But Am I Newsworthy?

newsletter subscribe buttonI love getting newsletters from writers.

Why? I’m not absolutely sure. Maybe it’s because newsletters give, instead of asking or taking: they come with content just for me (well, not just for me, but for the mailing list members), and I’m not expected to share or retweet or comment or vote or click “like” — these social media engagements aren’t bad things, of course, but there’s an expectation of visible support, and it’s obvious when not given. While I like to show as much enthusiastic public support as I can to authors I admire, there’s something nice and pressure-free about just opening an email and reading it without having to respond. Yes, a newsletter is technically a marketing tool, but it’s also a gift from author to readers, and the best ones don’t feel like self-promotion.

I’ve been thinking for a while that I’d like to have a newsletter of my own; however, one big thing was holding me back. I kept asking myself, “But am I newsworthy?”

candy heartHere I am, thinking that I would like to give the gift of a private, special newsletter to anyone who is interested in my stories — and I’m wondering whether I’m good enough to do that.

Since when did giving a gift depend on the giver being worthy?

I woke up to this thought at the beginning of the week, and realized that now is the time to go ahead and create a mailing list, with a goal of sending out a monthly newsletter. We hear all the time that smart writers establish mailing lists well in advance of any book release; there’s no way to do that and also achieve some kind of invisible goal of becoming Important Enough For A Newsletter before starting one.

No one is being forced to sign up. If I end up sending out, say, a flash fiction story or an excerpt from something I’m working on, and it only goes to a handful of people, so what? Those people get something no one else does. No one is imposed on by the mere existence of a newsletter, right? I keep telling myself this.

candy heartBut this is exciting: I’ve realized I can do something with a newsletter that I can’t do on a blog or Facebook page or anywhere else — I can customize it to the preferences of those who sign up. One of the questions on my sign-up form is about comfort level: Sweet (prefer no explicit sex or swearing) or candy heartTart (okay with sexy description and gritty language)? That way, I can send my Sweets an excerpt that won’t make them blush, and my Tarts can get something a little dirtier.

I still feel strangely guilty, greedy, and not newsworthy enough to have my own newsletter. But it’s time to stop validating those feelings and go forward.

Be a Sweetheart; sign up!
(But only if you want to. No pressure.)

Writers, have you hesitated to start a newsletter because of doubts about being worthy? Did you end up doing it?

And readers, what do you love best about newsletters? What makes the great ones so awesome?

Reading On Camera

Back in November, the contributors to Evil Girlfriend Media’s Stamps, Vamps & Tramps anthology were asked if we’d each be willing to record a short excerpt from our stories… on film. Not safe and easy voice podcasts, but video recordings. YouTube.

Here’s what I learned from the process of filming it:

1) Get expert help if you can — Fortunately, my awesome friend Jordan Ellinger, who knows a fair bit about recording stuff (he does the Hide and Create writing workshop podcast, and he’s worked on a number of short film projects), agreed to help me. Having all the toys to do it right is awesome… sound equipment, a really good camera, that sort of thing… but working with someone who knows about framing and lighting and camera angles and film editing is even better. If you don’t have a filmmaker friend or two, you might even want to consider hiring someone who can bring that level of polish to your mini-film. Because yes, that’s what it is.

2) You will feel awkward at first, and it might take a few tries — I didn’t expect to be nervous in front of the camera, but once it was pointing at me and the little red light was on, I felt mightily weird. My first attempt was way too stiff, and it wasn’t easy to loosen up and be natural. I’ve led workshops and done public speaking, but there’s something about being filmed that just threw me. Expect multiple takes; it does get better as you go through the experience a second and third time. It definitely helps to set aside a good chunk of time (and lots of camera batteries, memory cards, etc.) so you can do as many takes as you need, and eventually you’ll start to have fun.

3) Background and lighting matter — I did a little trolling around for readings on YouTube beforehand, to see what worked and what didn’t. Background and lighting make a huge difference! Check out this gorgeous example with stark stage lighting and a completely black background to see what I mean. Reading into your webcam at your desk, most likely in a dark-ish corner, with a random wall or doorway in the background, just… doesn’t have the same effect. We chose the bookcase background and natural light for me because it suits my style, but everyone is different. It’s worth investing some time and effort to set the scene in a way that’s right for you.

4) You need someone to coach you — The thing is, you can’t see yourself, so you don’t know what you’re doing, or not doing, that might need adjustment. Without Jordan’s coaching, I wouldn’t have realized that: a) I’m inclined to raise my chin when I’m self-conscious, and need to make an effort to keep it down while on camera or in front of people; b) I need to not roll my eyes and grimace when I think I’ve flubbed my reading; and c) I tend to read with a very serious expression and/or give nervous/doubtful grimace-smiles that start with my lips curving downward, so I need to remember to smile nice big relaxed smiles instead.

It’s a good thing that I mostly enjoyed the experience of starring in my own little reading mini-film, because it probably won’t be the last time I’ll need to do that. Video as a literary promotion tool is likely to get more popular going forward, and the bar for professionalism and reader appeal is bound to be raised higher and higher.

Please tell me I’m not alone in this, though. Do you feel awkward on camera? Do you have habits that you need to be coached out of? What sort of background and lighting would you choose for yourself?