Earlier this year, I wrote about how authors can start an email newsletter. It’s a very big-picture, broad overview of the considerations for email content, frequency, and list building.
Once you start sending—and as you observe how well your list grows—you’ll learn all kinds of things about what works and doesn’t work. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
1. Improve your sign-up copy.
Maybe you’ve noticed everyone seems to be starting an email newsletter these days. For that reason (and more), you should customize your sign-up so that it’s specific and unique to what your newsletter offers. Saying “Sign up for my free newsletter” isn’t terribly exciting or likely to get you subscribers.
Here’s a creative writing challenge for you: Can you ask people to sign up without using the words “free,” “newsletter,” or “sign up”? If you’re offering an “ethical bribe” (something free in exchange for an email address), then it’s easy. See Michael Hyatt’s homepage for an example.
If you’re not offering an “ethical bribe,” then consider the unique value or angle of your newsletter. For example, my sign-up copy begins with “Be the Smartest Author” (see the footer of this page).
2. Try a simple A/B test on your subject line.
An A/B test is when you create two newsletters, but change one single quality, and test them against each other (by sending to a small portion of your list) to see which performs better. I recommend testing your subject line to find out what leads to better open rates, so over time you know exactly what triggers your readers to open your messages. Here’s an example of a recent A/B test on my list.
3. Add unexpected value—or at least a smile. (Delight.)
A sure way to keep people opening your messages is to offer something that goes beyond a straightforward “here’s the news” or “here’s the latest thing I want you to buy.” It works even better if it’s an exclusive for your email newsletter subscribers.
- What free digital download could you offer?
- Could you record and post a secret video?
- Could you send handwritten notes (or similar) to people who notice the fine print at the end of your newsletter? (Think: treasure hunt.)
- Could you arrange a meet-up at a conference with you and the first 10 subscribers who respond?
Even if you can’t offer something of tangible value, consider how to add something each time that’s meant to do nothing but delight or draw a smile. Bo Sacks does this effectively with a closing, humorous image in his newsletter.
4. Use bold, italic, or other simple formatting to draw attention to important calls to action.
Especially if your emails are primarily text-driven, use bold and italics to ensure people don’t miss important links (or calls to action) while skimming your message.
Yes, skimming. Most subscribers will spend about 5 seconds with your message before deleting it, so help them see the most important information—and maybe they’ll slow down and take a closer look.
If your emails are primarily image-driven, then test how your emails look when the images do not load. Can people still see the most important information or calls to action?
5. Ask your readers for feedback.
As soon as I started explicitly asking my readers for feedback, I began receiving responses with every send, whereas before I rarely, if ever, received any response.
Understand, though, that people will give feedback that may ask you to reconsider how you format the newsletter, what you put in it, and when you send it. Not every suggestion should be employed, but if you ask for feedback, prepare to be responsive to it.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has nearly 25 years of experience in the media & publishing industry. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses (How to Publish Your Book), she is the author of The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as Digital Book World and Frankfurt Book Fair, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.