Why I Just Unsubscribed 400 of You

The goal of my newsletter is to connect with my readers. It’s a simple, clear goal, but it’s not easy to maintain. Higher open rates on fewer emails are worth vastly more to me than lower open rates on many emails.

Because of this, I periodically unsubscribe large numbers of readers from my newsletter who haven’t opened an issue in a long time. This time it was around 400 people.

This is something businesses almost never do. If there’s even a microscopic chance someone will open an email and buy something, that person stays subscribed.

Here’s why I do what most businesses don’t:

  1. I’m not a business, I’m a person. My goal is connecting with other real people. Most good things in my life have come about because of connections I’ve made online. No joke — even my family.

  2. It costs more to maintain a large list. Each non-reader, or not-interested reader, is a cost incurred with nothing to show for it.

  3. Gmail hates it. Unfortunately, Gmail is what most of my readers use for email (please consider something like Fastmail or Hover — don’t let an ad company host your email). Google knows your open rate. If they deem your emails lower quality because of a lower open rate, your emails can end up in the promotions tab or spam folder. You become invisible. You’d be shocked how many big name newsletters I find in the spam folder of my old Gmail account.

I give these subscribers a chance to stay subscribed if they want. I send out an email with a button or link they can click to stay. If there’s no response, they’re unsubscribed from the list.

If you’d like to learn more about how to weed non-readers on Mailchimp, check out this thread from Paul Jarvis (you can dive even deeper into these topics in his course Chimp Essentials).

Keep Going

Austin Kleon and I tend to write about very similar subjects, but to completely different audiences. I follow his blog and read his books. More than once I’ve deleted drafts of posts, because he just posted the same thing.

So, I look forward to reading new books from Austin. His latest, Keep Going, did not disappoint. If you follow him, the book is a distilled and clarified version of the best concepts he’s written about over the past few years. If you don’t follow him, this book is the the last book in a trilogy about living a life filled with creativity, and it leaves you on a high note.

My favorite chapters involve being creative while also being a parent. His experiences learning from his children’s creativity mirror my own.

His evangelization of bliss stations, furthered in the book, prodded me to make one of my own.

Yes, this is really what my home office looks like (there’s rows of books behind the desk above a “digital desk”). I keep it this clean because I’m a neat freak, and because my brain can’t get as crazy as I want it to if I’m distracted. Neat and orderly on the outside creates a bundle of sparking neurons on the inside. Everyone’s different. This is what works for me.

Yes, this is really what my home office looks like (there’s rows of books behind the desk above a “digital desk”). I keep it this clean because I’m a neat freak, and because my brain can’t get as crazy as I want it to if I’m distracted. Neat and orderly on the outside creates a bundle of sparking neurons on the inside. Everyone’s different. This is what works for me.

While the first book encouraged you to create by taking from your influences, and the second book encouraged you to share things worthy of taking, the third book encourages you to maintain and enrich that symbiosis throughout the rest of your life.

I’ll save any spoilers for the countless interviews Austin will be doing on podcasts in the next few months. Until then, go pre-order the book (or books). You’re going to love it. And if you see Austin, be sure to ask him, “What’s next?

It's Getting Better All the Time

I receive the most criticism when I post about positive things happening in the world. I find that fascinating.

It could be because a lot of people rely on negative outlooks to fuel their jobs, hobbies, or identities.

Steven Pinker experienced this himself on a grand scale when he published Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress one year ago. He has since been called every name in the book, even though his work is based on science and math, and should be considered a rather sober account of the progress of humanity.

Yesterday he published a long article examining the strange reaction to book.

“The question of whether progress has occurred is matter not of “optimism” but of what Hans Rosling calls “factfulness”: calibrating our understanding of the world to empirical reality. If measures of well-being, such as health, prosperity, knowledge, and safety, have increased over time, that would be progress. In fact, they have.

Since progress does not mean that the world is perfect, only that it is better, acknowledging progress does not mean being indifferent to the very real suffering of people today, nor to the very real threats that humanity continues to face.”

It’s a long, thoughtful look at why you publish about progress at your own peril, and why you should do it anyway.

Craig Mod on What Makes a Good Newsletter

Craig Mod, prognosticator of publishing, recently tweeted about newsletters:

“There's a tendency to over-design newsletters as of late. I think this misses the point, the *power* of a newsletter is from its intimacy. You can design intimacy out of an experience by scrubbing voice, grit.

The best newsletters feel like nice letters from smart friends.

My favorites newsletter either:

1) have a super strong voice, and therefore I don't care how long they are, will joyfully follow them to the end of the world

2) are mega concise, and serve to highlight just a handful (3? 4?) of gems”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard about under-designing a newsletter. Tobias van Schneider has also talked about this with his super-successful newsletter about design (which he refuses to call a “newsletter”):

“To be honest, I sometimes think it’s a bit too nice. I like to keep it simple; I want it to look less like a newsletter and more like a personal email.”

Tinyletter makes this kind of personal style easy, but if you’re looking to do this with a more fully-featured service, good luck. It can often be harder to make a newsletter look under-designed than over-designed.

Thanks, Hamish!

Hamish Gill wrote a wonderful review of A Lesser Photographer at 35mmc:

“I suppose you could call it tips, or maybe advice, but that feels like an injustice to it. It’s more sage than those words sum up – it feels more wise, less contrived, less derivative and much less prescriptive than most of what you’ll otherwise read about photography.”

Those are kind words coming from such an influential voice in the analog photography community. If you haven’t been to his site yet, check it out. If you’re a reader of his, please subscribe to this site to keep up with the latest. Thanks for visiting!

I Finally Made a "Now" Page

I don’t know why I waited so long to make a “now” page (Derek Sivers). I read them all the time. If you’re new to the concept, here’s the inventor Derek Sivers:

“It’s a nice reminder for myself, when I’m feeling unfocused. A public declaration of priorities.

(If I’m doing something that’s not on my list, is it something I want to add, or something I want to stop?)

It helps me say no, too. When I decline invitations, I point them to that page to let them know it’s not personal.”

After reading yet another now page update from Patrick Rhone, I figured it was time to finally put up my own. So, here it is. I’ve set a reminder to update it regularly. Hold me to it!