I’ve got a problem.
I really, really hate creating something that isn’t considered unique and memorable.
If you want to watch me spiral into misery, tell me to go do a thing the way someone else did a thing.
I dread mediocrity.
And, even more, I NEED whatever I create to stand out.
Which brings me to a current project that I’ve decided to share with you because I think you can help me:
Curated’s website is now on Webflow and I can actually make changes to it (it used to be inside the app’s codebase).
We went ahead and added our free tier to the site to communicate that loud and clear via CTAs (calls to action buttons like “Start for Free”).
Next, I’m planning to update the Features page. Here’s where my problem comes into play: I don’t want a boring list of features with meh descriptions.
I want to focus on the results those features help newsletter writers achieve.
I want narrative.
AND I want site visitors to feel like it’s easy to navigate to the features that would most benefit them (it’s not the same for every persona).
So before I just go write and design it the way I think it should be communicated, I thought I would ask your opinion. It’s really important to me that we don’t just assume you value a feature for what we think it does for you, but that we understand what you use it for and why you like or don’t like it.
So I’ve created a Google Form that asks you to rate how important a feature is to you and explain why you like having it.
This is NOT EXCLUSIVELY FOR CURATED USERS.
It’s for newsletter creators.
So I can understand and serve you better, even if you don’t use Curated.
I would be insanely grateful if you took a few minutes to fill it out and doesn't require an email address. You can rank and type responses, just rank, or just type a few–it’s up to you how detailed you want to get.
Here’s a list what’s included:
The newsletter lessons in this?
Thank you for indulging me in this request.
I’ll be back to more relevant storytelling next week.
I think my husband is having a midlife crisis.
Because he’s got our whole family creating vision boards.
Like, poster boards we are supposed to decorate with things we want in life.
Not only are we creating these boards, he had us watch The Secret: Dare to Dream last weekend to inspire us to focus on what we most want.
This is not within the realm of anything he’s ever done before.
He’s usually very anti anything hokey or “feel good.”
But here I am staring at a blank vision board in my office because he heard about the movie and the vision board concept in a podcast.
Since when does he listen to podcasts?
The concept is that you have to know what you want to get what you want.
And maybe that’s what paralyzes me.
Because what I want tends to change.
I have some solid desires: our family’s health, financial stability, etc.
And then I have some materialistic ones: a new SUV, magazine photo-worthy home decor, and a luxurious European vacation.
My youngest daughter quickly filled hers up with birthday present ideas: a drone, a teacup pomeranian, hair dyed like a rainbow that shows only on the underside.
But something in me feels embarrassed to create that type of wish list.
What I really want is moments.
Experiences that happen when you do things.
That feeling when you climb a mountain (literally).
Or go somewhere new together for the first time and explore.
I want adventures and the unfolding of narratives that can’t be manufactured or even predicted.
It took drafting this prologue to figure that out.
Life’s key moments are those of realization, I suppose.
That’s what sitting down and writing does for me.
It sharpens my vision.
Does forcing yourself to write to your readers do that for you?
Is your newsletter the type that takes them on a little mental journey?
If it is, I suggest starting with this prompt:
What’s troubling me and might also be troubling my subscribers?
For me it was the blank board and my husband’s unnerving positive-thinking kick.
Chances are, whatever is troubling you could turn into a way to connect and further the sender/recipient relationship a newsletter so fittingly supports.
Plus, you could figure out what you want.
This issue is brimming with inspiration, from newsletters you might want to turn to for inspiration, to conversational copywriting, to how influential the genre is becoming.
I hope you like it.
Let me know if you do.
A few weeks ago Zoom was glitchy and my all-remote team decided to meet using Slack for our video meeting.
You should have heard the groaning.
It was unbearable.
Everything was in a different place.
Like when you drive someone else’s car and you keep washing the windshield instead of using the turn signal.
We were all a little dramatic about it.
I like to think I’m more funny than annoying, but I’ll leave that to my co-workers to decide.
Anyway, we pushed through the meeting, but when we next met, on Zoom, it was refreshing to have everything where it was “supposed” to be.
It’s the concept of a “lived-in digital experience.”
This is something I was introduced to by my CEO before I came on staff at Simple Focus Software.
He’d shared this video of Patrick McNeely, VP of Operations at Simple Focus—the agency is different from the software company, but we share a CEO and ideas—explaining how designers should strive to create digital experiences that mimic life experiences.
He uses a pair of well-worn jeans as an example.
You’ve lived in them.
The threads are bare in places that reflect a certain movement you’ve made in them over and over.
And it’s a great way to think about software design.
It explains my team and our Slack video meeting woes.
But it can extend to newsletters.
Are you creating a “lived-in experience” for your readers?
Does your newsletter feel familiar?
Are your sections, your voice, your tone, and your style of delivering information becoming part of their lives?
Or could they replace you with a different newsletter and not really notice?
Today’s issue is a little thought-provoking. I read some articles this week that sent my head spinning in a “what is the meaning of (newsletter) life, anyway?” sort of way.
Let me know what you think.
I shared a special moment with my oldest daughter over the Fourth of July weekend.
No. It wasn’t watching fireworks.
Although, that was nice.
And it wasn’t seeing hot air balloons.
That was cool, too.
It was, instead, during a family meal as we discussed the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner.
My husband was explaining that the reason we shoot fireworks was to remember the battle for freedom, “You know, like in the song. Oh say can you see?”
At this point, I remembered what I ALWAYS remember when this song is sung:
That Ramona Quimby (beloved Beverly Cleary book character) thought that the next line of the song, By the dawn’s early light was actually by the dawnzer lee light.
When I mentioned this, my daughter had a lovely moment of respect for the fact that I actually remembered something I must have read when I was around her age.
Plus, it felt like a shared secret.
Dad and sister just didn’t “get it.”
Although I enjoyed reading aloud to my daughters before they could read themselves, I take great joy in the concept that when we’ve each read something individually, we’ve shared an experience.
Writers have the ability to create communities of readers that don’t need Facebook groups or Slack chats to know they belong to each other. All they really need to do is speak in code, using a term or phrase from the world that the writer built, realize they are members of that community, and bond over the excitement of the shared mental experience of reading that particular book or series.
I tend to gravitate toward friends who have overlapping reading tastes with my own. At times, it feels snobbish, but I can sometimes catch myself thinking, “If you haven’t read X, you probably don’t get me.” It’s a strange phenomenon.
Does your newsletter create this sense of mental community for your subscribers?
There’s a bit of chatter about community lately and the value of creating one (which I don’t discount), but I think some of the best communities are the ones built by sharing experiences that trigger almost sentimental memories.
Powerful writing, disruptive ideas, anything that sticks with others forms this sort of community. The experience of consuming the same content creates the bond.
A newsletter can BE community.
It’s a powerful thing, the dawnzer lee light.
Today’s issue offers ideas for preparing for Apple Mail’s upcoming privacy changes, a prompt to discuss what makes a newsletter “need to have,” and tips for enjoying the process of publishing.
So I signed my daughters up for a day camp that I would want to go to myself.
It’s called a Young Filmmakers Workshop.
Doesn’t that sound AMAZING?
They’ll spend a week working in small groups to write, film, and produce mini movies to premiere the Saturday after it wraps.
They’re really excited.
The closest thing I did to this was a creative writing camp.
But I can remember the fun of spending a week learning about a craft and dorking out with other kids who cared about writing.
There’s something pretty magical about finding “your people” and really connecting as you work on a project together.
That happens for me with work projects sometimes. Those moments when it’s just so cool that you get paid for doing whatever you’re doing.
I know I’m not the only one.
That feeling also hits with Opt In Weekly, too, when readers respond and the newsletter feels a bit like a community. There are times when I get all the good feels from truly serving you.
Does your newsletter feel that way? Do you want it to?
Don’t be afraid to get a little vulnerable with your readers and welcome them into your world.
Invite them to your version of a young filmmakers workshop.
Give them a reason to be really excited to connect with someone who “gets them.”
Do it by really understanding what they care about and being helpful.
Learn what it’s like to be them.
Today’s issue is a nice mix of tips and insights from creators, marketers, and publishers who would be wonderful guest presenters for a newsletter creators workshop.
I’ll step aside and let their voices guide you.
Let me know what you think… and if you’d be interested in attending a small group newsletter makers workshop at some point. I feel a new project coming on.
Oh, and if you want to listen to me babble about newsletters on a podcast for industrial marketers, check that out here.
Let’s think through newsletter evolution.
I don’t care if they do or don’t teach it in schools in your state.
I’m here to say, “Newsletter evolution is real.”
And that we all need to be active participants in this phenomenon.
What do I mean?
Don’t be afraid to retire a segment, category, or whatever you call a content section of your newsletter.
It’s ok to change anything and everything.
The way you deliver sections of content.
Magazines do this all the time.
Segments play out.
And that’s ok.
When you launch a new section, it may fail fast, or it may have several years in it.
Either is ok.
Your purpose is to keep your reader engaged.
That could mean changing things up.
I promise that very few people will respond in vehement anger, complaining you stopped publishing their favorite bit.
...But if they do, there is no rule that you can’t bring it back.
A newsletter is a wonderful way to test content to see which stories and formats your audience likes and which ones get a little action but then go stale.
Let your newsletter evolve.
Add, subtract, rearrange, and redecorate.
It’s all ok.
Today’s Prologue was inspired by the amazing content strategy mastermind I ran with Russ Henneberry, Founder of theCLIKK, last Friday. We had a blast helping people come up with ideas and this topic of evolution was a fun one to address. Now I’m thinking… “What will I change next?”
I hope you enjoy this issue.
On Saturday, my brother and I took our children fishing.
Four cousins enjoyed a Mississippi summer afternoon casting off the edge of the lake and reeling in small bream.
There was a hectic time period when my brother and I were constantly baiting hooks with worms and releasing fish back into the water.
But that moment had to be earned.
At first, everyone had to be set up.
Imagine the anxiety of 4 children walking around with hooks and not really listening to us coaching them to stand far apart.
Then, everyone had to be patient.
One gave up for a bit.
It was hot and the fish weren’t biting.
“I want to go home!”
Then, we had to tweak some settings.
My oldest had a lure she’d bought a year ago, but the fish seemed to prefer live worms, so we changed that.
Then, when we found a few hot spots and the bream started biting, the giver-upper decided to be a joiner-inner. So we set her back up again.
She ended up catching more than anyone.
There was a bit of jealousy.
Why, after sitting things out, had she been able to outfish them all?
It was the size of her hook.
It was smaller.
Turns out that was the optimal setting.
There was a time period when every single time she cast her rod she caught a fish.
What can we learn from this and apply to our email newsletters?
You don’t catch fish (readers) sitting on the sidelines.
You’re going to have to test and tweak your approach.
Sometimes a smaller hook (think niche) can be the reason you capture attention.
This issue is an exciting one for me.
We’re announcing the release of Paid Newsletters for Curated here first. Scroll down to Curated News if you’re interested in making 100% commission on paid subscriptions. We’re not taking a cent.
There are also some inspirational stories, expert advice, and a few new approaches you might want to consider.
Let’s get started.
Hello, Newsletter People.
I’ve missed you.
So much has happened since my last send 2 weeks ago.
Namely, Apple’s announcement of new privacy features that will mean open rates won’t mean what they used to. I’ve included plenty of content about that in the Newsletter Tips section of this issue, so go ahead and scroll if it’s what you’re most interested in today.
You won’t hurt my feelings. Promise.
But I do have a little story… because I’m me.
You may remember my family moved states from Florida to Mississippi last week.
Everything is going well.
We’ll be unpacking boxes for a while.
In addition to having a dedicated office from which I can draft you this epistolary thing we call Opt In Weekly, we’re now in a neighborhood with children.
This is huge for our daughters.
Our Florida neighborhood was lovely, but it was mostly retirees. There was a brief time period when a girl near their ages lived next door and it was really nice to let them play together. But that was a 6-month rental situation. It ended and things got boring again.
So as we chose this house, knowing there would be other children in the neighborhood was really important.
They can look out windows, see other children playing, go outside to introduce themselves, and experience the joy of not having to go somewhere to engage with friends. It’s a pretty amazing transition for them.
And here’s how you can apply this little joy we’re experiencing to your newsletter:
You need to (intentionally) be where the audience you want to attract hangs out. If you don’t know where that is, find out.
Don’t go there to sell them something or to try to bring them to your newsletter.
Go there to become one of them. To understand them. To learn to write in their language.
This week’s issue is a little on the light side (let’s get real: you care about Apple’s changes right now and I get that, so I prioritized that news). But let’s not forget that open rates are just one of the ways we know we’re reaching people with our content. The relationship you use your newsletter to build transcends quantitative data.
We’re cooking up some ideas at Curated to help you through this challenge, so stay tuned for that.
Reply to let me know your thoughts and concerns, if you even have any.
It’s another Friday delivery of your (favorite?) newsletter about newsletters.
Savor it. There will be no issue next week because I’m taking the week off and moving back to my home state of Mississippi.
I’ll spare you the surge of emotions I’m feeling about leaving Florida, and focus instead on the most exciting feature in our new house (and I’ll attempt to metaphorically tie it into the act of newslettering).
It’s this thing I’ve been wishing for since I began working from home in June 2019. So, you know, two years in the making. It’s an office with… a door!
I feel like a child who is getting her own room for the first time: stinking ecstatic.
You see, I’ve been working in an open concept living room for the past two years and it hasn’t been pretty.
I love my family.
But achieving deep focus while their lives take place around me has been challenging.
Add to that a pandemic and the longest spring break ever (March - September 2020), and you might be able to understand why I’m an adult woman who fantasizes about closing a door. I seriously have daydreams about not getting interrupted in the middle of typing a sentence.
So I’m really concentrating on that door as I box up belongings and say goodbye to the coastal life I love.
Now, how can my closed door fantasy support your newsletter ambitions?
I think I’ve teed up a lesson about distractions—recognizing them and figuring out how to limit them.
And this isn’t just about not having an 8-year-old practicing piano five feet away.
It’s about understanding how you work best and creating that scenario for yourself.
It’s about evaluating opportunities that present themselves and not overcommitting.
It’s about identifying the digital doors you need to close (cough, cough—Slack) and concentrating.
As a subscriber of many newsletters, I can tell you this: the very best ones come from people and teams who prioritize the deep focus it requires to win inbox attention.
Figure out which doors you need to close to keep your subscribers opening.
Today’s issue has a few real downer stories mixed in with some very solid tips and advice.
Maybe I’m a little melancholy about the move or maybe the reports about the state of writing and trust in journalism are suffering from a shadow cast by the pandemic?
As always, let me know what you like or dislike. I look forward to your responses almost as much as I’m looking forward to my new door.
My daughters both bridge to the next level of Girl Scouts next week.
It’s a big deal.
We all get a great sense of pride at these ceremonies.
Mainly because the week before bridging I hustle and get all their badges on their uniforms.
Just kidding. Kind of.
It’s more about what they’ve done in the past two years as a Daisy, Brownie, or Junior.
The task of making sure all the badges and pins are on before that final moment is pretty monumental, too. Especially in a pandemic year when I’ve been operating in mission critical mode and procrastinating things that require extra energy I don’t seem to have.
As I worked on one vest the other night, making sure the different types of badges and pins were all in the correct spots and reflecting on how they were earned, I thought about copywriting.
I know. I’m a nerd. We’re all aware.
What struck me is that to an outsider (say, someone who has no clue what anything on the vest means), it’s just a mix of fabric bits and pins. But to a Girl Scout, the placement and number of pins is everything.
For example, the girl’s left side of the vest is reserved for Journey Badges. These are multi-week journeys that require the girls to really dive into a certain topic (this year they did Think Like a Programmer) and then complete a Take Action Project (not a community service, a sustainable project that has lasting impact).
On the right side she boasts “Try It” badges. Each has 5 requirements she must meet to earn the badge. They add up as she learns a variety of skills such as Simple Meals, Horseback Riding, Eco Camping, ect.
And there are pins that represent how many years she’s been a Girl Scout, how many years she has sold cookies, and if she’s completed 3 journeys during her time at any level (it’s called a Journey Summit Award).
This is a simplified explanation, of course. But what you end up with is a visual display that seems foreign to some but immediately communicates how accomplished she is to those who understand the Girl Scout world.
A few weeks ago, I shared a video clip from Newsletter Fest of Liz Willits explaining the importance of writing for skimmers and for those who read every word. It’s like the Girl Scout vest. There will be bold statements that communicate the main points, but more meaning waiting in the text below.
There are people who just want a surface-level explanation, and people who understand that there’s a story behind that subhead: people who read and click.
Write for both skimmers and divers.
Fill your vest (newsletter) with the stories you want to tell.
And, issue after issue, build a world they can choose to explore at the level they enjoy.
Today’s Prologue hints at a topic I hope you’ll find as interesting as I do: worldbuilding. There’s a wonderful article in the Marketing section about how you can use fiction writing tactics to build a world for your real life audience.
There are also some pieces about the creator economy and exciting announcements about private newsletters and a special event we have coming up in Curated News.
Now, let’s spelunk into this newsletter world.