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Friday, November 28, 2008

Killer Campaigns: Newsletters

One item many authors might consider as a promotional outlet is the newsletter. This has several advantages in that you can compartmentalize news about yourself and your books in one easy to digest venue.

I've edited several newsletters for other writing agencies and publishing companies in the past fifteen years, but my very first newsletter was one I created for myself when I was a freelance graphic artist.

It was a dismal failure but it took me a while to understand why.

It came down to content and audience. I was selling a service, my illustration and design expertise, to small business owners, but I didn't demonstrate how my service would benefit them. I was asking for their business without giving anything in return. --a big no-no.

By the time I figured out what made an appealing and readable newsletter to business owners, I had already moved on and started working for a large corporation. No more freelancing. The newsletter was gone but the experience remained.

In this new age of online presence, newsletters have to be even more fresh, have better content and delivered to an audience that has a smaller attention span than did the audience of my print newsletter.

This is an important thing to remember. Web content, that is, content that appears anywhere on the web as opposed to print must be that much more succinct and fresh. People will not read as long online because there is a lot of other material vying for their attention. Be clever. Be original. And divide your information in small easy to read chunks.

A couple of years ago, in order to immerse myself in the industry and show support, I subscribed to quite a few author newsletters. Within six months, I unsubscribed from most of them.

Many of them were very much like my first venture into newsletter writing. They were all about asking for a sale, but nothing about what they are giving to you, the reader.

Others were dull. It was a catalog of their store appearances, readings and the most recent fabulous review they got.

Let's dissect this a little. If you had a favorite author, chances are s/he would have a blog that you visit regularly. And if they were going to be appearing somewhere within driving distance, they're going to announce it on their blog anyway.

Item 2: Shall we be honest? We're not going to tell our fans we got a hideous review. But on the flip side, fans don't really care about the great review either.

It might seem like I'm sucking all the content out of a typical newsletter, but that's my point. When it's all about you, it ceases being about the reader.

The newsletters that I'm still subscribed to have a couple of things in common. They don't belabor how wonderful they are as authors, and they give me a little treat for reading. Sometimes it's as simple as a new recipe. Other times, I get tips on craft, or a sneak preview of a book that hasn't published yet.

That to me is the secret to a great newsletter. Give your readers something more than your statistics.

Things that have appealed to me as a reader:

• recipes

• crafts

• contests

• insider information about particular characters

• writing tips and tricks
(this can backfire because you want to get non-writers to read you too)

• I LOVE it when writers shares their expertise.
(I have a soft spot for ghost hunters and ancient history buffs.)

• games
(this is especially valuable for YA writers because you want to attract a younger crowd)

• secrets
(don't authors seem more personable and interesting when they share one of their quirks?) You don't have to get weird. Maybe mention what you do to get ready to write. Maybe you eat "lucky" food or wear "lucky" socks. That sort of stuff.

Lastly, it's important not to be a pest. I've unsubscribed from a couple of newsletters because they came every week. No one is that interesting. These particular two were nothing more than sales pitches.

I do not have a newsletter, though I've been in contact with a couple of authors on perhaps doing a group newsletter that would go out quarterly. If and when we do get around to creating this newsletter I can promise you it will be chock full of interesting stuff.


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J.K. Coi said...

Great post, Maria! I've just recently started to prepare my first newsletter and I did a little bit of research to find out what I liked in them--much te same things that you mentioned here--because I don't want to make these mistakes either.

Maria Zannini said...

That's great JK! You are very personable too. I'll bet that personality will come through on your newsletter.

Some newsletters are a little stiff. I want to feel like I'm getting to know the writer a little when I read their newsletter and not just getting a sales pitch.

Good luck! I'll keep my eye out for it.