The money is in the list...are you building yours?

Whether you sell short stories or doorstop novels, a mailing list is vital to the long-term success of your publishing business. A mailing list is like having your own fan club, gives you more control, opens new opportunities and has a huge ROI.

Some argue that a mailing list is not worth having if you only sell short stories. However, if hardly any other authors have a list in your niche, you give yourself an edge by having one, even with a small number of subscribers. And if many authors in your niche are building their list, you would be needlessly putting yourself at a disadvantage by not having one. It’s never too soon to start building your list.

Benefits of owning and growing your mailing list

1) Greater control over the growth of your publishing business

2) A boost in sales every time you hit publish

3) Early source of reviews for your new book

4) A captive audience to sell to and communicate with

5) Promote your back catalog

6) A personal two-way dialogue with your fans

7) Solicit feedback, ideas, and criticism you can use to polish your stories

8) Potential source of beta readers

9) Offer advance review copies

10) Send updates, freebies, special offers

How to get started with a mailing list

The first step is to choose an email marketing service provider. Here are some of the top companies to consider:

1) Mailchimp

2) MailerLite

3) GetResponse

4) Aweber

5) Active Campaign

6) ConvertKit

Mailchimp is very popular with writers and has a free plan up to your first 2000 subscribers. Most providers offer a free trial or free account so you can kick the tires, check out the UI and get comfortable with the features. Each provider has a guide and/or video you can follow along so you can get set up in an hour or so.

Get a PO Box/Virtual address

To send marketing/commercial emails to your list you need to first make sure you comply with the relevant laws regarding email like CAN-SPAM in the US. This legally requires you to include a physical address in your emails (almost always in the footer of the email).

We don’t want to put our personal addresses in there but fortunately it’s possible to get a virtual address or PO Box and include that instead. This is great news as it both enables you to be legally compliant and gives you a layer of privacy and security in keeping your private details private.

Use search terms like “virtual address”, “free po box” or even “virtual office” to see what’s on offer. You may need to provide proof of address and identity to be fully compliant. If you think you might want to let fans send you fanmail or gifts in the future, choose a service located in your country of residence.

Creating a lead magnet/giveaway

Offer your readers an exclusive free gift in exchange for their email address. Some fans will become email subscribers even if you don’t offer anything but you’ll increase your conversion rate significantly by giving away something like a free book. In fact, you don’t even need to offer a full book. Here are some lead magnet ideas:

  • Bonus chapter
  • Short story
  • Bonus scene
  • Prequel
  • Deleted scene
  • Support characters story

How to get subscribers

If you have an existing audience, simply make a post on social media or wherever they hang out and leave a link to where they can join. This could be your website or a direct link to your newsletter signup.

Update your relevant public author profiles and leave a link there. Also, update the front and back matter of your published books to include a link with a message encouraging readers to sign up and claim their free gift.

How often should you mail your list

The most important factor here is the expectations you set when a reader joins your list. If you promise to send 1 email a week, try to stick to that frequency.

Consider the mailing lists you are on. Some may send you emails every day and you are happy to hear from them. If others did that it would be complete overkill and you’d unsubscribe pretty quickly.

Broadly speaking, email your subscribers often enough that they won’t forget you and not so often that they get annoyed.

If you publish twice a month, you might email your list 2-3 times a month. Once for each launch and once more with an update, promotion, or other message. Or perhaps you mail 5 times. Once on launch day and another a few days later as a reminder. Then a separate mail about books in your backlist.

These are just examples. Think about what could work for you given your publishing schedule and try that.

Once you have built up your subscribers to a significant number, say 500, you might want to try starting a new list where you send mail blasts with a different frequency. This will make it possible for you to split-test what works, often with surprising results. You can then make the necessary adjustments to maximize your return.

Email is the fastest, cheapest, and most reliable method of marketing to your readers that you control. Make the most of it!

Quick tip

The value of a list in 2020.

Not only does email marketing give the highest ROI, it's also the sanest way to build your publishing business and drive sales. You own your list, so unlike marketing on other platforms such as social media, where you can get shut down at any time, no-one can take your list away from you.