Make a list, check it twice

Now you have an awesome website full of engaging content, and are active on social media with growing followings, and you’ve written (or are busily writing) an amazing book—how do you let everyone know about it? Well, duh, you say, that’s what social media is for. And you’re partly right. You can post on your social media about your upcoming release, and some of your followers are sure to see it. Some might even buy it, but how do you grab the attention of the most rabid of your fans, without making them scroll all the way through their feed to find your announcement?

You make a list. An email list, to be precise. But email is so last century, you say! Oh, no. Social media platforms come and go (remember MySpace?), but email is not going anywhere and still consistently outperforms social media for marketing. Email is personal, direct, and not at the mercy of algorithms, so it is far more likely to be read than one post among hundreds. Your best bet for marketing success is to focus on gathering your readers’ email addresses so you have a straight shot to their attention.

The easiest way to manage an email list is through an email marketing service like Mailerlite, Convert Kit, or MailChimp. These providers have an interface where you can create newsletters, welcome emails, and automations (series of emails that automatically go out based on subscriber actions—if they click on a button, send this email; if they don’t open the first email, send a second). Several offer sign-up forms that you can embed on your website or set as pop-ups when people are leaving the site. They also allow you to organize your list so you can send targeted emails to certain groups. Some providers offer insights to help you sort your list into groups, or cull out subscribers who never open your emails, so your list remains relevant and clean.

Most email marketing services offer a free version that can get you started with a small list, and include most of the automations and forms you will need. Their free versions vary pretty significantly, and you don’t want to completely revamp once you hit the limit and have to start paying, so do some research, check out what’s available, and choose the one that best fits your budget, needs, and personality. Then you’ll be ready to start collecting those email addresses.

Now, the one problem here is that people guard their email addresses like they guard their social security numbers. People don’t like to give out their email addresses because they don’t like to get spammed. So how do you get your readers to trust you with their precious contact info?

First, offer them something valuable. Come up with something that you think your readers will want badly enough that they will sign up for it. A newsletter with exclusive content is ok, but a free e-novella or e-book works better. People love free stuff! Some successful indie authors give the first book of a series away to everyone who signs up for their mailing list, because they know it will hook their readers and they will buy the rest of the series. Standalones or novellas that bridge the gap between books are great too, because you can make them exclusive to your email list, and everybody wants exclusive content (then, when you write another novella or standalone to replace it as your freebie, you can publish the first one—more sales).

Rafflecopter or StoryOrigin are good services to use to distribute your freebie, because they will do it automatically, they can deal with any issues that arise, and both have a free option.

Next, make sure they know they can trust you. A freebie is enticing, but if people aren’t sure what will happen when they divulge their precious email address to you, they might just pass. So let them know up front what you intend to do with that email address. Have a clear link to your privacy policy (which is required to be GDPR compliant). Tell them clearly and succinctly (and maybe with a little branded flair) that you will only use their email address to send them what they signed up for (newsletter, exclusive content, freebie). You can customize your forms to include a check box for them to opt in to more communications from you, or you can explain that you will be sending an occasional extra email along with the newsletter, but you should make sure they know you will never sell their information or spam them.

How to build your list

Even if you have everything in place for your amazing Author Platform, building a list can be slow going–at first. It takes time and exposure to make people aware of you and your writing, and when you’re just starting out, you don’t have much of either. You can just be patient and build your list organically–letting people discover you through word of mouth or by stumbling across your social media accounts or website, or you can put down some money and use list-building services to help you out.

A list-building service like Booksweeps or LitRing will run promotions featuring your book where people can enter to win a prize pack (usually a free copy of your book and others) by opting in to your email list. They have several genres to enter, and will also do BookBub or Amazon follower promos to build your presence on those platforms. The benefit of these is you have readers entering who choose to follow you or join your list, and who want to buy books, so they are very likely to stay with you and even become loyal fans.

Another way to get email addresses is through giveaways. This option isn’t as great, because you’ll get a lot of people signing up who don’t care about you or your writing, but just want the prize. Some of them may end up being your most loyal fans, though, so it’s worth it to get the emails, and then cull out the nonresponsive ones after a few months. You can also use giveaways to thank or connect with your readers, thus encouraging them to stay your readers.

Giveaway prizes can be a print book (yours or another author’s in your genre) or a swag pack (branded items like bookmarks or bookplates, mugs, totes), or a themed pack (Scottish treats for the Scottish romances you write), or they could be as fancy as a weekend for two at the cabin your last thriller was set in. You can use a service like Rafflecopter or run giveaways yourself—just make sure you specify the terms and conditions, and are set up to choose the winners fairly and get them their prizes in a timely manner.

Once you’ve got your email list set up and scheduled a promo or giveaway, put your sign-up forms front and center on your website, and advertise how to get your freebie or enter your giveaway on your social media channels. Make sure you are aware of the rules of the social media sites regarding giveaways (because there are rules and you don’t want to have your post banned). Then get ready to deliver when those email addresses start rolling in.