Eight things I learned while writing 10 newsletter installments

In some inadvertant but timely on-brand effort, I published the 10th installment of my newsletter, Born of the 22nd of April, on… the 22nd of April. The newsletter is a series of interviews with people — largely not scientists or activists — who are doing interesting things to fight climate change.

When I started the newsletter in September, I told myself I’d commit to getting to lucky number 10 before deciding what to do next with it. But I also expected that to be about the end of 2016.

But five months late is better than not at all. So here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. I need a new title

Semi-elaborate inside jokes are really not good once you are pitching to potential subscribers who are not people who’ve met you in person — who at least somewhat get you. I had felt this tension before, but it really struck home when I described my newsletter to a social media marketing workshop. It felt awkward just coming out of my mouth. So I’m on the hunt for a title that’s not souless but has more immediate recognition.

2. I don’t know what drives subscriptions beyond the initial launch

I got nearly all my *mumble* few dozen subscribers between publishing newsletter two and three, which makes sense as I had shown the proof of concept in the first newsletters and then got people to subscribe. I did some additional pushes outside my initial social network but that became another time suck beyond the actual creating of the thing, time I didn’t have. But I suspect this is fairly normal for most newsletters — followers come in spurts, not in a steady drumbeat.

3. Self-cachet does not travel as far as my employer-cachet

I knew this rationally, as almost all my interview requests over the course of the past five years have been under the nice subject line of “BBC Request:”. But I also thought I had developed some secret sauce of cold email requests through a combo of good research and well-placed linkage to my personal website, convincing the potential interviewee I’m the real deal.

But while I may still have an effective cold email style, a newsletter request from someone you’ve never met is simply not going to go to the top of busy email queues as much as a interview request from the world’s largest broadcast organization. So I have a bunch of still-outstanding interview requests. I don’t take it personally, but it does slow down getting newsletters out.

4. I don’t have a good metric of success beyond number of subscribers.

I’m spending a decent amount of time on creating a newsletter, but to what end? Feeling like I’m informing and engaging readers is the goal for me, but what does that look like beyond the fuzzy glow of seeing how many people opened up the letter? Is anyone getting anything out of this?

5. Email production requirements are not as obvious to me as production requirements on the web.

Tinyletter’s CMS is a weird, weird beast. It serves its purpose and frankly, I’m not planning to spend any money on this newsletter. But as someone who does production as part of her day job, there’s definitely moments where production frustrations slow down the actual creation.

6. Writing the bulk of the newsletter is a lot harder than linking…

I mean, obviously. But I didn’t realize HOW hard, even when the newsletter in question was mostly interview-based. I still had to “write into” the interview and then write back out of it. The interview and cleaning up the transcript was also a chunk of time.

7. … But links get old in the amount of time I need to write

I have a folder in instapaper for stories I’d like to link into the newsletter as part of a good reads/good actions section. Some are evergreen, timely stories regardless of whatever is happening in the news, but others quickly go out of date. Perhaps there’s a case to be made of alternating the more writing and reporting intensive newsletters with link roundups.

8. My ideal audience is defined in opposition to something, and that makes it hard to target

I initially dove into this project wanting to write for people who are concerned about the environment and what climate change means for the Earth and for them, but aren’t steeped in the activism or policy around it. I still think its a good idea, and something that is needed. But “not-activists and not-scientists” is… well a lot of people, with a lot of different audience needs and wants. I think aiming towards an ideal audience of “almost- everybody who reads English” has led to some loss of focus, and made it hard to know, again, what people are getting out if it. So much like in #1, I need a serious rethink of who that audience is. Maybe they run hand in hand.

Are you interested in such a newsletter? Want to see what I’ve done so far? See all 10 letters here and subscribe, to see what happens next.