How to build a Mailing List
How to build a mailing list – a guide.
Hi everybody. I’ve been a full-time writer for over four years now (and heck don’t I pinch myself every day for that), but recently something has gotten me more excited than ever before–my mailing list. I’ve been working on it since September after taking part in the Self Publishing Formula, which is an online course run by Mark J Dawson. The course taught me many effective ways to build a mailing list and also pointed out some fairly obvious realities that had thus far eluded me. Such as: why do we put our entire careers in the hands of Amazon/Publishers and why do we, as authors, see the massive power that marketing sites such as Bookbub have but do nothing to gain some of that power for ourselves? My mailing list currently has 5k members and about half of those are what I would call ‘warm’ subscribers or fans. That means, if I released a new book today, I can be fairly confident that around 1500 people would buy a copy in the first few days. That’s pretty much guaranteed to shove my new release right up the charts where it will then find its own feet and sell on its own via the chart exposure. The part that has me excited really excited, though, is that 3k members is just my total today. In a year’s time I fully expect to be nearing 10k. Even if only 30% of that list is ‘warm’ (i.e. a fan who is actively seeking my work as soon as it is available) then that would be 3k sales every time I have a new release. In ten years time I could have 100k subscribers (very doable at my current sign up rate), and by that point who needs Bookbub? The best part about it all is that I am not using my readers or taking advantage of them in any way–my mailing list is a great way to keep in touch, and reward, the readers who actively support me. I can offer prizes, exclusive discounts, and freebies. In fact, the whole process of building a mailing list hinges on giving people a reason to join. FREE BOOKS. This has to work both ways or it won’t gather momentum.
I started my career by quickly becoming known as an ‘author who helps’. I aspired to follow the likes of J.A. Konrath and Hugh Howey by offering advice on what I had found successful and trying to nurture authors struggling lower down the ladder of success. It feels like a while since I really did that, so this post is intended to share with you what I have come to believe is the number 1 most important tool an author can possess. A healthy mailing list. Here’s why you need one:
- Own and utilise your own fanbase. Why leave it to Amazon to market your books and get all of your reader’s information? If they are interested in your books, then it is you who should be contacting them. You’re the one doing all the hard work of writing after all.
- Build your own Bookbub. Most authors know the profound effect that Bookbub can have on their sales, and they are undisputedly the dog’s nuts for sure, but what if you could give your own books a boost? What if you could do it at will, twice monthly, or every time you have a new book out? Most writers struggle to get Bookbub deals, so let’s assume they get two a year. Your mailing list might not be as big as BB, but you can use it 20 times a year if you want to. You can always be pushing your books to people who want to read them. Constant momentum.
- Stability. Kindle Unlimited completely screwed me. Then Amazon changed it and I love it. What will they do tomorrow? If I had possessed a healthy mailing list during those times when my sales dipped, I could have done something to improve them. As it was, I left myself completely at the mercy of Amazon’s whims. Next time they change something, I will be able to crest the wave safely because I can generate my own sales with or without them. The worst thing to do is to do nothing. A mailing list will make you proactive.
- Find new readers. That’s right, a mailing list is not just about capturing the details of your existing readers, it’s about attracting entirely new readers. My mailing list is one of my key tools for finding new fans. Complete strangers are regularly finding me via my free books offer.
- Reward your fans. There is no easier way to give back to your fans than being able to email them all at once. You can give them free books and other rewards completely at your own behest and exclusively to them. No more relying on Amazon’s promotional tools and restrictive Ts and Cs.
So how do you build a mailing list? Well, if you are interested in the comprehensive methods contained in the SPF course, I suggest you join up or contact Mark Dawson, but for those wanting to take things slowly and get the basics down first, here are the key steps.
Join an emailer service
I use Mailchimp, and I’m quite sure this is the most popular, but there are alternatives such as aWeber. An emailer service allows you to send people to a sign up form and add people to a list. It will then allow you to create campaigns and email those subscribers. As I use Mailchimp, that is what I will talk about.
When you sign up to Mailchimp (it’s free for the first 1500 subscribers) you will be able to CREATE NEW LIST. Once you have done that and given your list a name (you might end up with several eventually) you can go to a menu called SIGNUP FORMS. This is how you set up your ability to subscribe people.
The list above is for people joining up via my website (I also have separate lists for people joining via Facebook ads and Twitter). Above you have several options. General forms is the main one that will create a sign up page and give you an address to send people to. The address for my website signup form is: http://eepurl.com/bGd0wv. Click on it to see what my sign up page looks like.
Next on the list is embedded forms. This is for people who like to build or modify their own websites. By adding some html code into your website, you can sign people up directly from pages within your own domain (i.e. you don’t need to link to the one you create in Mailchimp).
Subscriber popup allows you to program your website to have a pop up appear when people browse your site. This is a good way to tempt people to sign up.
Form integrations is useful for linking other applications to your mailing lists. For example, you can create a Lead Generation Card on Twitter which will allow people to click one button on Twitter and join your list.
For now, you will probably just want to build a General Form with an address that you can send people to. I won’t guide you through the set up because it is very simple and the design is up to you. You can add an image and change fonts, images, and buttons, etc, but none of it is rocket science. The address that you send people to will be present at the top, easy to find. One thing I will mention is that you should use a final welcome email (it is not activated by default). The reason for this I will go into below.
Give people a reason to sign up
I’ve had a mailing list for a while, but the only people who used to join were my diehard fans. There was no reason for causal readers or new readers to bother joining up. It is ridiculously simple to understand now, but for some reason I was blind to it before. GIVE PEOPLE A REASON TO JOIN. Here is the offer that I make to people.
So that’s FIVE books that I am giving away free. Considering that one is only a short story and banned from sale anyway, that is four novels I am giving away. Whilst Sea Sick is currently free on Amazon, 2389, Animal Kingdom, and The Picture Frame are not. I am giving away about $15 in value. What that does is GIVE PEOPLE A REASON TO JOIN. That’s the key! Whilst, I appreciate that I have about a dozen novels out now and can thus afford to give a handful away for free, you should at least try to give away something of value, even if it’s only a single novella. Look at what you have and decide, but the more enticing you can make your offer, the more people who will sign up to your mailing list. You might be losing a bit of money in the short term but in the long term you can sell to these people again and again. Many people will take a chance on your work purely because it is free, but then buy your future books when they realise that they like you. That might not have happened without your mailing list offer. So, not only are you building your list, you are attracting NEW readers–people who might not have found you otherwise. If you don’t have many books out yet–maybe write a short story exclusively for the mailing list subscribers? Just an idea.
Advertise your list
Best thing about advertising your mailing list offer is that it’s free. You’re not trying to get people’s money and you won’t need to hound people to buy anything. Just let people know that the offer exists. Freebies are attractive all on their own so you don’t need to over-egg the offer. The most important thing is that you simply make the offer visible. Here are some tips:
- Put it on your website. And I mean front and centre. Make it the focal point of your entire site so that every single visitor sees it. In addition to me having it on my webpage banner, I also feature a link in the footer of every single page of my site. People may not enter your site through the homepage, so make sure they don’t miss the offer.
- Put it in your books. You may already link to your other books in your back matter, but add your mailing list offer too and make it first! It is the most enticing offer for readers and also worth the most to you (a subscriber is worth more than a single sale, believe me). They will only see the links at the back of your books once, but if you get them on your list you can advertise books to them regularly–so your goal should always be to get them on your list. I suggest adding the sign up address for your sign up page at the Front and Back of your books.
- Place the sign up address and offer details on your AMAZON PRODUCT DESCRIPTIONS. At the very beginning of your Amazon page, add the offer. Many people will peruse your book pages but not necessarily buy. You might never see them again. Use your offer to get their attention. If you get them on your list then you have their attention for at least a while (longer than a fleeting glance on Amazon). While they are browsing Amazon, they are Amazon’s customer, not yours. Change that! You can see my product description below for an example. It works!
- A Pinned Tweet linking to your offer is a great place to find new sign ups. Even better, learn how to create a Twitter Lead Gen Card and people can sign up with a single click.
- Add the offer to your Facebook and Twitter banners. Check out mine here for an example: www.facebook.com/authoriainrobwright. Add me too, please, if you haven’t already. Thanks. 🙂
- Direct posting. Every now and then you should just plain ‘ol shout about your offer. Do a facebook post or tweet twice a week.
- FACEBOOK ADVERTISING. You can get a large number of sign ups from Facebook ads, but it costs money and needs to be done right. When done right, your ads will target avid readers in your genre and spread your brand far and wide. I may share how to succeed on this in the future, but that would take can entirely different blog post. As I have stated previously, for those wanting to know all the secrets, tips, and methods, including facebook advertising, take the SPF course, or sign up for Mark Dawson’s starter course (FREE). You can do so here: http://www.selfpublishingformula.com
- Twitter and Amazon advertising. You can advertise on both of these platforms too, but at the moment there are no success stories to follow, so you will be setting the trends yourself and taking all the risks.
How to utilise your list
When you have built a list and want to use it, you can do so in two main ways. The first way is via a CAMPAIGN.
A campaign is basically a mass email. Mailchimp offers lots of customisation options, but I find simpler is better. A single column, white background is what I use. I add an image or two but mostly I keep it short. I also make it very easy to unsubscribe if people want to. If people feel you are spamming them they can report you to mailchimp and you can have your account suspended. If someone wants to leave, let them because they won’t help you. Try to avoid sending emails too regularly as this will cause fatigue and people will leave, but also don’t leave it too long or people will forget they signed up. Let your subscribers know what to expect. I send emails out around the 1st and 15th and I let people know this upfront. They know up front when to expect my emails and so don’t feel like I am bombarding them. Twice a month is a good sweet spot between often and rare.
What do I email about? Whatever is most important. If I have a new book out, then that is my priority. Second priority is special offers–countdown deals etc. Don’t just post about your full pirced books as this isn’t why people have joined up. They want discounts, news, and freebies. A new release is the exception as much of your list will be waiting for new stories to read and will happily pay full price, but otherwise they want to feel the benefit of being in your mailing list. Give them deals, offers, and freebies. When you have no new releases or discounts available, still keep to your schedule and post about other books in your genre that might be on offer. Recommend books to your readers, because you know what they like. If you find them some deals from time to time, they will have even more reason to stay subscribed (you want to be a mini-Bookbub, remember?). Also, when you release a new book, do so in secret (don’t post about it in any way at all). Advertise it only to your mailing list and lower price for a couple of days. This way they can grab your latest book cheaper than the general public who will find out about it a couple of days after them (and when the price has gone up). My launch email for THE GATES is here for you to see. The book reached the top 10 in horror on day 1. There was obviously purchase links at the bottom.
Once you have created your email, you can hit send. The email will then go out to all of your subscribers. Big excitement! Mailchimp will track how many people have opened your email and how many people have clicked the links you placed inside. If you are selling a book then the link clicks are very exciting because they potentially mean sales. That’s a mailing list working for you.
The second method of utilising your mailing list is AUTOMATION. This is a paid service but it is very much worth the small monthly cost. It will allow you to program Mailchimp to send emails out to all of your new subscribers automatically at specified frequencies. If, like me, you are giving away five free books, it will allow you to arrange five separate emails to go out over the space of a week, each with a free book attached along with a brief paragraph about what it is about and why you wrote it. Chatting to your readers about your books is a good way to build a relationship and is much better than sending out one email with all the books attached and that being the end of it. Automation allows you to spread things out a bit and maintain the initial relationship that you have with a new reader. You can then add further emails into the system. Say, 30 days after a person subscribes to your list, you want an email to go to them asking if they enjoyed their free books, and if they wanted more of your titles. The email could then gently nudge them towards the next book in your series, or maybe a boxset that saves them some money against buying your books separately. You can have Mailchimp send out whatever emails you want and at any interval. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that you have regular emails going out to your readers with offers, book reviews, and adverts while you’re asleep in bed? The automation feature allows your mailing list to constantly be in action and will interact with your subscribers even when you’re busy. It’s worth the money to use the automation features of Mailchimp.
So how do I get my Free books to subscribers?
I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but the way to offer free books to your subscribers is via a FINAL WELCOME EMAIL. Remember I mentioned that this option exists within SIGNUP FORMS but probably needs activating? Well, the final welcome email goes out when your subscriber clicks the confirmation link in their email that finally adds them to your list (I’m sure you’ve had emails that asks you to click the link to verify your email? Well, your subscribers will get one too. It’s called double-opt in). Create this email and build a link (highlight a word and click the little chain symbol in the email creator), but instead of selecting html link (which is what you would usually do to send people somewhere) change it to FILE. This will allow you to attach a mobi file or whatever to Mailchimp’s servers, so that when a subscriber clicks it they will be able to download the file you uploaded.
So when you have this in place, the email will automatically go out to all new subscribers and they can grab your free book directly from Mailchimp — completely automated. You can set the systems up and then leave them to it. People will join your list, get your freebie book, and start reading it without you having to do a thing. It’s great. The only thing you need to do is all of the above to make sure that people are seeing your offer. Everything else is done for you by Mailchimp. If you are giving away multiple books or file formats, just create more FILE links in your welcome email(or use the automation feature to send multiple emails). You will get the odd person who struggles to get the files onto their kindles or phones, but you can avoid much of this by giving clear instructions in the final welcome email. You can also provide them a link to Amazon’s send to kindle service as this will be enough to help most people through it. Try to deal with customer service issues by being helpful in the welcome email and you will avoid yourself having to spend time helping people via back and forth emails. Eventually you will be able to make use of a service called BOOKFUNNEL, but it is not yet available to the public.
Anything else I should know?
Just know that this works. My last 2 launches were my most successful ever. My sales are up, and my readers are happy because I give them as much as they give me. They spend their money on my books, but I also give them as many freebies as I can afford. It’s a bit like a supermarket club card–they are expected to spend money, but in return they will gain additional value over those who are not members.
In regards to launches, try to stagger them. When sending your emails you can choose the segment option. This has many options, but you could potentially split your list into people who join more than six months ago and those who joined less than six months ago. You could then launch your new books to these two segments on consecutive days. BY spreading sales out, you are more likely to climb the charts and get Amazon’s algorithms interested in you. The more you can stagger your sales the better.
Every now and then you might want to go into your list and get rid of unengaged subscribers. You can search for people who haven’t opened the last several emails and delete them. Why? Because once you go over 1500 subscribers, you will have to start paying a monthly fee to Mailchimp. The fee is absoultely worth it and your list will pay for itself, but subscribers will start costing you money, so why keep those who don’t open your emails? This is another reason why your should let people unsubscribe if they want to.
You could also create a separate list for BETA readers. I have 600 and it makes typos in my new releases a thing of the past. I offer the book to them secretly for 99c and they nearly all like to support me by buying a copy. It’s a great day 1 sales boost before I go on to offer the book to my mailing list subscribers.
Most of all, just make your mailing list at the front of centre of what you do, the focus of all your marketing. You may think trying to sell books is better, but your Mailing List WILL lead to sales, but it will also lead to new readers, successful launch campaigns, and continuing growth of your brand. Of all the advice I can give writers, new and old, it is to start building your mailing list yesterday not tomorrow. I wish I had started four years ago!
the best, and feel free to contact me if you need some more advice.
Love as always to all.