Wednesday, January 13, 2016


Our discussions on promotion, and particularly newsletters, provoked a realization that many authors, particularly just-starting-out authors have a mailing list of less than 20 names, and not much news.

Combining that with the frequently heard in the comments section "I don't much like newsletters and really don't read them" I thought "hmmmmm...what if."

What if we stop thinking about this as newsletters and just think of it as an email that goes to fans/friends etc.

Here's how to do that:

1. You don't need an email platform like MailChimp. You can use something as simple as a .doc or .xls spread sheet.

2. Make a list of names. I prefer .xls spread sheets because they are sortable.

3. Organize the names alphabetically to weed out any duplicates.

4. Search for  .co to make sure you've got .com on all the addresses.

5. Write a brief email with the information you're going to be sharing with everyone. Info like "hey, heads up, my book launch is coming up. Save the Date! And don't worry I'll email you the day of the event to remind you too!"

6. Make SURE you include "unsubscribe info" at the bottom of the email.  Something like "on this list by mistake? don't want to receive further emails? No problem. Hit reply with UNSUBSCRIBE in the body of the text and you'll be off the list.

You'll now have something that looks like this:

Now, here's the part that will take time.

7. Save the base information email. Duplicate it by the number of email addresses you have.
(To duplicate an email you need an email management program like outlook. )

When you duplicate the message you'll have something like this:

Then open each email, personalize and send.

Of course, if you're sending an email to someone who has NOT signed up for the newsletter, you use the reason you are emailing them. Just a reminder that there's a recent blog post on how to determine who should be on your mailing list (and who should NOT.)

I'm a big believer in personalizing emails. There are some email programs that will do that for you but you want to make SURE your email program gets the right info.

I always laugh when Facebook addresses me as "Sharque" because my personal Facebook page is "Sharque Janet Reid."

NOTHING replaces actual eyeballs on the list to weed out these kinds of problems.  You can tell that Mrs. George Clooney's first name is not George, nor is it Mrs. (It's Amal, to the everlasting sorrow of one of my colleagues.)

And you'll be able to see that JanetReid@gmail is most likely also JanetReid and weed out the duplicate.

Data bases are living things. They need to be pruned and tended just like a plant, and taken out for a spin a couple of times year to keep all the gears running smoothly.

Even if you only have 20 names, get started. It's better to learn about the problems with 20 names than 200.



Lisa Bodenheim said...

Hm. Feeling a bit overwhelmed. (need more caffeine) I was fine until #7-- duplicating the template email and then personalize it.

However, I do like the concept of shorter is sweeter.

At my day job, I have a weekly 1 page long information blast that includes an inspirational saying--properly attributed, often a picture, and a good balance of white space. It's a pdf attachment that gets sent (via blank carbon copy) to all of the people signed up on the list. It works for that setting.

Joyce Tremel said...

This is very helpful! I've had several people ask to be put on my mailing list lately and I was trying to figure out the best way to keep a list.

french sojourn said...

You had me at scallywag; also yet another wonderfully informative post.

Thanks and cheers!


Jennifer R. Donohue said...

This looks like a neat and manageable way to do it! Due to how we handle book ordering at the library, I've grown far more familiar with spreadsheets than previously. Also, I've learned how to tame the vagaries of Word 2013's auto formatting when you're doing outline/numbering/bullets. That was an interesting morning. Granted, on my laptop, I use Open Office and so there are some discrete differences (I cannot figure out how to make lines wrap, as a for instance), but it's close enough.

Oh, Facebook. Facebook asks me questions about the things I left blank, because I didn't find it necessary to answer everything ever. Most of the people I'm friends with know me in person and have for years, before my account even existed, some before Facebook even existed. So it got to a point, if Facebook asked me a thing, I'd answer, sure, but not anywhere truthful. So Facebook thinks I'm from Cape Town, lived at the Vatican (I wish!), and in that place under your "real" name, where you can put an alternate one, I gave it a ridiculous alternate one (which, in theory, I'd like to play or write as a steampunk character one of these days). Be careful what you wish for, Facebook.

Steve Forti said...

Come now - lettuce isn't so bad. Hell, it's pretty much the only green food I'll eat!
(Okay, that's not entirely true. I do like green M&Ms. And Surge, of course. Oh, and Thin Mints come in a green box. Does that count?)

S.D.King said...

May I throw in that evite is free and very easy to use. If a writer were having a book signing or other event, an email list can be tossed into that and they have wonderful pre-made templates. Invitees can indicate if they are attending.

I don't know why that program could not be used for any announcement.

They make these things pretty much foolproof now-a-days.

Lucie Witt said...

Wow, this is wildly helpful (even though my current email list would be limited to my mom and best friend, basically).

I too find the duplicating part intimidating. Does anyone know if there's a similar function on gmail?

S.P. Bowers said...

Great post, this is exactly what my tech challenged little self needed to know.

Colin Smith said...

This all makes perfect marketing sense. You must have been really good in your last job (you were involved in marketing then, were you not, Janet?)--and they must have hated for you to leave.

Though I wonder... for as long as we've had email, has no-one come up with an electronic equivalent to mail merging? You know, that thing we used to do back in the day where you could hook Word up to a database and it would automatically personalize your letters and print mailing labels? I believe Word still has that function. But something like that for email, where you could hook, say, Outlook to a database and have it personalize your email text, and send to all the addresses in your database--I'm sure businesses have something like this. I receive plenty of "personalized" emails from companies, so this must be a thing.


angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Thank you! This is a wonderful post. I like the excel sheet idea and the duplicate.

S.D. I'm not sure if evite can be personalized.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Great post! Now I just need people for my email list. According to an earlier post, all you Reiders qualify for all of our mailing lists. So there's that...

This is great for folks like Donna who have beaten their way past the gatekeepers and have actual books being published. For the rest of us, it is a nice head start while we press on in this strange purgatory that is writing, revising, querying, revising, and querying some more. I can't even see the light at the end of this tunnel at the moment. Ah well, there's no turning back now. Coffee? I wouldn't say no to whiskey either...

Matthew Wuertz said...

My mailing list is small enough that I just tend to have a conference call with them periodically. I mix in writing news after I tell them about what their grandchildren are up to. It works out pretty well.

DLM said...

On item 4 - I have a .net email. Just a tech heads-up. (See also: Sharque's point re: eyeballs.)

Joyce: cool! I cannot imagine anyone on the planet ever asking me to put them on an email list of my blatherings.

As for me - even if anyone were theoretically interested, email lists will have to wait. I haven't even been writing this week, and my understanding is that the horse gets frustrated waiting around behind that damned inert cart.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Diane, I can't even find the damn horse anymore. There's just this ramshackle cart blocking everything on this road. I am considering setting the whole thing on fire.

DLM said...

EMG, shall we go with matches, one of those lighter gun thingies, or just straight to napalm?

Lucie Witt said...

E.M. - I'd send you some bourbon from the bluegrass state if it wasn't for this pesky rules about mailing booze.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Lucie- Kentucky bourbon is so good. If I could only find that blasted horse, we'd saunter up that way.

Diane, at this point I say we go straight for closest available thermo-nuclear device. This is no time for half measures. That cart is blocking my way to Kentucky bourbon.

Lucie Witt said...

E.M - I'll have some Blanton's waiting. The bottle even has a tiny horse on top.

Unknown said...

In the words of Captain America, "I understood that reference."

One Miss Snark was absolutely formative to my development as a business-minded writer (and frankly I think my mother was a little alarmed when I started repeating "Follow the damn directions" ad nauseam at age twelve, but she also became an adherent).

If you see her around, give her my best. And thank her for the Crap-o-Meter and the Killer Yapp pictures.

Unknown said...

More on the main topic: in addition to DLM's .net reminder, I'd also advice a passing glance for .edu, in case of college students. They're people too (usually).

Actually, I believe Excel supports regular expressions, which is a shorthand way of matching patterns of characters? I believe \w*@\w*\.[a-z]{2,3} would catch most legal email addresses--what that says is (any number of word characters (A-Z, a-z, 0-9, _)) AT (any number of word characters) DOT (two or three lowercase letters), which hits .com, .net, .edu, and national abbreviations.

CynthiaMc said...

I hate newsletters. I love this. I also love Excel (spreadsheet junkie). ThiS is what we used to do for Toastmasters. Why didn't I think of that?

Brigid said...

Colin, mail merge is definitely still a thing.

Colin Smith said...

Brigid: Cool! Thanks!! I've never had to do this kind of mail-merged emailing so it never crossed my mind to even see if this was a thing until now. Of course, by the time I'm in a position to make use of it, email will be old hat and we'll be messaging by telepathy or something... :)

RKeelan said...

Lucie Witt: Yes, there's a way to do this in Gmail, but it takes some fidling. See instructions below.

Enabling Canned Responses
1. Login to gmail.
2. Click the gear icon in the top right corner, then choose Settings
3. Go to the Labs tab, on the right
4. In the box next to Search for a lab: type "Canned"
5. This will bring up a 'Lab' called Canned Responses, by Chad P. Select Enable
6. Click Save Changes
7. Your Inbox will be reloaded.

Creating a Newster Template
1. Click Compose, then write your newsletter as if it were a normal email, including whatever subject you want to use. You don't need to add any recipients.
2. Click the upside-down triangle in the bottom left of the compose window, go to Channed responses, then choose New Channed Reponse
3. Type a new name for this newsletter, or use the default.

Sending the Newsletter
1. Click Compose.
2. Click the upside-down triangle in the bottom left of the compose window, go to Canned responses, then, under Insert, select the template you created previously.
3. The subject line and body text of your message should have been filled in from the template.
4. If you're using an excel list for your newsletters, create a copy of the list of email addresses.
5. Cut the fist email from the copied list, then paste it into the Recipients field. Cutting instead of copying automatically keeps track of where you are in the list. Pasting prevents typos in the addresses.

My apologies for the length and the italics, which I know aren't popular around these parts.

BJ Muntain said...

Colin: Programs like MailChimp are easier ways of personalizing mails sent to an e-mail list. It will send e-mails to "Dear Colin" or anything else you choose. You enter your e-mail list, use a template to create a newsletter (you can have a very simple template that is simply a letter).

But I think the personalization that Janet's suggesting isn't just "Dear Colin." It's more "Dear Colin, Welcome back from Carkoon! The next time you go, why not take a copy of my new novel to read on your flight?" Or "Dear Colin, So nice to meet you at the 'Welcome back from Carkoon' party held in your honour. I think you'd like my book, 'Killing Kale'."

R Keelan: Thanks for the step-by-step on how to use Gmail that way!

DLM said...

BJ, ya gotta stop making my wee and paltry brain go *WHRRRRRRR* - because now I'ma have to write a short story. "Kale is a dish best served dead" ...

And, pointless as they were, that's my three for today. See y'all tomorrow (or at each other's blogs)!

John Frain said...


You're a funny guy, you scallywag. I bet you got stories!

Also, I'll never tire of saying it, I'm sure glad I moved into this neighborhood. So chock full o' information. Thank you for today, Janet. I'm starting to catch up to these posts. Not quite to list-gathering yet, but I can see the tail lights careening around the next corner.

Craig F said...

The hardest part of a newsletter it enticing your prey to pass it on to friends. If you can afford some swag to give away, or even food, and hint that friends are also allowed might build your audience quickly. Make it more like a social event than a business news release.

Donnaeve said...

Well. It's taken me this long to comment b/c I'll be darned if I can find a way to "Duplicate" anywhere. I have Outlook 2013, and I've looked high and low for it in the "Quick Access Toolbar, no luck, then under "Customize Ribbon" and "Choose commands from: All Commands" which lists all the ways to manage/manipulate email alphabetically and I didn't see "Duplicate."

Anyone know the path to get to it?

RKeelan said...

Donnaeve: When you have the base email saved, find it in the Drafts folder. You can copy it by right-clicking and choosing 'Copy' from the context menu, or just select it and press Ctrl+c.

To duplicate, press Crtl+v. There should be a way to do that using menus, and I'm sure there is, somewhere. I couldn't find it though.

Anonymous said...

Donnaeve, maybe this'll be helpful: It doesn't show a way to do it in menus, but it does explain where your templates would be stored and how to duplicate them without losing the template.

Anonymous said...

Donnaeve,if you save a draft of the e-mail, you can go to the draft folder, select it, right click copy and then Control-V (paste) the e-mail as often as you want right into the draft folder. That will create identical draft e-mails that you should be able to then go back to, personalize and send.

Unknown said...

Luciakaku's link

Along the lines of what Craig was saying, once you get a list going, this might be helpful: Using contests and giveaways to build your fan base.

It talks about how often to use contests and giveaways, as well as breaking the fan base into 3 categories (Casual Fan, Engaged Fan, and Raving Super Fan) and what attracts (and pushes away) each one.

Donnaeve said...

Thanks all! I knew about the Draft/Ctrl C/Ctrl V options, just thought there was a special "button."


This is fine for me - of course I say that NOW when I would only have xxx to do...might have to look for more automation in the future but if it's a simply a copy/paste thing (revising name with each one) it's doable for now!

Theresa said...

Donna's comment is a reminder of why, when I contemplate embarking on new projects that require technology, I set aside a whole block of time, preferably with a tech person standing by on call. I like learning new skills, but what is obvious and easy for many people usually completely eludes me.

(Colin has that wonderful information for adding embedded links to posts, yet I haven't figured out how to get it to work. Do I put in quotation marks around the url? Or did Colin use quotation marks only to show where the url goes? How long can/should the description be?)

Screen shots like Janet provided are helpful and YouTube tutorials provide great step-by-step visuals.

Kate Larkindale said...

Great advice as usual! I will have to get onto building a mailing list now...

And just on #4, a lot of countries have .co.(whatever country) addresses, not .com. In New Zealand they're, for example. So don't be too quick to erase those .co addies.

nightsmusic said...

Jennifer, if it's any consolation that someone else might have an even harder time with Word Wrap than you, I can no longer get that function to work in any spreadsheet program I try, and I have a major, keep track of all parts, sheet at work and it's driving me nuts not to have that working right.

I hate Excel and all of it's clones. The Clone Wars; How one woman's fight for uniformity in fields brought down the spreadsheet conglomerate.

I wish...

Colin Smith said...

Donna: I have a thought--theoretical at present, but since you're closer to needing this than me...

If Outlook email mail-merge works the same as regular mail-merge, you could (again, theoretically) set up an Access database table or Excel spreadsheet with fields for "Name" (i.e., the recipient's actual name), "Email", "Personalization", and "SignOff". In the template for your newsletter, you would do something like this:

Hi, [Name]!


Body of newsletter...


Donna (stbnyba)

You could have a standard Personalization and Signoff that you change for specific people in your spreadsheet if necessary. It seems to me it would be easier to do all this work in a spreadsheet or data table rather than editing each email.

Does that make sense?

Theresa: Quotes around the URL after the a href=, but not around the text outside the "<...>" :)

Lennon Faris said...

Can I sheepishly say that twenty sounds like a lot to me? I am curious where most unpublished authors' initial mailing lists come from. I have a couple die-hard fans in my immediate family, including a husband who is whether he wants to be or not, haha :P Otherwise, my daytime job doesn't have anything to do with writing and there are only a few people I know who are avid readers... Maybe writing groups? Blogs fans?

I suppose Janet's post about who should/ shouldn't be on the list has some ideas (events, groups, friends of friends), although a list from those things seems as though it would take years to build. Guess that's why everyone says to start early.

Lucie Witt said...

Breaking the rules and commenting 4x.

R Keelan - thank you for such detailed and helpful info!

Colin Smith said...

Donna: Sorry, that should be stbnytba. :) (Soon-To-Be New York Times Bestselling Author).

BJ Muntain said...

'Wrap' is under Alignment, which is under Format Cells.

What I do is highlight the cells I want to wrap - which is usually the whole spreadsheet. So I click the top left corner to select the whole sheet. I think Ctrl-A (which is Select All) works, too.

Then I right click somewhere on the cell(s) and choose Format Cells. Then I look for Alignment, and choose Wrap.

nightsmusic said...

BJ, Excel hates me. That's all I can think because, no matter how many times I try that, it doesn't work. But, the feeling is mutual so there's no love lost there.

Sarah Meral said...

Donnaeve, leaving my lurkdom to say I tried duplicating a draft of a message this way:

-going to draft folder,
-opening the message I want to duplicate,
-clicking into the subject-field (or to-field, CC-field, BCC-field)
- hitting "ctrl+F"

and the message got duplicated, in Office 2007 that is.

Now going back to lurkdom :)

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to be professional and get my writing done before I run and play on blogs I love, however, this kind of hit me today. I read the blog earlier while coffee was making. All right, that's a good idea to have a newsletter. Still not doing it. I didn't mind doing it for the game company because that was business. This is me.

It's like the advice about lining up people to blurb your book when it's published. I know a few successfully published authors, but never in life would I presume on them for blurbs. We're friends because we like each other, not because they can do anything for me.

A rodeo stock contractor in Texas learned he was dying of cancer and called my oldest son. He told him to come pick out whichever bucking horses he wanted. The man had good horses. B asked him why he would do that. "Because you never expected anything from me or tried to get something from me."

"I didn't need anything from you. You're my friend. I don't want your horses. Just let me know how I can help."

I almost feel the same way about newsletters. "Hey, friend, want to join my super newsletter?"

"Uh, sure." *great another email I have to delete*

I've been chained to my antique hourglass lately. Write for thirty minutes, flip the hourglass, really a 30-minute glass, and repeat.

At the end of one of these sessions, I decided to check email and there it was. A Dante sign if there ever was one. No, no, there is nothing divine about it. It is pure inferno.

Anyway, the hourglass beckons.

Anonymous said...

"Still not doing it. I didn't mind doing it for the game company because that was business. This is me."

Yes, I know writing and self-promoting is my business also. I just don't like it. I've written real estate advice columns for the newspaper to promote me. I've done this before, but I am not ready for it now.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much! This is invaluable info (like everything I learn on your blog!)

Colin Smith said...

Julie: Looking at it from the other side, when Janet first raised the topic of newsletters, my initial response was to scoot over to Gary Corby's blog to see if he had a sign-up. I'd love to get a newsletter once, or even a few times, a year from Gary with a heads-up on the next novel in the series (title, pub date, etc.), and with any signing news (especially if he'll be in the States). From a reader's perspective, it's not about how I can help Gary by buying his books--I want to know. Perhaps it's the woodland creature in us that makes us think we'd be sending newsletters to people who really don't care but are too polite to say so. That may be true. But I can think of a good few people in this Shark Tank that wouldn't mind a newsletter from you updating us on your publication progress. :) As long as you give people an "Unsubscribe" option, I look at it as a service more than a promotion tool.

Karen McCoy said...

Jennifer R. Donohue, I know what you mean about Excel sheets and book ordering. I select for 28 libraries within my system, and I feel like I'm drowning in Excel charts daily.

This kind of Microsoft overload brings me to a question: What about those of us who are going the Google route for our professional emails? Is there a way to group emails in a similar way that Outlook does? Or will a simple copy/paste from Excel do the trick?

Theresa said...

Thanks for the tip, Colin. Someday I will try inserting a link in a post. Today I embedded my first hyperlink in a Word document. Progress.

Donnaeve said...

Theresa, well I worked in IT for 35 years and as you can see I still need help. I take things very literally. I.e. QOTKU shows how to "make" a "button," well by god, I'm going to make a button too. Somehow.

For all those who follow Colin's link tutorial - I tried it a long time ago, and Colin then kindly looked at what I had typed in using his code, and said it was right, but when I put it into the comments box, it never would work for me. He even cc'ed/pasted what I had from his account, put it into comments from his end - and it worked. It seems Blogger can be temperamental about sign in. IDK.

Sarah M - thanks, one less step, I'll try it - woohoo!

Colin, it sounds like you're saying to preset up an excel (or other tool) with specific greetings/sign off per newsletter subscriber - to save some steps? Brilliant - if I'm following you...

Donnaeve said...

Oh, and about Excels, ya'll are also giving me flashbacks about doing pivot tables and setting up formulas to run budgets.

I might have the hives by the end of the day.

Colin Smith said...

Donna's right. For some reason, and maybe the Blogger experts know, hyperlinks will not work for some people. Is it based on their Blogger account? How they log in? Browser? Whether Jupiter and Saturn are in alignment, or whether Venus and Mars are all right tonight? (That was for the Wings fans.)

Donna: Yup, that's just what I was thinking. Set up a spreadsheet/database table with all the fields, personalize the fields in that spreadsheet/table, and then use that as a data source for the email mail-merge. I don't know whether it would actually work in practice, but it sounds good theory to me. :)

Karen McCoy said...

...and...just located Google instructions. Thanks, R Keelan!

Unknown said...

Providing you have a mailing list, MS Word has a great tutorial on how to manage and email to your mailing list all from Word. Your data source can be Outlook or Excel, but it can all be done from Word using a table as a data source. AND you can sort for dups and personalize all within that same Word document. You do need to have Outlook for the actual mailing piece.

Unknown said...

Here's another way to do it in Gmail: Mail Merge for Gmail (video). It's an add-on for Google Sheets (their version of Excel) that syncs with your email.

That's really weird about the hyperlinks.

Anonymous said...

Good site.

Panda in Chief said...

I'm so glad that R Keelan posted about Gmail's Canned response. I've used it many times and it works great, once I remember how to use it. I am also glad they were the ones who explained how to use it.

When I ran my various Kickstarter campaigns, I found I got a much higher response rate when I personalized the emails (using canned response) and sent them individually, rather than sending out a huge mass email. And every time I advised someone who was contemplating a crowd funding campaign to do this, they always argued with me about how much more time it would take.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Regarding the e-tech-aspects of today's post, I AM LEFT STANDING IN THE DUST OF ALL OF YOU. I used caps because I already forgot how to bold my italicized words.

BJ Muntain said...

nightsmusic: That sucks. :( Did you look for Alignment under Cell Formatting? Or is it the alignment itself that it won't do. Maybe there's some sort of default that won't let you do it? I only know how to *use* Excel. That's one thing I don't know how to troubleshoot. :(

nightsmusic said...

BJ, oh, it's there. And it works when I tick it (check mark, not just coloring in the box, that doesn't work either) but nothing happens. I'm telling you, Microsoft knows me, hates me and is determined to make my business life as miserable as possible. *sigh*

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

8" by 11" sheet of paper


That I know how to do.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Thanks for this useful info, y'all. I refine my plan every time Janet posts one of her marketing posts. Some day I shall master this enough for it to be extremely useful.

I've reviewed other people's newsletters that I receive and my feelings towards them.

What entices me to read a newsletter? Whatever that is is what I need to put in mine. Gail Carriger's is always entertaining.

I love the idea of a mini-newsletter. Will have to give that a go.

Colin: the nighttime sky is rather boring now where planets are concerned. (This could explain a lot.) Neptune and Uranus are only visible for an hour after sunset (with a set of good binoculars or a telescope). Mercury's too hard to spot ATM. Jupiter doesn't rise until midnight, and Mars, Saturn & Venus are only visible in the wee hours of the morning. Things will get a bit more interesting in a few months' time.

Meanwhile, the Orion Nebula is making a fine showing.

Anonymous said...

CarolynnwithherNs - Paper? Stamps? And what are deductibles? I thought those were for insurance. Is this a "bee's knees" kind of thing, 'cause I never did understand those outdated phrases and customs and stuff.


Lance said...

And the great information keeps rolling in. Very helpful. Thank you, Ms. Janet.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Well, in "real" Excel there's a "Wrap Text" button right at the top (well, in the ribbon of Excel 2013. That ribbon). But, in Open Office, Format Cells--->Alignment--->Wrap Text Automatically (this one is a check box, and I've also checked the hyphenation enabling) works! So happy now to be able to more readably format my "Submission Rejections" spreadsheet for short story subs. Thanks!

LynnRodz said...

Another great post to be bookmarked, thanks, Janet.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I've never tried the gmail canned thingy but I printed the instructions. Thank you R Keelan.

Jearl mentioned Word's tutorial. Here is a fantastic site for all things Word. Wordtips

The link is for the mail-merge instructions but you can search for instructions on any geeky-techy stuff like macros.

I never knew Word was such a powerful program until I found that website. Most of it I can't understand.

Valentina Hepburn said...

I love this. So much better than fiddling about with Mailchimp and thinking it has to be a work of art or don't bother. Succinct and to the point. Liking it!