How to write a newsletter that people actually want to read.
A good while back, I wrote an article for a best friend of mine who was (and still is) in the process of growing an email list for his newsletter, The Backbeat.
In this particular article, I broke down how I grew my email list from 0 to 1,000+ subscribers and included some very easy and actionable ways others could, too.
I didn’t, however, share how to write a newsletter that people actually want to read.
If you haven’t read that article, I highly recommend you start there. That particular piece covers the audience building aspect of email marketing, where as this piece focuses more on designing a kick-ass product (the actual email) that will ultimately keep your subscribers coming back.
However, if you’re a bit wild, a bit of a rebel, not one for following instructions and like to live on the edge… fuck it… just read this one first.
Now, before we dive in, let me explain why the hell you should listen to me….
My name is Cole and I’m a writer and a marketer.
At the beginning of this year, I was in the process of scaling Honey Copy, my creative writing shop that helps brands sell things with words and I was thinking long and hard about a marketing strategy I could use to generate a consistent trickle of clients.
There was only one problem.
I didn’t have a lot of money nor time to spend on my marketing strategy. So, I had to come up with something that was damn near free and not totally time-consuming.
Right off the bat, I nixed both paid advertising and social media marketing.
Around this time, I was tearing through Warren Buffett’s biography (the guy worth $81,000,000,000) and read about how he implemented an annual newsletter early on his career as an investor.
Since his first newsletter, four decades have passed, and today these letters are essentially required reading for anyone in the world of investing.
In fact, they have become so popular that some folks buy Berkshire Hathaway stock just to receive the annual newsletter.
I had a thought… why not, like Buffett, write a newsletter that is so damn good that it becomes required reading for anyone in marketing, sales and copywriting.
It was a big hairy audacious goal.
But, I went for it.
Sticky Notes, the sweetest marketing newsletter on this side of the Mississippi.
(Honey… sticky… get it?)
To say it has been successful for this little ink-slinger is an understatement. It has landed me a handful of projects on the freelance side of Honey Copy and it has sold nearly $15,000 worth of my copywriting guide.
I will regularly get emails from my subscribers telling me they look forward to it every week. Some people even go as far as to say they have to resist the urge to lick their screen when they see it arrive in their inbox.
In all seriousness, it’s been a damn good time and damn lucrative too. And, if you keep reading, I am going to tell you how I’ve done it… that way you can do it too.
That sounded inappropriate.
How to write a newsletter that will make people want to lick their screens.
I’ve always wondered if rocket scientists use the phrase “it’s not rocket science” if someone does something stupid in the rocket science lab… like confuse a rear thruster with an ignition fuse.
I’ll have to ask a rocket scientist sometime.
Anyway, writing a newsletter that people actually want to read isn’t rocket science unless you are writing a newsletter about rocket science. Regardless, all newsletters start with a subject line…
1. Crafting a subject line impossible not to open.
Before we talk design, content or any of the pretty jazz that makes your emails stand out from everyone else’s, we first need to discuss the most important aspect of any email… the subject line.
I write about the importance of subject lines and headlines in great depth in my copywriting guide where one piece of advice I give is the 80/20 rule…
Spend 80% of your time writing the body of your email and 20% of your time writing the actual subject line.
Because if your subject line doesn’t entice the reader they aren’t going to open up your damn email.
Here are subject lines I have used with the weekly newsletters I have sent out over at Sticky Notes along with their open rates…
And so it begins… 55.8%
Hide yo kids… 44.3%
You might be giving your customers too many choices… 37.9%
Too long; didn’t read… 45.4%
Don’t let this be the one that got away… 39.8%
I’m no Hemingway… 45.5%
Please stop talking about yourself… 48%
Persuasive writing techniques that work like witchcraft… 62.3%
How to build a spaceship… 48.4%
What Vonnegut, Woolf and Steinbeck can teach us about marketing… 47.8%
Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself… 49.4%
Pulp Fiction, a hillbilly lawyer and marketing rules to live by… 45.3%
Look who is laughing now… 50.8%
I sold my soul ghostwriting… 44.7%
How to make money while you sleep… 45.2%
Write drunk, edit sober… 41.9%
This isn’t a tickle competition… 44.6%
How I earned $8k from my first product launch… 40.8%
How to build an email list from scratch… 43.4%
I’m pretty much f*cked… 47%
Famous authors who were total badasses… 38.1%
What can we take away from these?
When you craft your subject line, keep it short.
The average word count of the subject lines you just read is “6”.
Additionally, give your subject lines some flare, some punch, some chutzpah.
When you write a subject line, your goal should be to write the most interesting sentence your reader receives in his or her inbox all day.
Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s talk about the actual design of the email…
2. More than words.
We will get to content in the next section. But, right now, we are getting a bit vain.
And, if you want to learn how to write a newsletter that people actually want to read, you need to understand that design is everything.
People like pretty. And, they like pretty in their inbox, too.
If you’re writing a weekly newsletter, here are some quick recommendations where it concerns design and keeping things pretty…
Use lots of white space.
Use light shades and hues that focus the eye on the actual content and copy.
Avoid using images that look like stock images (be original).
Write your emails in a very readable font (Open Sans, Verdana, Roboto, Helvetica, Georgia, Lato, Futura).
Create an email template that readers won’t get tired of receiving each week (simple trumps complex).
Additionally, an excellent resource to pull some inspiration for your email design is Really Good Emails. It is a site that curates some of the prettiest emails zipping around the web.
Now, for the meat and potatoes…
3. Content is king, consistency is queen.
You’ve heard it before. Content is king. And, unfortunately, when it comes to your email newsletter, the cliche holds true. People don’t want to read emails containing shitty content. So… don’t send emails containing shitty content.
That said, there are few options where it concerns content for your email newsletter.
If you are like Warren Buffett, you can write a newsletter that reads like a letter containing your thoughts, insights, musings, etc.
This option can be very effective. But, you better be a damn good writer and thinker.
If writing isn’t your thing, that’s okay… hire me… or created a curated email that contains interesting articles specific to your industry.
Just about anyone can create a really strong curated email newsletter, they just have to have great taste in content and read often.
The Hustle and Morning Brew have built media empires with 1,000,000+ subscribers atop of what essentially is just a curated daily email.
It can work for you, too.
My newsletter Sticky Notes is a mix of the two. I use the newsletter to share my own original thoughts and ideas about marketing and creativity and writing, I use it to promote my own work (this article will be in this week’s email) and I use it to curate some of the best articles I’ve read.
Lastly, I would recommend you search the web for some of the best newsletters in your specific industry and you sign up for every single one. In the mornings, before you start your work day, make those newsletters required reading.
Screenshot the design and copy that resonates with you and play close attention to the subject lines.
Over time, you will slowly build the look, feel and personality of your newsletter. Also, I don’t think there is anything wrong with building as you go.
It’s likely email #1 is going to look much much uglier than email #77. That’s okay.
By Cole Schafer.
You gotta check this out –– Sticky Notes is my email list reserved strictly for entrepreneurs and creatives looking to sell like a Florida Snow Cone Vendor on the hottest day of the year.