Why should an unpublished author start a newsletter? You don’t have a book out, so you don’t have anything to offer yet, right? Shouldn’t a newsletter be something you set up around the time your first book comes out? You don’t want to be spamming people for years . . .
These are fair questions and concerns—but many publishers still expect authors to have a newsletter with hundreds of subscribers before they’ve landed their first book contract. Why?
Today, we’ll be exploring the importance of an author newsletter—and how an author without a book contract can still engage an audience. To start, let’s ask the obvious question: why newsletters?
There are all sorts of social media options on the table, and it’s impossible to do all of them well. Why should you make a newsletter one of your top marketing priorities over something else? Here’s why: you own your newsletter’s audience.
Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, BookBub, Goodreads . . . all social media platforms are a field of competition where other creators clamor for attention. But newsletter subscribers are your people. They subscribed solely because you caught their interest and they wanted to keep up with you. They’re your most reliable audience with whom you can share the most information.
Newsletters are an opportunity to build a narrower—but deeper—group of fans. These are the sort of fans you might recruit for a launch team or offer exclusive giveaways. These are the fans who might talk about your book with their friends.
But fans like that aren’t grown overnight.
What Makes a Good Newsletter?
Your debut novel is the most critical novel to your author career, so you don’t want to build your audience too late. But if you aren’t announcing book news yet, what should your newsletter be about?
As an author, you write for an audience. If you’re a romance writer, maybe you’d share about relationship advice and reference someone’s relationship problems in one of your works in progress. If you’re a historical fiction writer, maybe you’d share an interesting tidbit that came up in your research. If you’re a fantasy fiction writer, maybe you’d share about some fantasy authors who inspired you on your writing journey—and give your audience some book recommendations while they wait for yours. If you’re a Christian living writer, maybe you’d send out a monthly devotional.
Ultimately, your newsletter should have value to your target audience, not simply take up space in their email inbox. Crafting content that will matter to your audience takes some work, but again, that’s part of how you prove to publishing houses that you’re serious about becoming a published writer!
Newsletters are also important for helping readers get to know you. When I hear about a book coming out from an almost-stranger, I usually take a quick look at the cover to see if it interests me. When I hear about a book coming out from a content creator I follow, I pull up Amazon and start reading the description. Having a wide audience is valuable, but having a deep audience with loyalty is foundational.
Even if your newsletter starts off with primarily friends and family, you’ll be giving them fresh reminders of how important your writing is to you. Many non-writers don’t realize how challenging or significant publishing a book can be. By inviting them to be a part of your journey to publication even before you have a contract, you’re giving that realization plenty of time to sink in.
What NOT to Do
Nobody wants spam. But when does a newsletter become spam?
Spam is both unwanted and repetitive. Your goal is to create wanted content that is consistent yet unique.
In general, I’d recommend once per month as a good frequency for an author newsletter. It’s consistent enough that they won’t forget you exist, but it’s infrequent enough that it’s unlikely to become annoying. Monthly is also a reasonable amount of work to put on a busy author’s plate.
Another thing to potentially avoid is featuring sample chapters in your newsletter. Many publishers (and authors) have agreements with Amazon that prevent them from sharing sample chapters freely online. You’ll want to be confident of your publication plans and the legal side of things before sending out sample chapters in your newsletter.
The concept of giving readers a free sample of your writing is a good one, though, and there are other ways to implement it. In fact, free samples are an excellent way to gain subscribers . . .
Having a great newsletter doesn’t matter if nobody subscribes to it. How do you get people to take that first step?
Personally, I don’t usually subscribe to newsletters. However, the few author newsletters I have subscribed to lured me in with a subscriber magnet.
A subscriber magnet is a free gift you give to each person who signs up for your newsletter. Now, offering gifts to hundreds of people would normally be an expensive way of gaining subscribers, but if it’s an electronic gift, it costs you nothing.
I’ve seen authors give away short stories, how-to guides, or even whole e-books as subscriber magnets. It’s an excellent way to hook readers with a sample of your writing. Sometimes, it’s an unrelated story. Sometimes, it’s tied to a specific book or series. Regardless, you want it to be a quality sample so they’ll be clamoring for more—because that’s when you tell them about your book!
There is a lot more that could be said about newsletters. What sort of email marketing tool is best? MailerLite? Mailchimp? Constant Contact? What sort of layout should you use? Where should you recruit subscribers?
Starting a newsletter will take some research (and some trial and error). That’s okay. An author platform is built one step at a time, and I hope this article inspires you to take your first step.
Once upon a time, Tim Pietz thought editors were gray and joyless people who quenched their thirst with authors’ tears. Now, Tim is the managing editor of InkSword Editing and to his knowledge, he mostly drinks tap water. Tim graduated summa cum laude from Taylor University with a B.S. in Professional Writing and a B.A. in Strategic Communication, and since then, he’s had the privilege of editing for various authors and publishers, including Tyndale House. A teacher and encourager at heart, Tim enjoys collaborating with authors at every stage in their publishing journey.