One of the advices for (aspiring) authors I’ve seen is that one should have a newsletter. It’s also one of the advice I’m really skeptical about. Let’s have a look at them, shall we?
The basic stuff
A newsletter is something you send to people who subscribe for it at (preferably) regular basis. There are advantages and disadvantages to having one, as well as arguments that are somewhere in between.
- Direct contact (mail delivered to the reader)
- Control over access (you can kick/ban people) compared to a web/blog open to anyone
- Another time sink (you have to write the messages)
- Potential money sink (newsletter services have a cap on free plans)
And that’s where it gets complicated. One of the tips I’ve seen is to offer some exclusive treat (such as a short story in your fictional universe) as a sign-up gift. This might lure people to sign up but nothing prevents them from signing out as soon as they receive this treat.
Another aspect is that many of what you write there can be also posted on a blog (which many authors already have) – which leads to either duplicity of content (same on blog and newsletter) or to splitting stuff between two sources.
A glorified tool?
Most of the advice I’ve seen is praising the first mentioned advantage: direct contact with the readers. The idea of sending people who sign up some exclusive content sounds great on paper as a promise of keeping them engaged until the next book comes out… until you realize that extra content won’t write itself – which might delay your writing of the next book.
The most famous newsletter advocate I know is David Gaughran, who is propagator of the self-publishing route over traditional as well as basher of Amazon exploiters – and has a hefty amount of newsletter readers.
And he’s also far from an example for other authors for a simple reason: his newsletter is aimed at advice for authors, which will always have way higher audience than any side content a writer can do if they stay within their fictional worlds – which will only get the interest of the most passionate readers. Not to mention that I don’t think there are that many writers who can consistently keep giving high-quality writing advice while also writing unimpeded by writing newsletters. After you have a few books out – and especially if they’re source of regular income – then maybe. Before that? I don’t think so.
The biggest mistake
If there’s a repeated advice about newsletters I agree with, it’s this one: the biggest mistake an author can make is when they only send those newsletters out when a new book is coming. For the simple reason it looks like the only time you care about messaging the readers is when you ask them for money and time for your next book.
Furthermore, there are already tools for that – at least for my fellow Kindle readers. Not only I can follow an author on Amazon and get informed about their new book as soon as it’s up there (which can be months/weeks before actual release if pre-order is enabled) but Amazon will also recommend books from authors you’ve read already. Now, I’m not involved with social networks but I believe those have a way to let people know in a minute about an upcoming release.
Reader’s PoV: newsletters everywhere
What’s worse, it sometimes seems like everyone and their mother-in-law just has to have a newsletter these days. Especially companies with various utility freeware tools and many webpages that offer a personalized selection of articles delivered just to you – isn’t it great?
When EU passed one of the controversial internet privacy laws, every site I’ve created an account on sent a mail about what those changes means – and I took that opportunity to unsign from vast majority of notifications/newsletters – because I deleted most of the messages on sight anyway. At this point, there are few I give at least a bit of attention, among them David Gaughran’s advice; and my main source of books: Amazon’s book recommendations.
The amount of junk mail (not always outright spam) can get massive these days – and thus the newsletter would have to be high-quality to entice me to sign up and stay signed up.
Which finishes the circle: as I said above, quality content takes a lot of time and work to produce – time that could be spent on all the other things already taking your attention and time.
To wrap this up: newsletters can work – but they take a lot of time and effort to reach that point, more so to keep the readers engaged long-term. There’s only so much side-stuff you can produce and any bit of extra work will take time from your writing (or other hobbies).
I’m curious to know what your opinion on this topic is. So, feel welcome to tell me whether you sign up for author’s newsletters or not, and why – or, if you’re an author yourself, if you have a newsletter and what its focus.