Part 8: The Ultimate Guide to Newsletter Building

SHARE

Welcome back for Part 8 of the Ultimate Guide to Book Marketing! In this section, we’ll cover a step-by-step process for how you can build your email list to 1,000 subscribers (and beyond, if you’ve already hit that milestone).

First, let’s take a look at our Ultimate Book Marketing Formula:

At this point, we’ve covered everything in the book marketing formula except for one critical piece.

Your newsletter.

As it so happens, we’ve saved the most important part for last. Your email list is a direct line of communication with your biggest fans. It’s the cornerstone of your platform. A solid email list can drive hundreds of full price sales on launch day.

But it’s no secret that most authors struggle to build one. Which begs the question: how do you get those elusive subscribers on your list in the first place?

I know how frustrating it can be to build your list as well as anyone: at the start of 2016, I had 4 subscribers on my author list, despite having had one for over three years. Organic subscribers came in a rate of 1 or 2 a month, since I wasn’t selling many books. Big promotions rarely produced any new subscribers. I never contacted my list, because I was too tentative. I built my list up to around a hundred names two, maybe three times, but never contacted them. Each time I’d delete the subscribers and dutifully start again.

Meanwhile, I’d tweak my autoresponder and book formatting constantly, trying to test and optimize when I had no traffic.

The struggle was real.

Finally, I’d had enough. Come hell or high water, I was going to contact my list regularly – even when it was 20 people. And then I was gonna build it up to 1,000 subscribers by the end of the year. I did it, and then some. By April 2017, I had 3,000+ subscribers across my lists.

Fast forward to February 2018. I had 16,000+ subscribers across my various lists.

And now, as of August 2019? About 6,500.

Wait, what? Don’t worry: this time, I didn’t reboot and start over. Removing almost 10,000 subscribers was a deliberate decision that increased the effectiveness of my various lists.

We’ll cover why (and how) you might remove a large block of subscribers in the next section of the guide (on newsletter engagement). Before we can engage people, though, we need to actually get them on the list. So what follows is a step-by-step system for cost-effectively adding 1,000 quality email subscribers to your list in a month – whether you’re starting from scratch and don’t even know what a newsletter is, or have 20,000 already.

Before we hop into the newsletter building, though, let’s revisit our old friend the Internet Marketing Formula.

If you’re just stopping by and want to start from the beginning of the Ultimate Guide to Book Marketing, you can find the complete series here. Each part stands alone, though, so if you’re just interested in a particular topic, feel free to jump in wherever you see fit.

Internet Marketing Formula, Revisited

If you’ve read the parts on the Ultimate Book Marketing Formula or optimization, you’ll be familiar with the Internet Marketing Formula. Adapted from Perry Marshall’s excellent 80/20 Sales and Marketing, it’s how you sell anything online, from shoes to books. Here’s a quick refresher, as well as its specific application to email lists:

  1. Traffic: subscribers. You get people to sign up for your list. Covered in this guide.
  2. Conversion: engagement. You convert these subscribers into readers by crafting engaging emails, an autoresponder, and writing books they like to read. Covered in the Ultimate Guide to Newsletter Engagement.
  3. Assessing ROI (return on investment): sales. Are your newsletter building efforts generating sales?
    1. If yes, continue with the same subscriber building and engagement strategies.
    2. If subscribers aren’t purchasing your books, or are lukewarm in terms of engagement, you need to reassess their source, the quality/frequency of your emails (and free book, if you offered one to get them on the list), and the effectiveness of your autoresponder.

Simple: generate subscribers, convert them into sales by writing good emails/books, and then assess whether your efforts were successful sales-wise, tweaking as needed.

But not easy, as you probably already know.

Which is why we’ll start the guide by explaining why you should go to the trouble of building a list at all.

Benefits of a Mailing List

Simply put, your mailing list is the most powerful book marketing tool in existence. A quality list can jumpstart Amazon’s algos like a nuclear fuel rod, sell more books in a day than you might’ve sold this year, and skyrocket you into the full-time author ranks. And it’s an asset that you can use for years – today or two decades from now. Suffice to say, reports of email being replaced by social media or other “disruptive” technologies are wildly overblown.

The terms “email list” or “newsletter” are really a synonym for platform. You need a direct communication conduit to readers – be that your newsletter, social media (Facebook/Twitter), a forum, or some other place where you can tell fans about your books. Otherwise your career is on borrowed time.

Here are the five main benefits:

  1. You own it. The reason the newsletter beats all the available alternatives is simple: it is 100% under your control and ownership.  Visibility on other platforms can be taken away or change on a dime. Facebook, Twitter, even your Amazon account – these are all 3rd party platforms. Yes, if you abide by the TOS of these sites, you’re not going to get booted. But the landscape of these 3rd party platforms shifts with little warning. Facebook has massively reduced the organic reach of Pages, for instance, which means you now have to pay to reach most of the people who like your page. Everyone who built their platform on Facebook woke up one day to suddenly find it was a whole lot pricier to reach their hard-won fans.
  2. Your personal customer list is better than anyone else’s. Yes, you can, and should, market your books via PPC ads, promo sites and other mechanisms. But these cold readers, even if they love the genre, will never respond as well to your books as a well-maintained mailing list. And engagement rates are higher for email than Facebook or other social media platforms.
  3. You can push a massive sales volume at full price (e.g visibility). When you have a high-quality, engaged list, you can sell hundreds of copies on launch day at anywhere from $0.99 to full price. This juices Amazon’s algorithms and can also bring in thousands of dollars on launch day.
  4. You can get dozens of reviews on launch day by setting up an ARC (Advance Review Copy) team. No more using review services or giving your book away for free in hopes of netting a few reviews. And no more launches scuttled by an ill-timed 1 star review arriving on Day 1.
  5. You can interact directly with readers. You can send readers surveys. Give ’em signed paperbacks or swag. Or just talk with them about your upcoming books to get feedback – because readers will respond to your emails.

Numbers three and four are the primary benefits: using your mailing list, you can sell enough books at full price to make a full-time living, even with a modest monthly advertising budget. And even the ability to get 5 reviews on launch day solves a myriad of problems, from providing social proof to qualifying for most promo sites.

In short: if you only have time for one marketing endeavor, make sure you’re building a list.

Which Email Service Should I Use?

There are dozens of email service providers. Comparing and contrasting them can be an exercise in extreme analysis paralysis. I’m here to cut through the noise: each one pretty much does the same basic thing (especially for our purposes as authors), but the interfaces, advanced features and pricing differ.

After testing a half dozen, here are my two recommendations:

  1. MailerLite. 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 super power users. Requires your own email (e.g. name@yourauthorname.com).
  2. ConvertKit. $29/mo for up to 1,000 subscribers. No free trial.
    • Pluses: solid & easy to use tagging features. Beautiful sign-up forms. Has advanced/premium features usually reserved for more expensive services (e.g. InfusionSoft). Great support that responds in hours. Excellent email deliverability. Continually improving, since they’re a relatively new company.
    • Minuses: very expensive. Need a separate account for each pen name (e.g. I have separate accounts for my fiction and non-fiction) because you can’t have separate lists on a single account – only tags/segments. WYSIWYG text formatting interface sucks, regularly glitching out and refusing to format correctly.

Mailchimp is also an option if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers (it’s free until then, although its free plan is very 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 recommend ConvertKit.

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.

Needless to say, there is no perfect email provider. Pick one and move on.

On a related note, I’d recommend getting your own email (name@yourauthorname.com) as soon as possible. It increases deliverability and helps build your brand recognition in someone’s inbox. They’re about $50/year from Google (gsuite.google.com).

How Many Subs Do I Need, Then?

This sounds like a reasonable question, but it’s the wrong one. Engagement (click and open rates, plus the number of sales your newsletter generates) is far more critical than the actual size of your subscriber base.

A list of 1,000 fans might sell 200 copies on launch day.

A list of 100,000 people from giveaways might sell 20.

Therefore, you don’t want low quality subscribers; you need each person to earn their place on the list, since you’re paying a monthly fee for their presence. Plenty of six-figure authors have lists totaling less than 1,000 – 2,000 subs; the key is that each of their subscribers is ultra-engaged, with 50 – 70% of the list purchasing a new book at release (often at full price).

Number of subscribers is largely a vanity metric. Don’t pay for big numbers; focus on open and click rates, and, most importantly, sales.

Much like generating traffic to our books is relatively easy once you understand how, the same is true about building your mailing list. The difficult part comes in converting those subscribers into sales. While you might have balked at the claim in the introduction – a thousand subs in a month? that’s so many! – it’s actually an achievable goal.

So let’s talk about all the ways you can build your list.

List Building: Organic v. Non-Organic

List building comes in two flavors: organic and non-organic. We’ll start with organic, which are primarily people who sign up via your front and back matter.

Strengths:

  • Much higher engagement than non-organic subscribers.
  • Requires less effort to convert subscribers into fans of your work, since these are “warm” leads, having already read and enjoyed one of your titles.
  • Almost entirely passive – takes ten minutes to set up forms and links, then no ongoing maintenance.

Weaknesses:

  • Far slower to accumulate than non-organic subscribers, even when you incentivize people to sign-up (e.g with a free novel or novella).
  • Can produce zero subscribers until you have a steady stream of people buying/downloading your books first.

Methods:

Place your newsletter sign up link in the following locations:

  1. Front matter (have it on its own separate page; having the link in the front matter can double organic subscribers)
  2. Back matter (have it on the same page as THE END; the only other CTA on that page should be a link to Book 2)
  3. Social media profiles: things like a pinned Tweet or button on your Facebook page. You can also ask your FB likes/Twitter followers to sign-up.

The first two are mandatory; the third is nice to include if you use social media quite a bit. The link simply goes to a page on your website with the sign-up form installed (a la dnerikson.com/bone). Make sure that the website itself is optimized for subscribers. Put a link to your subscribe page in the menu. And make the first thing on the home page a sign up form.

Organic list building occurs passively: once you put the link in your front/back matter and install the sign-up form on your website, you don’t have to do much. Fans trickle into your email list, you send them updates and news and other stuff about your books when you have it – and that’s about it.

You can, of course, set up an autoresponder to increase engagement and deliver free books, but this is optional.

Non-Organic/Active

The biggest advantage you have with these sources is volume. On average, overall engagement rates will be lower – but you can find plenty of superfans via these methods.

Strengths:

  • The biggest positive is simple: You can get thousands or tens of thousands of subscribers in the time it would take you to crack a hundred organic subscribers.

Weaknesses:

  • Easy to accumulate hordes of unengaged subscribers who have no interest in your work.
  • Requires more maintenance: autoresponders, reactivation campaigns, joining giveaways/swaps
  • The obvious downside is that all this requires the management of additional moving parts. Not only do you have to schedule outside promotion in the form of a giveaway, newsletter swap etc., but you’ll also need to write a solid email autoresponder sequence to weed out non-buyers and those who aren’t interested in becoming fans.

Methods:

  1. Story Origin, Prolific Works, and Book Funnel cross promotions: each site maintains a list of upcomign swaps that you can join. Promos can also be found on KBoards or on my list of promo sites; don’t sign-up for too many of these in a month or you’ll burn your list out.
  2. 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.
  3. Newsletter building services: you pay a service to run a giveaway and then sends the ensuing subscriber list to you.
  4. 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.
  5. Buying a list. Don’t do this under any circumstances, unless you want to get your email account suspended.

Non-organic sign-ups will be colder, since they usually won’t be familiar with your work. This relative coldness, however, is made up for in volume. Turning this raw volume into actual readers requires sending them through an onboarding sequence known as an autoresponder. To entice non-organic folks to subscribe, it’s mandatory to give something of value away, like a free novel or novella.

Remember, our primary objective is to maintain a responsive list of readers who buy, review and like our books. Finding those readers takes a little more effort when we’re using non-organic mailing list building methods.

The engagement of non-organic sign-ups is based on three factors:

  1. Their source (e.g. signups coming from giveaways offering a free Kindle or iPad tend to be freebie seekers, rather than actual buyers)
  2. The quality of your free magnet (so give away something good)
  3. The quality of your autoresponder welcome sequence.

Other:

These two don’t really fit into non-organic or organic, so I’ve placed them under their own heading. Generally, these two approaches are more applicable to non-fiction, where you can join a community or podcast related to your specific sub-niche and help solve people’s problems.

  1. Manual outreach: e.g. asking friends/family, going on forums/Reddit/FB groups etc., becoming a member of fan communities
  2. Guest posting, podcasts, and webinars (for non-fiction)

That about covers everything. Much like with promotions, you likely have a lot more ideas to play with than you first thought.

Okay, So Which Should I Choose?

Normally, I recommend narrowing your choices to avoid spreading your resources too thin. But since organic sign-ups are entirely passive – truly one of the only set and forget things in indie publishing – this means I recommend doing both (at first). You can reuse most of your work – e.g., if you write a good autoresponder for your organic peeps, then you can use that for the non-organic folks as well.

So if you’re coming at this fresh, here’s the approach I recommend:

  1. Set up the organic sign-ups. I show exactly how below; just copy what I did.
  2. Once the organic side is working fine and has been tested, join at least one cross promotion or giveaway per month until you hit 5,000 – 6,000 subscribers.

Why 5,000 to 6,000? Each cross promo site has a limited pool of readers. The same authors will join the same promotions month-after-month. When you first enter, say, a promo on Prolific Works, you’ll be reaching entirely new readers. However, over time, you’re going to find that you’re fishing in the same reader pond. Thus, you start hitting a point of diminishing returns to the point where you’ll eventually be losing more subscribers than you’re actually generating from the cross promotions.

When this happens, either switch to a different source (e.g. a different giveaway company or a different cross promo site) and continue on or wait 3 – 6 months. When you return, there will be new readers to reach.

One very important note: make sure your organic and non-organic lists are segmented. That way, you can target cross promos, giveaways, and similar offers exclusively to your non-organic lists. These will be people who are interested in this type of content. You don’t want to share your organic subscribers with 20+ other authors; and, perhaps more importantly, you don’t want to bombard them with offers they’re not interested in. These folks signed up to hear about you, not a hundred other books they can receive for free.

You will likely get to a point where you shift over to exclusively building your list via organic means. This is my current approach with my own pen names. However, it’s important to mention that I have 6,000+ subscribers at this point, and am not just starting out. I used quite a few cross promos and other methods to help build my list at the beginning.

If you’re strapped for time, just focus on organic subscribers. Setting this up is mandatory; the other stuff is optional.

The Basic Newsletter Funnel

Before we get into the mechanics of growing and using our list, we need to talk about the three basic building blocks that will turn casual readers/cold traffic into fans.

  1. The offer: what you’re giving the prospective subscriber in exchange for an email address. This is the most important piece of list building. Give away something of actual value: a professional-level novella or novel. You get reader eyeballs on your offer by using the organic/non-organic list-building methods already discussed.
  2. The landing page: the website page where you send the reader to actually collect their email address. Can be just a form, or a fancy, custom designed page. Just go with a form unless you’re trying to get subscribers via Facebook (not recommended). You don’t need a website; you can send readers directly, say, to a Mailchimp form. This is not recommended, since you’ll need to change every link in your books if you ever switch to a different service provider. Link to a page you own ensures future flexibility and control. Certain services like Prolific Works don’t require you to provide an external landing page; the site takes care of that for you.
  3. The autoresponder: this will automatically deliver their free book (if you give them one), as well as a series of emails introducing your work to new readers.

We could break this out into a million smaller parts, but you just need to focus on these three things.

Let’s start with organic list building, since this is mandatory for all authors.

The Six Step Organic List Building Process

You’ll want to set up your organic list first, since it runs passively in the background 24/7. These subscribers are also free (and they’ll usually be your best ones), so you want to make sure you start collecting them ASAP.

Step 1: Sign Up for Your Email Client

Use MailerLite or ConvertKit.

Step 2: Create a List for Your Fiction Readers

If you have multiple pen names, create a separate list for each name. Do not use double opt-in. 25 – 30% of your subscribers will never click the confirmation link. Yes, every email service on the planet recommends double opt-in, and regales you with (fictional) stories about how they increase engagement and decrease SPAM reports.

This is all bogus; confirmation emails often never arrive, and waiting for them is a miserable customer experience (I hate them with a vengeance as a subscriber). I’ve received SPAM complaints on the confirmation email (yes, for real). Unless you’re getting a proliferation of fake/bot-driven/spam sign-ups that you have to weed out, or double opt-in legally required in your jurisdiction, single opt-in is fine.

Step 3: Create a Form and Install It on Your Website

The page you install the form on is called a landing page. While you can create extremely complex landing pages, you don’t need to overthink this. Just send them to a page with your sign-up form, like so:

Basic breakdown:

  • Layout: Book cover is on the left, so the can see what they’re getting (people read from left to right). Form is on the right.
  • Headline: make this clear and obvious. Here, it’s Get Your Free Copy of Bone Realm.
  • Text: explain a little bit about the newsletter/book.
  • Instructions: give them clear instructions. This is vital. Here, it’s Enter your best email address below to instantly receive the exclusive Ruby Callaway prequel novella Bone Realm.
  • CTA: make sure the button contrasts with your site design. There is no one best color for this, and anyone claiming otherwise is full of it. Here, I’m using lime green because it stands out on the page. The CTA text reads Get My Book Now. Note that I’m framing the text from the reader’s point of view, which is why I use “my” instead of “your.” The first person tends to convert better.
  • Spam: tell them you won’t spam them and other details.

Depending on the laws and rules in your location, you may want to include other information. Most problems can be avoided, however, by using common sense (re: not being a spammy idiot).

Alternatively, for those who don’t have a website yet, here’s a nifty tip: take the URL that links to the form and put it into SmartURL (smarturl.it). Then use this SmartURL in your front/back matter.

That way, when you get your own website or if you ever switch to a different mail service, you don’t have to update the back/front matter in every book (a miserable experience if you have more than a few books). All you have to do is update the SmartURL with the new link and boom, you’re done in two minutes.

Step 3B: What About Pop-Ups and Other Stuff?

There’s no shortage of software, services and plugins you can use to build your list. Most of these are designed for bloggers/non-creative businesses.

Can you use them to build your fiction list?

Yes.

Should you?

Don’t bother. Most of the pop-ups, exit intent pop-ups, welcome mats/gates, content locking, and other stuff you encounter on the web are for capturing leads via content marketing (e.g. articles like the ones on my Nicholas Erik site). Collecting emails via these methods is highly dependent on website traffic. As authors, it’s unlikely we’ll get much more than a trickle of website traffic. The few people visiting our website will not arrive via SEO or Google, but instead because they came after reading our books.

Unless you have 5,000+ people coming to your author site on a monthly basis, I wouldn’t bother. If you’re a #1 NYT Bestseller or traditionally published author getting print press, then it’s possible – even likely – that people have heard your name through an outlet other than your book. Turning these “cold” leads into fans requires more aggressive marketing tactics.

But for indies? Not really necessary or beneficial. Save your time.

Step 4: Create a Compelling Offer

Since the offer is the most important part of this whole newsletter building enterprise, it pays to give it a little thought. The text (and image, if you have one) matters, but not nearly as much as the offer itself. If you’re having trouble building your list, this is where you should look first.

The offer is commonly called a “lead magnet,” “reader magnet,” “incentive” or “ethical bribe.” Basically, you give the reader something of value for free to compel them to sign up.

I’ve tested a number of different approaches. Here are seven basic offers:

  1. An exclusive novella: e.g. a prequel where you explore some aspect of your main character’s back story or unanswered, burning question from the series. An example can be found here (dnerikson.com/bone). You want this to be as good as any of your paid products – or better. Spend the extra money for a professional cover and proofreading. It’ll be worth it. Novellas that are in the same series as the book generate a far greater # of sign-ups than unrelated freebies. This also helps with engagement: readers who sign up for a prequel novella will be actual fans of the series and not freebie seekers. A novella also has tremendous utility when you expand your mailing list building efforts to non-organic sources (e.g. cross promotions).
  2. Epilogue: this is common in romance, where it revisits the characters after their HEA (happily ever after). These convert really well, from what I’ve heard, and they’re quick to write (a few thousand words at most). If you’re a romance author, definitely explore this option.
  3. Book 2: Get the next book in the series for free. In my experience, this converts the best, even better than an exclusive novella. However, you obviously give up sales on the next title, so it’s only valid for longer series, and you can’t use it if you’re enrolled in Kindle Unlimited because of the exclusivity agreement. As such, I wouldn’t recommend doing this.
  4. Starter library: giving away 2, 3 or 4 titles (or more, I guess, if you want). Generally consists of the lead-ins to your series (e.g. Book 1s), but can be standalone novels, novellas and so forth.
  5. Worldbuilding stuff: e.g. maps, dossiers, character backstories, concept art, and so forth. Only big fans of the book/series will sign up for this.
  6. Discounts: something like, “Newsletter subscribers get exclusive discounts on my newest novels during the first 24 hours of release—sign up here to join.” This is a discount offer, with scarcity—e.g., they’re likely to miss the deal if they don’t sign up, since they’re unlikely to see the book in its first 24 hours of release otherwise. If you have no story/novel etc. to give away, this can be effective. The downside is that you’re effectively locked into discounting for perpetuity.
  7. Get updates: while common, this is not a compelling offer. If you have nothing else, you can use it; just understand that unless you’re selling a decent number of books, the number of subscribers you get will be extraordinarily low. I’d use this instead of the discount one because I’d prefer not to lock myself into anything.

As an aside, if you’re a non-fiction author, you have much more leeway to come up with compelling offers: cheat sheets, checklists, guides like the one you’re reading, free videos…you’re basically only limited by your imagination.

Here’s some click rate data on the above offers that came from the front/back matter of one of my sci-fi adventure novels. The front matter sign-up produced 2 – 5x more clicks than the back matter.

While it should be noted that click rates aren’t conversion rates (e.g. the actual subscribers produced), these are still helpful for determining the relative appeal of each offer. Here, we can see that Book 2 is the most enticing (not surprising). Including Book 2 in a starter library with two additional books actually produced fewer clicks.

The novellas produced a lower click rate, even though they were all directly tied in with the book/series.

My recommendation is to offer either either an exclusive free novel or novella to maximize subscribers.  The full length novel will likely produce more sign-ups; however, you don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time creating a free book at the expense of your paid work. For most authors, a novella will be a nice compromise: you can write a 12,000 – 25,000 one in a month, adding a nice piece to your marketing toolkit without spending too much time. Avoid using short stories; these aren’t particularly exciting. A starter library is overwhelming, and seems to decrease the number of sign-ups; if you have multiple free books to give away, make sure you send them in separate autoresponder emails, rather than in one big block.

Finally, if you have nothing to offer, “get updates” is a viable fallback offer. It can be enhanced when you have another book coming out by using language like “Want to hear when [character] returns in [book]? Subscribe to my free author newsletter and be the first to hear when [book] comes out!”

Step 5: Put the Sign-Up Link in Your Book’s Front and Back Matter

It’s very important that you place the sign-up offer in the front matter, on a special page by itself before the book. The bulk of your sign-ups will actually come from the front, not the back. Including this link in the front can increase your subscribers 2x.​ There are three primary ways to present this:

Generally speaking, while you do want a professional cover for your lead magnet, you often want to go with the simple text offer illustrated on the right. Why? Because including images increases your delivery costs (Amazon subtracts these from your royalties). Thus, any image must dramatically increase the number of sign ups to be worthwhile, since it’s costing you a penny or two on each sale. This sounds insignificant, but can add up to actual money over a large backlist.

Thus, I’d go with the simple text version. In this instance, it’s laid out as such:

  1. HEADLINE: clearly states the offer (Get Storm Pale for Free)
  2. TEXT: tells them what they’ll get and ends with a CTA (To instantly receive the free novella Storm Pale, featuring Ruby Callaway’s ally, the immortal half-demon Kalos Aeon, sign up for D.N.’s free author newsletter at dnerikson.com/storm.)

Short, and right to the point.

The other benefit, as you might have surmised, is customization: I can easily tweak the text to the book/series at hand to make the offer more specific and thus, a little bit more enticing.

If you do decide to include the cover, you can simply insert it above the text. The argument for including an image is compelling: it stands out if you’ve got other front matter (copyright, table of contents, also by). For a reader skimming through, an attractive image will catch their eye.

I generally go with the text, however.

In the back matter, I’ll include a similarly worded offer on the same page as THE END.

Step 6: Deliver the Book

You deliver the book by setting up an automated welcome email. This can be just a single email, or a full-fledged autoresponder (which we’ll cover below).

Use BookFunnel to automagically get your free books on to any reader device. Otherwise you’re going to be fielding tons of support questions about not being able to read the books.

This is one of the best services I’ve ever used. Easily worth $50/year.

That’s it! You now have a system that will produce subscribers forever without any additional maintenance or input. But let’s break down some ways to troubleshoot things if you’re not getting many subscribers.

The Welcome Email

The welcome email is easy to overlook, but it’s important enough to warrant its own section. Its basic purpose is threefold:

  1. It delivers the free book. Fairly self-explanatory, but double-check the links to make sure they work.
  2. It asks the new subscriber to whitelist your emails. Do this with the following language: To ensure you get these emails, please add nick@nicholaserik.com to your address book. Or, if you’re a Gmail user with inbox tabs enabled, drag this email over to the Primary tab.
  3. It sets expectations in terms of email frequency, content, and tone. These topics will be covered in greater depth in Part 10, but basically your Welcome email is your first impression. Make sure it sets the table correctly for everything to come.

Troubleshooting

After implementing the steps above, you may find that you’re not getting many subscribers. The three most common problems are:

  1. Lack of traffic. If you’re not selling many books, you’re not going to generate many organic subscribers.
  2. Unappealing offer. If you only offer “updates,” then you’re not going to get many subscribers unless you’re selling a ton of books.
  3. Lack of clarity. When wording your offer, make it super clear. Include a direct link and the actual URL (e.g. I type out dnerikson.com/bone) in the front/back matter so people can enter the URL on another device easily. Make your landing page uncluttered, and make sure it’s extremely easy to find the subscribe form on your website. Have a clear subject line on the free book delivery/welcome email. Clarity always trumps cleverness.

Okay, So What About Non-Organic List Building

You know all that stuff you just did for the organic list building?

Good news. You have everything in place for building your list via giveaways, cross promos, and so forth.

You only need to do three more things:

  1. Set up a separate list or tag, so that anyone who comes into your list via non-organic means is tagged. You want to be able to send these subscribers different emails than your organic peeps.
  2. Enter a cross promotion (or two) on Prolific Works, Story Origin, or BookFunnel. Each maintains a list of upcoming promotions on their sites. If you want to enter giveaways, you can find a few services on my recommended promo site page.
  3. Have up a 5+ email autoresponder and delete anyone who doesn’t open any of the emails by the end.

That’s it. And about that autoresponder: let’s break down a basic one below.

Building a Basic Autoresponder

We’ve covered the first two aspects of the funnel in the offer and landing page, but we still have one piece left: the autoresponder.

Each email service provider has their own terminology for various features. ConvertKit calls autoresponders “sequences”; MailerLite calls them “workflows.” Whatever the term, autoresponders can be remarkably complex beasts when you get into tagging, segmentation, and other automated behaviors. We’re not going to do that; to be honest, while that stuff looks sophisticated on the outside, most of it is low leverage BS that falls outside the core 20% in the 80/20 rule. Ultra complex autoresponders or segmentation aren’t necessary.

Here’s the extent of what you need to do:

  1. If you have a large catalog, segment/tag based on series.
  2. If you write in multiple genres, segment/tag based on genre. You might go a step further and run separate lists, depending on how disparate the genres are. For example, I maintain completely separate lists for my non-fiction, urban fantasy, and sci-fi subscribers.
  3. If you have multiple pen names, use a separate list for each one. Don’t be lazy and dump everyone into the same one.

That’s all pretty much commonsense.

Next comes the autoresponder. If you’re organically building your list and just delivering a single book, or offering updates, all you need is a simple “Welcome” email. You don’t have to go beyond that.

Do include this welcome, though. If a subscriber joins your list and receives nothing, this is a confusing user experience. They’ll be unsure if their subscription was successful (especially if you’re using double opt-in).

An autoresponder becomes more important when you have more books to deliver or a bigger backlist to introduce. It’s also mandatory if you’re doing extensive non-organic list building. You’ll need it to weed out the unresponsive subscribers who aren’t interested in your books.

With that out of the way, here’s a basic five part autoresponder with template headlines. This doesn’t include the confirmation email for those who still insist on using double opt-in:

  1. Immediate (Day 1): Welcome – Here’s Your Free Book (e.g. what to expect, give them a link to the free book)
  2. Day 2: Did You Get [Book Title] Yesterday? (only to people who didn’t open first email)
  3. Day 4: Here’s Another Free [Genre] Book (if you have another – don’t send all your books in one email) or How Did You Like [Book Title]?
  4. Day 7: The Last Free [Genre] Book or What’s Your Favorite [Genre] Book or My #1 Favorite [Genre] Book Of All Time
  5. Day 14: Want to Join the Review Team? or Can You Do Me a Quick Favor? (and ask them to review the book)

None of these dates are set in stone; experiment. You can swap out elements at will; if you have more series, you can plug that in for Day 10’s email instead of a book recommendation.

We can extend this to introduce our series by sending out an email on a specific day each week, a la:

  1. Day 21 (Friday): Looking for your next weekend read? (Intro to Series #1)
  2. Day 28 (Friday): Intro to Series #2
  3. Day 35 (Friday): Intro to Series #3

And so forth, until you run out of series.

I call this the Netflix Strategy, since Netflix (and other streaming services) send you regular email reminders about content you might enjoy from their library. You can adapt this idea to any day of the week. The idea is to introduce the new subscriber to your backlist, and also teach them to expect regular emails from you.

What’s Next?

We’ll cover how to turn all those subscribers into readers and fans in the Ultimate Guide to Newsletter Engagement.

Key Takeaways

  • The mailing list is the most critical part of your marketing arsenal and can drive hundreds of sales.
  • Organic subscribers come mainly from your books and will be your most engaged subs.
  • Non-organic susbcribers come from sources like cross promos, giveaways, and paid ads. They are not familiar with your work, so they must be converted into readers via an autoresponder.
  • Organic list building is mandatory; non-organic list building is optional, but helpful for authors just starting out.
  • Once you hit 5,000 – 6,000 subscribers from cross promos/giveaways, you often hit a point of diminishing returns. Switch to a different cross promo service, or give it 3 – 6 months to recharge.
  • You can set up your organic list in six steps
    1. Get a mailing list provider. MailerLite is the best option for 95% of indie authors. If you’re looking for more features, use ConvertKit.
    2. Create a list for your fiction readers. If you write in multiple genres or have multiple pen names, create a separate list for each.
    3. Create a form and install it on your website. The form should be the only thing on that page.
    4. Create a compelling offer. I recommend an exclusive full-length novel or novella. The latter will be more realistic for most authors, time-wise, and is what I use. Make sure the book you’re offering is professionally formatted and proofread. An excellent cover is necessary to maximize its effectiveness.
    5. Put the link to your sign-up form in the front/back matter.
    6. Deliver the book via BookFunnel. You can use a single automated welcome email with the subject line “Here’s Your Free Book,” or a lengthier chain of emails known as an autoresponder.
  • Troubleshooting if you’re not getting many subscribers: no traffic (#1 problem), the offer is bad/unappealing (#2), lack of clarity (#3)
  • A simple five part autoresponder can be remarkably effective.
    • Immediate (Day 1): Welcome – Here’s Your Free Book (e.g. what to expect, give them a link to the free book)
    • Day 2: Did You Get [Book Title] Yesterday? (only to people who didn’t open first email)
    • Day 4: Here’s Another Free [Genre] Book (if you have another – don’t send all your books in one email) or How Did You Like [Book Title]?
    • Day 7: The Last Free [Genre] Book or What’s Your Favorite [Genre] Book or My #1 Favorite [Genre] Book Of All Time
    • Day 14: Want to Join the Review Team? or Can You Do Me a Quick Favor? (and ask them to review the book)

Action Exercises

To get your first 1,000 subscribers (or add 1,000 more), do the following:

  1. Set up your organic email list and put a link in the front/back matter of your books.
  2. Join two cross promotions in your sub-genre taking place in the next 30 days on Prolific Works, Story Origin, or BookFunnel. This will build your list to 1,000 subscribers (or close to it).
  3. Repeat #2 each month until you hit 5,000 – 6,000 subscribers or the point of diminishing returns (e.g. you’re losing more subscribers than you gain).