Thursday, October 06, 2016

Indie Publishing Paths: What’s Your Newsletter Plan? Part Three

By Jami Gold, @JamiGold

Part of the Indie Authors Series

So far in this Indie Publishing Paths series, we first focused on how to decide which path will work best for us. We figured out our goals and priorities so that when we’re ready to put our book up for sale, we could decide on:

The second phase of our indie publishing journey is to figure out how best to hold onto our readers from book to book. So far, we’ve covered our options for…:

A couple of months ago, we started digging deeper into the first bullet item above for how to keep our readers. One of the most effective methods for keeping readers is to use a newsletter, so we’ve been exploring our newsletter options. So far, we’ve discussed why newsletters are so important and what “best practices” we should follow, as well as how to grow our newsletter list.

Today we’re going to continue that exploration by thinking about our newsletter opening strategy…

What’s a Newsletter Opening Strategy?

So we have our newsletter list—all the email addresses we’ve collected from those who requested to receive information from us. Now what do we do with that list? *smile*

Many authors have faced that same question, and as with most choices in our publishing career, there’s not “one right answer.” Like the other decisions we make, what will work best for us likely depends on our goals—as well as our personality.

The main goal we’ll all have regardless of anything else is that we want our newsletter to be opened by subscribers. Nothing else matters—not the size of our list or the content of our newsletters—if our subscribers delete our emails or never open them.

That’s where our strategy comes into play: How will we encourage our subscribers to open our emails?

We can take many approaches to that goal, as there’s not one magic solution that will appeal to every subscriber of every author. But let’s take a look at the pros and cons of some of the most common strategies for encouraging subscribers to open (and hopefully read) our messages…

Just the Facts, Ma’am: Update Only When News

The default strategy is to send newsletter messages only when there’s news, such as a new release. We’ve probably all seen newsletter sign-up forms with wording along the lines of: Sign up to be notified when I have a new release!

Strategy Assumption: Subscribers will open our emails because they’re genuinely interested in hearing about our work. 

The Pros of a New-Release Only Newsletter

This is the most common strategy—and the default—just because it’s easiest. We don’t have to think of content to send, as it’s obvious: We talk about our new release. We don’t have to come up with content on a schedule or invest time or money on other content.

Many lists focused on quality (as we discussed last time) go this route because they know their subscribers signed up specifically to hear from them, so their open rate on messages might already be high. However, even for middle-of-the-road or quantity lists, authors might take this approach to appeal to potential subscribers who would balk at signing up for having their email inbox inundated and yet would provide their address for the occasional-to-rare email.

The Cons of a New-Release Only Newsletter

If subscribers aren’t necessarily interested in our work (such as with a quantity list), they’re less likely to open our messages. Those subscribers (especially if they signed up from a giveaway or to get a freebie) might have the attitude that they’re only interested when there’s something in it for them.

Also, the occasional-to-rare email won’t help keep our name and work “top of mind” with subscribers. Sometimes readers might download our book but not read it right away, and without a reminder, that book might end up buried on their ereader. Or the lack of reminders about our stories might prevent readers from being excited about our upcoming release, as they won’t remember whether they enjoyed our work or not. Or they might unsubscribe because they don’t remember who we are or that they even signed up for our newsletter at all.

Top of Mind: Newsletters on a Schedule

A second common strategy is to send a newsletter on a regular schedule, such as monthly or quarterly. Our sign-up form would usually specify the schedule with wording along the lines of: Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter!

Strategy Assumption: Subscribers will open our emails because they’re trained to expect and look forward to them on a regular basis. 

The Pros of a Newsletter Schedule

If we’re the type to do better with deadlines and structure, a schedule that we have to follow might encourage us to make progress that we can report. Maybe one month we announce a new release and another month we announce a sale, box set, or audiobook version.

A frequent schedule of emails will keep our name and our work at the top of readers’ minds. If we wanted, we could let our personality shine through, such as with a chatty “here’s what I’ve been up to over the past month” style, giving updates of our upcoming books, sharing what we’ve been reading, or even talking about our hobbies or personal life. All of these can help readers feel like they know us, which might encourage them to support our success.

The Cons of a Newsletter Schedule

Obviously, the frequent updates would require more time and effort on our part, as we’d have to come up with content on a regular basis. Also, some readers might be turned off by chatty-style emails or annoyed by the lack of “real” news content.

In addition, the assumption we make with this strategy might not necessarily hold true. Just because we keep to a schedule doesn’t mean readers look forward to our updates enough to open our emails. The schedule we set could undermine some of our goals as well. For example, quarterly newsletters—while easier from a content perspective—might prevent us from announcing our new release right away.

Enter My Contest!: Newsletters with a Bribe

A third common strategy is to send newsletters on a regular schedule (usually monthly or quarterly)—and include a contest in each email. Our sign-up form would encourage readers to share their address by advertising the contest along the lines of: Sign up for a monthly chance to win a $10 Amazon Gift Card!

Strategy Assumption: Subscribers will open our emails to follow the instructions to enter the contest. 

The Pros of a Contest Newsletter

Just as freebie stories can attract new readers, newsletter contests can attract subscribers. A desire to win the contest can give subscribers a very good reason to open our email. These subscribers can be very loyal, as they would usually have no reason to unsubscribe because they’re constantly getting something in return for sharing their email address.

In addition, if we’re smart about the contest instructions, we could encourage subscribers to help us promote our work. The rules of the contest could require subscribers to tweet/post about our latest book or share our newsletter signup to enter, creating a viral effect.

The Cons of a Contest Newsletter

Some countries and U.S. states have special rules about contests, and we might get in trouble if we’re not careful. We might have to limit our subscriber list to only certain locations or be careful about what instructions we use for entry. We also might fail to attract subscribers who don’t care about the prize (such as if they avoid Amazon).

Obviously, this strategy also requires money in addition to our time and effort for sending out updates. Not all of us can afford to give away a prize each month. In addition, despite all of that work on our part, there’s no guarantee that subscribers actually care about our writing and would purchase our stories. They could just be freebie seekers and contest junkies.

Check This Out!: Newsletters with This and That

This strategy can be a mix of everything and anything. In addition to our updates, the content could share news about other authors or contests we think our subscribers might enjoy, sales or new releases for our friends, bonus content for our books, books we recommend, etc. Our sign-up form would usually indicate what subscribers should expect with wording along the lines of: Sign up for my newsletter filled with news and fun stuff!

Strategy Assumption: Subscribers will open our emails to see what interesting information we’re sharing this time. 

The Pros of a Miscellaneous-Content Newsletter

This strategy can lean toward whatever approach an author wants. We could send newsletters as we feel like it or on a schedule. We could let our personality shine through or point subscribers toward anything they might find interesting.

Depending on how we implement this strategy, any of the pros listed with the other strategies above could apply. Authors could send messages as often as they wanted to remain top of mind and yet as infrequently as they wanted to limit the need for new content.

The Cons of a Miscellaneous-Content Newsletter

Some of us flail without structure. So without a required schedule forcing us to come up with content, this free-for-all strategy might quickly revert to the default new-release-only style. In other words, just as all the pros might apply—depending on our implementation—all of the cons might apply as well.

In addition, because this strategy is built around our personality, we might lose subscribers because they don’t find the same things interesting as we do. While the news-only strategy centers on our work, this strategy centers around us—our favorites, our interests, our judgment. Depending on our branding and the differences between our personality and our writing (such as a quirky, fun author writing serious horror), this approach might work really well or run counter to our goals.

Just as we discussed last time, it’s good to know that we have options. Now our job is to figure out what strategy matches with our goals, our brand, and our comfort level of communication. *smile* 

We’ll talk next time about how to encourage engagement from our subscribers, but until then, let me know if you have any questions in the comments!

After escaping Area 51 armed only with a ukulele, Jami Gold moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where she could put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fortunately, her muse, an arrogant male who delights in causing her to sound as insane as possible, rewards her with unique and rich story ideas.

Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Apple iBooks
| GooglePlay | Kobo | Additional Retailers

About Treasured Claim, the award-winning debut novel of the Mythos Legacy:

A shapeshifting dragon on the verge of starvation…

For Elaina Drake, sparkling jewels aren’t a frivolous matter. Without more treasure for her hoard, she’ll starve. On the run from her murderous father, she’s desperate enough to steal—er, acquire.

A modern-day knight seeking redemption…

Disgusted by his father’s immorality, Alexander Wyatt, Chicago’s biggest corporate titan, is determined to be a man of honor. Yet the theft of a necklace, stolen by an exotic beauty at his latest fundraiser, threatens to destroy all his charitable work.

A predator made prey…

Passion ignites between thief and philanthropist, sparking a game of temptation where jewelry is the prize. But when Elaina’s exposure jeopardizes Alex’s life, she must choose: run again to evade her father—or risk both their lives for love.


  1. So, true. No matter which house your in, some won't like it and some will. I prefer to receive just the news newsletters. I usually follow their blogs, and I don't need more email. But a few now and then are ok. :p

    1. My inbox is already a disaster, and I tend just to not open email when I get too many, so I understand. :)

  2. Wonderful post, Jami! I use Mail Poet (your recommendation, I believe - it used to be called WYSIWIG). In addition to special-occasion newsletters, it generates a "newsletter"-ish email with a link to my weekly blog posts. I put a subscribe widget on my site that allows subscribers to choose: weekly blog post notifications, 2/per year book announcements, or both. I'm hoping that gives subscribers what's best for them, and they are more likely to open and read! Don't have that many subscribers at this point. The funny thing is, I have at least that many friends, but they don't want to sign up for the book release notices on my site. "Oh, just email me when it comes out," they say. But that's what the newsletter is! So, extra work for me.... *wink*

    1. Hi Karen,

      Yep! That's what I use for both my blog posts and my new release emails. Like you, I have checkboxes so people can choose. :)

      And ugh! Maybe since they're friends, you could say, "Do you mind if I set up your email address so you automatically get that notification?" LOL!

  3. Thanks, Jamie. I haven't sent a newsletter for six months, despite having new signups from book signings. I'd say I fit the news-only category, except that I didn't even send news out about my new release! Sigh. Definitely saving this, also going back through the older ones.

    1. Well, other than not letting subscribers know about your new release, there's nothing wrong with infrequent emails. ;) Good luck!