5 Tips for Newsletter Writing {The Grove: Author Interview}

Hey friends,

What a fun week, eh? I love hearing from authors themselves about their process or what drew them to a subject. Even in the small sampling we have had this week, what variety in subject matter—healthy marriages on the field, tent-making singles, non-fiction, fiction, and poetry.

You know about the book I authored, Looming Transitions, because we read it together last May:

In particular, the last three posts lift the curtain and share the back story with you. So, I thought today we would look at how we are all authors because of the need to communicate with supporters. I am in the process right now of editing my next book—Love, Amy: An Accidental Memoir Told in Newsletters From China—which is written with all of us in mind.

I believe there is much shame and uncomfortableness around newsletters overall; instead of adding to the shame with more “you shoulds,” my hope is that we can all feel empowered and (dare I say it) a bit excited about writing them when finished reading.

All this to say, I’ve been thinking about, studying, and writing tips for newsletters since last summer. In preparation for this post, I thought of 5 tips I would like to share today.

Make it easy for supporters—This first one is born out of my own personal experience this year as a supporter. I have started supporting someone who moved to the field a few months ago  . . .  at least I think she did since I have not heard from her. Recently I was meeting with a young man who is in the process of raising support himself and I told him this very tip: make it easy for supporters. “Take our mutual friend, I haven’t heard from her.” He looked at me confused, “But she blogs.”

Clearly I am a fan of blogging, as you are reading this ON A BLOG. A blog can be one tool in communicating with supporters, but here is why I believe it cannot be the primary tool: you are putting the responsibility for communication on your supporters. Now that I know the gal I support has a blog, guess who is a tad annoyed that I have to track down the info to hear about her? Yup, the person she wants not to be annoyed over something trivial, like tracking down a url.

If you use blogs as your primary way of communicating, may I offer two additional tips? First, still have an email list and quarterly send out an email with links to the blogs. Deliver the news to them; put the onus for communication on you, not them. Second, blogs (unless password protected) are public, very public. This is a neutral fact. You can share more when you know the whole world is not going to be reading it.

Show, don’t tell—Telling informs the brain, showing involves the heart, moving you in some way. Too often we communicate as if we are writing a grocery list.

I went to Bigiwawa. I gave seven presentations. I renewed my visa (PTL!!).

My brain is tracking with what you wrote, but my heart? She does not care and is now thinking about dinner or a sporting event or the kids homework or about anything but you and your ministry. She is not moved to pray for you.

Having taken a seven hour bus ride (complete with a crate of chickens who didn’t know they were supposed to stay in the crate!), Jason and I  . . . now, as a supporter, I am more engaged and therefore, more likely to pray for you and can picture you amongst the free-range-bus-chickens.

Use strong verbs—Let’s be honest, weak verbs are easier to write. They just are. So, instead of stressing over your verbs and getting all in your head, write your newsletter and then go back. Go back and look for two weak verbs and make them stronger. Don’t strengthen every verb. How to kill the joy. Right? But over time, slowly, your verbs will get stronger.

What am I talking about? Look for this phrase: There was. Or some form of it (there is, there were) because it is a weak verb alert.

There was a man on the bus who was getting in my personal space.

Instead of “was” (a weaker verb), how about: On the bus a man encroached on my personal space. It took every fiber in my being not to back away; I kept uttering the pre-field training mantra for personal space in this country: “my space is your space.”

In the battle between Was vs Encroached, it is not even close.

Consistency is more important than content—Let’s be honest again, given how much time we can spend on newsletter writing, don’t you kind of hope your supporters basically memorize them? Or at least do more than scan? When I met with the young man raising support last week, I stressed, “If you ask people a year later what you said in July, they probably will not remember. But if you asked them if they hear from you, that question they can answer.” Do not overthink what you are going to write. Just write something and ship it. Get it in their hands. Trust that the Holy Spirit will give you an idea for your next communication if you think this letter wasn’t great. Move on. Live, minister, write, rinse, repeat.

Two books you need to read—Writing is now a part of your job. As with any other skill you need in your job, we can all improve. But newsletter writing can be more than “a part of your job”; it is also part craft and part calling, as you minister to your supporters. If you are “not a writer,” I have two book recommendations for you:

Until next letter,

Amy

Which tip can you apply right now? What would you add to the list? Do you love or dread communicating with supporters? Leave a comment and you could win either the electronic or audio version of Looming Transitions. If you already own LT, enter and tell me who you want to give it to 🙂 — I’ll send you the audio version and you can tell me who want to give a copy to (either electronic or audio). 

~~~

This is The Grove and we want to hear from you! You can link up your blog post, or share your practices, ponderings, wisdom, questions, ideas, and creative expressions with us in the comments below.

 

30 Comments

  1. Ruth February 16, 2017

    Thanks, Amy! I like writing, so I don’t mind writing newsletters. I think the tip about looking for weak verbs and replacing them is a great one. Looking forward to reading your book!

    1. Amy Young February 17, 2017

      The idea of strong verbs have been helpful to me too :). Thanks Ruth!

  2. Heather Henson February 16, 2017

    Hi Amy,

    Thanks for your very helpful article you posted this week. While I I found all the tips helpful, this one especially attracted my attention for good reason…

    “Do not overthink what you are going to write. Just write something and ship it. Get it in their hands. Trust that the Holy Spirit will give you an idea for your next communication if you think this letter wasn’t great. Move on. Live, minister, write, rinse, repeat.”

    Thank you from one who consistently falls into the trap of ‘overthinking’ what I wrote!

    1. Amy Young February 17, 2017

      Ah yes, I can get in my own head too :). I need this tip as well!

  3. Jill February 16, 2017

    Thanks Amy! I love these tips, especially “Just write something and ship it.” I am one who dreads sending out newsletters. I regularly have to tell myself “an imperfect newsletter with lots of typos that is sent, is better than the perfect newsletter that is never sent”. I remind myself that God is at work, and His story deserves to be told. I sent out monthly updates, keep them short and sweet, and include lots of pictures.

    1. Amy Young February 17, 2017

      Yes :)! I find we go over and thank about what we write much more than those who read them :). They don’t need masterpieces, they just want to hear from us 🙂

  4. Phyllis February 17, 2017

    Thank you! I enjoy writing our letters. It just frustrates me that people don’t seem to read them. 🙁 I try to follow all the advice, but I think it may just be that we’ve been out of sight, out of mind for a long time. My blog posts seem to get more readers, but even there, it’s the faithful few who read.

    1. Amy Young February 17, 2017

      I get this!! Just recently I had an urgent prayer need and ask people to hit reply if they would pray . . . and it blessed me so much how many hit reply and let me know :)!!! Helped to encourage me that people actually ARE reading — more than it looks like. Still, it can be discouraging.

  5. Brittnee February 17, 2017

    I appreciate the tips about descriptive verbs that capture readers’ attention (although my search for the most meaningful words can sometimes keep me from shipping! Woe to perfectionism).

    One of my greatest struggles with newsletter is getting my readers to open them. Only about half of the people who receive my email newsletters actually read them. I wonder if it depends on the subject line. I’m confident that once they open the email they’ll keep reading but the subject line is what has to hook them at first, right? Oy! 🙁

    1. Stephanie February 17, 2017

      One thing I’ve noticed is that the data on “opens” doesn’t always seem accurate. (I use mailchimp.) I’m not a tech person but I think a lot depends on the recipient’s e-mail hosting service and platform. Some people’s data will say they opened it 27 times! And a large segment of my list – anyone that works with my previous org – never “opens” it. I know that’s not true because sometimes they message me with specific things they learned from the newsletter or bring it up when I go back to my old city to visit. I’m sure it’s not a 100% open rate but I’ve stopped paying attention to that data. It’s not a way I assess if the communication was “successful” or the newsletter was valuable.

      That all to say – don’t let it discourage you!

      1. Brittnee February 17, 2017

        Thanks Stephanie.

        It’s very very easy to let that determine people’s care for me.

        1. Amy Young February 17, 2017

          Helpful thoughts here, Brittnee and Stephanie! Thank you

  6. Michelle February 17, 2017

    Thank you! This is timely for me as I’m working on this months newsletter right now. I love to write, but I’m glad for any tips since newsletters pose some special challenges! Consistency is something I’m working on. Newsletters are a big enough project (because I usually “overthink”) that I tend to put them off, and end up not writing nearly as often as I intend to. So my current goal is to be more consistent.

    1. Amy Young February 17, 2017

      Yes :). I think short and often will actually go further than long and labored over :). Ah, the paradoxes of newsletter writing 🙂

  7. Camila February 17, 2017

    Thanks for the tips! The one that speaks to me the most is about using strong verbs over the weak ones. Sometimes I get caught up in wanting to get the newsletter out that I don’t think about how it sounds!
    One thing I’ve learnt from writing newsletters these last 5 years of service is to keep them short (I also use mailchimp), most people don’t want to sit reading a longwinded newsletter, especially young people whom we’re always trying to recruit!
    Thanks again!!

    1. Amy Young February 17, 2017

      I agree that the media form needs to influence! And other tip with mail chimp (or other email delivery services) is to keep paragraphs shorter than we were taught in school :)!

  8. Grace L February 17, 2017

    Thanks, Amy, for this very helpful post. I also really liked: “Do not overthink what you are going to write. Just write something and ship it. Get it in their hands. Trust that the Holy Spirit will give you an idea for your next communication if you think this letter wasn’t great. Move on. Live, minister, write, rinse, repeat.” My consistency to to try to get out a newsletter every other month, but by the end of month one, I am already writing in my head what I want to share with our supporters. If I took all that energy of writing the letter in my head and got my fingers on the keyboard and “just do it”, I would find it easier and I think our supporters might like hearing from us on a more regular basis. I am challenged now to write more often and keep it simpler. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Amy Young February 17, 2017

      Yay!! Grace, your comment makes me happy. If we can all move a bit towards freedom in communication, I’m a happy camper. More often and simpler is life-giving, isn’t it?!

  9. Jenilee February 17, 2017

    Amy I love these! I linked to this post in my social media post!

  10. Lisa Anderson February 17, 2017

    Honestly, I almost skipped this post! We’ve been writing newsletters for 30 years and pretty much feel like “we’ve got this”! But such great advice and easy to implement. Thank you!!!

    And I just got a text from my husband saying this month’s letter is ready to be edited! I’m going to apply these right now. 🙂

    1. Amy Young February 18, 2017

      Wonderful :)! I’ve been writing newsletter for over 20 years and just started reading the book “Several short sentences about writing” and it is blowing my little writing mind :). Oh my, still so much to learn. But that’s good! 🙂

  11. Shelly February 17, 2017

    My take away – just do it, and do it regularly!
    “Do not overthink what you are going to write. Just write something and ship it. Get it in their hands. Trust that the Holy Spirit will give you an idea for your next communication if you think this letter wasn’t great. Move on. Live, minister, write, rinse, repeat.”
    Amy, this is what I needed to hear – again! I get hung up on the content of the message, and fail to keep up with regular, consistent contact points. Even if my e-mail list needs to be updated, it isn’t a reason to NOT write NOW. Right? 🙂 I’m sending one this weekend!

    1. Amy Young February 18, 2017

      Yay! And I get it! “Reasons”/ excuses like “I need to update my mailing list” are legit, but they can get in the way of the bigger picture . . . communicating with folks :)!

  12. Spring February 17, 2017

    Thanks so much for the tips on newsletter writing. I had fomerly read your book on kindle unlimited. Since our family is facing yet another transition, I knew I had to buy the book, as well as the resource book. Thank you for your insights.

    1. Amy Young February 18, 2017

      And thank you, Spring, for your kind encouragement!

  13. Christy February 18, 2017

    I am grateful for the tips. Especially don’t overthink and use strong verbs. I struggle to read letters from folks I am supporting when they do that divided page thing. You know when you have to scroll down to read one column then back up, etc. I usually don’t make it through once I lose my place and am focused on a picture. I will read the books you mentioned. I can use all the help I can get. I do dread writing the letters!

    1. Amy Young February 18, 2017

      Christy me too!!!!!! If I have to scroll around and squint and try to figure out what people are saying, honestly, I give up and delete the message. I had forgotten I do that :). But it is true. Yes, help readers/supporters to be able to engage fairly easily!

  14. Barbara February 26, 2017

    This was one my favorite posts. Yes, I join the others in saying I enjoy writing and been writing newsletters a long time. I do think it’s part of the job. We are somewhere that many of our readers may never see first hand. Readers are motivated by many things but there’s so many that are even looking up your country on the map only because YOU are there. When I can share something that makes that place come off the map and into their world I feel successful. I love hearing – “I never knew that!”

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