Approximately seventy bajillion new books are released every day (give or take a few bajillion *smile*). That means our newly released books might have a hard time being noticed on retailers’ sites, such as Amazon, Kobo, or iBooks.
We often have to fight hard for every reader. We might blog, tweet, post on Facebook, pay for advertising, participate in blog tours or other promo, etc. But only a handful of that audience will take the step to check out our book.
So the last thing we want to do is have to fight to gain the same readers over and over. When we find readers who like our work, we want to hang onto them so they’re still in our audience for our next book.
How do we do that? One of the easiest and most effective ways to keep readers up to date on our book releases is with an email newsletter.
Let’s talk about some of the best practices for how to set up a newsletter—and what pitfalls to watch out for. *smile*
Tip #1: Don’t Wait to Set Up a Newsletter
As soon as we know we want to be a published author, we should set up a newsletter signup for our news (signed with an agent, publishing contract, etc.) and new release updates. Yes, it might be years before we have news to send, and we might not have any idea how we’d use our list yet. Set it up anyway. Start collecting names and emails.
My recommendation is to establish a basic website to act as our “online home base” and create our newsletter signup form as part of that site. A website does not have to include a blog, so we shouldn’t let the idea of “but I don’t want to blog” hold us back from creating a basic website.
But if we don’t want to create even a basic site yet, we can use a signup form on some newsletter providers’ sites. Mailchimp‘s signup forms can collect up to 2000 email addresses for free and can reside on their site, so all we have to do is link to the form. No website needed.
Either way, we shouldn’t wait to start collecting email addresses of people interested in us and our writing. I had a “new release”-specific newsletter (i.e., separate from my “new blog post” newsletter) set up from the very beginning, and it took me almost 5 years to send my first newsletter.
Yet even when I was still 3 years away from being published (and a much smaller blogger), I’d already collected 162 names. 55 of those subscribers who stuck around for 3-5 years before I sent my first New Release newsletter have opened an email from me within the past 3 months. Good contacts stay good.
Tip #2: Keep the Form Simple yet Informative
Ever come across a signup form that asks for everything but the kitchen sink? Yeah, I wouldn’t fill that out either.
No one wants to give out more personal information than they have to, so we want to keep our form basic:
- Name (just first name is okay)
- Email Address
That’s it. No kitchen sink necessary.
Technically, we don’t need our subscribers’ names, but many newsletter systems allow us to personalize the emails we send out (so “Hi (subscriber)!” turns into “Hi Jami!”). Even if we don’t know if we’ll take advantage of that feature, it’s nice to plan for the future.
That said, we should include more information about us and our writing at the top of the form. If someone comes across a link to our form and doesn’t know who we are, we should introduce ourselves. *smile*
An introduction can be as simple as a paragraph with:
- our name,
- our genre,
- the name and tagline of our books or series,
- links to our website or our books on Amazon, etc.
For example, a signup form might say:
Enjoy paranormal romance with a dash of mythology? Sign up for Jami Gold’s newsletter so you won’t miss when the next book in her Mythos Legacy series comes out!
As Jon, one of my readers, commented, it’s especially helpful to include that introduction if we’re going to link directly to our form from anyplace other than the end of our books. If we use that link for promotions or in our social media updates, etc., we can’t assume that someone who reaches our form knows who we are, so introducing ourselves to potential readers is important.
Tip #3: Make Our Signup Form Easy to Find
Once we have a form and a way to access it, we want to make that form super-easy for potential readers to find.
- We want it on every page of our website and/or blog.
- We want it on the front/home page of our site.
- We want it linked from our Facebook page.
- We want it linked from our books.
- We want it linked from our email signature.
- We want it linked from our Amazon, Goodreads, and other retailers’ “About the Author” sections.
We want that sucker everywhere. *smile* (Note to self: Set up the email signature link. *sigh*)
If a potential reader comes across our name or our books, we want to make sure they have the opportunity to hear from us in the future. That means we want to provide those opportunities wherever we can.
Tip#4: Go for Quality over Quantity
Just like with social media, where some people join “follow back” or “Like exchange” groups to make their follower numbers higher, some authors think email lists are a numbers game. They’re not.
We want our list to be full of our readers or potential readers, not people who don’t care about our writing. It would be far better to have 100 subscribers who open every email than to have 1000 subscribers who don’t read our newsletters—or worse, report us for spam.
With that in mind, here are some issues to watch out for with subscriber lists:
- Don’t add people to our list who didn’t specifically sign up for our list.
That means we shouldn’t add someone to our list just because they commented on our blog, they signed up for a generic promotion (with several authors, for example), or we happen to know their email address. That technique is a huge problem among authors and can get us in trouble for spam (which can lead to Mailchimp or our newsletter provider shutting down our account).
When I get an email from a newsletter I didn’t sign up for, I always report them for spam, and I know I’m not the only one. Many review bloggers and agents complain in heated tweets about authors signing them up for lists without permission.
- Watch out for poor-quality subscribers.
There’s a reason I don’t require an email address before people can download my worksheets and beatsheets. I want people to sign up for my newsletters because they actually want to hear from me. What a concept. *grin*
When we require an email before providing information unrelated to our writing, we’re more likely to fill our subscriber lists with people interested only in that information, not in our writing. Similarly, when we have contests or promotions that require people to sign up for our list to enter, we’re more likely to get a bunch of “giveaway junkies” in our lists.
Depending on our goals, we might not care, but it’s good to think about the quality of subscribers we want to focus on.
- Beware of running into email fees due to poor-quality subscribers.
Many newsletter providers (such as Mailchimp or MailPoet) offer a free version up to 2000 subscribers. What that means is that if we fill our list with poor-quality subscribers, that choice might hit our wallet, as we have to pay for a bunch of
slackers subscribers who don’t even open our emails.
In other words, poor-quality subscribers could hurt us financially and could endanger our whole list (if those subscribers don’t remember signing up for our list and report us for spam).
- Make it easy for people to unsubscribe.
For some authors, this might feel counter-intuitive, but again, we’re focusing on subscribers who are eager to hear from us. So we should include an unsubscribe link at the bottom of every email (often this is automatic from our provider).
In addition, we can include clear unsubscribe instructions within our newsletters. Because I have multiple lists (for blog posts and release news), I always give instructions on how to unsubscribe from one or both lists as well.
Tip #5: Need to Clean Up a List? Be Smart
Uh-oh… What if we weren’t careful when we first started our list, or what if we’ve been collecting those emails for so long that people might not remember they signed up?
A common piece of advice is to prune our list. This usually refers to deleting all subscribers who have never opened a newsletter or who haven’t opened an email from us in X amount of time. If we’ve been collecting emails for years, that could be a problem.
I’m not a fan of that advice even for active newsletters. The analytics from our newsletter providers aren’t perfect, and the way our provider can tell whether an email has been opened or not isn’t fail-proof.
Some email systems that our subscribers use won’t let our providers know when our newsletter emails have been opened. So if we rely on those analytics to decide who to delete, we might be deleting valid subscribers who do open our emails—and simply don’t pass on that notification to our newsletter provider.
Even if we see that a subscriber has opened an email in the past but hasn’t lately, we still might not know for sure. What if their email system went through an upgrade that changed its behavior? Or what if their old system is now forwarding emails to a new email address on a different system? Or maybe the settings on their desktop are different from their laptop. Etc., etc.
Rather than take that risk, it’s obviously better to keep our list clean from the beginning. However, if we didn’t do that or if our list is old, we can reconfirm our subscribers.
We can send one “final” newsletter email and tell our subscribers that we want to be sure that we’re only mailing those who are interested in our work. Then we can give the heads-up that this will be the last (or only, if our list has been accumulating for a while with no newsletters actually sent) newsletter unless they click a link to confirm that they want to stay on the list.
Obviously, we could make sure that reconfirmation newsletter made subscribers excited to stay in the loop. We could hint at big upcoming news or promise benefits to subscribers in the future. But a reconfirmation email is a good way to prune iffy contacts from a list by requiring action to keep receiving emails.
Tip #6: Respect Our List
Now that we have a list full of subscribers interested in our work, we want to respect those subscribers. It should go without saying, but just in case…
- Don’t sell or share our list with others.
- Don’t send spam. Ever.
- Only send mail for what we told them we’d send.
For an example on that last bullet, if we told subscribers we’d send email once a month, we shouldn’t email more often than that other than for rare exceptions. Or if we told them they were signing up for news on our new releases, we shouldn’t send them every blog post too.
If we’re patient and respect our list, we can slowly but surely build up a list of subscribers who are interested in our work. Our newsletters can be our best bet at triggering sales for our new releases.
Those subscribers might be enough to help the visibility of our releases, as the surge of subscriber purchases improves our book’s ranking at retailers. They might be our most passionate fans, eager to hear our news. With the right strategy, an email list might be our most valuable asset as we grow our career. *smile*
Do you have an email newsletter list set up? If not, what’s holding you back? Do you disagree with any of my tips? Do you have additional tips for how to manage an email list? Do you have any questions about newsletters?Pin It