The secret to crafting newsletters people are actually excited to receive

WARNING: The following is simple and kinda dumb idea but it’s helping me rethink and reframe how I approach creating and sending email newsletters.

Ready? Here’s the idea:

Your email newsletter is a small gift.

Simple and dumb, right? Okay, maybe it’s not that dumb. But when I had the thought I felt dumb because the idea seemed so obvious I couldn’t believe it took 15 years of grinding away at email marketing to think it.

And then, once I thought the thought, I couldn’t stop thinking about it … and the idea got bigger. I added two words ,and it expanded to this:

Your email newsletter is a small, recurring, handmade gift.

Yeah, I seriously believe this. And here’s why:

If you view every newsletter you create as a gift for your readers, it forces you to be generous and to put your readers first.

And for that, they will be thankful. They may be so thankful that they share your gift with others or, maybe, even reciprocate.

Unfortunately, many well-intentioned and talented writers and artists (myself included) often put themselves and their needs at the center of their newsletters—and this is the quickest way to burn-out your readers.

Sure, it might by your newsletter, but it should be about them, not you.

More on that below. But first, let’s get back to this dumb idea that kind-of sort-of definitely captures everything I believe about email newsletters.

Why putting others first is so hard to do?

Honestly? Because we have things we need—books to write, articles to pitch, platforms to build, rent to pay, a life to live. We have a lot on our plates and not enough time in the day.

It’s fucking exhausting.

Also:

  • Knowing what to share and who to share it with takes work (and who has time for that?)
  • Generating “content” for the sake of content feels empty (because it is).
  • Putting ourselves out there is scary especially if we believe that we don’t have anything of value to offer (which is never true).
  • Showing up is legit hard (and having empathy for others is even harder)
  • Finding advice on the internet that does NOT emphasize growth at all cost is next to impossible (Connection > Attention > Growth)

Also also:

We can be so focused on chasing our own goals (Bestseller or bust, baby!) or someone else’s goals for us (You need a platform!) that we try to find shortcuts. Or worse: engage in activities that bring us little to no joy.

Here’s another thing I believe:

Marketing should be a natural extension of the work you’re already doing—and the process should be creative and fun.

If it’s not, you’re doing it wrong, or you’re using the wrong tools. But I digress.

What do these words really mean though?

Small

“Small” as in simple, not skimpy. No grand gestures here. If we go too big—put too much pressure on any single newsletter—we can psyche ourselves out from hitting “send.” Keep your expectations on any single newsletter in check and keep the act of sending manageable for you, whatever that looks like.

Recurring

“Recurring” as in not a one-time thing. Daily, weekly, monthly, whatever—you’re gonna send more than one, so play the long game. Show up regularly with something small (read: manageable), and trust that, over time, you’re building something bigger.

Handmade

“Handmade” as in thoughtful. As in saying: “Here, I made this for you.” The goal is to create and send something surprising and personal. Something only you can make. Go ahead, be creative.

Gift

“Gift” as in something for someone else. A good way to test if you’re giving someone else a gift is to pay attention to they’re response. Did they say some version of “Thank you”? Well, then you probably just gave them a gift.

NOTE: “Thank you” should be the desired response for nearly every newsletter you send. It’s a much better metric for measuring engagement and interest than list size or open rates.
NOTE 2: If someone doesn’t like your gift that’s OK! The “Unsubscribe” link is like a gift receipt. You newsletter won’t fit everyone. Returns and unsubscribes should be an expected part of the process.
NOTE 3: Gifts aren’t (usually) given to strangers. so DON’T BE A SPAMMER! Make sure the people on your list asked to be on your list. M’kay?

Okay, but what do these “gifts” even look like?

Here’s a little rhyme my wife and I use when purchasing gifts for our kids (with one small edit). I think it works just as a good as a guide for determining what to send to your readers:

  • Something they want;
  • Something they need;
  • Something to wear do;
  • Something to read.

Or, if this doesn’t help, maybe try to think about how you can do one (or all) of the following in your newsletter:

  • Inspire
  • Connect
  • Ask
  • Educate
  • Inform
  • Entertain

To clarify, what you send can still be about you and your project–especially if you have readers who have been anxiously waiting on updates on your current project.

Similarly, you can navel gaze and be self indulgent, but goddamn, at least entertain me while you do it. Be funny or make the words dance or something.

Or you can also:

  • Tell a story.
  • Share your thinking or your process.
  • Show a peek behind the curtain.
  • Provide them with links to interesting and relevant and helpful websites or articles or art or videos or resources or recipes or tweets or memes.

Whatever.

Does this actually work?

Yeah, totally, I know believe so.

It’s working for me, and I hope it works for you.

If we’re going to spend the time and energy creating newsletters, shouldn’t the goal be to send something readers actually want to read?

Even better is to send something they’re truly excited to see show up in their inbox. So excited, in fact, that they tell their friends about how much they love your “gift” and get those people so excited they sign up because, hey, who doesn’t love a thoughtful gift?

And even if your list doesn’t grow exponentially, or your readers don’t turn into raving stans who go to the end of the earth to defend and support you; even if fame and riches don’t shower down upon you, or you don’t get offered a six-figure salary … at least you’ll know this:

You’re sharing with readers who are always happy to see you.

Optimize for joy.