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May 26th, 2008

Be the editor

I formed a resolution to never write a word I did not want to write; to think only of my own tastes and ideals.
C. S. Forester

Is this your approach to your own newsletter–to write only what you want, to think only of your own tastes? If you’re like a lot of publishers today, your first, and only, consideration is whether or not you’re interested in a topic. To me, this is akin to thinking your best niche is people just like you. (Like life coaches who only work with women between 45 and 50 who have recently been divorced, have no kids, and like to play the ukulele.)

It’s not inherently wrong, but it is limiting, and probably not in the best interests of your readers (and, thereby, you).

If you were working for a big magazine, there would be writers and editors and a publisher. When you write and publish your own newsletter, you have to wear all three hats (along with designer, copyeditor, printer, etc.). Unfortunately, most small business owners focus exclusively on the writer and publisher hats, leaving the editor hat to collect dust. This often results in a newsletter that excessively mirrors your personal tastes, that includes only the articles you wanted to write, and that doesn’t necessarily deliver much value to your readers.

Let me give you an example. It’s something of a joke that 90% of manuscripts received by children’s book publishers are about a child getting a new sibling. That’s because it’s a topic with inherent conflict that most writers have something to say about. But, it would be pretty silly if 90% of the books *published* were about new siblings–it simply isn’t necessary to have that many books on the topic.

When you wear your writer’s hat too much, your newsletter may become the equivalent of being 90% about new siblings.

The publisher hat, on the other hand, is all about the bottom line. Where’s the money? How do we keep our advertisers happy? What’s the bottom line? Because, it’s the publisher’s job to ensure the company stays afloat, the focus tends to be on profitability. To much of the publisher’s hat can lead to a newsletter that’s full of self-promotion and advertising.

If you want to keep a balance in your newsletter, you need to take a step back and put on your editor’s hat. In fact, with most publications, you’ll want to spend more of your time wearing the editor’s hat than either of the other’s.

To wear the editor’s hat, ask yourself these five questions:

  1. When’s the last time we published an article on this topic?
  2. Why is this of interest to readers?
  3. Is publishing this article of sufficient benefit to our advertisers? (For instance, if your company [your primary advertiser] is an SEO firm, you wouldn’t publish an article on swimming pool safety.)
  4. Are we keeping a good balance on the topics our readers need to know about?
  5. Are there any segments of our audience that we’re under serving?

In order to run a thriving newsletter, you need to make sure you’re spending plenty of time being the editor. So, take off your writer’s hat, and take off your publisher’s hat, and be the editor.

And, if you happen to want to write children’s books, stay away from the new sibling stories ;-) .

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