Anatomy of a Failed Email Experiment

Photo credit: BigStock Photo/ Oleg Golovnev

Aren’t you so glad you can come here to read about my mistakes and abject failures?  It has to make you feel better that, when you’re struggling with something, you have a compatriot in the feeling of “I JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT I’M DOING WRONG.”

Well, if you subscribe to the mailing list, last week you got a play by play example of me having that exact same experience.

I’m always harping on people to build their mailing lists, and we have a great list of subscribers here.  Usually I send out emails to the list to remind them to come over and read what’s on the site, because I know they are probably not coming back all the time to check it out, and I know that my co-contributors and myself work hard to stay current on the latest issues in publishing and share those with you.

With that in mind, I tried to streamline this process by using a function called “RSS to Email,” which (in theory) is supposed to automatically send a digest of posts from the week out to the list.  Simple, right?

Not so much.   First, I sent the template email I was using to set the whole thing up to the entire list.


Next, I sent an email to the list, apologizing for that email, then pointing them towards some great posts and resources.   But then, one of my co-contributors told me that, in fact, I had left some of the “setup” text in that email as well.

Whoops again, but at least I was communicating actual words to the list, right??   A for effort?    Again, I want to emphasize that everyone struggles with this kind of thing, that it’s not just you, and that you’re not stupid if you don’t “get it.”   I am an actual tech nerd who spends all day every day doing this kind of stuff, and even I have to go through the “trial and error” of it all in order to learn.

So, cut to Sunday (yesterday), when the “digest” was supposed to go out.  I almost didn’t want to look, but as it turns out, the “digest” function is indeed not working correctly, and the whole list got the “email template” email AGAIN.


I have since turned off the “RSS to Email” function and declared it a failure. If you unsubscribed from the list because you think I’m an idiot, don’t be scared, come on back—I’m going to start sending out the hand-written digests again.    I figure all you can do is learn from your mistakes and move on.

Here’s what I learned.

Start Small.  When trying to learn a new (and previously untested) piece of technology, maybe don’t experiment with a large mailing list.    I made the mistake of thinking the operation was going to be simple, and I annoyed a bunch of people.  I should have tried that functionality out first and sent sample emails to myself and a few friends only.    My bad.

Try, Try Again.   I guess I have to at least give myself credit for trying to streamline my operations.   I am glad to provide an example of someone not doing everything perfectly.

Stay in Touch.  Actually, I am glad this happened, because it made me get in touch with the list more frequently, have them laugh with (at) me, and got some people off of the list who didn’t want to be there in the first place (or who had forgotten they signed up).  That’s cool.  This week I will write a personal letter to the people who stayed, and I will hope they don’t roll their eyes when they see in their inbox this week.

Speaking of mailing lists, in the midst of my mailing list chaos, I totally forgot to mention about my guest post last week for BiblioCrunch’s blog.   Yes, I realize the rich irony inherent in the fact that this post was, in fact, about building your mailing list.

The bottom line: learn from my mistakes, don’t get overambitious, but always keep trying!


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