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?
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:
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).
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.
Back 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:
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?
Well, 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.
That 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?
In 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
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.