How to Create a Killer Author Newsletter
Everything you need to know about putting together a newsletter that your fans will love.
Aside from a website, what’s the most useful tool for expanding your author platform? I’ll give you a second to guess.
Did you say their books or events like signings? What about guest blogs and interviews? Nope, it’s none of those. It’s your author newsletter!
An author newsletter is a great tool to help grow your readership, by providing readers exclusive content from you, such as sneak previews, recommendations, updates, and rewards. It’s also the place you can go to get direct feedback, book sales, and participation in your other events.
Not sure how to put together an email newsletter? Here’s your complete guide from concept to campaign.
Why should you have an author newsletter?
It’s a well-known fact that an author newsletter is an essential piece of book marketing for authors of all sizes, from up-and-coming self-publishing indie authors, to authors with a backlist of dozens of books and huge fanbases. But why? What’s so important about this little email chain that makes it the top recommendation in many success tip lists?
An author newsletter is a series of emails, usually sent on a set schedule, from the author to their fans. This newsletter is an exclusive place where fans can get information first, from first news about upcoming books, to early event and merch access. It’s usually the best way to keep up with your favorite author.
The author newsletter benefits the author directly; you get an invested audience to whom you can sell your books with confidence. It’s the best marketing strategy you can get because it’s completely independent; you own the information you gather and you can customize the letter however you want to make it match your brand and your audience. You’re not bound by the rules of social media or the mass appeal of your website - if someone’s on your mailing list, they’re already a few steps down the sales funnel. They’re invested in what you have to say and far more likely to make a purchase if you offer it to them.
Beyond that, a newsletter is a perfect place to make your audience grow. The more people you have subscribed to you, the more impact you have, meaning you’ve got more of a foot in the door in terms of industry power. A strong email list can help your colleagues see you as a legitimate resource; it might even help you get published by proving to publishing houses that you’ve got people willing to buy your projects.
The best thing about a newsletter by far, though, is right there in the name - news. On the most basic level, newsletters are always about letting people know the news, not about selling them things. So, that’s what you should be using yours for. Your author newsletter is the best way to connect with your audience on a personal level, away from the more public social media platforms, blogs, and guest posts you write and out of the fantasy world of your novels (even if that fantasy world looks a lot like our own). As I said, the people who subscribe are going to care about you specifically; your newsletter is a great place to thank and reward those who support you most ardently.
How to run an author newsletter
So, having an author newsletter is extremely important. How do you go about making one? It’s actually pretty simple.
Choose a platform
If you’re going to be sending out newsletters on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to pick an email service provider that’s both got all the features you need and is easy to work with. Some of the most popular are:
- Mailchimp. Mailchimp is one of the most classic email marketing tools available. They offer lots of customization tools and automations to make sending the newsletter out significantly easier. They have four pricing plans, starting with a free account that lets you send 10,000 emails per month. Unfortunately, their interface isn’t the most user-friendly; it can be somewhat confusing to figure out how to apply the automations and styles you want to use.
- Substack. Substack is another email marketing classic, though it’s specifically designed around writers. This platform has the added benefit of subscription services; you can earn money by creating a newsletter that people pay to subscribe to. Signing up for Substack is free, though they do take 10% of your subscription fees. As far as I know, Substack newsletters are relatively limited in terms of customizability but are generally clean and easy to read.
- Hubspot. Hubspot is one of those companies that seems to have a tool for everything business-related, including email marketing. They offer a great range of customization options including options to add personalizations to your emails (such as addressing your subscribers by their names). It’s a free service with upgraded features available in their premium plans (which include a LOT of tools from reports to ads to forms and more). Hubspot is designed more for retail and business-to-business (or B2B) marketing, though, so it can be frustrating to try and design your newsletter around writing rather than selling.
- Constant Contact. Constant Contact was literally designed as an email marketing tool for small businesses, which is exactly what you are as an author. It involves tools for not just email marketing, but social media presence as well. They have models designed specifically for creatives like writers, artists, and performers, and integrations to work with WordPress and other popular blogging sites, making it easy to incorporate your list into your other platforms. It does cost a minimum of $10 per month, though, and more as your email list grows.
Choose your platform based on the features you need, the number of contacts you expect to have, and the amount you’re willing to pay to run it. It’s fine to try different platforms to see which one works best for you; make sure that you keep your email list to transfer between them, though!
Pro tip: if you have an author website, you might choose to run your email marketing through your website host, such as Wix or Squarespace. That feature is often included in your hosting plan for no additional cost.
Build your list
Okay, you’ve got a newsletter platform! Now…who are you writing for? You need to build an email list if you’re going to run a successful newsletter.
To start with, add a subscription form to your website. Customize it to tell potential subscribers exactly what they’ll be getting, and make sure that you add in a ReCaptcha box if possible and a confirmation email, so readers have to take a step to opt-in to the newelesser, which helps to filter out spam. This adds some more value to your website; it’s the hub of your business; your more loyal readers will check there first for updates and then be directed to your email list.
Next, create a landing page for your newsletter. A landing page is a page that people land on (hence the name) when they click on a link to a product or service. On this page, include a short description of what your newsletter is about and a sign-up form. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy; it just has to get the point across. Here’s what my landing page looks like, to give you some ideas.
Finally, link your landing page across your entire online platform. Have a link to it in your catch-all link featured in your social media bios, make it the pinned post on the profile, and link to it at the end of your articles and blog posts whenever possible. Make it the first link people see no matter where they look you up.
You’ll probably see slow growth with your newsletter list at first – only a few new subscribers every few days - sometimes even less. That’s okay! Keep advertising your newsletter and you’ll start seeing the subscriptions pick up as the rest of your platform builds. Here are some ideas to help you grow:
- Try refreshing your sales copy (the block of text you use to advertise your list) at regular intervals to see what appeals to people.
- Try A/B testing - This is sending out two different sets of email content. Some people see version A, people see version B, then review the results. Whichever one created more conversion (made people sign up more often / or generated higher engagement) is the one you should stick with.
- Offer a freebie incentive in the form of a short story or other reader magnet to get people’s attention.
Write your newsletters
This is the part that’s relatively easy. Do what you do best - write! Prep your newsletter in your chosen platform and make sure that it’s ready to go out.
We’ll talk more below about what to actually put into your newsletter, but for now, I’m going to recommend that you find a template you like and fill in the blanks from there. You may create a simple template of your own, with recurring segments and a nice theme. Having a template will help you stay consistent and help your readers to recognize that the email is from you when it arrives in their inbox.
Stick to a specific palette of colors, fonts, and image types for maximum impact. Your newsletter is part of your brand - make it look like it is! To comply with spam laws and reduce the likelihood of your newsletter getting sent to someone’s spam folder, make sure your newsletters include a link someone can click to unsubscribe, if they wish.
Send your newsletter out
Once your newsletter is ready to send, set it up on a schedule to release to your active contacts (read: anyone that isn’t a spam bot). You can usually do this by assigning labels to your contacts in whatever system you use, though the exact label or function you need to do this will vary from system to system.
Also, I recommend a schedule because it lets you prep in advance. Sending newsletters whenever you finish them can lead to much lower engagement levels - I don’t know about you, but I generally don’t check my email at 3 AM. Try sending your newsletters at the same time (preferably sometime in the middle of the day), on the same weekday (or weekdays, if you’re sending multiple times per week) every time.
Hopefully, by now, you’ve picked out exactly how often you’re going to send your newsletter. If you haven’t, do so. How often you send out newsletters is going to depend on how much content you have to share, how much time you can dedicate to creating it, and how often the people on your list are likely to want to look at your content. Try matching the schedule in some way to your other uploads; for instance, you might send newsletters every week but only post blogs every other week because your newsletter subscribers can impact your blog posts.
Review and repeat
After you’ve sent your newsletter, you’re going to want to check and see how it performed. Look for some key statistics on your analytics page:
- Your clickthrough rate is the number of people actively clicking on and opening your email. The higher the open rate number is, the better!
- Your conversion (or link click) rate is the number of people who click on the links included in the newsletter, such as book purchase links or links to your social media. Keep an eye on who’s clicking, what they’re clicking, and where that was in your newsletter.
- Your bounce rate is the number of emails that you sent that couldn’t be delivered to the address marked. They may be soft bounces (caused by temporary problems like a full mailbox) or hard bounces (caused by permanent issues like invalid addresses). Some tools will let you see which emails bounced; it’s a good idea to remove hard bounced addresses from your contact list. The lower this number is, the better off you are.
- Your list growth rate is how many people are joining your email list, and how quickly.
- Your sharing and forwarding rate is how many people are sending your newsletter ahead to their friends, family, and coworkers because they thought it was that valuable. Once again, the higher the number, the better!
When you’ve addressed the statistics, compare them to the last time you sent a newsletter. What worked? What didn’t? Why? Ask yourself these questions and try to apply the answers to the next newsletter you send. Keep track of what you’ve changed and note how those changes impact your audience.
Newsletter content suggestions
You know how I said making an author newsletter was simple? Yeah, I never said it was easy. To make your newsletter successful, you’ll need to make it valuable to your reader. Here are some things you can put in your newsletter.
Latest book releases
This is your author newsletter, after all - it’s absolutely vital that you’re talking about your new books here! Put the ad copy and book cover at the top of the page, with a prominent link to purchase or pre-order the book. Your newsletter is the perfect place to offer previews of cover art and first chapters, run giveaways, and give exclusive early access to things like live streams and book launch events.
If you don’t have any new releases to highlight or your next project hasn’t been announced, highlight one of your existing works. Offer your newsletter readers some insight into why you wrote the piece, or promote a piece that went on sale. You should always try to have some kind of personal book news in your letter.
Your newsletter is also the perfect place to talk about all of the digital and in-person author events you have coming up! Mention here if you are:
- Doing a book tour for a new release
- Giving a talk or speaking on a panel at a local author club or event
- Doing a signing
- Appearing as a guest somewhere: blogs, magazines, live streams, podcasts, television shows, or radio shows
Give your audience the who, what, when, where, and why of your appearances, as well as the dates, times, locations, and how to gain access.
As I mentioned, newsletters are great places to offer early access to events. Consider offering special discounted rates or reserved tickets for events in the newsletter immediately before they take place.
Book recommendations, reviews, and “currently reading”
Though not strictly necessary, a review or “currently reading” section is usually appreciated in an author newsletter. Not only does it let you talk about books that you love, it also introduces readers to the work of your contemporaries and gives you a chance to connect with them. You might use this section to host a sort of digital book club, inviting your readers to respond to it with their thoughts and recommendations.
Of course, this section is also a great place to include affiliate links to purchase books, which can earn you some commission on any sales made through it, adding an aspect of monetization to your newsletter. Make sure that you’re disclosing the fact that you’re using affiliate links, though; some people get quite upset if they learn you’re using affiliate links after the fact and may feel like your reviews are disingenuous without the disclaimer. Here’s a sample disclaimer for you:
“The links presented in this newsletter are affiliate links. This means that I earn a small commission from sales made through them. You are not being charged any extra for using this link. While I do make this commission, all opinions presented here are my own; I have not been paid to advertise these products.”
Oh, and one last thing: make sure your reviews are spoiler-free! It’s quite rude to spoil a book that someone is enjoying. Beyond that, leaving the plot to be discovered means you’re more likely to get people to purchase the book.
If your brand as an author is a bit more personal, you might choose to include life updates in your newsletter. These might be little things like how the weather is where you are and what hobbies you’ve been up to lately or big things like recent moves or celebrations you’ve had with your family. For instance, in my newsletter, I tend to include anecdotes about my son and our pets, as well as what games I’m currently playing.
As a general rule, you won’t want to get overly personal in your author newsletter. Don’t disclose information like your address, the names of schools you or a loved one are attending, or any big family news that you haven’t already made public with the permission of everyone involved. Remember, while your brand may be a bit more personal, it’s still a brand; you have a right to your privacy and security.
What not to put in an author newsletter
Okay, we’ve talked a lot about what you should put in your newsletter, but what are some things you shouldn’t? There are some things that you definitely can’t do if you want your newsletter to be, y’know, readable. Avoid:
- ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME. Writing in all caps makes it look like you’re shouting at your audience. Unless you’ve got a very specific and obvious reason to do this, stick to the sentence case. Oh, and don’t scream in the subject line. That’ll get you sent to spam.
- So!!! Many!!!!! Exclamation!!!!! Points!!!!!!!! Listen, the occasional double or even triple exclamation point is fine, especially if that’s consistent with your writing overall, but adding them after every sentence (or worse, every word) can make your text difficult to read.
- UsInG dIfFeReNt fOnTs aNd CaPs. This is a sure-fire way to get sent to the spam folder without a look back. Avoid doing this, especially in the subject line.
- Call to action overload (CTAs). Having one to three CTAs (depending on the length of the newsletter) is fine, especially if they appear only at the end of the sections in the letter. Including a CTA every two or three lines comes across as overly sales-y and false, and can actually have the exact opposite effect of making people not want to click anything at all in your email.
- Jargon and trigger words. Industry jargon might be okay if you have a newsletter dedicated specifically to industry insiders and professionals, but in a casual newsletter, it’s just going to be confusing. Try to use common terminology or, if you can’t avoid using jargon, explain it as succinctly as you can. You’ll also want to avoid including trigger words (a list of which you can find here) that will automatically get you flagged as spam.
Your author newsletter is an extension of your writing brand, but it’s also a personal place. It’s kind of like hosting a little club with your followers and fans; everyone’s sitting around in this digital coffee shop, listening to you talk about the things you love and responding to you on occasion. It’s a great way to foster an authentic and meaningful relationship with your most dedicated readers and reward them for their support.
As long as your newsletter is informative, incentivizing, and genuine, you’ll be able to grow a base that will follow you wherever you decide to go, from inbox to in-person.