The Never-Ending Newsletter: How & What to Email to Your List

Writers! Please read this post BEFORE you send out your next newsletter to your email list!

Every time another beautifully-crafted author newsletter lands in my inbox, I feel a mixture of delight and heartbreak. Delight because I LOVE hearing from my favourite authors; heartbreak because I know how long those emails took to write, design and send. How much time did writing that newsletter take away from the author’s real work? How much money are they spending on email marketing that they could be using to pay the bills or escape their day job? And the end result of so much hard work? Too few recipients who read the emails, and even fewer who take action.

And then having to do it week after week… ?

What’s even more heartbreaking is that authors should be RULING email marketing. Do you know why? Because the revelation that most marketers eventually reach is that stories sell. And storytelling is what writers do. It’s what we LOVE doing. And we’re pretty damn good at it!

But good storytelling is just part of the equation. If you’ve been using your free Mailchimp allowance to send weekly or whenever-the-thought-occurs broadcasts to your fans, you may not be aware of just how much email marketing software has developed. More specifically, email automation software.

Automate Your Newsletters

Now, instead of emailing your subscribers as soon as you click the ‘SEND’ button, you can schedule messages to be sent automatically x number of hours/days/months/years after they sign up (or after the last email was sent). So, your emails could send as follows:

DAY 1: “Thank you for signing up” email
+ 3 DAYS: First newsletter
+ 7 DAYS: Second newsletter
+ 7 DAYS: Third newsletter

… and so on.

I recently made the switch from Mailchimp to ActiveCampaign, and if you sign up for a free trial yourself, I can walk you through how to set up your newsletter automation…

UPDATE: I still use ActiveCampaign, but I can no longer recommend them due to their poor customer support.

How to set up a newsletter automation in ActiveCampaign

The first thing to note is that there is a difference between autoresponders and automations:

  1. Autoresponders (at least in ActiveCampaign) are sent based on the date that someone subscribes to your list.
  2. Automations can also begin when someone subscribes, but there are many other ‘triggers’ that can set off (and fork) an automation email sequence.

Personally, I would recommend setting up your newsletters as automations because this will give you greater flexibility in the future.

STEP 1 | Sign up for an ActiveCampaign trial.
STEP 2 | Sign in. Click on your ‘Lists’ tab, then ‘Add New List’ and follow the directions. You will probably want to set up a sign-up form too, but you can do that after you’ve set up your automation.
STEP 3 | Click on your ‘Automations’ tab, then ‘New Automation’.
STEP 4 | Choose to begin the automation when someone subscribes to your list.

Email Automation for Writers

STEP 5 | Choose to run the automation once only.

Email Automation for Writers

STEP 6 | Automations in ActiveCampaign are laid out in a really simple and elegant flowchart. Go ahead and add your first welcome email to your sequence. This will include any freebie you promised subscribers when they signed up. Unless you really enjoy designing pretty emails, I suggest you use the ‘Personal Email’ template and focus on your words.

ActiveCampaign Automation

STEP 7 | Then add a ‘Wait’. It’s up to you how many days you choose. I recommend keeping the first wait short, so that you “train” your subscribers to remember you and to expect emails from you.

ActiveCampaign Automation

STEP 8 | You can then repeat STEPS 6 & 7 to add your newsletters. However, one VERY IMPORTANT step you need to take is to add a really long wait to the end of your automation. If a subscriber goes through all of the emails in your automation, they will have completed that automation, and won’t receive any further emails you add to the sequence. Please follow these instructions to make sure you don’t make this mistake!

More time-based automation ideas

Weekly newsletters are just the beginning! You can also schedule emails for specific dates, days of the week, months of the year, or anniversaries. Here are some ideas…

BIRTHDAY DISCOUNT | After they sign up, you can ask your subscribers to update their profile with their birthday. Then you can send them a special email on their birthday with a discount code, or a freebie, or just a “Happy Birthday” message.

SIGN-UP ANNIVERSARY | You can create an email to be sent a year after someone subscribes to your email list, to say, “Thank you! You’ve been my reader for a year!” You might offer them a discount or a freebie, or just urge them to connect with you on social media. The most important thing is to keep your work fresh in reader’s minds.

NOVEL NOVEMBER | You can create an email (or even a sequence of emails) to be sent out to new subscribers every November during NaNoWriMo to cheer on participants or talk about your own NaNo experiences.

WEEKENDER | You can create an email to be sent out on Saturday or Sunday, when people have more time to read. You can recommend your favourite books, and maybe even ask for a review for one of your own stories.

SEASON’S GREETINGS | If you have a seasonal book (such as a collection of Christmas stories, a cosy murder mystery, a beach read or a ghost story), you can send an email around that time to promote it. In order not to seem salesy, you could sneak it into a larger list of books by various authors.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Unlike MailChimp, ActiveCampaign doesn’t have any sending limits! Also, if a subscriber is in more than one list, they aren’t counted as separate contacts and you aren’t charged extra. So you don’t have to worry about setting up lots of “non-essential” email automations. :)

How to set-up date-based emails in ActiveCampaign

To set up Birthday and Anniversary emails in ActiveCampaign, you need to create a date-based campaign, rather than an automation. Click here for instructions.

For annual events, weekend emails or seasonal emails, you’ll want to set up automations. If you want only new subscribers to receive these automated emails, simply set them to run when someone subscribes to a list (EXCEPT if you’re planning on importing subscribers, then ‘Submits a Form’ may be a safer option). Then go to your Automations tab, click on ‘Create New Automation’, and select the ‘Subscribes’ trigger.

Email Automation for Writers

On the next dialogue, choose the list you just created from the drop-down menu. If you want the automation to run once only (instead of year after year), select ‘Once’.

Email Automation for Writers

When you have your new automation created, add your email preceded by a ‘Wait’ with the following conditions for NaNoWrimo…

Email automation

or the following conditions for a weekend email…

Email automation

or the following conditions for a Halloween email…

Email automation

Remember that the seasons are different in the northern and southern hemispheres. So if you want to recommend beach books to your readers in Australia and New Zealand, you could add some additional geographical conditions…

Email automation

Note: Make sure the locations are together in a ‘Segment Group’, so your logic works out.

Remember, you can always send one-off emails for urgent, deadline-based communications!

Write it once, send it forever

Time-based emails are just the tip of the iceberg. Behaviour-based automations are an even richer subject! But it’s worth starting with the basics and working towards more complex sequences later. Just this simple paradigm shift of writing your email newsletters to be evergreen will make your marketing efforts more fruitful.

  • Now, every new newsletter you write can be added to the end of a long queue of emails that provide value to readers for years.
  • New readers won’t miss out on your back issues.
  • You’ll have more time to work on what you really love writing, rather than worrying about churning out new content for your list every week.
  • You won’t have to be at your desk at 8am in the morning to push the button and send out an email broadcast.

BEFORE you send another newsletter, please stop and ask yourself…

  1. Is there anything time-bound in my writing?
  2. How can I write this email so that it provides my reader value for 1, 5, or even 10 years to come?
  3. How can I write this email so that it provides me value for 1, 5, or even 10 years to come?
  4. How can I write this email so that it still sounds fresh, current, and relevant in 1, 5 or even 10 years?

The answers, as I suggested earlier, lie in storytelling, and you know all about that already!

“Every real story is a never ending story.” – Michael Ende

Storytelling in Emails

Marketers wish they had your story-crafting chops! In fact, they’re all running around taking classes on the subject! You can use the same principles you use when writing a story to make your emails more exciting and highly-anticipated. Don’t forget to think about how your emails work as a sequence as well as individually. If an email broadcast is a stand-alone story, an email automation is a series.

Take out your notebook and jot down some ideas…

  1. How can your email hook your potential readers?
  2. How can you make your email stories worthy of the time spent reading them?
  3. How can you make sure readers remember you as a(n email) writer they love?
  4. How can you write an email story that readers are eager to share with their friends and followers?
  5. How can you make readers desperate for the next email from you?

I can’t wait for your emails, dear Writer! In the meantime, if you know other writers who would benefit from making their newsletters never-ending, please share this post with them. Thank you!

The Automated Author

The Automated Author is an upcoming course that will show writers how to create email automations that help:

  1. Build a fan list
  2. Organise beta readers
  3. Send out ARCs and review requests
  4. Launch books
  5. Keep readers engaged

If you’d like to take advantage of early bird prices when the course launches, please sign up below:

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