In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy share their own progress and challenges with building an email list for their writing, and workshop ideas and potential solutions with one another.
Scroll down for audio, video, and a full transcript, or find the podcast on your favourite podcast player or on Apple Podcasts here: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/gracewriters-podcast/id1519376330
In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- Research – what are others suggesting we send?
- How this reflects on what we are each experimenting with.
- The spiritual and ethical implications for building an email list in a godly way.
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Find us on your favourite podcast player and at Gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, Email Lists, What Content Should I Send Them? I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my blogs, books, and courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a romance writer under the name Alison Joy. I’m a former early childhood educator and I have four adult kids and you can find all my work on alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi everyone, I’m Donita Bundy. For the last 20 years I’ve been using my theology degree to inform my teaching and preaching and more recently, my writing and blogging. But you can find out all about me at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Our topic today, the next in our Author Platform series, Email Lists, What Content Should I Send Them? We’re going to look at three main topics under this today. First of all, some research into what others are suggesting we should do. Some personal discussion about what the three of us are each trying with our email lists. And then a bit of a look into, because we’re Gracewriters, the spiritual and ethical aspects. How to shape our email list content in a Godly way.
Alison, you’ve been looking into some of the research for us. What are other people suggesting? What types of things are they saying that we could include in our email newsletters?
Alison Joy: Now, first of all, at the outset I’d just like to say we’ve been discussing the importance of having your own email list because you need to have your own real estate. You have to have something that you own, because you don’t know what’s going to happen down the track with all the big players, the big tech players. And we’ve seen that recently, here in Australia, because there’s been a bit of a to-do between the government here and Facebook over content that Australian people can see.
It just reinforces the fact that we need to have our own email list, our own way of gathering information and being able to contact readers. Because otherwise if something like that happens you’ve lost everything. If that’s the only way you connect to your readers, you’ve lost everything. So, I think it’s important.
Belinda Pollard: It’s the eggs-in-one-basket thing, isn’t it? We need to make sure we have multiple different ways to connect with our readers and our communities. Yes.
Alison Joy: One of the things that was suggested is when you’re doing emails it’s very difficult, if you’ve got a whole range of people, how you’re going to find something that everybody’s going to like. So, they suggest, “Okay, come up with your ideal reader, an avatar, somebody that represents your ideal reader and just focus on writing to that person.” So it’ll make it more personal from you because it’s like you’re talking to one person, not however-many people you’ve got on your mailing list. So, that’s one thing that you can consider doing is having what they call an avatar or somebody to represent your ideal reader.
When you start doing emails, obviously, you need to promote it everywhere. So, everywhere you’ve got a presence, on your Facebook, your website, your email signature, the back of your book. You need to promote it so people can find it.
So, okay, what do you put in an email? The sky’s the limit, I guess. So many things you can do.
It’s probably a good idea to start and develop some sort of template or design that reflects you as a writer. Obviously, if you’re starting out, like me, you’re going to be chopping and changing until you find what works for you. But if you have something that you feel represents you as a writer, as a person, and it’s consistent. So, every time that you send out an email, a newsletter, to somebody, a reader, they know what to expect. So, you might have a main section, a bit of story. You might have a bit about a writing update. Whatever you want in these sections – to make it consistent when you send it out.
You don’t want to make it too long because, obviously, people are time poor, but you want to make it interesting. So, keep it short and keep it interesting.
Belinda Pollard: I really like that one, that you mentioned, about writing as though you’re writing to one person. That’s quite an interesting way to think about it because then you can write as though you’re writing to a friend and talking about things that they’d be interested in. It’s quite interesting. It’s a good idea, that. And I also like what you raised there, Alison, about the fact that you’re changing as you figure it out because you’re earlier in the piece. And I think it’s so important for all writers to understand that it is okay to muddle around a bit and try things.
My entire online career could be titled, Trial and Error. A bit like a very long novel written by a Russian! It’s been very complicated. But some of the things that you can send. You can send people deleted scenes, short stories, novellas, whole books if you’re wanting to incentivise people signing up, photos, book news, speaking invitations. There’s so many different possibilities and ideas that are out there and, I think, what I tend to find is as I’m rummaging around looking for ideas, I’ll find a particular idea that one person says, “This is fantastic. This works. This will do the trick.” And then there’ll be someone else saying, “Don’t do that.” So, I think it’s so important that we try and work out something that’s sustainable for us.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: And that fits for us and for our readership. And that’s got to be trial and error to figure that out. Do you agree, Donita?
Donita Bundy: Absolutely. And my journey’s not quite as long as yours, Belinda, but that’s exactly the same thing. I’ve started, tried, failed, started, trialled, minor success, tweaked. Currently, I have a recipe that I think is working for me at this point in time. So, who knows how long that will last. Who knows how soon it’ll get changed. I don’t know. I also struggle with doing the same thing over and over again. I get bored. I like change. I enjoy change. So, you come to my house every six months, the furniture’s changed around, because I can’t stand things the same all the time. So, yes, same with my newsletter, my email list. Things change and that’s okay.
Belinda Pollard: There can be consistency within change, can’t there?
Donita Bundy: Yes, absolutely.
Belinda Pollard: Or change within consistency.
Donita Bundy: In saying that, I have developed a format and I stick to that format but within that format, what I put in there or how things go, I flick it around a little bit.
Belinda Pollard: So, what do you include in your current newsletter’s format?
Donita Bundy: I’ve done what you’ve both commented. I’ve decided to try to be quite personal and transparent and start. Because the idea, I’m told, is to build community and grow your tribe. I thought, I can’t do that with being standoffish so the opening part of my newsletter, which I send out once a month, the end of the month, is what I’ve been doing and how I’ve been going.
Personally, all the things that I’m doing with the school, where I teach at school, the writing group that I lead, with my books, where I’m up to with my books. And then I’ve got a format. I do the updates, a bit more detail about where the books are up to. I put links to where people could buy my books. Then I have links to the blogs that I’ve done during the month and then I have links to the podcast that we’ve done this month, the current month.
And then I’ve tried, in the past, I went through a cooking phase. I’m a mum. I’ve got two boys at home. We go through a lot of food and I was experimenting a lot, so I’d put recipes in, going, “I’ve got this great recipe.” And then at the end I was thinking, “I’m not a cook. Why am I putting recipes in my newsletters!” Because that’s not me, seriously, come on!
But on my website, I have a gallery because I enjoy photography, so then I thought, well, every month I change my gallery on my website, so at the bottom of my monthly newsletter I have shots of the month which are four or five photographs that I think are the pick of the bunch for the month.
So that goes out once a month. A summary of what I’ve been up to and then each week I’ll send out a link to my blog. And currently that’s working.
And I’ve just recently changed the images, the formatting, and the template. But the process, like you said Alison, it’s that recipe throughout the thing. Currently it’s how it’s going.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, it’s great. What about you, Alison? What have you been sending?
Alison Joy: Oh, you’re funny! Well, I’m just a brand newbie so I don’t, actually, have anything set up yet! I’ve got my onboarding sequence and I’ve got it ready to go.
Belinda Pollard: That’s fantastic to have your onboarding sequence.
Alison Joy: I just need some people to sign up to get my newsletter and then I’ll be able to send people stuff.
Belinda Pollard: What are thinking of sending? What are you contemplating sending?
Alison Joy: What am I contemplating? Well, I think, what Donita said, that it’s got to be personal. So, it’ll be a bit of a snippet of something that you want to share. Something personal that you want to share that you don’t mind being out there in the world and then, maybe, a little bit about how the writing, whatever current project you’re working on. I’d be like Donita. I take a lot of photographs, at this stage, I’m probably going to put a different photo at the top of the newsletter and then, probably, a couple more through it.
There’s just so many ideas out there. It’s like, “Oh, a bit of this would be good. A bit of this,” and you’ve just got to cherrypick and decide and it’ll be an ongoing process. But I’ve got a book launch coming up soon so I’m going to use that as an opportunity to get some subscribers. And then I’ll put it out on my social media and see how we go.
Belinda Pollard: Your books, as well, Alison, are set in interesting locations that have a bit of a virtual tourism aspect to them for your readers. And I know you’ve been to some interesting locations to research for those. I wonder if you could, maybe, tell some of the stories of where you went and some of the photos of where you went. Even though they would obviously be a few years ago now. I think they could possibly still be quite interesting topics for people. It’s just a thought.
Alison Joy: The book that I’m currently working on, work in progress, is set in Fiji. I’ve set it in Fiji because I’ve been there a few times. So, there’s quite a few stories, things that have happened in the book that sort of happened to me. I’ve just changed it a little bit.
Belinda Pollard: Even though you were already married!
Alison Joy: I did go to a Fijian wedding which was amazing. And there is a Fijian wedding in the book. I can pull bits and pieces from my experience.
Belinda Pollard: Yes.
Alison Joy: And actually expand on it a bit, I guess. Even in the first book I’ve written, there’s different places we went or different anecdotes that I could definitely weave those into the newsletter, as well.
Belinda Pollard: I would find that interesting to read. I can’t speak for, obviously, everybody in the world but I would find it interesting to read. I like your books and I like the fact that they’re set in these interesting locations and I would find it interesting to read about when you went to the locations. And maybe, even, some things about how your experience of it was a bit different to your characters or how it prompted ideas for things that you then completely made up. I’d find that interesting.
Donita Bundy: Would you do the same, Belinda, for your books? Because they’re set in amazing locations. Would you consider doing the same thing?
Belinda Pollard: I have been thinking about that. One of the things that I’m working on – I’ve got three newsletters, at this point, for three different websites. Because nothing succeeds like excess! So, two of my websites are fairly well established. There’s the Gracewriters one which just gets sent a link to the podcast every second week and a link to the Gracewriters Zoom meeting for the first Saturday of the month. And I’m looking at, perhaps, some opportunities for enabling some of the Gracewriters to share, perhaps, a piece on some of the other weeks. So, I’m looking at, maybe, thinking if there’s ways we can make that happen.
With my smallbluedog.com, which is my Writing, Editing and Publishing Tips, I am reinvigorating this one to go to a monthly newsletter this year to publish a new article or a revised article. Because those articles can take me a couple of days to write. They’re long, they’re about 2,000 words and they’ve got a lot of detail in them. So, I’m kind of looking at trying to manage that. And emailing, to that list, a description of the article and some links to some other things that might be of interest. My courses or other things that are available.
But it’s the one at belindapollard.com which is sort of my online hub, that redirects people to different places and which is the one that’s most tied to my fiction. And that’s the one that’s been snoozing in a coma for quite a while and I’m looking to rethink that.
And you’ve inspired me, Donita, with the way that you do your newsletter. You’ve got a story and then some photographs and some links to different things. And I’m thinking, I could do a bit of a similar thing. I have written some blog posts over the years about how I went and researched some of my stories, but I could do a bit more of that. But I’m also thinking about doing a series of articles on some of my travel catastrophes over the years! Just short humorous pieces.
So, a new piece of creative writing at the head of each newsletter each month. It’s kind of what I’m thinking about and for the listeners out there we actually record these a bit ahead. So, you can go and check and see if we’ve done these things that we’re talking about! That’s what I’m thinking about and a bit of book news. A few of my favourite Instagram photos from the month and some links to what’s happening on my other websites. So, the podcast and maybe a new article that’s on smallbluedog.com.
That’s what I’m thinking about because I do so agree with you, Alison, that this is what we’ve got to take a bit more seriously. I think an email list is a powerhouse. Not just for helping us build our careers, as writers, but for helping us to build a community and to have influence and an impact in useful ways. So, not just about me, me, me, but about making a difference. Making a difference.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Alison Joy: I think, whatever we put in, it’s got to be something unique. It’s got to be something that they won’t get anywhere else. So, we can attract people, or attract readers to this forum and give them something that they won’t find anywhere else just so they’ll stick around. Because, as I said, they can’t get it anywhere else.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, it’s interesting, isn’t it. Donita, we are Gracewriters. There are spiritual and ethical aspects of this. How can we shape our content in a Godly way?
Donita Bundy: Thanks, Belinda. I’m currently, as I said last time, I’m still working my way through that beautiful book by Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water. I just want to start with a quote of hers, on page 25, I think it is, she said: “Art is communication. And if there is no communication it is as though the work has been stillborn.”
I think we really need to understand that it doesn’t matter how humble we want to be or come across, it is important that if we have laboured over this work, we really do need for it and want for it to be communicated. And the email list is one of the main ways we do that. Yes, building that tribe. But it’s not all about us, as you said Belinda, it’s about building and contributing to a community because we weren’t created to be alone. We were created to belong to community. And this is one way of us not only building a community but contributing to it.
And one way we do this, whether it’s through newsletters, whether it’s a blog, whether it’s the podcast or whether it’s updates on what we’re doing as a writer and sharing our world and our lives with others. It’s really important for us to, I think the bottom line, is to respect the people who’ve given us their personal information.
It’s not an invitation for open slather. For us to just bombard people with whatever’s going on. The trivial things or whatever. I think the bottom line is we need to respect the people, and their space and their time and their inbox, basically, with what we’re putting in there. Because we’re only given one opportunity, really, because if we receive those email addresses and we start that communication. If we do whatever, if we go over the top or we don’t respect our audience, that door is shut, and once it’s shut it’s not easily reopened.
So, part of that respect is also creating quality content in whatever we’re putting out. Like I said before, whether it’s your updates on the newsletter, whether it’s the blog or the podcast or whatever you’re sending out, we’re aiming to have quality content in all that we do. Because regardless of what your medium is. We know Gracewriters aren’t just writing fiction. We write non-fiction. We’ve got copywriters. We’ve got song writers, playwrights and comedians and we’ve got opera, operetta writers out there, as well.
Regardless of what our medium is, and our context and who our audience is, we represent Christ and whatever we do, we reflect the glory of God. And so, this should underpin everything that we do. Because, these days, we are online all the time. We live online. Who we represent comes out in our social media and our responses and our art and what we write. How we write fiction, non-fiction to a Christian audience or to a non-Christian audience and our email list. Everything we do is in response to who we represent.
If in doubt about what to put into our email list, we pray about it. Give it a go. As we’ve said, a number of times today, you’re not locked in. Give it a go. And in the early days, we’re not going to have a huge audience, so it doesn’t matter if we make a few mistakes. If we’re genuine, people are forgiving. But I would just say, if in doubt, leave it out. If you’re not sure about something you’re better off leaving it out and continuing to pray about what goes in there.
But to sum up, I think, as I’ve said and I keep reiterating, I believe that the underpinning principle in what we’re sending out is respect. If we get that right, we can’t go wrong. We respect our audience, we respect their time, and we respect their need. As we’ve said before on the podcast, we see ourselves as transporters. Taking people from where they are to where they want to be or where they need to be. Our content is a way of doing that. We have a gift that we want to offer, and we see that as an opportunity to do that through our email list.
So, respecting the audience. Reflecting who we represent and trying to be authentic about who we are, as Alison said, I think we can’t go wrong.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you. Any final thoughts, Alison.
Alison Joy: Just write a list of possible things and just google and have a look and see what other people put in their newsletters.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Alison Joy: And then work your way through and use some, flick some. As we’ve said, over and over, it’s just a learning process. You’ll get there eventually and find what works for you.
Belinda Pollard: Yes. How about I pray for the Gracewriters.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that we live in a time when we can connect with our readers and our communities in these particular ways. We thank you that there are systems available to us that we can use to send out information to people.
We thank you for these new possibilities for connection and encouragement and building community. Pray that for each one of us that you will give us wisdom as we try and figure out what to do. That you will give us courage as we experiment and that you might bless us and open doors and lead us to the people that you want us to be connected with. Because in the end that’s actually what we want. Not a million people on the list but the people that you want on the list. So, we commit it to you Lord, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Thank you, Donita Bundy and Alison Joy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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