I have a confession: when my kids were toddlers, I longed for the time when they’d be both be in school/preschool for part of the day so I’d have uninterrupted time to write. I adored them, of course, but if I didn’t get my weekly writing time, I started to feel lost, depressed, and pretty darned cranky. So when the happy day came, I celebrated, looking forward to 2 glorious hours of writing, 2 mornings a week. Practically heaven.
That’s why it was a really tough decision when, a few years later, we decided to take them out of public school. A combination of circumstances (this was just after 9/11 and the death of a close family friend) meant that one of our boys was miserable and depressed in the public school environment, where–like so many super-bright kids–he didn’t fit in, wasn’t challenged, and wasn’t happy.
If you’ve ever had a kid come home in tears or, worse, watched one spiral downward into hopelessness, you’ll understand my decision to try homeschooling, even if it wasn’t a great fit for me personally.
My biggest challenge was teaching my kids to write. I loved writing and storytelling, but I could not get my boys excited about it. I started to fear that I was teaching them to hate writing, rather than love it like I did.
Around that time, a writing friend introduced me to a local kids’ writing program/club called Druidawn. It used a roleplaying game (similar to Dungeons and Dragons, but simpler) to encourage kids to write. In D&D, players gain experience points through game play, which they use to “level up,” a process that makes their characters progressively more skilled and powerful.
In Druidawn, kids gained experience points by writing. Since they spent part of their writing club time playing the roleplaying game–in which the characters they’d created faced challenges, fought monsters, and completed quests–they had ready-made material to write about. My third-grader went from writing only when forced (and then, he’d write the bare minimum) to churning out reams of pages about his character, his friends’ characters, and their adventures.
I credit that experience with teaching him the love of writing he has today.
“Useful” Is Defined by the Audience
Why did the Druidawn writing program work? I think it’s because–unlike the half-dozen teach-your-child-to-write programs I’d tried–the writing club was fun. From a parent’s perspective, it was also useful. The club sponsors spent time teaching the kids basic writing principles and providing an environment where the kids received lots of positive peer feedback. It wasn’t enough for a writing program to be useful from my perspective, though. All the writing programs I’d tried provided instruction that I thought was useful; but from my kids’ perspective, those programs were boring or painful. Maybe both.
The Druidawn writing program made sure it was useful from the kids’ perspective. In other words, it provided
- A structured way to interact–and get positive feedback from–other kids
- A motivating reward in the form of experience points for making their characters cooler and stronger
My kiddo engaged with the program because–even though he probably suspected its underlying educational purpose–he got so much of what he wanted from those weekly meetings.
Which brings me back to author’s newsletters. (You knew I’d get there eventually, right?)
Serving Your Audience
Two weeks ago, I wrote about why every writer needs an author newsletter. That post emphasized how a newsletter is useful to you as the writer. It’s essentially a marketing tool: it helps you stay in touch with your readers and connect with a broader audience.
However, just like those teach-your-child-to-write programs I mentioned above, your newsletter can only benefit you if your readers find it useful as well. When my son didn’t find any personal benefit in writing, he wasn’t motivated to learn it. When writing was presented to him as a way to accomplish things he cared about though, via the Druidawn writing club, he became engaged.
When you subscribe to a newsletter, you probably known that the author has some underlying motive for providing it, just like my son probably figured out that the writing club was supposed to be teaching him something. If you pay attention, you’ll discover that the best newsletters take the same approach as my son’s writing club: they focus on providing benefit to the readers, not just the author.
Useful + Enjoyable
Read enough newsletters (author newsletters or other types) and you’ll find 5 fundamental ways that authors make their content useful and enjoyable for readers while still serving the authors’ needs.
1. The best newsletters arrive with “just right” frequency.
What does “just right” frequency mean? It means your newsletters arrive often enough that:
- Your readers remember who you are
- Your readers remember why they subscribed
But NOT so often that:
- You can’t keep up with the workload
- You can’t provide your readers with a quality read
- You overwhelm your readers with updates
2. The best newsletters always include something useful for the reader.
What does “useful for the reader” mean? It can be as simple as a recap of the author’s latest blog posts. Usually, though, a newsletter offers a little something extra for the newsletter subscriber, such as:
- A subscriber-only download
- Links to additional resources
- Information about upcoming events
3. The best newsletters tell a story.
It’s not enough for your newsletter to list off facts, data, and information–even if they’re fabulous facts, data, and information. Most of us have more than enough facts and information flooding our lives. We’re overwhelmed by it.
Instead, readers need you to make some sort of meaning out of the information you provide–and that means telling a story. What kind of story do you tell? It could be a story that…
- Illustrates why the information you’re sharing is relevant to their lives
- Provides a bit of entertainment
- Shows readers who you are and what you care about
- Gives an example to help readers understand a concept
(For more information about stories, sign up for Terry Dean’s newsletter & free ebook–awesome resources!)
4. The best newsletters are upbeat in attitude.
Nothing will make readers unsubscribe faster than whining. You don’t have to be a Pollyanna, and you don’t have to keep all the negatives to yourself, but avoid whining. ‘Nough said.
5. The best newsletters avoid feeling like sales pitches–even if that’s what they are.
Sometimes a series of email newsletters serve as the lead-in to convince the reader to sign up for a course or purchase a product. If that’s all they do, though, the reader will probably be turned off. Why keep reading something that’s always pushing you to buy-buy-buy? Some of the examples I gave last week are lead-ins to products offered by the authors, but I’m still subscribed to those newsletters. Why? Because the authors write with the reader in mind, first. They might be trying to sell me something, but they’re also offering me valuable information…and by doing so, they convince me that hey, I might actually be interested in that product they’re selling.
In next week’s post, we’ll dive into the nitty-gritty: how to set up your email newsletter and get started. Have any specific questions you want me to cover? Please let me know in the comments or send me a message! Thanks for reading