Tammi Labrecque Shares Lessons on Balance, Impostor Syndrome, and Making Email Marketing Look Easy
Even if you’ve never met her before, one conversation with Tammi Labrecque is probably enough for the two of you to become friends.
The author and course creator is bright, bubbly, and—even on a Friday afternoon—ready to talk your ear off about all things publishing. She’s spent almost a decade in the indie sphere writing in a variety of genres. “I kind of dabble in everything,” she says. But these days, she’s probably best recognized as the “newsletter ninja.” Her two-book nonfiction series of the same name has offered nearly twenty thousand authors tips for perfecting their mailing list and attracting new readers, an often-underappreciated resource Tammi says can make a big difference for keeping fans invested in your work. But she didn’t realize she had a knack for it until years into her career.
“People would be just talking about their newsletters … and I’d say, ‘Oh, why don’t you try X?’ Or ‘I was thinking about doing Y, you know, if I ever finish this book,’” she says. “And what happened over and over again was people would say, ‘Oh my God, where did you hear that?’ And I would say, ‘I made it up in my head. It just seemed like a good idea.’”
Tammi’s career as an indie author began in 2014, but her work as an author arguably began even earlier, with a traditional publishing contract she received to be part of an anthology. As someone who grew up loving to write, the acceptance was a boost in her confidence in her own talent for storytelling—even more so when she realized how difficult that market typically was. Still, aside from that short story she submitted, she wasn’t able to publish the work she queried for several years following. And it wasn’t until she was fired from her office job that she began to consider alternate avenues to publication.
As a reader and writer, she’d followed the rise of independent publishing for a few years. So when she faced the prospect of finding another traditional nine-to-five, Tammi instead turned the ordeal into an opportunity to launch her book business.
“I did really well in that first year that I was publishing,” she says. In a still-emerging market, it was easier for readers to find her books. But though she was managing to make a full-time living from her fiction at the start, there was one pitfall, she admits: “I write slow.” She took up editing to continue to support her and her kids, until editing projects started to take over her writing time entirely. Finally, conversations she was having with other authors convinced her to shift her focus to newsletters. She published Newsletter Ninja: How to Become an Author Mailing List Expert, in the summer of 2018, and the second in the series released early last year.
What a Reader Wants
What makes newsletters so intuitive for her? Tammi says it’s her ability to see things from a reader’s point of view. “Because I’m a little bit compulsive and I have ADHD, which can result in a hyperfocus sort of thing, I am a superfan of things,” she says. “I don’t feel lukewarm about anything ever. … When people are like, what might my subscribers like? I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ll tell you what subscribers would like because if I was your superfan, this is what I would want.’”
Even so, she says, a lot of her suggestions are only her opinion and will depend on several factors. “There’s so many variables at any given time that I can almost never give anybody stock advice.” She’s almost adopted the phrase “it depends” as a mantra; the medium necessitates it.
The several courses and workshops Tammi has offered over the years have included plenty of individualized input and direction from Tammi herself, based on everything from someone’s genre to the size of their mailing list. She admits it’s often taken away from the time she can devote to her own fiction. “For a long time, I really struggled with that, with being the person who was helping other authors instead of being a bestseller myself,” she says. Yet she doesn’t hesitate to say her work as a “ninja” is also her proudest accomplishment.
In recent years, the world of independent publishing has become more crowded than when Tammi started publishing, and visibility has become all the more important for authors to prioritize. The one piece of advice Tammi offers that can be widely applicable is to recognize you aren’t bothering your readers by emailing them.
“They signed up to hear from you! You could not have a more explicit indication that they want to hear from you than the fact that they gave you their email address,” she says with a laugh. She encourages authors to talk with their readers regularly about the things going on in their lives, even if the topic isn’t always book related.
Secrets to Success
Even with her years of focus on newsletters and the support and testimonials she’s received from other authors in the past—well-known names like authors David Gaughran, Chris Fox, and Rachel McLean—Tammi admits she still deals with impostor syndrome when talking about newsletters, as well as with her own writing. Although outside validation helps, she says she also believes in a “fake it until you make it” mentality and takes comfort in recognizing what she still has left to learn.
She’s also dealt with burnout in the past, which she says comes with an easier solution, if harder to put into practice. After she hit burnout working on creating the second Newsletter Ninja book, initially about newsletter automations, she was forced to cancel the preorder and took time in 2020 to reset her focus and let herself recover. As the months passed, she realized she didn’t feel like she was in a place to speak about the more technical side of email marketing yet—but she did have advice to give regarding reader magnets. Newsletter Ninja 2: If You Give a Reader a Cookie is a shorter book than the first in the series—“which, believe me, I heard about in reviews,” Tammi says, “but I’m also not one to pad.” The book, like the first, boasts thousands of readers who’ve learned from her advice.
In writing it, Tammi came to learn an important skill, too, about balancing her work on newsletters with her own writing. “I sort of stepped back and I took stock, and I was like … the reason this never gets to the place it needs to be is because I’m always splitting my focus,” she says. Soon after the release of the second Newsletter Ninja book, Tammi paused her own writing goals and focused solely on her email marketing business, with a goal to put words on paper again at the beginning of this year.
It’s a lesson we can all learn from in a way, Tammi says: Your book business doesn’t have to look a certain way in order for you to consider yourself an author. “People can still make it in this business,” she says. “I see them do it every day. … but you need to evaluate what your definition of being successful is so that you can temper your expectations.”
She continues, “I didn’t write for however many months, April through the end of the year, and I’m still a writer. I know people who are only making a few hundred dollars a month and they are not six-figure authors; it is true. But they are writers, and they have a handful of readers who really love them. And next year, they’ll have another handful.”
Tammi’s readers are out there too, even if they don’t realize it yet. The Monday after our interview, she finally returned to the fiction draft that’s been waiting in the wings for her, the one she’s most excited about seeing completed. It’s still a work in progress for now, she says, but it’s the project she’s closest to finishing. And you can bet when she does, her superfans will be there to help her celebrate.