When I was in primary school, one of my mates – I want to say his name was Scott, but I think I’m misremembering – had a newsletter.
As best I can recall, it being a very long time ago, it was basically a schoolyard gossip rag full of anecdotes, jokes, and rumours (fabricated, in all likelihood) concerning teachers and students. He filled spare space with word searches and hard-to-comprehend song lyrics (which he may or may not have researched). He wrote it by hand and got his mum to run copies off on her office Gestetner.
Badly smudged, shakily laid out and riddled with libels. One look and I was smitten. With the concept, if not the execution.
My high school foray into print journalism, along with my besties Chris and Evan, was the legendary absurdist comedy magazine “APG”, which stood for something different each issue. APG was laid out in high-tech Apple IIe dot-matrix splendour and run off at the considerable expense of 10 cents per page on the school library photocopier. Jam-packed with faux news, weird in-jokes, sketch comedy scripts and an oddly popular soap opera parody, it was a beloved institution to its audience – as many as a dozen of our school friends – for its enduring run of six or so issues.
(Obviously we were mostly writing it to amuse ourselves, but by all accounts it was pretty entertaining material. There’s a very strong possibility that my career as a humourist peaked when I was sixteen. Certainly I’ll never again have so receptive an audience as I did in those days).
I told that story to tell this one.
Received wisdom for the modern author is that you have to have a mailing list (yes, that’s seven different links to essays on the subject) to help build and maintain your audience. It makes sense – if a reader is sufficiently informed, entertained or intrigued enough by your writing to give you their email address, you want to do everything you can to keep them around long enough to buy your next book.
Upon hearing that even modestly successful authors can find themselves in possession of unmanageably large lists of email addresses, I decided to get on the front foot. If there’s a pinnacle of accomplishment plausibly within my grasp, “modestly successful” probably covers it.
Call me gullible if you must, but it made enough sense to me that I duly set up a Mailchimp account.
Mailchimp is an online marketing service that manages email lists and distributes bulk communications without getting caught in spam filters. It’s just one of several such tools – other low-cost options include AWeber, Constant Contact and Active Campaign, but there are dozens of these things. I picked the one with the cartoon ape mascot.
Through various online mechanisms, ranging from the static signup form at the right side of this page or the bottom of this post, through to harder marketing techniques like competitions, free giveaways or paid advertising, Mailchimp collects the email address of potential readers and holds them ready for the moment when you have something to say.
The newsletter is the basic unit of currency for communicating with a mailing list.
Oh boy. When I figured that out, the old quasi-journalistic instincts kicked straight in.
It required a tremendous act of will not to immediately turn my regular author newsletter into a madcap recreation of my high school glory days. I’m not entirely sure I achieved it.
I think I’ve managed to curb the impulse to go the Full Gonzo. Where news appears, it’s by and large accurate. References to my peers and associates will not, under ordinary circumstances, attract lawsuits. There appear no pictures of amusing lewd vegetables.
Should you feel moved to sign up to my newsletter, every six weeks or so an email will appear in your inbox. It will typically include brief comments on what I’m working on, directions to any upcoming fiction publications, and perhaps a wry observation about current events, possibly containing a joke or two. An amateurish illustration is not out of the question.
It will also contain free fiction. Sometimes quite a lot of it, depending on what I’ve been up to. It may be a complete flash fiction piece, part or the whole of a short story, or an excerpt from a novel. When it’s not one of those, it will be the latest part of my YA fantasy adventure series Orphans’ Moon.
I like to think I’m offering good value in exchange for that email address.
But if you disagree, I can always resurrect the crowd-pleasing soap opera comedy. I’m not above pandering.