Jim’s newsletter: Under the hood

February 8, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, newsletter.

Jim’s newsletter is a set of thoughts, notions, links, tidbits, giveaways, quotations, and other items that give readers an idea of what I have been up to, reading, and thinking about in recent days. We talk about journalism, writers, writing, the English language, fiction, mysteries, and podcasts. Sometimes we stray off into other areas, such as watercolor or even sports (but if it ain’t baseball, it ain’t such a big deal). My interests and activities range into a number of areas, and my hope is that readers will follow along.

Readers respond regularly to what I have written, and unless there is reason to do otherwise, I include many of those responses in the next week’s newsletter.

My assumption about newsletter readers is that they are intelligent individuals, they are readers of good books, and they people who can handle the occasional challenge of learning something new. 

Most of all, my assumption about newsletter readers is that they are my friends, even though I have not met all of them personally.

My email newsletter — it doesn’t have a name yet (maybe I need one) — goes out to more than 4,000 subscribers (4,222 on February 9, 2018, to be exact) on Friday afternoons about 2:15 p.m. Eastern time. I send it out a second time to those who did not open it the first time; the second release is usually early on Sunday morning, about 2:15 a.m.


Number of subscribers and open rates

Teddy Roosevelt: “I am DEE-lighted.”

Here’s where we get a bit technical.

There are currently more than 4,000 names on my subscriber list, but that number doesn’t mean much. What really means something is something called the “open rate.” That is, how many of those subscribers actually open the email and engage with it.

You can open an email but still not engage with it. To engage, you must display the images (that’s why I have the note at the top of the email asking you to click on “display the images”) or click on one of the links contained in the newsletter.

I am told that with a newsletter such as many (one by an independent author, that is), an open rate of 25 percent is considered to be good. If you are getting more than that, you are doing very well.

My open rate, I am happy to report, is between 30 and 40 percent and occasionally goes to 42 or 44 percent. I am modestly proud (oxymoron ALERT!) of that. It means that at present each week, I am engaging with 1,400 to 1,800 friends.

As Teddy Roosevelt would say, “I am DEE-lighted!”


Unsubscribers and Cold Subscribers

One of the ethical principles in the email newsletter business is that you never want to send your newsletter to someone who does not want it. That’s why there is always a link available for those who want to unsubscribe. With each newsletter I send out, I have between .5 and 2 percent of those who receive it unsubscribe.

While I do not want people to unsubscribe, I am quite happy to have them do so if they find they are not interested in what I am writing. People who unsubscribe actually help raise my open rate percentage, and I would much rather have a high open rate percentage than have a large number of subscribers.

What about people who don’t unsubscribe but don’t open and engage either?

My email service, ConvertKit.com, has a name for those folks: cold subscribers. The ConvertKit team defines cold subscribers as those who have not opened and engaged in the last 90 days and who have been subscribers for at least 30 days. 

ConvertKit has a process for deleting those people from the newsletter list, and I have used that process once during the months I have been sending out the newsletter. I plan to get rid of my cold subscribers on a regular basis in the future.



The newsletter gains subscribers in various ways.

When I started in late spring of 2016, I simply contacted friends and professional acquaintances and asked them directly if they would subscribe. I also offered a free digital copy of my mystery novel Kill the Quarterback to those who would sign up for the newsletter. That offer was made on my website, JPROF.com, and I teamed up with other independent authors to do joint promotions.

Two major services, Instafreebie.com and Bookfunnel.com, provide sites that independent authors use to download their books in exchange for a participant’s email address, and I used both of those. They also offer joint promotion opportunities for authors.

All of these methods were effective in helping me reach readers with whom I shared an interest, and I continue to use them to some extent. By June, I had more than 1,000 people on my subscription list, and by September that number had grown to more than 3,000. 

Also by September, I had gained a comfortable rhythm of planning, researching, and writing a newsletter each week that I thought would be of interest to readers, and I spent the fall honing that concept rather than concentrating on gaining new subscribers. My open rates have consistently remained between 30 and 40 percent.

At present, my website is a source of new subscribers, and I have joined with other authors each month to offer Amazon gift cards to gain new subscribers.


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