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12 Ideas for Email Updates (You’ll Actually Enjoy Writing)

Photo: erink_photography | FlickrI know, I know.

You saw the title of this post and thought, “oh man. Here’s Toni again, going on and on about mailing lists.”

Here’s the thing, though: mailing lists rock. In fact, sending an email is even more effective than social media for communicating with your fans.

Since I know so many of our author friends are short on time, when you grab those precious 30 minutes for book promotion, you want the biggest bang for your buck, right?

So, to help you become more mailing list-savvy, I’ve written a bit about writing email updates. And getting folks to join your list.

But, you still have some questions. I totally understand — this isn’t a cut and dry topic! There’s one especially big question that runs through your mind over and over…

The Big Question

You have a problem. You know that, in order to build a relationship with your readers, you should email your list more often than it takes Pluto to orbit around the sun.

When you send out those infrequent updates, after all, you’re bound to get one or two responses that ask “who in the world are you? How did I get signed up to your list?” Or, even worse, you get no response at all — and your open rates are abysmal.

It’s not that you want to neglect your fans; that’s not it at all. Instead, writing updates goes more like this: you sit down to plan an email and think…

“I don’t have anything to say.”

After all, if you don’t have an upcoming release or exciting news to share, what are you supposed to write about?’ 

And that’s the biggest question that goes along with figuring out mailing lists.

Well, begone blank-email paralysis! Keep reading for twelve email update ideas that will keep you busy writing and connecting with your readers for a long time to come…

12 Things to Email Your Fans About (and They’re Actually Kinda Fun)

An Exclusive Excerpt

Even though excerpts are everywhere these days, I know there’s a juicy part of your book not shared somewhere on your website or elsewhere on the interwebs. Send it out to your readers as a thanks for allowing you into their inbox!

A Sneak Peek

When you receive your book’s cover, proof copy or edit, share a piece of that excitement with your readers. Send out an email with a photo of your achievement and let them feel a piece of your pride (and be part of the publishing process)!

Ask for Reviews

Your best resource for reviews of your work is right in front of you: the pool of fans who have signed up to receive your updates in their inbox. Don’t hammer them by asking every week, but pick a mental goal (maybe once you sign up 25 or 50 new fans) and send a friendly review request.

Find Beta Readers

Hearing an early opinion of your work is priceless, and the best source of folks to beta read your work is your mailing list. Share the elevator pitch of your WIP and ask for a few fans to give it a read!

Reveal Your WIP

Speaking of WIPs, an email update is the perfect place to reveal what you’re currently working on. Yeah, a blog post is awesome, too, but give the readers on your mailing list a sneak peek!

Share a Character Profile

If a reader loves your work enough to receive your updates, I guarantee they’d be interested in knowing the backstory behind one of the characters in your novel. Did one of your characters change roles during the writing process? Or perhaps one of your more colorful characters had an interesting inspiration? Share those process-oriented tidbits with your readers!

Link to a Blog Post

This may surprise you, but many of the folks who receive your emails won’t also religiously read your blog. So, if you have a special post, share it with them in an email. If you can add something extra to the content (like a story/reason behind why you’d like them to read it), it makes the email even more special.

Ask for Feedback

Know this: feedback from your readers is GOLD. Being able to have a conversation directly with a fan of your work offers you all kinds of potential in terms of getting their opinion (and, as a bonus, makes them feel like a part of the writing process). Whether it’s an excerpt, elevator pitch, cover, or personal update, asking for reader feedback is a great way to build your relationship.

Dish Behind-the-Scenes Gossip

Did you interview a world-renowned nuclear expert when writing your novel? Or maybe took a day hike to a particular setting so you could describe it perfectly? These types of fun details and behind-the-scenes scoop are perfect to share with your readers! Even if it’s something more mundane, getting a peek inside how a novel comes together is exciting.

Give Away Worldbuilding Bonuses

This idea is especially useful for the sci-fi and fantasy folks among us: share your drawings, maps, fictional language, schematics and other extras that serve to build up the “world” of your novel. I always think of Lord of the Rings here — it was such a joy to look through all of the maps and appendixes after I finished reading the book.

Rewrite a Scene from Another POV

I have a confession to make: I’ve read Twilight. Phew, I said it. While I didn’t continue with the series after that first novel, I was still interested to read a chapter that the author released from another character’s perspective (side note: it was MUCH better and less whiny). I’ve seen other authors do this with excerpts or even whole books, but you don’t have to go that far — a paragraph or single scene will do nicely!

Dig Into Your Personal Archives

Remember the good old days when you had boatloads of time to…you know, write? I bet you have bits and pieces of unfinished work lurking about in the far corners of your hard drive. Ever wished you had a use for them? Well, now you do! Even though they might not be as polished as you’d like, your fans will enjoy and appreciate seeing these unpublished bits and pieces in their inbox.

A Bonus Tip: Focus, focus, focus.

While those ideas should get you started on the road to writing email updates you’ll actually enjoy, I want to share one bonus tip that will make your email-writing much less overwhelming: for each email you write, only share one thing. One idea, one call to action, whatever.

Speaking from personal experience, keeping my emails short and focused has helped me send them out more often (and with better results when I do). Moving from newsletter-type to letter-type emails is one way to do this, but I know you can make it fit into whatever design you use!

Talk Back

Now, I want to hear from you: How often do you email your list? Have you ever struggled to think of things to send out? What’s the most fun/creative update you’ve sent? Which one got the best results?

  • Great suggestions, Toni. I think with a mailing list, it’s important to set a purpose and stick with it. When I first set up my MailChimp account, my mailing list was kind of a mash of everything — content from my blog via the RSS feed, new release updates, emails about free promos, etc.

    I took a step back and realised that it was a real mess and I needed to find some focus. I realised my error was that I was imagining my mailing list from the perspective of someone who absorbs ALL of my content rather than an ‘ideal reader’.

    For this reason, I decided to split my mailing list into two — one for my blog readers, one for my book readers. The blog mailing list sends updates direct to the inbox of all interested, and my reader mailing list only ever notifies when I’m putting a new release out or I have something that I feel would be interesting to me as a reader/fan.

    Great post, I’ll definitely be trying out some of these methods!


    • Ryan: you rock. It was brilliant of you to see the odd mishmash that you had going on and then take steps to improve it. Separating the folks into two lists was a great idea — It allows you to target your updates directly to each group’s interests! You’re very right on the first point as well: having a purpose for your mailing list is KEY!

  • Bette A. Stevens

    Hi, Shannon & Toni. This is great info and I have it bookmarked. However, I only have about 8 subscribers so far. I will try to enlist more through social media sites and plan to offer the pre-released text for my WIP short story: PURE TRASH. Some days I feel that my progress is moving at a tortoise pace. But then I remember the Fable: The Tortoise and the Hare, so I just keep plugging along. THANKS for all of your great advice, books and freebies! Bette

    • Hi Bette! You’re exactly right: just keep on keepin’ on, and you’ll get there. It’ll always take some trial and error along the way, but consistency is key. You can do it! :-)

  • Some great ideas in this post. :)

    My cardinal rule of my newsletter is this — what can I send that is of value, right now, to my readers?

    I’m a fiction writer, and I try really hard to remember that even though I’m surrounded by writerly and industry and social media stuff every day — most of my readers don’t care even a little bit about that stuff. They want more of my writing, or they wouldn’t have signed up in the first place.

    I’ve gotten newsletters from authors that read like sales pitches — trying to get me to buy their other books, or to get me to promote their books myself, or even promoting OTHER author’s works in their newsletters. I unsubscribe. I have enough e-mails in my inbox trying to sell me stuff.

    I use my newsletter to send excerpts, deleted scenes, scenes from another character’s point of view. I do include contests, but i don’t require my newsletter subscribers to DO anything — all of my subscribers are automatically entered into ANY contest I run.

    So far, I’m at almost 300 subscribers and 0 unsubscribes, with a high percentage of opens and responses to every newsletter (and a LOT of those responses are begging for future release dates). It’s well worth the effort. :)

    • Breeana, what an awesome comment! You’re definitely doing this mailing list thing right on the money! I’m so glad you’re seeing good results, too. Keep rockin’!

  • Marquita Herald

    Excellent suggestions. Many bloggers – not just authors – have difficulty coming to terms with the right mix of communication with their list of subscribers. I confess I tend to err on the side of less is better simply because I’ve personally had so few good experiences on the receiving end of email marketing. Thanks for the inspiration!


    Love your suggestions. So many writers assume that list-building and newsletters are a non-fiction thing and that they don’t apply to authors of fiction, but this post clearly proves that email is a great way for fiction writers to connect with their readers. Kudos!

    As a mostly-non-fiction writer (though fiction is my first literary love), I tend to focus on using the email as a way to curate content from the DIY MFA website. Each (sort-of weekly) issue focuses on a theme. I write one article that’s exclusive to the newsletter and highlight 1-3 articles from the archive along the same theme as the feature.

    I used to cram a lot more into the newsletter but have since weeded out the extraneous stuff and have streamlined it more. Instead of going wide and trying to hit a variety of subjects, I’ve chosen to focus each issue of the newsletter on one topic and really dig deep.

    Thanks for a great post and some excellent suggestions!

  • Having just set up a mailing list, I found this list very useful. Thanks!