Last time, we looked at the “holy grail” of author marketing: the mailing list. This incredible tool gives you the potential to reach lots of people in one fell swoop every time you launch a new book. It’s like having a built-in line of folks waiting to come purchase the new books you’ve released.
Sounds really great, but you might be wondering exactly how you’re supposed to build up your author mailing list. After all, if you just started one since reading my post a couple weeks ago, you’re probably looking at the number of subscribers and thinking, “Big line of people? This list is so small it’s not worth sending anything to!” And as you start out, that’s how it feels. So today, let’s look at some ways you can build that list into something you feel accomplished about every time to send out an e-mail.
Let me start by saying that this post is very much a list of things that have worked for me and my small mailing list. It’s far from the definitive guide to growing a massive mailing list in just a couple of weeks, and that’s okay. (You know, whenever I see one of those courses claiming it will show me how to gain thousands of new subscribers in the next 30 days, I cringe. While I would love to have a huge mailing list of thousands of addresses, most of these courses are being sold in such a spammy manner that I don’t trust them to be accurate.) So I just want to remind you that it’s okay to gain traction gradually and grow in your skills as an author with the size your mailing list. Take your time!
With that out of the way, let’s jump into it.
The Two Things You Must Do
There are two key things you must do to increase the size of your mailing list. Let’s look at each in turn.
First, you need to make an obvious way for people to sign up for your mailing list. Actually, you would do even better to have multiple ways for somebody to get on the list. For example, you could have a page on your website called “Sign Up for Updates.” You could also include a link in the back of each of your books for readers to use to sign up to receive your e-mails. Think through where people might become interested in your updates if you gave them a chance to sign up, then try to make sure an opportunity is available.
Second, be consistent. Don’t get discouraged with small numbers of subscribers when you’re starting out. Keep sending mailings to your list, no matter how small it is. Especially with a list where you’re sending out a regular blog post, this important. By staying consistent, you are doing two things. First, you’re increasing the amount of material on your site that can attract new subscribers. Second, you’re forming a habit of sending out regular e-mails, which will be handy when it matters more with a sizable list. (He who is faithful in a little and all that, y’know.)
How I’ve Built My Mailing List
So those are the two keys to building up a mailing list. Now I want to tell you about some of the things I’ve done to build mine.
Note in the back of my book: I’ve included a short note at the end of my book Finding the Core of Your Story to let people know that I have a mailing list where they can sign up to find out when I post new articles and release more books. You could do the same thing in the back of your books to reel in readers who are eager to get their hands on the next thing you write.
Give incentives to subscribers: You’ve probably noticed that some of the posts here at Fix My Story include bonus content for subscribers. What I do is simply host a password-protected page where I put any bonus content I’ve created to go with my articles, then include a note at the bottom of posts with bonus content explaining what the bonus is and how the reader can access it simply by signing up. I’ve set up a welcome e-mail for my mailing list that gives new subscribers the password for the special page, and I also include the password in mailings for posts that contain a bonus. You might try using this technique with bonus chapters or behind-the-scenes content for you novel.
NoiseTrade giveaway: This is probably the thing that gained me the most subscribers all at once, though I’m not sure how long those new sign-ups stuck around. If you’re not familiar with the website, NoiseTrade is a place where authors can post their books for free. Readers can download books in exchange for providing their e-mail addresses for the author to add to his mailing list. Now in my case, I purchased a slot in NoiseTrade’s weekly newsletter of featured books, which helped immensely, but even without paying to be featured this could help you expand your audience to new people—and add them to your mailing list while you’re at it!
Submit to a blog carnival to drive traffic my way: I participate regularly in the Carnival of the Indies, a monthly roundup of blog posts geared toward self-publishers. Since my articles are about helping authors sell more books, it’s a great fit. Every month when the roundup post goes live, I get a nice traffic boost and I typically see an upswing in new subscribers to my mailing list. While blog carnivals seem to be going out of fashion in the world of the web, this particular one is still going strong. If you have any posts sharing your author experience or ways for indie authors to succeed, it might be worth submitting.
SumoMe popup: For several months now, I’ve been using the free SumoMe plugin on my blog to offer readers the opportunity to sign up for my mailing list. Since I installed the plugin and took the time to create a compelling message asking people to subscribe, I’ve seen my weekly sign-ups increase. In honest, small-mailing-list numbers, it looks like this: Before I installed the plugin I was lucky to get a couple sign-ups every month. Now I’m having a bad week if I can’t get at least two new sign-ups. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but at that rate, I can gain over 100 new subscribers in a year—not too shabby for a slow, steady climb. I’m not getting paid by SumoMe to mention them, and I don’t even use their paid features. I have just found the plugin to be extremely effective and highly recommend it.
How to Avoid Annoying People
Now, let’s just take a moment to think about two best practices in building a mailing list, or what I prefer to think of as how to make sure you’re not annoying folks. Annoyed people don’t stay on—or even subscribe to—your mailing list. So, y’know, try not to annoy people. Here are two things that you can do to help make people want to stay.
Don’t ask people to subscribe until they know they want to. That is, don’t pop up a banner over the top of your article before the user even has a chance to read it. Have you ever been to one of those websites that immediately asks you to subscribe before you read the article to find out if you like the site? I’ll bet you were majorly annoyed and either gave up on the site and went back to Facebook (be honest; you were on Facebook) or closed the window and muttered something about annoying pop-ups.
Learn from that experience: The best call-to-action (the banner asking people to subscribe) comes when the reader wants to sign up. Wait for them to read the article, then tell them how they can make sure they don’t miss out on your great content.
Send a welcome message. With subscribers who didn’t sign up on your website, it’s a great idea to send out a welcome message reminding them how they got on your list. For NoiseTrade, this is a great strategy because many people don’t realize that NoiseTrade will share their e-mail address with the author. Start the relationship with these new subscribers by sending an e-mail welcoming them to the list. I like to include a picture of the book they downloaded if they came from NoiseTrade, a summary of what kinds of things I typically send to my mailing list, and then I give an opportunity for the reader to get off the mailing list right now if they really don’t want to be there. By introducing yourself, so to speak, you are cementing the relationship with the reader so they will start to look forward to your e-mails instead of searching for the unsubscribe button.
One More Thing
It’s very rare that I read a book or article with author marketing ideas that I can really endorse. That’s one of the reasons I started Fix My Story: I couldn’t find any articles about marketing for authors that actually made sense—everything was either too spammy or too you-can-do-this without any real substance. So when I find something worthwhile, I want to make sure I share it.
Well, the day I was about to publish this post, I happened to read a free e-book called Reader Magnets by Nick Stephenson. It just so happens to be a book about a way you can build your e-mail list, and it outlines a pretty brilliant strategy! The book only takes about half an hour to read and it’s very worth your time. I highly recommend you take the time to read it.
I hope this post helps you get off to a great start with your own mailing list. Just remember to be consistent and don’t annoy people, and you will be on your way to collecting a line-up of folks who are eager to hear about your new books and whatever news you have to share.