The Republic of Newsletters

When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re supposed to look at problems as opportunities. Every problem is some sort of solution, even if it’s a way to avoid said problem. Those solutions can be turned into products and services that can be sold, in order to help other people having the same problem. Sometime you just have to solve a problem as part of your own ongoing process improvement, so you can keep doing what you’re doing. And that how I find myself about to re-enter the Republic of Newsletters.

When I decided to begin blogging again, I quoted author Warren Ellis in how difficult it has become for creators to reach an audience online. He refers to the Invisible College of Blogs and the Republic of Newsletters, who are “pro-reading, pro-thinking, pro- the independence of voices.” I’ve already talked about my reasons for coming back to blogging. Picking up doing a newsletter is going to be a bit tougher. I see it as necessary, but it’s not something I want to do.

Last Friday I released a new book on DriveThruRPG (and Patreon, and Amazon, but that’s not relevant to the story other than as a cheap plug). As part of my standard operating procedure, I sent out a customer email. Their website allows you to send an email, through their system, to people who have purchased your products in the past. It’s pretty neat, easy to use, and it’s how I generate most of my sales. It seriously goes up to thousands upon thousands of people.

A few things happen when I send out an email that way. First, the page grinds for a while, then tells me it’s been sent and how many people it’s gone out to. That number fluctuates based on new customers, people who opt out, and so on. Second, I get an email that states that mailing has begun. Somewhere in the process I get a copy of the email, sent to my personal account. Finally, I get a confirmation that the email has completed sending.

This process normally takes a few minutes, but it can take a couple of hours. The email goes into a queue, so if a lot of other publishers are sending things, or they’re doing server maintenance, or whatever, it can take a bit. No big deal. It always goes through eventually.

Except this time, it didn’t.

Now, this should not be construed as bashing on DriveThruRPG. They’ve been consistently great to work with, and I know that technical glitches happen. The page crashed during sending, but I’ve had that happen before. It’s usually my internet connection being stupid and timing out. After almost 10 hours, though, I hadn’t gotten any emails. I checked my spam filter, just in case. I contacted my publisher rep, who gave me some things to try and told me not to worry.

I reached out to a couple of people who I know are on the list, and asked if they got an email, thinking maybe it went out but I just didn’t get confirmation. Nope. I resent the email. Nothing. I tried to contact my rep again, but at that point he was out of the office for the weekend, off to do a game convention. Not considering this an emergency, I didn’t reach out to anyone else at DriveThruRPG.

Saturday morning, I still had no emails. I logged into the site and saw that I’d had some sales, but they didn’t track to the email (I can do that, too — it’s neat and useful). I also so that someone had reviewed one of my other recent books. Hmm. I usually get an email when they happens. Maybe, I was beginning to suspect, this was a bigger issue.

I made a purchase on the site. Nothing big, a sale generate an email confirmation, with a link to download the product. Sale went through. No email. This was a bigger problem, so I contacted DriveThruRPG with all of the details.

But all of that is just the setup for my epiphany, and why I’m picking up doing the Dancing Lights Press newsletter again.

I realized that my main marketing tool was in the hands of someone else. When something happens to them, I don’t have a lot of control. My sales this weekend sucked because I was never successfully able to get that email out. Hopefully it will be resolved today, when everyone is back in the office, but that’s still not the point. I need to be in control of my own mailing list, the names on it, and the means to send it out.

That’s going to be a project. I have ideas on how to build readership. After a little research, I came to the conclusion that the newsletter doesn’t have to be long, but it will need to be weekly. I’m going to have to promote the hell out of it, which isn’t that big of a deal because, again, I have ideas.

But it’s one more thing on my plate every week. A necessary thing, but still. I need to find a way to make it fun for readers, and to offer them something useful. The hard part is finding a way to make me excited about it. I was one of the original RPG bloggers. I started in 1995 and gave it up around 2009 because I was burned out. There’s a reason I write books on roleplaying, rather than blog posts.

So it will be a couple of weeks before the first new issue comes out, because I need to hammer out some ideas. I need to look at what other people are doing, to get a feel for what works right now but also to see what no one else is doing. Then I can offer something different. I can build an independent readership, and use that to announce new releases, and sales, and other things regardless of what platform I’m selling on.

Feedback is appreciated.

Stay tuned.

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