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Step into any writing group, writing conference, writing community, or book marketing class and they all say the same thing: the key to success as an author is to start building an email marketing list as soon as possible.
In fact, most everyone—from marketing coaches to experienced authors passing advice on to newcomers—goes so far to say that you should start your email list before your book is even finished!
So why is building an email marketing list so important for authors to do that they should start before they've finished writing the book? Email marketing is still the number one way to talk to your readers and potential buyers: with more than 4 billion people globally checking email daily, it remains the most-used form of social digital communication in the world.
So it's high time we talk about building an email marketing list for authors: how to get started with email marketing, what types of emails to send once you start building your list, and some best practices for keeping your list effective.
The Power of Email Marketing
As an author, building an email marketing list should be at the top of your priority list. In this digital age, email marketing will make all the difference in getting your message out there and connecting with your readers. Email marketing not only serves as a way to promote new releases or events but also allows you to establish a personal connection with your readers.
Now, a lot of people still think email marketing is dying—they consider email to be outdated technology and therefore undeserving of their marketing efforts.
But I want you to really think about this:
- In 2021, Facebook's average organic reach was down to 5.20% (and keep in mind this is an average, meaning there were a lot of pages getting much lower than this, and in fact a lot of articles pin Facebook's organic reach at less than 1% across the board)
- In 2022, Instagram's average organic reach was down to 9.34%
- Posts on Twitter are averaging about a 0.05% organic engagement rate.
And yet the average open rate for email marketing is 21%.
So I ask you: where would you rather spend the majority of your time, money, and effort? On Facebook where you might achieve 3-5% reach? Or Instagram where you might achieve 4-9% reach? Or on your email marketing list where you're more likely to get 15-35% open rates?
Yeah, it's pretty clear to see who the winner should be, right?
That's not to say that you shouldn't use social media platforms at all—don't go shutting down all those accounts. I just want you to know how powerful it is to build that email list. And not just for the reach.
Why Building an Email Marketing List Is Important for Authors
One of the main reasons why building an email marketing list is important for authors is that it provides a direct line of communication with your audience. Social media algorithms can be tricky to navigate, and it's easy for your posts to get lost in the sea of content and notifications.
With email marketing, you have control over who receives your messages and when they receive them. There's no home feed or discovery feed getting in the way, no notifications pulling them away from your post. I mean, yes, there are the other umpteen-million emails flooding their inbox that you might end up in the middle of, but since most people at least skim the subject line and sender name of every single email sitting in their inbox, a few good tweaks and you could increase your chances of getting read.
Another reason why building an email marketing list is crucial for authors is that it allows you to build relationships with your readers beyond the pages of your book.
By sending regular newsletters, updates on upcoming events or releases, and even sneak peeks into the writing process itself, you can create a community around your work. Building an email marketing list can even help boost sales!
According to research by Campaign Monitor, for every dollar spent on email marketing campaigns, businesses see an average return on investment (ROI) of $38! By promoting books or merchandise directly to subscribers who are already invested in their work, authors can see significant growth in revenue (up to 760% over social media!).
Getting Started with Email Marketing
Choosing an Email Marketing Platform
When it comes to email marketing platforms, there are many options available. Some popular ones include Mailchimp, MailerLite, SendFox, Get Response, Constant Contact, Aweber, Flodesk, and ConvertKit. I myself have used several email marketing programs over the years, usually moving when I saw another platform offering a better price or more features as my list grew.
When making a choice, consider factors like ease of use, pricing, and features. Most platforms offer free trials or basic plans to get started, so you have some time to really check them out to make sure they will meet your needs.
It's also important to choose a platform that is compliant with anti-spam laws and has good deliverability rates (meaning your emails are more likely to make it to inboxes rather than spam folders). Do some research and read reviews before making a final decision.
Creating a Sign-up Form for Your Website or Blog
Once you have chosen an email marketing platform, it's time to create a sign-up form for your website or blog. This form should be prominently displayed on your homepage and other relevant pages.
Keep the form simple with fields for name and email address only (too many fields can deter people from signing up). Make sure the form is easy to fill out on both desktop and mobile devices.
Offering Incentives to Encourage Sign-ups
People need a reason to give you their email address. One way to encourage sign-ups is by offering an incentive like a free ebook or other exclusive content, called a reader magnet.
This not only incentivizes sign-ups but also helps you build trust with potential readers by providing something of value upfront—something that your ideal readers would likely be willing to pay for. When creating your incentive, make sure it aligns with your brand and target audience.
For example, if you write romance novels, offer a free novella. If you write science fiction, you might consider a free novella, or maybe star charts or even futuristic recipes that exist in your novel that we can't find here on modern-day Earth.
Growing Your List
Promote Your Email List on Social Media
Social media platforms can be a great way to reach a wider audience and get more people to sign up for your email list. You can share links to your sign-up form on your social media profiles, create eye-catching graphics or videos that promote your list, and even run paid ads to target specific groups of people.
One effective strategy is to create a landing page on your website specifically designed for social media traffic. This page should have a clear call-to-action (CTA) that advertises your reader magnet and encourages visitors to subscribe to your email list.
You can then share this landing page on social media, directing traffic towards it with an attention-grabbing post or ad. Another way to use social media is by offering exclusive content or discounts only available to subscribers.
For example, you could create a gated piece of content (the reader magnet, like an e-book or a video series) and require visitors to sign up for your email list in order to access it. This not only incentivizes people to subscribe but also provides valuable content that they may be willing to share with their own followers.
Networking with Other Authors and Bloggers for Cross-Promotion
Collaborating with other authors and bloggers in your niche can be a powerful way to grow your email list. By partnering up, you have the opportunity to tap into each other's audiences and gain exposure beyond what you would normally be able to achieve on your own. One simple strategy is cross-promotion: promoting each other's lists through mentions in emails or social media posts.
For example, if you write romance novels, you could team up with another romance author who writes in a similar sub-genre but has a different readership base. By mentioning each other's lists in newsletters or on social media posts, both of you can gain new subscribers who are interested in your type of writing.
Another strategy is to co-create content together, such as a joint giveaway or a guest blog post. This not only strengthens your relationship with other authors or bloggers but also showcases your work to their audience and potentially gains you more subscribers.
Running Giveaways or Contests to Attract New Subscribers
People love free stuff, and giveaways and contests can be a highly effective way to attract new subscribers to your email list. You can offer prizes like signed copies of your book, exclusive merchandise, or gift cards in exchange for people signing up for your list.
One thing to keep in mind is that the prize should be relevant to your audience and something that they would actually want. For example, if you write YA fantasy novels, offering a gift card to a clothing store may not be as appealing as offering an exclusive map of the world you built for your books.
To run a successful giveaway or contest, it's important to set clear rules and deadlines and promote it heavily on social media and other channels. You can even consider partnering with other bloggers or authors (as mentioned earlier) to increase exposure and reach more potential subscribers.
One thing to keep in mind: people who sign up to win free things are not necessarily people who will buy your books when the time comes.
Running contests and giveaways can be a lot of fun: people get really excited and if they are sharing information about the giveaway it can be intoxicating to get all those tags and notifications about your giveaway! And you may even really like the idea of sending email updates and talking with your subscribers.
But you can't forget the ultimate objective of an email list: the hope is that when your book is available for sale, you can send an email out to your subscribers and a portion of them will buy that book.
This is where people who sign up for giveaways can be a bit of a double-edged sword: those giveaways can help you grow your list quickly, but then if they never open your emails or click on your links or buy your books, then all you're doing is paying to have them on your list. So use giveaways sparingly and only when your strategy can benefit from them.
Crafting Effective Emails
Writing attention-grabbing subject lines
Your email subject line is the first thing your subscribers will see in their inbox, so it's essential to make it eye-catching and compelling. Use action words that create a sense of urgency or curiosity, such as "limited time offer" or "don't miss out." Personalize your subject lines by including the recipient's name or location, if possible. Avoid using caps lock and exclamation points excessively, which can make your email appear spammy.
Creating engaging content that resonates with your audience
When crafting your email content, keep in mind that you're trying to build a deeper relationship with your subscribers. One way to do this is by telling stories that resonate with them or sharing personal experiences related to your writing process. You can get some ideas by visiting this article on blog post ideas for fiction authors (yes, it says blog post ideas, but really it could just be "content ideas" since the ideas work for blogs, emails, and social media content prompts).
Every email matters, so try to build up a stream of content that keeps your subscribers feeling the love. Too many authors work really hard to build their email list, and then ignore those subscribers once they're on. These people are more than your subscribers or your readers—they are the start of your fandom. So give them content that they will enjoy reading and connecting with.
You can also use images in your emails to break up text-heavy emails and provide visual interest, but don't think your emails have to be super long to be effective. Some of my shorter emails have the biggest impacts.
Including calls-to-action that encourage readers to take action
A call-to-action (CTA) is a statement that encourages readers to take a specific action, such as buying your book or signing up for a webinar. Make sure your CTA stands out visually by using bold font or contrasting colors.
Use active verbs like "register," "buy," or "download" to create a sense of urgency. Place CTAs strategically throughout the email and vary them up so as not to be repetitive.
Remember: effective emails are short and sweet! Keep paragraphs brief so that readers aren't intimidated by walls of text!
Maintaining Your List
Regularly Cleaning and Pruning Your List
As an author, your email marketing list is a valuable tool for connecting with readers, promoting your work, and building relationships. However, not all subscribers are created equal. Some may sign up for your list but never engage with your emails or purchase your books. Others may sign up with a catch-all email address or a work address that they leave later or stop checking.
This is why it's important to regularly clean and prune your list to remove inactive subscribers. By removing inactive or unengaged subscribers from your list, you can improve the overall health of your email marketing campaigns.
Not only will it help keep your open and click-through rates high, but it can also reduce the risk of being flagged as spam by internet service providers (ISPs). To clean and prune your list effectively, consider segmenting subscribers who haven't opened or clicked on any of your emails in the last 90 days.
There are a few different ways to prune your list. I like to use an email validation service that analyzes the email addresses on my list and then tells me which ones are safe to send to and which ones will be problematic. You can also send out emails to inactive addresses specifically asking if they would still like to receive emails from you, and remove any that do not indicate they wish to stay on your list.
Segmenting Your List Based on Reader Interests or Demographics
One way to improve engagement with your email marketing campaigns is by segmenting your list based on reader interests or demographics. By doing so, you can send tailored content that resonates with specific groups within your subscriber base.
For example, segmenting based on genre preferences can help you send targeted recommendations for new releases or promotions that are relevant to each reader's interests. Alternatively, segmenting based on location can be useful for sending event invitations and updates targeted at specific regions.
To successfully segment your list in this manner requires collecting data from subscribers through surveys or preference centers during sign-up (or later via surveys). This information should be used strategically to guide segmentation decisions for individual campaigns throughout the year.
Testing Different Strategies and Analyzing Results to Continually Improve
Continually test different email marketing strategies and analyze results to optimize the effectiveness of your campaigns. This process involves experimenting with different subject lines, calls-to-action, send times, and other variables to see what resonates best with your audience. One effective way to test these variables is by using A/B testing, where two versions of an email are sent out to a smaller sample of subscribers before being sent out to the full list.
By comparing results from both versions (such as open and click-through rates), you can determine which version was more successful and make adjustments accordingly. In addition, analyzing metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates can help you identify trends over time and continually improve your email marketing campaigns for better engagement and ROI.
Most email marketing providers have the ability to run A/B tests; they can feel like a steep learning curve to get a handle on, but the results help ensure that you are always putting out your best content when it comes to email. And honestly, when I started running A/B tests regularly on my own emails, I saw my open rates and my click-through rates almost double with very little effort on my part, which increased my sales without having to grow my list further. So it's well worth the effort to learn this skill once your email list is starting to grow.
Final Thoughts on Building and Maintaining an Email Marketing List as an Author
By creating a loyal community of readers who are interested in your work, you can grow your platform, increase book sales, and develop meaningful relationships with your audience that will follow you through your entire career no matter what happens to the social platform you're on. Email marketing is one of the most effective ways to reach readers because you are able to connect with them directly on their own terms.
People are more likely to open and engage with emails from authors they trust and respect. This means that by building a strong email marketing list, you can foster long-term relationships with readers who will be excited to hear about your new releases, latest blog posts, or upcoming events.
Keep in mind that building an email marketing list takes time and effort. You'll need to consistently create engaging content that resonates with your audience, promote your list through various channels, and stay on top of best practices for email marketing.
But by investing in these efforts over time, you'll be able to grow a dedicated community of readers who are eager to support you along every step of your writing journey. So don't hesitate - start building your email marketing list today!