Our email inboxes can feel chaotic sometimes, but so does being online all the time. For many creators, starting an email newsletter is a good way to get information and new work to folks. First off, you don’t have to worry as much about an algorithm, and whether or not it’s working to your favor. Secondly, some folks aren’t on social media at all. And thirdly, the newsletter gives you some more playing room with format, content and tone; you can use GIFs, images, pull quotes and other graphic elements to get your message across. Putting together an email to land directly in folks’ inboxes gets rid of some of these barriers. But you also want to make sure you’re not crowding anyone’s tabs.
Platforms like Mailchimp, Substack, Tiny Letter, Drip, Curated, Ghost and — of course — Norby, let you create your own newsletter. Here are some tips to help you start and grow a newsletter.
1. Be patient with yourself
The very first issue of my newsletter, in its previous form, went out in 2016. Life happened and I didn’t end up sending another newsletter until 2018, at which point I started sending it out weekly. In those days, I often shared a few categories of content: links to my recently published work, things I was reading (articles, books, etc), and quotes that inspired me. In early 2020, though, I realized that sending out a missive every week wasn’t sustainable for me anymore. I was balancing a full-time job and freelancing gigs — and, well, the pandemic happened. By this point, my newsletter really focused on sharing links to creative opportunities: residencies, grants, prizes, etc.
As a previous social media manager, I was online a lot. And as someone who writes about art and knows a lot of creatives (writers, artists, designers, etc.) I was consistently seeing opportunities, and sending them directly to folks or sharing them on my Instagram story. Once, a former classmate told me that thanks to my sharing a grant via the newsletter, that person received a grant. That kept me fueled to keep going. All this to say: don’t worry too much if there are starts and stops — like any new project, starting an email newsletter is not just about creating content. There’s a ton going on in everyone’s lives, and sometimes you can’t be as prolific as you might want. But the important thing is that you find a version of the newsletter that you love — and that will keep you wanting to come back to create a new one, however often you want. I also like to keep in mind that quality is usually better than quantity — meaning you don’t need to fill up inboxes just for the sake of getting something out.
2. Think about your workflow
One important question to keep in mind: How does the creation of the newsletter fit into your workflow? Is it a creative outlet? Will it add more work to your plate? Will that extra time commitment feel worth it to you? Take a minute to really think about your bandwidth and time management at the moment. Are there things you wish you could explore further on your social media channels? A newsletter is a great opportunity to do so. But, if writing another thing for the month/week feels stressful, maybe there’s a way to re-assess the cadence or the way in which you use the newsletter. Some creatives I know send out new emails only when they have big updates, or maybe once a quarter to share what’s been going on lately. Once I started sending out the newsletter monthly, my issues were more consistent. The more frequently I put the newsletter out, and shared it via social channels, the more friends shared with others; consistency was a big part of this process. From there, I started sharing links to the newsletter across my social media channels and other touchpoints.
I created Reels using screen recordings of the newsletter on mobile. I reached out to other newsletter creators, both friends of mine and strangers, to see if we could partner and create a link exchange. I also started publishing posts on Medium that repurposed my newsletter content; then, I added a link to subscribe at the bottom. The more you keep sending out issues, the more folks will see you’re committed to the newsletter; creating consistency contributes to the community built around the newsletter. If an opportunity to share a short bio for a speaking gig or article arose, I made sure to include the link to the newsletter (or at least mention it by name). In addition, think about any communities you can share your link with. I posted in online writer groups I was part of, and also took out a paid ad with the website ilovecreatives to build more momentum, which is an affordable option to drive awareness and signups.
3. Build community
Keep in mind that your newsletter will be similar to other channels in some ways. The biggest similarity: You want to build community and engage with folks, beyond creating content that is static. Early on, I started asking my subscribers to “hit the reply button” and let me know their thoughts on the month’s newsletter topic. One of the best ways to build community is to be upfront about where you’re coming from, and what you’re passionate about. For each issue, I really try to think about the topics that I personally feel curious, or anxious, about in the creative process. I’ve written about dealing with rejection, researching literary agents, fighting perfectionism, pushing against writer’s block, and more. I’ve interviewed folks across disciplines to also get their thoughts on these subjects and to learn more about their process. Your newsletter can be a great space to offer subscribers some behind-the-scenes content; for example, if I ever re-published the interviews elsewhere, I made sure newsletter subscribers read them first. Most of the time, though, the issues remained part of my newsletter archive. In addition, a newsletter can be a great place to offer access to any courses or digital offerings.
In the beginning, I teamed up with illustrators/artists like Anna Buckley and Robin Eisenberg to offer exclusive downloads to subscribers. These included desktop/mobile backgrounds related to writing/creativity, and a coloring page for creative distraction. See who you can organically work with, in a way that feels mutually beneficial (so you can both reach each other’s audience). Or, if you have offerings you’re working on solo, give subscribers access to any upcoming offerings first, before you even share across social media, and let them know they are getting an exclusive first look or read. Encourage your subscribers to forward an issue of the newsletter to a friend, or create graphics for folks to share easily on social media. Most importantly, make it a space that you yourself want to come back to — that’ll keep you encouraged to write the next issue and the next.