Carla King interviews Jenny Levine Finke: How to grow your email newsletter and decrease your dependence on social media.
Nonfiction Authors Association Podcast | April 19, 2023
“…Building a newsletter community–and an online community–it really allowed me more of that stability, more of that control, more of that ownership of my relationship with the people that are engaged in my community.”
-Jenny Levine Finke
About Jenny Levine Finke
Jenny Levine Finke founded Good For You Gluten Free, a community dedicated to helping people feel good about living a gluten-free lifestyle. Jenny was diagnosed with celiac disease more than ten years ago. In that time, has become a Certified Integrative Nutrition Coach, a Certified Gluten-Free Practitioner, and the author of the award-winning book Dear Gluten, It’s Not Me, It’s You. Jenny reaches millions of people each year and has become a trusted source for commonsense gluten-free information and delicious and approachable recipes. Find her online at goodforyouglutenfree.com or join her community at welcome.goodforyouglutenfree.com.
Nonfiction Authors Podcast: Jenny Levine Finke
Find the video podcast, show notes, links, quotes, and podcast transcript below.
Got feedback on our podcast? Want us to consider a guest or topic? Please let us know on our feedback form here.
- goodforyouglutenfree.com or join her community at welcome.goodforyouglutenfree.com
- Subscribe to Jenny’s newsletter
- Good For You Gluten Free Facebook Page
- Good For You Gluten Free on Twitter
- Good For You Gluten Free on Instagram
- Good For You Gluten Free on Pinterest
- Dear Gluten, It’s Not Me, It’s You by Jenny Levine Finke
- Media Vine
In this episode…
- Why Jenny chose to grow her email list rather than her social media platforms.
- The projects Jenny works on regularly to monetize her business.
- How Jenny got her start with blogging for her niche community.
- How to use an ad network and other tools to boost the monetization of your blog and website.
- Techniques Jenny uses to engage and interact with her audience.
- How consistency in your blogging and email marketing can set you up for success.
- Tips on formatting your blog to keep your audience engaged.
- Tips on when to send out newsletters to get the most traffic.
Hello and welcome to the interview series for the Nonfiction Authors Association. Today’s session is with Jenny Levine Finke and we will be talking about how to grow your email newsletter and decrease your dependence on social media. I’m Carla King, your host, and I’m happy to have you with us today. This interview will last only 30 minutes and you can find the replay on our Nonfiction Authors Association website and social media platforms including YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.
Jenny Levine Finke 0:54
Oh, thanks for having me. Good to meet you, Carla.
Carla King 0:57
Before we dive in, let me tell everybody more about you. Jenny founded Good For You Gluten Free, a community dedicated to helping people feel good about living a gluten-free lifestyle. Jenny was diagnosed with celiac disease more than ten years ago. In that time, has become a Certified Integrative Nutrition Coach and a Certified Gluten-Free Practitioner. She also wrote an award-winning book Dear Gluten, It’s Not Me, It’s You. Jenny reaches millions of people each year and has become a trusted source for commonsense gluten-free information and delicious and approachable recipes. Find her online at goodforyouglutenfree.com or join her community–which we’ll be talking about– at welcome.goodforyouglutenfree.com. And finally, Jenny is on a panel next at the upcoming Nonfiction Writers Conference to discuss How to Own Your Niche and Sell More Books: Real World Success Stories.
Okay, so where do we dive in? First of all, why don’t we start with why you decided to focus on email rather than social media?
Jenny Levine Finke 2:15
That’s such a great question, because I think so many people are focused on growing their followers on Instagram. Or, ‘How do I get explosive growth on Tik Tok?’ And what I have found is–social media is this ever changing landscape that I have trust issues with, I guess you could say. And so I actually wrote down a few examples of why social media is a hard place to be. And that leads into why I chose to really focus on email marketing more. Of course, I do it all. But email marketing is really where I think it’s at.
But in social media, what we’re seeing is–Instagram algorithms are constantly changing. And they’re prioritizing content that they think a person wants to see, but they’re not actually showing your content to your followers. And so you could put up a video that you think your followers would really enjoy, and Instagram may not show it, and you may not get very many views. So these algorithms are super finicky today. We’re seeing things like the Meta platform, which is Instagram and Facebook, and even Twitter. We’re seeing them ban sites that maybe they don’t agree with the way someone thinks.
I actually had a blogger friend who posted a picture on social media, and she has a plus sized mommy website. And it was just a plus sized woman in a bikini. And it was reported as pornography for some crazy reason. It’s not at all pornography. And she lost access to her Facebook platform for months. It was very devastating to her business.
We’re also seeing things like–TikTok could get banned, right? We don’t know. The future is uncertain right now. It’s in the hands of our legislators. And I’ve had friends in the industry, as well, who had been hacked, and they’ve lost their social media for a long time. Trying to recover their account, sometimes never recovering their account. And then there’s all these new social media platforms that are always up and coming that you feel like, ‘Oh man, maybe I need to build another platform.’ And it’s just this never ending need to feed this content machine that you actually have no control over. We’ve seen platforms even disappear. Where’s Vine and Google+, right?
Carla King 4:39
Yes, I was shocked when Google+ went away.
Jenny Levine Finke 4:44
You may have spent all this time building that, and then you have nothing to show for it when it goes away. And we’re seeing Facebook become pay for play. You really get zero engagement as a business page unless you’re willing to pay to boost your posts. And then we see like things like Clubhouse being super hyped. Does anyone use Clubhouse? I don’t know. Not me.
Carla King 5:05
I used it for about four months. That was it. And then I got distracted, because then Twitter said they had an audio platform. And I went there and did all this crap with the Twitter app. And I was like, ‘No, I’m just done.’
Jenny Levine Finke 5:18
I’m caught up in that, too. It’s like, ‘Where do I go? What do I do?’ And then I sit here and I build these platforms on these other people’s sites, and I build my following on other people’s sites. And I–at the end of the day–have nothing to show for it. All those people who are making a living on Vine have nothing to show for it, right? And so that’s where I felt like building a newsletter community–and an online community–it really allowed me more of that stability, more of that control, more of that ownership of my relationship with the people that are engaged in my community.
Carla King 5:54
And I looked at your social media sites. Content that you have there completely drives visitors right to your website. I was looking at Instagram, and it has a recipe of a gluten free muffin. And it’s like, ‘If you want more of this, go to my community.’ But I think everyone should get on social media, and claim your name, and drive people to your site. Is that the strategy that you use?
Jenny Levine Finke 6:18
I mean, I do post regularly. But I don’t post every day, like some content creators. It’s very stressful to me to do that, and it took away from other things that I wanted to build–like products, and writing a book. Things like that, that you want to do. If you’re constantly having to post a new TikTok video every day, it’s very stressful. So I do post probably two to three times a week on social media.
I do work with sponsors, who really do still value social media very much. Even though I can say, ‘You know, I may not be able to get you more than 7000-8000 eyeballs on a reel. But if you come in my newsletter, I guarantee at least 10,000 people will see it.’ And it’s much more of a powerful and emotional connection through my newsletter. But the sponsors still like social media.
So never abandon social media–I think everyone should, like you said, claim your name. You should really try to post there regularly. If your strategy is to grow fast on these platforms, by all means do that. But I’m a one woman show, so I have to figure out where I want to prioritize my time. And so I do post on social media, but I use it as a means to grow my brand and bring them into my community.
Carla King 7:35
I was going to ask you about that. Are you a one woman show? Do you hire out assistants or anything? A lot of people do hire out social media assistants–which we do at the Nonfiction Authors Association, of course. But we use Hootsuite or Buffer–tools like that. I don’t want to get into the details of that. But how much do you do yourself? What are you working on to monetize your business?
Jenny Levine Finke 7:59
Oh, my gosh, so much. I am a one woman show. I do have some people help me with photographing recipes, and things like that, for my blog. I used to have more assistance. I used to use some of those tools you mentioned. And I just found that it was a little bit easier just to manage my own content. And that’s kind of where I like it. And I think some people–maybe you want to grow bigger or whatever–you could totally escalate all these strategies that I do on a bigger level. But I’m a one woman show. And I have to prioritize where I put my effort. And where you water is where it grows, right? And so I do a little watering in social media, but I do a lot of watering when it comes to my blog and my newsletter.
Carla King 8:44
So I wanted to talk about your emails. I subscribed when I knew we were going to have you on–maybe six or eight weeks ago. And I’ve been getting your emails, and they’re so personal, and interesting, and lively. And I notice they point to a lot of activity on your blog and in your community. So can you first of all, just tell us–you started this because you had a passion, right? When did that become a business? That was 11 years ago, I believe.
Jenny Levine Finke 9:18
Right. I just celebrated my 11 year anniversary–if you read my newsletter–today. And I had worked in marketing, and I was actually helping brands that I was working with connect with different bloggers when blogging was kind of a new and early thing. And I was like, ‘I kind of want to do this.’ And of course, I was–at the same time–privately battling celiac disease. And like, ‘What am I going to do now that I have to be on this medically necessary diet that sometimes people don’t take serious? And how am I going to navigate this community?’ And so I really felt like I could be a voice, I could be an advocate, and I could be a helpful voice to people who are dealing with what I’m dealing with. And I think it’s really relatable when it comes from me. That’s why it’s hard to hire out sometimes–because people are connecting with me. I’m going through what they’re going through, or they have gone through.
And so I created the blog–I was never really good at it at first. I had to really work on upping my writing, my photos, obviously had to build a social media platform. And with social media, I struggle with the balance of my privacy, and not wanting to be in every video. But then when you’re in videos, that’s when they get more engagement. So there’s really this struggle with social media and me and my persona.
But I did want to go into blogging because I knew I could affect change. And I knew I could create a business. And that’s what I’ve done. It is a business. You also mentioned–in my newsletter, I’m driving a lot of links back to my website. And what I noticed with social media is–like on Instagram, you get one little link in your bio. You get the same thing on TikTok, so you’re not really getting a ton of traffic from social media on these very popular sites.
But when I put a link in my newsletter, people are clicking on those. I’m definitely getting a boost of several thousand hits to my blog over Friday, Saturday, Sunday–when my newsletter comes out. And every time someone’s clicking on those links, and reading the stuff that I’m writing, and posting on my website, I am making money. I am monetizing that through my ad network. Every time there’s impressions on my website, I’m getting paid. And so I have a lot of incentive to get links and get people onto my blog.
Carla King 11:49
And is that from affiliates? Or is your ad network through a website tool, or are they affiliate links?
Jenny Levine Finke 11:58
So there’s several different companies that do this. And a lot of them have different thresholds. So you have to be at a certain level. So I work with the ad network called Media Vine–an amazing company, I really respect them a lot. But you have to have at least 50,000 page sessions per month in order to even qualify for them to consider taking you on. But then once they take you on, you have an exclusive contract with them, where they place ads on your site from major brands like Citibank, and Target, and Kellogg’s.
Whatever it is, they’re aggregating all of these brands. And then they’re working with their network of websites that they manage through. My site is one of them. It’s different blogs or other sites they manage. And they’re placing those ads. And so when you scroll through my site, and you see an ad, I’m not trying to be annoying. It’s just a way that I can monetize the work that I’m doing, because it is free to my community.
Carla King 12:57
Right, I noticed that. That you have 20,000+ people in your community. And you’re selling your book. I think you maybe charge for some speaking engagements, perhaps. You also have products, you offer coupons–I suppose you have deals with some companies to offer coupons, and you get an affiliate commission from that?
Jenny Levine Finke 13:24
Right. A lot of people wonder, ‘How do I monetize my site?’ And so I monetize it in different ways. The ad network is probably one of the primary sources of income. I also do sponsorships. So I do work with some brands that I feel connect with the gluten free lifestyle that I enjoy and like. And they will pay me to do a post about them, or a recipe with them, or things like that. I do have some affiliate links on my site for certain products. So if someone clicks on my link and purchases that product, I get a small commission. It doesn’t affect their price at all. Although a lot of these affiliates give me a special coupon that I’m able to share with my audience, too. So it’s actually a win-win for all of us.
Carla King 14:15
I wish more authors would do that, really. It’s just low hanging fruit. And if you believe truly in something, it’s not a moral issue.
Jenny Levine Finke 14:26
Exactly. And people really do trust the recommendations I make. And so there is–with great power comes great responsibility. And so I really do work hard at vetting brands and working with brands that–if I don’t eat it, and I wouldn’t trust it, I’m not going push it on anyone, right? And then another way to really monetize, obviously, is my book–which, my book sales have been steady over the last two years. Usually, I think, that’ll kind of go away at some point. I also have a digital little book that continues to sell.
I’m creating–I was in my kitchen before we talked, because I’m in the process of creating a digital little cookbook that I want to sell. Because I have this engaged audience, and sometimes I feel like I don’t have anything to sell them, right? So I’m trying to find a need that I’m finding from people who are responding to me, and sharing their stories with me. I’m trying to find a need, and creating a cookbook for that need.
Let me backup a little bit. Something that you might find interesting–so when you join my newsletter, instead of getting attacked with a million emails, where people are trying to sell you everything, all you do is get a welcome email, where I share my story very briefly. And then I ask people to reply and share their story. And that is a great thing for two reasons. One, I get to hear their stories, and their struggles, and their challenges. So I mine that information to create content that they would like, and meet their needs. And the other thing is that–when someone actually replies to that welcome email from me–that first connection they make with me–it’s telling the spam filters and the email gods, ‘Hey, this is a connection.’ And it’s helping make sure that my email is getting through to them every week.
So after you get that welcome email–hopefully they reply. Some do, some don’t. But then they go on to get an email from me every Friday that I personally write. It’s not filled with spam. It’s really filled with curated information from both my blog and the industry, and a couple of sponsored things in there as well. And it’s a really useful source of information for my community.
Carla King 16:48
Thank you. And I also noticed that it’s got very personal information about you. Like for your birthday–you shared some of your story and some things you were having issues with, and you shared somebody else’s story about a cupcake they got that actually had non-gluten free topping on it. And the bakery put out the word. It just seems like this is your life, these are your struggles, this is the story of the people in your community. So how long did it take to make that snowball bigger, so that you could create a good newsletter every Friday? A really good newsletter.
Jenny Levine Finke 17:37
I’ve had my Good For You Gluten Free website for seven or eight years now. And I think it was only when I came out with my book a few years ago. I said, ‘Look, I need a sustainable way to promote my book every week.’ And not be super salesy about it. It’s not something I felt even comfortable promoting very much on social media. How many times can you dance with your book on TikTok, right?
So, it was so funny–I just remember I was brainstorming with my husband, and I said to him, ‘I’m going to actually take this newsletter seriously. And I’m going to put it out every single week at the same exact time.’ So I held me accountable to doing it. And at first, I was still trying to find my voice and what I wanted to do. And I think just over the years, I’ve found a magic formula–a way that I can balance my main article with a couple of recipes, and then curated information from my industry.
So when you were talking about this cupcake that was gluten free, but then the topping wasn’t gluten free–that was a news story that I linked to. That was actually news that happened this week. And I forget what city it was in, but this bakery accidentally sold someone who’s gluten free a non-gluten free baked good. And then they put out a message on social media to track this person down and try to get them to not eat that cupcake. And so it’s a really interesting story. And so I started curating news for my industry, I started providing commentary.
There’s controversy in what you can and can’t eat in our industry. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Every industry has their drama, right? So the gluten free industry has drama. And so I try to unpack that information and offer–sometimes even a contrarian viewpoint to things that people are hearing and concerned about, and trying to settle. Like, ‘Wait, someone said you can’t eat oats.’ But that doesn’t mean that’s true, right? Let’s really look at this from all perspectives. And so I try to help people unpack that information every week. And I think that that consistency, and finding my voice, and not just being self promotional about my book and my posts, but really sharing stuff from the industry, sharing other bloggers that I enjoy–their content, or they develop an app, or book, and sharing that–it’s actually made it a source that people come to look forward to and to trust.
And it’s so funny–this happens more often than you think. This is not an exaggeration, but because my newsletter goes out at the same exact time every single week, people expect it. They’re looking for it. So if it doesn’t show up in their inbox, they get nervous. ‘Where is she? What happened?’ Right? And so I’m going to say–I got two emails just in the last month–in March–where people reached out to me and said, ‘I thought I was on your list, but I didn’t get your newsletter on Friday morning. What happened? Are you still sending it out?’ It was like, ‘Wow.’ So then I went, I looked in my email provider, and I said, ‘They have been consistently getting and opening my email, but they didn’t open this last week.’ And so I said, ‘I bet it went to your spam. Will you check it? And if it did, will you make sure you mark it as safe?’ And they were like, ‘It did go to spam.’
But the fact that that person was even like, ‘Friday! I didn’t hear from Jenny on Friday. What’s going on?’ It just showed me that that consistency was working. And people are replying. I actually feel like there’s maybe fifty people who constantly reply to my newsletter every so often. I know their names. I know I have super fans. Does that make sense? I say that not to be braggy, but to say these are real connections with real people who are sharing information with me, and I’m sharing information with them. And it’s a win win.
Carla King 21:37
It is. And these are the people who also feed you ideas for more newsletters and more blog contents. Do you also blog on a schedule?
Jenny Levine Finke 21:48
I’m not as consistent. But I do try to come out with one recipe a week at least. And I try to come out with one article a week. And then also, sometimes, there’s news happening in the industry. And so that will sidetrack me a little bit. So I do have to comment on things that are going on, and keep up with what’s going on in the industry. And so I try to write two to three posts a week.
And then also, when you have a blog with content–especially in an industry that’s very fluid, like the gluten free industry–and things are changing. Labels are changing–things you thought were gluten free are no longer gluten free. You have to keep up, you have to maintain the blog. New information’s coming out. There used to be studies that say, ‘Oh, there’s no link between celiac disease and colon cancer.’ And now there’s a study that says there is.
So you have to be up on it and constantly changing things. And so even this morning, I found a new product that uses a gluten free wheat starch, which is this new product that we’re finding in more and more baked goods–it’s a gluten free form of wheat starch. Wheat is typically gluten DO NOT TOUCH wheat. But now we’re seeing wheat starch, where the gluten protein removed is safe for some people. And so I found a new product. I had to go into my wheat starch article and update it because it’s new, and I have to keep it up to date. And so it is a living beast.
Carla King 23:14
A living blog, yes. I think I see this more and more in blogs now–updated, and the date that was updated. Probably pointing to that from your newsletter.
Jenny Levine Finke 23:25
Pointing to that. And every time I update an article, I am looking for ways to even point to my book if you want to hear more of my story and the newsletter. Something that maybe we’re going to get to–but I want to make sure I get it in before we’re done–is that I really want to share my book every week, without being like, ‘Buy my book, buy my book.’ I think a lot of authors feel that way. And so every week I share–at the bottom of my email–’Here’s my book.’ And then maybe once a month, I’ll share a review. If I get a new review on Amazon–I’ll share, ‘Here’s what Jason said about my book.’ And it’s just a subtle reminder to people that I wrote this book. And I noticed that–like I said, over the last few years of my book being out, it’s consistent. The sales are consistent.
Carla King 24:15
That’s great. And I did notice that you do have stories in your newsletter, and you do have little pieces. It’s very quick to scan through. You’ve got bold, you’ve got little glasses or eyeballs. You really seem to format it so that it’s super easy to read. And I know a lot of writers–people who are writers–they make their posts dense–or their newsletters dense. I’m one of those–I kind of write an essay for my newsletter often, which is what people expect from me. But did you go through a period of adjusting what you put in it? Did you find, ‘This works, this doesn’t’?
Jenny Levine Finke 24:52
Well, I’m like you. I have a lot to say on certain topics. And so that’s for the blog–that’s my long form. Those are 2000 words. Those are long form blog posts with everything I want to say. But what I’m really trying to do is give you a taste in my newsletter.
I think today I talked about–how do you know your gluten free diet is even effective? How do you even know that? And so then, I say, ‘I think there’s eight signs that will tell you your diet is effective, and that it’s working. And if you want to read them, here it is.’ And that’s it. And that’s kind of what you see in the newsletter. It’s not all of that. And then people do click over–hundreds, hundreds of people click over on different articles. And like I said, I definitely get an uptick of several thousand people on my blog in the Friday, Saturday and Sunday–after my newsletter went out. Which really boosts my ad revenue for the weekend, too.
Carla King 25:49
And how did you choose Friday? Was it just arbitrary–that worked for your schedule?
Jenny Levine Finke 25:54
Well, it is nice on Friday to just do a roundup of the week. Because the whole week, I’m so busy just getting the content together. Next week, I know what I want to say–it could get disrupted if something new comes out. But I’m working on a different article right now–I need to finish putting the pieces together. So Friday is a nice tie to end the week.
But I will also say there is another reason that I will share. And I’m hesitant to share this, because I want people to know I really do this for good reasons–for benevolent reasons. But Media Vine has different days where the ad revenue can change–the amount of ad revenue can change. And it’s always higher–your, what we call, RPM’s. Don’t ask me to define those. But the revenue you make on Friday, Saturday and Sunday is higher than usually the rest of the week. And so when I put my newsletter out on Friday, and I’m leading people to my blog, I’m getting more clicks when my revenue is going to be a little higher. So it’s a little inside baseball for the professional network of people that listen to this podcast.
Carla King 27:11
Thank you so much. And that’s probably due to their algorithm of when people are more likely to see things. And then they’re shopping for things on weekends more, right?
Jenny Levine Finke 27:21
Yeah, I think it has to do with–advertisers are bidding for places on my blog–for space. People are shopping on the weekend online. And so ad space is a finite number. So they’re bidding. And so then you get more revenue. I’m not sure exactly how it works.
Carla King 27:46
I have so many more questions, but we have three minutes left. We do want to just keep this at 30 minutes. So we will see you at the Nonfiction Writers Conference next month for more, and of course on your blog. But what is the balance between work, life, blog, newsletter? You said you create a recipe a week. Or do you test a recipe a week? That has to be a whole day in itself.
Jenny Levine Finke 28:17
There’s a lot that goes into it. I do have some help with recipes, which is very helpful. I feel like, first and foremost, I have to take care of myself. I have an autoimmune disease, I have to take care of myself. I have to work out during the week–I have to make time for that. And I have to make time to make healthy food for myself. I do believe that people with a medical condition that makes them have to eat a special diet should prioritize eating at home, and eating out less. Not that you can’t eat out, I help people do that, too. And so that’s really my number one priority.
My kids are a little bit older. They’re both in high school. And so they’re pretty self sufficient. But I do stop work around five o’clock every day to make my family a home cooked meal every night. And so I take on what I can. I can’t be dancing around on TikTok every single day. I don’t know how people do that. I’m prioritizing longer form content, I’m prioritizing my newsletter–which I really think helps boost my revenues, helps boost my book sales, and helps build my brand in a different way than everyone else who’s making noise out there is trying to do.
Carla King 29:34
Wow. Well thank you, Jenny. You’re a total inspiration, because I think most authors would love to concentrate on writing, and their emai,l and their blog posts rather than social media.
Jenny Levine Finke 29:45
Right. And sometimes we need permission to say social media is not the end all be all. And I utilize social media to get people into other aspects of my business, I guess.
Carla King 29:57
Thank you so much again Jenny and thank you to our listeners. I hope you’ll go to Jenny’s site and community which you can find at goodforyouglutenfree.com.
For a list of guests and topics, check our events page at NonfictionAuthorsAssociation.com, to find show notes, links, and full transcripts for this and every podcast, along with a list of webinars, courses, and other events. You won’t believe how many free reports we have for you to help you write, publish, and market your book and do business as an author. You just have to subscribe.
Until next week, this is Carla King with a reminder to keep writing, the world needs your experience and expertise.
Quotes from our guest
“It’s like, ‘Where do I go? What do I do?’ And then I sit here and I build these platforms on these other people’s sites, and I build my following on other people’s sites [with social media]. And I–at the end of the day–have nothing to show for it. All those people who are making a living on Vine have nothing to show for it, right. And so that’s where I felt like building a newsletter community–and an online community–it really allowed me more of that stability, more of that control, more of that ownership of my relationship with the people that are engaged in my community.”
“And I think that that consistency, and finding my voice, and not just being self promotional about my book and my posts, but really sharing stuff from the industry, sharing other bloggers that I enjoy–their content, or they develop an app, or book, and sharing that–it’s actually made it a source that people come to look forward to and to trust.”
“And sometimes we need permission to say social media is not the end all be all. I utilize social media to get people into other aspects of my business.”
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