As some of you may be aware (!), I have a newsletter which goes out once a month to subscribers. The newsletter is different from the blog, and contains news, the ‘vlog’ posts, and competitions and giveaways. But why, you may ask, do I bother with a newsletter? Why not just put all this on the blog? Isn’t it a lot of extra work?

A long time ago now, I read an article in Writing Magazine about newsletters and email lists, and it just resonated with me. Blogging is great, and people can, of course, subscribe to your blog posts and follow you to find out what’s going on. But newsletters have that little something extra. For one thing, the recipient has to ‘opt in’. This means they have chosen to receive an email from you once a month, and therefore they are more likely to read it. (This isn’t always the case, mind! More on that later.) Also, newsletters can be more targeted than a blog post. Once you’ve built a list of subscribers you can use it to let them know about new releases, promotions, and to keep the reader/author relationship going.

Can’t you do all this on a blog? On Twitter or Facebook? Well, yes, you can. But what if you needed to move your blog, or (perish the thought) Facebook went under? Do you own the data of everyone who subscribes to follow you? Building a list of email addresses that is entirely under your control is forward thinking, and although it takes a long time, the list may well prove one of your most valuable marketing assets in years to come.

But if you’re going to have a newsletter and a blog etc, you have to give subscribers something special that they can’t find anywhere else. That’s why I’m keeping my video posts exclusive to the newsletter, and using it to run competitions. So far I’ve given away 3 writing books and a beautiful hand-made pendant. If you aren’t a subscriber, you won’t have known about that! In the future I plan to develop the newsletter even more, giving sneak previews of forthcoming books, adding video interviews with key people (the first planned interview will be with my cover designer, Chris Howard), and offering voucher discounts on purchases. Why am I doing all this? Because I want people to sign up for the newsletter. I want to let readers and other folks who follow my blog know that they are important to me and I don’t ever want to lose touch with them or let them stray too far away …

So, if you’re thinking of starting a newsletter, how should you go about it? You need to set up an account with a list management service who will also facilitate sending newsletters – I use MailChimp, which is free and very easy to use. So far I have about 40 subscribers to the newsletter, and the great thing about MailChimp is it lets you track everything that happens when you send out a newsletter. For example, I can see right now that out of the 40 people I sent October’s email to, 13 of them didn’t open it. And I know who you are! I can tell who clicked on any links within the email, if anyone forwarded it to a friend, and lots of other useful and fascinating stuff.

Once you’ve decided which service to use, you need to give some thought to the content of the newsletter. They don’t have to be monthly, of course, but it’s best to be regular but not too frequent. Mine is news-based around my writing and books, but yours could be a round-up of interesting articles, a free short story, reviews of books read that month … anything you think will engage people and keep them coming back for more.

Fancy having a go at building your own email list? Let me know what you think.