Do you want more letters to the editor?

One of the most frustrating parts of working in magazines is trying to get enough feedback to fill a letters page.

On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, getting a figurative thumbs up is no more difficult than the push of a button. And it’s so satisfying to get dozens of “likes” within minutes of posting a photo or message.

But you know as well as I do that that kind of instant feedback doesn’t happen in print. Even if people love your stories, they’ll rarely take the time to send you a message.

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Are they talking about you?

While you might know in your gut whether a story succeeds, receiving letters to the editor can give weight to that intuition. A stack of letters is a mark that people are paying attention. It means that your magazine matters.

How do you achieve that? By structuring your stories and your processes in ways that make it easier for people to send you that feedback.

And it starts long before readers have the magazine in their hands.

I’ve used several key strategies to elicit more reader feedback, and I’ll share one that you can implement in your very next issue.

The Power of the Call to Action

In marketing, a call to action is basically an instruction to do something. You know what I’m talking about:

  • Call now.
  • Join this program.
  • Buy this product.

Magazines do it, too. For example, I’m sure you’ve seen the Cartoon Caption Contest on the back page of the The New Yorker. They encourage readers to enter and vote at

They get thousands of submissions every week.

You can use the same approach.

For example, when I wrote a story about campus myths for Grinnell College, we included the following call to action: “Do you have a campus legend you’d like us to dig into? Send it to [email]. We’ll answer the best questions in a future issue of the magazine.”

The result? Tons of letters!

There are entire book chapters and courses devoted to great calls to action.

But if you want to use one that works — one that drives readers to actually write to you and let you know that they’re paying attention, one that shows your bosses that their investment in your magazine is worth the money — follow these guidelines:

  • Make a single request. Notice that in the Grinnell example, we were specific. The message was not “Let us know if you liked this story, or if you remember other campus legends, or how these legends compare to the ones you learned about at grad school.” It was one simple request: tell us about the legends you want us to investigate.
  • Include a benefit. Why should people get in touch? In this case, they’ll get answers to their burning questions!

  • Drive action you can measure. Just sending people to your home page to find out more about what’s going on at the college? You’ll never know if that uptick was related to your request, or to something else entirely.

There are tons of ways to effectively use calls to action in your magazine; the important thing is to get started with the stories in your next magazine, learning and improving as you go.