I Just Sent My Tenth Newsletter Email. Here’s What I Learned From The Previous Nine.

Yash Gupta
Designer/Writer, Refuse.
Published July 3rd, 2022.

Four months ago, I did something inconceivable.

I sent my first email newsletter.

A realistic, 3D render of typography engraved in gold, on a black rectangle. Typography reads: The Refuse Newsletter #1.
And this is what I named it.

It’s not the thing I was afraid of, though. Writing those newsletters is rather fun; I enjoy every part of the process. It also feels rewarding to have something finished and sent out to a group exactly every two weeks.

The challenge was finding people to send emails to. Neither my website nor my social media accounts drove enough traffic to find me willing subscribers for an email newsletter—a medium already infamous for privacy-invading, intrusive, spammy marketing. And it would not have made sense to work on weekly newsletters only to send them out to no one, or so few people that the likelihood of anyone reading my emails would be close to zero. I had no intention to half-ass them either; I would rather not have sent emails out at all.

Screenshot of an email, featuring a collage-style illustration of the human brain, and a piece of creative typography reading: Design Wisdom.
Yes; what you see here is an email. No, they don’t have to look bad.

So I did something I could never imagine.

I asked people to subscribe.

It might be the first thing people do when they make something new; but to me, it was scary. I had never asked someone to look at a piece of content—I could barely imagine asking someone to subscribe. My approach was always to leave a post, let people see it, and hope that they happen to be interested.

This time, however, I had to message people directly. I didn’t have a clever marketing scheme where I would offer people something of value for free—which would be free only if they agreed to receive it in an email. To make things trickier, nobody knew exactly what I would send them in the newsletter. I didn’t either. I just had a vague plan to experiment with small bits of hopefully-interesting content, and never be spammy.

To my surprise, it worked. It was simpler than I expected. I only reached out to people I knew could be interested; most were happy to subscribe.

The Plan (I Did Not Have)

Now that the worst was out of my way, it was time to build the newsletter. The fun part.

I had no systems planned out. I didn’t know how this newsletter was going to look. All I had was a general idea of it being not spammy, and a few text-files-worth of ideas.

I knew that I had my social accounts and a website to share updates from. The Refuse website had a huge and recent update at the time, so I had a handful of little details to share from that.

Doodle-style hand-drawn typography reading: New on refuse.ink.
I write my electronic mail how I write my post mail—by hand (I don’t write post mail).

But it’s no better than following a social media account. I wanted the newsletter to carry substantial, but quickly-digestible snippets of content in multiple sections. Something that would be longer than a tweet and shorter than this blog post.

Another thing that was going to keep the emails interesting was the way it would look. Emails support very basic HTML styling, but that still offers a lot of potential from a visual perspective—at least as long as you do things right and work within specifications.

What My Emails Ended Up Looking Like

The first email ended up including these sections, and all future issues followed a very similar plan:

How To Not Screw It Up

One thing I haven’t learned about writing email newsletters is what people prefer to see in their inboxes. At the time of publishing this article, the newsletter has less than 20 subscribers; and not all of them read every single email. I have no reliable data to learn from.

What I have learned though, is a few things that can improve or break emails.

You see, emails are a little similar to the conventional web; though a lot more similar to a text file. Because of its similarities to the web, emails sometimes look and perform very differently across different email clients and devices.

Here’s a small list:

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