November 2020 Newsletter — Release Notes

I focused more on making my newsletters engaging than making them valuable.

Laura Gao

11 Dec 2020 • 3 min read

Welcome to Release Notes: where I talk about the decision making behind articles, videos, and other creations.

Your newsletter might by someone's first impression of you.

In September and October, the majority of my audience were my friends, around > 60% were from TKS. (TKS is a program I'm part of that encourages every student to publish their own newsletter.) The majority of my subscribers were probably subscribed to 10 of their friends' newsletters and would see dozens of more on TKS Life. (TKS Life is the "social media pIatform" that TKS built for students to share what they have worked on, including posting their newsletters.) I didn't want to just be another same ol' newsletter following the same ol' style. I wanted to differentiate myself, to make my newsletter ✨stand out✨ in the sea of 10s of newsletters. Since the majority of my subscriber list were teens, I did this by trying to be funny, with comics and memes.

In December, the percentage of my subscribers who are teens have dropped from 100% to about 80%. Although that is still a majority, I no longer want to cater my newsletters to a teen audience. I no longer want to cater them to an instant gratification audience who don't have the attention span to read through the whole thing without a comic, which is what I did in September and October. I want to provide value.

I focused more on making my newsletters engaging than making them valuable. I don't feel so good about that.

The Internet has enough funny, instant gratification content out there and frankly, we don't need any additional people actively creating more.

As was I looking through old newsletters whose lists I impulsively subscribed to months ago wanting to see lives of cool smart people, I found one of Sigil's newsletters where he talks about how he's practicing authenticity to bring value to his newsletter readers. That gave me a realization—that wasn't what I was doing. Sure, my stuff can be funny, but people reading my newsletters won't get any value from it.

So that's what I want to do. I want to make my newsletters valuable. I started trying that out for my October newsletter when I dropped some productivity tools, a podcast rec, and how I'm working on discipline. This month also tried to do that by plugging wisdom from twitter and some discipline tips.

Also, now that I got some newsletter subscribers that aren't my friends. They're people who I don't know. This newsletter might be someone's first impression of me, do I want that impression to be someone who makes memes and draws comics or someone who is working on self improvement and trying to provide value?

The comic in this newsletter is the first comic that I don't feel confident starting a newsletter with. What is placed at the start your reader's the first impression, and we all know how important first impressions are. In September and October, I remember being proud of the art. Not so much this time.

I was overconfident by how well my last comic turned out, so I spent less time on drawing this. Naturally, a worse result should be expected. The rough colouring bleeds over edges and colours not too smoothly blended. At first, I was going for that messy "style" of bleeding over the edges; I thought it looked nice. Now, I'm not quite sure if it looks nice, but it never hurts to experiment ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Another key is that the handwriting is messy. Doesn't make for great first impressions vibes.

Your art is as strong as its weakest part.

For this section, I had originally planned to write out a full on reflection about why streaks aren't helpful for accountability, but I decided against it as it was longer than I expected and filled up a whole page of the newsletter 😳 Newsletters are supposed to be short and sweet, no one wants essays sent to their inbox, right?

Instead, I put those thoughts into its own blog post, along with a more detailed plan of December's habits and the reasoning behind why.

Do my comics add value?

In last month's release notes, I said they did.

I'm sure they make me stand out. A recent person I met told me that she was looking forward to meeting me because she saw my comics. That legitimately made my week.

But the thing is, I started making the comics in the first place to capture the attention of people who don't have the attention span to read the text of the newsletter. My intention with the comics in the first place was for the sole purpose of engagement.

That means I didn't intend to create them to add value.

When I was looking to create my blog, I was reading some other people's blog posts and stumbled across this. I had more realizations — I felt that my content is full of chocolate covered broccoli. Chocolate covered broccoli are basically things added to pieces of content for the sole purpose of engagement, without adding value or being relevant to what is being taught.

Cartoons in textbooks are a good example of chocolate covered broccoli.

Felt that my comics were starting to become like that too — content created for the sole purpose of engagement, without adding any value or being relevant to what you want your reader to learn. Engaging, maybe. Valuable, no.

I no longer want to create chocolate covered brocolli. I no longer want to spend more time on engagement than education.