Summer School – Self Publishing Edition: Newsletters

Summer School Graphic 2019

Today we tackle the subject of NEWSLETTERS! Ah, newsletters. I’m a bit of a newbie at this one, but I’m learning, so you can learn right alongside me.

Some of your questions included:

What is a newsletter? How/where can I create a newsletter? How do I get people to sign up for my newsletter? What are “newsletter swaps”? What does a fiction author write in a newsletter?

Simply put, a newsletter is an avenue of social media that allows you to interact with your readers by sending them information straight to their email inboxes. I have been assured by many, many authors and marketing gurus that, “yes, newsletters are necessary.” But I resisted them rather vehemently until about a year ago. For a good nine months, my newsletter sat around 25 subscribers, about 90% of whom never opened the notes I sent. I was at a loss. I couldn’t see the point of having a newsletter and I couldn’t think of a thing to write in them.

Personally, I don’t love getting newsletters. I subscribe to a few, mostly to see what authors I admire PUT in their newsletters! But I rarely have time to read them, and I’m often guilty of letting them sit unopened in my inbox for months before I get around to them. I MEAN to read the ones I sign up for… but I only have so much time in my day, knowwhatImean?

However, I couldn’t just ignore the advice of so many people much more marketing-savvy than I that newsletters are one of the best marketing tools available to an author. So I kept with it.

Let me pause for a moment here and address that second question:

How/where can I create a newsletter?

First of all, you can’t just send a newsletter from your own email address. Well… you CAN, I suppose, but if your list grows too big you’re going to get in trouble with your email host pretty quick. So, you’re going to need to use a service of some kind.

If you are just starting out and your audience is somewhat small, I would recommend either Mailchimp or Mailerlite as a jumping-off point. I am currently using both of these services, and I like things about each of them.

Mailchimp will allow you to have up to 2,000 email addresses before they start charging you for their service. Be warned, however, Mailchimp just upgraded their policy to include “unsubscribed” addresses in your list towards that number. So you’re going to want to watch that. You can be pretty happy using their free service for a long time, however, until you get to those higher numbers. It’s a good place to learn the ins and outs of creating newsletters and has some nice automated features and schedulers, as well as a fairly intuitive user-interface for creating nice-looking newsletters. Once you get above 2,000 subscribers, however, it gets pricey FAST.

Mailerlite will allow you to have up to 1,000 email addresses before they start charging. They are slightly less expensive than Mailchimp, and I find their user-interface to be even easier to use and navigate than Mailchimp’s. However, they have a “unique subscribers” clause per month, so if you send out an email to say, 700 subscribers and 50 of them unsubscribe, and you then manage to add 350 new subscribers, you cannot send all 350 new subscribers a welcome email until that 30-day period is over, because you would have sent an email to more than 1,000 unique subscribers in that period. Yay, math!

Both of these options have some handy analytics and you can see who is opening your emails, who is clicking on the links inside your emails, etc, etc. You can also go through and weed out people (like myself) who haven’t opened any of your last 5/10/20 emails. (Or send them a note asking if they want to stick around).

Sendy is an option that I am currently looking into, because I’m about to outgrow my free category in both of the above services, and my writing career does not yet support the ability to spend upwards of $50/month on emails. I’ve heard some good things about this from an author I know who uses it and the price of only $1/10,000 emails is pretty tempting. I haven’t used this one myself, but I’ll keep you posted if I switch over on how it compares with regards to ease-of-use.

A couple of “good to know” things up front: 1) most of these will only let you use their service if you have a self-hosted domain email address. You can’t use a gmail or yahoo address, you have to have an @domainnameyouown and 2) they will require that you include your physical mailing address. If you are uncomfortable with handing out your physical address you have 2 options: 1) don’t have a newsletter, or 2) get a PO box and use that.

Okay, so, now that we’ve covered that. Let’s get back to my story, and that question of how to increase your subscriber count.

(hopefully not in any villainous ways….)

There are many ways to increase your subscriber count. I still believe that the best way to grow your audience is one follower at a time. However, this is a slow process, and there are other options. I’ve used a couple of these for growing my newsletter.

Giveaways, group events, and list-builders. This is where you join some sort of group event or giveaway and ask people to subscribe to your newsletter for a chance to win something. These can run as small as you just doing it on your own site by yourself, or joining a bigger group or even a list-builder.

A viral list-builder is where a group of authors who all write similar types of stories get together, pool some money for a fabulous grand prize, and then set up a giveaway where anyone who signs up for the giveaway understands that to enter the giveaway they are agreeing to subscribe to the newsletters of every author involved.

In the past seven months, I have participated in two such list builders (organized by Silver Empire, which has some great info on their site about what a viral list-builder is and how it works) and have grown my own newsletter list from 137 to nearly 3,000 and it’s still growing! (Hence my need to find a different service solution soon!) Now, a few of them unsubscribe as soon as they get they welcome email, and a few filter out after that, but some stick around, and several have even been truly delighted to find me through the giveaway and regularly reply to my newsletters and have downloaded or bought my books.

I’ve also participated in smaller list-builders through book-funnel, which is similar, except that instead of a grand prize, everyone who signs up also receives the ability to download a free book or sample from each participating author.

But what do I write in my newsletter? 

I’m really still learning this, myself. I’ve done a little bit of experimenting and I’ve come to this conclusion:

Shorter is better.

When I try to cram too much into a newsletter, I get a lot of unsubscribes.

I have a tendency to want to treat a newsletter like what its name implies and include tons of NEWS and a bunch of stuff that I think should be interesting… but I’m learning that people don’t like that. They don’t want to read a lengthy newsletter, they want a single snippet and then to move on with their day.

What people seem to like:

  • Snippets (sample chapters of what you’re working on or have already published)
  • Free books you recommend (this gets into newsletter swaps, which I’ll talk about in a moment)
  • A tidbit about you and your life
  • Something funny
  • Pictures
  • Big Announcements (cover reveals, call for ARC readers, new releases, free book, etc)
  • Giveaways

And finally, newsletter swaps.

These are, quite simply, exactly what they sound like. If you are sending out a newsletter at a specific time, you put out a call to other authors you know and see if any of them have a freebie or a big announcement that coincides with your newsletter going out and offer to include it if they return the favor for you in their own newsletter sometime.


And that pretty much wraps up everything I know or have learned recently about newsletters. There’s a LOT to digest here and a lot I’m still learning. If I didn’t cover something and you really want to know, please feel free to ask in the comments. If I can answer, I will, if not, I will try to direct you to someone who can!

Do you have a newsletter? Do you subscribe to newsletters? If you subscribe to them, what are the things you like to read in newsletters? If you have one, what do you write about? Any tips or tricks you’ve discovered that work for getting/keeping subscribers? Anything else you want to chat about? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments!

~ jenelle


Sarah Pennington

I am subscribed to too many newsletters, mostly due to some of those list-builders you mentioned. >.< I need to go through and unsubscribe to the ones from all the authors whose books I'm really not interested in, since I'm currently just deleting them unread.

Anyway. In the newsletters I DO read (which is to say, the ones from authors whose books I either have read or intend to read), I definitely like when they follow your "keep it short and sweet" advice. Like, tell me the most relevant news, share a snippet or two, and give me some book recommendations. Though, Suzannah Rowntree includes brief historical stories or accounts in her newsletters, and I do quite like that. It works well with her author brand and stuff.


Yeah, I recently went through and unsubscribed from a bunch of newsletters I wasn’t opening (or had somehow accidentally subscribed from 2 separate email accounts and was getting doubles) LOL. Then there’s all the ones I haven’t opened but FULLY INTEND TO…. someday. :)

Thanks for adding to the pool of knowledge! It’s good to hear from people what keeps them opening/reading things!


I’m enjoying your Summer School – Self Publishing Edition “classes.” ;)
I also like Newsletters to be shorter rather than long. If I take one look and have to scroll and scroll to reach the end, I tend to walk away from it. I find yours to be just about perfect in length AND in information! Thank you for the effort you put into producing yours. :D


You might be slightly biased about my newsletters… I feel like I keep making them too long. LOL :)

Glad you’re enjoying the “classes”! That is encouraging!


I do have a newsletter, and I also find that shorter is better. I’m subscribed to 5 or 6 author newsletters… and I do open them, though I don’t always read all of them.

Good stuff here! I use Mailchimp, but I don’t love it, so I may switch to something else eventually.


Shorter is better seems to be a good rule of thumb. I am seriously thinking about investigating Sendy. I like Mailchimp ok, but I’m outgrowing it quickly, and I sort of hate Mailerlite now that I’ve used it for a couple of months.


I love hearing from you, dear Reader!