Newsletters That Sell
I’ve been getting some feedback the last month, stuff I hadn’t focused in on too much because I was so busy with the Demon Arms edit. But a fair amount of readers took the time to respond to my newsletters, for varying reasons. And many of them also felt the need to thank me for writing interesting newsletters in those responses. No other author newsletter addresses them the same way. They enjoy hearing about my life, or my rants XD and getting the free and discounted books and learning about the other writers in the mm world.
It’s pretty intense when I think about it, and it got my mind going. One, I’m glad I’m doing something right that people would take the time to thank me. Seriously, wow. Two, what the hell is going on in these other newsletters?
I’ve been busy, I have, and I isolate myself from all the digital bombardment to get stuff done. So I went into my emails because I’m on a lot of author newsletter lists (Instafreebie *__* The struggle is real.) The first one—very first newsletter I opened—was a call to Kindle users to preorder their newest book. That’s it. Picture of book, blurb, preorder here. Wham, bam, thank you, mam, but without the thank you. It was like someone threw an advertisement into my inbox. To be clear, this is the entire reason I’m writing this blog post, because holy fuck, I was offended. Offended for me as a reader, and offended for all the readers out there that have to put up with this likely well-intentioned but poorly executed newsletter.
The purpose of a Newsletter
Let’s get into this. What is the purpose of a newsletter? Now if you’re an author, your immediate reaction might be ‘to sell my books, so I don’t starve.’ I get that, I do, but I want you to look at a newsletter from a reader’s point of view. Why do you, as a reader, open up an email from an author you enjoy enough to follow? What do you want to get out of that experience? You probably want to know about their upcoming book—it is nice to know that there will be a creative escape coming up soon. What else? Do you want to know a little bit about your author friend? Maybe it’s not all about just that author? Maybe it’s about the fact that you like the genre you’re reading, and you want to know what’s happening. In my case, in MM in general. Maybe you want to be cheered up from a shitty day and here’s this familiar writer that has a chance to connect with you.
I don’t know how to break it to you, my author friends, but that newsletter is not for you. It is for your readers. And not just all your readers as a whole, it is for every single individual that clicks on your email and turns their eyes on your words. You are dealing with living, breathing, thinking human beings and it is your job to engage them. That is what being a writer in general is.
Language is about communication. There are two parts; the quest to express in a way that embraces the essence of yourself and thoughts, and the need for another human being to read and understand your words and be moved by it. You cannot just have the first half and assume you’re at the top of your game. If you are not engaging another soul and ensuring they respond, you are failing as a writer. And damn, the newsletter is the perfect place to see this all go down.
A sampling of newsletters
I’m going to summarize and share my reactions to the next five newsletters chosen at random in my inbox.
1) Uses my name in the greeting—I personally hate this because I know it’s just a robot, but I understand the mentality of it to try and engage the reader. I see this too many times with mass produced store emails, so it’s hard to view it differently. It feels forced and fake to me. The soul focus is on the book with language that tries to engage. They use ‘you’ like they’re talking to me—but again, it feels really targeted. They’re trying instead of relaxed, and I can tell. This particular newsletter is featuring someone else’s book, not the author’s, and it’s in the genre I enjoy. I feel a little sold—this newsletter is a total salespitch—but they’re pitching someone else’s book so I automatically feel like the author cares about their author friend and is sharing something with me, so I’m more open to look.
2) This one has a cute title and starts with the author talking to me like we’re having a conversation. I immediately know that a real person is talking to me and I feel like they realize that I’m a real person in return. And as they talk to me, they tell me about their book for sale and preorder. This is a very focused newsletter—the author is all about writing and the books for sale. They offer a few freebies at the bottom from the author’s works and lists what looks like every book they’ve ever written at the bottom. This is very focused on the author of this newsletter. Yes, they are kinda engaging, but they only seem to have one thing on their mind—buy my books.
3) Next one is a genre based newsletter focused on mm. Get a casual greeting, a little update about the author, and then a shit ton of book deals. It took me a moment to remember who this personality was from the small greeting (had to scroll to the bottom) but when I did, I had a smile cus I like this person, and when I have the time, I totally love a free or cheap book. Straight and to the point. I enjoyed the deals, and felt like a human being was talking to me like I am a human being.
4) Oh, baby, so this one I love, but there is a specific reason. This newsletter offered me information that concerns my job and how to do it better. This is an author reaching out to other authors to help them with a very common problem. Not only do they admit their personal difficulties with this problem (which humanizes them) but then offers to help me. For free. No call to buy a book, no call to buy anything, no need to even go to their website where I might be bombarded with sales pitches. I was just given free information, and I’m smiling.
5) Last one. This is an author I immediately recognize by name and enjoy, so I’m looking forward to an update. They start out telling me about what’s going on in their life (I’m so jealous; they seem to be having fun. XD) And then they want to give me free books in the mm genre and show me where I can snag some cheap reads. At the bottom, they tell me where I can find their books and their bestsellers. I’m not offended by it—this author has treated me like a person, talked to me like we’re in a conversation, and has a generosity that I appreciate. But I’m also not in a rush to read through their stuff atm. If I wanted to, I would have just searched them on Amazon.
What should a good Newsletter do?
Engage your readers. That’s the point of a newsletter. It’s also the point of writing a book. There is no other point to a newsletter but this, and when you understand that, you will start getting a response. Engage your reader. How do you engage your readers? Given my own personal responses to the above, I have a few ideas.
Have a genuine voice
When someone speaks naturally, they not only reveal that they are human, but they see the person they’re speaking to as human. And yes, you are talking to humans. Talk like you’re talking to a friend—because you are! The person reading your newsletter took time out of their busy life to read your words. They are taking the time to ‘listen.’ Do you know how freaking huge that is? Appreciate it and talk to that person like you’re talking to an actual person. (Have you noticed how I’m talking to you, the reader right now? Like you’re a human being that I expect to be following along? Yeah, just fourth walled for this post. Hardcore.)
Give it away
Give them something. Be it information, gossip, sneak peeks, free books, deals, or an invitation into your world. Give that shit away. Someone opened your email. There better be something in it.
Give something away without strings. Yeah, there is a caveat to the above. When you give something away, make sure you’re not guilting the fuck out of your readers. They are not reading your newsletter to feel bad about not buying your shit. They are not there to feel ‘required’ to comment, review, share, read, etc. They are there because they want to be there and they don’t want to be manipulated. Your readers are not idiots, and they know when they’re being sold, and they know when someone is putting pressure on them. Don’t be a douchebag salesman.
It’s okay to ask. Just to add to the no strings thing; it’s okay to ask of your readers. It never hurts to ask. But no guilt, no requirements, no pressure. You are there to open their eyes to the world you live and work in. You can invite them to look around, meet authors and books—your readers will love that. It’s an experience. They might love the chance to give you a review or share your stuff because they want to help you or new authors. Some are desperate to give something back because they might feel guilty that you keep giving them so much free stuff (sorry, babes.) But you want their actions to come from a place of honesty, not guilt. You’re dealing with human beings. Do you want to feel pressured and guilty every time you open an email? I sure don’t.
Entertain aka Share
You are inviting your reader into your world. You’re giving them a view of life through your eyes. So do it. Tell them about your life, or something you stumbled across that made you laugh, cry, stand up and go Oh my fuck! Whatever. I’m not a particularly entertaining person (that I’m aware of,) but I do love to share. There are comedians out there, charismatic, brilliant people I am never going to be. I pretty much just ramble about my life because that’s my thing. I rant, rave, gossip with the sole purpose of reaching out and hoping to get a human reaction back. I share because I am seeking connection. Because of it, I have brought up controversial topics. Anyone in ‘business’ will tell you what a bad thing that is, that it might alienate your readers to bring up politics or your failing health, or the dark things happening in the world. It’s your call.
Just remember, when you hold back, you are holding back who you are. You are placing a wall up that says your readers can see only this much of you. Boundaries are good, they’re important, but be aware where yours are, why they’re there, and how they affect your ability to communicate. I write some pretty intense stories. I’m not even talking about the erotica. Demon Arms goes into very raw, difficult feelings of what I experienced in foster care; abandonment issues, self-hate, fear of connection, trauma. My ability to share these difficult emotions—and believe me, I fight with my vulnerability no matter how many times I share these things—allows for a more engaging, real story. My readers can feel things they might have never felt. Or, more likely, they get to experience familiar feelings in a totally different context and explore those emotions safely. Books are great like that; they’re a safe place to learn about yourself and the world and not be judged.
Do you know how relieving it is to know other people feel the same shit you feel? That they get scared, inspired, angry, embarrassed, anxious, horny, joyful just like you do? That they face adversity in their daily lives and want to know that others face it and make it through? Those very uncomfortable things in life are real. They are far more real than a stiff sales pitch. So if you have an engagement problem, this is a good place to look. Do readers email you back and tell you about their lives, about their problems or joys? Mine do, and it is fucking amazing to have met so many people just by sharing my writing. It is a gift every time I get an email reaching out to me, and I genuinely feel like an ass when I don’t get to them in a timely fashion. Someone shared a bit of themself with me, and they deserve to know how fucking amazing that is. It is to be cherished.
Are you afraid to connect? Are you afraid that if people truly see you, they won’t like what’s there? If this sounds like you, it’s going to make it very hard to engage with your reading base. To be clear, I still feel all this terrible shit. Every book. I share deep, personal things in characters that I’m sure can be picked up by my readers because I don’t hold back. I’m terrified about Sorcerer Slayer and keep hitting writer’s block because of some of the fucking shit I’m digging up. I almost had a damn breakdown releasing the edited version of Demon Arms because going through that book reminded me of every fucking thing I put in there of myself that made me feel small and worthless and not wanting to be judged. But at the end of the day, I push through because communication is not one sided. I expressed all of that stuff so that it could be understood by another person. To not go that next step would be to fail myself and anyone that needs to know they’re not alone in the world.
I know the struggle, and we are all different about how much we can handle. It’s up to you if you want to let it hold you back from sharing and connecting.
Stop selling your books
I see a lot of newsletters that are very on point, aka, they are all about the sales pitch. Sometimes it’s the sales pitch that doesn’t look like a sales pitch. I get it—there is a lot of information out there that tells authors that you need to sell your books while looking like you’re not actually selling your books. My response to that is just stop selling your fucking books! Stop. Step into your newsletter and realize you are having a conversation with another person and they don’t want to be sold; they want to be informed and entertained. They are there by choice. They sat down in front of their computer or phone and opened your email because they want to. They know you write—we all fucking know. It’s not something you need to sell them. They’re going to buy your book if they’re in the mood and can afford it just so long as they know it’s there.
So what the hell are the two of you there for if not a sale? Connecting. People interact to connect. Yeah, very simple. If in that connection you can offer them a piece of work you created that helps them have a new experience, lighten their day, fall in love, or get them off, awesome. But you are offering them an experience, not selling a book. And if you’re not offering an experience, you need to rethink why you’re writing.
It goes back to that communication thing. You just spent days, possibly months creating a piece of work that reflects emotions, experiences, and ingenuity that you did your best to express as genuinely as possible. You are trying to communicate with your art. You don’t communicate your art by selling it, you communicate it by having it be experienced. Those that enjoy the experience come back for more. They understand that to do what you do, you need to make a living and when they can provide, they will. Not because they feel they owe you but because they want to thank you for those experiences. They want to thank you for taking the time to address them as a human being, for being vulnerable and open and real and doing the same thing we all try to do every day. Reach out. Your newsletter allows you to engage with every reader that might come your way. It is a gift and readers can tell when you treat it as such. (even if you might rant about some bullshit at times >_> )
I seriously hope this helps people. A healthy newsletter is the lifeblood of a self-published author. It’s how we make a living. And still, I’m telling you straight; it’s not where you sell your book. Any questions, shoot them down below and I’ll get to them when I can.