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 writing time.

Making a newsletter "pay" can be a challenge. Here are the most common approaches:

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 trace.)

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 information.

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!

Resources

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)

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