Ronald Skelton raised my interest in his query on Twitter about newsletters. I’m in a process of discovery that begins with the questions: What is sustainable for me? What course of communication can I commit to for the long haul?
Who’s in it with me?
The community I’m building here is mostly authors who are either making the transition from House Publishing (“traditional”) to a more author-centric world with digital publishing at its core. We are also long-time self-published authors plus writers and bloggers who are now entering the new planet of author-centric publishing. This newsletter thing is so important to the platforms we are building for our readers it could be considered the heartbeat. I’m in there with you, people, if you’re struggling to make a path for yourself with your own regular delivery of a newsletter or some sort. I’m thinking Ronald’s query and what comes next may help us find our way.
We know consistency is the baseline criterion, right?
Haphazard communication with our followers who have given us the open door to their email is the short route to a slammed door. We need to show up regularly, on a schedule, over time. There’s a human science reason for this. Our brains want to go down the same path again and again. It’s called a habit, but don’t let that dull your awareness of its importance. This brain wiring is where love germinates. Think about a favorite radio show or weekly podcast or TV series. Or Sunday choir. Whatever it is, if there’s something you’ve done weekly for months on end (or years) your brain has developed a neural cluster of familiarity which is similar to love and deeply attractive.
That’s the story from the reader’s side.
As creators of these regularly delivered love letters, we have to blend our obvious current topics with a bulls-eye future prophesy. Not a prediction of the business in the future, although that’s mighty attractive if you can produce it. This is a prediction of who you are a year or two or three down the road.
Who are you and what do you really want to convey over the long term?
This is why the content of a successful newsletter has to come more from the core of who you are than the tag cloud on your blog. And it’s why it can be very hard to initiate.
While you’re chewing on those ideas, I’ll tell you who I’ve followed over the years and recently, and why.
Letters that work
Smack in the middle of my pre-frontal cortex is the newsletter put out by Chris Brogan. If you’re reading it, you’re in his living room or some digital equivalent that is just as cozy. That’s what he delivers with some regularity. He doesn’t nail the timing like others do but he comes close and he keeps talking about it. It’s worthy and my brain knows exactly what the feel of it will be, every time.
I’ve listened to Sean D’Souza for at least five years. Lately I’ve missed some of his letters which deliver a blend of story, article, and promotion. I’m using a different email now and haven’t switched him over. It’s interesting to me that I have a sense of missing a friend in the background. My world is much more Twitter-based than anything else, and I just don’t see Sean on Twitter that often. So I keep forgetting to tend the “friendship” by handling that email issue. Great material, though, I have learned tons from Sean.
Going way back in brain-wire history, I find Dan Poynter. I followed Dan when email newsletters were so new no one was talking about them. Before that, I followed him via his books. We go back 30 years easy. His newsletters were like newspapers, with robust sections and too much to read in one sitting. They had classifieds and brought the community together. This is another one I’m missing after an email switch, but because of the longevity of the connection, I habitually go find his material on my own. Think about that as an effect of your communication. People have you stuck in their brains, need you, and regularly go find you on the web, no matter what you’re doing. Think about it.
A very recent experience is the email offerings of Mike Trow. I received just two or three interesting, focused pieces before he sent a generous invitation to his subscribers to connect by phone. He managed to deliver his angle in a way that triggered my curiosity, and a few days later I contacted him to take him up on it. That’s a surprisingly short road, but it was groomed by a series of interactions on Twitter. Twitter sure is good for laying that friendly groundwork.
Editorial Calendar Much?
My approach to solving what amounts to a fear of commitment for my own newsletter is to include it in my editorial calendar. My world springs from my creativity and is always under the overbearing prowess of right brain. It’s like my left brain enters the Queen’s court, a trembling hand holding out a gilt-laced spreadsheet with little birds flitting around it, as an offering to the terrible Chaos Queen to help make her dominion what she demands it to be. Did you notice the shift in language there? That’s what happens as I pull my process into the repeating squares of a calendar. The universe folds upon itself.
There are reasons why creating a newsletter is confounding for some of us creatives.
One thing I can say for sure. The format of a newsletter can ruin it for the reader. I’ve seen beautiful formats, but I’ve seen many more that don’t make it through the delivery process and they’re a mess of fonts and color columns. Sean D’Souza and Dan Poynter are two writers who know to stick with simple text and make the format deliver consistently without any frills. Your bright orange branding and those extra font styles do not help deliver your message. Unless you’ve figured out a way to deliver a soft puppy to me in your email, leave out the fancy formatting.
It occurs to me as I finish up this thought process and put it on my blog, hey, did I just write a letter for my subscribers? If you were on my email list to engage the conversation for authors using tech to develop a readership, would this be the kind of thing you’re looking for?
Maybe I’m figuring out how to please the Chaos Queen after all.
Suzanna Stinnett / @Brainmaker on Twitter
p.s. Guess what. I just realized that when I hit “Publish” on this blog there will be no turning back on the regular delivery of my newsletter to y’all. So here we go. Come on into my subscriber list and see what happens next.