Readers and writers on newsletter platforms Substack and Mailchimp have spiked dramatically over the pandemic. If you’re looking to launch your own subscription newsletter, journalist and editor, Isabella Silvers, who founded the weekly email newsletter Mixed Messages, tells Stylist how to get started.
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What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? If you answered: check your emails, you’re not alone. More than 2 million UK workers have admitted to scanning their inbox as soon as they wake up. And if there’s one type of email that’s worth waking up for, it’s an email newsletter.
Since their introduction 43 years ago, email newsletters have come a long way. We now live in the digital age where more than 300 billion emails are sent every day and where anyone who wants to write can build their own platform via a newsletter. And, since the Covid-19 pandemic started, the number of readers and ‘active writers’ on the newsletter platform Substack has doubled, with other outlets such as Mailchimp reporting similar spikes.
But what makes them so popular? As multi-award-winning journalist, editor and Mixed Messages newsletter founder Isabella Silvers tells us: “Newsletters are amazing, especially for marginalised communities, because they give you the space to talk authentically and in-depth about a topic that means a lot to you.”
This is exactly the reason why Izzy, who’s half Punjabi-Indian and half white-British, decided to launch her weekly newsletter, which takes a deep dive into the mixed-race experience by interviewing those living it.
“I always knew I wanted to have the conversation, but [the question was], in what format?” Izzy explains. “I thought newsletters were perfect to get into the convo, drop it into people’s inboxes and it’s a free resource.”
Since launching her newsletter in August 2020, Izzy has interviewed more than 50 mixed-raced voices from all different walks of life, gained thousands of followers on Instagram and Twitter and built up a community that believes in her cause. Here’s how to achieve just this when you decide to write yours.
Find the right newsletter platform for you
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to the range of newsletter platforms available. From MailChimp to MailerLite and Substack to SendInBlue, there are endless platforms out there. But before you dive right in, remember: it’s all about finding a platform that works for you and your content.
As Izzy says: “It’s a good idea to think about where your newsletter could take you, or where you want it to take you. Even if you start it out as a free newsletter, consider the options down the line. Is there an option to go paid in the future? And how easy would it be to do so?”
Other important features to look out for include: the price, the maximum number of subscribers, any email limits and how customised you can make your newsletter.
“I would suggest looking around at your favourite newsletters to see what platform they’re on,” Izzy adds.
Write about your passion – and try and find a niche
Do something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life – or so the saying goes. The same can be said for when you’re writing your newsletter, especially if it’s going to be daily, weekly or monthly as it will make it easier for you to create.
“If you want to write a newsletter, go for it, but having something that’s unique to you is going to help your newsletter stand out,” says Izzy. “If you want it to be successful and open up career opportunities then really think about that.”
Most importantly, Izzy says that when you do launch your newsletter you should try to make it focused.
“Newsletters that are focused tend to perform better than those that are broader,” Izzy tells us. “That’s because your readers will know what to expect when they read it.” This is what will keep your audience coming back for more.
Be as consistent as possible
As with most things in life, consistency is key. So when it comes to your newsletter, decide how often you’ll be releasing it, and try to stick to that.
“Being consistent is a great way to build up a following,” Izzy says. “If it’s a once a month newsletter, aim for once a month. If it’s weekly, let people know. Consistency is what’s really going to drive engagement.
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with releasing your newsletter as and when you can. But I want to build up Mixed Messages as a brand and I think consistency helps cement me as a reliable publication.”
If you’re wondering when to send your newsletter, Tuesdays and Thursdays seem to be the fans’ favourites according to Mailchimp. But as Izzy stresses, “Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason, you have to figure out what works for you.”
Think about the newsletter subject line
Email subject lines are “super important”, according to Izzy. They might be the shortest sentence in your newsletter, but anyone who has written one will know that sometimes, they are the hardest but to write. So what’s the key to crafting one?
“You have to ask yourself, ’What are people going to see when it lands in their inbox?’” Izzy explains. “The first few words are the most important, because the rest will get cut off.” After all, your headline or subject line is what will grab people’s attention and make them want to read what you have written.”
Certain newsletter platforms, such as Substack and Mailchimp, can give you the chance to preview what subscribers will see when it’s sent to their inbox. It’s a common belief that the shorter the email subject line is, the better. Usually, no more than nine words seem to do the trick.
If you’re stuck, why not get some outside opinions? “It’s OK to bounce headlines around with friends and see what they think,” Izzy adds.
Make it digestible
It might be tempting to make your newsletter as long as possible, but are people going to read all of it? Not necessarily.
“In my job, as an editor and journalist, I tend to stick to about 600 words because when you are in the industry, you are measured on engagement and we all know attention span can be short,” Izzy explains.
“If you want people to take the whole thing in, you need to make it digestible. Plus, I present Mixed Messages in a question-and-answer format, rather than doing a write-through. You can also try to break up the text with images, buttons and videos.”
Build an audience by reaching out to people in your niche
It’s all well and good writing a newsletter. But if you want your newsletter to be read, commented on and shared by the masses, how do you go about this?
According to Izzy, there are a number of ways you can build an audience and it starts with reaching out to like-minded people who already read and write about your niche.
Izzy says: “It can even be an email saying: ‘Hi, I hope you’re well, I’ve really enjoyed the work you’ve done and I just wanted to share that I’ve set up my newsletter – would love to hear what you think.’
“I think it’s OK to share cold emails like that because most people just want to support you and be excited that there’s something on the same topic.”
Izzy also mentioned spreading the word on social media, researching hashtags, and posting on Facebook groups. “Just having your eyes open and by scanning social media is a brilliant way to connect with people,” she says.
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Images: Getty, Rosaline Shahnavaz
Isabella Silvers, journalist, editor and founder of Mixed Messages newsletter
Isabella is an award-winning journalist at Hearst UK. Her passion for diversity led her to found the weekly newsletter Mixed Messages, which focuses on the mixed-race experience.