Is Your Newsletter Doing Its Job? Here’s What Subscribers Say

Written By: Jackie Weger - Jun• 02•18

SUBSCRIBER SURVEY RESULTS

Authors are told the instant they step into our Indie Universe that we must have a newsletter whether we have a few dozen or a few thousand subscribers. My first newsletter in January 2014 went out to 58 fans. In 2018 my subscriber list has grown to above 15K. Yet, composing the perfect newsletter can be like searching for the alchemist’s philosophical stone. Indie gurus tell us the ehow of producing newsletters and offer bucketfuls of advice on how to snag those subscribers. BUT! I wanted to hear from my subscribers and fans. They are not gurus, but readers and they are plenty smart. I asked my subscribers to answer a survey about what appeals in an author-generated newsletter and and what doesn’t. Many thanks to each and every one who took the time to respond.  And, Wow! These fans told it like it is.

The survey gave us the statistics.  They are what they are. Telling you upfront I had help sorting comments. I’ve made a few conclusions,  but I’m leaving some answers open and you may draw your own conclusions.

Subscribers say use Content that appeals to readers…

  • Keep it friendly and use humor. Readers appreciate when an author is open, honest, and friendly. A little humor goes a long way toward a subscriber enjoying an author’s newsletter.
  • Talk about your new releases. A new or upcoming book is by far what readers want to know about. Most of us don’t have a new release every dang month. I sure don’t. However, mentioning a work in progress or background on existing books is good.
  • Include offers, deals, or freebies.  Subscribers adore a good deal, i.e. discounted or free books and swag.
  • According to the survey results, 73% of  subscribers prefer newsletters offering giveaways.

89% of my subscribers also subscribe to Bookbub.

In the survey comments, about 1% of the participants noted that they prefer free print editions instead of e-books. They also want these deals to be available to subscribers and readers outside the USA.  I hear them, but authors can’t do that legally. Rafflecopters are USA-only. Even Amazon cannot offer or engage in giveaways in many of its global venues because of a particular country’s laws. Authors do on occasion give away a limited number of print editions, but we cannot make a print edition FREE. We must purchase it the same as any buyer. I once honored a random winner for a print edition and discovered she lived in South Africa. Book and postage cost $65. Not doing that again. Not being unkind, but that was grocery $$ for a week.

  • Subscribers want to know about signature events, ARCs, and cover selection. Dedicated fans say they love to interact with authors.  The high participation in this survey proves it.  Consider giving your subscribers the opportunity to meet you every now and then, or perhaps get involved in the edition of your next book. I appreciate my subscriber’s wishes on these things, but I don’t offer ARCs for review.

Things that turn readers off

  • Too long and disorganized: This is the most common complaint about newsletters. Readers receive many newsletters from a variety of sources and have limited time to read them (see figures 1 and 2 above). They appreciate a newsletter no longer than one page at maximum, clean, and easy to read. Consider that short excerpts, teasers, and sneak-peeks of upcoming books are appealing to readers, but long ones have the opposite effect.
  • Too frequent newsletters: Daily back-to-back newsletters or more than two newsletters per month is considered overkill. Content repetition is also a pet-peeve for readers, which is connected to high frequency. Subscribers prefer newsletter content they have not read before. While the vast majority of readers—98% of the survey participants—are comfortable with receiving a newsletter once or twice a month, this number is halved (56%) when the newsletter becomes weekly.
  • Too pushy. Newsletter subscribers know that our newsletters are a marketing tool, however they don’t appreciate when it is too much “in their face.” They expect a friendly, informational communication. Survey respondents were adamant the authors avoid plastering “BUY NOW” buttons all over the place. Subscribers consider this ‘desperate to sell’.
  • Small or weird fonts, bad grammar, too many CAPS, acronyms, and !!!: People want to be able to read your newsletter. If you use a tiny font to keep it short in size, you might reconsider. Use readable, clean fonts and easy to the eye colors. Avoid sensationalism.
  • Text only, uninteresting, and ugly layouts: readers will be discouraged by a long newsletter that is all text. Make your newsletter visually appealing by including a nice layout and some book-covers or an interesting photo. Make sure that the photos load quickly enough by optimizing them for size (for the technically inclined among us, anything over 1000 pixels and 100 dpi is too much).
  • Sex and profanity: Respondents reminded us they might open a newsletter in an environment where other people are present. Keep it clean.
  • Negativity: Your newsletter is not the place to score points against a bad review or a fellow author who gets on your nerves. Subscribers do not like that kind of drama or public spats.
  • Too many links and clicks: Subscribers will follow a link, but despise Rafflecopters and giveaways that require a raft of tasks to enter a giveaway.  Pet peeve of subscribers: links to books or otherwise that don’t work.

Suggestion: Strike the right balance

  • The personal approach: A vast majority of readers love not only books but their authors, too. Many told us they enjoy hearing about an author’s life, a work in progress, what inspires the author, and some personal information. Being friendly and providing some interesting backstage information figures among the top features that readers appreciate in a newsletter. However, if you go overboard and provide too much information, you may turn this big “do” into a big “don’t”.  So go ahead and write a short personal greeting, but:
  • Keep it short and pleasant.
  • Keep the personal life update on family and children sparse.
  • Don’t brag about your achievements or your wonderful life. Avoid information that might be provocative for readers of lower income.
  • Never, ever, whine or rant about low sales, other authors being undeservedly successful, bad reviews etc. Keep your newsletter drama-free.
  • Opinions about photos of your pets are mixed—some love them and some hate them.
  • Recommending other authors: Here is another fine balance to achieve. According to the survey results, 85% of the participants actually enjoy having an array of books by selected authors to choose from in a newsletter. Readers love it when you recommend other authors because a) they see it as a sign of humility and fair play on your part, and b) they like what you write so they trust that they will also like what you read or recommend.

There were also specific complaints about the above, namely:

  • Readers do want to know that you have read what you recommend. If you recommend too many books from other authors, they will consider it as advertisement and they may not care about it.
  • Many don’t like it when you recommend too many titles, especially if they are outside of your genre.
  • Pricey books or pushy sales from other authors are not appreciated.
  • Yes to contests, but…: Although many readers like contests as a means to interact with you, they appreciate them less when participation rules are too complicated. Subscribers report disdain when contest entrant tasks involve visiting two or more social media, click like, leave a comment on each, report back on the link of a tweet or ‘sacrifice a virgin goat’.

The Survey got some funny answers, some irate answers, but all were considered in composing the Survey Results. Keep in mind, this Survey was to Accent on Romance subscribers. Your mileage may differ. My newsletter has always promoted eNovel members and a wide genre spectrum, but no erotica. I keep it family- and workplace-friendly.  I have always advocated no more than two one-click entrant tasks in a contest or Rafflecopter. The Survey also turned up complaints book covers are often in-your-face too large and take forever to open. Most newsletters allow for thumbnail sizing.

We considered the wish for free print editions might come from a reader who doesn’t own an eReader or a subscriber with a preference for print, or perhaps a non-subscriber since the Survey got some coverage on Twitter. We were impressed that 89% of survey respondents also subscribe to Bookbub… which tells us that a Rafflecopter with an entry task of ‘follow on Bookbub’ can be a very popular entry task and easily accomplished by those who already subscribe. Those subscribers know the ropes. The comment about ‘too many books’ in a newsletter is relative. We didn’t get a number. I usually promote eight books and a giveaway in my monthly newsletter. Once or twice a year I add a text box with perma-free member titles with a live link to each book on Amazon.  Those units always get downloads. Of course, if your blog/books are animal-related, the caveat about pets does not apply.

Keep up with the good stuff. Follow Jackie Weger on Twitter

©Jackie Weger 2018, Founder of eNovel Authors at Work ~ A Resource for Indie Authors, a grand way of saying I rounded up a group of like-minded writers willing to support one another. Find all of us in the drop down menu: Our Authors. All Author pages are interactive. Say hello.

Comments Welcome. Add to the discussion. Happy for you to share your own newsletter experiences. We love to learn.

 

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10 Comments

  1. Alexa Dare says:

    Great information! Thanks for efforts and for sharing!

  2. Jackie, Thanks for reporting on the results of your survey. It’s valuable for indie authors.

  3. Traci Hall says:

    Your readers seem very sensible 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  4. flaxroots says:

    What a worthwhile project – thank you Jackie, and your readers, for sharing their views. 🙂

  5. Linda Lee says:

    Sound advice, Jackie, for anyone who publishes a newsletter. Shared.

  6. Rosie Dean says:

    Such useful stuff, Jackie, although I’m ducking behind the table to confess I still don’t have a newsletter or email list. Producing regular content adds one more thing to my To Do list, when I really want to get on with the WIP. It seems the longer I put it off, the task looms even more onerous.

    I confess I’ve recently un-subbed from a number of newsletters for many of the reasons cited in your survey. And yes, sacrificing a virgin goat is a step too far…

  7. […] survey. The results were illuminating, to say the least. You can find the complete breakdown on the eNovel Authors at Work website if you wish to find out […]

  8. Great information, and really useful! Thanks for thinking about this, Jackie!

  9. […] Jackie Weger of eNovel Authors At Work recently ran a survey looking for the answer to just that. She had hundreds of responses, and I had the opportunity to look at her data. So, here is what appeals to readers and what turns them off in a newsletter. […]

  10. Robyn M Ryan says:

    I keep returning to reread this. The insights are priceless! Thanks,

    ~ Robyn

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