Eighteen years ago, novelist and poet Erika Dreifus completed an MFA degree and found herself inspired to share literary opportunities and resources with other writers. A newsletter, she decided, would help her to broadcast this information widely while creating a writing community. In 2004, she launched The Practicing Writer, a digital newsletter published on the first day of each month.
“I was also trying to cultivate more teaching and related opportunities in the writing world,” Dreifus explains. “The newsletter allowed me to alert subscribers about my own services and courses.”
Digital newsletters for writers have been around for decades. Some provide subscribers with writing prompts and short essays on craft. Some feature interviews or author profiles or guest posts by people connected in some way to the literary community. Some, like The Practicing Writer, combine information on contests, competitions, calls for submissions, digital resources, and subscriber success stories.
Writing can be a lonely, isolating business. But as many have discovered, sending out a newsletter weekly or monthly can create a sense of community. (Case in point: I sat in a lecture hall two years ago waiting for an AWP conference panel to begin, and Dreifus walked in. Several people in the audience waved and greeted her with visible delight, recognizing her from the photo in her newsletter.)
Newsletters as literary citizenship
The now-defunct YahooGroups hosted The Practicing Writer until 2019, when Dreifus moved her newsletter over to the hosting platform Substack. She appreciates the efficient and simple design, as well as the fact that she can send her writing to subscribers for free. “I am happy to contribute my time and skills – research, writing, editing, proofreading – since I consider this work to be an essential part of my service to the literary community,” she explains. “At the same time, I want to keep the newsletter free for subscribers, ad-free, and free to distribute.”
In between issues, she publishes weekly short posts on job openings, contests without entry fees, and calls for submissions from paying magazines on her Practicing Writing blog. These supplements, she explains, allow her to share time-sensitive information. “There are so many ways to contribute to the literary community, to perform a sort of literary service or citizenship,” she says. “The newsletter and supplements are, for me, a key way of going about that work.”
New York Times bestselling novelist Jami Attenberg of New Orleans began her weekly newsletter, Craft Talk, in conjunction with her project titled “#1000wordsofsummer,” during which writers around the world support each other in writing 1,000 words a day for two weeks. Before she launched the newsletter in 2018, she’d been blogging for over two decades. “It was a way of finding my voice in the world,” she says. “It helped me to become a better writer.”
Blogging, and then newsletter writing, has helped her to connect with readers and writers around the world. Currently, Craft Talk has over 13,500 subscribers. Attenberg fills the newsletter with information on writing and publishing, along with observations on the creative life. Some of the content is free. Other sections – specific discussion threads and archived newsletters – are available to subscribers for $5 a month. Half of the proceeds go New Orleans-based cultural, educational, and social justice organizations.
“The fundraising component was a really big deal to me,” Attenberg says. “Before I started Craft Talk, I sat down and thought, ‘How can I use my words and knowledge base to make writing more accessible to people? And how can I use them to raise money to help people?” The newsletter is an act of service, she says. “It’s good for writers to know they’re not alone and to get a little bit of encouragement.”
She finds it most challenging to come up with a fresh topic each week, so occasionally, she’ll open up the comments section and ask subscribers how she can be of help to them and then use their questions to generate topics for the newsletter. She’s eager to share the process of writing and publishing her memoir, I Came All This Way to Meet You, which comes out in January 2022. “It will be interesting to talk about the process of putting out a book and what it takes to get the work done,” she says. “Specifically, what it’s like to publish a memoir.”