Sarah Selecky is a busy gal. She's an author and creative writing teacher; she regularly updates her website with special events, class schedules and news; she's active on Twitter (follow her at @sarahselecky) and maintains a twice monthly email newsletter with writing ideas and inspiration. (If you're a writer or creative type, it'll be hard not to sign up. Need proof? Take a look at a recent newsletter here.)
Read on to hear Sarah's refreshing and inspiring answers to five questions, plus a bonus question.
Tell us a little bit about what you do and how you use email to reach your audience.
I'm an author and a creative writing teacher. Last year, when I launched This Cake Is for the Party, I created an email campaign to let everybody on my list know about my book. But mostly I use email to keep in touch with my writing students — my campaigns let them know about my upcoming courses, workshops and contest deadlines, and I give them instruction and inspiration to motivate their writing practice.
Your emails have fantastic response rates (more than a 60% open rate on average). What's your secret?
I did not build my list in a rush. I've always believed that it would be better to have 100 people on my list who really love what I send to them than it it would be to have 1,000 people on my list who don't really care about my emails. I feel very grateful to the people who subscribe to my newsletters! There is so much stuff that fills our inboxes every day. I am honored that people sign up to receive my emails. So when I write my newsletters, I keep that respect at the front of my mind. I never forget that every single person on my list is a passionate and busy human being. I try to write emails that I would welcome in my own inbox: inspiring and energy-giving (not energy-sucking). I try to keep the clutter out of everything I send. I hate clutter, especially in my inbox!
Since you're a writer, does crafting good emails come naturally to you? What advice would you give to folks who are staring at a blank email campaign (or blog page or computer screen), feeling stuck?
I wonder if being a writer actually makes it more difficult sometimes! With an email, I don't have the time to write a draft and go over it for days and send it to an editor to make it "perfect" before sending it. I always take a deep breath and cross my fingers before I press send!
The best advice I can give people who are feeling stuck in front of the page is this: Write your emails and newsletters and blog posts as though you are writing to a dear friend or client. I always use Emma's personalization feature when I send my emails out, but when I write my newsletter, I pick the name of one of my clients and I actually write the whole letter with that person in mind. I'll literally write, "Dear Olivia," and write a letter to Olivia. This makes it much easier to write honestly and openly. I truly care about all of my clients — but when I write my newsletter to a big general group of people, it's hard to get that care to come across.
Describe your book, This Cake Is for the Party, in 8 words or less.
Stories about people trying to love each other.
Where do you draw inspiration?
From everywhere! But especially the natural world. I live in Toronto, and it's a big, noisy city. As much as I love it here, I grow noticeably dull (and so does my work) if I don't pay attention to the way water moves over rocks, or the way an ant crawls up a blade of grass, or the way tree branches look like capillaries. It's easy to get so busy that I feel out of touch with nature — and this is not good for my writing.
What unrealized dream are you going to fulfill before the end of the year?
This is a big year! I am getting ready to launch an extraordinary digital writing workshop this September. It's called Story Is A State of Mind, and it is the culmination of what I've learned from over ten years of writing, teaching, editing and coaching clients from around the world. I have designed the course for beginners and seasoned writers alike – this course is everything I know about how to write powerful, authentic stories. I am so excited about this because it is exactly the kind of writing course that I would want to take myself. There's video, audio and text — it's pretty special.
Of course, I'm also excited to launch this project because once it's online and ready to go, I will have the time to do something else I've wanted to do for a long time — write my next book.