Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
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How to start a newsletter: Lessons from the launch of Dutch newsletter platform Revue’s own newsletter

This article was originally published by Revue, the editorial newsletter tool for writers and publishers.

Revue has helped many authors and publishers launch new newsletter products. But until now, we never launched our own newsletter.

It’s a little strange we never did, but we simply never got around to it. Until six weeks ago when we started “The week in newsletters”, Revue’s weekly update for newsletter editors and audience managers.

The good news is that we got to follow our own advice on how to start a newsletter and experience and share what it’s like.

Start slow, then start sharing

Many authors feel overwhelmed when starting a newsletter. They have big dreams but few practical experiences to guide them. And it’s easy to feel paralyzed when comparing yourself to the many successful newsletters out there that you admire, with thousands of subscribers.

Our advice is to start quickly, but slowly. Don’t overthink it in the beginning and give yourself time to discover what works for you. Don’t aim for many readers while still in the discovery phase, but instead ask a few friends and experts for feedback and advice.

So the last few weeks we’ve done exactly that. The first issue went out to three subscribers, all internal. We shared it with friends and experts and got great feedback. We never asked anyone to subscribe, although a few people were very supportive and did anyway. So the next issues went out to nine, twelve and finally 17 subscribers. Not a lot, but what mattered most was they were the right people to give us feedback.

We did get some great feedback and made important changes.

One piece of feedback was that the subject lines were boring. Not fun to hear but totally true. And no big deal, because getting this feedback early avoided many readers being turned off by bland subject lines like “Newsletter acquisitions”. We hope that the improved subject lines will help make a better impression on our potential audience.

Other people didn’t like our branding. And they were right. What we had was version 1 at best. The visual was boilerplate and the name “Last week in newsletters” made our content feel like old news.

Luckily we were able to change that before it was too late. The title is now “The week in newsletters” and the look and feel a lot fresher and more recognizable. At least we hope so. We’ll see what happens when we get more subscribers.

Besides the actual improvements, we also feel much more confident about the newsletter and ready to invite a larger audience.

Focus on a niche audience

One thing that we did spend a good bit of thinking about up front was our audience, because we often see authors aim way too broadly.

There was a great example on how to do this right in one of the sessions at ONA19.

So we settled on a rather specific “newsletter editors and audience managers”. There are probably people with different job titles that would benefit from the newsletter, and we do hope that they will subscribe. But we felt that this definition would make it very clear who this newsletter is for, and make it easy for us to select the right topics.

We also wanted to be clear who would benefit less from the newsletter. For example, people who write a marketing newsletter are facing very different challenges and would probably not find our newsletter very interesting.

Choose the right newsletter format

Another thing we though a lot about up front is the newsletter format. NPR has a great chart about what they call the newsletter consumption continuum, from purely read, i.e. all content is in the email, to purely click through.

We decided that “read and click through” was right for us and our readers. We pick one topic each week that we discuss in detail the newsletter. It’s the topic that dominated discussions in the media world. We summarize the discussions in our newsletter and add a unique newsletter angle.

During our first week for example, everyone was talking about two mergers and acquisitions. GateHouse and Gannett had agreed to merge and Tumblr had been acquired by Automattic. Besides a brief summary of what had happened, we researched and discussed examples of acquisitions in the newsletter world such as Axios acquiring Kendall Baker’s Sports Internet in January 2019.

That’s the “read” part. We feel that this topic is interesting enough for all readers to read up on, and possibly explore further through links we provide.

The rest is “click through”. We have a section of 3–5 links with relevant news from the newsletter world. We add a little summary and comment to each link so that people can either just skim them or click to ready further. The purpose is to make our audience is informed and feels like they cannot miss anything important.

One of the most respected authors on Revue, Casey Newton, has perfected this format in his daily newsletter The Interface. He starts each issue with an in-depth topic consisting of summaries, commentary, quotes and links to relevant articles. Then adds the most relevant news of the day in a number of sections below.

Here’s how our newsletter compares. Both have a header image, a “read” section with quotes and links at the beginning, and then links to click through and explore further.

Time to share

So how do you like the approach?

As of writing this article, we are at issue #7 and would love for more people to explore and subscribe to “The week in newsletters”.

Does that sound interesting? You can check out all issues in the archive. We would very much appreciate if you did and shared it with anybody who might be interested.

Thank you and good luck with your own newsletter.

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