Let’s talk about mailing list offers. You know, the little extra free item you offer in exchange for somebody subscribing to your mailing list. I recommended that you set up an offer for your mailing list in an article about how you could grow your author platform, and many of you took that advice to heart and went for it.
Since then, though, many of you have written to me to say that the whole mailing list offer thing just isn’t working out. You have it all set up but you’re not seeing any change in your mailing list’s growth. What gives? Was my advice wrong?
Well, first of all, let me assure you that I stand behind my advice 100%. You most definitely should have a mailing list offer and I still say it’s one of the best ways to build an author mailing list. But there might be some things you need to fix before this strategy will really work for you. And that’s what we’re going to look at today with four reasons why your mailing list offer isn’t working.
Reason #0: You’re Not Offering Anything
Before we get to the reasons, let’s check one thing. Have you ever talked to customer support about a tech product, only to realize the problem was simply that the device wasn’t plugged in? It’s such a silly reason for the product to not work, but sometimes that’s the only issue.
So let’s apply that to your mailing list offer by first asking, “Are you offering anything?” Because you may not have set up your mailing list offer. Maybe you intended to but you haven’t yet. If that’s the case, problem solved! You just need come up with a good offer. I’d recommend you read my article detailing this strategy first, then come back here and check out the rest of the troubleshooting ideas so you can choose a good offer for your mailing list.
Reason #1: You’re Not Offering Enough
Now that we’ve made sure you have a mailing list offer in the first place, let’s stop and think about that offer for a minute. Take a good, hard look at it. Is it substantial enough to get someone to give you their e-mail address?
This is the part of creating a mailing list offer where many authors get stingy. They tell me they worked hard creating their books and they don’t want to just give one of those books away for free. So they settle for something less substantial.
Think about what happens when you go fishing without some good, tasty bait. You might sit around for hours, hoping a fish will be interested in the small bait you’ve got. But any smart fish is going to wait for something worth eating. It’s the same thing with your mailing list offer. If you aren’t offering something substantial, nobody’s going to bite.
Here are a few examples of offers I’ve seen that typically result in a “meh” response from potential subscribers, along with the reason why each doesn’t work:
- “Sign up for my mailing list and get a free sample of my book.” Your potential subscriber doesn’t want a free sample. They can get that on Amazon without giving up their e-mail address. Plus, this just sounds like you’ll pressure them to buy the book after they’ve read the sample.
- “Sign up for my mailing list and get the first chapter of my book for free.” This is somewhat better than calling the offer a free sample, but it still doesn’t work. Why would a reader give you their e-mail address for just the first chapter of a book? They’ll still have to buy the book to find out how the story ends.
- “Sign up for my mailing list and read the first half of my book for free.” This is stronger than the previous two examples, but it still doesn’t work. Your potential subscriber doesn’t want to give up their e-mail address for something that’s going to end in a sales pitch for the full book.
So, if offering a smaller chunk of your story doesn’t work, what else could you offer? This is, again, where many authors are still feeling stingy. Not wanting to give up a full book, they suggest things like these offers:
- “Sign up for my mailing list and get a free bonus chapter from my book.” We’ll get into more reasons why this doesn’t work well in the next section. For now, think about whether you would sign up to get a bonus chapter for a book that you probably haven’t even read yet.
- “Sign up for my mailing list and receive an exclusive short story set in the world of my book.” This offer is almost there. It’s fairly substantial and a free short story might just be enough to capture potential subscribers. But it’s still not quite as good as it could be. Your potential subscribers will be asking, “How long is this short story? Is it really worth trading my e-mail address for it?”
Okay, so what does work? The best mailing list offer you can make is a full book for free. Readers are always looking for more to read, so a potential subscriber will jump at the chance to get another book without paying. And lest you start feeling stingy again, remember that if you offer the first book in a series, you’re giving away something that will hopefully get you a fan who will want to read—and buy—more of your books.
Reason #2: Your Offer Isn’t Targeted
I mentioned earlier that there were other reasons why bonus chapters and short stories aren’t the best option for a mailing list offer. Let’s talk about those now, along some ways you could make those offers actually work.
Going back to our fishing metaphor, you might know that certain fish want to eat different baits. It’s similar with your mailing list. Depending on what kind of subscribers you’re setting out to catch, you’ll want to choose a different bait for your offer. This is called targeting your offer. Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Targeting to new readers
When you’re trying to get readers who are not yet your fans to sign up, you need to offer something big. Something that will grab their attention and make them sign up and take a chance on giving your books a try. As I said in the previous section, the best way to get them interested is to offer a full book for free. People who haven’t read any of your books don’t want a bonus chapter—they haven’t even read the book yet! But they would love a free book that lets them try you without risking their cash on something they don’t yet know they love.
Targeting to fans
If, on the other hand, you want to get your current fans to subscribe to your mailing list, you might have much better luck with offering a bonus chapter or short story. This is especially true if your fans have bought your offer book already and wouldn’t have any reason to subscribe and get it again for free. An exclusive short story they can’t buy on Amazon or get any other way is a tantalizing offer, though, and one that’s likely to convince these fans to subscribe.
Reason #3: Your Offer Isn’t Visible
We’ve made sure you’re actually offering something, made sure that offer is a good one, and made sure the offer appeals to the people you’re trying to get to sign up. The next step is to make sure your offer is actually visible to potential subscribers. Again, this can vary by what kind of subscriber you’re trying to catch, so let’s look at the two categories from the previous section once more.
Take a moment and think about how your new readers are going to find you. Here are a few of the ways they might hear about you and your books:
- Finding your website.
- Finding your book on Amazon.
- Seeing a Facebook ad for your book.
Your goal should be to have a strategy for capturing these potential subscribers in each possible way they might hear about you. On your website, you want to make sure your offer is clearly visible on the front page. On Amazon, you may want to have a free book with an offer inside to get a second free book for subscribing. And in a Facebook ad, you want to clearly offer a free book in exchange for signing up.
Again, think about where your current fans will see your offer. While current fans might see the offer on your website, they are much more likely to discover that you have a mailing list by reading about it in the front or back of one of your books.
How can you take advantage of that? What about putting an offer for an exclusive short story in the back of each of your books? Even better and even more targeted would be if you had a different offer for each series. After all, you don’t want to offer fans of your fantasy series an unrelated romance short story!
Reason #4: They Think You’ll Only Send Ads
Nobody likes spam. And so, even if your mailing list offer is the greatest thing in the world, you still won’t get many subscribers if you can’t convince them that you’re not going to fill their inbox with constant advertisements. Or you might get a bunch of subscribers who sign up for the free book, but then almost immediately unsubscribe. Neither situation is all that cool.
That’s why you need to make sure you are clear about what you’ll be sending. If you’re sending a monthly newsletter, explain that it’s not just a monthly plug for one of your books. Use positive language telling about the author updates and fun stuff you’ll be sharing.
On the other hand, if all you plan to send are new release announcements, let your potential subscribers know that you only send those out when there’s a new book. Knowing what to expect will help them feel comfortable exchanging their e-mail address for that great offer you’ve got.
If you take a good, serious look at your under-performing mailing list offer with these four areas in mind, you should be able to come up with a clear solution that will get you on track for a much better rate of sign-ups. Set aside some time to work on troubleshooting your offer and making it more compelling to the people you want to subscribe.