Email marketing for authors

Email marketing is sometimes considered the Holy Grail of online marketing—people actually giving you permission to market to them! It’s so coveted that sometimes the terms used to describe it are a little . . . aggressive (“Capture their addresses!” etc.).

But really, once someone gives you permission to contact them, they are that much closer to a real connection with you. Marketing isn’t just about shouting down from the rooftops. Unless it’s about building a connection, connecting with people who already like you, and helping new people to like you—all very personal, social things—your marketing will probably talk right over your subscribers’ heads.

And guess how long they’ll subscribe to that.

Today we’ll look at two sides of email marketing: how to get started and get email addresses, and then what to say in your emails!

Since we’re talking about email marketing, I’ll go ahead and tell you: I’m starting an email newsletter! You can sign up in my blog’s sidebar or on this form for free, exclusive updates and goodies—including a FREE plotting roadmap just for subscribing!

I know, I know, I said I was going to do offline marketing. And then I remembered two really important topics I haven’t covered for Internet marketing yet. So, soon.

Getting started with email marketing: set up

Let me put it bluntly: even if you’re a devout DIYer (which I am), you’ll want to use some sort of service to help you get email addresses, manage your list and create pretty emails (which I also am). Personally, I went with MailChimp—free for the first 2000 subscribers and/or 12,000 emails a month, with paid tiers. There are lots of other services out there. AWeber is another popular one. From what I hear, they are pretty much the best out there, but they’re also a paid service.

I’m not going to lie: this takes time. And even for someone who’s fairly computer savvy (i.e. me), it took several hours to really start to get the hang of MailChimp. Of course, some of that’s because I’m a devout DIYer and refused to watch the how-to-start videos. . . .

If you sign up with MailChimp, for example, you’ll want to create a list (where it will collect your email addresses—you can have more than one if you’d like), and probably customize your forms. You can do both of these from the Dashboard. I also spent some time creating the default template for my newsletters—and several hours creating the custom subscription form I’m using on my site.

Which leads us to . . .

Getting started with email marketing: finding subscribers

Your blog or website is probably going to be the main place you’ll find subscribers for your email list, so it’s important to have a subscription form somewhere. You might want to put it on a separate page, or prominently on the sidebar. It’s up to you—but if you want subscribers, make your sign up easy to see and find.

As I was thinking about how to implement my own subscription form, I instantly thought of one I’d just succumbed to. They offered a great incentive to subscribe: a freebie! When I went back to examine their signup form, as a marketer I definitely liked what I saw at

What does this title and copy say? Benefits, benefits, benefits. This box in the sidebar not only catches your eye, but it tells you why you want to sign up and how signing up will help you.

It’s very easy to sink into a marketing trap of only thinking about the features—what we want to put in there, what’s in it for us, why we’re doing it. But remember, people like your subscribers are thinking about what’s in it for them. Show them by focusing on benefits instead of features.

And, hey, if you’ve got a freebie—a first chapter, a short story, or an informational product—sitting around, you can use it to sweeten the deal.

I also think it’s a good idea to tell your subscribers how often and when to expect your emails. (Monthly, at the beginning of each month, etc.)

Now, what do I say to these people?

That’s the hard part, huh? I subscribe to several author newsletters largely to try to figure out what kind of content I want in mine!

Remember your subscribers are most likely readers (and possibly also writers), so try to think about what you’d like to see as a reader. Here are some things I’ve seen in my friends’ email newsletters which seem like good ideas. Several of these can also double as the thing to “sweeten the subscription.”

  • Book releases and reviews. Even just a list of what you’re reading or looking forward to can keep your subscribers interested.
  • Sales, coupons and specials. These can be especially fun or useful if you’re self-publishing and have more control over these things.
  • Giveaways. Who doesn’t like free books (your own or others’), or useful items that tie into your book (a scarf like one your character wears, for example)?
  • Highlight (but don’t repeat!) your blog content. Many of your newsletter subscribers already read your blog. You can highlight specific posts or the discussions in the comments, but don’t make your newsletter a cut-and-paste recap of your blog!
  • Upcoming events. Of course you’ll want to highlight upcoming signings, launches, parties and speaking events. You may not have these in every issue—or you might!
  • Progress on your latest novel. Many of your subscribers may also read your books, if they’re published. Personally, I enjoy hearing about how the process is going for an author’s next work. But I’m a writer, so YMMV.
  • Sneak previews. You might also use your mailing list for sneak previews of content coming up on your blog, your latest project, your next cover, etc.
  • Freebies! Remember who your audience is. Right now, my blog audience is mostly writers, but once I’m published, I anticipate more and more of my blog audience will become readers. Over time, I’ll probably adjust what freebie I offer to appeal to readers rather than other writers.
  • Deleted scenes. Again, this focuses on your readers. It’s like watching the bonus features on a new movie—fun!
  • Polls and questions. Your email subscribers are often your most dedicated fans. If you need input from someone who cares about your characters and your books, this is where you should turn. Generally, however, lengthier discussions are better on more social fora like your blog or Facebook page.

What do you think? How do you see authors using email marketing well? What do you like to see in an author newsletter? Have you started your mailing list (or signed up for mine yet?)? Come join the conversation!

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