Long Live the PaperNet

Photo by Billy McCall.
Photo by Billy McCall.

In my last posting, I talked about the importance of knowing your audience when you set out to write something. I think about this every time I mail out my monthly newsletter, a one-page publication that is mailed to a wide assortment of friends and family.

My monthly mailings came about after I moved into the mountains for a year and had no internet. The USPS gave me a tried and true method of keeping in touch with those whom I cared about the most. I’ve been writing that newsletter every month for over three years now, so I thought I would share a few tips on how to create and maintain a mass mailing list.

Know your audience/decide what to write.

Although one of these points may be more important to you than the other, they kind of go together. For me, I wanted my friends and family to know what was going on in my life. I’m writing for friends and family, and I’m writing about the general occurrences in my life. I am not going to write about sex. I am going to write about going to see a new movie. Maybe you want to keep in touch with business associates. Maybe you want to write about a love for gardening. Before you get hung up on where to buy stamps, you need to know what you’re writing, and who will be reading it. The reason for this is that you want your writing to be good. If you’re just writing all sorts of discombobulated gibberish, your audience will be no one, and you just wasted a lot of time.

Decide how often you will be doing your mailing.

The less mail our society sends around, the more value each piece holds.

Deciding how often to send out a mailing will help you focus on what to write, and it will also help your readers know what to expect. My friends and family know that the first week of every month they will get a newsletter. They’ve told me how much they look forward to it, and how nice it is to see a note from me in their mailbox. Is this because I’m such an awesome writer? More likely it’s the simple fact that GETTING MAIL IS AWESOME. The less mail our society sends around, the more value each piece holds. Give your readers a heads up. Maybe your Game of Thrones recap will get mailed out once a week, maybe your NASCAR fan club zine will mail out every time there’s a race, etc.

Decide how much to write.

I do a monthly newsletter. That’s pretty often, and in order to maintain that schedule I don’t write a whole lot. One sheet of paper, front and back. If I was trying to write 10,000 words each month, it would take up a lot more of my free time, and chances are the writing would quickly disintegrate into filler. If you want to send out one thing a year, then you have more freedom to expand and go into detail. Think about the first couple tips, then think about this one.

Decide how to package it.

My monthly newsletter is one sheet of paper folded into thirds. It’s a newsletter. It looks like a pamphlet. I love this format, it totally works for me. I tape it shut, put the address and stamp right on the newsletter itself, and mail it away. Skipping over the envelopes saves me time, but it also means they are more vulnerable to wear and tear. I’m okay with that. A tear or a smudge adds to the charm of what I’m doing. I wouldn’t use this same idea for wedding invitations, business mailings, or anything where the quality was of utmost importance.

When deciding upon your packaging, take postage into consideration. If you are mailing something that is 1.1 ounces, then you just jumped up to the next weight category for the USPS and will have to spend more on postage. Maybe use a smaller font and get it under one ounce. Or if you use some sort of crazy, extra large envelope, that might cost more to mail. Is that okay? Can you afford it? Maybe that’s part of your charm, and if so, that’s cool. Just think about what works for you.

Make them all the same.

Once you have your writing and packaging all figured out, make each piece of mail identical. If you add in extra do-dads to a couple, or put less into another, or they are all in different envelopes, this will take you way more time, and chances are you’ll never get the postage right on half of them. Figure out what you’re mailing, and make it the same for everyone. The only variance in my mailing is that out of the 250 I send out, I have about 10 that go outside the United States. I set these aside, and do different postage on them. Other than that, I have 240 identical newsletters shipping out each month.

Photo by Billy McCall.
Photo by Billy McCall.

Decide whether or not to charge folks.

Is this a free monthly mailing done for promotion? Is this a subscription service for your bi-monthly magazine? Are these just postcards sent out for fun? I run mine on donation. I say, “Please send me stamps, and I’ll keep sending you newsletters!” And most people send stamps. But my mom? She don’t need to send me no stamps! She’s my mom! On the other hand, if I haven’t heard from someone in over a year, I’ll probably take them off the list. Why mail something to someone if they don’t even care enough to email you once in awhile? If you are running a subscription service, keep good records. Know who has paid, when they paid, and how much they paid. When their subscription is up, give them a warning before you cut them off.

Keep a good list of addresses.

I use a program called Any Time Organizer. I bought it at an office supply store for about $25, and it has tons of features, none of which I use. I use it only for its address book feature. The great thing about this program is that you can create different categories. I can load the “newsletter” group, or the “family only” group, then print out my addresses. I print the labels out on sticker paper, so that way I can just peel and stick.

Running a mailing list is not always easy, but it is rewarding. Give it a try and see for yourself. You don’t have to mail out 250 letters a month, and I didn’t mail that many when I started. But once you start sending out mail, you’ll start receiving it. Long live the PaperNet!

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