So you’ve amassed a mailing list and you’re ready to sit down and compose your first e-newsletter. After staring at the computer screen or a blank piece of paper for five minutes, you start to panic. “How will I ever write this?”
Writing is a challenge for many people, but it’s not an impossible task. Writing, just like painting, drawing, or any other artistic discipline, is a process — one that uses words to fashion raw ideas into intelligible, communicable messages. Writing copy for your newsletter will be much less daunting if you break it down into manageable parts: pre-writing, writing, revising, and proofreading.
First, consider the purpose of your e-newsletter since that is what determines the content. Let’s suppose that your primary goal is to keep your support base — clients and colleagues, family and friends — informed about your art career. It follows that the stories for this mailing should include an update of your latest works, recent career highlights — exhibits, shows, awards and grants, as well as announcements of upcoming events or classes that you will be teaching. Write down all the topics that you consider important enough to share with your readers.
Next, select the top four or five items as subjects for short articles. For each of these topics, jot down supporting details in bullet form. For instance, if you recently were awarded a commission, tell who awarded it, a description of the artwork you will be creating, where it will hang and the anticipated date of completion. Remember those interrogatives — who, what, where, when, why and how — that you learned years ago in elementary school? Answer each of those questions and you’ve got an outline for a story.
Now that you’ve laid the groundwork for each of your topics, it’s time to turn your ideas into narrative form. Don’t get hung up on the exact wording; for now, just transform the bullet points into sentences. Since this is an e-newsletter intended for reading on a computer screen, keep each article to one paragraph — less than 150 words; the more brief you are, the more likely people will be to actually read your newsletter. (If you must write a longer article, only post the first paragraph in your publication. At then end of the paragraph, add the phrase “read more” and a link to an appropriate landing page on your Web site where the article can be read in its entirety.) Once you have written the articles, create a short, attention-grabbing headline for each.
If you despise writing, you’d probably like to stop right now, but what you have created is a draft, not a polished piece. How do you refine your composition? Reread each article aloud as you ask the following questions:
- Does it make sense?
- Do sentences flow from one idea to the next?
- Does the construction of each sentence and the article as a whole express your thoughts to your satisfaction?
- Do you use language that is strong and precise?
Here are some ways to improve the quality of your writing:
- Examine every noun, verb, adjective and other modifiers in your articles. Are there better words you can use? (A thesaurus comes in quite handy during this stage.)
- Avoid clichés and euphemisms.
- Look for phrasing that is overworked or overstated. Use words people understand; if you can say the same thing using five words instead of 10, do so.
- Avoid passive verbs. Write using an active voice (where the subject of your sentence performs an action) and your prose will be more direct, clear and precise.
- Vary sentence length and sentence structure. A monotonous style begets a bored reader.
- Once you adopt a tone, use that same tone throughout.
- Read for sound and texture. Enrich your phrasing with literary devices like alliteration (repeating the same letter or sound) and figurative language (similes and metaphors being the most common examples).
Once you are satisfied with your revision, print out a copy of your latest draft. This time, look for grammatical and punctuation errors. (Strunk and White’s classic The Elements of Style and the companion book by Margaret Shertzer, The Elements of Grammar, are two concise language guides worth consulting.) Also read for misspelled words; do not rely on a spell-checking program to catch all of your errors.
You will find that revising and proofreading are back-and-forth processes; as you read and re-read, you will make changes or find mistakes. It’s also a good idea to let the newsletter sit for a day or so; you will catch more errors with a fresh set of eyes.
Every good writer knows that an editor is his best friend. Ask a trusted colleague to review your work. Not only is he likely to provide valuable feedback about content and style, but he may catch typos that you missed.
More dos and don’ts for writing an e-newsletter
Unlike a newsletter that is printed and mailed, the marketing piece that you are creating will be disseminated online. When you use the Internet as a channel for communication, keep in mind the following dos and don’ts:
1. Do include artwork.
What could be more boring than a bunch of stories with no images to break up the text? Select two or three appropriate illustrations — images of your work, event photos, or action shots of you in your studio — and position them so that the overall appearance of the newsletter is balanced.
2. Don’t forget to include your name, Web site and other contact information.
Just as your standard contact information should be included in the signature line of your e-mail messages, it should also be visible in your newsletter.
3. Do place the most important information above the fold.
If you don’t grab your reader’s attention at the outset, he won’t keep reading. In newspaper publishing, “above the fold” refers to all of the material contained on the front page above where the paper is folded in half. In the cyberworld, “above the fold” refers to what can be seen on a Web page without having to scroll down. Obviously, the “fold” will depend on the size of the viewer’s monitor and the display resolution, but you do have control over the arrangement of your content as well as the length of your copy so…
4. Don’t send a lengthy newsletter.
No one will read a newsletter that scrolls forever. All of your hard work will be for naught if you send a wordy mailing. Go back and edit yourself.
5. Do utilize Internet tools and capabilities.
Insert anchor links to your Web site, blog, class registration, sales options like Pay Pal, and other Web features to prompt curious readers to take further action: View more images of your work on your online gallery, sign up for your course, buy your artwork, etc.
6. Don’t click “send” until you put your mailing through an anti-spam check.
A content-filtering tool can increase your e-mail delivery rates. Some e-marketing service providers offer their customers free use of spam-filtering software; numerous companies also offer e-mail check software that can be downloaded for free.
Why good writing matters
Audio and visual stimuli pervade Web media culture, which makes it easy to forget that words matter too. Quality writing comes from staying mindful of grammar rules, principles of composition, and style. Likewise, you must remember the sensibilities of your audience. After all, this newsletter is for them; upon reading your publication, you want them to retain a high regard for you as a professional artist.
This article focused on writing, but generating copy is just one aspect of putting together an e-newsletter. Next time, we’ll discuss graphics and layout — balancing text and images, selecting background and text color, choosing font size, and other aspects that affect the overall appearance of your e-newsletter. AC
Contributing writer and communications consultant Ligaya Figueras specializes in business writing, marketing and media relations for visual and performance artists, writers, nonprofit organizations and specialty service providers. Follow Ligaya on Twitter at twitter.com/LigayaFigueras, or friend her on Facebook at facebook.com/ligaya.figueras.