Mailing lists. A direct connection with readers. An opportunity to turn a casual reader into a fan. But how?
Mailing lists have been HUGE for decades, centuries probably. Think of those old Sears & Roebuck catalogs that supplied the Wild West with goods. How did they know where to send them? Mailing lists.
For indie authors mailing lists are a new phenomenon. Up until the advent of self-publishing, it was the brick and mortar publishing companies and bookstores that controlled access to readers and book distributors. No more.
With the combination of indie publishing and social media, emailing or following an author is just a click away. And authors can talk directly to readers with blog posts, status updates, and emails.
I’ve written a few posts already about how to build a mailing list. All the various methods from links to picking up a free book listed in a book, links on blogs, Instafreebie, and all the others can be boiled down to two main themes: readers signing up who are familiar with you (have read a book), and those who’ve never read your work before (picked up a free book). Developing a relationship with those two audiences is completely different.
What You'll Learn
Readers Who Know You
In many ways, readers who have already read your work are the easiest to cultivate into fans. They’ve already read one of your books and liked you enough to pick up another one you offered in exchange for an email.
But how do you get them asking about your next book or buying the one after the free one?
You’ve already given them at least a free book, so another one isn’t going to hook them deeper. Instead, offer insights into the characters, the world, or what it was like to write the book. Do you have cut scenes or chapters? Great! Clean them up and give them to the readers on this list.
To get them excited about your next book, share with them the experience of writing it while giving clues to what happens to characters without giving away the new plot. Keep them updated on progress and when the time for release is close, ask for volunteers to join your launch team.
It helps to run occasional giveaways or sales to reward them for staying on your list and falling in love with your work. Devoted fans love paperbacks even if they have all the ebooks. And don’t forget that readers like to read. Make your emails interesting. Include stories or links to other books in your genre.
This is the easiest audience to grow into a fanbase. Your newsletter emails will keep your work in their minds, so they share your writing journey as you develop your next book and celebrate its launch with you.
Readers Who Don’t Know You
This is a whole different ball game. In terms of advertising, this is cold traffic while the readers who know you are warm traffic. Turning this group into super fans is completely possible, but an entirely different tactic. After all, you would act differently if you went to a party full of your friends and supporters than you would if you went to a networking conference where you didn’t know anyone, wouldn’t you?
This is where you need to break the ice a bit more, have something that hooks attention, and interests the potential reader enough they read your book out of the 100 on their e-reader.
This group usually comes in two types:
Those who picked up a free book
There are a lot of ways to offer readers a free book if they sign up to your mailing list: Facebook posts, tweets, from your website, an Instafreebie link, or a link from another author’s mailing list. This is a great way to build your mailing list but does present some challenges.
You have to wonder, do they want to read your work or were they just interested in picking up a free book in your genre?
The good news is that they were willing to pick up your book. Something about the blurb or the cover (as well as the price) attracted their attention. That is a success. Now you need to get them to choose to read your book out of all the ones they have on their e-reader.
The first step is to thank them as well as tell them something about the book they just downloaded to capture their attention. You don’t want to be pushy or salesy, but can you offer some new information, maybe a longer blurb, on what the book is about? If it is a series, give the series overview. If you have a standout website for the book, offer a link to that so they can check out more information. And don’t forget to tell them a little about yourself. Are you a new writer thrilled to have caught their interest or have multiple books and stories waiting to be discovered?
That is email number one. If they don’t unsubscribe then, which sometimes happens, then you can begin cultivating a relationship. Weave in secret tips about the book, and offers for other books in the genre. Grow their curiosity about your books while keeping them interested in your emails with offers, including those of other authors you like who write in your genre.
Provide value in your newsletter, things a reader would love, as well as news about your books. The one will keep them opening your emails until they become familiar with you enough to be looking for updates about your next release.
Those who came to you through a giveaway
There are a lot of multi-author giveaways running that result in each author getting a copy of all entrants. This is a great and FAST way to build an email list but offers a few challenges beyond simply needing to break the ice.
The first big problem is that the list is shared with all the other authors. Can you imagine entering a contest and then feeling like you just got spammed with ten emails or more in a matter of days? I have, and I hated it. I didn’t even read most of the emails and just unsubscribed without getting to know the companies. Just not cool.
So it wouldn’t hurt to wait a few days after the contest ends. Don’t wait too long, because the first email should be something along the lines of:
“Congratulations to the winner of ____ contest! But you know, I think everyone should be a winner. That is why I’m offering you _____ book for free.”
Seriously, give them a free book. Heck, offer them two if you want. They entered a giveaway. Most likely they are not the winner. Let them feel like they won something anyway.
And remember they most likely didn’t enter a giveaway to talk to you. They probably didn’t notice the fine print that their email would be shared. Don’t spam, don’t be pushy, and try to tie that first email into the giveaway so they don’t feel like they just ended up with a newsletter from some author they never heard of who is talking about their dog and next book. Why kind of introduction is that?
Introduce yourself, just like with those who pick up a free book. Don’t be too wordy in the first email, but offer something. If you like to run giveaways, mention you’ll be having another one soon and to stay tuned. After all, the one thing you know about this person is that they entered a giveaway!
After email one, give them a break. In the next email, give them more information about the book(s) you offered for free (and the links again). Entice them to read the book with some good blurbs or reviews. Follow up with offering a coupon or the next book for free. Offer them other books for free that are in your genre. Give them a reason NOT to hit unsubscribe with fun emails and value.
With each email, build in more tips about your books and your writing. How quickly you build a relationship really depends on the type of giveaway they entered. The best conversion rate for keeping subscribers is when the giveaway was genre specific. If it was for something like an e-reader and you write in a very niche genre, the unsubscribe rate might be high. Don’t feel bad. They might be getting emails from 20 different authors. Maybe they’ll still check out the books you offered, maybe not. But you shouldn’t harass them. Let them go and focus on the people who stay.
General Mailing List Etiquette
I thought it might be good to go over some general mailing list management etiquette, because, well, I’ve seen some people do things that make me wince.
The first is don’t email newsletters more than 2 times a month. If you like to chat about your writing and books that much, provide a link to your blog where you can post three times a day if you like. Or if you want to send out weekly emails specifically offering other books in your genre, have a special sign-up for that. Let people know they are getting into a weekly book roundup. Otherwise, if people signed up to your mailing list to get a free book, checking in twice a month is good. Even once a month is okay. You want to stay in their memory span without fading to a “Who are you?” question, but you don’t want to bother the heck out of people so that they groan and ask “You again?”
This is especially true to those who come to you through giveaway lists. Signing up for your email list might have been part of the giveaway, but it wasn’t the part they signed up for. Especially twenty authors suddenly bothering them with news about their books. Be kind and polite, add value, and don’t bother them too much. One a month emails, in the beginning, are probably fine. If you are an email tech guru, use sort features to target those who did click your link to get a free book and ask how they liked it. Offer them something new. Try to offer the free book again to those who didn’t click through and if they still don’t click, consider letting them go or just sending an email once a month to see if they open it. If they don’t, cull them.
So what do you do if you have a BIG event like a new release and giveaway but also use an auto-email sequence for new subscribers?
Pause the auto-emails so that you can include the new subscribers in your big announcement emails. Just don’t forget to restart the sequence a week or so after the big event. OR simply don’t include the subscribers who haven’t completed the auto-emails, especially if they just picked up a free book or came through a giveaway. They don’t really know who you are and might not have even read a book yet. They aren’t your target audience … yet. It is okay to fill them in on details later. Offer them a coupon with their first regular newsletter off the auto-sequence.
And speaking of auto-email sequences, keep them short. How short? No more than six emails, four is better. At two emails a month, that is two to three months before you can combine them in your regular newsletters. That is plenty of time for them to become familiar with you, check out your work, and decide if they want to stay. After that, you want to keep them current with sales, giveaways, and your next release.
When to offer sales and coupons is important, especially if you want to offer the next book in a series after they receive one for free. You don’t want to take too long or you’ll annoy readers who went ahead and picked up the book at full price. The idea is to entice a reader to keep reading.
Depending on your type of list (readers who know you or those who don’t), offer a coupon or next book free with the first or second email. It never hurts to remind them of the offer in the next email as well.
Use a 24 hour email for those who joined your list by picking up a free book to welcome them and double check they got the book. This is the perfect place to introduce yourself and why you write. If you do this and then offer a coupon or free book in the next email, that would be two weeks away. How fast do your readers usually finish your books? Should you add a special offer at the end of the intro email? Try your email formatted one way, keep track of downloads and links, and if people don’t seem to be taking you up on the offer, try it the other. Every list is different, so you might need to tweak the timing to best fit your books and your readers.
I also highly recommend keeping mailing lists as simple as possible! If you have two books you want to offer for free, offer both for one sign up rather than running two lists (assuming the genres aren’t so divergent you write them in different pen names and have completely different target audiences like a space opera series and a “How to Build Backyard Patios” book!). I started my lists with just my epic fantasy series and then started a new list for my dystopian and then tried to cross sell… I was forever tweaking newsletters to match the genre the reader signed up for. Horror!
Now I have one sign-up for both books. If you just pick up one from Instafreebie, the intro email sends you to the other. Life is simple. Newsletters are simple. This is a healthy thing when I am sending one out EVERY TWO WEEKS. This is work. It requires care and thought as much as commitment. Don’t make it harder on yourself than it has to be.
My last piece of advice: take action. If you don’t have a mailing list, start one. It is a lot of fun hearing from readers! If you have one but haven’t been emailing them, start. Introduce yourself, offer a giveaway to catch their attention. Your message, tone, and comfort will develop over time, but only if you start.
I hope this helps! Do you have a favorite email you like to send to your readers? Any tips to add? Or how about a special issue you want help brainstorming? Let me know in the comments!