My book of the year is Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque. It has wonderful things to teach authors at any stage of their career; it helped to revolutionize mine.
This is a febrile time of year. The sins of the old year are washed away, and the ambitions of the new are laid out. It’s a clean slate, a fresh start, a time to gather stones together. It’s also a time when people like to review the year gone by and make predictions for the next.
I won’t poke that particular hornet’s nest, let’s just say there has been a fair amount of tumult. I remember saying a few years ago that chaos was the new normal and that people shouldn’t expect things to settle down any time soon — at least one prediction that has both aged well and remained evergreen.
I’m not one for fretting about the future, but I definitely am one for preparing. And the best insurance policy against any seismic changes in our industry is to have a large group of engaged readers which you regularly communicate with through a platform you control.
I knew this, and I still screwed it up. But I stopped screwing it up in 2018 and Newsletter Ninja is the reason why.
Please note that this is a somewhat biased recommendation. Here’s what I said when speaking about Newsletter Ninja a few months ago:
Disclosure: Tammi edited Digital 3 and Superfans, but I asked Tammi to edit those books because she knows her sh*t inside out and is a literal ninja.
I also wrote the foreword to this book, which Tammi has kindly allowed me to reprint here. And the reason why I wrote the foreword, and the many, many reasons why you should buy this book, will become very clear once you read the excerpt below — so thank you Tammi for letting me do that.
I’ve been self-publishing for seven years. That’s quite a long period to be screwing up almost the entire time, but I managed it! My whole approach to email was backwards. I did all the don’ts, ignored all the warnings, missed out on so many opportunities to build myself a happy and engaged audience of readers that it causes me literal pain when I think about it. I don’t say this to elicit sympathy. Rather, I hope that my long experience of doing exactly the wrong things can act as a deterrent—a giant sign made of bones spelling out “Here Be Wolves.”
What did I do exactly? I only emailed people when I had a new release. I thought I was being considerate and not clogging up everyone’s inboxes when, in reality, I was only turning up at their door when I wanted something: their money. This was compounded by my slow production speed, particularly with those painstakingly researched historical novels I seem to enjoy writing for some reason. That problem was further exacerbated by working in more than one genre, so the books came out even slower and the emails were even less frequent. Clearly, I felt I wasn’t antagonizing my most loyal readers enough with this set-up, so I decided to have one Frankenlist—my fiction and non-fiction peeps all lumped together—neatly ensuring that everyone really wouldn’t care about at least 50% of the (increasingly infrequent) messages I was sending out.
Yeah, I was officially Bad At Email.
There were more insidious effects too. Deep down I knew I was Bad At Email, but instead of this manifesting in some change of tack, I retreated into myself. Messages became less personal. I lacked confidence—dreading launch day instead of getting a thrill of anticipation when hitting my list. Because I knew I’d see a continuation of several disturbing trends: falling opens, reduced clicks, less conversions, increasingly tepid engagement, and then people unsubscribing or marking the email as spam as the final kick in the teeth. How did I get here? And how did I climb out of that hole?
I started listening to Tammi, is the short version. She started teaching a course on email and I was one of the first people to sign up. Yes, I was at least partly motivated by wanting to support a friend, but Tammi sounded like she knew her stuff and I was beginning to accept that I needed to radically change my approach. I had already taken one important step: I had separated those fiction and non-fiction readers. But I didn’t really know what to do next, and I was hoping I’d get some ideas from Tammi’s course.
Within a month I had started a brand-new mailing list with a five-part automated onboarding sequence, during which I doled out my custom-written reader magnet which was getting rave reviews. I had pivoted to a weekly newsletter approach and weeded out the dead weight on my old list, and open and click rates were climbing.
Within two months I had launched my first book to these new readers, and it hung out at the top of the charts for a considerable time. My newsletter subscribers were responding in greater numbers than ever because my “ask” (and a new release is still an “ask” because you are looking for their money!) came after a string of “gives” for a change.
Within six months I had re-energized my existing non-fiction list and had a brand-new list containing thousands of new readers— passionate and engaged and loyal subscribers who not only opened and clicked but actually looked forward to getting my emails. I know this because they email me and tell me! I can’t explain to you what this means to me, how much I have been reinvigorated by this. My whole career feels like it has been rebooted, and I look to the future with confidence rather than trepidation. I get a tingle again every time I hit my list.
I don’t know where you are in your career or whether you have made all these mistakes too. If you are just at the beginning of your journey, you have the chance here to do things right from the start. But if you have screwed things up as badly as me, I want to give you the confidence that you can turn things around—remarkably quickly too. Even quicker if you haven’t ticked every box on the Giant List O’Mistakes!
So, just listen to Tammi, learn how to put value in every single email, and start building a passionate list of engaged readers. I wish I did it years ago.