Authors can now use WordPress to create newsletters — and get paid for them

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(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

If you’re a book author, the top marketing recommendation that everyone has, right after starting a website, is to have a newsletter.

Unlike social media followers, newsletters subscribers aren’t at the mercy of the social media platform. You own your subscriber list. If you switch platforms, you take your subscriber list with you. And email subscribers are people who have opted in to get your updates, so they’re the ones most likely to buy your next book. An email list is the single most valuable resource you’ve got.

Previously, for people just starting out, I recommended using WordPress.com’s free service to set up your website — or upgrade for $4 a month to get your own domain name. It’s the best deal out there, and WordPress is by far the most popular website platform. Here’s a how-to guide I wrote for your initial setup.

Well, this option has just gotten even better. Yesterday, WordPress.com has announced that they are now offering built-in, paid newsletters. They’ve always had free built-in newsletters, which are great for marketing.

But if you want to use your newsletter as a second income stream — say, to send your authorly insights to a grateful audience, or serialize your novel, or share short stories — then you can now do it without leaving WordPress.com.

The way it works is that subscribers pay for subscriptions using Stripe’s payment service, without leaving your website, and WordPress.com takes 10 percent off the top. The main downside to Stripe is that it’s only currently available in 46 countries.

The other most popular way for authors to have paid newsletters is with Substack, which also charges a 10 percent fee, and is also processed through Stripe.

What is WordPress?

All the best author websites run on WordPress. In fact, nearly two-thirds of all websites that have content management systems run on WordPress. The others are either old-fashioned, hand-coded HTML and haven’t been updated in 20 years, or are owned by large businesses that have their own custom development going on. Alternatives like Wix and Squarespace are in the low single digits.

But not all WordPress websites are on WordPress.com.

I know, it’s confusing. WordPress.com is different from WordPress.org. WordPress.com is the commercial platform, where they sell website hosting. WordPress.org is an open source community where you can download the free, open-source WordPress software and install it somewhere else. For example, MetaStellar uses DreamHost for its hosting, which is cheaper if you have lots of websites. (Here’s a tutorial showing how I set up a brand-new WordPress website on DreamHost in 15 minutes, if you’re interested in that option.)

The new WordPress.com newsletter system is only available on WordPress.com hosted websites, not for self-hosted websites. So, here at MetaStellar, we can’t have it. But that’s okay, because we don’t have any plans to charge for our newsletter.

If you have a self-hosted WordPress site and want to have a paid newsletter, your options are either to leave WordPress altogether and use Substack, or to use MailPoet in combination with the WooCommerce plugin.

I reviewed MailPoet here, and it’s by far the easiest newsletter platform, with excellent pricing, to boot. We use MailPoet here at MetaStellar for our newsletter and like it quite a bit — much more than any of the alternatives we tried. And we tried most of them.

Why use a newsletter service at all?

Next, you might be asking yourself — why pay for a newsletter service at all? Why not just use Gmail or Outlook to send your newsletters? You can put a PayPal button on your website to collect payments, and manually add people to your subscription list.

Well, first, manually adding people to a list then taking them off when they unsubscribe is a huge pain. That, by itself, is worth the small fee that these services charge. Plus, most offer a free starter plan. On WordPress.com, there’s no charge to add a newsletter to your site. MailPoet is free for up to 1,000 subscribers.

But, more importantly, commercial mailing list providers — like Substack, MailPoet, and WordPress.com — make sure to comply with anti-spam laws. If you have hundreds of subscribers and send out a newsletter yourself, it will be classified as spam and deleted, sometimes by Internet network carriers before it even gets to your recipients’ spam folders. In order to avoid spam filters, there are all kinds of hoops you need to jump through, like proving that all your subscribers have voluntarily signed up and showing that there’s an unsubscribe option that is being honored. Commercial mailing list providers jump through all these hoops so that all their newsletters actually get delivered.

MetaStellar editor and publisher Maria Korolov is a science fiction novelist, writing stories set in a future virtual world. And, during the day, she is an award-winning freelance technology journalist who covers artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and enterprise virtual reality. See her Amazon author page here and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Email her at [email protected]. She is also the editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business, one of the top global sites covering virtual reality.

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