Coffee Break Confidential: Email Newsletter Tips from Jen Bryant and Chris Barton
It’s Katherine, writing from deep within the Amazon rainforest, where I’ve been collecting rare plant samples for some top secret experiments while simultaneously evading an army of mercenaries. You know . . . an average Thursday.
As you might guess, it’s hard to find an Internet connection in darkest Peru. To say nothing of a phone signal. Of course, being a spy means that sometimes you have to go completely off the grid, but it’s still never ideal for someone in my line of work to be cut off from communication for too long. At the very least, it means I’ll have a lot of messages and emails to go through when I get back to headquarters.
There are, in fact, some emails that I’m particularly anxious to read: newsletters from my favorite authors and illustrators.
In case you missed it, Ahna and I discussed what makes e-newsletters effective in our last episode of Coffee Break.
Ahna, being an excellent spy and co-conspirator, had lots of great guidelines for creating author newsletters, but I wanted to get the authors’ perspective as well. So I reached out to a couple of our authors who are really good at newsletters: Jen Bryant and Chris Barton.
Stealing files from people like Jen and Chris is unnecessary — they’re so friendly and eager to help that they’ll simply give you the information you ask for. They’d make terrible spies, but they’re lovely pen pals.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to start an e-newsletter?
Jen Bryant: Know your audience. If it’s young readers, then that will necessitate different content than if it’s for educators and teachers. Keep it short — and not too frequent. In the beginning, I wrote too much text and sent it out too often. I learned quickly. Now I try to keep it to 3-5 main points or highlights each issue. I include some photos, book covers, nice visuals . . . and I often offer an easy contest at the end as a reward for those who stuck with me and scrolled down to read the whole thing.
Chris Barton: The best advice I can give is to not use your newsletter as an opportunity to talk only about “me, me, me”. . . . A newsletter is a great venue for sharing the books you love, the authors and illustrators you care about, and your other passions with an audience that has already demonstrated some trust in you by giving you their email address. Reward that trust by helping connect your subscribers with someone or something else that might resonate with them as well.
How do you prevent the newsletter from taking up too much of your time?
Chris Barton: As with every other promotional outlet (Twitter, my blog, etc.), I remind myself that it’s a secondary medium in support of my primary medium, so I keep my newsletter in perspective and don’t spend so long on it that it eats into my book-writing time.
Jen Bryant: My website folks at Winding Oak — Vicki and Steve Palmquist — help me out with my Flying Tidings issues each time. I just decide on content, and then Vicki “makes it pretty” and sends me a rough draft to preview. Once I read and approve that, Steve then sends it out to my newsletter list.
What’s your favorite thing about having an author newsletter?
Jen Bryant: An author newsletter is a GREAT tool if it’s not overused. While it keeps me in touch with folks who are interested in my work, it also gives me an opportunity to pause every couple of months and review and appreciate what’s been happening in my writing life!
Chris Barton: I love having that regular connection with a predictable number of readers. They let me know through their feedback that they’re glad to hear from me and that I’m providing something useful to them. And I enjoy sifting through my recent activities and the ideas I’ve previously shared here and there, realizing for myself what’s been the most meaningful and significant, and then passing those things along to my subscribers.
I hope that information was helpful to all you civilians. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple million square miles of jungle to explore.
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About Coffee Break Confidential:
This monthly column is where EBYR editorial assistant/vlogger/superspy Katherine Gibson divulges extra information from Coffee Break with EBYR that would otherwise be kept off the record. She’s researching topics related to children’s literature, posting her findings — and taking down some powerful militarized governments in the process. Just kidding about that last one. (Or are we?)