readers interested and engaged between books, as well as educating them about your backlist and alerting them to upcoming releases. I spend about four full working days per month on my newsletter–that’s how important I think it is–and my readers always rave about how they look forward to seeing it in their inboxes.

If this time commitment seems daunting, remember that you don’t necessarily need to invest such a huge amount of time in each individual issue to have a good newsletter. Your initial setup will take some time, but you could feasibly put together something entertaining in an afternoon, once that setup was in place.

Pick Your Delivery Method

Once I made the mistake of sending off a quick email to a list of people from my email program, a simple followup to see how they liked a free story of mine they downloaded. The result? Every Hotmail address bounced. Every Gmail address bounced. Every Yahoo address bounced. And anything that did go through probably landed in a spam folder.

There are all kinds of rules and regulations your bulk electronic mailing must follow in order to have any chance of getting to its destination. Using a service to send your mailing for you will enable you to comply with these regulations.

Advantages of using a service are:
1. Legal compliance with the CAN-SPAM act
2. Features like click-tracking to help you make your content more relevant
3. Users can opt in and out themselves without you having to mess with lists

Many email services have either a free trial, or a free tier of service. I’ve found that completely free services don’t have as many good bells and whistles as a full-featured service. A free service I used at my day job only sent email at midnight, for instance, so I couldn’t send a quick blast that said, “Hey, we’re closing due to inclement weather” if I wanted to. But it was totally free, and that was my budget.

Service Providers

Mail Chimphttp://eepurl.com/RnQv this is the service I use for  JCP News/JCP Books. I highly recommend it. They have a FREE tier if your list is fewer than 500 subscribers.
Constant Contacthttp://www.constantcontact.com/ – this venerable service has been around for ages.

Google “email marketing” or “free email marketing” if you wish to find more providers.

If the thought of using a service provider is overwhelming, consider starting a Yahoo group specifically for your newsletter. A Yahoo group serves many of the same functions, it’s free, and it’s familiar to most m/m readers.

Do Some Testing

Take advantage of a free trial of a couple of services. You might find one has nicer email templates, or one is easier to use than another.

Be sure to send out sample emails before you put too much time into trying to design a real newsletter. I spent many hours building my first list and designing my first email, only to discover my test reader in Sweden could not see any graphics at all. None. No matter how I coded them. I ended up scrapping a week of work and moving my whole fledgling list. That frustration could have been avoided, had I done a “sample” email with some placeholder text and a couple of images just to test out the services before I had real recipients begin signing up.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to scare up a few friends to be in your testing group. Try to find friends with email addresses from different providers (Gmail, Hotmail, etc.) as well as some domain-based email addresses. Finding someone in another country is obviously helpful, too. Even if you want to scream when they tell you they can’t see your images.

Establish Your Goals

Weirdly enough, many people launch into marketing or advertising something–a book, an event, or a site–without first establishing why they are doing so, who their audience is, and what they want the reader to take away from the effort. Spend a few minutes thinking about what you’d like your newsletter to achieve. “I should probably have one since everyone else seems to” is a goal that’s not likely to result in an engaging newsletter, so really consider what it is you’re aiming for.

Possible intentions:

• Inviting readers to get to know you better
• Sustaining the buzz about your work between books
• Establishing yourself as an “expert” — such as a lawyer who writes legal thrillers
• Building a brand for your author/pen name (and here, you’d decide which qualities you wish to project, i.e. fun, sassy, sultry, literary, whatever.)

Those are just some examples. Be honest with yourself–why do you want a newsletter and what do you hope to achieve with it?

Here’s my own strategy: my first goal is to retain the readers I already have, which I do by including a serialized novel for free. My second goal is to encourage readers to see me as a person rather than a name, so I include a photo and one or two personal anecdotes per newsletter. My third goal is to keep readers highly engaged, so I create interactive content my readers can vote on.

Can you see how planning your content follows logically from setting your goals?

Also note that your newsletter can’t do everything. I’m not worried about finding new readers with the newsletter; I’ll let one of my free short stories do that. But if gaining new readers was my primary goal, I might focus on free flash fiction rather than a serialized novel, and on contests.

Create Your Content

Nested beneath your overall goal for your newsletter, each campaign you send out should have its own specific strategy. Taking a moment to reflect on that strategy will help you decide what kinds of content to create.

If your strategy is to promote a new book, it’s not enough to say, “I have a book release. Here’s the blurb. Here’s where you buy it.” Your newsletter is your place to shine. Think of something else you can create that adds value, something that will make a reader stop and really notice your new release.

Use your noggin and make it valuable, creative and relevant. Lots of authors post recipes to go with their stuff. If it’s just a humdrum cookie recipe, I skip it. I would go to Allrecipes.com if I was in the mood to bake, not an author newsletter. But if your release is called “Down on the Bayou” and your recipe is called “Sweet Swampwater Tea,” then you’ve caught my interest!

Sample strategies and content solutions:
You’re gearing up for a series to be released in a few months
• Excerpts of the work in progress
• Drabbles related to the story
• Thoughts on your writing process / a “making-of”

You’re promoting your backlist
• Character interviews
• Deleted scenes
• Snippets of book reviews with links to the review sites

You want to develop a more personal relationship with your readers
• Polls & memes
• Op-ed pieces or personal anecdotes
• Art, photos or poetry

How Much or How Little?

I maintain multiple lists and send out three different types of emails: a simple announcement when a book comes out, a weekly sales flyer, and a big, monthly newsletter with 4-5 pieces of content inside. All three are successful.

The simple
My sales flyer has a few-sentence story to explain what the concept of the sale is, and then a code and link to the store. The sidebar and footer are housekeeping information that doesn’t really change, unless I need to tweak it. I created a graphic for the header that also doesn’t change, and I create a new graphic for each sale, which readers seem to enjoy (they usually comment, anyway.) However, be aware that your reader might have graphics turned off in her email program, so don’t put any critical information inside your graphic.

example, JCP Books Weekly Special – http://eepurl.com/RGe9

The comprehensive
My flagship newsletter is JCP News, which I started in January 2008. I usually have a “hello” column, a sidebar that’s an op-ed piece, announcements, some content related to whatever I’m promoting, such as a contest, a making-of, or a character interview, and then one or more chapters of an ongoing serialized story. I also include a list of all my titles at the bottom of the newsletter for reference. I think of JCP News as a Sunday paper, which readers can curl up with and explore, or they can skim and only read what interests them. Typically I put the first few paragraphs of the content in the newsletter and link to the rest of the article, which I house on one of my websites. This not only keeps the newsletter from being too bulky–statistics also show me where readers click through. That way I can do more of what interests my readers and less of what doesn’t.

example, JCP News August 2010 – http://eepurl.com/PGdz

How Often?

I think consistency is more important than frequency. If monthly is too daunting for you, what about bi-monthly or quarterly? Whatever you choose, stick with it and don’t blow it off. If you’ve invested the time in setting up your newsletter, you can invest the time in producing some interesting content.

It’s worth it. Hits to my website double or triple on newsletter day, and I see a surge in my backlist. Not only that, but I’m excited to have a chance to touch base with my readers on an ongoing basis. I’ll never be the type of writer who’s capable of cranking out a novel every other month–but with my newsletters, I can keep my readers connected and engaged.

See more issues of JCP News at http://psycop.com/NL
Sign up to receive JCP News in YOUR inbox at http://tinyurl.com/jcpnews

Jordan’s email: jordan@psycop.com

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

24 comments

  • JCP, this is such a fantastic resource, and so good of you to share with us so we can learn from your blood, sweat and tears!

    I have long dreamed of doing a newsletter to try and keep interest in my work for the long wait time between releases, so perhaps this is the kick in the arse I need!

    • Thankfully, not too many tears now that I have the system in place! I think your readers would adore a newsletter, especially since you tend to write longer works which are therefore spaced farther apart.

  • I love your newsletters! I love the personal touch – when they are addressed to me. I love the content. I love the REWARDS.

    so – you do a great job on your newslettters!

    • I’ve had a few people tell me how fun it is to get that “personal greeting” in the newsletter, Liz! That’s a really good example of something you can only get through a mailing list service. You drop a piece of code into the newsletter and the service inserts the name.

  • Thanks, JCP! I’m up to issue 51 of my monthly newsletter – which I find totally amazing. Who’da thunk it when I started? But sometimes it just becomes another deadline, you know? For example, after two serialised novels, I had to move to the occasional vignette, just to preserve my sanity. (They’re free reads on my website now.)

    But you’ve reassured me I’m doing something worthwhile. And after all, it’s yet another way to communicate with readers and I do love that!
    Thanks again.
    Denise

    • Wow, 51!!! You’ve been at it a long time! It is a big deadline, I agree. I tend to plan my month around the 15th, the date of my newsletter, because it’s so time-consuming. Can you post a link to your newsletter archives? I’d love to see.

  • As a reader (I’m not a writer) I can only say that Jordan offers excellent advice.

    I joined her e-mail group this year and really look forward to receiving her letters. I also keep them to go back & review certain topics, or use for quick reference to find what books/series I may be missing. They are a fun way to keep up with your favorite author.

  • Really interesting post, Jordan, thanks!

    I know that I’m nowhere near needing to produce a newsletter yet, but I will bookmark this post for when the time comes.

    I signed up for your newsletter after buying something from JCP books – and I started buying from JCP books because I found out about one of your promotions (the first two PsyCops for the price of one, I think) – that offer may have been promoted on this blog, but I can’t remember now. Your promotional activity is definitely working, as I’ve been back to spend more after receiving the newsletters.

    I’ve yet to start reading The Starving Years, so thanks for reminding me!

    • I don’t usually get to know the path a new reader takes in finding my stuff, so thank you, it’s really a treat!

      I remember realizing that I had my own store but I wasn’t really exploiting the potential of that store to do as I pleased, so I started doing the sales.

      I think you’ll like this month’s installment of Starving Years. It goes somewhere you might not expect.

      • Well, I’d already heard your name and the PsyCops series highly recommended, but it was definitely the offer and your promise that you were confident you could get readers hooked that persuaded me to part with my money 🙂

  • Great post, Jordan! It’s always great to read how writers deal with marketing and your post emphasizes how much work is necessary.

    Also, I was reminded that I still have to read the new chapters of The Starving Years. The beginning was more than promising. ^^

    • Oh, you’re in for a treat! The Starving Years is turning out really well. (It’s like I can’t wait myself to find out what happens next.) Read and vote quick, I’m cutting off voting tomorrow! 😀

  • OMG, Jordan, this information is all so valuable that I feel guilty soaking it up for free — it seems like we should have paid you a speaker’s fee. 🙂 I’m going to save every word of this for when the time comes for me to start a newsletter.

    All of this advice is so practical and on-target! The thing about testing your newsletter format with friends from different countries? I’ve heard something similar to this with website building — you get friends to let you know how your website looks when they bring it up — but I’d never thought about this in connection with a newsletter.

    The “possible intentions” section is great, especially with your example of the sweetwater tea! This is already helping to focus me. I had a feeling that I should include content with some extra value and I was vaguely thinking recipes?

    But you’re right. People don’t go to newsletters for specific things like that unless there is an underlying connection with the fiction, which would then help promote that fiction. And this, I hadn’t thought of either: “Building a brand for your author/pen name (and here, you’d decide which qualities you wish to project, i.e. fun, sassy, sultry, literary, whatever.)”.

    I wonder which quality would be easiest for me to project. Nerdy? Ha, ha! But I take your point. Consistency is what’s needed here, and with mailing the newsletter on a reliable schedule no matter what.

    I like your emphasis on click-through links and how you can track interest in certain types of content through what people reach on your website. Marketing professionals live for this kind of info. It’s very valuable.

    You mentioned Legal compliance with the CAN-SPAM act and that’s important for newcomers to newsletters to understand. I’ve had online acquaintances sign me up for their new newsletter simply because they’ve already had my email address due to past correspondence — but they never asked me if I wanted their newsletter. The “enforced” newsletter. Very irritating!

    People should never assume that everyone in their social circle automatically wants their new newsletter. It should always be opt-in voluntarily, and every issue should have an unsubscribe link and a privacy notice reassuring readers that their email addresses remain private.

    Which brings me to my big question. Since we never want to exploit our existing contacts to put together an initial mailing list, how do we get subscribers in the first place when we don’t yet have subscribers?

    • You brought up a lot of good followup points, Val! Never, ever sign someone up for your newsletter unless you have their permission! If you notice one of your friends hasn’t signed up for your newsletter on her own, send a quick email that says, “Can I sign you up for my newsletter?” don’t just do it. You can get in trouble!

      Because you’re an established blogger/reviewer, you’ve already got a tone you project–I suppose I think of it as intellectual-everyman. You love to analyze but you never make it seem like others’ opinions are less important than yours, and you don’t use grandiose language like people who are insecure do.

      Certainly, it will be easier and feel more genuine if this thing you try to project really is part of your personality! If you were a stick-in-the-mud trying to come off as a party girl, for instance, it would probably catch up to you someday.

      I think to build our mailing lists, we have to keep harping about it for the first six months, at least. On any blog you can think of, on any yahoo group you belong to. If you have really good content in there, crow about that content all over the place to try to lure people in. They won’t necessarily notice, of course. I had someone reply to my email (which has “check out my free story, sign up for my newsletter” in the sig line) with, “Oh, I didn’t know you had a newsletter!” when I suggested directly that he check it out.

      • You love to analyze but you never make it seem like others’ opinions are less important than yours, and you don’t use grandiose language like people who are insecure do.

        Thank you! 🙂 I’ll just continue to go with the intellectual everyman tone, then. 😉

        Good advice about talking up the newsletter everywhere — and having a signup link in your signature email is a great idea I wouldn’t have thought of.

        Specifically, though, what do you do in the early stages while you’re waiting for people to sign up? Do you put together the first issue of the newsletter and just wait until you get your first signup, and then send it the minute you get that first subscriber, even though your mailing list consists of one person, or do you wait until you get a minimum of 10 or 20 signups and then send it?

        To entice people to sign up in the very beginning, do you recommending posting a complete version of that first newsletter on your blog or website so people can read it and get drawn in by everything it has to offer? I’ve seen some who do newsletters (like All Romance Ebooks) offer an archives page so readers can browse and sign up.

        • I think I announced the newsletter for maybe a month and so I had people coming from my LJ to sign up for it. I was probably disappointed I only had 42 subscribers to start with, but the numbers do steadily grow. I don’t think I would wait for a predetermined number of subscribers. I’d set a date, and start pestering people to sign up more and more as the date draws near.

          You can either post a full version of the NL on your blog, on LJ/Facebook/MySpace, or you can post a little teaser and a link to an archive. It depends on my mood which one I do. If you’ve presented the content as links, you’ll be able to track who’s clicking through from where, to what, even though they’re not coming through the service. Even though the people who end up reading the NL on a web page or blog didn’t give you permission to send the content to their inbox, they’re still reading it, and that’s really the goal.

          I seem to get a lot of signups after people shop at JCP Books. I must have put something inviting them to do so in my shopping cart message!

          I thought I’d get a lot of signups today but I haven’t had any; I’ll bet a lot of people reading this post already subscribe. I guess you never can tell where surges of traffic will come from.

  • Wow woman, what great advice and you have such a creative brain. Super ideas and I’m sure doing a newsletter is daunting, especially for authors who have to deal with the EDJ and family and pets and all the rest, but the idea of even quarterly would probably be doable for most people.

    I’ve done a newsletter at work and … it fizzled. I think you really do have to be hardcore and stick with it or give it up. Once in a blue moon is more annoying than stopping the idea on the whole.

    I would never even have thought of the service but I suppose the first time 50 e-mails bounced back I’d have to think of something. LOL And sometimes free is good enough, at least to start even if e-mails are sent at midnight. Great advice.

    • I’ve done newsletters at work as well. On that ancient substance known as paper. It’s so much cooler to be able to track who’s opening and which articles they’re clicking through rather than having them printed and mailed and just wondering who gives a rat’s ass.

      It’s funny, I enjoy planning and creating things so I don’t think having a business or websites or a newsletter is ever daunting for me; it’s my idea of fun. I did get daunted when I had to scrap all those hours of work and start fresh. I remember thinking, “I’m not having fun anymore!”

      You make a great point about needing to stick with it. My first newsletter went out to all of FORTY TWO people. And it was the most work, because I had to do all the setup.

  • Hi Jordan,
    Thank you. What great advice. As a reader, I find your newsletter to be very well done, so you must be doing something right! The effort that you put into it does show. I’m sure this will be invaluable to up and coming as well as established authors.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: