Get the word out: Writing newsletters and e-zines
Published: March 19, 2002
|E-mail newsletters help establish your expertise and expand your audience|
If you haven't tried e-mail publishing, perhaps it's because you're not sure what it is. E-mail publishing simply means distributing a publication by e-mail. When the publication is a newsletter, it's often called an e-zine.
The term e-zine refers to a range of electronic publications. E-mail newsletters are the low-tech version. They arrive by e-mail in a text format; you don't have to go to a Web site to read them. Fancier e-zines--those written in hypertext (HTML) with colorful graphics and links--arrive by e-mail but appear in your browser as a Web page when you open the message. Web zines represent the high-tech end of the e-zine market; they must be read online because they're published as Web pages.
You may subscribe to a few e-zines already. To keep current on the freelance market, many writers rely on newsletters like Moira Allen's Writing World and Angela Hoy's Writer's Weekly. Online writers enjoy Jenna Glatzer's Absolute Write News, Elbow Grease from Webmonkey and Anne Holland's Content Biz. Copywriters subscribe to Debbie Weil's Word Biz Brief and Clickz, an energetic daily newsletter.
The newsletter directories in the sidebar list thousands of e-mail publications covering a wide range of topics, from circus acrobats and humor to country crafts and zoology.
Chris Pirillo, creator of the legendary Lockergnome Newsletters, which cover an array of tech and Web topics, and author of Poor Richard's E-mail Publishing, estimates that several hundred thousand independently owned and operated publications are regularly distributed by e-mail.
If you've never explored this popular market, I can guess the reason. Newsletter writing pays very little.
If there is no money in it, why do so many writers contribute the articles, interviews, case studies, columns and tips that fill all those newsletters? Some are beginning writers who need to create clip files; but many are experienced professionals with hundreds of publishing credits. What's in it for them?
1. Newsletters excel at announcing something new. Writers with books to promote or freelancers who provide editing services can benefit from newsletter exposure. An author interview or editing column in a newsletter e-mailed to 9,000 writers each week offers impressive targeted exposure.
2. Newsletters promote events, performances and competitions. Writers who support local community resources like libraries, museums, theaters and galleries can use newsletter articles to promote their favorite nonprofit group. Educators who run contests or offer fellowships can send their message by newsletter to a targeted audience. Playwrights, novelists and screenwriters can publicize their readings, book signings and performances in niche newsletters.
3. Newsletters share valuable information. Authors of nonfiction books can use newsletters creatively to make their specific expertise known to fresh, diverse audiences. Newsletters aimed at publishing professionals offer freelancers great exposure. An article in a popular parenting newsletter creates buzz for a book, a lecture tour or an online seminar.
4. Newsletters drive traffic to Web sites. Authors of e-books or print-on-demand books can use newsletter articles to lure readers to their marketing Web page. Some fiction authors have built loyal audiences by infusing an e-mail newsletter with their unique persona or by publishing sample chapters by e-mail, as Doug Clegg did successfully with his thriller Naomi. Other creative writers showcase their favorite genre in a newsletter, as Scottish horror author Willie Meikle does in his Moonlicht Nicht e-zine.
5. Newsletters attract readers with passionate interests or hobbies. If your professional clips stubbornly focus on one market, writing for a niche newsletter featuring your favorite hobby or enthusiasm expands your writing repertoire painlessly.
6. Newsletters connect us with family and friends. Families, alumni organizations and professional groups use newsletters as a low-cost way to keep in touch. Networking within groups that already know and love you can yield amazing results.
Every writer can benefit from the e-mail newsletter's most basic and powerful purpose: to create a living connection to a targeted audience. As you investigate the newsletter market, look for opportunities where it will benefit you to communicate with readers in the intimate forum e-mail provides.
Now that you better understand what e-zines can do, here are some suggestions to make your contributions more effective:
Serve the purpose of the newsletter, not your own marketing agenda. This will endear you to the readership, create trust and subtly establish your expertise.
Do one thing well. Don't try to cover too much in each article or feel compelled to answer a vital question or establish some unique point of view. Janet Roberts' popular newsletter Ezine-Tips publishes one detailed insider's tip each day.
Personality counts. Let readers get to know you. Unless you're writing for a hard-news e-zine, give your journalistic objectivity the day off. Take a side. Take a stand. Sound off. The successful Rank Write Roundtable features a lively dialogue between its two colorful editors, Heather Lloyd-Martin and Jill Whalen.
Showcase your writing. E-mail newsletters feature text, not flashy graphics or animated ad copy. Succinct, pungent writing sparkles.
To be read, e-mail newsletters must, of course, be opened. When you're brainstorming for article ideas, focus on a surprising or controversial aspect of your topic that will make an irresistible subject line, so that your e-mail will be opened and enjoyed.
Invite instant feedback from your readers. E-mail is a conversation. Some of the most popular e-mail newsletters--Randy Cassingham's This Is True and Heroic Stories, edited by Joyce Schowalter--feature feedback from the readership as a significant portion of the content.
Speak directly to the reader. Sharing a personal experience forges a bond. Imagine you're the guest of honor at a dinner party.
Resist the temptation to submit tired reprints to e-zines. In an e-mail newsletter, the spotlight shines on you. Capitalize on this opportunity to captivate readers who might become fans, employers or customers.
Still undecided about exploring the potentials of e-mail publishing? Perhaps this will convince you: Recently, writing services have begun offering to ghost-write newsletter articles for busy executives who want to contribute signature articles to e-zines. Surely, successful executives wouldn't waste their money unless e-mail publishing yielded substantial benefits.
E-mail newsletters may be the no-frills end of e-publishing, but when publishers want to send a message to a targeted audience, e-mail newsletters do a first-rate job. Writers who learn how to harness the targeted power of these modest e-zines can reap untold benefits.