I used to be a newsletter agnostic.
A confession: I can’t stand spam. Everyone says that, but because of the different showbiz segments of my life, I am continually buried under heaps and heaps of email and shoveling my way toward the light, so the idea of authors piling unwanted puffery and self-congratulation on anyone’s virtual mountain makes me shudder. And as many authors do, because I hated bad newsletters aimed at me I’d built up an irrational revulsion that splashed out in all directions. Every time I spotted a frantic, shrieky newsletter signup beg, I skirted it like a sewer drain.
What changed my mind was watching newsletters done right. My pro-newsletter friends shook some sense into me with humor and hard numbers.
Yes, some clueless authors use newsletters as a hardsell cudgel, rounding up suckers and then beating them with secret sales and cover reveals and special downloadable epilogues and sexy interregnums, not to mention a light sprinkling of health woes and pet announcements. I think of these as a traveling blog… one-sided conversation that comes to you. But some audiences want that, or at least tolerate it with equanimity. I’ll be honest: I don’t and I suspect many folks are the same. My inbox is not where I want to keep up with every incremental development in everyone’s career and personal life in a mass-email.
Actually, one of the troubles with email newsletters is a relic from another time, before Web 2.0, when yahoo groups and listservs ruled and Waldenbooks was profitable. Folks built that massive list of email addresses and blasted in all directions because it was A) possible, B) easy and C) free. Anything possible, easy, and free garners plenty of grim loyalists touting newsletters as a magic ticket to millions of satisfied fans. Progress and precision be damned! And plenty of those adherents keep beating a dead horse even after technology evolved and mailing lists got granular. Spam factories, ahoy!
Newsletters have grown up a bit since the era of spiral-perms and dial-up modems. Rather than simply harvesting email addresses willy-nilly and then blasting general promo in all directions, today’s newsletter platforms allow you to segment different audiences within your list so that the right message reaches the right people.
What convinced me that newsletters weren’t spam factories was the magic of the media list and I blame Heidi Cullinan, who taught me the full power of a press newsletter.
Even if you never cultivate a newsletter for your fans, you should consider building a newsletter for the bloggers, press, and other media outlets. It’s fast, effective, and insanely helpful, especially in the manic scramble of a project rollout.
Book launches are inherently stressy and rushed. We never have enough time and in those final days before a book hits the shelves and shopping carts it’s all too easy to let certain things slip. Who has time to let everyone know all the things they need to? And how can you reach all the niche outlets that might be willing to help you promote your work to new readers? Use your noggin: build your promo posse before you need it.
Build a newsletter signup targeting bloggers, reporters, radio and TV producers, conference organizers, librarians, independent vendors…anyone who would benefit from having first dibs on professional updates. Those people might haunt social media assiduously, but they don’t have time or attention enough to track every single release headed down the pipe. They have no way of sifting through all the frantic “Press Releases” from mom-n-pop operations, let alone authors trying to stay afloat in the typhoon.
Help people help you.
Of course, not every media outlet has any interest in what you’re offering. That’s cool. Actually, that’s a huge blessing because it teaches you to focus where you should and put the lever where it will lift the most weight. You may THINK you want to be on the Tonight Show, but are you ready for that kind of pressure and scrutiny? You may BELIEVE you’re ready for a puff piece in People magazine, but without the promo apparatus in place, that kind of attention can turn toxic fast.
If you want to be big news, get yourself there, one step at a time. You need to build to it. What your press list is for is the media folks who actively admire and acquire the kind of books you write, who dig your voice and champion your stretch of the genre bookshelf. They won’t automatically love everything you write, but they’re predisposed to help you get the word out to the right people…because that’s their job.
Create a dedicated press newsletter signup and make sure it’s at the top and bottom of your online press kit. Make sure that signup link goes out with every ARC you send to a reviewer and any media specific correspondence. Every time you meet a blogger at a conference or a fan who works at a radio station, let them know you have a press newsletter which will give them first dibs on the inside scoop. They’ll know the details before anyone else; all they have to do is help get the word out when they can.
Even better, you can tell them what you need and how they can participate in your launch if they’d like…a signup form that gathers information, a redirect that shows them opportunities to join the launch, or an email request to which you or your team can respond personally.
Well for one thing, it’s SHORT. It’s not a fan document, and it’s packed with short, useable facts. People writing articles or booking interviews don’t have a lot of time to mess around. Make sure you include:
The title, tagline, logline, and blurb for the project, all clearly labeled.
Links to artwork in several formats/
- Cover art for the new project.
- Banners (in different aspect ratios) for the project and your work.
Productions facts: publisher, release date, ISBNs, buy links, social media links, and full names of your main couple (because folks on deadline forget)
Possible topics, hooks, and related subjects that might suggest coverage focus
Any contests, giveaways, prizes, or other time-sensitive promo ops
A launch rollout itinerary, highlighting any big appearances, events, or articles already scheduled
Links to video, audio, or other media friendly content
Links offering a chance to participate in your project launch
MANY links to your (regularly updated) online press kit, labeled aggressively.
Keep it short, focused, and professional…and I mean trimmed to the bone. No digressions, no rambling, nothing to distract them. Even if these people are your bestest buddies, when they’re on deadline they don’t have time to sift through blather to find the salient details. Did I mention short? Save any kooky personal anecdotes and personal tribulations until after they contact you and ask about behind-the-scenes intel. Give them something to report that their audience wants to see.
In an ideal world, the minute they receive your press newsletter they think, “Oh cool. I was wondering when I could feature her again!” Even before they click to open, you want them to see your name in their inbox and anticipate a beautiful, concise, relevant package of helpful info just begging to be turned into a timely feature for their media platform.
If you’re helpful and friendly, they’ll respond in kind. After two or three rollouts, your press newsletter list will start to grow exponentially as other media outlets notice the clean, snazzy, professional content you offer their peers. This industry is smaller than it seems and it loves gossip. Folks talk and word spreads.
But wait! There’s more! Because you’re building this list before you need it, you can slowly accumulate the relationships with bloggers, reporters, and other industry professionals which work best when they develop over long stretches of time. Everyone will know what to expect and how best to help each other. You’ll learn who not to trust and who’s secretly rooting for you. A press newsletter gives everyone a chance to help you help them help you… all that effort and energy aligned for everyone’s maximum benefit. More positive buzz, more books sold, more fans generating word of mouth.
A book is an emotional product. Audiences read for emotional stimulation. Why would you ever want to teach armies of readers that you are boring, annoying, depressing, pitiful, or whiny? How many readers out there will line up for a chance to purchase several hours of quality negativity hurled at them like a ransom note wrapped around a rock?
Think of how folks get email…If the person receiving your newsletter perceives that unopened email as a burden, a bother, or a beg… then you will forever associate your brand with those negative emotions for the rest of time. In those minds, you will always be that pushy, pathetic author who’s always cadging a favor and nagging people into action. Authentic vulnerability has its moments, but I’m here to tell you: neediness and desperation are audience repellent.
When your newsletter pops onto their phone you want them to feel positive emotions: excitement, warmth, humor, affection, curiosity, arousal, anything that kickstarts desirable, pleasurable feelings they seek out. That way they forever associate you with emotions they want to have. Positive professionals who want to work with other positive professionals will seek you out to help you out. Win-win-win.
I’ll be honest, when I launched my press newsletter I did so as a complete skeptic. My first launch with the newsletter in place knocked my socks off. My second made me believe in divine grace, because I was so stressed and the media types were so instantly and instinctively helpful. Ironically, building that press newsletter also taught me how much you can customize a general fan newsletter so that it targets your unique audience…but that’s a subject for another day.
Boost your media support by aiming your newsletter so that it lands where it can do the most good. If you hate newsletters in principle, I’m here to tell you that a press list works wonders and saves massive chunks of time during promo crunches. If you already love newsletters and haven’t learned to target those messages, I encourage you to aim before you fire.
A press newsletter can anchor all your book launches and nurture healthy relationships across the industry ecosystem.