Note - there are three new backstories up at my other blog BACKSTORY where authors recount the intimate, strange, funny or poignant things that inspired their novels. Please hop on over and take a look and stick around a while and read some earlier ones, too.
Author Newsletters Backfire
Key to the concept of newsletter is the word "news." To further define news lets add to it news that actually matters to the reader not the writer of the news.
Of the few dozen author newsletters I have subscribed to and unsubscribed to in the last two years, I have to say only one or two of them did it for me. Only one or two of them offered me the reader anything meaningful. Most were deleted after I read them once or twice.
Newsletters are not a miracle marketing tool.
They work when they work because the author is amazingly entertaining or has a lot of real and valuable information on a subject of interest to readers.
And that subject, as much as we'd like to believe it, is rarely ourselves.
Unfortunately, very few authors are so fascinating that we should be writing weekly or even monthly newsletters about ourselves.
Believe it or not, our readers are not always happy to know we moved houses, changed our baby's diapers, or were nominated for a prize. There is a fine line between sharing our work with our fans and alienating them by pushing our success in their faces.
There is a fine line between letting them know you have a new book out, and inundating them with self-conscious self-aggrandizing information about that book's shelf life. Our readers want a good read, they want to fall in love with characters or with awe-inspiring writing.
They don't necessarily want 500 words on why we didn't deserve that bad review we got in the newspaper.
What is very important is to recognize that by sending out self-congratulatory or self-indulgent newsletters, we run the risk of doing the very opposite of what we have set out to do. It is possible to annoy and alienate those very precious readers who we are attempting to cultivate.
While we are on the subject, here's is some newsletter etiquette I've culled from various readers and writers and marketing folk.
1. Do not add people to your newsletter just because they once wrote you a note. Or once answered a note you wrote to them. Don't put your address book into your newsletter database. Let your reader's sign up.
Believe me, if I have not signed up for your newsletter but I did once answer a note you wrote me about my agent's availability to look at your novel, I know what's what when I suddenly get your newsletter. I know what you are doing. And it actually can backfire.
Contrary to some counterintuitive thinking, if you send me your newsletter without me asking I might just be so annoyed I will go out of my way to avoid your book.
The goal is not to have 20,000 arbitrary names on your newsletter list of whom 99% will delete without opening. But rather to have 3000 dedicated fans who will rush out to buy the new book the second they read that it's available.
2. Do not send out a newsletter just to send out a newsletter.
One newsletters a year that is really interesting is more beneficial than twelve that are boring. Before you know it, if you write two or three boring newsletters in a row, your readers will start to think you write boring books.
3. Do send out a newsletter when you have a new book out, or are going on tour. Do list dates, or when you are running some kick ass contest or when you are auctioning off your house to raise money for literacy and you want me to bid on it.
4. Do send out a newsletter if you come up with a great concept for it that isn't about you. For instance, if you write dog mysteries, it would be a great idea to do a newsletter on new ways to teach old dog even older tricks and yes, you can even advertise your own book in the newsletter -- Just not to the exclusion of making the rest of the news - there is that word again - damn entertaining or interesting.
5. Don't assume you are smarter than the rest of us and you should take it upon yourself to educate us unless you are really really sure that your knowledge is going to be welcome. I know one author who has been subscribing authors without their permission and sending out what she thinks are helpful advice sheets but they come off as if she's a know it all. She thinks she's marketing herself and her work when all she is doing is insulting people with every issue and turning readers off.
Overall, be aware, that the better our readers get to know us, the more they might love us and our work.
But the opposite is just as possible.
Sometimes, less is much much more.