5 Tips to Improve Newsletters – Part I

When I bought back my rights to my Mayhem Series, one of the first things I did was to revamp my newsletters.

So, let’s discuss five tips that improved my newsletters. Hopefully, they’ll work for you, too.


  1. Consistency

Readers like to know when they’ll hear from you. Whether you send newsletters weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly, sticking to a schedule improves opens and click rates.

  1. Choose a Theme

The biggest complaint from writers is they don’t know what to put in their newsletters. As a result, so many end up being “Buy my book!” emails. Once I chose a theme, my newsletters became a breeze—even fun—to write.

Base your theme around your genre. If you write in multiple genres, it’s a good idea to segregate your list into genre groups. For example, a newsletter about fictional characters might not go over well for your nonfiction fans.

Because I write Native American metaphysical thrillers exclusively now, I share fascinating animal facts and tidbits about the Natural World. Once I based my newsletters around a theme, my opens and click-through rates improved tenfold. And it can work for you, too!

Open Rate

An email open rate is the percentage of subscribers who open a specific newsletter. Tracking open rates will give you a better understanding of how often your audience look forward to your emails, how successful your subject lines are, and what type of content is the most effective. Most email providers supply open rates for you.

A good email open rate falls between 17-28%. The average is 21.5% across all industries, according to the Email Marketing Benchmarks Report of 2022. For Media, Entertainment, Publishing, the average is 23.9%.

Click-Through Rate (CTR)

A CTR is the measurement of how many subscribers clicked on a hyperlink, call-to-action prompt (CTA), or image within your newsletter. The main goal for you is to measure engagement. By tracking click-through rates, you can gauge how your audience responds to your content. If you’re getting low engagement, it might be time to rethink what you’re sharing. Believe it or not, a good CTR is 2.9% for Media, Entertainment, Publishing.

Click-to-Open Rate (CTOR)

Most authors don’t pay enough attention to CTORs. It’s a mistake to ignore this valuable information. A click-to-open rate measures the effectiveness of your content. Because it’s based on the number of unique opens, CTOR is a good indicator of how interesting your content is to your subscribers. If your links, layout, copy, and overall content are interesting, your readers will want to click through to learn more.

Some email providers will show you the CTOR, some will not. To measure your CTOR, divide the number of unique clicks by the number of unique opens. For example, 100 clicks divided by 180 opens = 55%. As with all the metrics listed above, the CTOR fluctuates per campaign. A good CTOR for our industry is 12.4%.

  1. Write to One Reader, Not Thousands

Adopting the right mindset makes all the difference. If you try to please everyone, your newsletter will come across as cold and impersonal. It’s also stressful. My #1 tip is to write to your ideal reader only. If some subscribers don’t enjoy your newsletter, they don’t belong on your list. Chances are, they won’t buy your books, either. That is, if you’ve themed your newsletters to match your genre.

  1. How to Choose an Ideal Reader

Search your beta reader list or ARC team or readers who reply to every newsletter. One name should rise to the top. Or, better yet, use the same ideal reader you write for—you do have someone in mind while writing, right?—and craft each newsletter as a conversation between you and them. Not only will your newsletter sound sincere, but everyone who reads it will feel like you’re writing to them. It’ll read like a warm hug to a friend.

  1. Give More Than You Take

By sharing interesting tidbits, recipes, oddities from a certain era (whatever theme you choose), you are training your subscribers to click. Most of the time, you aren’t asking for them to buy anything. For example, in one of my newsletters I shared fascinating facts about eagles. If they clicked the prompt, it led to a live feed of an eagle’s nest. See what I’m saying? I rewarded those who clicked with the chance to watch mother and father eagles care for their young.

By training your subscribers to click links in your newsletters, when you release a new book, they’ll be more likely to click again.

In my next post (Part II), we’ll dig into the ins and outs of designing the layout of your newsletter, and why it’s important. If there’s still room, I’ll include how to set up an onboarding sequence. If not, there will be a Part III. 🙂 Sound good?

Do you write newsletters? What’s your theme? What’s your #1 tip? If you’re a reader, what type of newsletters are your favorite?

This entry was posted in #WritingCommunity and tagged , , , , , by Sue Coletta. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and Expertido.org named her Murder Blog as “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net.” She also blogs at the Kill Zone, Story Empire, and Writers Helping Writers. Sue lives with her husband in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Her backlist includes psychological thrillers, the Mayhem Series (books 1-3) and Grafton County Series, and true crime/narrative nonfiction. Now, she exclusively writes eco-thrillers, Mayhem Series (books 4-8 and continuing). Sue's appeared on the Emmy award-winning true crime series, Storm of Suspicion, and three episodes of A Time to Kill on Investigation Discovery. Learn more about Sue and her books at https://suecoletta.com

28 thoughts on “5 Tips to Improve Newsletters – Part I

  1. Thanks for the stats, Sue. I have a newsletter, which I send once a month. I use a basic template of topics to keep things consistent (and easier for me). My sections: “News from my Mountain” – a little bit about what’s going on up where I live.
    “What I’m Working On”, “What’s New”, a Recipe, and something special for subscribers–a contest, a giveaway, etc.
    The only thing I’d add to your list (and it should be automatic if you’re using a mailing service) is to make sure you have an unsubscribe link. OK- Make that 2 tips. NEVER add anyone to your email list without their permission. Also automatic if you’re using a service.

    • Ugh. Adding people to newsletters they didn’t subscribe to is such an amateur move, yet some still do it. *facepalm*

      Yes, the unsubscribe link is mandatory for email providers (I’ll get into that in Part II: Design).

      • When I moved from Mailchimp to MailerLite, I decided to drop subscribers who hadn’t opened a newsletter in over two years. (A lot of my subscribers came from Book Sweeps giveaways, so they weren’t primarily interested in my newsletter.)

        I’m not sure that was a wise move, but I didn’t want to pay for people who didn’t even open the newsletter. What do you think about that approach?

  2. Thanks for discussing this topic, Sue!

    I write a newsletter every month or bimonthly. My theme had been mostly my progress and what I was writing. Recently I have added historical pens and that has increased open rates (and click-through rates). Now, I offer a free pen in a drawing fairly regularly, and have readers click through to my website where they can use the contact form to enter the drawing. This gives me a chance to get the readers acquainted with my books and used to going to my website.

    This month’s pen drawing is for a Mother’s Day pen – just saying. To enter, readers will use the contact form and leave a brief tribute to their mother.

    My #1 tip is Keep the Reader Interested.

    My favorite newsletters are those I can study to see how other writers do it.

    Thanks for this post, Sue! I look forward to Parts II and III.

  3. Love this post, Sue! It’s on a topic near and dear to my indie author heart. Great rundown, and the stats are good to know. I was just talking with another friend who is a retired non-profit director about newsletters and in his former field, the average CTOR and CTR are lower than in ours, so we do get increased interest because of being in entertainment.

    My favorite topic is mystery and libraries. I do regular mystery reads and mystery watches, give reader recommendations. I’ve written posts about the card catalog, the reason why my writing office non-fiction shelves are disorganized compared to our fiction shelves at Casa Smith, etc. I have a lot of fun with my posts—writing them is never a chore. Which reminds me, I need to write up a post about the book How Not to Be Murdered in an English Village 🙂

    I send out emails once a month, near or on the end of the month. I may increase that to twice at some point. Giving more than you ask is so important. I had my first truly ask email in the form of my book release email on Saturday—I kept it short and sweet, and emphasized how much their support has meant to me.

    As much as I want to get cracking on book 2 in my series, my current task is to write a reader magnet story to be used as a freebie to help grow my newsletter, so I’m working on a prequel about Meg, which takes place a few months before book 1, shortly after she started at the library, involving a non-lethal mystery. I’ll use that in multi-author promos to help grow my newsletter. Which means I need to put together an onboarding sequence 🙂

    I’m looking forward to part II. Thanks so much, my friend, for a wonderful rundown on what is a crucial topic for authors.

    Have a wonderful week!

    • Off topic, I did have clear skies here Saturday night, and shared four lunar photos I took in a tweet yesterday. I wish I could have taken photos of my little celestial journey in Auriga, going from the leaping minnow star pattern to the waterfall one, and then the Starfish cluster.

    • Thanks, Dale! It’s funny. For years, I struggled with newsletters. Every time I had to write to my list I’d panic, thinking I had to entertain 5K people at once. Writing to one reader made all the difference for me. And so did choosing a theme. I hope this series helps other writers who struggled like me.

      Wishing you a wonderful week, my friend. Thought of you last night. For days, it’s rained here. No moon, no stars, the sky darkened by clouds. I miss Luna!

      • I agree about writing to one reader—that’s a great point. I treat it like my one-on-one patron interactions at the library when someone came looking for a good read (what we called “reader’s advisory”), and be personable, be engaged, and be giving.

        Hopefully your skies will clear, and ours will again here—we’re back to cloud cover.

  4. Sue, I need this kick in the pants so badly! Thank you. I should work on a unifying theme cuz my posts are all over the map.

    Yours and Terry’s are great models to emulate.

    Question: How do blog posts differ from newsletters? My mail service sends new blog posts to subscribers so having a newsletter seems redundant?

    BTW, just recd a notice from Jetpack that posts from my WordPress site will no longer automatically be shared on Twitter b/c of Twitter’s change in policy. They can still be shared manually.

    • Debbie: I have separate lists for blog subscribers and newsletter subscribers, and my content for each is very different.
      And I hear you about Twitter no longer allowing WordPress feeds … doing it manually is a pain, but my Twitter platform doesn’t do a lot; ever since the Big Change in Twitter ownership, people fled like rats, so I don’t worry about that much. I know some people get a lot of traction from Twitter; I don’t, and at this point, it’s not worth trying to build it for me.

    • I got the same notice, Debbie. You can still add them to Buffer or Hootsuite. Have you set up automation yet? 😉 Mine went haywire yesterday and released something like ten posts at once. Oy.

      If you separate your mailing list into groups, newsletter people won’t get your blog posts. I have two different sign-ups, one for the blog, one for the newsletter. I do occasionally send my blog subscribers a newsletter, but only when it’s something special. And I have subscribers who sign up to both. Here’s where learning how to navigate MailerLite or MailChimp is important, or you’ll overload your subscribers with duplicates. Recently, I switched to MailerLite, and they make the process much smoother. Took me a while to break from MailChimp, though, so for a while I had both. Ugh. Not ideal.

      Even with automatic blog posts, YOU NEED A NEWSLETTER.

  5. This is great information, Sue. Thank you.

    I send a newsletter each month to announce an interview with an author on my blog. In the last two newsletters, I also included info about a giveaway for folks who comment on the blog interview. I have a good open rate (>50%) and my CTR is usually a little better than the industry average you cited.

    Although I occasionally highlight my own books, the newsletter is really designed to point to the author I’m interviewing that month.

    • A blog announcement and newsletter are two different things, Kay. This is a common misconception. I was guilty of the same. A newsletter is more a friendly hello, rather than an ask (read the blog post). See what I mean? In the newsletter you could share recipes, fascinating research tidbits, things like that. The newsletter benefits the subscribers. When we ask subscribers to read a blog post, that benefits us.

  6. I don’t do a newsletter, Sue. I do emails so it has a personal feel. My goal is to make it short and fun to read (“benefits the subscriber” with entertainment), with one or, at most, two calls to action which are some sort of deal. My schedule is roughly once a month, and on occasion I don’t call for any action. It’s an investment in the personal touch.

  7. Good topic, Sue. I use Mailchimp as a sender and find it effective for what I do so I haven’t looked into any of the other options. And I’ve never considered my bi-weekly send-outs as newsletters. They’re links to my blog posts which I publish, religiously, at 8am PST every second Saturday morning, and I send the emails as alerts to the new posts. I have a reasonably large following and I value every one of them, even though I only know a few personally. You asked about a #1 tip? You nailed it early in this piece: Consistency. I get a kick out of checking my stats and see how many people open the link with minutes of pushing Send on the MailMonkey.

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