EasternPennPoints Journeys: This piece was submitted by Eastern PA SCBWI member Jennifer Raudenbush to share a part of her publishing journey with other members of our region. If you’d like to share part of your creative journey, click here for submission details.
The Incredible Snowballing Author Newsletter
By Jennifer Raudenbush
I’ve heard a lot of advice on the importance of creating an author newsletter. I get it. If a social media service folds, all our contacts could be lost, but we control our own newsletter lists.
An author or illustrator newsletter is a great way to connect with people. For instance, it can provide updates on our books, preorder information, free ways to support our books, upcoming author signings and events, extra material related to our books, giveaways, and book recommendations. Or, if your intended audience is other writers or illustrators, you might include writing or illustration tips. A newsletter is a fantastic tool for building a fan base.
Still, I didn’t feel the flame of urgency to begin a newsletter until I discovered my debut picture book’s preorder links. Things got real. Fast. I’m invested in my book doing well, but without a professional-looking newsletter to share the news and promote it, this would be more difficult.
I’d like to share my story and tips on how to get your author newsletter off the ground, so unlike me, you won’t suffer through a brutal two-week blizzard of activity.
First up, I had to choose an email marketing service that integrates with my website builder, Weebly. I Google-researched the top services and compared the pros and cons. Some services include a website, others charge by number of subscribers. I’d be starting a bit small. (Maybe I could convince my mom, sister, and husband to subscribe?)
I settled on Mailchimp, a reliable, popular company, though not, I’d soon learn, the easiest to navigate. I explored the site, clicked on some help articles, and Googled what I couldn’t figure out. Even with some pre-made templates, I spent countless hours creating my sign-up form, landing page, and first newsletter.
Although I signed up for Mailchimp’s free service, I quickly upgraded to the lowest paid plan because it offered “journeys,” automated marketing paths for your contacts, which can start in multiple points and have unique branches. For example, anyone who subscribes to my newsletter either through my website’s pop-up link or directly on the subscription landing page link I supply, begins a journey of receiving a brief “You’re signed up, thank you, and welcome” type note. I set it up so three days later, Mailchimp automatically sends the subscriber my first email newsletter. I love preparing it and forgetting about it.
Sending out that first newsletter was not linear. It snowballed into needing graphics to make my forms and newsletter presentable. For this, I had to learn Canva, a graphic design tool, which took another forever to learn how to use, mainly through trial and error. Like Mailchimp, Canva’s basic version is free, but if you want any of their cool features (which you will), you’ll have to pay a subscription. It doesn’t hurt to have a graphic artist sister who, like mine, could create a logo. Unnecessary, but a nice touch.
As the snowball picked up momentum, I had to brainstorm both my intended audience and actual NEWS to put in my first newsletter! Coming up with content took thought. And chocolate. Way too much chocolate.
In the first newsletter I was setting up, I mentioned booking spring school visits. That meant I needed to create school visit information on my website. AVALANCHE! Thankfully, I’d already taken a few school visit webinars, but it still took several days to figure out what author sessions to offer and how much to charge for them. Unfortunately, adding to my website became a flurry of last-minute fine-tuning. When I encountered issues with my newsletter subscription’s pop-up form, I spent so much time chatting with tech support from my webhost, iPage, I think I made a new friend.
I’d finally crested the snowcapped mountain and had my newsletter “journey” ready to send. The trek came to another halt when I learned it’s not possible to use a newsletter provider to ask email contacts if they’d like to subscribe. I thought I could send a professional-looking request to subscribe, but there’s no way to do it without importing your contacts’ email addresses. Importing their addresses is already “subscribing them” (without their consent to receive mailings), which is illegal. I regrouped by connecting with family and friends through regular email. I let them know about my newsletter and that it would be sent out quarterly (a frequency I could handle), and provided the direct Mailchimp link to subscribe.
Next, I tried to announce it on Facebook using a Canva graphic containing an embedded Canva Mailchimp link. Apparently, these don’t work unless they’re posted on a business page. I had no extra bandwidth for figuring out if I should start a Facebook Author (business) page, so I tabled that decision for another time. Instead, I uploaded my Canva photo and added the Mailchimp link in the comments. Success!
Finally, I hosted a Twitter giveaway to let other writers know about my new newsletter. I gave away a free picture book critique or query letter critique of any kidlit category for subscribing to my newsletter, tagging three writer friends, and retweeting. A surprising number of people didn’t follow all three steps, but engagement was fair-to-good, so I considered it time well spent.
Here are five tips to make your newsletter journey less like a blizzard and more like a breeze!
Author Newsletter Tips
- Learn Canva or another graphic design program little by little and use it in your social media posts. It’ll be one less thing to worry about when newsletter time comes.
- If you don’t already have a website, get crack-a-lacking! If you have one, keep it maintained or add the extra features you’ve been thinking about now.
- As soon as you get a book deal, grab an ice pick and begin chipping away at your author newsletter to-do list. (In the meantime, build relationships on social media.)
- Also, when you get that book deal, think about school visits. Take a webinar or class if you’re not in the education field. Brainstorm what kinds of programs you might offer.
- Consider if a Facebook (business) Author Page is right for you. This in-depth decision could be its own blog post! Check out these posts for more information: https://www.janefriedman.com/facebook-profile-use/ and https://www.standoutbooks.com/facebook-authors-pages-vs-profiles/
Like any enormous project, your author newsletter will be less painful if you tackle it slowly—one snowflake at a time.
Jen is giving away a free 45-minute Zoom conversation on a topic of your choice, such as a picture book, middle grade, or poetry cold read critique; brainstorming or critiquing your newsletter; helping with your query letter, etc. Jen will choose a winner from all the new subscribers to her author newsletter over the next seven days. She’ll email the winner directly.
Jennifer Raudenbush lives in Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania with her husband, teenage son, and West Highland white terrier. Jen’s lyrical debut picture book, IN THE PALM OF MY HAND, is scheduled to publish March 14, 2023 from Running Press Kids (Hachette). She also writes middle grade and poetry and is agented by Natascha Morris at the Tobias Literary Agency. Connect with her on Twitter (@jenraudenbush) and Instagram (@jenraudenbush1).