Authors: Here’s All You Need to Grow Your Email List

Authors: Here’s All You Need to Grow Your Email List

If you’re an author who reads about book marketing, it’s already been hammered into your brain that your email list is your lifeline to long-term success.

Why? Because your email subscribers are your peeps.

They are the readers who love you so much they want to connect beyond the books themselves, and are the most likely to buy release after release as your body of works expands.

These are the people who make a true career as an author possible.

But how do you get a big email list? It’s a big mountain to scale when you’re starting at zero (which we all do!).

There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to this, but there are some trends to help you develop your own email list. I’ve been experimenting with these tactics quite a bit.

And it’s been working. I entered 2016 with a measly 20 subscribers, but look at how my list has grown since:

List building

My goal is to reach 1,000 subscribers by the end of the year. It’s going to be close, but I should be able to reach that number.

What have I been doing to get these month-to-month jumps? I’ve used a sales funnel that follows three basic steps.

It’s a lot like fishing — except for your readers, you’ll want to use an entirely different kind of bait.

Step 1: Cast your net

If you want to draw readers in, you must make an effort to reach out to them. This can take many forms, but the main idea is to make yourself visible to the right people in the right places, online.

What does this look like? Visibility can take the form of:

  • Blogging frequently
  • Posting on social media frequently
  • Guest posting on blogs your target audience already reads
  • Promoting yourself with ads on Facebook and other highly targeted, low-cost platforms
  • Attending events and networking in person
  • Hosting events to publicize your books
  • Distributing promotional materials at conferences, book signings, etc.

Choose a few to start, and build as you’re able to throw more into the mix. The more you’re able to do (both in terms of frequency and diversity), the faster your list will grow.

Personally, I blog on my author website at least once a week, and post frequently to Twitter and Facebook. I try to guest post on a website with a shared audience at least once per month, plus I have about four ongoing columns that get published on various websites each month.

But my most effective tactic by far has been Facebook Ads, thanks to its ability to target so specifically and reach beyond my existing network.

I’m also working to participate in more events (and maybe host a few of my own). I’ve got at least one lined up every month from July to November, and I’m putting feelers out for 2017 events now.

Step 2: Bait the hook

People don’t sign up for email lists because they want more email. We all get way too many emails already.

The best way to grow your email list is to put a nice, juicy worm on your hook.

This is what we call magnet content: content that you give away for free in exchange for email addresses.

Some authors give away a full book to email subscribers, or even an entire box set. Others might offer a short story, or a character guide for an ongoing series. The important thing is to offer something your target readers will value.

Right now, I’m giving away the first chapter of my novel, but that’s a short-term fix. I wrote a novella specifically to give away to subscribers; I’m just waiting for the edits and cover design to come back.

An important note here: Don’t slack on your giveaway content just because it’s free! Give it the same professional treatment a publisher would give any other release. That means professional editing and design services.

It’s tempting to slack when you won’t make direct profit off this content, but this will be many writers’ first impression of you as an author. If it’s great, readers will be clamoring to buy your next book. If it’s meh (or worse, riddled with typos), readers aren’t going to want anything else from you.

I expect the switch to an exclusive freebie to boost my subscriber rate significantly. It’s also a proven tactic for increasing sales, so even though you may have to invest up front for editing and design, you’re almost certainly going to make up for it in sales later.

Step 3: Reel it in

When a person subscribes to your email list, it’s not the end of your campaign. In a way, it’s just the beginning.

Use the tools in your email management service to create an automated series designed to strengthen your connection with each new subscriber.

Brian Cohen recommends a five-part series, with each email a few days apart. Your series might look like this:

  1. Deliver the magnet content you promised and thank them for subscribing.
  2. Check in to follow up on the magnet content.
  3. Ask them to connect with you on social media, too.
  4. Give them a sneak peak at your next book.
  5. Invite them to join your street team.

I just learned about Cohen’s techniques a few weeks ago. What I have now is a three-part series:

  1. Delivers the free content.
  2. Asks new subscribers what they’re reading. I like this email because it asks readers about themselves, and lets us get to know each other better. (It’s also valuable to know what else my audience enjoys reading.)
  3. Offers an exclusive discount on the first book in my series.

Updating my automation series to incorporate Cohen’s insights is at the top of my author to-do list.

Bigger isn’t always better

Be careful you don’t get too hung up on watching your subscriber numbers grow.

A small but highly engaged list of people who can’t wait for your next email is better than a huge list of people who wonder “Who’s that?” as they skim over you in their inbox.

Instead of obsessing about how rapidly your list grows, pay close attention to who you target with your outreach; and mind your engagement stats (open rate, click-through) as much as your growth.

Authors, what do you do to grow your email list?

Filed Under: Marketing

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  • FYI, typo on “peak” – should be “peek.” 🙂

  • Rory says:

    Thanks for the great info Emily, even though it’s review for me. You might also consider cross promoting with other authors. This has worked very well for me and the conversion rates has been much better than doing King Sumo giveaways. Also, that first email has to be fantastic! It took me experimenting a little to get that initial email just right for converting.

  • Thanks Emily!
    You blog inspired me to focus on email list.

  • I definitely appreciate the discussion on this topic. List building is an area where I am extraordinarily weak and need to improve upon. I have a longrunning website, a social media presence, and offer a zine/ebook to join my mailing list since August. I am now at 60 subscribers, with one person joining every 1-5 days. Very slow, but at least it’s moving.

    A helpful warning: when my new books were released this week, I sent out too many newsletters and scared off four subscribers (my website traffic also cratered, but that may be due to a pop-up window pushing the mailing list). I have also seen the response numbers go down if the newsletters come too fast or too slow. It likely also helps to have something good to offer, like stories your readers would like to read or a good zine.

  • I found your link on Pinterest, and it is just what I was looking for.

    I’ve been researching how to build an e-mail list for weeks, and much of it is vague, or repetitive. Your tips were insightful, specific, and unique.

    Thank you! You have a new subscriber 🙂

  • great post and nice brother.

    The other important thing to attract repeat buyers is to make things easy for them – don’t make it hard for them to find your book sales page online – have a direct link in the back of your subscriber giveaway alongside a prompt to review (which in turn attracts more readers).

  • kdrama-ost says:

    Yeah! I’ve too started writing down a book for getting subscribers. This is the only best option to increase the email list. Freebies always work..

  • Bradley says:

    #3 is so important, so easily overlooked and takes quite a bit of thought (e.g. work) to put together–but it’s what can keep them or lose them. Thanks for putting this together, very helpful!

    I really struggle with the content magnet and what to give away.

  • Ashri Mishra says:

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful blog .I liked the way that you wrote and presented this information.

  • Railway ADDA says:

    Thanks for the great Tips and Advice, I will definitely have implement some of these tips to grow my list.

    Great Post, Thanks!

  • Melissa Henderson says:

    I have started blogging and love the experience. So far, I have just a few followers, but, I pray that number will increase soon. 🙂 The feedback has been really great.

    Thank you for all this great information.

  • Nakul Grover says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Yeah! I’ve too started writing down a book for getting subscribers. This is the only best option to increase the email list. Freebies always work..

    Hoping for the best.. 🙂 🙂

  • William Cook says:

    I have done all the things you suggest although one thing that not many marketing mavens promote or talk about is organic growth. In the sense that the subscribers and fans that you really want to have and grow are the ones who will in turn promote you because they love what you do. This takes real time and effort and requires much more than merely having all the right systems and lures in place (although as you point out, without them your chances of growing an email list effectively are slim). It requires that you produce a ‘thing’ – a product, service or entertainment that is of such a quality and standard that it will impress upon people that you are there for the long haul. Maybe I’m wrong but there seems to be a direct correlation between the amount of people who like what you do because you do it well and as a result they come to expect nothing less from you (and remain long-term subscribers). I.e. rather than producing lots of material that might appeal to the most amount of people it really pays to specialize and be the best you can be in that area.

    Blogs are usually specifically themed hubs, rather than broad general interest platforms so I would have to say that choosing early on what it is you are actually selling and/or promoting and then sticking with it is how the more successful bloggers and authors build their lists. People talk about an ‘author brand’ and, yes, this is important also because this is what will make you stand out from the crowd and appeal to your ideal reader (think of it as packaging). People come to those authors who clearly show what it is they do and write, because they know that they are THAT guy or gal who talks about and produces THAT kind of book/product. I don’t know about you but I have had plenty of short term subscribers gathered through some of the above systems and techniques but I have found that these drop off as soon as you send out regular newsletters relating to a specialized form of interest and content. They appear to sign up/subscribe purely for the carrot on the end of the stick (the lure, book, cheat sheet etc), once received they seem to be prompted to unsubscribe via the next round of newsletters or interaction with the email list. I’m fine with this by the way, because those subscribers are essentially dead weight if all they want is a freebie. It is the ones who stick around that interest me the most.

    As an author the hardest thing to gauge is where to find your ideal reader. Sure there are social media platforms like Goodreads, Wattpad, Facebook groups etc. and then there are the ‘real’ opportunities that are so much harder to facilitate and organize (and pay for e.g. expense vs profit) like community or regional events and networks as you point out above, but I feel really strongly that the most important thing for an author to do in order to build a loyal paying (italics) fanbase/readership is to produce good quality works that are publicized properly and to spend time interacting with those of your readers who you know buy your books because they came to you in the first place. If you have a website, offer a free copy of one of your titles to new email subscribers – this will bring in the majority of your new readers but be prepared to lose at least half of them over the short term. Make sure your email subscription widget (etc) is front and center on the main page and easy to find. Rather than bombarding your subscribers with constant emails and newsletters choked with promotion and snippets of information, spend some time at the end of each month and create content that is of a high standard and offers value to the reader e.g. a free short story, a competition, a survey (and results), some exciting news that will be of interest to YOUR readers. Most of all, don’t be afraid to ask your subscribers to help you spread the word about your books via your website, i.e. get them involved – my experience has shown me that these readers love to be included and included in promotional efforts etc. Your email list is a great way to solicit reviews for your books also (especially if you ask politely and respectively).

    This all probably sounds very conservative but after trying most of all the methods described above and getting quite stressed about the results, I found myself spending more time worrying about this stuff than actually spending time writing and improving my books. I agree with you about the frequency model and feel that it is important to stay in touch with your subscribers and develop lasting long-term relationships with your readers. The organic growth I mentioned earlier stems directly from this engagement and if you want to grow (and maintain) your readership you will need some help along the way and who better to spread the word than fans! I see a lot of new authors getting lost as they prioritize their author platform over developing their craft and producing quality work. Without a good product to sell it is a waste of time building a sales platform. If you have a lot of time and money to waste then maybe this is the way to go but never lose sight of the fact that if you are an author and want to be a successful one, then you have to be a writer first and a marketeer second. If you have a good book to sell it is more likely that you will attract a subscriber base that wants to read more of your work.

    The other important thing to attract repeat buyers is to make things easy for them – don’t make it hard for them to find your book sales page online – have a direct link in the back of your subscriber giveaway alongside a prompt to review (which in turn attracts more readers). Make sure to also maintain your author sales page on Amazon or whatever platform you sell books (although if you’re not on Amazon you will be definitely missing out on sales and subscribers aka repeat readers/buyers) and ensure all web links point ideally to your email subscription link – especially on your online book/author page/s. Anyway, that’s my two cents worth.

    Thankyou for your thoughtful article, I really like the summation at the end as I feel it echoes my own experience best:

    “A small but highly engaged list of people who can’t wait for your next email is better than a huge list of people who wonder “Who’s that?” as they skim over you in their inbox.”

    By the way, these articles on The Write Life are why I subscribed in the first place. Keep ’em coming 🙂

    • Yes – The Write Life is a blog, and they’re really darn good at it. If you’re looking for a model to follow for basic structure, this is a great aspiration point to have.

      (Though for authors I recommend focusing not on writing itself as a topic, but on what you write books ABOUT–i.e., I write fantasy fiction, so I post about things like the monster in Netflix’ Stranger Things series.)

  • Mary Derksen says:

    Blogging? How do you start? Just send off a few sentences to everyone on your email list? And how do you get a website? What did people do before internet?

  • Sofia says:

    Where could I possibly start blogging? Are there any free websites around?

    • Piet says:

      WordPress is one of the most used blogging platform and you get it free with a lot of extras, plugins and free templates. It is like using a wizard to create your site and blogs. Highly recommended for starters!

  • I am an old man, 69, but a new writer. I have a published novel, In Memory of Sonny Pinto, and a sequel, A Funeral for Sonny Pinto, coming out soon. I appreciate your advice.
    Thank you,
    Michael Tomlinson

  • Kimsea Sok says:

    Hey, Emily! The awesome article, honestly.

    Well, the maintain mailing list is an extremely important for author as well as the others who are doing online business.

    You know? Over 90% of online buyers are return visitors. According to the buyer journey of inbound marketing, before buy any product, the buyer passed through three steps (Aware -> Consider -> decision)

    You’re right. keep more in the list sent them more information to transfer them to buyer. Yeah. It’s so important.

    Once I don’t understand what you mean, “People don’t sign up for email lists because they want more email.”

    Whenever you implement email marketing, you have to consider of CTA and freebie gifts. Give your reader to access your free ebook, training, and whatever is great idea to attract more optin. People love free, it’s a human being.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing…

  • Hi Emily, in taking your advice is love to guest post! I’m a new writer but have social media marketing expertise. I’m at @ceceliamecca on Twitter. ?

  • Leanne Sowul says:

    Thanks for the practical insights, Emily! From 20 to 1,000 is super-impressive. I’ve always struggled with marketing, giveaways, etc. and worry that I’ll be investing a lot of time into creating something that won’t actually reel in more subscribers. But the only way to know is to try, right?

    • It’s true–sometimes you have to try a lot of different methods to find what works for you. In fact, I’d argue you should never stop trying new methods, even when you start to find success. Good luck!

  • ohita says:

    Thanks, Emily for this enlightening post.

    I am an unpublished writer of fiction and poetry. I do not have a website yet neither have I started blogging. However, I understand that I need an author platform with which to engage with my readers. Is this blogging of a thing for everyone? My challenge is, finding what to blog about as there seems to be information overload already. What are your ideas?

    • Information overload is a great thing to be mindful of when starting your own platform–it’s very real! But just like books, there are always going to be a copious amount of them, and the trick is simply to find what makes you unique, and then find the right audience for it.

      Is a blog necessary? Let me put it this way: A blog is NOT necessary, but an email list IS… and a blog is the most common and often the best way to build an email list.

      So the question becomes, if not a blog, then what? Some authors draw cartoons, others just do a newsletter, another might share a new poem each week. Regardless of what it ends up being, I recommend posting frequently to draw in readers and keep yourself top of mind with your readers–for a blog that means at least a week, for a newsletter, I’d recommend a minimum of once a month. Good luck!

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