start here

Optimising Your Author Newsletter

Your newsletter is a powerful tool. Here's how to improve it!

Ask any author who has worked in the book trade for a while to identify their most valuable business asset and, outside their books, most will say it’s their mailing list. This is a list of reader email addresses they’ve collected to help them reach their readers en masse at a low cost. There are lots of ways to market your books — Facebook Ads, Amazon ads, BookBub Featured Deals, podcasts, a YouTube channel — but newsletters are unmatched. Not only is newsletter exposure protected from the whims of social media algorithms, but it also creates a sense of intimacy that readers don’t get elsewhere. They won’t always read tweets, but they will open emails.

Indeed, newsletters are so powerful that many businesses consider them their primary revenue driver. In some cases, they’re the entire business. The content is so good readers will pay for it, or the engagement rates are so high advertisers will bid for placements. According to Vox in 2020, Business Insider bought Morning Brew “the business newsletter publisher for millennials” for “more than $75 million.” And they’re not the only example of their kind. Readers trust emails. Despite the archaic technology behind them, they get more user engagement in general than social media posts, regardless of whether the newsletter has a human face attached.

Growing and nurturing a mailing list is vital if you want to run a successful online author business. Doing so can make you a constant presence in your readers’ lives and give you a direct mode of communication. As you’re reading this article, chance states you’re either thinking about getting a newsletter or you want to breathe life into one that’s underperforming. Fortunately, this article can help. Using the tips outlined today, you’ll learn how to turn a non-existent or neglected author newsletter into a thriving marketing asset that is stress-free to use and maintain, delights your readers and drives noticeable business results.

Use a Service

If you’re new to the newsletter game, you might not know how professionals run a savvy operation. Unaware of standard practices, for instance, you might think you have to ask readers for their email addresses over social media or at events, log them in a spreadsheet and email each subscriber individually each month. This process is possible, but it’s horrifically inefficient and a sure-fire way to give yourself repetitive strain injury. Realistically, using a service like MailChimp, MailerLite or SendFox is the only practical way to send newsletters at scale. These companies store and manage subscriber details for you, so you can send one email instead of thousands.

Unless you have a tiny list, you will have to pay a monthly fee to most service providers. That said, the benefits far outweigh the costs. On top of storing email addresses, they also automate a range of processes, saving you time and your readers frustration. Altogether, they allow subscribers to unsubscribe with a click and stay abreast of data protection laws to ensure you comply. Plus, if you connect them to a landing page on your website, they will enable readers to add themselves to your list so you can grow it without having to do admin. What’s more, they add lots of production value, enabling you to send HTML-rich emails, full of colour and personality.

Set Up Sequences

Haresh Sippy, one of India’s most successful businesspeople, once said, “Automation is cost cutting by tightening the corners and not cutting them.” This is true and can be a useful mantra for indie authors who wear more hats than a wedding catalogue model. As much as we’d like to think we can and should do everything personally, it’s impossible. But using automation sequences — pre-written email threads that drip feed to readers — you can look like you personally welcome every reader who joins your list, without putting in the actual work. You must frontload your efforts, but doing so will free up your time and enhance your readers’ introduction to your brand.

What your emails contain is up to you. You could, for instance, introduce yourself and ask your readers a question to start up a conversation. Or you could introduce them to your books and social media profiles. Once you’re a little more advanced, you could even create automation sequences to re-engage ailing subscribers who cost you money but don’t open or interact with your content. The media complains about the evils of automation — how it replaces human jobs — but there is no victim if you’re the one doing every task. All automation does here is save you time, improve your newsletter interaction rates and help you avoid burnout.

Write Engaging Content

Emailing your readers isn’t an activity you can treat as an afterthought. Yes, you might write great books, but readers don’t care. They get lots of emails. If you want yours to stand out, you must make them special. That means writing engaging content with perfect editing. Give them the same level of attention you’ve given your book. Creating short-form content might be outside your wheelhouse but, as an author, you have the skills necessary to make it happen. An anecdote, a plot twist, a sprig of humour — non-writer marketers can’t add that secret sauce. Aim to entertain, educate, inspire or offer deals. Using this approach, you can’t go far wrong.

If you want to go further down the engagement rabbit hole, you could also try personalising your newsletters. Leading data-collection company, Experian, reported in 2014 that “personalized emails deliver 6x higher transaction rates” for businesses. Using this knowledge, you could include code in your newsletters that replaces a placeholder note with your subscribers’ first names to create the impression that you’re only emailing them. Or you could split your list and give readers content based on their genre preferences if you’re an eclectic author. Each individual tweak won’t drastically improve your results, but the efforts will compound if you persevere.

See Readers As People

Many experienced authors talk about how their first newsletter subscriber was a friend or family member. They laugh about it once they’ve gained a reputation and replaced their one email recipient with an army of thousands. It’s important not to forget, though, that every person on your list is a human, whether you have 50 or 50,000. And as humans, each one has their own preferences, quirks and passions. So, while you might feel dejected at times, knowing that only your mum, cousin or best friend will read your email, consider it a lesson. It’s important that you appreciate that perspective and maintain it as your list grows in size.

If you have hundreds or thousands of subscribers but no longer engage them, it might be because you’ve forgotten this perspective. Ask yourself:

How did I think and act as a reader before I became an author?

Did I like slick emails?

Would I only read plain text ones?

Does everyone feel the same as me?

Everyone works differently and some people don’t trust emails images. Hence, it’s important to put yourself in readers’ shoes and appeal to different preferences. Try reading your emails without images, for example. Do they still make sense or do readers need the images for context? Adapting plain-text versions will stop you alienating readers who don’t engage or miss your deals because they don’t click to allow images. Including little touches like this one shows as much empathy and humanity as replying to fan mail. It shows you care.

Use Calls To Action

It’s common knowledge that shouting “buy my book” on Twitter or Facebook doesn’t work. This rule is just as true for emails as it is for social media. However, the opposite is also true. Some authors are so weary of appearing salesy that they never talk about their books in emails, leading to irrelevant newsletters that don’t stick to the topic readers want or serve their intended purpose of selling books. If this sounds like you but you’re also not keen to overcorrect and become a selling machine, don’t worry; there are softer approaches you can take to optimise your newsletters for sales without focusing every message around a buy link.

One way is to use “asks” sparingly but optimise your click-through-rate (CTR). That way, the few calls to action (CTAs) that pepper your newsletters have a huge impact. Tracking opens and clicks is key. So is using this formula:

CTR = (Impressions / Clicks) x 100

CTRs are measured as a percentage. The higher yours is, the better. To optimise yours, simply record what you say and how you say it, compare variations and tweak based on your findings. “Buy My Book” as hyperlinked text, for instance, might give you a 1.1% CTR while “Grab Your Copy” on a yellow button might convert 2.4%. Change one variable at a time. The more you optimise, the less often you have to ask your readers.

The sheer power of even a small newsletter audience can shock authors once they’ve optimised their email practices. In this 2019 blog post, romance author LJ Shen explained how a highly engaged team of “probably around 100” fans who signed up to her ARC team mailing list routinely help her amass over 1,400 reviews during each book launch. Optimise your newsletter for engagement, while also growing its size and, over time, you will attract loyal readers that, when mobilised, can help you move mountains of books.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.