“Do you have a mailing list?” is generally the very first question I ask any author who comes to me for marketing advice.
Well, not really. I do say “hi” first, ask them what they’re writing, and tell them a bit about myself. (By the way, I’m Ricardo Fayet, one of the founders of Reedsy, and the author of several of our free courses on marketing — including one on mailing lists!)
But right after that, I ask them about their mailing list.
Despite the ever increasing popularity of social networks (across all demographics), email is still the preferred way for U.S. customers to receive retail information (source and more fun data about this point here). So if you want to communicate with your readers and eventually get them to buy your books, it’s a good idea to use the marketing avenue that a majority prefer: email.
Now, while I’m pretty sure that every author uses email on a daily basis, only a few have truly mastered the art of email marketing. You’ll find plenty of advice out there on how to set up a list and start growing it — so in this post I’m going to focus on the main mistakes I see authors making when it comes to email marketing.
#1: No Mailing List
As you might have guessed, the biggest mistake that authors make is not having a mailing list. For those who still think that a mailing list is a superfluous tool in an author’s marketing toolkit, let me put it this way: imagine your first book is successful and sells 1,000 copies in its first months. Now you want to release the second one in the series. How are your original 1,000 readers going to know about it?
If they’re not in your mailing list, they probably won’t.
See, one of the main issues with book marketing is that most of the touchpoints we have with our end customer (the reader) occur outside of places we control. In an ideal world, we should be able to re-target all of the people who purchased any of our books in the past. But since sales happen on retailers (B&N, Amazon, Kobo, etc.), we sadly don’t get the contact details of the readers.
The same goes for social media: many authors started growing huge Facebook fan pages ten years ago — only to see Facebook progressively killing their ability to communicate with their readers through these pages.
This is why the mailing list is so important. It is the one thing you own and will always be able to control. You should definitely learn to leverage retailers and social media, but you shouldn’t depend on them.
Fix: It’s simple — just create your mailing list. That said, a word of advice is that you should be careful about which email marketing service you choose. I generally recommend authors go with either MailChimp, MailerLite, or ConvertKit. You can find out more about these providers (along with a step-by-step guide on creating your mailing list) in this free Reedsy Learning course.
#2: New Release Only Newsletters
Now, most authors I know do have a mailing list. But the majority of them also use it extremely sparingly. And this, I believe, is down to the inherent self-doubting nature of the creative: “I receive so much spam email already. I don’t want to be the one spamming my readers.”
The thing is: there is a middle ground between “spamming” and emailing every once in a blue moon. If I, as a reader, voluntarily sign up to receive an author’s newsletter, it means that I actually look forward to receiving communication from them. If I only hear from them after several months… well, I might have totally forgotten who they are by then.
Fix: I generally recommend authors send a newsletter at least every month. “But I don’t write a book every month, so what should I be telling them about?” Well, sign up to other authors’ newsletters in your genre and take inspiration from what they send to their readers.
Recommending other authors’ books (new releases, promotions, etc.) can also work pretty well. You might not be writing a book a month, but your readers probably read several books every month. So you won’t be cannibalizing your sales by telling your readers about other books. You’ll be forging a relationship with your readers, and you’ll probably get some cross-promo in return from the authors you recommend!
Your own announcement should always be a priority, of course. Do email your readers when:
- You have a new release (even if it’s just a new format of a previous book, like a hardcover);
- You run a price promotion (even if your subscribers have already purchased that book, they might forward your email to a friend).
Other ideas can include cover reveals, exclusive artwork, funny anecdotes about your life, and the like. Again, the idea is to build a relationship with your subscribers. You also want to have them looking forward to getting emails from you.
#3: No Incentive
Whenever I finish reading an indie published book, I generally see something like: “If you’d like to stay in touch with me and hear about future releases, please sign up to my newsletter!” While you should definitely tell people about your newsletter and invite them to sign up, here’s the bad news: in most cases, that’s not going to be enough to get the reader to actually do it.
Think about it from the reader’s perspective: she probably reads several books every month. Signing up to every author’s newsletter would flood her inbox with “Here’s my new book!” emails. Not fun.
While it’s a nice incentive to hear about new releases directly from the author by signing up for the newsletter, the benefit can be relatively far in the future. Psychologically speaking, it’s much more powerful to offer something the reader can get immediately — rather than promising something that will happen at some uncertain point in the future.
Fix: So what should you offer instead if you really want people to sign up? A reader magnet. The term “reader magnet” was first coined by Nick Stephenson. I like it because it’s pretty self-explanatory: it’s something you offer to attract readers in exchange for their email addresses. The most common type of reader magnet is simply a free book (whether it’s a novel, novella or short story). A
Here’s an example from Nick Stephenson himself:
If you don’t have a free book to give away, don’t despair! There are several other types of content you can use as a reader magnet:
- Exclusive artwork and illustrations (especially good for SFF)
- Free video course (especially good for Non Fiction )
- Checklist or template (Non Fiction)
- Deleted scenes or characters’ side stories (Fiction)
- Entry in a raffle prize giveaway
Pro tip: if you’d like to offer a free book as a magnet, I highly recommend you use Bookfunnel. They make it incredibly easy to create a “giveaway” page where readers can sign up to your newsletter and download the book. It’s also dead easy to connect with your mailing list provider.
Pro tip 2: If you’re ambitious enough, releasing this free book plus two full priced books on the same day not only hooks readers, but gets them locked into the series and eager to purchase more books in the future. Find out more about this unique release schedule, as mastered by bestselling author Chris Keniston.
#4: No Automated Welcome Workflow
Once you have a reader magnet in place, it can become relatively easy to quickly grow your mailing list. On top of promoting the magnet to readers at the end of your books — thus capturing readers who are already familiar with your books — you can also use the magnet to attract brand-new readers.
(You can, for example, run Facebook ads promoting your magnet. You can also team up with other authors and organize a group giveaway. In the giveaway, everyone offers their magnet. And then everyone gets access to the email addresses of the readers who sign up to it. In the latter case, Bookfunnel and Instafreebie are two helpful tools to set up group giveaways.)
But the issue with attracting brand-new readers is that, well, they don’t really know you. Just adding them to your list and emailing a month later about your new release won’t suffice. You can be certain they either 1) Won’t open the email or 2) Will immediately unsubscribe.
Because they won’t remember you, they won’t know why on earth you’re emailing them. In most cases, they won’t have even read your magnet yet.
Fix: If you’re using your magnet to attract new readers, you need to warm them up to your brand before you try to sell them books. The best way to do that is to set up a “welcome automation,” or a “welcome workflow.”
If you’re not familiar with these phrases, they’re basically a series of emails that are triggered when a reader signs up to your newsletter. The first email will almost always be sent immediately after sign-up. This is the one that’s used to deliver the magnet. Again, you can use Bookfunnel for that.
As for the rest of the emails in the welcome automation? There’s no hard rule for what they should be about, nor when they should be sent. I generally recommend that you follow up with an email a few days after. This way the reader doesn’t have time to forget about you. You should also keep it light on the promotional/sales front. Set up a series of 2-3 additional emails designed to build a relationship and tell them about your paid books.
For example, you could set up something like this:
- Email #1 (right after the reader subscribes): share the reader magnet;
- Email #2 (3 days later): share a personal story, and ask the reader a question to spur a conversation;
- Email #3 (3 days later): tell them about your paid books;
- Email #4 (5 days later): offer them the opportunity to join your exclusive “street team.”
For further inspiration, sign up to the newsletters of all the best-selling indie authors in your genre. This will help you to see what their welcome automations look like. And don’t forget to regularly check on it. Be sure to measure its effectiveness (open rates, click rates, etc.) and regularly tweak your emails to test different copy.
Setting all this up can seem daunting. But having an enticing reader magnet and a solid welcome workflow enables your email marketing to basically run on autopilot. Remember, you’ll use an email tool like MailChimp to help you with these workflows. You’ll be getting new subscribers regularly through your magnet and these subscribers will warm up to your brand through your welcome automation, and eagerly await your next release!