“Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!”
It was 3 a.m.
My just-turned-10-year-old was shaking and crying in my bed beside me.
Her ears were hurting.
Even after a trip to the pediatrician.
And some acetaminophen.
For the swimmer’s ear infection she was experiencing.
She couldn’t get comfortable.
It was as if she was a woman in labor, experiencing contractions.
The pain came in waves.
If you’ve ever held a child through intense pain,
Wished you could absorb it and take it from them,
Felt the weight of sleep deprivation,
And showed back up at the doctor the morning after,
Then you know my plight.
Apparently she had some mucus and debris in her outer ear canal keeping the drops from working well.
And the solution was either continuing the same approach and waiting through the pain…
Or having the doctor insert wicks.
They’re little compressed sponges that expand when you add drops and ensure that the medicine actually touches what it should.
Imagine your child walking around with foam earplugs.
It was still a rough day.
The process can only be accelerated so much and we’d not slept much the night before.
But we got a few more hours the next night and last night she didn’t wake up once.
I’m drafting this after a full night’s rest, and considering…
… how this can be related to newslettering:
Your subscriber is the child in pain, trying to get better but not experiencing success at a desired pace.
Can your newsletter be a wick?
Can you get them…
…the information they need
…the strategies they should try
…and the best advice
…faster than going it alone?
Evaluate your next issue.
Will it help your reader bypass pain?
Will it help them sleep through the night?
New motto: Be wicked good.
“This image shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago, with many more galaxies in front of and behind the cluster.”—NASA
If you’ve not caught yourself in awe of the James Webb Space Telescope images released in recent days, I assume you must have more important things going on.
Meanwhile, my jaw is permanently dropped, as distant galaxies come into sharp focus.
As we look back at… the bit after the beginning?
NASA reports state that the galaxy cluster images we are seeing show us somewhere within a billion years after the big bang.
Use this sort of language and I am immediately transported to a childhood memory of being snuggled in bed reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, who encouraged young minds like mine to imagine space / time travel. She taught me the universe was ever expanding. But she also taught me that the love of one young girl could save it from darkness.
Last night I watched a red super moon rise over the Atlantic Ocean, mesmerizing clusters of people gathered at the oceanfront to catch a glimpse, as if its gravitational force brought us together.
My daughters insisted on photo sessions that captured them cupping it in their hands.
They held the moon.
It held their attention.
And the expanding universe felt both small and infinite at the same time.
What newsletter lesson does this cosmic ramble arrive at, though?
I think it is the idea that you (and your newsletter) can be 2 or more things at once:
Pulled by a strong gravitational force with your bare feet in lush green grass and also part of an expanding universe that we can somehow collect billion-year-old images of and study.
None of us is really just one thing.
The advice of niching down is smart, unless it feels unbearably restrictive.
You (and your brand) are the intersection of many experiences, emotions, and opinions.
Find ways to weave those into what you create.
Be “both and” without worrying you shouldn’t.
Create gravitational pull through your writing, and by what you choose to share.
Take pictures of a past no one has ever seen.
Dare others to imagine that they can achieve their dreams.
Help them hold the moon by delivering an experience they opt in to receive.
We’d been at the beach for less than 2 days and already I’d sat under 2 of THEM.
It was quite comfy under the giant shadows my neighbor / friends had offered to share.
Each seemed excessively proud to own the latest in ridiculously-easy-to-assemble-beach-shade technology: the Shibumi Shade.
“My friend told me about it. She said they’re everywhere on Ponte Vedra beach. The Shiiiiii-buuuuuu-miiii.”
“I’ll have you know we had ours before they really caught on and it became a thing. We were the first in the neighborhood.”
It’s a smartly designed wind-powered apparatus that breaks down small (think, tent pole technology). You just assemble the pole, slide the kite-like fabric over it, arch it, then anchor it by filling the carry bag with sand.
One person can mount this thing without breaking a sweat, or their back.
A day or so later my husband was at the local dive shop with the girls and he noticed they were selling them.
But what was funny is that the sales lady talked to him about it for a bit and she was very, “I just don’t get what all the fuss is for.”
Well, you try mounting an umbrella by yourself a few times. Or a popup tent. And you’ll get why the very act of watching someone pop this thing up and dismantle it in a few quick minutes could sell you on the dream. To some people, that’s certainly worth $250. If I still lived at the beach I’d pay for it, but we’re only visiting. And I already have friends with Shibumis.
But you know I’m not trying to sell you on the concept of Shibumis.
I’m here to talk about newslettering and what we can learn from the Shibumi craze:
What’s your newsletter equivalent to the list above?
Do your subscribers feel as though your newsletter delivers a secret that improves some aspect of their life or work?
Does it take something challenging and make it incredibly easy?
Do your readers feel lucky they discovered you before their peers and brag about it?
Do they think it’s worth the time/money/attention they invest?
Do they tell others about it proudly?
Go forth and throw some (good) shade with that newsletter of yours.
Give them something to love telling people about.
“I read xyz newsletter. Have you heard about it? It’s all the rage in xyz industry.”
It really is fun to say, right? I’ve said it in my head so many times while writing this that it now sounds like a word for when you’ve just done something wonderful and inspiring.
The apostrophe was curved the wrong way, y’all.
As in, not an apostrophe at all but an opening single quotation mark.
This: ‘, not this: ’
And I didn’t realize it until AFTER hitting send.
The… meh, oh well.
Typos suck. But they don’t define you. And at some point we just need to live with them and move on.
Especially if we’re sending them in newsletters.
I remember the dawn of digital media.
It felt so comforting to realize that, after years and years of trying to achieve perfection for print, we could just log back into a CMS and correct an error. An entire industry of overly anxious editors collectively exhaled.
But, in email, that pressure is back on. I’d accidentally miscurved(?) my apostrophe, and I’d need to live with it. I mean, I did go back and correct the web version, but the damage was done.
Or was it?
Here’s the thing: Somewhere along the way I’ve learned to own my typos.
I give myself grace as long as they’re not so prevalent that they detract entirely from my goals: sharing good advice and building relationships. And they haven’t, yet.
We can’t catch them all.
Not that we shouldn’t try.
But do yourself the favor of speeding through the emotions and forgiving yourself soon after you realize what you’ve done.
Mine are almost always the result of not looking closely enough and using the wrong quick keys.
You see, my eyes are… nearly blind.
I can’t see the big E on the eye chart.
It’s a hazy mess that glasses and contacts are able to correct except in the mornings, when my vision is its most blurry.
A bit of transparency, here: I wake up early on Thursdays, edit and “Ashley-fy” all the curated commentary Samantha helps with, and then race the clock to draft the Opt In Weekly Prologue in attempt to send by 9 Central. I typically have no idea what I’m going to write about until I open a blank Google Doc around 7:30 or 8 and force something to flow out my fingers. Adrenaline rush, maybe?
It’s as if my eyes need time to wake up, but I’m all “It’s fine. I can totally drive impaired.”
Flashback to first grade when I respectfully asked my teacher why the spelling words on the chalkboard were misspelled.
I distinctly remember “iny” posing as “any”.
She chuckled as she drafted a note to be sent home to the town eye doctor. It read, “Dr. Nichols, your daughter needs her vision checked.”
So what am I getting at, besides the fact that newsletter typos happen?
It’s more than preaching typo forgiveness.
I want to challenge you to consider your metaphorical typos.
That time you sent the wrong person the wrong email.
That time you dropped the wrong message in the wrong Slack channel.
That time you put your foot so far in your mouth you could practically chew on your ankle.
If your intentions are good, you can overcome it.
If your intentions are good, people will forgive you faster than you forgive yourself.
If your intentions are good, the people you’ve established rapport with will empathize and help you realize the goof up didn’t impact how much they value you.
Newsletters foster incredibly strong writer / reader relationships.
Build something a typo can’t crumble.
He crawled in the bed as if maybe he hadn’t woke me using the bathroom and brushing his teeth and said “I’ve got a surprise for you in the morning.”
Could YOU have gotten back to sleep?
But the harder I squeezed my eyes shut the more awake I became until 2 (maybe 5 or 10?) minutes later I responded,
“You cannot do that.”
“There’s no way I can sleep now. I have to know.”
I’d been asleep for 2 hours already.
It was 12:30 a.m.
But Sal is a night owl and after I fall asleep he goes to his study and does whatever until late.
Sometimes I wake up when he returns.
Sometimes I don’t.
But I definitely do if he says “I’ve got a surprise for you in the morning.”
WHAT IS THE SURPRISE?
Either tell me or don’t hint.
Between REM cycles is a fragile time. You can’t dangle surprises there.
You either have sleep-disrupting-worthy news or you stay as quiet as possible and respect the beautiful thing that is a full night’s rest in progress.
He knew what he was doing, too.
And when he told me the surprise (after months of looking he’d found the exact used SUV I wanted in the ONLY GOOD COLOR with low mileage in San Antonio at a CarMax, immediately reserved it, and it would be hauled to our local dealership), I could feel the potential energy turn kinetic.
Of course he had tested to see if he could wake me up to tell me.
He’d just pounced on an opportunity.
You know how that feels.
You’d risk a grumpy wife’s night’s sleep to celebrate the win.
Newsletter lesson here:
Make each issue worth disrupting someone’s day.
Be the surprise deliverer.
Imagine the subject line jetting across their phone: “Psst! I’ve got a surprise for you when you read this.”
Then deliver. Make them feel as special as me having a husband who spends his late nights trying to find me the exact SUV I want.
This week’s issue has some newsletter advice worth clicking through to read. I hope you like it.
P.S. Lunar Rock is the only good color.
P.P.S. I got back to sleep around 4.
When I was 14, in 8th grade, I faced what felt like a crushing blow to my identity:
I didn’t make the 9th grade (junior varsity) cheerleading squad.
It shook me.
Because, and I say this confidently because I know it’s true: I was definitely good.
I’d been on the junior high squad for 2 years and was co-captain during 7th grade.
I could tumble.
I was… really good at cheerleading.
But that didn’t save me.
The way the judging worked:
There were 8 girls trying out for 6 spots.
We learned a group routine and had to have an individual routine.
We were to try out for a panel of judges, who would eliminate / advance girls based on skill.
And then we were to try out in front of the school, who would vote based on skill / who they liked.
I got top scores with the judges (so I’m not being delusional when I say I knew I was good). But the judges did eliminate 1 girl, so that left 7 trying out in front of the school for 6 spots.
In years past, we’d been allowed to do tumbling passes to enter the gym/stage/whatever and try out individually.
Typically, if you could tumble, that earned you votes. But, for some reason, they’d decided that wasn’t allowed this year. So, there was less chance to standout in that way.
We all did our thing. Votes were collected. And at the end of the day the new squad was announced over the loudspeaker. I had to hold it together for 30 minutes afterwards when it everyone BUT ME made the squad.
It hurt in a way I hadn’t really felt hurt in life.
Because it felt completely unfair.
And it stung to realize I was unpopular.
But, obviously, life went on.
I found distractions in 9th grade. Tried out and got roles in a few plays. Existed without being a cheerleader.
And when tryouts for the varsity squad started next spring, I had to decide if I wanted to take the risk all over again.
I wasn’t sure.
I loved cheerleading. But I didn’t really want to be judged by my peers and be crushed again.
The cheer sponsor had a meeting with me:
“Here’s the deal: No more school tryouts. I want you on the squad.”
I went on to decide to return to an activity I’d previously loved.
I learned to love it again and was captain my senior year.
My emotional knee-scrape was part of a policy change. No one else would have to experience that exact pain.
The newsletter (and life) tie-in?
There are going to be times when you assess and consider if you want to keep sending issues.
You may decide you don’t love it enough.
You may decide it’s not profitable enough.
You may decide the risks aren’t worth the reward.
You’ll have to find your own path.
In this issue’s Money Matters, I’ve included a piece about deciding if it’s time to throw in the towel by Simon Owens. Everyone has their own threshold.
She wanted me to read it, so I did.
All 375 pages.
It was a page-turner, so it’s not like it was a burden.
And I really liked the story.
Amari and the Night Brothers was a hit with our 9-year-old.
A female main character and more than a bit of magic.
She can’t wait for the second book in the series to come out.
But asking me to read it was about something different.
As the little sister of an older sister who has taken more to reading, she’s determined to forge her own way, sometimes rejecting titles big sister and I recommend simply because we’ve read them.
And while she wants to be different and have her own books she loves, she does want to share the bond of having read them with her mama.
So while I lean on my memories of the Roald Dahl and the Harry Potter series with the eldest, it appears I will occasionally be asked to read something brand new by the baby.
And that’s ok by me.
All readers aren’t the same.
Especially sisters, it seems.
But the unfolding of this family narrative, straightforward as it is, has me thinking about how very nice it is to share a love for a creator with someone in your life.
It makes for a very intimate community.
And I think we can apply this to our newsletters.
One goal should be that when the email you’ve sent is read by a subscriber, it makes them think of someone they’d like to share it with.
“So-and-so would appreciate this story.”
“So-and-so would love the way this writer weaves different ideas together.”
“So-and-so would like the content this company curates.”
“So-and-so would like the way this creator thinks about this topic.”
Think of one subscriber you know enjoys your newsletter.
Are you giving them reasons to invite someone to bond by reading and discussing what you’ve sent?
What are you including worth sharing with their so-and-sos?
There was a short window of time Tuesday when the wifi and the air conditioner were both working at our fixer-upper fishing camp.
Maybe 45 minutes?
During that moment, we didn’t realize we should appreciate it.
All we knew was that we were officially set up for me to work remotely.
And that Sal would begin staining the 31 9-foot wood ceiling planks we’d hauled out of a hardware store the night before.
We’d driven 2 hours that morning with boards bouncing dramatically between us because we’d had to stack them on the center console.
It was supposed to be the first of 4 days of a workcation while the girls are at their grandparents.
An escape to Walden Pond of sorts.
But a storm the week before had knocked out the wifi and Tuesday was the first day a technician could repair it.
We’d actually spent the weekend there with the girls and enjoyed an Internet-free holiday weekend with nice, cool AC.
The wifi repair felt like a triumph, but just as I began to work, I noticed the air felt… warm.
When we bought the place back in October, the inspection had shown the indoor unit (and “probably” the outdoor unit) would need to be replaced, so we’d negotiated and had the previous owner pay for a new indoor unit.
We’d theorized that if the outdoor unit needed to be replaced, we’d do it when the situation became dire.
Of course that moment was just as we started our little getaway.
But, that’s life, right?
And a very first world problem.
I’m super aware of that.
Bummer I have to go back to my regular house instead of spending a lovely time on the lake in an investment property.
But definitely not actually dire in the more severe sense of the word.
So… I’m sending this from my normal locale, but maybe the weekend was enough of a waterside retreat to draw out some Thoreau-esque truisms about newslettering:
If you’re having trouble with your newsletter concept, publishing at a regular cadence, or achieving a desired goal like signups or monetization, look for ways to simplify.
The solution is rarely to make things more complicated.
Cut a section.
Choose a format that is easier for you to create regularly.
Decide on one monetization goal and focus on one micro goal to hit to test viability.
And, above all, make 100% sure that you enjoy publishing.
If working on the newsletter feels more like a burden than a retreat, take a step back, fix what’s broken, and get back to the good part.
What can I send you today that even makes sense in the wake of tragedy?
A hug, I suppose.
In the form of a newsletter.
I have a tradition with my 4th grader.
I ask her what God gave her, to which she responds “A beautiful heart.”
Then I ask what she should do with that beautiful heart.
This week’s curated content was in revisions by Tuesday afternoon when the news of Uvalde spread to our hearts.
I tweaked a bit here and there yesterday, perhaps comforted by the distraction.
There’s some good content you can use to improve your newsletter.
But I’m unable to bring my usual energy to this introduction.
My storytelling steam is low.
Their stories deserve the focus right now anyway.
My 12-year-old daughter moaned from the couch.
“I cannot believe the way this book ended. We need to buy the next one so I can find out what happens next.”
Normally I’m a big wall of “NO” when it comes to my daughters saying they HAVE TO HAVE SOMETHING, but I’m a pushover for books.
“Sure. What’s the title?”
It’s the 2nd book in the City of Ember series.
I’m already on my phone ready to make the purchase.
Mostly because I feel like investing in their time spent reading is worth every penny.
My 9-year-old is experiencing something similar, but the series she’s into (Amari and the Night Brothers) is currently being published, so she’s been waiting since December for a book that was first scheduled to release in May and has now been pushed back to September.
Bigger UGH, huh?
But this feeling they have:
This I-need-to-know-what-happens-next emotion
We can all relate, even if it’s a Netflix series.
It’s the craving for more of a really good story.
And, executed in newsletters, that episodic approach can work very well.
Think about your newsletter.
What makes people open it? When they finish reading do they groan, wishing the next issue would release sooner?
A great way to find out if this is happening (or research how to make it happen) is talking to actual readers and understanding how you can help them.
Ask why they subscribed.
What they like best.
What they find most valuable.
What they could do without.
Has it improved their life in some way.
What would make it NEED TO HAVE, not NICE TO HAVE.
Make them want more.