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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? How should you go about starting a newsletter? If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.
How should you start a newsletter? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, still in pandemic mode.
I have a question from Edson Bueno, a writer based in São Carlos, Brazil. Here’s what he’s asked by email….
“I’m planning on starting a newsletter. Can you share any tips you’ve collected while writing one yourself? Any special advice about what works and what doesn’t?”
Thanks for your question, Edson. My newsletter is almost 14 years old and I’ve published more than 760 issues. Here are 7 tips for you:
1 – Decide on your publishing frequency. You should publish at least once every two weeks and I think once a week is better. You want your readers to remember you. If you’re away from their inboxes for more than two weeks, they’re likely to forget — and this can lead to your getting reported as spam.
2 – Treat your deadline as sacred. I never miss a deadline. Even when I had a stroke a number of years ago, I had my son send out a message to subscribers that the newsletter was going to be a couple of days late. Although my newsletter is free, I assume I have a CONTRACT with readers. They have agreed to subscribe and I have agreed to provide the reading material.
3 – Don’t worry about accumulating columns in advance. Many clients ask me how many columns they should have ready in advance. My answer? “None.” I learned the hard way. When I started this game, I accumulated 18 posts in advance. Guess what happened? I published all 18 without writing another word and then I was back to producing a new column each week. It’s never been a problem.
4 – Earmark a specific day and time for writing your newsletter. I always write mine at 9 am Thursday morning. This time is practically engraved in my brain. I decline meetings for that morning and I don’t allow myself to do anything else. I just write the newsletter.
5 – Pick your topics in advance of your writing day. Identifying topics is at least as challenging as writing them. But I read widely and I keep digital files of potential ideas. Then, I scroll through these ideas regularly to schedule my topics well in advance. This long-term planning allows me to think about the idea, in the back of my brain, and makes the job of writing so much easier. By the way, even though I’ve done this newsletter for 14 years, I have NEVER run out of ideas. If you read a lot, you won’t either.
6 – Have a system for editing. Most newsletters are free so the vast majority of people can’t afford to hire an external editor. Neither can I. But I do a vigorous self-edit first and then I work with a friend who also writes a newsletter. Essentially, we trade editing jobs. She edits mine and I edit hers. See if you can set up a similar arrangement with someone.
7 – Put good logistical supports into place. You will need to hire an email distribution firm. The best known ones are MailChimp and AWeber. See links below. MailChimp is free until you exceed 2,000 subscribers. But the big downside is that they have no personalized support. For this reason, I started my newsletter using AWeber, and I found them quite reasonable. More recently, I’ve switched to a bigger and much more expensive platform called Active Campaign. It gives me a lot more flexibility in terms of tracking my customers, but it’s likely to be way too expensive for anyone just starting out.
Launching a newsletter is an exciting enterprise. Be sure to give yourself enough time to do it. I figure that mine takes me about two hours per week.
Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from American business woman Lynda Resnick: “Since the advent of the internet, everyone can be a published voice. Any cowardly, anonymous anger-monger can have an audience of thousands. That doesn’t make them a journalist any more than my throwing an onion and a few carrots into a pot of boiling water makes me Julia Child.”
Edson, Lynda Resnick makes a good point. Humility is a necessary ingredient for any newsletter. While I view myself as something of an expert on writing, I can tell you that I always learn as much from my readers as they learn from me.
If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes.