Your newsletter is the most important asset you own other than the rights to the books themselves. Over time, this can transform from a small but dedicated group of fans into a powerful marketing tool that can launch you into the Top 1000 or even Top 100 all by itself. Best of all, email is resilient to every change the web has undergone; it’s been here from the beginning, and it will be here at the end. Any predictions about its demise are overblown, and anyone who claims email no longer works or isn’t mandatory is a complete moron who should henceforth be ignored in all marketing related areas.
Furthermore, your audience is comprised of readers, which makes email a perfect medium to sell them books via, being primarily (or entirely, as is often the case) text.
So we’ll begin with choosing a service provider, then dive into some strategic decisions. After testing a half dozen email service providers, here are my two recommendations:
- MailerLite (com). Free up to 1,000 subscribers; $10/mo for 1,001 – 2,500 subscribers.
- Pluses: intuitive and simple interface. Autoresponders available for free accounts. Continually improving, since they’re relatively new.
- Minuses: bare bones sign-up forms. Missing a few advanced features for power users. Requires your own email (e.g. email@example.com).
- ConvertKit (convertkit.com). $29/mo for up to 1,000 subscribers.
- Pluses: robust and easy-to-use tagging features. Beautiful sign-up forms. Has advanced/premium features usually reserved for more expensive services (i.e., Infusionsoft). Great support that responds quickly. Excellent email deliverability. Continually improving, since they’re a relatively new company.
- Minuses: expensive. Need a separate account for each pen name (I have separate accounts for my fiction and non-fiction) because you can’t have separate lists on a single account—only tags.
Mailchimp is also an option if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers (it’s free until then, although its free plan is limited in comparison to MailerLite’s). After that, it gets pricey and its interface is terrible. If you’re going to pay a premium, I’d highly recommend ConvertKit instead.
For most authors, I’d recommend MailerLite, especially if you just need to set up a basic autoresponder and send out the occasional newsletter. As mentioned, I use ConvertKit (I use MailerLite and Mailchimp, too). I think the enhanced deliverability is worth the heftier price tag.
There is no perfect email provider. Pick one and move on.
From there, you can build your newsletter in two ways: organic and non-organic. Let’s talk about both.
The main benefit of non-organic subscribers is simply volume: you can amass thousands of subscribers very quickly without any sort of existing fanbase. The downside is that they tend to be far less engaged than their organic counterparts, which means that you need to have an autoresponder sequence set up to convert them from people who don’t know your work at all into actual readers of your books.
- Story Origin and Book Funnel cross promotions: each site maintains a list of upcoming swaps that you can join.
- Author newsletter swaps and other cross promotions: some of these cross promo opportunities won’t be posted publicly and are only posted in private author groups.
- Newsletter building services: you pay a service to run a giveaway and they send the ensuing subscriber list to you.
- Giveaways: you run the giveaway yourself via a service like KingSumo, Rafflecopter, or Gleam. Basic approach is to give away a Kindle, Amazon gift card, set of books in your genre, etc. that requires people to give you their email address for a chance to win.
- Buying a list: don’t do this under any circumstances, unless you want to get your email account suspended.
These are fans who sign up from the front and back matter of your books. The upside here is that they’re more engaged, with higher open and click rates than non-organic subscribers. It’s also passive, in that you drop the link into your books, then the subscribers accumulate without further effort. The downside is that, should you be selling few or no books, they’ll be extremely slow to accumulate.
- Put sign-up links in the front/back matter of your books that goes to a sign-up form on a page on your site (dnerikson.com/bone).
- Make your website homepage have a sign-up offer (example: dnerikson.com/).
- Sell them something after they sign up (example: dnerikson.com/rc-box/).
- Send a monthly newsletter to keep them engaged.
- Have a welcome email that delivers the book via BookFunnel, sets expectations, and asks them to whitelist your email address.
- Set up a weekly autoresponder to sell your backlist. (mandatory for non-organic subscribers)
Which one should you do? At the beginning, both. Then, once you have around 5,000 – 6,000 non-organic subscribers, I’d dial down your efforts there. Why that number? Because that’s generally when you start to lose more subscribers than you gain from each subsequent cross-promo or giveaway. From there, I’d focus on organic subscribers.
And one critical key: never, ever send your organic subscribers the links to join cross promos or giveaways. This is not the content they signed up to get and you do not want to share your hard-won golden subscribers with 25 or 50 other authors. Only share cross promos or giveaways with non-organic subscribers. These people will be interested in that type of content and you won’t massively dilute the effectiveness of your organic list.
Engagement: What to Do
This is really about three things:
- Sending a monthly newsletter. You can do weekly, but for most authors, that will be too frequent. Monthly allows you to update readers on your latest book, background research, stories, and so forth. This builds engagement over time and makes sure they remember that they’re on the list.
- Sending newsletters for promos or launches. This is obviously the biggest benefit of having a newsletter, and some authors ignore it for fear of contacting their list at all. Look…if someone signed up to hear about your books, and you send them nothing, that’s a waste of their time. They want to hear about your books. Give them what they signed up for and send them emails.
- An autoresponder that introduces new readers to your backlist. Never assume a new reader has read, or is even aware of all your books. If they liked one of your series, it’s probable they’ll enjoy the others…should they know they exist. This is a way to tell them with an approach I call “The Netflix Strategy.” By the way, you should mention backlist titles in your monthly newsletters when it fits, too.
The Netflix Strategy Autoresponder
Every couple days, Netflix sends out an email like this:
The recommendations are highly targeted and always relevant. This is based on Netflix’s vast data stores and complicated algorithms. So you may be wondering how we, as mere authors, can replicate such an incredible feat.
Good news: we don’t need to. Because relevance (the key to effective marketing) is already built in. People opted in to hear about your books because they liked one (or many) of them. That means that any of your other books that they haven’t read will automatically be highly relevant to them. Thus, anyone worried about appearing “spammy” or “salesy” is missing the point: you are doing readers a disservice by hiding your backlist from them and failing to make it as visible as possible.
They like your books. Make it easy for them to pick up more of them.
The concept is simple: we pick a day of the week. And each week, on that day, we send our subscribers information about a different backlist series. Introduce it with a story, a bit of research background, something interesting – you’re a writer, make some magic happen. Then, have a one to two sentence teaser and the link(s) to the retailer(s). Rinse, repeat every week until you’re out of books.
Thus, we can create an autoresponder that looks like this, which combines our welcome/free book delivery and regular onboarding stuff with our backlist sales emails:
- Day 0 (immediate): Here’s Your Free Copy of [Book Title] (welcome/set expectations/deliver free book)
- Day 1: Did You Get [Book Title] Okay? (only to people who didn’t click the download link in the welcome email)
- Day 4: Another Free Book (if you have another) OR What’s Your Favorite [Sub-Genre] Book? OR The Top 3 [Sub-Genre] Books
- Day 7: The Final Free Book (if you have another) OR Join [Series Character from Free Novella on First Day] in [First Novel’s Name] [Series 1]
- Day 14 [optional]: Want Free Copies of My Upcoming Novels (ARC Team offer)
- Next Friday: Demons, Vampires, and Talking Dogs [Series 2]
- Next Friday: Looking for Your Next Weekend Read? [Series 3]
- Next Friday: A Con Artist and FBI Agent Walk Into a Bar…[Series 4]
And so forth, until you’re out of series. The best part? You don’t have to write emails for every series at once. They take about five to fifteen minutes, so you can crank one out in between projects, add it to the autoresponder, then come back to it when you have a new series, or a spare couple minutes to add another one of your backlist series to the autoresponder.