Be The Unicorn

You’re a unicorn. A beautiful, shiny, fascinating unicorn.

Why are you staring at me? Yes, okay I was asleep five minutes ago. The Safeway Select (well, it’s not Winnie the Flu. It’s Generic) cold is taking forever to make its way fully out the door. Though I think it’s gone, it just left exhaustion behind.

But that’s not why I typed that. I meant what I said: think of yourself as a unicorn. A beautiful, fascinating unicorn.

So, yesterday, in a writers’ group, someone said she never knows what to put in her newsletter.

She’s not alone, and I’ll be honest, I’d have the same problem if I hadn’t started off with a blog.

I mean, look, if you write oh fantasy set in a diner (who the heck would do that?) you can put factoids about diners, pictures of ruined diners, anecdotes about diners in your newsletter, and people will probably eat that up (Or your newsletter will become all about diners, and they’ll forget you write fiction. More on that later.) If your books are known for impeccably written guns, you can haunt forgotten weapons and send factoids to your guys, or talk about the latest idiocy in gun control. (Weirdly, these people will buy your fiction, because most gun aficionados are so tired of having guns badly written they’ll read anything that is accurate.)

But then…. but then if you’re me, or Dave Freer, or about a million other people who hang out here, you don’t really write just one thing, and you don’t really have just one interest.

Believe it or not, when looking into starting a blog to promote my work — which, yes is why I did it, stop laughing — I actually considered one for each series, or at least one for each sub-genre I write. But starting five blogs and writing to them every day would be a full time job.

So…. I ended up writing what interested me every day, and since blog is usually written in the evening, after I read the news, the blog drifted political. Which means most of the people who read it, don’t read my fiction.

However, around the edges, I actually found out what makes people bond with you personally. I found it out both by reading a lot of blogs and running one: People want to know you. As a person. They want to know the funny little things in your life. They want to feel you’re one of their friends, and they could drop by the kitchen for a cup of coffee. (To be fair, my fans who know where I live are welcome to.)

Here’s the thing: I started my blog with a bunch of personalized little things like that. I think I had two readers? Because no one cares. They don’t know you, why should they care if your fish is swimming in a funny pattern?

But that’s not true with a newsletter. With a newsletter, people signed up because they already read one or more of your books. You’re already their special unicorn. They want to see you shine.

Look, most people can’t do what we do. Forget “can’t do it well”. Most people can’t do it at all. If you ever were in a class where the teacher tried to get normal kids to write a story you know exactly what I mean. They can’t. They just can’t create. They re-write an episode of their favorite cartoon. They write something they just heard. They cannot write fiction.

If you can, you’re already magical. And people who’ve read your fiction, and loved it, sign up for your newsletter to touch the magic.

So, don’t use your newsletter to just send out push-buy notices. If you do, people stop opening it. Instead, use your newsletter to let them sit at your kitchen and have a cup of coffee.

Let them see the every day thing. Do something once a week that’s fun, so when they see the newsletter they go “Ooooh. I wonder what silly thing she’s saying this morning. It will be fun!”

Look, would I have signed up for a Heinlein newsletter, where he talked about his cats’ adventures? Or had pictures of Ginny skating? Or pictures of a statue he liked, with a few pithy observations? Are you kidding?

Would I have signed up for a newsletter with pics of Pratchett’s cats, and a story of his fight with his desk before he could write that morning? You bet your beepee I would.

And then when the announcement came for the new book, I’d go out and buy it, even if it didn’t sound like my most favorite thing ever, because this would be my friend I wanted to support. I wanted to see their face when the book went mega bestseller.

That’s how it works.

The posts, themselves? Well, I write about things that happened with the cats, big events in my life (but I try to keep the boys out of it, so it’s a little restricted), cool factoids I discovered, something that’s related to one of my series, but not part of it.

The only rules are:

1- keep it short. Two or three paragraphs should do it.

2- Have a picture. Can be a picture of your pet if he’s talked about or just a funny pic. I usually hit pixabay for something. Or it could be your new cover. But people like pictures with their newsletters.

3- Be authentic. This doesn’t mean post about your troubles (unless they’re really major, but even then you’re not required to post about them. You can.) Or what you really had for breakfast. What it means is write about stuff that is really interesting, or you really find fun, or anything like that. Don’t create a whole alternate personality to post. For one it’s exhausting, for another, the fake comes through. And even though people love stories about pets across the board (Heaven knows why but it’s true) if you made up a pet, imagine how much work it would be, and how disappointed people would be when they found out he didn’t exist. And they always find out. (The alternative to it, is to have an imaginary pet that can’t be real. Yes, I’ve considered “finding a dragon egg in the woods.” But then– too much work. WAY too much work.)

4- In general if it would make a good facebook post, it would be a good newsletter post.

Example below, from not-writing (And yeah, these are collected from a twitter thread, so others participated, but I’m sure you can do the same with memes. JUST remember not everyone of your posts will be this funny.)


Not all of them will be this funny, because not every facebook post goes viral. BUT you can relate an incident from your life in memes and make it at least amusing.

Or, for another example, not from writing. I love this story. It’s one of my favorites on the net. I have read it it a million times and laugh my head off every time. I couldn’t even tell you why:

They don’t have any other post that’s that funny, but they do keep a — very irregular — blog of sorts on Tumbler. Because of that story, I went to read their tumbler And frankly, their tumbler is a great example of things you can put in your newsletter. Most of it is just “this is the passing life” or “this is interesting” but some are roll on the floor funny. Or amazingly interesting. Your newsletter won’t be all amazeballs, but you can keep it on that level, so people will open it, because you’re amusing and interesting. Anyway, take a look at Lazy Evaluation Ranch. (And they’re not even writers, so not magical unicorns.)

Now, go be your own special magical unicorn. Think how much you’d love a newsletter from your favorite writers. Make that happen for your fans.

34 comments

    1. I think this *is* the glamour of being a writer 🙂

      Or where do you think ideas like “what happens if you over-caffinate the magic bunny?” come from?

      1. Oooh, there’s an idea– personify your muse!

        ….the magic punny* is a Plot Bunny, of course! And the ones at the link were even sorta caffeinated!

        (I think the term plot bunny came out of fan fic areas, but it’s an outstanding way to describe those neat story chunks that show up sometimes, not organized enough to be a muse.

        *typo, too good to correct, and while I had to go look up “plot bunny” it even works on that level plus “it’s a pun” being a major inspiration.

        1. The funny thing is, it looks like the hyper-caffinated chaos bunny is going to end up happening completely off screen.

          I finally got to the point where it was going to be a thing and realized, I was already at the short story word count and I’d already done everything I needed to with that story. It looks like that whole thing is going to get relagated to a line about them causing an immense amount of mischief for someone else…

  1. Diners?

    LILEKS!
    http://lileks.com/rest/index.html

    ….OK, the radio show was The Diner. The thing I linked is 50s-style restaurant postcards. But it gets a comment in before I read too far so I don’t have as big a chance of closing the tab before I get comments/remember to finish. (Why yes, the Brain is not Braining today, how did you know?)

  2. Other sources you can use are, say, Funny Picture/meme groups– that’s where I first saw the Goofus story, and that’s where I just took the “How’s your Friday going?” snippet.

    Heck, I have a huge trove of “cute chain letters” from a late spare-grandma that could be mined.

  3. I have seen both those posts and they were awesome.

    …Especially the fact that OK’s Dept of Wildlife has someone with the sense of humor to troll people right back about the Kitties Not For Petting.

    1. I went to the Lazy Evaluation tumblr and am now cracking up at “Hyrule is infested with giant pottery wasps.”

            1. “Calvary’s here! Calvary is scared guy with a rock, but it’s here!”

              Youngest has a name alluding to/in honor of Xander. 😀

            2. Well, IMO the original premise of the Scobby cartoons were a bunch of college-aged people going around exposing Fake Ghosts/Monsters.

              My problem was that the Fake Ghosts/Monsters would In The Real World be killed by the locals long before the Scobby Gang would show up.

              Sherrif: So you heard about the Ghost. Well, it tried to scare Farmer Brown but Farmer Brown doesn’t scare so the Ghost meet Farmer Brown’s shotgun. It wasn’t a Ghost but some idiot dressed as a Ghost. [Sarcastic Grin]

  4. My newsletter (subscribe!) is different every month. It’s whatever the muse sends. Sometimes it’s books, a lot is our adopted pack of cats (adopting three adult cats on the same day is way harder than taking in that wee scrap of a kitten found under a dumpster), sometimes it’s about writing.

    Lately, a lot of it has been writing about what gets in the way of writing; i.e., serious family health issues.

    Thank you for the reminder to keep plugging away.
    Now if only I could get Bill to send out the newsletter after I submit it to him on time.

  5. Well, I did suspect that the title didn’t mean you could go around stabbing people with your built in stabbing weapon. . . .

  6. Forgotten Weapons: video blog channel on YouTube that does in depth discussions and reviews of historic firearms. Lovely source of gun trivia and details worth keeping in mind if you write anything involving kinetic energy weapons. Ian is a class act.
    And then there are those authors who just make stuff up. Burners and brooms anyone? Just kidding sweetie.
    Morning routine for me: start pot of coffee then check email, ATH, MGC, and Peter Grant’s blog. Then several news sources for the latest kerfuffles.

    1. Gun Jesus and C&Rsenal are long time subs for me, especially C&Rsenal. War Were Declared! Othias and Mae and The Great War colabs started about the time I started watching The Great War, and now I followed over to WW2, though I refrain from commenting too much as Sparty gets whiney. I think I finally subbed Ian when they did Project Lightning.

  7. Thanks a bunch! Your article forced me to join twitter just so I could keep up with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation! LOL

      1. I had seen her from a few years back, doing Vivaldi and Bach. It’s funny to see her from 12 years ago on her channel playing a bass almost as long as she is tall.

  8. I’ve always appreciated the diner-style stories myself. You know I’m always a sucker for anything kitty-related and have no shortage of stories of my own, especially R and C the snugglebrains! Though C does tend to suck all air out of the room. And I definitely enjoyed lunch with you and Dan during my visit, though it’s a shame I never got to meet Havey or try the other King Harv’s flavors you mentioned having. I’m still surprised I only got brain-locked the one time, though…

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