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This post was originally posted on the Azure Fire Publishing website.

Creating The Perfect Newsletter

For many authors, the Perfect Newsletter is like the alchemist’s philosophical stone: if we get it right, we can turn our books to gold! The newsletter is our way to reach our readers, create with them a long-standing relationship, make our books known, and even make some friends through the process. We authors love writing and connecting, and the newsletter combines both aspects in one. It should be considered one more hot trend to publishing!

So we spend time creating and putting together newsletters, and our hearts ache when someone unsubscribes. But just what is it that readers are looking for in a newsletter?

Jackie Weger of eNovel Authors At Work recently ran a survey looking for the answer to just that. She had hundreds of responses, and I had the opportunity to look at her data. So, here is what appeals to readers and what turns them off in a newsletter.

Things that appeal to the readers

Most of the things that appeal to readers in a newsletter have to do with newsletter content:

  • Keep a friendly tone and use your humor. Readers appreciate when an author is open, honest and friendly. A little humor goes a long way.
  • Talk about your new releases. Your new or upcoming book is by far what readers want mostly to know about. Provide some book updates, either about new books, work in progress, or information about your existing books.
  • Include offers, deals, or freebies. Try to include a good deal for your readers in every newsletter. According to the survey results, 73% of the subscribers prefer newsletters offering giveaways and 89% subscribe to Bookbub.
  • Ebook offers are the best. Only a tiny minority of people (about 1% of the participants) prefer free books to be hardcopy instead of e-books. They also asked for giveaways to be made available to readers outside the USA. Unfortunately, this is hardly feasible, for cost reasons as well as for legal ones.
  • Inform readers about signature events, ARCs, cover selection. Your most dedicated readers love to interact with you. The high participation in this survey proves it! So give them the opportunity to meet you or to get somehow involved in the edition of your next book.

Things that turn readers off

Things that turn people off in a newsletter have to do with how easy it is to read, like:

  • Too long and disorganized: This is the most important complain about newsletters. Readers receive many newsletters from a variety of sources and have limited time to read them (see figures). They appreciate a newsletter not longer than one page at maximum, clean and easy to read. So for each newsletter, focus on 2-3 themes. Also, consider that, although short excerpts, teasers, and sneak-peeks of upcoming books are appealing to readers, long ones have the opposite effect.
  • Too frequent newsletters: Anything more than one newsletter per week is considered overkill. Even a weekly newsletter is too much for most. While 98% of the survey participants are comfortable with receiving a newsletter once or twice a month, only 56% would feel comfortable with a weekly newsletter. Content repetition is also a pet-peeve for readers, which is connected to high frequency: they like a newsletter that they have not read before. So, if you want people to actually read your newsletter, make them wait for it and make it interesting.
  • Too pushy. Obviously, newsletter subscribers know that your newsletter is a marketing tool. However, they don’t appreciate when it’s “in their face”. They still expect a friendly, informational communication. Avoid being pushy with “BUY NOW” titles and don’t look too desperate to sell.
  • Small or weird fonts, bad grammar, too many CAPS, acronyms and !!!: People want to be able to read your newsletter. Don’t use small fonts to keep it short in size; reduce your text. Use readable, clean fonts and easy-to-the-eye colors. Avoid sensationalism.
  • Text only, not interesting and ugly layouts: readers will be discouraged by a long newsletter that is all text. Make your newsletter visually appealing by including a nice layout and some book-covers or an interesting photo. Make sure that the photos load quickly enough by optimizing them for web use.
  • Sex and profanity: Keep in mind that your readers will probably open their newsletter in an environment where other people will also be present. No-one wants to open a newsletter with naked models while taking a break at the office or in front of family members. Keep it clean.
  • Too many links and clicks: following a link is ok, but having to click on an endless list of links is too much. Keep your links under control and make sure they work.

Striking the right balance

Maybe the most important thing about your e-mail is finding the right balance on some important features of your newsletter:

The personal approach

A vast majority of readers love not only books, but their authors too. They are eager to hear about your life as a writer, your work in progress, what inspires you, and some personal information. Being friendly and providing some interesting backstage information figures among the top features that readers appreciate in a newsletter.

However, if you go overboard and provide too much information, you may turn this big “do” into a big “don’t”. So go ahead and write a short personal greeting, but:

  • Keep it short and pleasant.
  • Keep the personal life update (family and children) sparse.
  • Don’t brag about your achievements or your wonderful life. Avoid information that might be provocative to lower-income readers.
  • Never ever whine or rant about low sales, other authors being undeservedly successful, bad reviews etc. Keep your newsletter drama-free.
  • Opinions about photos of your pets are split – half love them and half hate them. So go ahead and include one from time to time, but not in every single newsletter.

Recommending other authors

Here is another fine balance to achieve. According to the survey results, 85% of the participants actually enjoy having an array of books by selected authors to choose from in a newsletter. Readers love when you recommend other authors because a) they see it as a sign of humility and fair play on your part, b) they like what you write so they trust that they will also like what you read.

However, there were also many complaints about recommending other authors:

  • Readers do want to know that you have read what you recommend. If you recommend too many books from other authors they consider it as advertisement and may not care about it.
  • Many don’t like it when you recommend too many titles, especially if they are outside of your genre.
  • Pricey books from other authors are not appreciated.

Yes to contests, but…

Although many readers like contests as a means to interact with you, they appreciate them less when participation rules are too complicated (e.g. You need to go on one site, two social media, click like and leave a comment). Again, keep it simple.