5 Steps for Starting an Author Newsletter

An author newsletter can help you connect with your audience beyond just your book. It's a way to nurture your fan base, keep readers engaged, and grow your readership.

Anyone can start a newsletter. But creating and maintaining one that gets results can be challenging. When it's done right, you will be rewarded with one of the most powerful tools in your marketing plan. Follow these five steps to start a successful author newsletter: evaluate, plan, prepare, execute, and analyze.

"Remember, a newsletter isn't a sales or promotional email—it's about developing a relationship with your readers."

Step 1: Evaluate

Understand the why

Newsletters help authors stay fresh in the minds of their readers through long-term contact. This sustained, intimate communication may lead to future opportunities, such as increased awareness of your book and future books, blog subscriptions, event signups, and ultimately, more lives helped, educated, or inspired by your work. Remember, a newsletter isn't a sales or promotional email—it's about developing a relationship with your readers.

Consider your level of commitment

A successful author newsletter takes dedication. Before you start one, make sure you have time for newsletter planning, writing, editing, prepping, sending, analyzing, and maintaining. Much like other marketing efforts, such as blogging and posting on social media, it must be sustained on a consistent level to have an effect.

Assess your current marketing activities

Newsletters require a considerable amount of fresh content and news to keep things interesting. Also, you typically need a website or blog before you start a newsletter so there's somewhere for subscribers to sign up and for you to post content.

Now that you know what you're getting into, let's talk about how to plan your author newsletter.

Step 2: Plan

Create your newsletter outline

What is your newsletter going to be about? Believe it or not, a newsletter doesn't have to cover everything. You can pick a narrow focus for your newsletter, especially if you write in more than one genre. Giving readers exactly what they want is the best way to keep engagement up. Remember, a newsletter isn't about selling and promotion. It's about informing, entertaining, and connecting.  

Set a schedule

How often will you send your newsletter? Find a balance that best suits you and your readers. If you send it too often subscribers may become annoyed. Not often enough, and readers may forget about you and that they subscribed. If you're not sure how often to send it, consider asking your fans and subscribers what they prefer. Many authors send out their newsletters at least once a month.

Choose a newsletter program

The beauty of sending a newsletter is that several programs exist to help you do exactly that. You don't need to be a designer or know how to write code. The cost is minimal (or even free, depending on what you need). Below is a sampling of programs that offer a variety of newsletter templates and help you manage your email list, track and analyze sends, and can even help with email automation:

Mailchimp: A free service is available for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. Then, the cost increases based on the number of subscribers, emails sent, and desired features.

MailerLite: You can sign up for a free plan for up to 1,000 subscribers and unlimited emails per month and prices go up from there, starting at $10 per month. Every plan allows access to all the features.

Campaign Monitor: Plans start at $9 per month for up to 500 subscribers and 2,500 emails per month. You pay for extra features and more subscribers and emails sent.

AWeber: Cost starts at $19 per month for up to 500 subscribers and includes unlimited emails. Every plan allows access to all the features.

Constant Contact: Plans start at $20 per month for up to 500 subscribers and unlimited emails. You pay for extra features and more subscribers.

"The beauty of sending a newsletter is that several programs exist to help you do exactly that. You don't need to be a designer or know how to write code." 

Gather your list

Start collecting subscriptions to your newsletter. You can embed a sign-up form on your website or blog using code provided by the email program you choose. Here's an example of how to add a signup form on your website using Mailchimp. Remember, just because you have access to someone's email address doesn't mean they want you to send them a newsletter. Ask people to opt-in, and be clear about what they are opting into.

Step 3: Prepare

Create your newsletter

Give yourself plenty of time to create the content for your newsletter before your send date. You need time to write killer content, create eye-catching graphics, and perfect your newsletter within the email system. Play around with different newsletter templates until you find the one that works best for you. Remember, it's best to stick with the template you chose, at least for a while, so your readers know what to expect. Many of the email programs have online help documents and provide customer support, especially for the paid programs.

Sweat the details

There are several fine points to examine before sending your newsletter. First, don't overlook the importance of the "from" field, subject line, and preview of your newsletter. Together, three items determine whether or not someone even opens your email. Second, consider using UTM codes in your hyperlinks to track the traffic from your newsletter to your website. Third, make sure to include ALT text for any images in your newsletter. Finally, don't forget to copyedit your work thoroughly—there's no editing once the emails are sent.

Test for various browsers and devices

When you're preparing to send your newsletter, test viewing your email in various browsers and email clients, and on different devices, such as a tablet, computer, or smartphone. Many email service providers have preview tools built into their program. However, it's still a good idea to sign up for various free email accounts so that you can test how your newsletter will really look after it's sent. 

Stay CAN-SPAM compliant

The CAN-SPAM act protects people from getting unsolicited email. You can be fined an outrageous amount of money if you violate the law. To stay compliant, include an unsubscribe link in an obvious place, such as the footer, and make it easy to unsubscribe. And you have to actually stop emailing the people that unsubscribe. Most email programs offer an easy way to insert an unsubscribe link and manage your unsubscribe list.

Another requirement to stay compliant is you must include a physical postal mailing address in the email. To avoid sharing your home address with the world (which we do not suggest), you can protect your privacy and safety by renting a P.O. box through the U.S. Postal Service or UPS. Boxes can run as little as $5 per month. Lastly, to remain compliant, be honest in your messaging. Don't use deceptive sender information, subject lines, headlines, or email copy.

Step 4: Execute

Testing

As an author and marketer, you should always be asking yourself what's working and what's not. One way to test your messaging is through A/B testing. You can test any number of things within your newsletter, such as the subject line, headline, or call to action. But remember, only change one element at a time so you know which variant is generating results. Many of the email newsletter programs offer A/B testing functionality.

List segmentation

You can target your audience through list segmentation. This is the process of dividing your subscriber list into smaller groups so that you can hone the content for each specific group. According to Mailchimp, segmenting lists increases open and click-through rates and lowers unsubscribe and abuse rates. You can try segmenting your lists based on a number of factors, such as date of sign up, location, and interests. Consider asking about the users' interests on your newsletter subscription form (for example, "What are you most interested in? Books, Events, News, Blog, Offers, All of the Above"). Segmenting lists does require a little extra time to customize the content, but you'll improve your results with each send.

Step 5: Analyze and Improve

After sending your email, you should analyze the results and take action based on those results. Here are some of the important details to analyze:

Open rate: The open rate tells you what percentage of subscribers opened your email. In an article by Smart Insights, the open rate for the publishing industry is somewhere between 19 and 22 percent, according to the averages posted by Mailchimp and Constant Contact. It's important to note that open rates can be deceiving because an email is only reported as "opened" when the images are downloaded, which some readers may not do.

Click-through rate: Click-through rate is a key data point to consider. It shows the percentage of people who clicked on at least one link within the email. According to Epsilon's latest email trends report, the average click-through rate is 3.4 percent.   

Conversions: You can see how your newsletter pays off by tracking conversions. A conversion is when a subscriber does something you directed them to do in a call to action in your newsletter, such as signing up for something on your website, making a purchase, or subscribing to your blog. You can set up goals in Google Analytics to track specific conversions.

Delivery rate: Hard bounces (sending to an email address that doesn't exist) or soft bounces (sending to an inbox that is full, meaning it's likely old and abandoned) hurt your delivery rate. The average delivery rate according to Epsilon is around 97 percent. If it dips below 95 percent, it's time to clean your list.

List growth: Your subscriber list should increase over time. If not, it's time to take a hard look at your newsletter subscription pages and marketing efforts. By targeting your audience and making it easy for them to sign up, you should see a steady stream of new subscribers.

Forwards: One way to measure the health of your newsletter is the number of forwards. While you may not be able to track every forward, you can include a "forward to a friend" link within your email, which can be tracked.

SPAM rate: When your SPAM rate spikes, pay attention. There are a few reasons why people might report your newsletter as SPAM. If you bought a list or are emailing people who didn't opt in, then they have every right to report the email as spam. But when legitimate subscribers report your newsletter as SPAM, it could mean that they are annoyed (perhaps they are receiving too many emails from you), or they forgot they subscribed (maybe you are not sending often enough). People also might hit the SPAM button if you don't have an obvious unsubscribe link. You should also take a look at your content. Did you use any SPAM trigger keywords in your subject line or body copy? Even certain design elements or text treatments can appear spammy. When you see your SPAM rate spike, it's time to clean your list of old subscribers and reevaluate your content.

Get started on your author newsletter

Now that you have a plan of action, you can begin developing the perfect newsletter that achieves your goals. A great newsletter can help you stay connected to your audience, giving readers a glimpse into your world through rich, engaging content, and giving you a direct, powerful line of communication. Use your newsletter wisely and it will become an impactful resource for you and your readers. 

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