Tips to Improve Newsletters Part II: Design

Designing an author newsletter can be a daunting task. Whether you‘re a seasoned veteran or a firsttime author, it‘s important to create an effective newsletter to nurture the author/reader relationship and expand your audience. 

Ready to roll up your sleeves and dive in? Cool. Let’s do this.


A simple design works best. As JSB mentioned in the comments of Part I, many of us suffer from newsletter fatigue, so don’t confuse readers by adding more than a few key features. A minimalist style keeps the focus on the content.

Email services like MailerLite or MailChimp offer multiple templates that don’t require any tech skills to customize. Most are drag & drop.

Header Image

A high-quality header image sets the tone for your newsletter. I use the same header as my website, so readers instantly recognize the email is from me.

Catchy Headline

If your headline allows the reader to think, “Meh. I’ll read it later” chances are they’ll never get around to reading the newsletter. An irresistible headline encourages the reader to open your email as soon as it hits their inbox. Headlines aren’t easy. I still haven’t mastered them, but I have learned a few tricks.

  • Make readers feel like they’ll learn something. Example: How to Decipher Crow Language
  • Or focus on actionable steps. Example: Befriend Crows in 5 Easy Steps
  • Or solve a problem. Example: 6 Ways to Spend Less Money on Crows (if any of you ever receive an email with this headline, please forward it to me. LOL)

Once you have your header image and headline, it’s time to focus on your content.


As I mentioned in Part I, give more than you receive. The majority of your newsletters should not ask your audience to buy anything. Condition them to click links, yes, but not a purchase link. For example, to match one of the above headlines, I could include a link to a live feed of crows building a new nest. Which, by the way, often includes weaving metal wires into the base to strengthen the foundation.

By giving more than you receive, you build trust. After all, you wouldn’t shove your book(s) in the face of someone you just met in person. Correct? Same principles apply.

The content should be concise, focused, and relevant to your theme. For a refresher on theme, read Part I. One of the easiest ways to lose subscribers is to overwhelm readers with too much information. No one will take the time to read a lengthy newsletter. Instead, fulfill the promise in your headline. Nothing more, nothing less. If you have more to say on the subject, save it for next time. The perfect length for a newsletter, so it’s worth your readers’ time but not time-consuming, is about 3-4 paragraphs.

Call To Action

At the end of your newsletter, include a clickable call-to-action button with compelling language like “Watch Live Feed” or “Download Free Book.” One of my favorite calls-to-action is “Hit Reply.”

Before the CTA, I ask a question. A few examples are:

  • Tell me about your favorite childhood pet.
  • Have you ever seen a bald eagle up close? What about a golden eagle? What was that experience like for you?
  • Have you ever been whale watching? How’d you feel when the whale breeched?

Note the words in bold. When you ask readers to hit reply, you are initiating a friendly conversation. Not only do you get to know your readers but you’re nurturing the author/reader relationship. And you’d be surprised how much people appreciate an author asking them anything, even if it’s only, “How’s your day going? You doin’ all right today?”

Too many authors toss out orders without giving two sh*ts about the people who read their books. Things like, buy my books, review my books, tell all your friends about my books, preorder my new release, follow me on every social media site and share all my posts. I saw your review on Amazon, but why didn’t you also review on BookBub and Goodreads and B&N and Apple and Google Play and Kobo?

Sadly, I’m not exaggerating as much as one might think. Not long ago, I unsubscribed from a well-known author’s newsletter after she told me to buy two copies of her new book, one for me and one for a friend. Seriously? I don’t care who you are. I’m not buying two $20 paperbacks because Miss Bigshot Author ordered me to do it. In fact, I stopped reading her books altogether. I’d rather support authors who appreciate their readers. How ’bout you?

Another author messaged me on social media to tell me she thanked me for my help in the acknowledgments, then had the audacity to say, “Buy the book to see your name.” If that wasn’t bad enough, she then asked if I could buy it that second — not later that night or in the morning — I had to buy the book right then. And, get this, send her a screenshot of the confirmation page as proof of purchase! The nerve of some people.

Ahem. Anyway…

By asking a simple question at the end of my newsletter, I’ve received some truly heartwarming responses. Readers just want to know they’re more than a sale to us. They want to be seen. Don’t we all? So, be genuine, be kind, and show your humanity.

Okie doke. Well, since we didn’t get to onboarding sequences and other time-savers, stay tuned for Part III.

Amidst a rising tide of poachers, three unlikely eco-warriors take a stand to save endangered Eastern Gray Wolves—even if it means the slow slaughter of their captors.

Restless Mayhem is available at all online retailers.

This entry was posted in #WritingCommunity, New Release, newsletter 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 named her Murder Blog as “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net.” She also blogs at the Kill Zone (Writer's Digest "101 Best Websites for Writers") 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 4-7 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

28 thoughts on “Tips to Improve Newsletters Part II: Design

  1. Sue, you are so right about the importance of the subject line, or headline. I read somewhere that lines with typical sales language, such as “deal” or “offer,” are opened less frequently, or get directed to spam folders more often. Since I start my emails with something amusing, an anecdote or quote, I make the subject line refer to that. So instead of, “A deal on my new thriller,” I’ll have something like, “Mark Twain said what about books?”

    The object of a headline is to get a reader to the copy. The object of the copy is to get the reader to the call to action.

  2. “Buy the book to see your name”???? Beyond cheesy.

    Thanks for more specific, actionable tips, Sue. Your last post inspired me to give newsletters another try and what I sent had a pretty decent open rate. Appreciate the nudge!

    • Right? That’s the thanks I get for taking time out of my busy schedule to help her with a crime scene. Unbelievable.

      Awesome, Debbie! You go, girl. <3

  3. Thanks, Sue, for part two. (A little unintended poetry.)

    This is wonderful. And very helpful. I really like your Header Image! I must sign up for your newsletter, so may I ask for a link to sign up?

    When you ask your readers a question, then give them a CTA button, where does that click take them? – an email page, a blog page?

    Thanks for a great part II. I look forward to Part Three!

    Have a great week!

  4. Really helpful post. Question, though. When readers answer your question, do you have to respond? What about polls? Do they work as well?

    • Absolutely, Azali. If you ask a question, you must respond. There’s a benefit to this, as well. Not only are forming a relationship with your readers, but any time a reader replies it improves your rating with the email provider. Win-win! Polls are okay once in a while. They’re one-sided, which is why I wouldn’t overdo it.

  5. Fantastic follow up to Part I, Sue! I’ve used a CTA before, but not in the form of a button. Genius! (I did use said button with my old fantasy reader group, but only for buying–boo, not a good idea.) I’ve had great open and click rates with my little mystery reader group but as I grow the group, I want to continue engaging the readers, hopefully doing better with questions, and the button is a great idea. (“All hail the button!” 🙂

    I’m now writing my “reader cookie” to help grow my mystery reader group. The title of the story is a play on Raymond Chandler’s “Farewell, My Lovely”:

    “Farewell, My Cookie.” (This is a cozy library series after all 🙂 Once that has gone through my process, including beta reader feedback (I already have the cover from my designer) it will go up on BookFunnel and I’ll start participating in newsletter share promotions. I then need to write the Book 1 bonus epilogue to link from the back-of-the-novel for readers who want to join Dale’s mystery reader group.

    Thanks for another insightful and informative post on newsletters. Looking forward to Part III. Have a wonderful week, my friend!

    • I’m so glad you’re finding this series useful, Dale! Hilarious title for your loss leader, or reader cookie! You nailed it.

      One caution on BookFunnel newsletter share promotions. It’s full of freebie seekers who will never buy anything. They’ll sit on your list, cost you money (after your list grows past 1K subscribers), and wait for the next freebie. I have gained fans through BookFunnel, but a lot more through BookSweeps. You’ll pay a fee, but you’ll gain avid readers in your genre.

      • Or do newsletter swaps with friends who write in the same genre. That’s a great way to find new readers.

        Happy week, my friend!

        • I’ve been blessed already to have two fellow cozy author acquaintances come to me, unasked, and say they wanted to share my new release. I said yes, please, of course, and with much gratitude. People can be so awesome 🙂

          • They sure can. Good for you! 😀

            Btw, last week the local meteorologist said NH had another chance at viewing the Northern Lights… between midnight at 2 a.m. Who can stay awake that long? LOL

            • Definitely a challenge when you have to stay up that late, and we’re entering the time of year where true night in northern latitudes will be somewhat fleeting in general.

      • Your caution is well-advised, Sue. I went through that with my fantasy reader group, growing it well over 4000 by mid 2017. I’m going to have a “warm up” auto-responder sequence that will also let those not interested easily leave the group.

        I recently read Tammi Labrecque’s 2022 “Newsletter Ninja 2” which is all about reader magnets/cookies (I now prefer the term reader cookie) and she discusses the issue of “freebie seekers” and how to reframe your thinking around them. Definitely worth a read if you haven’t already.

        Great tip on Book Sweeps, thanks!

        • She is THE MASTER! The minute she releases a new Ninja title, I snap it right up. Love her teaching style, too.

          Perhaps I should re-read it. LOL

  6. Readers just want to know they’re more than a sale to us.

    Gold, pure gold, Sue!

    My next newsletter/blog post (I want you to know you inspired me a few weeks back) is going to be about the fascinating killdeer-the Diva of the Bird World. We have them all over our property. They are such a hoot to watch as they try to lead us away from their eggs. Just this week, four little chicks hatched right outside our window.

    We do have to keep Hoka away from them, since she’s not so appreciative of their cuteness.

  7. Thank you! I just changed my newsletter that will go out tomorrow, changing any buy links to “learn more…” And I give away a recipe…usually a low carb recipe…

  8. Thanks for the ideas, Sue. Always learning new things. My next newsletter will go out after I get back from vacation, and I’ll have lots of things to share. Your ‘how to’ tips will come in handy. I use CTAs on my blog, but not the Q&A type you’re suggesting here.

  9. This is a great refresher, Sue. Two things stuck out to me that I am going to experiment with:

    1. Shorter–while my newsletters tend to be on the long side since I only send them out once a month, I’m going to try shortening and see what happens.

    2. Selling–while I don’t do any “hard sells” I do include a reader review or two and links to my books throughout with a short description. Yea or nay on that? Would love to hear what others think. It seems the reader might forget why they are even getting my newsletter if not with little nudges to pick up a book?

    Again, thanks for this great article. I’m going to check out Part I and am already looking forward to Part III. 🙂

    • I wouldn’t nudge in every newsletter, JP. It’s too much, IMO. You could include a “feature book” at the end with a subtle link, but no big CTA button. Otherwise, your readers may get buyer fatigue, so when you do want them to buy a new release, they’re less apt to click. My 2c ☺️

      • That makes sense, Sue. Plus, I try to avoid anything that resembles icky salesperson behavior. . . definitely don’t want to make people uncomfortable in any way. Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll give it a whirl. 🙂

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