Newsletters are definitely having a moment; so much so that popular blogging medium WordPress recently introduced newsletter functionality (which in true meta fashion I found out about from their newsletter).
While WordPress touts their service as being a moneymaking endeavor, for many people writing a newsletter is more passion project and less income generator.
Whether you decide to create a newsletter in pursuit of your bliss or are all about the Benjamins, here are some things to consider before starting your own newsletter.
Know your audience, and intentions
Before you start a newsletter, you should probably do a deep dive into your motivations or inspiration. Maybe you’re interested in connecting with others and sharing relevant information. Or perhaps your hobbies don’t quite mesh with your day job. Or it’s entirely possible that you’re known for one thing and wish people knew about a completely different side of you. Or perchance, like actor turned musician Josh Radnor, (who blew me away as so kitschy he was cool ‘70s era Nazi hunter Lonny Flash on Hunters), you’re over social media and want to find a different way to connect with others while controlling your messaging.
Radnor, best known for portraying Ted Mosby for 9 seasons on CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, told Ladders he was encouraged to start his somewhat sporadic email by friend and fellow musician Ben Lee, the other half of his indie folk musical duo Radnor and Lee. “I’ve found Twitter tough over the years,” Radnor said.
“I’m not very sound-bitey and I enjoy nuance and working through an argument, which is notoriously tough to do there given the character limitation.”
To that end, Radnor’s Museletters newsletter– which comes out just about every other month– is as likely to feel like a hybrid stream of consciousness and social experiment, along with a healthy dose of pop culture and favorite links or resources.
Personalize the experience:
For Radnor, the motivation behind the newsletter changed along the way.
“Initially I was thinking I would let people know what I was working on and also let people know what I’d been reading/watching/listening to/being inspired by,” he explained. “But very quickly I found people were most interested in the short essay-ish type thing I wrote at the beginning, which is now longer and really the bulk of the newsletter.” The new medium and way of connecting with both thinkers and long-time fans works for Radnor.
“I found it to be a great space to get honest and work through some things that I’d been struggling with or different breakthroughs or insights I had. It’s been a nice illustration for me of the specific being universal.” For fans, it’s a way to discover a new side to a celebrity they admired from afar. Radnor said that he writes “very personally, “and people seem to respond to his tone and approach.
“People always let me know how on-point it was for them. And it’s heartening because it’s people from all over the world, all different ages.” The end result is that by creating something that resonates with his readers, Radnor continues to connect on a different level. “I feel like it’s allowed me to have this great conversation with people,” he explained, making it clear it’s a give and take conversation. Best of all? Radnor said, “It’s made the world feel smaller in a really nice way.”
Feeling all warm, fuzzy and inspired by Josh Radnor to start your own newsletter? Well, you’re probably going to have to put a lot of time and effort into the process.
Writer and author Jen A. Miller writes two newsletters on two very different topics, Notes from a Hired Pen, about best practices in freelance writing with a dash of pop culture and the New York Times Running Newsletter, which she explains “is about, well, running!” The process for writing each of her newsletters is different as well. For the New York Times Running Newsletter, Miller said she has to “clear the topic with my editor, write it, and then it’s edited by two people before it’s laid out and ready to go into email inboxes on Saturday mornings and sometimes online as a standalone piece, depending on what the topic is.”
Miller’s personal newsletter is a lot more informally produced and more infrequently published “because I write it when something strikes me worth writing about.”
Decide whether you’re going to charge or not:
Miller advises people interested in writing a newsletter to “know what your motivations are.” While she’s paid to write the running newsletter she doesn’t charge for her own newsletter. “Obviously, I’m paid to write the running newsletter, but I don’t charge for Notes from a Hired Pen because then it’s work, and I don’t want it to be work.” She added “I also don’t want to invest too much time into it because then it’s also work.” By being free, there’s also less chance of scrutiny. “With it being, free, if someone complains about typos, I can say it’s free, you’ll live,” Miller explained.
Learn from the best:
Ready to start your own newsletter? The easiest way to understand what works or doesn’t is by subscribing to and reading topics you already love reading about.
“One of the best ways to get started is to subscribe to a daily newsletter that interests you,” said Heather Powers McBride, of The Pick-up Line, a daily newsletter geared to moms.
Powers McBride said “You’ll find that while the subject matter and target audience will vary, there are a few constants: clean and concise writing as well as a focus on reader benefit. We know that our subscribers don’t have all day to read one email and we strive to give them as much news-you-can-use as possible.”
Try these on for size:
If you’d like some more inspiration before creating your own newsletter, consider signing up for one of these:
- NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour Books, movies and more, sent once a week.
- Non Obvious Insights : A weekly collection of news stories you won’t see everyplace else
- The Daily Beast Cheat Sheet: Helps you pretend you already knew what everyone else was talking about.
- MuckRack : A daily digest of top journalism
- Brainpickings: The OG of interesting newsletters with a soupcon of pretty much everything.
- Rachel’s Newsletter: That’s mine. And it launches later this summer.