Gratitude

Letters From Strangers

Since 2015, I’ve been publishing a newsletter every Monday morning. In the world of newsletters, it’s small, but there are a few thousand folks who faithfully read it, and while I have never really marketed it other than occasionally mentioning it on my social media accounts, I try hard to do a good job with it.

Over the winter, I began to consider what it would look like to be more intentional with making money from my publishing projects (including this blog) and asked myself what it would look like to take the newsletter seriously. To be intentional in how I do that work.

I knew from a recent survey of my readers that for a lot of people, my weekly emails end up in Google’s promotions tab, so I thought that since I am sending an automatically generated “You’re subscribed” email anyway, why not put the instructions on how to keep the email that matters to you out of that folder and in your inbox in that email too? So I did.

And people started responding. I mean, like writing back to the automatically generated email. With how they found the newsletter, how they heard about me, and where they lived in the world. That had never happened before. Ever.

I guess my new email was just personal enough that it no longer looked like a “form” email. So, not wanting to be rude, I wrote back. I thanked them for writing. I told them I looked forward to writing for them.

If my transactional form email was getting responses as if it was a personal email, what if I cranked that up just a bit and made it more personal, and invited responses?

So now, if you subscribe to my newsletter, you get the following email a few hours after you subscribe:

Thanks for subscribing to Life Is So Beautiful!

Hey there!

Thanks for signing up for my newsletter, Life Is So Beautiful! I appreciate it.

Every Monday (barring US Federal Holidays), I send out an email with a short essay on where I found some beauty in the world that week and links to five things I discovered that week that I thought were beautiful.

And now you are on the list!

I think I have some of the best readers on the whole Internet, and more than anything else, I believe that writing is a relationship between the writer and the reader. I am a pretty personal writer, sharing a lot of “me” in this newsletter.

So I can get a better sense of who is reading my stuff, just hit reply to this email (or email me directly at hugh@hughhollowell.org) and let me know something about you, like:

  • What is your hobby is
  • Where you live in the world
  • What your favorite thing to do to recharge is

Don’t overthink it – anything you want to share is fine.

This lets me do a better job of writing things that make sense to you, and also, I just think the world is a better place when we are more personal and less formal.

Thanks again. And welcome!

Hugh

PS: A few things you might want to know:

  • Emails for the newsletter will come from this email: hugh@hughhollowell.org. It would be best to add it to your email address book or contacts. If you haven’t gotten it by noon this Monday, check your spam filters.
  • If you are on Gmail, you may find it gets shunted to your Promotions tab. (How rude is that?) Instead, you can drag it to your Primary tab. Then Gmail will ask if you want to make that change permanent. (Of course, Google! How silly.)

About 10 percent of the people who get that email respond. Like, with letters. Real, engaging letters.

They don’t just say they live in England, but rather that they live in Hertfordshire, just north of London, in the UK, with their husband and two daughters. Or that they live in Durban, South Africa, though they will likely soon be moving to Toronto, Canada this fall. Or tell me that they have been single their whole life, but recently met a potential partner who makes them swoon. Or that they read Victorian lit and live in Dehli, India and help run a food bank there. Or they explain, with links, what netball is, and why they love it so.

I make sure to reply to every single email. Sometimes it takes a few days for me to get to it, but I always respond. I make it a point to use their name, to discuss something they said in their email to me, and to thank them for writing.

Some of them write back. The longest exchange thus far is more than 10 emails long. And then some of those same people kept writing after each issue of the newsletter is sent. They tell me what they liked and send me submissions and in general, become highly engaged.

It shocks me that the emails are as personal as they are. After all – these are people I don’t have a relationship with at all. They just subscribed. But I think we are all hungry for connection these days and have a deep desire to be known and seen. I’m glad I get to play my small part in that.

Thank you for reading. This website is free and ad-free because of the support of my readers. Or, if you want to say thanks for this post, you can just buy me a cup of coffee.
  • Christine Slocum
    May 17, 2022 at 9:31 pm

    Oh, I *love* this!

    • Hugh
      May 17, 2022 at 9:38 pm

      It’s pretty magical.

  • Deanna D Ming
    May 19, 2022 at 3:23 am

    I will just leave a comment….I often do but not always. My main engagement is enjoying and sharing. If my memory is correct somehow I read your stories and promptly sent you a friend request because I wanted to continue reading. Turns out you aren’t far from Memphis and have a history here. It’s my birth place and where I’ve spent most of my life. Been lucky to live in other states and traveled out of the country. It would be a dream come true to be able to travel more but grateful for what has happened. My memory is and has always been fleeting so there aren’t a multitude of stories detailed in my mind. Though I have lived a crazy beautiful & hard existence. One thing for sure I love learning about almost everything it seems…but I’m the opposite of you in that it’s not to become an expert, because my memory, but to just know. 🎓📿💄💎