Guest Post ~ Running a Newsletter: Why and How by Sarah Kent

You might associate newsletters more with the local school or church group than with modern marketing, but you would be wrong to do so. Newsletters are not just those irritating bits of folded paper you find buried under your mail: they can also be a highly effective marketing technique.

What is a Newsletter For?

A newsletter is a way of keeping in touch with your audience. That might include readers wanting to keep up with what you are doing and find out about new projects, fellow writers interested in what you are doing, and people working in the publishing business. A newsletter should be there to get you more readers and sales, help you make useful and supportive contacts and perhaps to help you get an agent or publishing deal.

How to Get Started

Your newsletter should be sent by email – hard copies are not likely to be useful and will be expensive (even if you have addresses to send them to). There are some specialist newsletter publication and distribution services around, some of which are at least partly free. Mail Chimp is one, but there are others. You can use them to put together an eye-catching newsletter and to send it. You could also put together a newsletter using desktop publishing software and send it from your email account, but generally, using a newsletter program will look more professional.

In order to be able to send your newsletter from anywhere, you will need email addresses to send it to. You can put a notice on your blog asking people to sign up, and send a message to your blog subscribers. Look through your contacts and find relevant ones, though it is good form to ask them before adding them to the list. This should give you an initial base, but keep working on building it up – whenever you make a new contact, ask if you can put them on the list.

Content

This should – for a writer – be the easy part. However, if you already have a blog, you might be wondering what you can put on your newsletter that makes it different and relevant. Unlike a blog, a newsletter does not lend itself to opinion pieces, but to short items of news and links to your website and blog to drive traffic to them.

A newsletter should contain news about anything you are working on or have just finished. That can include writing projects, but it can also include related events like research trips, press meetings, launches, meetings with other writers, literary events…there is likely to be much more that is relevant than you think. Even seemingly mundane things like an office move or your struggle finding business insurance could be interesting if you can find the right angle (something like the way practical problems can get in the way of writing might work well, for example). If you really are struggling for content, then perhaps you should be doing things that are noteworthy enough to create content from them? If you aren’t getting out to local literary events or attending writing groups, why not? Doing these things will not only help you find more material, they should be a good source of contacts and may help you improve your writing too.

Structure and Schedule

How often you send your newsletter out will depend partly on how much you have to put in it. Quarterly is a good start, but aim for monthly if you think you can without sending out lots of filler. Remember that the aim should always be to get people to read your books – and that is going to mean that they need to visit your website and blog. Make it easy for them by linking to relevant pages wherever you can.

Some newsletters can be mostly headlines with a short paragraph, linked to a longer website article. That can work well in terms of getting you traffic, but as a writer, your audience will probably expect a bit more actual content in the newsletter itself. Make sure you do not go too far in the other direction and end up with long blocks of text. Break it up with pictures, lists, text boxes with samples of your writing, links to literary events and news, and even interactive features such as polls.

Your newsletter should be fun, interesting and eye-catching. Readers love to know more about their authors, so let your personality shine through while still sounding professional.

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Sarah Kent is a freelance writer offering advice for individuals and small businesses on marketing tactics and tools. She is keen to offer practical and useable hints and tips that are effective and yet don’t cost the earth. 

To Newsletter or Not to Newsletter

I have this internal debate that rises its head every few months. It tells me that I need something more than a blog. That I need more than a website. It tells me that I need a newsletter. It tells me a few more things too, but those items are posts for another day.

Usually I can silence the voice with rational arguments such as no one is interested in reading the Newsletter, or that I don’t have the time to maintain a blog and newsletter, or that I’m not sure what I want to put into the Newsletter that would be of interest to those reading it. Most of it is utter shit, because now that the winter months are coming and the season is too cold to be outside much, I have the time to write and maintain a blog and do a short monthly newsletter. But is it worth the effort.

My vision is an informative, reader friendly newsletter, that will have the latest news, an excerpt for new releases, coupons to buy eBooks, a short serial story, a behind the scenes look, and a character interview from a character in the serial story. It will be information that won’t be found in my blog, though some of it might find its way onto my website. I’m just not sure if anyone will be interested or if I should just forget the idea.

What do you guys think? Are Newsletters worth it? Do any of you provided Newsletters to your readers?

The Author Platform: 6 Steps you Should Take

One of the most mysterious subjects I’ve every tried to find information on was the Author platform. There is a plethora of information on what it is and some articles on creating one, but they’re really vague. I’m sure my list isn’t much better, but I thought I would introduce you to the mystery that is the author’s platform.

While the below points are great ideas for getting you started, there are the few authors who take it too far. They stalk their readers, sending meaningless newsletters and emails inviting them to buy their book, or join their group, or come to their signings, when the reader doesn’t do what they want, they become belligerent. This is not the norm. My favorite authors follow the points below.

1. Author/Product Branding

There are two ways to do branding, you can brand your books or you can brand your author name. I suggest branding your author name over your books. It means less work later.

Figure out which you want to do. Now write down your goals for your books and your author name. What do you want your author’s name to mean to others. What genre do you plan to write and what books do you plan to write under that name. Do you plan to put everything under one name or have pen names for your other books and do you plan to share that name.

2. Create a Writer’s Website

Once you figure out your brand, create a website to encompass that brand. Website design in as important as your book covers. Keep it up-to-date. Be sure to make it inviting, presentable, and easily navigated. This will be some people’s first contact with you and you’ll want to make a great impression. A website allows people to find you 24/7 and it doesn’t need sleep.

3. Email promotion

This is my least favorite unless it’s used for newsletters and blog subscriptions. Email promotion gives you a way to promote you writing business, connect with your network, and provide great content for your readers. However, if you flood people’s inbox with static information that doesn’t benefit them in some way, they will move on.

4. Blogging

Everyone has their ideas of what authors do all day. A blog can be used to reach out to, promote your latest book, enhance your online presence, and get you name out there. The best way to do this is comment on blogs that interest you, but that is an article for another day.

The best advice I’ve heard on blogging is to create entertaining, helpful content. Many writer’s create writing blogs, which while interesting to writer’s will probably turn the non-writer reader away. Think of your readers and create content for them too.

5. Social Networking

If you are out to get numbers, you’ll miss the opportunity to make friends, and possibly ostracize your fans; however, if you are out to make friends, you’re not going to have time to write. You need a healthy balance.

6. Newsletters and E-zines

Offer a free author’s newsletter that offers important information about your books as well as your writing. I’m not sure about you, but when I subscribe to a newsletter or blog, I don’t subscribe to be bombarded by emails geared toward selling their book. As a rule of thumb, if it annoys you, it will annoy your reader and they will drop you for a less intrusive author. Don’t be pushy.

In the next few days, we’re going to go into greater detail on each of these points. Now you don’t need all six of these to create a successful platform as an author. But a few would help. Anyone want to add any more tips to creating an Author Platform?

The Writer’s Business Plan: The Marketing Plan

Some of you know that I live on a Ranch and occasionally I throw out a ranch analogy. This is going to be one of those rare occasions.I was out with my husband and kids feeding the cows on a cold and foggy morning. I now understand the mean of “thick as pea soup.” Heavy, wet, cold, and blinding. Now usually when we feed in the winter time the cows come running and occasionally fight over small piles of good hay. And from the start, we watched these three “old buggers” fight. Around and around they went, neither gaining nor losing ground, and all around them the other cows munched away on the hay. They were making quick work of those piles, while those three fought.

Cows fighting during a foggy, winter morning

I’m standing in the back of the truck, just shaking my head and wondering what they could be thinking. What benefit is it for them to fight? And it suddenly hits me. These cows remind me of marketers. You know the kind. The ones who fight and wave their product in the faces of everyone they meet. Those who throw a party every time someone gives them a good review and splatters it across the webverse as if anyone is paying attention—this does not count if this is your first review for a new book, we all understand and indulge your excitement. But there are those who state their stats and ratings every week. Those who flood our inboxes and make us cringe every time we see their names, until we eventually shy away from them as if they have the plague. There are those that give the rest of us bad name. Marketing is a fine line between sharing what you have and stalking to the people who don’t care.

The more I read about business the less I want to be involved. I’m not a pushy or competitive person, and publishing can be a competitive, cutthroat business. A writer is told not to cross-promote unless it benefits them, but I don’t agree. Creating a group of writers to help each other sale books does more good than bad. The thing about Marketing is in order for it to be successful, you need to test a few different things and see what works and what doesn’t. I’m not going into a detailed list of marketing ideas. But here are a few to get you started:

•Build your Author Platform. This is your readers and fan base, your author identity, and your message –what you are about, your tone and style of writing, what you write, etc.

•Try Social Networking at places like Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Reddit, Goodreads, etc. Post reviews of book sites but keep your interaction low. Readers are used to the marketers I mentioned above hounding them. On places like Twitter and Facebook, interact and make friends. Don’t be all about your book. Show that you are a human being.

•Blogging. Either blog for others, or blog for yourself, but only blog if you like it, otherwise you’ll hate it and people will feel it in your writing. You can always join up with other writers in a joint blog and pick a day to post. It’s been suggested by professionals that you choose three subjects upon which to blog that deal with your writing (i.e. genre, writing tips, self-publishing, marketing, etc). One suggestion was to use a blog as an announcement board, but I wouldn’t suggest it. You’d do better with a newsletter.

•Newsletters should not flood the inboxes of your readers or they will groan every time they see them. Newsletters should be sent out to your mailing list when you have a giveaway, contest, coupon, sale, or new release. It should have an opt out option too.

•Forums are not a place to promote, unless the thread specifically asks for the information you can provide. If someone asks a question about your book, answer briefly. Have the one-sentence explanation of what the book is about and link to find out more.

I know there are more ideas, but this post would go on forever than. I just want to say that this is the place in your Writer’s Business Plan to explore new marketing ideas and when you plan to execute those plans. What marketing technique do you want to try? How do you want to gauge it’s helpfulness to you? Do you want to have a giveaway? A contest? A sale? Post a short story on your website? Go wild with ideas and then pick a few to try.

The Writer’s Business Plan: An Introduction

The Writer’s Business Plan: Parts of the Writer’s Business Plan

The Writer’s Business Plan: Creating a Budget

The Writer’s Business Plan: Building a Production Schedule

The Writer’s Business Plan: Setting Daily, Weekly, and Monthly Goals