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One year of The Week in Newsletters

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Hello newsletter friends,
what you’re reading right now is issue #53 of The Week in Newsletters, which means that one year has passed since the first issue of 13 August 2019.
A lot can happen in one year, so today I want to look back a little bit at how it went, and share a few tips that might help with your newsletter.

One year in review
It usually takes me about half a day to publish a newsletter issue. So I guess I spent between 200 and 250 hours on The Week in Newsletters so far. And I would say that during those hours I have thought about three things the most: making sure the newsletter goes out on time every week, having good engagement, and choosing the right topics.
Showing up
One of the key success factors of a newsletter is showing up. While virality rules on social, great newsletters are all about consistency.
A great example is Benedict Evans who started his newsletter on tech before most others got into the medium and has published close to 350 issues since (and recently added a paid version). The subscriber growth is so steady, at about 20.000 per year, from 0 in February 2013 to 150.000 in July 2020.
To me it was important to show up as consistently as Benedict and send an issue of The Week in Newsletters every Tuesday. It wasn’t always easy to put an issue together with vacations, very busy weeks or lack of inspiration, but it worked as the archive proves.
The growth in list size has not been as steep as Benedict’s, but it has been steady, from 0 in August 2019 to almost 900 now. I have also added the unique opens, which stands at about 400 and brings me to the second important topic - engagement.
A big list doesn’t really mean anything if subscribers don’t engage with a newsletter. I am most interested in the community aspect, getting replies from readers with feedback and suggestions.
I had launched the newsletter according to our own “start quickly but slowly” advice. I wrote the first few issues without promoting them a lot, instead asking a few trusted friends, colleagues and peers for feedback. The replies were very helpful and I enjoyed the resulting conversations enough to turn this into a long-term strategy.
I look up every new subscriber and send them a personal note. The idea is that it’s much easier for readers to reply to a personal email than to a question in a newsletter. And that once someone has replied personally, and we have built trust, they are more at ease to also reply to questions in the newsletter or with ideas in general.
The message I send is one part about the reader and one part a simple question. If I were to reach out to Michaël Jarjour, Revue’s head of publisher relations, this is what it would read:
Hey Michaël,
This is Mark. I write The week in newsletters for Revue.
I try to have a good feel for who reads my newsletter and look up a little info about new subscribers. Think you’re the head of publisher relations at Revue? And also worked on newsletters for the NZZ before?
Could you send me a quick reply and let me know which topics you are most interested in? Pop-up newsletters, conversion to subscription, ads and sponsoring, monetization, growth, deliverability, engagement, metrics, strategy, examples of great newsletters, or maybe something different?
Thanks, Mark.
Given the roughly 900 current subscribers plus some un-subscribers along the way, I gather that I have sent an email to close to 1.000 people who subscribed to The Week in Newsletters. I went through the replies and counted more than 200.
So one in four or five people take the time to write back. Some of them with just one or two topic suggestions. Which is great. And many with some personal background about themselves, new ideas and perspectives for the newsletter, or related projects they are working on.
It’s a little bit of work to do the research and reach out individually, but the replies are well worth it. I have gotten a lot of ideas and inspiration for the newsletter, built a network of newsletter experts, connected to people who work for Revue and also some future customers.
It has also resulted in a solid and growing segment of highly engaged readers, so I definitely recommend the approach. And if you haven’t replied yet or my email didn’t make it through to you, I would love to hear from you!
From the replies to my welcome email, I have a good idea about the audience. With that knowledge, I think a lot about the right topics for this newsletter.
The list of topics has changed a bit over time, but not that much. In issue #38, I wrote about the urgency index proposed by Jay Rosen, and created a top ten of topics for The Week in Newsletters. This is what it looked like in April, in alphabetical order:
  • Ads and sponsoring
  • Conversion to subscription
  • Deliverability
  • Engagement
  • Examples
  • Growth
  • Metrics
  • Monetization
  • Pop-up newsletters
  • Strategy
Having sent one year’s worth of issues, I thought it would be interesting to count what I actually covered. Here’s the result, again in alphabetical order, and with the number of issues dedicated to that topic in parenthesis:
  • Audience and engagement (4)
  • Communities and conferences (2)
  • Deliverability (2)
  • Growth (4)
  • Interviews (2)
  • Metrics (2)
  • Monetization (4)
  • Newsletter examples and discovery (6)
  • Newsletter industry (6)
  • Platforms and tech (3)
  • Pop-ups (2)
  • Strategy and design (6)
  • Tracking (3)
  • Writing and curation (6)
I think the match is quite good. Comparing the index topics with the actual topics, it seems that industry news, communities and conferences and interview were missing from the index. I covered those topics quite a bit, actually, and feel that they were usually appreciated.
It’s a bit difficult to drop any of the other topics, to be honest. They all feel quite important, and central to newsletter editing.
What do you think? Are there any topics that I should drop or add? Are there any issues that you remember as particularly good, or not as relevant or outright bad? Would love to get your input again!
Looking back, I am happy with the newsletter - it gets me to think and write about an important newsletter issue once per week and has created a community of almost 500 people that read it regularly and start discussions related to newsletter publishing. Thank you for being part of that!
The week in newsletters
Enough about The Week in Newsletters and onto other news about newsletters!
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Redesigning ‘The Morning’ Newsletter
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Growth tactics
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Anna from Twitter @revue

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