October 24th, 2006

ozarque figure

Writing nonfiction; newslettering; part three (final)...

I think all that I have left to say about this topic is to answer the obvious question -- Why do newsletters? -- and its subquestion -- Why do newsletters now, when you can just do a blog instead?

For writers who aren't superstars, and writers who aren't rich enough to afford to keep a professional publicist on retainer, I think at least one newsletter is absolutely essential. [If you're a writer in one of those two groups, read no farther.] Midlist writers today tend to write book after book after book and just sort of toss them over the side like tossing notes in a bottle into the ocean. Usually the books sink right to the bottom and in a few months they're out of print, which means that if the writers would like to be able to pay their bills they have to write yet another book and toss it over the side, where it will sink to the bottom -- and so on ad infinitum. There was a day when the writers could at least get back the rights to their books and sell them again; today, with all the publishers converting their backlists to e-books and print-on-demand editions as fast as they can push the buttons, the writers don't have even that option.

I have some out-of-print books, for sure. [My Coyote Jones novels come immediately and grimly to mind.] But I also have a lot of books that have stayed in print for years and years and years or have come back into print in new editions and then stayed in print for years. My first Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense book has been in print since 1980 and is still selling steadily, despite the fact that it's neither a bible nor a cookbook. I am convinced that a major reason all my books aren't lying at the bottom of the sea moldering is because I've always done newsletters.

Newsletters keep you in touch with your readers, and let you build a network of people who are genuinely interested in what you write. Newsletters -- especially now that you can do them by e-mail -- let you tailor your information as narrowly as you like. You can do a newsletter that is about just one of your books, or about just one character in one of your fiction books, or just one topic in one of your nonfiction books. You can let your readers know when you're going to be speaking or signing somewhere, or when you're going to be doing an interview somewhere; you can let them know when you've written something new. You can discuss with them the question of what new thing they'd like for you to write, and in what format. You can ask them for help with the difficulties you have in the writing of that new thing they asked you for. You can throw in Additional Good Things -- like my recipe for Frugal Cheesecake, or my instructions for making an altered book, or some filksong lyrics.

True, you can do all these things in a blog. But I know, from the messages I get from my own newsletter readers, that there are a lot of people who don't want to read a writer's blog. They want something from that writer to arrive in their e-mail inbox regularly, without their having to go on the Net after it, and they want it to be a lot longer and more detailed than the typical blogpost. And they especially don't want to have to worry about missing something interesting because they don't have time to read through all the comments and responses to comments, or because they just don't want to bother doing that.

Newslettering. I recommend it.