Family Newsletters: How To Get Started.

These are some ideas on how to write and publish a family newsletter and make it successful as well as a thing or two to avoid.

Your family is spread out far and wide and everyone has that disconnected feeling. Even if you gather for family functions every few years, everyone feels like strangers instead of relatives. One of the best ways to get family re-connected again or just keep everyone up to date is a newsletter.

Once you've decided to take on the task of publishing and distributing a family newsletter, it's a matter of getting organized and just getting started. It really is an easy thing to do. And once you get started, you will find it is a lot of fun. Even with today's conveniences of telephone and email, there is nothing like getting all the family information from one source in the form of a family newsletter. You do not have to be an award winning writer to publish a family newsletter. But it is important to be able to organize ideas. If you write simply and with everyday vocabulary you will be ahead of the game.

Getting Started:

The first step is to appoint yourself Editor In Chief. Once you have that title, you have all the power. If you ask someone to take on the project with you, make that person Assistant Editor In Chief. The only reason for the titles, is to make the task a little more fun.

Here is a list of things to consider: The name of the publication, when it will be published, who it will be delivered to, how it will be delivered and what it will contain. Establish a mailing address. If you have access to a computer collect email addresses.

If you have access to a computer or a word processor and printer, you will need paper and ink cartridges or printing ribbons. If you don't have access to those things, someone in the family or a close friend probably does. You can enlist their aid in this project simply by asking and most likely get a positive response. Another option to printing is a print shop. They can run copies for a somewhat reasonable cost if you have a fair amount of copies.

Remember. The printing and copying doesn't have to be engraved lettering on expensive stationary.

Name That Publication:

The name of the publication can utilize the family name. The Smith Family Gazette, The Smith Family Press, Smith Notes or The WordsSmith to name just a few examples. The name can utilize a nickname such as "Smitty Says or The Word According To Smitty. Or in the case of my family newsletter, my nickname is Coke, so I named our newsletter the COKE-A-GRAM. It's a name that is remembered. A good way to begin getting family involvement in your newsletter is to have a "Name That Newsletter" contest. Then pick your favorite name. As an added incentive, send the winner a small prize or a certificate of appreciation.

What To Include:

What to include? Include the everyday things that folks are up to. Aunt Martha on the west coast isn't going to always know that nephew Zack on the east coast hit 2 homeruns in a little league game; or that Sally went to the prom with BillyJoeBenBob; or that Jack and Jill spent 2 weeks climbing up that hill. Include the big things as well. Births, weddings and deaths. Encourage those planning family functions to let you know well in advance so you can print a notice in the newsletter. Mention new subscribers in a special "Welcome To The Newsletter" feature. This way everyone has an idea of who is reading the newsletter.

Special Features:

Special features make your newsletter unique. It can be as simple as trivia questions in every issue or a short family history blurb. Publish folks birthdays but just don't note the year unless you know they don't mind. If someone passes away, write a short obituary about that person and include some details about there life and a favorite story or remembrance you have of that person. Write up first hand accounts of family gatherings you attend. Or ask someone who attended to write up the story or give you the details. Encourage other family members to send you information to publish. Once in a while send folks a note asking, "what's new". You will almost always get a reply. When a child in the family starts school, ask that child some questions about school. Interview a member of the family for each edition. If it is an older person, ask them some family history questions. Have a recipe exchange column. Ask readers to submit their favorite recipes or allow them to request a recipe. Aunt Martha on the West Coast just might have that apple brown betty recipe that niece June on the East Coast is looking for. A family newsletter is the perfect place to seek family information, be it current events or family history.

If your newsletter goes out to more than one side of the family, write up a "Whose Who" so the readers will know where folks they read about fit into what side of the family.

Who To Send It To:

Believe it or not, not everyone wants to get the family newsletter no matter how informative it is. Some folks equate the family newsletter with the letters you may receive at Christmas from a particular individual that is nothing more than a 2 page commercial for that family. Your family newsletter will be different. You will include news from all the families. There are 2 ways to distribute and build a mailing list. 1.) Send the first edition to all family members with the option to let you know if they want to continue to receive it. Or 2.) Send it out to your immediate family and a few chosen individuals and let the newsletter travel by word of mouth. That is how my newsletter began. It started as a one page "What's Happening" list for my brothers and sisters. Then as I gathered more information, the contents of the newsletter grew. As folks heard about the newsletter, those that were interested in it would inquire how they could get on the mailing list. Those that receive it and enjoy it will request the newsletter be sent to someone they think would enjoy it. This way you are sending it to interested parties only and not wasting your time and money.

How It Will Be Delivered:

Email is the most cost and time efficient way to distribute your newsletter. But not everyone has access to email. Those recipients that may live in your area might enjoy a personal delivery of the newsletter. That gives you a chance to chat with your reader and perhaps collect some family information for the next issue. If you have a computer, their are many ways to get web space at no additional cost to your monthly ISP cost. Most ISP's such as AOL and Prodigy allow each member web space to create web pages. Create a newsletter web page and upload the newsletter to that page. This way others with computers can down load the newsletter for them selves and print it out. This will allow any newsletter new comers to check out the archives and see what they missed. For those with no computer connections there is snail mail.

Funding the newsletter: It isn't very expensive to publish the newsletter if you do everything yourself but not everyone has the means to do it. Subscriptions are a way of funding your newsletter. A few dollars per mailing address isn't unreasonable but if you do solicit subscriptions, make sure you send out every issue as promised. Ear mark your returnable or recycling money for this venture or change you might find while you are out walking. If you shop with coupons use the money you save for your newsletter. Toss this money in a special bank and you'd be surprised how quickly it adds up. For Christmas I always put on my list business size (#10) envelopes, a package of printing paper or a book of postage stamps. Once in a while you may find one of your readers may send you some postage stamps or a package of paper just as a thank you for publishing the newsletter. That is always a nice surprise. Get a tax refund from the IRS? What better way to invest that money than in your very own newsletter?

How often do you publish: That is a very good question. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands for this project and an abundance of information a weekly publication is probably out of the question. I started publishing my newsletter when I had enough information to fill a minimum of 2 pages. As the newsletter gained in popularity I decided that I needed to establish a schedule. I publish a monthly newsletter on the first of the month. If a monthly is not doable then publish every 2 or 3 months. If your publishing schedule is few and far between, the chances of generating any interest are probably pretty nil.

Writing schedule: Set up a schedule of items you may want to publish. If you want to write a story about what your parents made for Halloween costumes when they were kids, you will want to get information on that at least a month before you publish the October related newsletter. You may want to gather the Thanksgiving and Christmas or Chanukah and January information in September or October. No matter how popular your newsletter is, when the holidays roll around, folks are going to be busy.

Always encourage others to submit either stories they write themselves or give you ideas and information for stories. Always give those folks credit and a byline. One of the last paragraphs in your newsletter should include how folks can contact you and a note that stories and ideas are always welcome. Once you find out what kind of information and articles your family likes to read, you will be able to personalize your newsletter and really make it a family newsletter.

One thing of great importance to note. Be very careful of what you publish. It isn't really necessary to write about Uncle Henry's messy divorce or cousin Marsha's constant fights with her husband Wally. Unless you are going for a tabloid reputation, stick to the positive side of life. If someone asks you not to publish a certain story or incident, don't publish it. If you do, you will lose credibility and no one will want to give you any family information again. You want your newsletter to be enjoyable to read.

© High Speed Ventures 2011