Creating an E-mail Newsletter
Part II: The Mechanics
by Moira Allen
In the last issue, we looked at some questions to ask before
launching an e-mail newsletter. Once those questions are
answered, however, you still face a host of questions about how
to run that newsletter.
Choosing a Format
Fortunately, e-mail newsletters are relatively easy to format.
You can prepare your text in a word-processing program, or
directly in an e-mail message. (If you use a word-processing
program, be sure to avoid formatting or special characters, like
"smart quotes," that don't "translate" properly in e-mail.) Here
are a few formatting tips to keep in mind:
- Keep it short. Many ISPs screen out messages over 50K in
length, so try to keep your newsletter around 40K.
- Avoid frills. Don't use fancy fonts, colors, or graphics.
Often, these won't show up properly at the other end, and they
can be distracting.
- Don't use HTML. While HTML can create a more attractive
newspaper, not every e-mail program translates it correctly,
which means that some subscribers may find your newsletter
difficult (or impossible) to read.
- Don't use attachments. Never attach files, graphics or photos
to your newsletter. If you do, you'll get irate letters from
virus-wary subscribers -- and many ISPs will simply route your
newsletter to the trash.
- Include a header that lists the title, contact,
subscribe/unsubscribe information, and a table of contents.
Include instructions on how to subscribe or unsubscribe at the
end of the newsletter as well.
- Include a copyright notice at the end of the newsletter, along
with details on how to request permission to reprint material,
and whether subscribers may pass along the newsletter (in its
entirety) to others or to discussion lists. If you have articles
from other contributors, provide a separate copyright notice for
each article (e.g., Copyright © 2004 John Smith).
- Include the complete URL (http://) when listing links, to
ensure that the URL will automatically convert to a hotlink.
A final format decision you may wish to consider is whether to
include all your content in the newsletter itself, or to link to
additional material on your Web site. Some newsletters simply
offer summaries or the opening paragraph of an article, then
direct the reader to a Web site to read the rest. Others are
self-contained. This is purely a personal decision; some readers
prefer the link approach, while others prefer to get all the
information in one place.
Attracting (and Handling) Subscribers
If you build it, will they come? Not unless you promote it!
Often, the best way to promote an e-mail newsletter is through a
corresponding Web site, where readers can learn more about the
content, read back issues or selected articles, and sign up.
Another way to promote your newsletter is to swap ads with other
newsletters on comparable topics.
Before you start hunting for subscribers, however, you need a way
to manage them. Unless you want to spend hours each week signing
up new subscribers, unsubscribing others, and purging your list
of "bouncing" e-mails, you'll need a list service. Fortunately,
you can get such a service free on sites like Yahoo! Groups and
Topica. These services offer free newsletter hosting in exchange
for the right to include advertising at the end of your
newsletter. Unfortunately, you have no control over that
advertising, so your newsletter on "heavenly desserts" may end up
with an Atkins diet ad at the end!
If you'd rather not have someone else's ads in your newsletter,
another option is to pay for list management. Rates vary, usually
beginning at around $10 per month. For example, Listbox.com,
which hosts the Writing World newsletter, charges $12 per month to
host a newsletter with up to 1000 subscribers. Many list-
management services also allow you to archive back issues of your
newsletter, or even provide a location to upload files and photos
to which you can refer your readers.
Making it Pay
By doing it all yourself and using a free hosting service, you
can create and run a newsletter at virtually no cost. Many
editors soon decide, however, that they need to make their
newsletters self-supporting, or even profitable. If, for example,
you're trying to earn a chunk of your living as a writer, putting
out a free newsletter can cut significantly into your paying
Making a newsletter "pay" can be a challenge. Here are the most
1) Charge for subscriptions. Though this seems an obvious
solution, in reality it rarely works. Since so much information
can be found on the Web for free, it's difficult to persuade
subscribers to pay for it. Worse, if your newsletter started out
free, it's almost impossible to convince subscribers to pay for
it later. (Many newsletters have tried this and sunk without a
To attract paying subscribers, you must convince them that you
have something worth paying for. This usually means something
that they can't easily find elsewhere for free, or something that
will give them a return on their investment. In the world of
writing newsletters, this usually means market listings; market
newsletters such as WriteMarketsReport and Gila Queen, for
example, have successfully followed the paid subscription model.
AbsoluteWrite offers a free newsletter and a premium paid
edition, the latter offering considerably more market
2) Sell advertising. E-mail classifieds usually range from $10 to
$50 for a one-time ad, depending on your circulation. A good way
to find potential advertisers is to review related publications,
and e-mail their advertisers to let them know about your
newsletter. Unless you have a circulation of 1000 or more,
however, don't expect to get too many takers! When selling
advertising, you'll need to decide on such issues as size limits,
placement within your newsletter (will you put ads "higher up"
for more pay?), how many ads you'll accept, and discounts on
multiple-issue listings. It's also best to accept only ads that
relate to your content.
3) Sell a product. If the initial purpose of your newsletter was
to promote your books or other products, then it is "making
money" as long as it succeeds in that purpose. If you don't have
a product to promote, however, you might consider "inventing"
one, such as an e-book or report.
4) Ask for donations. Many e-zines ask for voluntary support from
their readers. The easiest way to do this is to set up an account
through Amazon.com's "Honor System," or through PayPal.
Typically, however, this approach only works when you are
actively promoting it, and you'll find that your first flurry of
contributions tapers off rapidly. Some newsletters devote more
space to their pleas for donations than to actual information,
which doesn't tend to please subscribers.
Often, the most effective approach is a combination of approaches
-- advertising, perhaps a premium "paid" edition, a product, or a
call for donations that includes a "free gift" (such as an
e-book) for anyone who responds. Before you become too involved
in trying to figure out how to make your newsletter "pay,"
however, take a moment to determine whether this fits into your
original goals for the newsletter. Don't let yourself fall into
the trap of trying to put out a newsletter to raise money just so
you can put out a newsletter. No matter what your reason for
publishing your own e-mail newsletter, be sure that you keep
sight of those original goals!
Creating an E-mail Newsletter, Part I: Before You Start, by Moira Allen - http://www.writing-world.com/promotion/newsletter1.shtml
E-mail Queries and Submissions: Keeping Editors Happy, by Moira
Allen - http://www.writing-world.com/basics/email.shtml
Yahoo! Groups - http://groups.yahoo.com
Topica - http://www.topica.com
Listbox - http://v2.listbox.com
AbsoluteWrite - http://www.absolutewrite.com
Gila Queen - http://gilaqueen.us
WriteMarketsReport - http://www.writersweekly.com
(This article originally appeared in 'The Writer' and has been
reproduced with permission from Writing World www.writing-world.com)