How important are newsletters to authors? Some complain about the time spent writing them and maintaining their content, but readers appear to be experiencing a desire to bond personally with authors they read, and with privacy practically a thing of the past fans clamor for details of a writer’s life.
A few authors still take the old-fashioned route for visibility and reach readers via print, then use e-newsletters to drive traffic to their Web site or blog, and vice versa. I interviewed a couple of bestselling writers a while ago about their newsletters. Thriller mega-author Dean Koontz considers himself a traditionalist as far as promotion goes and is one of the more reclusive of writers. He has never done a national book tour.
“I keep publicity to a minimum and try to reserve my work time for writing rather than for promotion,” he said.
Nevertheless, Koontz has both an online newsletter and one that he home-brews himself. “Useless News” is how he describes his seasonal printed newsletter (Spring, Summer, Holidays) and, indeed, that is its title. He goes on to declare in the sub-title: “but you’re on the mailing list, and there’s nowhere to hide.”
He’s happy that talented people at Bantam, his publishing house, produce his e-newsletter and send it floating into cyberspace where computers grab it for those who‘ve signed up. “I don’t know much about digital marketing”, he admits. But the snail-mail version is created by Koontz and his assistants at home, one suspects in his Southern California kitchen but actually he has an entire wing of his house, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, devoted to work.
Both versions of Koontz’s newsletter contain glad tidings about upcoming books but the print version is packed with more personal pieces about his travels, home life with his dog, sources of inspiration, and two pages filled with answers to questions from readers. Given away to the 25,000 people or so who have asked for it, it’s obviously a labor of love. The postage costs alone to so many recipients around the world must be astronomical but he enjoys the hands-on task of creating the informal eight-pager whose back page invariably bears a photo of Anna, his golden retriever.
“We let readers know when a new book is coming but otherwise the purpose of the snail-mail thing is to have fun, evoke a few smiles from readers, and thank them for their loyalty,” he said.
But does Koontz’s author newsletter work as a marketing tool for this world-famous writer? “Not so that I can tell,” he said”.
Sara Paretsky told me she began her e-newsletter after she’d published 14 novels. Readers fell in love with her private eye, V.I. Warshawski, and wrote enough fan mail for her to build a large mailing list. A box on her Web site is provided for people to sign up. Because she has about three times the Facebook followers as she does for her newsletter subscribers she also directs FB readers to her latest newsletter.
“With the newsletter I wanted to expand the number of ways that I could connect with readers,” she said. “Any time someone writes to me I add their name to my list. My blog and newsletter have very different content. I don’t write either very often but the newsletter tends to be more specific to events in my publishing life – tour dates, book synopses, or contests”.
Unlike Koontz, though, Paretsky enjoys electronic communication. She Facebooks frequently and her page is especially well read by fellow authors. She posts about her family, her friends, feelings, and trips, and she replies to comments. Both her Facebook page and blog are informal and friendly. They often feature photos of her golden retriever, Capo – obviously the preferred breed of famous scribes. Readers are interested in anecdotes about her writing life, she said, and are fascinated by her physicist husband’s (Courtenay Wright) history, and her dog stories. She appreciates and values most the reader responses that show her work has touched their hearts.
As a marketing tool she doesn’t find a newsletter particularly important but agrees it can be useful for those who work the Web more than she does. Terry Ambrose, a former skip tracer and author of a thriller series, is more forceful in his opinion. He considers author newsletters to be nothing more than blatant self-promotion.
“The better solution is to provide value to the reader,” he said. “My e-newsletter is called The Snitch and talks about how to avoid scams as well as a little about my writing news. Authors should find subjects that readers like to read about, and make it the primary focus. Your books should feature secondarily most of the time.”
Generous as always about sharing her expertise, Sara Paretsky provided a few tips for newsletter writers:
- If you send out too many they are really annoying to the recipients.
- The most important part of my list are the overseas readers. Facebook doesn’t always allow international readers to join in the kind of simple contests I run, so I always set those up in my newsletters as well.
- Keep to a regular but not too frequent schedule. Include pictures. Keep the stories short.
- If I am writing about a new book I include a link to my web site where someone who wants more information or a sample chapter can go.
- If you receive an award or honor, mention it in your newsletter but don’t be fake humble or overly vain!