Writing tips

Identify your market

If you don’t know your market, you’ve already made a mistake, says Erin Young, an agent for Dystel Goderich & Bourret, which represents authors such as James Dashner of Maze Runner fame. “Oh, my market is fantasy,” you might say, waving your monthly subscription of Imagination And Me. But is your story steampunk, urban, or grimdark fantasy? Is it for children or young adults? Are there elves or tech? Is it set in the modern world, or is it a re-imagining of an alternate past? Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, for instance, doesn’t target Discworld’s readers, and no-one would instinctively group Harry Potter and Stephen King's The Dark Tower in the same category. Indeed, “fantasy” is such a broad genre that you’ll need to dig deeper to find your niche — but it’s important as your subgenre not only informs your characters and setting, it also allows you to identify your competition and audience. As Young says: “If your characters are younger, you should be writing YA or MG, not adult.” To get a better picture of the various subgenres within fantasy, check out this guide as well as this post on the evolution of fantasy since the 1900s.

Nail the closing

Besides the subject line, the closing is arguably the most important part of an email. It’s the point where a reader will decide whether or not they want to act on your offer and proceed any further. The goal here is to wind down and transition into a well-crafted call to action (CTA). What do you want them to do next? Maybe it’s to check out a landing page, sign up for a course, download an e-book, or straight up buy a product/service. Whatever it may be, your CTA needs to be crystal clear. Tell them exactly what you want them to do next, and make sure there’s no guessing what that action is. Some of us have the mistaken idea that we need to sneak in the CTA or somehow hide it in the email so it’s not so obvious. Please don’t make this mistake. Your CTA is the money of your email—the reason why you’re sending it in the first place. Make it strong, unmistakable, and absolutely clear. This email from StackSocial, while not exactly personal, does have a great CTA. You can see it directly in the body of the email—the place where my eyes are first going to look.

Create urgency

Here’s another thing I’ve learned. Many people have a tendency to procrastinate. Maybe they’re wrapped up in something at the moment or just aren’t in the mood to complete your desired action right now. This is no good because once they close an email, the odds they’ll come back to it are slim to none. That’s why it’s vital to create urgency so that they feel compelled to take action right away. Most marketers complain that the “most challenging obstacle” to their email marketing is getting people to take action by clicking on the call to action (or whatever the click goal of the email is). I’ve found that setting a tight deadline tends to work well for this. For example, you might say that an “offer expires tomorrow,” or “get it before it’s gone,” or “only 10 spots left.” This is essential for getting a prompt reply.

Tell a story

As we discussed earlier, people don’t dedicate lots of time to reading the text and reviewing newsletters. You’ve got to come up with ways to keep your audience engaged. Stories are interesting. Once you hook your audience with a captivating story, they’ll continue reading it to find out what happens. What story should you tell? Get creative. You can tell your story or a story about your company. Again, just make sure it’s relevant. Don’t be boring. Research shows storytelling helps boost conversions: It’s also an effective strategy for B2B marketers. Not all your newsletters should be a story, but it’s definitely a good idea to throw some into the mix from time to time.

Measure your results

The only way to find out whether your newsletter is converting is to take the time to actually measure that. Whatever email marketing software you’re using should have these analytics tools built directly into the platform. Take advantage of them to see how you’re doing. Look at things such as:

  • open rates
  • bounce rates
  • click-through rates
  • unsubscribes
  • forwards Identify which types of newsletters had the highest conversions. Continue using the same strategies. If some of your newsletters had terrible conversion rates, you need to understand what went wrong. Did you not have a clear goal? Was the content irrelevant? Once you figure out why your newsletters aren’t converting, it will be easier for you to make the necessary changes. But you can do this only if you’re actively tracking the results of each campaign.

Add visuals to enhance your content

If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you know how much I love using images and videos to explain concepts. While your newsletter isn’t a blog, you can still use the same strategy. You need to understand not everyone will read every word of your content. The average subscriber only spends 51 seconds reading a newsletter. Furthermore, people only read about 20% of the text on a page. If you want your message to resonate with your audience, include visuals. Pictures and infographics make it easy for people to scan through your content. In addition, try to use videos in your newsletters as often as you can. Emails that include videos have 96.38% higher click through rate and 5.6% higher open rates. Even if they aren’t reading every word, they can still get a general sense of your message. This relates back to the notion of sticking with a common goal throughout your newsletter. Take a look at this information about how visuals can impact a reader: People are visual learners. Using images and videos can help people process and retain information better. Don’t be afraid to add these elements to your newsletter. Plus, visuals will make your message look a lot more organized. Nobody wants to read giant blocks of text.

Discuss relevant content

As you just saw from the research above, people also unsubscribe from emails if they think the content is irrelevant. It’s important for you to stay on brand and on topic at all times. For example, let’s say you’ve got a company that manufactures various home goods like couches, coffee tables, and lamps. You shouldn’t be talking about the local weather, politics, or recent sporting events. It’s irrelevant to your brand, and it’s not what your subscribers want to hear about. Also, it’s a pretty good idea, in general, to stay away from controversial topics in your newsletter. I’m referring to things like religion, politics, race, and things of that nature, unless, of course, your business is in one of those spaces. People have a different perception of industries based on the relevancy of their email content: As you can see, the retail industry leads the way in this category. So if your company is in the entertainment, travel, media, or non-profit sectors, you may want to reassess the topics of your newsletters. One way to make sure you deliver the most relevant content is by letting your subscribers choose what they want to hear about. They can also decide how often they want to hear from you. When subscribers are initially signing up to receive your newsletter, let them customize these options. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about from Envato Tuts+: By default, new subscribers receive all emails. But if they want to hear from this brand only once a month, they can unselect the Weekly Digests option. These subscribers can even decide what type of content they want to hear about. People who want to get newsletters about music and audio may not be interested in code or web design topics. If you employ this strategy, you won’t have to worry about your subscribers thinking your content is irrelevant. This creates more work for you because you’ll have to write multiple newsletters each week and month. But it’s worth it because your conversion rates will be much higher for each campaign.

Be consistent without annoying your subscribers

When people subscribe to your newsletter, they expect to hear from you on a regular basis. Make sure you deliver the newsletter to your subscribers as promised. If they signed up for a weekly newsletter, you’d better send them a newsletter once per week. If they signed up for a monthly newsletter, sending them an email three times per year isn’t delivering on your promise. Slacking off on your consistency will damage the reputation of your brand. Your subscribers won’t be interested in converting because your credibility is lost. Conversely, people won’t be happy if they are expecting a monthly newsletter but instead get emails from you three times per week. This is annoying and could cause them to unsubscribe or report you as a spammer. Take a look at the top reasons why subscribers report spam: Getting too many emails is at the top of this list. I see this happen to companies all the time. Just because a person gave you permission to send them emails doesn’t mean you can take advantage of that privilege.

Connect in the body

This is where it’s time to really connect with your reader. It’s your opportunity to show how your product/service can provide them with real value and improve their life. I suggest keeping it short and simple and not overloading your reader with extraneous information. Remember, the point here is to gain their attention and build some initial rapport. You’re just looking to warm them up to advance them through the sales funnel. You’re not necessarily going for the jugular right away. Be sure to break up text into short, digestible paragraphs. I also suggest speaking in second person and using you when speaking to readers. Ask personal questions to give your email an intimate feel as if you’re talking face-to-face. I think HubSpot gives some good examples of this:

  • Do you have unanswered questions about [topic]?
  • How, if at all, would you like to improve your strategy?
  • Is [benefit to them] a priority for you right now? If you’ve ever read Ramit’s emails, you know he does a great job with this. The paragraphs are short. The tone is personal. And the whole point of the email is spot on: it’s filled with helpful, actionable information.

Write a killer opening line

Now that you’ve gotten readers to open your email, you need to draw them in deeper with an awesome opening line. This is probably more important than you might think. Why do I say this? Because the subject line isn’t always the first thing that people see! GASP! Yeah, I know you’ve been told that the subject line is the most important element of an email. As I explained above, however, the from line seems to have a higher level of impact on whether or not the email gets opened in the first place. But is that all? The from line and the subject? No. The first line of the email is important too. Most email browsers today display a portion of the message directly in the email browser. You don’t have to open the email to read a small section of it. Depending on the length of the subject line (and the viewport of the browser), the body of the email has two or three times as much visibility! It’s not just desktop email programs that do this, though. Don’t forget about mobile devices! Most mobile email apps show the opening line. So, what do you write in your opening line? I like addressing each reader by their first name. This comes across as being personal and authentic, which is key for getting them to read on. I also like to avoid the classic “Hi, my name is…” routine. Instead, I prefer to opt for something like “I noticed that you…” or “I saw that we both…” This approach helps the reader relate to me better and faster. I gain their attention by drawing upon a shared experience. Make sure you get to the point of your email from the get go. Preliminary chatting might turn off people who simply want to find out what the email is about. Just get right to the point so that you can make an instant connection. Notice how Jacob McMillen did this in his email: Writing like this will earn the respect of your readers. You value their time. You give them what they need. They get on with their lives.