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.
Mail Chimp – http://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 Contact – http://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.
• 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.
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
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
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.
Jordan’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org