Why Every Writer Needs a Newsletter

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Want to start a writer’s newsletter? I heard the BLAH. But you want people to buy your book, don’t you? Everybody screams: yes! Maybe you have an author presence at several social media platforms, and creating another content channel feels like much work and no fun.

I always say: choose your weapons. We have our preferences, and someone swims like a fish on Twitter as the next person loves Instagram (I do). When you open a new channel to reach for your readers, nothing is more direct than a newsletter. The preferred message arrives at people’s private inboxes. The list of your newsletter subscribers is a database of potential book-buying customers.

The Introvert Dilemma

Many of us are introverts and miss the golden times when authors sat typing while sipping red wine and chain-smoking. The manuscript traveled via snail mail to the publisher who took care of the rest, which became history.

Well, those days are long gone. Even if you hook the agent with a genius query letter, and consequently, Barnes & Noble is dying to publish your book, they still want you to market it! The agent takes a look at your social media presence, and so does the publisher. Do you blog? How many subscribe to your newsletter? Three? Thirty? Three thousand? The numbers don’t lie; they tell the professionals that you know how to market, and you’re a potential moneymaker. 

Writing is easy; selling the book is the hard part. Not selling has created more disgruntled ex-writers than booze and the Second World War combined.

The Facebook Poll

If you’re not a member of my Facebook Writer’s Group, join now: https://www.facebook.com/groups/569574570248527

I asked the members which issue I should blog about next, and the answer is (ta-da): Author Newsletter.

This is because writers think the newsletter is the hardest channel to create because of technical difficulties with WordPress plugins and what-not IT- problems. But there’s another obstacle which is more difficult to overcome: fear of marketing your brainchild.

The Key to Your Online Presence as a Writer is Making a Connection

There’s no going around this evil duty: you must establish a newsletter. And newsletter marketing is so much more than blasting: “Buy my book!” on days without end.

“If you’re an author, this means identifying the target market for your books and understanding how they spend their time online. If you’re writing for a young adult audience, spend some time immersing yourself in the densely populated online world of YA readers and writers. What do they like to see from YA authors online? How do they discover new books and new authors?”

Source and more information: https://writersedit.com/self-publishing/ultimate-guide-establishing-author-newsletter/

And: https://writersedit.com/self-publishing/ultimate-guide-online-author-presence/

 The Subject Matter

Think about your Social Media posts. You’ve established a set of content types and subjects which your followers enjoy. Use that knowledge when you create newsletters. Programs like MailChimp (which I use) have excellent tutorials that guide you toward better marketing. The web overfills with marketing courses for writers. Ask your author friends who sell impressive figures, on Amazon or elsewhere, how they studied marketing.

Steps of creating The Author Newsletter

  1. Choose a newsletter program to use. MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, Constant Contact, AWeber, and many more.
  2. Embed a subscription form on your website. Sometimes you need to copy-paste a string or HTML- code from the newsletter software to WordPress or whoever hosts your site. Allow subscribers to sign up via a form in the sidebar or footer on every page of your website.
  3. Decide how often you send. Once a month is enough if you ask me. This frequency also allows you time to design awesome content.
  4. Gather subscribers before sending out anything. Offer a freebie in return for giving their email address.
  5. Compose your newsletter. Promote the newsletter across Social Media and build your subscriber base.

Legal Matters

Don’t add anyone into your subscribers unless you have their permission! Also, learn about spam legislation in your country. 

 Organizations that don’t comply face hefty fines.

Source and more information: https://writersedit.com/self-publishing/ultimate-guide-establishing-author-newsletter/

What To Put in Your Newsletter?

The answer to this question depends on who you ask. Googling the search term: “What to put in your author newsletter” produces some great articles. Think of your products and who you are as a writer. Draw lines around what you feel comfortable sharing.

A list of possible subjects:

  • Share customer reviews 
  • book excerpts 
  • cover reveal, or a sneak peek
  • giveaways: a signed copy of your book or a chance to ask you questions about your characters
  • Share your blog
  • Exclusive articles that you don’t share elsewhere. Give your subscribers the feeling they are VIP, part of a selected few.
  • who you are as an author and a person
  • awards from writing competitions and honorable mentions
  • writing advice
  • spotlights on other authors
  • books that gave you inspiration for your writing

Source and more information: https://allthekissing.com/2018/10/what-to-include-in-an-author-newsletter/

Be Patient and Study Statistics

Remember that new skills take time to master. You spent several years learning writing and developed through trials and tribulations into the author you are today. Study how each post does. MailChimp and others offer excellent spreadsheets for statistics. Take heed of the percentages: how many opened your email? Did the opening produce link clicks? Don’t replay errors and use the themes & content which people love to open and follow. 

You do this with Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, don’t you? If not, start immediately. 

Each link click loses a percentage of your customers. Design your newsletters in a way that offers direct, clear statements and endorses a call to action. Allow subscribers to comment and respond. Pick a theme for each newsletter. If you lead your subscribers into a maze of confusing directions, they won’t end up buying the product.

The Funnel

Seeing that only 1,3% of receivers ended up clicking the Shop Now-link of your recent newsletter might depress you, but the funnel explains what happened. It’s normal; most customers don’t come out as frequent buyers at the bottom.

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Image source and an interesting article on digital sales: https://www.crazyegg.com/blog/sales-funnel/

“A marketing funnel is a collection of stages that prospective customers move through with the first stage being the awareness stage. Marketing funnels were designed to push these potential customers through the buyer’s journey to ultimately purchase a brand’s products or services.”

Source and more information on funneling: 

https://powerdigitalmarketing.com/blog/a-guide-to-marketing-funnels/#gref

Study funnels and everything else. And stay patient because an expert industry attempts to unravel the secrets of buyer decision making and the psychology of the hunter-gatherer. As an author, you are a start-up business, but leave time for child-like unchained creation. Do something small every day to add subscribers to your list. Post daily on social media and learn to publish content which has a demand. Before you know it, you have cracked the killer combination. 

Even if you end up with the email addresses of sixty people, that’s sixty more than the guy or gal next to you.

Do You Study Character Actors When You Plan Your Next Story? – You Should!

Glam retro diva

Do you struggle with creating characters that feel like real people? You’re not alone. The job becomes harder when you have multiple books up your sleeve. Variation is tough work, and as humans, we are tempted to repeat models which worked in the past. Beware of the cookie-cutter character!

Character or Plot-driven?

If your writing style is plot-driven, you develop the three acts and the key scenes first, and characters develop after that. Maybe the first thing you envision is the historical era or the fantasy setting with intricate maps and systems of magic?

If you’re character-driven like me, you see the characters in your dreams. You hear them talk and envision them in different scenarios. I speak the dialogue out loud and practice the expressions of my heroine in front of a mirror. I form the MC and the villain first. The conflict brewing between them becomes my main idea, and their backstories take form later on. But a character with little to do is… yawn. Many writers elevate the characterization over the plot, but if you don’t get on with the story… wham! That’s the sound your book makes when the reader tosses it to the corner and shall never pick it up. 

Which type of writer are you? Examine your preferences. 

 “It doesn’t matter how “interesting” the character is if you cannot create an antagonistic environment that chisels and defines that character. Even an awesome plot that takes the reader on the most mind-bending twists and turns will fall flat when depending on the strength of one-dimensional character. No matter how you approach storytelling, remember this: your story needs both character and plot.”

Source and more information: https://nybookeditors.com/2017/02/character-driven-vs-plot-driven-best/

Emotional Identification

Let us return to the process which actors and actresses go through as they layer their next Oscar- nominating role. Yes, they have their work cut out for them, like the screenwriters who wrote the part which snatches the attention of Anthony Hopkins or Angelina Jolie.

Method acting means a technique in which an actor aspires to complete emotional identification with a role. Method acting was developed by Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg in particular and is associated with star actors such as Marlon Brando and Dustin Hoffman

“Method actors have this amazing ability to not only get into character but live through the character and bring an unsurpassable depth. What I love about Method Actors is that they don’t appear to be acting, they appear to be living; they know how to get into character so well that you believe they ARE the character. Lots of method actors are very humble about their work, but when you see them on stage or screen, it is electrifying, to say the least.” 

Source: http://www.standbymethod.com/how-to-get-into-character/

As a practice, compile a Pinterest moodboard of your favorite movie actors in their most bedazzling roles and compare them to their photos taken on the red carpet. The difference between the person and the character is striking! Great actors and actresses take their roles seriously. Whatever they do, whether on stage or screen, will be forever etched either onto film or in the minds of their audience. They move hearts and will live on in the souls of their fans. The mechanism of transferring emotional identification is your aim as a writer.

Watch a clip of Meryl Streep On Accessing The Characters Within:

https://youtu.be/phv85MERpLw

If you write from personal experience, you have an array of intimate emotions at your disposal, but you might struggle with transferring that emotion to the inexperienced reader. The actress uses her director as a mirror. Who do you use? Duh! Beta readers, of course. Remember to ask if they felt the emotional fireworks. This is important because the book lives or dies via Showing, Not Telling. The audience experiences what your Point-of-View character senses with his eyes, nose, ears, skin, and so forth.

Remember that the reader must also understand the villain on some human level, and you are responsible for making that happen. A character actor villain has what’s called a presence. When he steps on the stage, he rules the scene. How does that happen? You’ll feel the tingling on your skin and the chills down your spine.

Ruining Your Favorite Movie

Warning: using my method might ruin watching movies for you. Like when you started learning the craft of authorship, which spoiled the enjoyment of a great book. That’s because you know how the chassis works and cannot see the beauty of the Ferrari sportscar anymore.

Watch clips of great method actors in their star roles. Choose characters that resemble your own. The clips help you construct body-language and subtle expressions because method actors are rarely flamboyant—unless the role demands precisely that. Think of Joker in Batman: he’s a showman, which means he knows how to get the audience’s attention big time. Admire how Heath Ledger breathes life into the iconic villain.

The age of the internet has made extensive research more accessible than ever before. You have libraries of movie clips to watch. See how Anthony Hopkins or J. T. Walsh animates a bad guy. Who is your favorite hero? How has he aged and changed? Remember that the nature of characters is perpetual motion. Does blind idealism fill your favorite heroine, or does she come from between the-rock-and-a-hard place?

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Do your characters age?

Image source: https://www.fashiongonerogue.com/photo-shoot/angelina-jolie-peter-lindbergh-wsj-2015-cover/

However, this method doesn’t allow copycatting. You shouldn’t copy a movie on paper; its a copyright infringement and punishable by law. Watching great actors at work can be compared to moodboarding: seeking material for inspiration.

Two Sides of The Same Coin

“The best and worst specimens of humanity are two sides of the same coin. Heroes and villains are not categories that are divided by the expansive sea of morality never to have their shores meet. On the contrary, both the most exalted heroism and diabolical villainy are manifestations of a human spirit that has become capable of great things. And great things need not be good things.”

Source: https://rightreason.typepad.com/right_reason/2013/04/good-evil-and-human-capability.html

What differentiates good from evil? Point-of-view. Yes, sin is relative, and you can use this in your writing because humans are a social species. Skillful actors mud their characters layer by layer, and they mirror themselves on other people. One of the best tricks you can throw at your readers is to let someone else reflect the bad guy. Describe how the military villain’s subordinates act when he enters the room. Show a conversation between the hero and his sidekick about the dark one. 

If you want to dig deeper into the depths which a character actor would use, show the villain’s first crime: when he wasn’t yet a developed killer. 

The sides of the coin are the reason why the same brilliant actor portrays heroes and villains with incredible authenticity.

More advice on designing your Villain/Antagonist: https://rebeckajager.com/2019/01/04/give-evil-the-central-stage-groundbreaking-villain-moments/

Search Engine Optimization for Writers

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Search Engine Optimization means boosting natural visibility. The aim is to lift your website, blog, etc. as high as possible in the keyword search result which describes your product. Web traffic is driven by the major commercial search engines, Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

Reasons why you must work with SEO:

  • Most consumers never visit the second page of search engine results. You must get to the first page.
  • The majority of users utilize search engines before they buy a product
  • Direct relevant traffic to your website: people who want to read your genre and who will love your blurb.
  • Yes, I know IT isn’t your top priority. SEO demands patience, but the results benefit you in the long run.

The door to the world of search engine optimization doesn’t open quickly. If it did, optimization wouldn’t be big business.  You can find top companies who will do the job for you–for money. In this article, I explain a few key concepts. Applying optimization means sitting on your butt to untangle a difficult dilemma. But you’ve already overcome the most significant obstacle by writing a book! Use the same iron determination to make your creation visible to the world. Make a habit of looking into your SEO performance now and then.

Keywords

“Your SEO keywords are the essential words and phrases in your web content that make it possible for people to find your site via search engines. A website that is well optimized for search engines “speaks the same language” as its potential visitor base with keywords for SEO that help connect searchers to your site.”

Source: https://www.wordstream.com/seo-keyword

Writing a list of keywords is the decisive step in your search engine optimization initiative. The best keyword research tool is just a spreadsheet. I’m sure you use “book” among your keywords, but that doesn’t set you apart from the competition. Self-publishing has revolutionized the volume of new books.

“Here’s the problem with self-publishing: no one cares about your book. That’s it in a nutshell. There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – are self-published. On average, they sell less than 250 copies each. Your book won’t stand out. Hilary Clinton’s will. Yours won’t.”

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorgan/2013/01/08/thinking-of-self-publishing-your-book-in-2013-heres-what-you-need-to-know/#2304f25d14bb

But that won’t stop you from trying? It sure as hell won’t stop me. That’s why finding you from the sea of other writers is a necessity.

Remember to include your keyword in the title, in the first 300 words and topmost headlines. In the body of the text, use variations of your keyword. The point is to think about keywords when you write a blog post, create a new page on your WordPress or other hosting sites. You use hashtags when you post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you didn’t, start doing it now. Watching which content comes up under each hashtag will open a new world for you. It’s the same thing with keywords. And remember to spy on your competitors!

Find out more about SEO:

9 Secrets of Professional SEO Article Writers: https://www.contentfac.com/7-secrets-of-professional-seo-writers/

Sources for Newbies: https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo

What Attracts People to You

Remember to follow up and modify your actions accordingly. See which of your posts get most likes and forwardings. Produce more content which “sells.” I’ve done this on a small scale and my smiley face—yes, good old me—produces most likes when I do something I love: fiddle my guns, run with my dogs, photograph the Finnish nature. A person behind the pen name can be the most exciting thing to your readers. Sometimes, my Huskies get more likes than I do. So what? They belong to the same brand.

The Google keywords heroine post-apocalypse arctic produces one of my author pages as a search result. My work on this was minimal. Yet I ended up on the first result page. The point being that those ordinary words describe The Unholy Warrior, my novel in the making. That’s why I wrote the words into the body of my page’s text.

“When it comes to web pages, Metadata and meta tags refer to the title and description of a web page that are encoded into the page but not actually displayed on the screen with the page. The real consumer of this invisible data and HTML code are the search engines, as this data provides important information to search engines about the content and purpose of the web page.”

Source: https://www.webpresencesolutions.net/metadata-meta-tags-web-page-titles-page-descriptions-explained/

Do study, what attracts people to you. Writers similar to you: what are they doing better? Please don’t compare yourself to Lee Child or David Baldacci. Just Googling thriller writers produces their broad smiles along with Stephen King. These people are insanely famous, and they have otherworldly resources to take care of their SEO. Look into people a bit above your own level, writers who are easy to find. And don’t procrastinate optimization until you’ve published. You’ll waste most of the punch in a book launch. But it’s never too late to start.

Site Tools

WordPress, especially if you paid for the business version, offers you different plugins for free. The pro versions cost but provide a wide range of functions.

SEO_Yoast

Yoast and other top SEO plugins for WordPress: https://neilpatel.com/blog/10-wordpress-plugins-to-turn-your-site-into-an-seo-powerhouse/

Use the plugin of your choice and let the wizard guide you into applying for a Google search engine authentication code (which is just Google’s way of making sure you own the site). https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35179?hl=en

Just by doing this with Yoast, I surpassed a few ladies bearing the same name. Plus I attacked multiple fronts: social media ranks high in search results.

Rebecka_search_results

Searching Google with my full name is just an example. A name is specific. More common search terms produce more competition, but as a writer, you need to be known by your pen name or Christian name. Search yourself from time to time!

Internal Content Linking

Internal links are any links that connect your webpages to one another. You must offer content which serves the customer. He must find what he wants easy and quick.

“Search engines put emphasis on rewarding positive user experiences as they care about their end customer – the searcher. When the searcher uses Google or Bing and finds what they are looking for at the top of the search results, the site is giving their user value.”

That means your site needs to be easy to navigate and the content well written. Don’t think what you want to say, but what your reader needs to hear! And please don’t push.

Five essential best practices for internal linking structure:

  • Put the user first
  • Manage internal link value and flow
  • Structure around content topics
  • Utilize unique content and canonicals
  • Indexing and prioritization

Source: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/seo-internal-links-best-practices/214886/

External Content Linking

“In fact, an external or hyperlink is any link that was posted on another website but points to your web resource. Same way, when you insert a link to another resource on your site – it is called an external or outbound link.”

Source: https://sitechecker.pro/external-links/

Use external linking to direct traffic onto your author site. Use social media with references to relevant content on your blog. Don’t spam. The material must be exciting and allow your followers to spread it out of their free will, and their followers to do the same.

You remember when you learned to engage the reader’s emotions with your writing? Do the same with web content!

Everyone who forwards what you want is your helper in SEO. The more links lead to your page, the higher the ranking it deserves in search engines. That’s why blogging is so useful for a writer. Feature guest writers on your blog. Appear on someone else’s author page and spread the link around.

Final Reminder

I’m just a stupid person who writes as a hobby. If I could get the hang of basic SEO to scratch the surface, so can you.  With $69 per month, a team of experts can do it for you. Where’s the fun in that? Besides, they don’t know your book the way an author knows his child. They won’t be passionate about the product! You spent every free moment for the past months/years writing your story. You know what your readers want to hear!

Remember to use paid advertising in social media to promote your published book and to encourage people to write reviews. Start experimenting (in good time before going live) with Facebook ads, for example. Use small money and measure your results. Refine your actions accordingly. Every system offers great statistics tools nowadays. Take a peek where your fans come from and how they ended up on your site.

Happy search engine optimization!

PS: If you intend to publish traditionally, don’t think the publishing company will do this for you because they won’t.

The Sidekick – The Shadow or The Flame?

Young attractive Witch walking on the bridge in heavy black smoke.

When I hear the word sidekick, the image of Batman’s Robin conjures. Who could forget the guy wearing the green pantyhose? The word is forever linked with the lesser one of the power duo.

The Urban Dictionary defines a sidekick:

“A friend/associate of a more popular, charismatic person. The sidekick gains most of his/her acclaim from merely being connected so closely to the more powerful acquaintance.”

It’s easy to write a sidekick who follows the heroine like a shadow. Sometimes the shadow is long, and sometimes it travels ahead of her, but shadows rarely mean anything except symbolism.

And then an interesting secondary character flows out of your pen like lightning. This person keeps you awake at night and leads the story into unknown depths as a bright flame.

The safest route to prevent the sidekick from stealing the spotlight, is to make her/him inferior to the heroine/hero but where’s the drama in that?

Someone to save the day

If you’re like me, you write a villain who radiates raw power. He keeps kicking the hero’s ass, and you need someone to help defeat him. My recommendation is to make the villain stronger than the MC because this way you build pressure and suspense! You drive the plot forward with bloody desperation.

The sidekick can come to the MC’s aid at the darkest hour: when the villain is about to strike a spear into the hero’s heart.

The sidekick is abler than the hero under unusual circumstances:

  • The hero is wounded and unable to defend himself
  • The hero is under a spell or doesn’t sense the approaching death
  • The secondary character is the only one around and must rise to save the day
  • The villain’s BFF changes sides and become one of the good guys to keep the hero safe. He has the element of surprise on his side.
  • The sidekick betrays the hero and reveals that he has been working for the evil one the whole time. You can feel the salt stinging on that wound for a long time. This twist forces you to prolong the final battle- which is a good thing. Keep postponing the reader’s satisfaction.

And so on. I’m sure you have seen movies which utilize a lesser character to bring the plot into a grand finale via roundabouts.

Just Different

The sidekick can be a person who contrasts the hero, like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson. Watson is a man of medicine with practical wits, and a war hero, who reflects the intellectual superiority of Sherlock Holmes. Where Holmes is in danger, Watson comes to the rescue. Where Holmes is at loss, Watson is confident because he is different.

Sometimes the secondary character, which you intended as a vessel for plot advancement, steals the readers’ attention. That’s what happened to Liva Löwe in my book The unholy Warrior. She’s the one my beta readers found most attractive because they can relate to her.

The key to the reader’s heart is arousing empathy. Keep your sidekicks relatable!

Sometimes the heroine can appear too strong and hardheaded, which is fine for the MC. But the presence of a gentler person who finds her courage when all else crumbles can have an earth-shaking effect on the reader.

In my book The Unholy Warrior, the heroine Rebane Nordstrom thinks she’s invincible, and the young German girl she saved is a mere nuisance to be dragged around:

“Each twig crackled under Liva’s foot and the fir trees slapped her with prickling branches. The willows grabbed the young woman’s shirt and her hair got tangled in the thorny bushes. The forest forbade Liva’s presence. Rebane advanced too fast for her to keep up.

“Rebane, wait!” she shouted when her friend’s leaf green camouflage merged with the shade of the grove.

Rebane turned around and her expression didn’t hide her frustration:  “You’re noisy like the running elk. The elk doesn’t care because she’s big. Everything cedes in front of her but you’re not the fucking elk, and nothing here fears you,” Rebane hissed and spat on the moss.

“I’m sorry. Can’t you see that I’m trying?”

“And be sure to step where I step as we cut through the swamp. The sacrificial grove is dangerous. It will swallow you if you stray one inch. I’d be unhappy to lose you, my friend.”

Liva’s eyes filled with tears. The words she tried to form stuck on her lips. Rebane took a firm hold on her smooth white hand and Liva squeezed her arm like she was about to drown.

“Thank you for saving my life,” Liva said but the wind which whispered among the trees scattered her voice.

****

At this stage, Liva is weaker than Rebane who is a trained soldier and a master survivalist. The women have just crossed paths, and I take my time to reveal Liva’s unique qualities. She has survived kidnapping and slave traders, but with a different approach than Rebane who shoots first and asks questions later. Liva is more than meets the eye. She is in touch with the divine healing power. Omens and visions give her understanding of what plagues Rebane. Mother Nature is a dominant bitch and she has a significant role in my book. Liva Löwe is an adapter: she molds her being to fit the surroundings.

Blurring lines

Is Julia a sidekick of Winston Smith in Orwell’s 1984? Yes and no. A love interest can be a sidekick. Winston and Julia rebel together.

Boy-boy and girl-girl pairs are abundant in literature and movies. If the heroine and the sidekick represent different sexes, you can write a sub-plot of budding love. One-sided affection raises the stakes a notch by introducing another level of conflicting interests. A disgruntled lover is a fertile ground for the enemy to grow resentment towards the hero.

Julia_1984.jpeg
Suzanna Hamilton as Julia in the Film 1984, MGM 1985.

But I see Julia as the last nail on Winston’s coffin. From the introduction of Julia, Orwell predicts the main character’s doom. To make the aide betray the hero is a great idea: the knife twists deep inside the gaping wound. In fact, Winston and Julia betray each other at the face of an invincible enemy: the system.

Any_Amasova
Barbara Bach as Major Anya Amasova in Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977 Eon Productions).   

The representatives of the enemy can become sidekicks for the hero. Just one kiss from the deadly 007 and poof! A battle-hardened communist assassin becomes the Playboy bunny because sex makes her see the system of Motherland as evil.

Okay, I over-simplify.

I’m not complaining because Ian Fleming’s James Bond is excellent entertainment. The secondary character can exist as a borderline case through the entire Bond movie.

We know where Major Amasova’s loyalties lie when we see the ending of The Spy Who Loved Me.