Newsletters That Aren’t Awkward

Newsletters don't have to be weird. Just sincere.

How can fiction authors and poets create non-“hokey” newsletters?

Email marketing—i.e., newsletters—is hands-down the top advice I see other professional marketers give to authors. There are a lot of opinions out there about why it is vital for authors to have a newsletter. The justification usually boils down to: 

  1. Frustration over how social media algorithms are limiting your visibility 
  2. Your email list is a form of contacting fans that you own, thus can’t be blocked or taken from you

In other industries, the content in a newsletters is typically either educational or direct-to-consumer product sales. But do either of those purposes reflect the needs of authors? Specifically writers of fiction or poetry? You certainly do have a product—your books—but your audience interacts with that “product” much differently than a consumer would approach their favorite brand of tea or face cream.

Unlike other book marketers, I do not think newsletters are essential for authors, especially of creative genres like fiction or poetry. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one. Just that you don’t have to, if it’s too far beyond your comfort zone or time commitment ability.

My justification for why an author should have a newsletter, if they choose:

  1. A great alternative to connect with fans for anyone who doesn’t like social media or gets too distracted by/addicted to social media
  2. Great writing practice: you are marketing your books, connecting with readers, AND exercising your craft at the same time
  3. It increases loyalty from your biggest fans by making them feel special
  4. It’s fun (if you do it right)

When it comes to starting a newsletter, the biggest hesitation I see from authors usually boils down to this: they don’t know what to write. More specifically: they don’t know what to write that doesn’t feel awkward or hokey. 

There is a (surprisingly easy) hack that can make writing newsletters as a fiction author or poet feel natural: a mindset shift. Don’t think of your newsletter as the same type of correspondence that you are getting from either Starbucks or your favorite nonfiction writer (who probably has tons of education content to offer in her newsletter.) As a creative writer, you are doing something different. Your newsletter will look and perform differently.

What is the purpose of a creative writer’s newsletter, then? How should you think about them?

 Newsletters As A Letter To Superfans

Regardless of your publishing path or the stage of your career, all creative writers still have the same vital need: readers. You could be a multi-best selling author who has had success for decades, but if you suddenly fell out of public favor tomorrow and no one wanted your book, you would be back bagging groceries as soon as the savings dried up. In order to make writing a career, you must have fans. Thus, it is in your best interest to foster well the ones you have and also encourage new ones. Creating a newsletter can be a gift to those superfans who want something more than what you put on social media, which any of the public can consume. A newsletter can make them feel special and increase their loyalty to you.

What would it mean to you if you could subscribe to the newsletter of your favorite writer? Or do you already? I will tell you my fantasy: Walt Whitman. Goodness, if Walt Whitman had a regular newsletter that I could get to my inbox, I would never stop refreshing my email app on drop day. Heck, it wouldn’t even have to be free (though I do recommend only sending free newsletters.) But for Walt Whitman, I wouldn’t just “pay with my email address,” I would shell out hard-earned real money, even during this time of inflation! 

What would I want to get in a newsletter from Walt Whitman?

Beauty. Advice. Perspective. Insight. Comfort. Courage. 

All the same things I get from his poetry.

Let’s Get More Specific About What This Looks Like

The internet is soooo full of cringe-worthy advice when it comes to newsletters for creative writers. Personally, I think email marketing experts are more used to nonfiction writers or product businesses and just don’t know what to say to other authors, so they just make up something that sounds creative. Some that I have seen:

  • Write a newsletter in the voice of one of your characters
  • Share a cut chapter
  • Explain your story’s world/setting a little deeper
  • Talk about your daily writing routine

No. Just….no. Don’t do any of that. Why do these things miss the mark? Because they make your newsletter about your book. 

Since newsletters are written content, which is the medium authors specialize in, we get confused into thinking that the newsletter is supposed to mimic our art. But if your favorite band had a newsletter, you wouldn’t expect it to include song lyrics or a video of them playing music, would you? That wouldn’t really be a newsletter anymore.

I wouldn’t subscribe to Walt Whitman’s newsletter to get more Leaves of Grass. I already own Leaves of Grass. Frankly, I don’t want the magic ruined by having him pull the curtain away. I would sign up for his newsletter because I want to keep up with him. I want to learn more from the mind that birthed Leaves of Grass.

If you have taken my Create An Author Brand workshop, you have already heard me preach that your brand is not your book. It is YOU. Authors are what we call “personal brands.” While your brand includes your books, it is much more than that. So is your newsletter.

How To Figure Out Your Topics

Remember my list about what I get from Walt Whitman’s poetry? Here it is again: Beauty. Advice. Perspective. Insight. Comfort. Courage. 

What is it your readers typically look to you or your writing for? I encourage you to write an actual, physical list and put it somewhere near your writing desk. These are the focuses of your newsletter.

So here is a summary of your new newsletter mindset:

Your newsletter is a letter or short essay to your superfans about anything in your life or the greater world that would give readers the same feeling they get from reading your books.

Topics could include:

  • Your thoughts on the current political climate
  • A funny story about something that happened to you recently
  • The difficulty you are having with a remodel project
  • How you are attempting to stay connected with your neighbors during such a divisive era
  • Something new you are learning about yourself as you get older
  • Your mental health journey (as much as you feel comfortable sharing)
  • A new product you recently discovered that is changing your world

 You get the idea. It’s just a letter that helps fans understand who you are better and perhaps gives them get insight into their own life and worldview.

Okay, but what does this actually look like? For the visual learners among us:

Click the button above to read my fake newsletter impersonating Walt Whitman 🙂

Appreciate this article? Get more just like it sent directly to your email when you subscribe to my Substack newsletter.