You can always skip all of this and just pay BookBub to use their list – feel free to jump through all of their hoops to get to the top of the charts.
Or you can have your own version of BookBub: an email list of targeted readers who signed up to hear about your writing and are ready to buy your next book.
Your email address.
First things first: after the GDPR thing from May 2018, you can no longer use a Gmail or other such accounts to send your newsletters: you need a verified domain name email address. Which means you need an email address with your website domain (you don’t need a website, you can purchase a domain name when you create your email).
Here’s a good article from WPBeginner on how to get your email domain: How to Get a Free Email Domain (5 Quick and Easy Methods).
Okay, on to why it’s important to have an author newsletter.
Some people call it an e-newsletter, some call it a mailing list – whatever you call it, it is still an email you send filled with news to people who have signed up to receive it.
Having people who want to know about your next book, what you are busy with right now, etc. is important in the long run: these are the people who are really interested in you as an author and are the most likely to buy your books.
The best way to reach them – without someone else holding all the cards (e.g. Facebook or Amazon) – is via an author newsletter. They sign up with their email address and your mailing service has all the information for you.
But how do you get them to part with that precious email address?
You offer them something of value.
Nick Stephenson calls this a lead magnet. (You can read all about it in his free book: Reader Magnets: Build Your Author Platform and Sell more Books on Kindle).
Think about it like this: what can you give away for the ideal reader?
You can give them a free short story, ebook, character notes, free chapter, curated reading list, etc. As long as it is of value to your readers.
Get started with what you have; momentum will do the rest.
A good way to do this, is (after you’ve set up your account with a service provider) to join a service like StoryOrigin to have another place to promote your Reader Magnet and newsletter. I did it like this.
You can also do newsletter swaps on that site (and others I’m still investigating). This helps to grow your mailing list and do a bit of cross-promotion with authors in your genre.
List management service.
There are different service providers, like ConvertKit that offers free webinars on how to do newsletters properly, and all of them on a different place on the price scale.
The best, according to most who use these services on a regular basis:
Infusion Soft (for when you have a mega business and have to deal with money).
Infusionsoft is the industry’s longest-running and most powerful product, offering an all-in-one solution that provides advanced marketing and sales automation, fully customizable campaigns, and powerful app integration.
ConvertKit (especially created for authors).
ConvertKit helps creators like you take their projects from idea to reality. It’s never been easier to build an audience and grow a business. And you can do it all for free.
Mailchimp (ranges from free to various paid options – great for when you are starting out).
Engage your audience with email marketing. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re already a pro, Mailchimp’s easy‑to‑use email builder has the tools you need to grow your business.
Powerfully-simple email marketing designed to help your small business grow – now for free.
Become an email marketing expert with advanced tools made easy for you. Includes live 24/7 support and the latest features like landing pages and automation.
ActiveCampaign gives you the email marketing, marketing automation, and CRM tools you need to create incredible customer experiences.
You might be tempted to DIY it and just send newsletters from your regular email account without a third party sending it for you, but that will get you into trouble from all the privacy and spam authorities out there.
Also, don’t add people manually: they have to consent to getting your emails or you will get into loads of trouble.
Set up a landing page.
This is great way to show exactly what the reader will get when they sign up. And is great for getting them to actually sign up – there’s nothing else on that page. (You can have different landing pages: one with your newsletter service provider and another with a service like StoryOrigin. Check out my Mailchimp landing page here. I used to have a StoryOrigin one, until the prices became ridiculous. I used to have a pop-up form directly from Mailchimp, but they’ve changed things so much that you need a degree in coding to use it. I’ve since switched to using two plug-ins that integrate with Mailchimp and the pop-up seems to be aesthetically pleasing and functional. I’ve also added a Mailchimp block to the bottom of my posts instead of the text call to action from before. It all works to grow my list quite nicely.)
Share your landing page URL everywhere you can: make it a pinned post on Twitter (people will share it for you), Instagram, at the back of your books, etc.
Set up an automated sequence.
The first will be a welcome email with the link for downloading their free gift. After that, a couple of introduction emails are a great way to get to know your reader and for them to get to know you (what you write, why you write, another free story, etc.).
You only have to do this once and it will keep on working for you.
For fiction, sending one newsletter a month is sufficient. You just have to appear regularly in your readers’ inboxes so they’ll remember you and bond with you – you can’t just send an email when you want something from them. You have to be the one that gives first: free stories, chapter extracts, news you don’t share publically, etc.
So make sure that the service and plan you choose enables you to do this. (For example: Convertkit’s free plan doesn’t allow this feature.)
Ask yourself: How will you keep your audience engaged?
On social media, you share other people’s stuff 70-80% of the time and your stuff the other 20-30%.
With your newsletter, you give 90% of the time and only ask 10% of the time.
So, what can you give?
- A virtual book club (the stuff you’re reading this month – and if they can get it at a discount/free somewhere, include it).
- Personal stories (if you have cute grandbabies or pets, make it fun and engaging – make it real).
- Giveaways and promotions (stuff just for them).
- Teach everything you know – from your books. (A recipe you created for you cosy mystery. How to build a potato gun that was featured in your book. Whatever. Add value.)
Just have fun and be yourself.
Remember: you only have permission to email them about the stuff they signed up for. You can’t go from sharing your fiction stuff to suddenly wanting to talk about weight loss and trying to sell them scales and whatnot.
When you do email right, you are building quality relationships with your readers in a unique community of your creation.
Here are some myths about newsletters (and the truth):
“I don’t want to email people because it is annoying.”
Truth: not everyone in the world has to be on your list, only people who want to read your work. When they sign up to your list, they actually want to hear from you. That is how you cultivate superfans.
“I’m a writer, I just want to write. But if I really have to market, I’ll just post stuff on social media – it’s free.”
Truth: You can’t rely on social media to sell your books because that is where you meet new people and find new readers to sign up to your email list. Once on your email list, you have a relationship and from there they will buy your book and help you build a writing career.
“Just write more books. Write it and they will…” Sell?
Truth: no-one is a special little snowflake who can get away without marketing their work. Even the famous, established and favourites have to market. Needing to market your work doesn’t mean you’re terrible – it means you know that you have to stand out from the noise to be noticed.
Tips on running your newsletter smoothly.
Regularly clean out your email list for those who don’t open emails/engage. Sometimes email addresses that aren’t regularly used become spam traps: the service provider shuts down the email address and if your email ends up there, it is marked as spam!
Most email service providers can help you keep track of engagement rates to make this much easier.
Make a banner for your newsletter that reflects your brand (and what you’re doing on social media and your blog).
Choose a day a month you’ll send out your newsletter and stick to it. People like to know when to expect something.
With email, you control the message.
A lot of tips about running your author newsletter includes getting rid of those subscribers who haven’t opened an email from you in the last two or three months. If you only send out one newsletter a month, this is insane because people don’t get around to reading or opening all the emails they get in a day. Give them a year: if, after twelve months of monthly emails, they haven’t opened an email from you, send them an email asking if they still want to hear from you (that’s a re-engagement campaign). There’s no point in throwing out the baby with the bathwater: some people only read through their inboxes once a year (only opening important emails from the bank or doctor and ignoring the rest until they actually have time to get around to having some fun and getting dragged into the dark abyss that is the inbox). Don’t just remove them: ask them if they want to stay. Making assumptions makes… I’ll let Donkey explain.
Good Author Newsletter Examples
Joanna Penn does a good author newsletter (I eagerly open hers when I see it in my inbox.) She does a short piece about her life (health/travel/season change) in a paragraph followed by what she’s currently writing (in a paragraph) followed by an interesting blog post from her author site and then whatever promotion she’s running on her books (e.g. 5% off one of her series in ebook format).
Icy Sedgwick follows a different pattern: she talks a bit about whatever interesting thing she did (like go to a churchyard) and add a photo of her in this place/doing this thing. She also explains why she did this. Then she talks about the background of that month’s subscriber story and adds the link for the reader to go and read their free monthly story. Her reading recommendations follows this (with links of books she really liked) and then she gives a writing update. It’s always fun and interesting to read her newsletters.
Yes, they’re both dark fantasy authors (which is why I love their books). There are other newsletters I follow, too, but these are my favourites for they have clean lines, clear content expectations they meet, read like letters to friends, and don’t overwhelm with things that don’t have anything to do with the books (and genres) they write in.
How I Do It
Personally, I start with some life stuff, add some free book stuff, talk about changes in my life/writing/etc. and then add my new release details before ending with something about my pets (dogs, horses, chickens – whoever did the most memorable thing that month). I add images as necessary (the cover of the new book and a photo of whichever pet I’m mentioning). Sometimes I do a book recommendation.
Simple and effective.
I share links to sign up to my newsletter on Twitter, at the end of blog posts, at the end of my books and wherever it seems appropriate.
There’s loads more to know about running your campaigns, but this is the basic information you need to get started. Anything you’d like to add or ask?
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