Here's what I learned about running a newsletter: Part 1 of many

Ten weeks ago I started “All Tests Pass,” a weekly newsletter which asks readers to debug a Javascript puzzle. It’s been a mix of being fun, exciting, challenging, and frustrating all at the same time.

All Tests Pass laptop stickers
Stickers!

If you’re not familiar with the newsletter, the premise is simple. Every week, I send out an email with a linked code snippet that is broken in some way. Sometimes there’s a filled out function that has some bugs in it. Other times there’s just a function definition without any body content.

I asked readers to submit back a response where the original function is fixed. Responses can come back either as JSBin, CodePen, or Github Gists.

Here’s some things that I’ve learned so far…

Learning how to promote

Knowing how to start promoting a side project is hard, and I’m constantly reminded to be thankful for the good marketers that I’ve worked with.

Initially, I did a lot of promotion on Twitter and javascript-related channels in Slack. Making noise there was very effective initially, but tapered off as a) most of the people who were interested had already signed up and b) I became more and more obnoxious about posting.

I’ve also done a fair amount of promoting at various DC area meetups. I ordered some custom laptop stickers from StickerMule and have been handing them out to folks who sign up. I think this has been somewhat effective, although it’s hard to measure directly.

Being ok with shouting into the void

Here’s some fun stats about “All Tests Pass.” Each week, roughly 50 percent of readers open the email at least once. Of that 50 percent, roughly 20 percent click on at least one link in the email (presumably to the actual challenge, although 🤷).

At the end of the week, usually 2-5 people actually respond back to the email with a solution. Two are regular submitters (👋 Alex and t4mm!), and the others tend to be semi-regular. Since the initial launch, I’ve had 36 responses from 12 different participants.

While an average 50 percent open rate and 5 percent participation rate aren’t anything to sneeze at in general, it can feel like a lot of effort for not a lot of measurable activity. I’m hopeful that this gets better as time goes on and the newsletter reaches a wider audience and thus gets more regular submitters.

Code golf?

So, on Week 3, I thought I was clever when I suggested a puzzle where I challenged readers to manually minify an already working function. I was super confused when people in slack were pinging me with ⛳️ emoji.

After a few days and some Googling, I learned that people had been doing this for years under the name Code Golf.

I’ve really enjoyed the responses for the golfing challenges. Since my initial implementation is complete, I tend not to actually participate in the challenge. It’s fun to see how clever folks can be with minifying their code.

Better development skills

I feel like I’ve gotten a better handle on some of the newer corners of Javascript since starting the newsletter. Since each puzzle relies on a basic set of unit tests to validate whether or not submitted solutions work, I’ve definitely gotten a lot of practice writing unit tests.

I’m also getting exposed to parts of Javascript that I wouldn’t have touched otherwise. Lots of the folks responding to puzzles are fond of using ES6’s new Set() and Map() classes, both of which are super-handy to know about.

What’s next?

Overall, I’m pretty happy with this experiment so far. I plan on continuing to publish this for the foreseeable future. Here’s a few goals that I have for the next 10 weeks of the project.


Hey, before you go, are you signed up for my newsletter, "All Tests Pass?" It's a weekly Javascript puzzle that will help you sharpen your debugging skills. If you haven't already, sign up now.