MAILING LISTS: Why Authors Need Them, How To Build One (It’s Pretty Simple!)

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Your humble host.

We all know there are dozens of things we’re supposed to be doing as authors in addition to writing. We talk about it here all the time.

One of the important items is building a mailing list. That way, YOU are the source for information on your books and not a website or online retailer or agent or anybody else. YOU let fans know when the next book is coming – or anything else you wanna share, and THEY become connected with you and your writing. That’s  a huge asset when it comes time to sell them another book.

Okay, that’s the why part. But how do you do it? And what do you mail to the subscribers?

Today, author and friend of the blog  Al Macy explains how he saw the light and what he did to gain a solid mailing list with an active readership – and shows how you can do it, too.

Here’s my chat with Al.

DAN: How did you come to conclude you needed a mailing list?

00 Al Macy 0 author pic
Author Al Macy

AL MACY: Many of the authors on the Kboards forum have stressed the importance of having a mailing list. I wasn’t completely convinced, but I was willing to give it a try.

Right. That’s what I saw. Lots of people say you need a mailing list but they don’t say why – or what you’re supposed to do once you start getting emails. That was me; I accumulated about 500 emails but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do except announce the next book when it was ready. But let’s start at the beginning. How did you get yours started?

I realized that it wasn’t enough just to have something at the end of my book saying “If you liked this book, please sign up for my mailing list.” That may have worked in the past, when lists like this were novel, but now, you have to give the readers more of an incentive to sign up. By giving you their email, they realize they may be opening up the floodgates of ads for marital aids, so you have to make it worth their while.

At that point I only had one fiction book out, Contact Us. I considered giving away a chance to win an Amazon gift certificate or a Kindle as an incentive, but was told that if I did that, subscribers would simple unsubscribe once the contest was over.

Nobody wants that. So what did you do?

I wanted to give away a free book, but since I didn’t have one of my own available, I gave away another author’s book.

Brilliant. Who’s book did you use?

Jay Falconer gave me permission to give away one of his books as an incentive.

Why him? Is his writing similar to yours?

On the Kboards forum, I’d heard that he was looking for other authors to cross promote with. The book of his I chose, Glassford Girl (which was not free at the time) was more paranormal than sci-fi, but I read it and enjoyed it.

Note that I was warned by one Kboarder that offering someone else’s book was a bad idea. The argument was that I the readers might enjoy this other author’s writing more than mine. I figured the advantages of gaining subscribers would outweigh that risk.

By the way, if anyone wants to offer The Antiterrorist to their readers, just let me know!

What kind of contest did you run and who did you run it through?

I just gave everyone who subscribed to my mailing list the link to the free book. This worked well, and I gained an average of one new subscriber per day. Now, remember that I did that as a stop-gap measure. I wanted to offer my own book as a giveaway, and I dropped everything to start work on my short book, The Antiterrorist. I wrote it in two months, which is fast for me. It was 15,000 words, and its sole purpose in life was to be an incentive for newsletters signups.

That’s really a whole second step to the mailing list. Now for The Antiterrorist, you had a cover made or did you make it yourself, or what?

I did it myself. I’m a do-it-yourselfer and I’m frugal. All of NASA’s photos are free (we paid for them, after all), so I downloaded some shots of the International Space Station, the stars, and the earth and put together a simple cover. You can see it here:

 

 00 Al Macy 1 AT

 

 

I’ve recently decided that covers are so important, I should have them designed by experts. I had my cover for Contact Us done by Damonza.com, (and I’ve since revised the cover for Antiterrorist to match that look).

 00 al macy contact us.jpg

 

I’ve found that I although I like (okay, love) the covers I come up with, I can’t really trust my judgment. But that’s a whole other subject.

I suffer from a similar affliction. If I like a cover, it’s a dud. I have to rely on my fans. They’re never wrong.

00 d r rBack to the marketing and free book ideas, note that I also made my non-fiction book, Drive, Ride, Repeat, a permafree book. Everyone who downloaded that book, got an offer to sign up for the mailing list and get a free Antiterrorist.

So, in summary, I got exposure through my permafree book, so many readers would see the mailing list free-book offer.

Any other ideas on how to get more people to see your offer?

Yes. One thing I do, is I have my offer page at the start of the book. That way, any one who uses Amazon’s Look Inside feature or downloads the sample will see my offer. Readers may think they are sneaky and clever to get the offer without buying anything, but that’s fine with me.

So now you have two incentives working for you.

Once The Antiterrorist was complete, I put it up for pre-order on Amazon, with a lead time of ninety days. That way, I could say to my potential subscribers, “This book is not available anywhere, but you can get it for free for signing up.” In other words, don’t think of it as just saving 99 cents, think of it as the only place in the universe that you can get this book.

I take it that was a PDF they would get?

No, I offer it as a mobi (Kindle) file. Once they sign up, the reader gets an email with a link to the mobi and instructions on how to get it to their reader. Sometimes people ask for a PDF or ePub file, and I email it to them.

This shows how my mailing list grew:

 

00 Al Macy mail list growth

Eight months to go to 500 – not bad! Plus, I see a big jump from October to November. What caused that?

I participated in a promotion at FreeKindleGiveaway.com. I paid them $20 to be a sponsor of one of their giveaways. In return, they had a link to my book, and site visitors could enter their contest by signing up for my mailing list. It was a little more complicated than that, but I got 180 new subscribers that way, and they didn’t simply unsubscribe once the contest was over.

That’s an awesome gain for twenty bucks.

By the way, I learned a lot about this newsletter strategy from a book called Reader Magnets.

Awesome. After I got a bunch of emails, I didn’t send them anything. Like, almost never. That’s backwards, right? How often do you send out newsletters?

When I started, I was thinking, “I don’t want to bother these people with a lot of newsletters. I’ll just save the email addresses, and send something out when I have a new book available.” But I learned that would have been a big mistake.

That was totally my mindset. Why is that a mistake?

00 Al Macy 0 author pic srWell, as someone explained to me, if you don’t send out regular emails, your subscribers will forget who you are. Then, when you do send out something, they’ll think, “Oh, there’s some spam!” Click, they’ll delete it. Or worse, they’ll unsubscribe.

I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what happened to me. (Dammit!) Lesson learned. But you found additional reasons to stay in contact and develop a relationship with your subscribers. Stuff that proved extremely useful.

I hadn’t appreciated my subscribers until I sent an email to them asking for ten beta readers for my newest book, Yesterday’s Thief. The response was overwhelming. Literally! I was overwhelmed, and had to sit down and have a drink. I got over fifty responses.

More than that, their responses showed me that these were people who really enjoyed my books and wanted to read more.

That’s HUGE. That’s exactly what you want as an author.

I got so many responses explaining why I should pick them as a beta reader, that I had to give in and choose twenty-one readers.

The first reader finished the book in only three hours. I wish I could read that fast. One reader read the whole book twice! They all had great ideas and caught some plot holes.

00 Al Macy 0 author pic csThat alone may have been worth the effort of gaining followers. In the past I’ve had beta readers who aren’t that motivated. They might take a month to read my book and have few comments.

With this revelation, I decided I should work harder to come up with fun newsletters.

So, you aren’t like I was, sitting in my house trying to send mass emails. Who do you use to manages that for your newsletter?

Mailchimp. (Apparently there are two main options: Mailchimp and Aweber. I know nothing about the latter, but am very happy with Mailchimp.) As long as you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers it’s free.

We all like free!

Unfortunately, there’s no tech support for a free account, and there’s no support forum that I’ve found.

But it doesn’t take too long to get used to Mailchimp’s interface, and it can be fun to design your newsletters and other emails. I’ve even used Mailchimp to manage my Christmas videos.

I saw those. I was impressed. Nice job.

How would you say a newsletter compares with a blog or Twitter postings?

I’d say they’re variations on a theme. They are all ways to connect with your readers. I found that with my bike trip and my piano sight-reading blogs, I got similar engagement with readers. I have 5,000 followers on Twitter, but I must be missing something because I get almost zero engagement there.

So as my readers venture forth to create their all-important mailing lists, where should they start?

First, one good idea is to sign up for a bunch of newsletters from other authors. That way, you can get some ideas of what people send out.

Second, I have a feeling that newsletters are becoming less effective now that so many people are doing them. It’s rare to go to an author’s web site without being asked to sign up. Many of those requests come in the form of annoying popup windows. People hate those. Don’t use them, please.

I was actually going to have a popup on my blog to ask for an email address. Now I know not to.

Are there downsides to doing a newsletter?

00 Al Macy 0 author pic bIn a way it’s like getting lots of new friends. It takes time to interact with them, and that means less time for writing and other activities.

That’s fun, but it can become time consuming, too, so as always: balance.

So, you like your newsletter subscribers. What’s the most interesting email you’ve received from any of  them.

No contest. When I first got the following email, I thought it was some kind of scam from a non-English speaker.  But it wasn’t, and now it’s my favorite email:

Greetings, Mr. Beach

We here on Bubble One enjoyed reading your Amazon Kindle, but didn’t encounter her in the story, though she would have fit right in, we believe. Please consider adding her in your up-and-comings because she could provide love-interest competition and enhanced flavourableness to reading experiences of beings such as we, who are ideal market force for increased production volume and enhanced status size for you.

We have sent a copy of your excellent otherwise literature to our space-rovering neighbors, who also are lacking in excitement possibilities. We hope you will not be displeased by this undertaking of ours and we will sent you a percentage of saleable recuperations. Please advise in what format you want these. We offer many potentials.

Yours, most sincere beings, also likeable,

Prothus IV, for itself and others on craft which themselves are not advanced totally in Englishableness

.

That’s freaking awesome. Al, I can’t thank you enough for walking us through a difficult topic and making it simple.

To sum up the incentive steps:

  • Al created a giveaway using another author’s book.
  • He made a book of his own, Drive, Ride, Repeat, permafree, and
  • Gave downloaders of Drive, Ride, Repeat an offer to sign up for the mailing list and get a free copy of The Antiterrorist.
  • Told new potential email subscribers they could get The Antiterrorist free for subscribing (it would not be available for 90 days)
  • Participated in a sponsorship/promotion

00 Al Macy 0 author pic yt 

I’ll be working on Al’s suggestions during my down time this holiday season, and so should you! Get creative, like Al did. Don’t have a book of your own to offer? Ask another author if you can use theirs!

Here are Al’s links, and be sure to preorder his latest book, Yesterday’s Thief on Amazon!

Contact Us: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00V73HKOI

The Antiterrorist: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00ZS51IJE

Yesterday’s Thief: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B018UOTOEA

Sign up for Al’s Newsletter  http://pages.suddenlink.net/almacystuff/signupantiterrorist.htm

Al’s Amazon Author page  http://www.amazon.com/Al-Macy/e/B00HS3BO2U

Al’s Facebook page Facebook.com/AlMacyAuthor

Al’s Twitter ID @AlMacyAuthor

Al’s author web site AlMacyAuthor.com

.

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.

33 thoughts on “MAILING LISTS: Why Authors Need Them, How To Build One (It’s Pretty Simple!)

  1. I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts on the importance of mailing lists, how to create them, and how to make them work for you. I even set up a Mail Chimp account a few months ago, but (as a new author) couldn’t figure out where to go from there.

    This is a great post, with some new ideas. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on The Beauty of Words and commented:
    Mailing lists. We all need them. What makes the difference between a struggling email list and a thriving one? I’m still wrestling with this question myself.

    Fear not. The amazing Dan Alatorre interviewed Al Macy on this topic and came up with some excellent strategies. Read on. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • This came out of a chat Al and I were having. and sometimes when the other person is VERY knowledgeable and you aren’t, the information just flows. Plus, Al had just recently done this and is getting ready to release a new book using it, so it was fresh in his mind as to how to do it and how to explain it quickly and easily. Which he did.

      Like

    • I kinda did, too, but Jason Mathews once noted that if you have a mailing list AND you regularly email the readers, you build a following loyal to you as opposed to the retailing outlet. When your next book comes out, they know you, they like you, they buy that book. Now, Ammy does a great job of marketing, but if they were ever to upset you, YOU have your readers email addresses and can send them to buy the book at your new home at CS or whatever. Also, Ammy is concerned about Ammy. You can foster your relationship through newsletters, send them short stories linked to your blog, cross market to friends, whatever – and Ammy isn’t calling the shots. They do their thing, you do yours, for potentially twice the benefit.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Well, gee, I was counting my mailing list as a blog. Maybe there are some people who prefer to interact via blog and others via email. I’ll bet one could set up a way to post the same content to both, simultaneously.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thinking out loud: Having a blog subscriber is a lot like having a newsletter subscriber. Every time you post something, he or she will get an email with an excerpt from that blog post and a link to it. The newsletter subscriber won’t have to click to see the whole thing, but that’s no big deal.

        You can probably post blog entries more often without users unsubscribing(?)

        I’m planning to have some drawings for prizes in an upcoming newsletter, and I’m not sure that would work as well on a blog.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Test it and see.

          Some people follow a blog as a subscriber by adding it to their reader, while others receive it as an email. I do both (or either) depending on the blog. Some, I wanna receive outside of my congested feed. But by having an actual email address, you have a lot more control. Yes you can send both the same thing, but the point would be to send different things so there’s value attached to whatever way they receive it.

          For example, my blog readers enjoy “how to write” content; my novel readers wouldn’t necessarily want to read that.

          Like

  3. What a great and timely post! These lists are a wonderful way to connect to future readers. Since I’m not yet published, I send my newest posts a few days early to my subscribers. I also find Twitter an incredible asset to driving traffic to my site. The key is hashtags. People follow them religiously. It cuts out the clutter and let’s them focus exclusively on what interests them. I use #amwriting #amediting and #MondayBlogs. WordPress is a great way to connect followers to your site, but you can’t use a free WordPress blog to grow a list. You need to be self hosted.) Using a list server like mailchimp or Aweber keeps management on the square. If I sign up to a list and see these are the managers I know my email is safe.
    Thanks again for all the great tips!
    Sue

    Liked by 2 people

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