Anti Clickbait: Jan 2021 Newsletter Release Notes

Why I sent my newsletter straight out of Gmail

Laura Gao

31 Jan 2021 • 3 min read

Welcome to Release Notes: where I talk about the decision making process behind my content. It's kind of like a little behind-the-scenes.

This is my 5th newsletter.

This newsletter and my October newsletter (only 3 newsletters ago) are polar opposites. Whereas the October one had a detailed attempted-aesthetically-pleasing comic that I spent hours on, this newsletter is short and has almost no styling. Why? Read on to find out!

This is the first frame of my tryhard comic. This frame took 2 hours to draw.

Major changes / Table of Contents:

  1. Branding
  2. No styling
  3. Short


I'm no longer branding my newsletter as a "newsletter" or ask people to "subscribe." Just going to ask, "Can I send you emails about what I'm working on each month?" [1]

Does that sound deceptively personal?

No styling

My January 2021 newsletter was a pretty atypical one. In my past 4 newsletters, I spent hours designing the layout on Mailchimp, focusing more on the design than the actual content.

This is what I believed a typical newsletter should be: pretty, attention grabbing, well styled.

What I believed a typical well-styled newsletter should be

Then, I saw one of Ananya's newsletters. No styling, no images, and she didn't even use a 3rd party email editor, sending it straight from gmail! Ananya is a TKS alumni that is well known for being cool and someone that all of us TKS-first-years look up to.

I've written about content > engagement in the past. I'm a strong believer of content > engagement. Because of this, I constructed this January email in GMAIL alone without using mailchimp and with minimal styling.

As well, done > perfect. I spent ~12 hours making my first newsletter. 16 days making my second one. 6.5 hours making my 4th one. I've been spending a lot of time into these newsletters because I wanted to make them top quality. But then hit the cold hard truth:

What's the point of producing high quality content if no one is going to see it?

The purpose of a newsletter, as stated by the TKS playbook, is to "keep your networks updated with your progress." Therefore, your newsletter is useless if you have no network.

Last month, I definitely had no network. So it doesn't make sense to spend tens of hours drawing a comic for my newsletter. (Having no network - that's going to change soon! Hopefully… 😢 Asking for a friend?)

Short and to the point

The second turning point was Sigil's newsletter - 2 paragraphs (compared to my usually 10) and straight to the point. This would be about a 30 second to 1 minute read.

Inbox clutter

My last newsletter was a 4–5 minute read. Who even reads all that? Probably no one. Most people who do open it (if they even open it) will probably just scroll through it for 10 seconds, or 30 seconds if I'm lucky.

I have plenty of experience with inbox clutter. Many people will probably regard long newsletters as such.

The third and final turning point was Davide's newsletter. This one blew my mind the hardest: it's literally a blog post format! Only writing, no pictures or styling at all. His sentences are short, simple, and to the point.

Because of these factors, I decided to make my newsletter short. I wanted to make it a 30-second read, a rapid fire rundown of my month. Keeping it to 30 seconds was difficult though 😅 I ended up making it a 2 minute read, which is shorter than my past newsletters.

Thanks to Sigil and Amy for helping me come to terms with this decision! At this point, I'm mostly experimenting with different styles. Who knows if this non-styled format will stick.

Other Thoughts

Achievements vs Reflections

This newsletter was more focused on reflections than achievements. My idea of a typical newsletter is focused on what you've done during the past month. I mostly did that in my first few newsletters. But… I've come to feel inauthentic just "showing off" my content. I feel like I'm sending self-promo. I still showed my content in this newsletter, but 2 of the major sections ("2021: Year of Excitement" and "Bias towards fear" are reflection-oriented rather than achievement oriented.


Sending an email to 150 people is kind of a big deal. If I make a mistake in a blog post, I can always go back to edit it. That is impossibly with emails. I know done > perfect, but I still end up spending 30 minutes re-reading the newsletter after it's done.

Release Notes about the blog

You may have noticed that the homepage of this blog has changed. Instead of displaying new blog posts in the classic picture and text side by side format, I'm only displaying the text on the homepage.

This is partly due to content > engagement. Some blogs don't have pictures included, and I don't want to feel like I need to include a picture in every post. Also partly inspired by Samson's blog and One Skill a Week: simple homepage design with no pictures. Content > engagement, don't use flashy pics trying to clickbait people. (FYI, "anti-clickbait"= "content > engagement" the way I see it. Hence, the title of these release notes.)

If you read all the way here, I appreciate you. LMK because I'm suffering from self esteem issues 🥺👉👈

(I'm 90% sure that no one reads these blogs to the end…) [2]

[1] Why: Asking people to "subscribe" to my "newsletter" sounds like self promo. I hate the sound of it. It sounds like one of those salesmen that go knocking on doors. And… I'm not gaining anything financially from people subscribing, why make it sound like that? Quite literally, my newsletter is just an email talking about what I'm working on. Asking to send "emails about what I'm working on each month" is not a lie.

[2] Then why do I write them if I don't think anyone will read it? Damn… I don't know. Writing release notes is therapy. It was inspired by how CGP Grey (or was it Kurz?) said something like viewers don't see 90% of what goes into the content they create. And that's completely true, I make so many decisions behind the scenes on these newsletters that viewers will never know about. I suppose that writing release notes gives me a way to show people the decision making process.

Content is deceptively simple. A 5 minute read can take an hour to write, and another 2 hours to edit. When I read articles and blogs, I don't see the 3 hours of work put into the content, I only see the "5 minute read" written on the surface.