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Blogging Versus Email Newsletter: Which Is Better for Writers?

Note from Jane: This week, I’m teaching a class with Writer’s Digest, Blogging Strategies That Work in 2021.

Here’s the shortest possible answer to this question:

Neither is better; everything depends on the writer and their goals.If forced to choose one, a free email newsletter is the better strategic choice for writers when it comes to long-term career development.Blogging works better for reaching new readerships, but requires research and skills that take time to develop.

Here is the long answer.

Why authors benefit from email newsletters

The free email newsletter is one of the most effective sales and marketing tools available. Every single professional author with a decent email list knows that it more reliably sells a book (or services or a class) than social media. Book publishers have been focusing for many years now on developing their reach to readers via email; it protects them from being overly reliant on retailers like Amazon. Anyone who is selling something easily purchased online—such as books—will benefit from an email list, assuming that list has been built legitimately.

As an example, I’m able to market and promote my paid classes for writers through several email newsletters. These are the strongest source of sign-ups, and I don’t have to pay for advertising to sell out my classes.

The drawback: your email newsletter is unlikely to reach new audiences

Your own email newsletter is delivered to people who are already interested in what you do. If you’re a published author, then your list will likely be comprised mainly of people who’ve read your work, attended your events, or otherwise have an interest in what you’ll publish next. You’re speaking to the converted; readers tend to give their email addresses only to people they actually want to hear from.

While people may forward or share your email newsletter with others, that’s not really the point of sending an email newsletter. It’s a bonus if it happens, but large-scale sharing is rare unless you have a big list to begin with, or you’re avidly pushing and linking to that newsletter elsewhere. Once you send an email, its lifespan will be a couple weeks at most. It’s unlikely to be discovered through search or social. If the content in the newsletter is super meaningful or valuable, it’s up to you to decide if and how to repurpose it elsewhere.

The other email newsletter challenge: building the list

If you’re an early career writer or unpublished, your list may be very small, and it may feel pointless to send an email newsletter in the first place. It also leads to questions like: How can I build my list?

The simplest answer: write and publish more work, and you’ll get more people on your list. Or: the bigger reputation you have, the more your list will grow organically. Some writers offer a freebie or ethical bribe to get people on their newsletter list, which isn’t a bad idea, but such strategies can lead to lower quality names—people who signed up only for the free stuff.

For tips on building an email newsletter list

Email Newsletters for Authors by Jane FriedmanHow to Grow Your Email List by Kirsten OliphantHow to Grow an Email Newsletter Starting from Zero by Christina McDonald

Why authors benefit from blogging

When I refer to “blogging,” I’m referring to online writing that you publish at your own site or at a group blog. Blogging started about 20 years ago as a very personal, voice-driven form of expression. Today I consider blogging a professional form of writing that may come across as personal and informal, but requires a developed content strategy to be effective.

Great blog content can attract new and sometimes very large readerships to your door. However, most of us don’t avidly follow blogs these days. Instead, if we find something we like, we follow that writer on social media, sign up for their email newsletter or—if we’re really excited and enthusiastic—buy something from the author of the blog.

The drawback: you can’t just write anything you want.

It’s hard to be successful with a blog unless you pay attention to the following:

Focus and positioning. To gain traction with a blog, you have to be fairly disciplined about the subjects you’ll cover and your distinctive angle on those subjects. Changing it up all the time is not a good idea.Search engine optimization. This may sound intimidating, but it’s really not. All it fundamentally means is being aware of the search terms that may bring new readers to your blog—or what people search for. But for some writers, this kind of market research is a non-starter and doesn’t interest them.Online writing best practices. You have to learn how to write good headlines for your blog posts, write and structure them for a good online reading experience, and house the posts on a decent website or within an environment that leads to further action (like a newsletter sign-up or a social media follow).

The other challenge: blogging typically requires social media support

Unless you already have an established audience that shares everything little thing you do, then it’ll be necessary to share and talk about your posts through social media. If you’re rarely on social or hate social, blogging makes little sense and you’ll have to rely on search engines and word of mouth by others to bring you traffic.

For more tips on blogging

How to Start Blogging: A Definitive Guide for Authors by Jane Friedman10 Ways to Build Traffic to Your Author Website or Blog by Jane Friedman

A way to build a blog and email newsletter at the same time

You can allow people to subscribe to your blog posts via email. This is fairly easy to set up through WordPress, Google Feedburner, or an email marketing service like Mailchimp. I’ve long offered this option and have about 10,000 subscribers to my blog posts via email (in addition to a separate email newsletter, Electric Speed.)

Do you have to do both?

No, and most authors I’ve met do not benefit from blogging. There are many reasons for that, but usually authors fail at blogging because they haven’t paid attention to their positioning or search engine optimization.

Nonfiction authors who have expertise in a specific field have the most to gain from blogging and should seriously consider it. Fiction writers who are avid readers and know their genre inside and out are also well positioned to be successful. But blogging has never been a must. While it’s a good idea to get your name out there in some way to attract new readers, there are many other channels to consider, such as podcasting; conversations on Twitter, Facebook, or Clubhouse; or being a guest contributor at well-established sites.

Parting advice

If you’re still not sure whether a blog or newsletter is right for you, consider what you would prefer to write. If you want to write short, personal takes; offer behind the scenes of your writing and publishing process; or have an intimate conversation that’s not optimized for search, an email newsletter makes the most sense. If you want to write long, instructive articles that would be helpful to a wide audience; if you tackle topics that are frequently in the public eye and get searched for or discussed avidly on social, then blogging may be a better choice for you.

Note from Jane: This week, I’m teaching a class with Writer’s Digest, Blogging Strategies That Work in 2021.

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