Eight Content Ideas to Make Your Newsletter More Read-worthy

Be sure to check out this week’s writing prompt.

Newsletters are one of the best marketing tools you can use to reach clients and customers. Whether you’ve had a newsletter for your business for a while or you’re thinking about starting one, it’s helpful to share good, strong content can put you in front of readers and keep them informed and engaged.

But most business owners and bloggers know little about newsletters. What kind of content should they include? What will their readers want to know and read about? The answers will depend on what type of business you have. For example, a yoga studio might include tips for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, healthy recipes, profiles of instructors and studio news. It might be a good place to promote a special offer too.

Or perhaps you provide a dog walking service. Your newsletter might include news about new dog treats, pet grooming tips and a list of local veterinarians.

While I have yet to start a newsletter for my writing business, I’ve worked on several others for employers and clients. I also subscribe to several newsletters from writers and publishing professionals, including Kat Boogaard, Joanna Penn and Jane Friedman. Each of their newsletters are unique based on what information they want to share with their readers and what services they want to promote. Some are sent out weekly (Boogaard’s) and C. Hope Clark’s Funds for Writers while others are shared monthly.

Those are some of the issues you will have to ask yourself as you determine your newsletter content. How often do you want to send it out? What kind of information do you want to include?

One thing is clear. The best newsletters offer helpful advice and information to their readers. They put their readers’ interests first. Further, the least helpful ones focus too much on marketing themselves with little thought about their readers’ interests.

So what kind of information can you include in your newsletter? Here are a few ideas.

  • Start with a brief opening to welcome readers. Keep it brief, no more than three or four paragraphs. Make it timely, referring to current events or the latest news in your life such as a conference you attended, a holiday or family event. Keep it casual and conversational as if you are speaking to friends, (which of course you are).
  • Link to your own blog/website. If you post to your blog frequently, perhaps a few times a month, why not share links to the most recent stories? We used to do this at one of my employers since we posted to our company blog nearly every day. In the weekly e-newsletter, we shared the headlines to the latest stories and linked back to the blog. This is a great way to generate interest in your work and give people a reason to visit your site. It’s one of the easiest things you can do to promote your business or services. Don’t post every single link, but only the top three or four that your readers may find useful.
  • Link to the most interesting news stories and blog posts that you’ve read. No doubt you subscribe to numerous blogs and online magazines. What is the most interesting and memorable things you have read from these sources? Make a list, then link to those articles in your newsletter. Freelance writer Kat Boogaard shares her favorite stories in each weekly newsletter issue. It’s a great way to share industry news that readers may not have known about.
  • Conduct interviews. Is there someone in your sphere whose work you admire? Or perhaps they’ve done something remarkable, like finish a marathon or got their first book published. Reach out to them for a brief interview. I like the Q&A format because it’s easy to read. But keep it brief, no more than four or five questions. Keep in mind that readers don’t have a lot of time to read and will skim through the material. So keep your questions on point.
  • Consider sharing a guest post or article. If you don’t have time for a short feature for your newsletter, why not recruit a fellow writer or business owner to prepare something. I’ve seen this done on several newsletters I receive, which adds a new dimension to your offering. Plus it helps build rapport and support among fellow writers and business owners, especially if they have a product or service that would benefit your readers.
  • Include a book review or recommendations. Have you finished reading a book about a topic pertinent to your business? Why not write a short review and share it in the newsletter? An alternative is to list books about a common theme or topic that may interest readers. For example, find three or four book titles about time management and share links to Goodreads or Amazon for details. This is another way to provide valuable service to readers.
  • List upcoming conferences and workshops. Since so many conferences are being offered via Zoom or other online platform, more people can participate in them that couldn’t before. Your newsletter is a great vehicle for sharing links to upcoming conferences, workshops and events that may interest your readers.
  • Close with a positive message. Ending with a quote from a famous person can inspire readers  and motivate them to be their best. My daily news brief from my health care provider always concludes with a healthy recipe, three tips for a healthy lifestyle, and a quote that makes me feel positive about the future. You can do the same for your readers.

While there’s no guarantee that readers will share your newsletter with their friends, it’s nice when they do.

Remember the best newsletters focus on the readers’ interests, so avoid too much self-promotion which can turn off readers. A little promotion of a product or service is okay, but when it’s done with a relentless force, people may give up on you.

Another piece of advice: browse the newsletters that come into your in-box every week or every month. Notice what you like and what you don’t. Then make a list of components you’d like to include in your own newsletter.

Focus on providing tips, tricks, tools and resources that will make your readers’ lives better. Make sure you are consistent with your timing too. For example, if you decide to distribute your monthly newsletter on the fifth of the month, make sure you do it every month. Readers will begin to look for it in their in box.

Keep the newsletter brief. Most people don’t want to spend hours reading lengthy articles because they suffer from information overload as it is from all the material they already receive. You want your newsletter to stand out. It’s not how long the newsletter is, but the quality of the information you provide.

What about you? Do you have a newsletter for your hobby or business? How often do you distribute it? What kind of content do you include?

Your NaNoWriMo First Draft is Done. What’s Next?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Congratulations! You’ve just completed your first NaNoWriMo challenge (or maybe it’s your third or your tenth), and your novel is nearly complete. Take a moment to savor your accomplishment. Finishing a first draft is hard work, so celebrate this important milestone.

Once you catch your breath, you’ll probably wonder “What do I do next?” You know your draft isn’t perfect—yet. You know you have work to do. Remember that the first draft is only a rough draft, like doing a practice run of a marathon or doing a sound check before the live performance.

If you thought writing the first draft was hard, brace yourself for the next phase. That’s the revision stage—the process of rewriting, editing, adding, subtracting, switching scenes around and creating new dialogue or eliminating characters.

“Rough drafts can be overwhelming,” writes Emily Wenstrom at The Write Practice. “Your first instinct might be to never look at that hot mess again.”

But you will need to look at it again, whether it’s a hot mess or not. Usually, it’s not nearly as bad as you think it will be. Still, be prepared to do a lot more work on your manuscript to make it publishable.

As the experts at Scribendi write, “the first draft is about telling a story; the second draft is about writing a novel.”

To take the intimidation factor out of the rewriting process, it might be helpful to plan how to go about your revision process. To get a good inside look into one author’s revision process, check out Joanna Penn’s explanation in this blog post.

Here are some steps that can help you answer the question, “What’s Next?  

Step 1: Give your manuscript a rest. Set it aside for a few days or weeks to “cool off” as if it were a freshly baked pie. This waiting time allows the story to settle a bit. When you allow enough time to pass before looking at it again, you can review it with a fresh eye. A week or two might be enough time or it might be several months. That all depends on your desire to rework your draft.

Step 2: Print out a copy of the manuscript and review it from start to finish. It might help to read the story out loud, which might help you catch sticking points in dialogue or narrative. Don’t revise just yet. Instead, jot down notes in the margins for the changes you want to make. The first pass of review can take a week or longer, and the edits tend to be more substantial than later passes.  During this first review pass, pay attention to the scenes that need to be developed more fully. There’s plenty of room to develop the setting, characters and plot. Understanding these elements will serve as a foundation as you work though the rest of the story.

Step 3: Return to the beginning and make the changes you noted in the margins. This can be a painstaking process, so be patient. There will be a lot of notes and tons of rewriting. But that’s all part of the revision process. When you are done with the rewrite, print it out again and read it through. Do the same process of note-taking. You might have several review passes before you are satisfied with your manuscript enough to send it to an editor.

Wenstrom suggests focusing on the biggest issues first and work your way down to smaller details. It might be tempting to run spell check first or correct little inconsistencies, but Wenstrom warns against it. These are purely cosmetic changes and a form of procrastination to avoid having to deal with the larger aspects that make the story hum.

Step 4. Remember there’s a difference between editing and revising. According to Scribendi, editing is concerned with the technical aspects of language, while revising tackles the larger issues of storytelling, such as plot structure, dialogue, character development and pacing.

Here are some of the key areas that will need the most attention.  

1. Plot. Does the story start in the right place? Is the plot interesting and does it follow a strong time line? You may have to add or delete scenes. In any case, problems with plot will require the most rewriting work.

2. Character. Pay special attention to your protagonist. Does he/she change over the course of the story? Are characters believable? Are their actions consistent with their personalities? Make sure your story shows how the protagonist changes over time, for better or worse, which makes the story more compelling. Also consider if any characters are forgotten. For example, do they appear once early in the story only to disappear as the story progresses?

3. Language. Now that you’ve written your 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo (give or take a few thousand), pay attention to extra padding in the copy—useless words like really, very, and just. Avoid dialogue tags, (he said/she said) and pay attention to any language quirks of your own–wordiness, redundancies and other empty phrases that don’t move the story along.

4. Dialogue. Does the dialogue flow naturally? Is it authentic? Read the dialogue out loud and note the rhythm of the conversation and whether it’s believable and natural.

5. Sensory descriptions. Make sure to include sensory descriptions and imagery in your novel which depicts a sense of place, time and theme. Keep descriptions simple and concise, and avoid flowery, extravagant language that may sound nice but don’t add anything to the story.

6. Inconsistent details. Watch for changes in details throughout the story. For example, at the start, your protagonist might have had long, straight blonde hair and by chapter seven, she had shoulder-length auburn waves.

Because there are many things to take note of in your novel, it may take several review and revision passes to catch all of them. The last thing you want to do is submit a manuscript to an editor filled with errors and inconsistencies.

“Every rough draft is ugly. That’s because it’s a first draft, not a final draft,” writes Wenstrom at The Write Practice. “Use it for what it is – a foundation – and build from it to get your story to its full potential.”

Update Your Reference Library With These Writing and Creativity Books

As writers, it’s important to keep up with our reading, especially when that reading pertains to the writing craft. Sometimes you need to read about writing to motivate you to keep writing, experiment with a different writing style or improve your skills. There’s always something new to learn by reading about other writers’ experiences of their writing journey that you can adapt to your own situation.

The three most important books I keep on my shelf is a dictionary, a thesaurus and the classic The Elements of Editing by Strunk and White. In addition, I have the AP Stylebook for when I write magazine articles.

If you want to add to your library, or you’re just starting one, there are numerous other books that are worthy of adding to your collection.

Below is my list of recommended reading. Admittedly, I’ve only read half of them. The other half are either currently on my bookshelf waiting to be read or on my “to be acquired” list because they were recommended by other writers.

What about you? Do you have a favorite book about writing that you like to refer to over and over?

1. On Writing by Stephen King. You’ll find King’s book on numerous recommended lists, and it’s easy to see why. Part memoir and part writing toolbox, there are so many practical tips that makes it easy to jump into a regular writing practice. I appreciated his honesty about the writing life – it’s not always easy and you’ll find bumps along the way.

2. Crafting the Personal Essay by Dinty W. Moore. If you want to start writing personal essays, this is a must-read book. Moore breaks down the art and craft of essay writing in simple, easy-to-understand ways. He covers different types of essay writing too – food, travel, childhood experiences, etc. Moore, by the way, is editor of Brevity’s Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction.

3. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. If you prefer a little humor with your writing advice, you’ll enjoy Lamott’s personal odyssey in writing. She covers everything from getting started to joining writer’s groups and attending conferences. You’ll learn a thing or two as you laugh.

4. Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. The best part of Bradbury’s book is his description of how he comes up with story ideas, which is by word associations. If you’re tired of doing writing prompts, Bradbury’s approach might be worth a try.

5. Writing from the Heart by Nancy Aronie. While this title is not as well-known as others on this list, it is a worthwhile read. Her goal is to create a safe environment for people to write. Not everyone finds the writing process easy, and Aronie takes you through the process step by step so you don’t feel so intimidated.

6. Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life by Gregg Levoy. While not a book about writing, it is about finding your calling. If you believe that writing is your calling, then this is a must-read to help you get over any fears and self-esteem issues that may be holding you back from accomplishing your goals. Levoy is not only a terrific story teller, he relies on his personal experience and the experiences of other people to show how it is possible to live an authentic life. I read Levoy’s book twenty years ago, and I still go back to read sections that resonate with me.

7. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Many writers point to Cameron’s book as the one that got them started writing. She is most known for her freewriting exercise: writing three pages non-stop first thing in the morning. The exercise is intended to help you remove the toxic thoughts and emotions that build up in your mind and body. Once you release those thoughts, your mind is free to create. If you’ve already read The Artist’s Way, check out Cameron’s follow up, The Right to Write.

8. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. This book has appeared on numerous reading lists and it’s been on my to-read list for a couple of decades. According to the book summary, Goldberg believes that “writing is a practice that helps writers comprehend the value of their lives.” Included are chapters about using verbs, listening, writing first thoughts (writing nonstop, keeping your pen on the page and not crossing anything out), and overcoming self-doubt.

9. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp. Tharp may have been a famous dancer and choreographer, but she also knew a thing or two about tapping into one’s own creativity. She describes the empty space of the dance floor (or the blank page) as the starting point for creativity. If you’re looking to start writing or creating on a regular basis, Tharp’s book may help you get past “writer’s block.”

10. On Being Stuck: Tapping into the Creative Power of Writer’s Block by Laraine Herring. Speaking of writer’s block and getting stuck, Herring’s book explores the possibilities that writer’s block holds. She speaks about using these sticking points to your advantage rather than getting stymied by the creative process. Herring has written another book worth checking out, Writing Begins with the Breath.

11. The Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey by Joanna Penn. I always thought Penn had the perfect name for a writer. While I have not read this book, I have read her The Creative Penn blog on occasion, which is chock full of helpful tools and advice for developing a successful mindset for your writing career.

12. The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work by Marie Arana. I only recently came across this title. I’ve always found it intriguing how other writers begin their writing journey. We all can learn something from their experiences.

I hope you find these titles helpful. As you continue your writing journey, it helps to pause to read about the experiences of other writers, if only to inspire you to keep writing.