What Every Writer Needs To Know About Building, Growing, and Monetizing an Email List

Newsletter 101: Tips on how to build, grow, and monetize an email list for writers of all genres and formats.

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Part One: What Makes a Newsletter So Important

You are your own boss

The connection with readers is intimate

It keeps you accountable

Bonus: It can become your most valuable income stream

  • Subscriptions: Platforms like Substack, Letterdrop, Revue, etc. let writers charge a monthly subscription fee from their readers to keep receiving emails. This can be a simple, yet, sure-shot way of earning directly from your end consumer.
  • Sponsorships: If you find brands whose mission you resonate with, you can collaborate with them to write sponsored posts. This will not only introduce your subscribers to more interesting companies but will also help you earn some money from the sponsorships. Swapstack helps you do just that: connects you with hundreds of brands you can choose from and request an introduction with — to monetize your newsletter and nurture possibilities for potential brand collaborations.

Part Two: How to Build A Newsletter

The right tool

A place to collect emails

Part Three: Taking the Plunge

Step one: Get a good emailing service

Step two: Create your call to action

  1. Offer a free ebook. If you’re a non-fiction writer, you can compile 5 or 6 of your highest-performing posts and make them into an ebook that your subscribers will get for free. If you’re a fiction writer, you can offer a short story or the first few chapters of your new novel. Either way, set your sign-up link such that every time a new reader clicks on it, they will be signed up for your email list and will also receive the free ebook in their inboxes. For example, James Clear offers chapter 1 of his New York Times bestselling book, Atomic Habits, for free when people subscribe to his email list.
  2. Offer a free mini-course. Another great way to get more readers to join is to offer a mini-course spanning anywhere between 3 to 10 days. You can set your emailing tool in such a way that every new subscriber gets an automated series of emails for the next few days.
  3. Offer an attractive freebie. If ebooks or mini-courses sound too overwhelming, you can make a list of good habits, or maybe a list of book recommendations of a particular genre. You can also offer a checklist or a cheat sheet related to your niche.
  4. Mention the benefits of joining your newsletter. If you can’t think of a freebie to offer, you can mention what the subscribers will get by joining your newsletter. Bestselling author Mark Manson invites readers to join his newsletter by saying, “Each week, I send out three potentially life-changing ideas. Join millions of readers around the world.”
  5. Focus on the community. If you’re not sure of what freebie you can offer, you can always focus on the community and the kind of impact your newsletter will be having. For example, body positivity advocate and author Mary Jelkovsky invites people to join her community by saying, “Join a community of empowered women and learn to love yourself unconditionally.”
  6. Focus on the message. Another interesting way to entice new readers to subscribe to your mailing list is to highlight the message your newsletter has and what benefits they can expect by joining. Bestselling author James Altucher does an excellent job of this by writing, “Will you be 1% better today? Will you choose yourself?” And instead of the more generic “Sign up now” or “Join today” message, Altucher’s sign-up button reads “Yes, yes I will.”

Step three: Write a welcome message

  • Introduce yourself. Several times, readers find something interesting while skimming on the internet, click on sign-up links, and later forget whose emails they signed up for. That’s why it’s very important for you to tell them more about you.
  • Introduce the concept of your newsletter and how it will solve a problem they are struggling with.
  • Conduct a small survey by asking your subscribers to reply to the email or leading them to a form. This is where you can collect information about the kind of people who subscribe to you. It will help you structure and present your content so it can help them better.
  • Ask your readers to whitelist your email ID so any future emails from you don’t end up in their spam inboxes.

Step four: Set a schedule and start

Part Four: Getting your First Few Subscribers

  • Ask your friends, colleagues, and family members to subscribe.
  • Post on your social media channels that you started a newsletter and let your audience know what they can expect to get if they sign up.
  • Collaborate with other writers who have email lists of their own, and you can do a shoutout-for-shoutout. Make sure the tastes of your target audiences align before attempting a campaign like that.
  • After you’ve grown to 100 subscribers, you can start asking your readers to share with their friends if they enjoyed reading your emails.

Part Five: What to Write in your Newsletter

1. Reader-generated content

  • Reviews and pictures of your book.
  • Comments on your articles that motivated you to keep writing.
  • Frequently asked questions about your stories or writing journey.

2. Curated content

3. Behind the scenes

  • Lessons from your past experiments.
  • Document lessons you learn as you grow.
  • Tips and valuable advice from your expertise that you don’t normally share on social media.
  • Share your story of how you reached the level of expertise you have today.
  • Talk about a loss or failure, what you learned from it, and how your audience can implement the learnings so they don’t suffer the same.

4. Book recommendations

5. Community building exercises

6. Maintain a consistent template

7. Plan ahead

Bonus: What makes a newsletter different from articles

  • Since it’s a medium that lets you talk directly to your readers, you need to keep the tone conversational. Start with a cheery message, ask them their thoughts on the topics you discussed, encourage them to hit reply and start a discussion, etc.
  • After you gather your first few subscribers, you can do a poll or a survey asking them what they want to hear more from you. You can keep conducting periodic polls and based on how your subscriber base grows and evolves, you can keep reinventing the message of your newsletter.

The Bottom Line



As we build out Swapstack, we’d like to ensure we’re packaging up our learnings about the creator landscape, monetization and growth!

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