an open letter to my newsletter subscribers

Hello Everybody,

I hope you guys are having a great time receiving the newsletter. I’m sure having a blast sending it out!

Obviously, as a cartoonist I like people reading it. So equally obviously, I want to grow the list.

In terms of growing it, I’ve got my own ideas, certainly. But then I thought to myself, maybe it would be more fun and interesting to reach out to you instead. This is “social media”, after all. And even though I’ve doing it for years, this “open source” stuff is still REALLY interesting to me.

So here’s what I’m asking: You guys receive the newsletter. You guys are a savvy crowd, and you will have plenty of opinions of your own.

So what do I need to change? What could I do better? How could I improve the layout? What new ideas or tools could I be using? And perhaps most importantly, what could I do to make it easier for you guys to share it with your friends?

If you’re already a subscriber, feel free to leave a comment below of send me your feedback at Thanks a lot!

UPDATE: Since I first posted this an hour or two ago, the comments have POURING in below. Thanks, Guys, this is REALLY helpful!


    • Dave, I hear what you’re saying… and agree somewhat. Content is King etc.

      But if there’s any good designers lurking around, I’d certainly value their input, too :)


      • I agree with Dave that the content is king, but as a brand manager for Unilever I also understand that if I don’t get the majority of the message in 1.4seconds – you’ve lost me. As a NEW “consumer” that is. Personally, I ALREADY love your stuff (which is why I name check you so much on my blog) – so ‘you had me at hello’ (!) – but for the newbies – I think it’s ALL about the packaging.

        The best advice I ever got was to spend 50% of my time writing the headline and 30% on the design and 20% on the content.

        As an artist – you’ll probably agree that aesthetics are important, but the content REALLY needs to kick ass. That said – it’s funny how I share all your articles that contain ‘business wisdom’, but only smile to myself at the ones that feature love or your observations. I guess I only share your stuff when I think it will inspire someone.

        The best advice I ever got was to spend 60% of my time writing the headline and 40% on the design and 20% on the content.

        As an artist – you’ll probably agree that aesthetics are important, but the content REALLY needs to kick ass. That said – it’s funny how I share all your articles that contain ‘business wisdom’, but only smile to myself at the ones that feature love or your observations. I guess I only share your stuff when I think it will inspire someone.

  1. “So what do I need to change? What could I do better? How could I improve the layout? What new ideas or tools could I be using? And perhaps most importantly, what could I do to make it easier for you guys to share it with your friends?”

    Okay you asked for it…

    Layout- Ask for designers to submit a site layout(within certain guidelines) put it up for a month or two with their name and link in bold print. You get fresh designs, they get promoted on a high traffic website. win-win

    Change or do better? – When is your next book coming out? sample chapters are a wonderful hook, (we get hooked and you get sales) win-win

    New tools? – have you considered video blogs or a livestream, I know I would watch, and you would be accessible to a new audience. again win-win

    • Thanks, artcurmudgeon! LOVE those ideas.

      I was thinking maybe adding a “Daily Link”. Something fun or interesting from the blog for people to read… Maybe a new chapter from the new book- that does have a lot of possibilities…

      Rock on 😀

      • Or better yet – how about you pay a designer. Would you work for free in the hopes a link on someone’s site will generate some buzz? If not, why ask others to do it? Respect.

        I think artists, designers, etc should be paid for their work. That is a win-win – designer gets paid – you get a new design.

        PS – I admit I recently (maybe yesterday) unsubscribed – daily is too much email for me – I don’t have time for it.

  2. These days I process email on the iPhone.

    So, I’d love to see the newsletter load faster and better for the smaller screen. Slightly smaller file size for the cartoon and much smaller logo at the top of the newsletter.

  3. I’ve been getting the newsletter since you started it, but I’m considering unsubscribing. Email Newsletters aren’t that useful for me – if I want to save or share the item it’s much more work than if it were an RSS feed where I just click share and add a comment. I can’t just pop open the url and tweet the link. I can’t visit a page and read the comments to share in others reactions.

    Everyday your email comes in like a todo item – I must process all the unread messages. Since I’m just working down a queue, I click on yours, read it, and move on – item done. With my News Reader, its less a queue and more a “oh let’s see what Hugh / Seth / etc posted”. RSS feeds are read when I’m taking a quick break from my task, or have a moment while something is processing (happens a lot when you are a programmer). Further, I can let your posts build up and then read over them Saturday morning with a cup of coffee.

    On another note – your last book was great, and I’m looking forward to the next. Because of your cartoons I make sure to get the dead tree edition (I do most reading on my Kindle).

      • Well, the feed doesn’t work all that well. Every once in a while a whole bunch of old items show up as unread in my google reader.

        • Yeah, I am facing same issues as Vitor with google reader. I am having days when I am getting many old newsletters at once.
          I have no idea why.

        • The RSS feed works fine for me on my iGoogle home page.

          Looking forward to the next book, too. In the meantime, if you haven’t read Linchpin, grab a copy. Seth features Hugh in the book, and it’s great for many other reasons.

      • Thanks – I guess for the email design I suggest pointing out the RSS feed (I couldn’t find a link in the emails).

        Using Google reader as well, and I think GR is a bit buggy. I have multiple feeds mark everything as new, including some of my own every now and then and I can confirm nothing changed in the feed.

  4. How about an intangible reward for your readers? For example anyone who is a subscriber will receive a link/code to watch a live stream of your drawing a cartoon(s) and responding to questions?

    • That’s a cool idea. I’d like the behind-the-scenes peek at an artist in action. I might learn something about the craft.

  5. I’m a big fan of your newsletter. To improve it, I would love to see links to one or two other daily cartoons which talk about the same topic. A related cartoons link if you will.

  6. Hugh, I wonder if you could offer a “weekly digest” version of your newsletter? You seem to present your work in themes anyway, so grouping together a week’s worth of newsletter messages might make a lot of sense, and you might get subscribers who otherwise wouldn’t subscribe since it means an extra email every day.

    I value your art, but what I really like is the peek inside your head that you offer when you talk about what inspired the piece you’re sending.

    From a design standpoint, I agree that having a much smaller logo area would help to put more of the good stuff “above the fold.” Let’s face it: by the time I click on your newsletter, I already know who it’s from, so a little tiny logo on top is all I need to reinforce that. I’m opening the email because I want to see what you’ve sent that day: the art and the commentary. The faster you can give me the good stuff, the better.

    Keep up the good work, and thanks for sharing it.

    • Hey Pam, thanks…

      Yeah, I’m putting more effort into the written explanations of the cartoons. People seem to like them more than I ever predicted… a nice surprise, frankly.

      I LOVE the “weekly digest” idea! I reckon that would work for a lot of people. Very cool…

  7. Is it just me or do the cartoons and messages tend to turn up on the blog a few days later?

    When I first signed up, the newsletter was the once in a while thing that had great content and stuff that I felt was only coming to us, the subscribers. Now it seems the advantage to being on the list is to get cheaper prints. That’s a great advantage, but maybe not for everyone.

    I like getting a daily cartoon, but I liked feeling special too. Regardless of how special I actually was :)

    • @Matt, I totally get that… How exclusive or open do I make everything?

      If you find the answer, please let me know 😀

      But yeah, I really should make more effort with doing special subscriber-only stuff.

      It’s evolving…

      • Don’t get me wrong – I’m along for the ride.

        The tough balancing act is finding out what the difference between a mailing list and a blog is.

        My impression is a blog is more for the “what’s in Hugh’s head?” stuff. The mailing list is those people who are interested in what’s happening in “Hugh’s World” and for the True Fans looking for ways to feel like they’re closer to you than the general blog reader.

      • I’ve found that the super-hi res version for only subscribers has been fantastic. I often make the cartoons I resonate with desktop backgrounds. I should take a straw poll how people in the office feel about that 😉

  8. Personally I like the layout of the daily newsletter and look forward to checking it out with the morning coffee. I do find your comments about what inspired the drawing very interesting. Sort of a peak into Hugh’s mind/world. Maybe along those lines, you could offer newsletter subscribers an occasional 2 minute gaping void documentary. There is Hugh, there is a business card – go.

  9. Hugh:

    I like the current layout – and since I work in a place FILLED with digital immigrants, I have to print off the emails/cartoons to share. They go over quote well, even if only in black and white.

    I’d like to ahve some insight into how the cartoons are made – perhaps a monthly (or weekly, depending on how motivated you were) little documentary about “How Hugh does it”.

    The design is cool, too. But then again, I’m not a design guy. I like sipping coffee and reading your stuff.

    Good work, keep it up, man!

  10. Hey Ed, video is high on my list of “Things I should do more often but never quite end up doing…”

    A nice idea, certainly.

  11. Hi

    First off love the work and from my point of view even though e-mail is a task I really enjoy getting a treat in the middle of dealing with it so I will stick to the e-mail list.

    Unfortunately I have an internet connection that tends to be somewhat intermittent and sometimes your newsletter takes forever to load. And from my point of you the biggest culprit seems to be the big box of solid color – maybe get rid of that.

    Also it would be great if you could give a related links tidbit at the bottom of the e-mail…If you enjoyed this cartoon you might like these 2 as well :)

    Keep up the good work.

    • Another way to perhaps grow your e-mail list is allowing people to republish your cartoons on their sites with full attribution and a link to subscribing to the newsletter?

        • Thanks…I just saw the creative commons link at the bottom of the e-mail. I missed it previously :)

          Maybe the way to make it more obvious is by putting in a link on the newsletter “to republish this cartoon click here”?

  12. I would like to not have to download images each time, but because the email is kind of weird neither approving the sender or domain seems to work. Also I would second a previous commentors thoughts and say that it could benefit from a designer’s touch.

  13. I love the daily email.

    I like when they are short and sweet. Cartoon and what you’re feeling. Don’t need a lot more than that.

    I’d rather read full updates via RSS or visit the blog on person.

    What are you looking for in regards to a community manager?


  14. I sent you an email yesterday with some ideas in it. I’m not sure you’ve managed to wade through to that one yet. I hope you like some of them.

  15. Hugh,
    I second the call to make the republishing options more explicit.

    I see the Creative Commons link, and I have read it, but it’s kind of buried there at the bottom of the page.

    And regarding the “noncommercial” restriction: I’d love to use the “Writer’s Block” cartoon above on my blog, but it’s part of my business, so is that a commercial use. On the other hand, I don’t charge for the blog content, so is it noncommercial? (I’m so confused!)

    I also have trouble with the images in the newsletter not loading every time. I use Outlook, and I’ve tried “Add Sender to Safe Senders List”, but it doesn’t seem to “take.” Is the sender slightly different each day, or what?

    I like the pithy, to-the-point format. Keep it up!

  16. Not sure if all Moto Droid users experince this, but whenever I view your newsletter in web-based mobile Gmail, the browser crashes. Doh. (Doesn’t happen with any other emails.)

    Would probably be a pain for you to track down the bug. But, I’m 90% sure that if you had a more minimal design, it would fix the problem.

    Love your work, btw.

  17. Hugh,
    we all love what you do. Your cartoons are entertaining, inspiring, funny, sometimes “dark” enough to inspire some deep thoughts. Cartoons are ok.
    The best way to engage with the audience would be to allow them to “comment” your cartoons, but not just with comments. They have to draw another cartoon, send it to you, and you publish the best “response” soon thereafter.
    My 0.02. :)

  18. Hi Hugh, channeling JFK, I ask not my cartoonist can do for me, but what can I do for my cartoonist?

    I often share your work, credited and with a link, on my blog and twitter, Sometiems the link is to the newsletter subscription, but what would you prefer? How can we best further your Evil Plans for global domination?

    • @Shannon, I’m afraid the onus is really on me- to create ways that make it easier for my readers share them… or even harder, create ways to make it easier for people to convince their friends to sign up, as well.

      One thing I’m finding out quickly- it’s getting harder and harder for me to both do the actual cartoon work, AND play community leader. Might need to delegate.

  19. I’ve been enjoying the explanations under the cartoons lately, so thanks for that.

    Others have suggested a weekly collection rather each cartoon being sent daily. One other idea is to let users choose when they receive it, such as right after the beginning of a lunch break for cubicle dwellers, or Saturdays at 7pm for the weekly folks. That sort of thing.

    Ask your subscribers to share their thoughts about the impact your cartoons have had on their personal or professional lives, then include one of their stories every Friday. And/or, share a pic of one of your cube grenades in the wild.

  20. In my case, a little request.

    I’ve been trying to use this Facebook app (don’t know if it’s the official one) but it never seems to work:

    It’s a shame, because I’d love to share your drawings in my Facebook profile, just as I do with xkcd and others, but I haven’t been able to until now.

    Given how big Facebook has become, I think it would be great if we could share your art in this network.

  21. Hugh,

    Sample of one stuff:
    I get your Twitter feed, which I largely enjoy, and often click on your high value links and even the rants about Brits and my home town Edinburgh are good value.

    And I get your email (and google makes me click to see the daily cartoon #fail) and I read it most days, and archive the ones I like.

    Agree that sharing via Facebook would be good; I’m not a tech guy but could you reward retweets not just with recognition as you sometimes do, but perhaps a weekly or monthly cartoon prize, particularly a personalised commission. I still don’t know why I spent 30 mins thinking and sent you half a dozen tweets when you had a recent competition to win a cartoon (in Feb)…the last competition I entered was 30 years ago, but I really wanted to win one. So maybe others would too.

    Anyway, random comments – hugely enjoy your work.

  22. Hugh, I think you have some really excellent suggestions by your groupies here. I feel the urge to add, perhaps very selfishly, that the newsletter works for me, exactly as it is, I love it, it loads fast on the iP and on the computer, woopee. I would not disdain further insights into your creative process (that is my interest above all, I must confess), but I am not likely to drop off the list if you don’t provide that.

    I am sure there are plenty of ways to engage one’s audience above and beyond what you are already doing but sometimes I like to think in clichés such as: you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. And I’ll tell you what Hugh, I’ve got a horse and sometimes… you cannot even lead it. All the best to you and all fellow groupies as well.

  23. I -was- a subscriber, and entirely for the cartoons, but what started getting under my skin were the constant “Buy This Print” links under the cartoons.

    While I do believe in the principle of making things more accessible, it felt a little less honest and a little more commercial when every email came with an option to purchase. The only thing I’d change is to move that link somewhere more discreet, and not make it seem like you’re trying to sell the art more than you’re trying to distribute it.

    That, and I was getting kinda fed up with the valentines stuff 😐 Thankfully that season is over.

    ~ Wogan

    • Hey Wogan, well, I for one have NO QUALMS WHATSOEVER about putting a “Buy This Print” link underneath the cartoon. Scott Adams does it, after all 😉

      But we have moved that link to bottom of the page, for the reasons you spoke of. You’re right, it’s OK to want to make a living, but you don;t want to be too in your face…

      Thanks! :)

  24. Hi Hugh,

    Just a thought: for getting your design work upgraded, why don’t you hire students to freelance (talk to design uni’s like Parsons, FIT, Pratt). It not only gives them an opportunity to get a “real world” experience, but you are bound to get tons of fresh new perspective.


  25. Forgot to add suggestions:
    – Why do you have STORMHOEK randomly in the middle of Gallery and Book – maybe you need to remove it from the header and advertise it under something like “Other Boring Stuff Hugh’s Making Better and Cooler” or something like that.
    – How about creating content customized for the type of your followers or clients. For example, tabs on the top: LONER/MISFIT (tons of related articles and cartoons under this tab); HIGH PROFILE SUCKER (again, related cartoons under it); GO-GETTER – you get the gist. The idea is to allow fresh reader or clients to connect with you based on what they are feeling that day or who they relate to. So the articles under each category will inspire them to move to a better category or give them a “kick in the pants” enlightenment.

    Good luck!


  26. Hugh,
    Really liked your first version of your newsletter, also enjoyed reading your blog. Loved your book.

    But – the second version of your newsletter looks for me to much like advertising – especially looking at all the links with tracking-functionality. Feeling to much observed. Also, one a day is too much for me.

    So, will unsubscribe your newsletter.

    But anyway, still like your site, your thoughts and therefore will look at your blog, eventually try your rss-feed.

    • Thanks, Helmut, sorry to lose you…

      I don’t think the tracking software is that big a deal… all it tells me is what percentage of people who received the email actually opened it, and what percentage of people ended up clicking on which links. If you find that too Orwellian, fair enough, but it’s helpful for me to know these things… otherwise everything I do is mere amateur guesswork: and I simply can’t afford to run the business that way, even if I wanted to.

  27. Have you thought about having a really really simple iphone app produced – literally just a cartoon-a-day job? Click the app button and there it is…

  28. Hi Hugh

    I like your cartoons and your work but I find the daily newsletter to be a bit too much. I would prefer a 3/weekly or once/week format. I find myself skipping the daily emails but checking your blog.

  29. An occassional link to a video of you working on and commenting on one of your artworks would be interesting. I’ve got your great book and look forward a lot to your next. I’m an artist and find your work and ‘tell it like it is’ attitude to be inpiring.

    Thanks for your daily updates – I especially like the RSS feed.

    Barry – from Ireland

  30. Hugh,

    I relish the daily cartoon and usually check it out on the mobile.

    My suggestions on how to grow the group:

    – Create a default mobile option [for people like me :-)]

    – Simplify the forward to a friend – a form + clicks = cumbersome on mobile. A single click forward [like email] if you’re pre-registered?
    [can always forward the email, but that doesn’t allow you to track sign-ups]

    – Create a facebook page/app/group?: allow read, comment, share [much more interesting than farm/fish/xyz ville]

    – Sometimes, include a wee nudge e.g. #29/ Tyger – would connect with Blake/literature, in addition to people who ‘get it’ anyway.

    The ‘translation’ of poetry in this case, into a modern & accessible though-piece, is what I found interesting.

    All the best!


    Anita Lobo

  31. You need not change anything. Keep it as it is because it’s great. The content is all that matters.

  32. Short videos showing you doing your work, more personal explanations on the meanings of your drawings, provision of a true type font variant of your handwriting style(*not sure u’d want to do this though). Whatever you decide, don’t change your cute pix!!
    A prayer for you: May your light never go dim. Amen!
    I’d think of more later.

  33. Hire a hotshot design pro out of school as an intern first (low lay). Crank them up to a full time deal if you’re both happy. That’s my plan once I get out of the starving founder stage for Victus Media.

    Mobile was mentioned, and it’s my primary browser. This trend will grow.

  34. Hi Hugh,
    I love your work. Thank you.

    In terms of growing the list, have you thought of uploading the images to other sites like Flickr or Facebook etc to spread the word?


  35. I just wanted to let you know that I love my daily dose of the Gaping Void in my in-box. You’re very talented and so creative. I just wish I currently had the funds to buy one of your prints.

    Keep up the great work and thank you for sharing it with all of us.

  36. A possible team building exercise for the office…

    1) Create a cartoon
    2) Do NOT add your usual caption
    3) Let your fans submit a possible caption (the content) that customizes it to their workplace
    4) The “winner” you choose receives the first print for display at work and total e-bragging rights

    you get a print to sell, a business gets a little exposure, etc.

  37. DON’T let them see you draw!! When a person/client asks you to sketch an idea for them, never just whip out a pencil and paper and start drawing right there in front of them. Once they see how quick/slow it takes to do the art, they will assign their own price to how much they think your art is worth. They’ll try and treat you like a drawing puppet. You are not a performing monkey! You lose power when you pull back the curtain and let the audience see how the magic is done.
    If you do a video showing your art process, be careful not to show too much evidence of how long it takes from start to finish. Talk and comment all about it, but don’t show continuous drawing footage for too long.

  38. It’s still fresh for me.
    So I’m with #33.

    A better question: is it still fresh for you? If it stops being fresh for you, that’s when to get worried.

  39. You did a bit of ‘reaching out’ a while back and asked for people to help with your ideas of publicizing Gapingvoid Gallery with some sort of affiliate program. Whatever happened with that? Did you use anyone’s ideas? Did your program ever materialize?

    As far as the newsletter, I miss the days when you blogged without selling. Now it’s just a daily ad with some wit thrown in. Nice enough and I’m sure successful from a business standpoint but it looses the spirit with which you started claiming, “I prefer to give away my drawings away on the web”. Ahh, the good ole days. Man’s gotta make a buck, I know. Feeling a bit of that myself.

  40. This is the email I referred to above.

    I have a couple of suggestions which you might like or which you might think are terrible – but I’m going to ask anyway.

    Suggestion 1
    I have bought several prints (The Portfolio set 1 and the “Thank You For… You” piece for Valentines day – which my wife loved) and want more – I just baulk at the shipping costs to the UK. Can you look at getting a UK fulfilment centre? I use ThePrintSpace for my photography in the UK and they might be able to help you.

    “Why bother?” I hear you ask. Well, If there was some way to reduce the mailing / shipping cost of, as I recall, $40 to get the last print shipped I would quite possibly be able to buy more prints. It’s a bit of a zinger to be expecting to pay $125 for a print and then end up paying ~$170 for it.
    If you could look into that for your European customers that would be cool.

    Suggestion 2
    I want to display more “Cube Grenade” type pieces in my office but I really don’t want to hang a ~$170/£100 piece of art on my desk partition.

    Would it be possible to produce a lower cost print on, say, photographic quality paper that I can either laminate or blutack onto my walls? I know it’s not “Art” when you’re doing this but I want to start a conversation with a good quality, large (A4 / A3) print

    I printed the recent “Remember Who You Are” piece onto good A4 photo stock paper and it went down very well – I’d like to maintain momentum and generate more conversations. I’ve tried it with other pieces but they look terrible expanded out to page size.

  41. well I shared one once on FB as a link and I realized it needed an explanation. The paragraph you usually ad under the illustration was not only necessary but I felt the illustration wasn’t necessary. While I like the style, I think the illustrations need to be more clear in what they are communicating. They need to standalone for them to work. for it to make sense when shared. That’s not always the case but that time it was. And the message was a little harsh. Something I was cool with but not for the mainstream. The cartoons I have seen in the last month are two are a lot more cheerful but the harsh honesty of the earlier ones got my attention. Maybe it was the illustration where you said something about how people want someone to follow. I forget the wording.

  42. Hello Hugh,

    This is just an update for everyone since you posted this 2 weeks ago.

    1. RSS feed has been fixed no more duplicates
    2. We are working on the redesign of the daily email based upon all the comments – we cannot please everyone, but I am doing my best to try!!
    3.Mobile version – there currently is an option when you subscribe for the mobile version – I am looking into whether this is working properly or not.
    4. Sharing on Facebook – has worked fine for me.
    5. Special offers & competitions will be featured very soon!

    All the feedback has been so helpful pleas keep the comments coming!

  43. […] again to Hugh MacLeod for making art that describes my […]

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