Creating an E-mail Newsletter
Part I: Before You Start
by Moira Allen
Writers have experimented with a variety of forms of
"self-publication" on the Web, and one of the most popular types
of publication to emerge from online technology is the e-mail
newsletter. There are literally thousands of e-mail newsletters
online, on every subject you can imagine (and many you probably
never dreamed of).
E-mail newsletters appeal to writers who dream of launching their
own periodical, without the costs of print, paper and postage.
Unlike a Web site, they have the advantage of requiring no design
or HTML skills. All you need is an e-mail program; sites like
Yahoo Groups and Topica will host your newsletter at no cost.
Before yielding to the temptation of the "paperless periodical,"
however, you need to ask yourself a few questions -- the most
important being "Why?"
Determining Your Purpose
There are actually many good reasons for a writer to launch an
e-mail newsletter. One of the most common is to provide a vehicle
through which to promote your books or other writings. An e-mail
newsletter can be a great way to stay in touch with fans, and to
build a larger audience for your work.
Newsletters are particularly effective if you've written a
nonfiction book, as you can use it to target an audience hungry
for information on your subject. By creating a newsletter that
offers worthwhile articles, news and updates, and links to useful
sites, you're likely to attract a broader readership for your
work. Such a newsletter is also likely to attract links from Web
sites related to your topic.
Fiction authors often use an e-mail newsletter to keep fans
informed of new releases, speaking and booksigning engagements,
and other events in the author's life. Such newsletters may also
include short book excerpts, or perhaps nonfiction material (such
as background information or writing tips) that are related to
the author's fiction work.
Another reason to launch a newsletter may simply be your desire
to provide information about a topic that is close to your heart.
Whether you write about parenting or pets, children or computers,
chances are you have lots of information to share that won't fit
into a traditional magazine article.
Whatever your reason for launching a newsletter, your second
question should be, "Who?"
Determining Your Audience
Who will read your newsletter, and why? Unless you can answer
these questions, your newsletter's circulation will remain
discouragingly limited. As you develop your newsletter topic, you
must also develop a mental picture of the "typical" reader for
whom the newsletter is designed.
If, for example, you wanted to launch a newsletter about
"writing," you need to determine what type of writer you want to
reach. Do you want to provide information for beginners, or for
more experienced writers? Based on your specific area of
expertise, should you target writers in a particular genre or
subject area, such as mystery writers or tech writers? Perhaps
you might choose to target writers in a particular demographic
group, such as "writing parents," or "working writers." By
defining your audience, you will be able to define the content
that is most appropriate for your publication. You'll also have
a better idea where to find that audience (i.e., by promoting
through Web sites that appeal to that audience).
If your goal is to promote your work to existing and future fans,
you need to know a little bit about who your fans are and what
appeals to them about your work. Are your readers drawn to your
books by the characters, or for your accurate depiction of a
period in history? Do they enjoy the romance or the flashing
swords? Are they interested in your personal life, or would they
rather hear your tips on becoming a successful author?
Keep in mind that you can never please all the people, all the
time. For every letter that I get telling me that the "Writing
World" newsletter has too much "beginner" material, I'll get
another saying that the articles are too advanced. For every
person who complains that the newsletter is too long, another
will say that it is too short. One will ask why I never cover a
particular topic; another will ask why I wasted so much space
covering that same topic. Having a firm "vision" of what you want
to accomplish and whom you're trying to reach is the best way to
keep this sort of conflicting feedback in perspective.
But "how" will you reach that audience and accomplish that goal?
That's the third and final question you need to ask yourself
before launching a newsletter!
Determining Your Approach
It's very easy to get caught up in the excitement of launching a
publication, to imagine the thrill of having hundreds or even
thousands of readers signing up to read your words every month,
or even every week. Then the reality sets in: Those readers
expect something from you every month, or twice a month, or every
week. How do you intend to deliver?
- Do you have enough material to produce a regular publication?
Does your subject area lend itself to regular coverage? Does it
offer enough "fuel" for regular monthly, bimonthly or weekly
articles? Is enough happening in your field to provide regular
"news updates?" Will you be able to fill those pages week after
week, month after month, year after year?
- Do you intend to write all the material yourself? This is the
least expensive way to produce a newsletter, but also the most
time-consuming. Coming up with something new for your readers
week after week can be a tremendous burden. Nor can you afford to
"slack off" -- even a single mediocre issue will cost readers.
- Do you need help? Many, if not most, e-mail newsletters rely on
contributions from outside writers. Many also have a small
"staff" to help gather news items, hunt up useful links, and
manage subscribers. It's often possible to find volunteers for
all of these tasks, but when your help is unpaid, it can be more
difficult to control the quality of your newsletter. (It's hard
to be critical of the performance of those who are donating their
time or work out of the goodness of their hearts.) Which brings
us to the final question...
- Do you want your newsletter to be a source of income? Many
e-mail newsletters began as labors of love -- and evolved into
income-producers. Often, this transition is a matter of
necessity, such as the need to generate enough income to pay for
contributions to the publication. Many editors suddenly realize
that their "labor of love" is cutting into paying writing time
-- and to justify its continued existence, it must start paying
In Part II, "The Mechanics" (http://www.writing-world.com/promotion/newsletter2.shtml), we'll look at ways to make a
newsletter profitable, as well as how to design and format your
newsletter, and how to attract and manage subscribers.
Ezine-Tips.com - http://Ezine-Tips.com/about/
E-zines.com - http://www.e-zinez.com/index.html
So, You Want to Start an E-Zine? - http://www.zinebook.com/roll.html
(This article originally appeared in 'The Writer' and has been
reproduced with permission from Writing World www.writing-world.com)