Building your author e-mail list

I feel sorry for the author who commented on a blog post here not too long ago that e-mail marketing was dead now that authors could promote their books with social media.

She couldn’t be more wrong. An author e-mail list is essential.

Smart authors are relying less and less on social media and more on building and using e-mail lists to reach the people most interested in what they write. They have realized that we can’t possibly see and read all of the tweets and status updates in our networks, but we see what comes into our inboxes.

And that’s why you need to build an e-mail list. It’s one of the best ways to communicate on an ongoing basis with people you wrote your book for, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. Here’s why:

  1. When readers sign up for your e-mail list, they’re giving you permission to send them information. They’re saying, “I’m interested in what you’re sharing.” Those are the people you want to stay in touch with.
  2. People on your e-mail list are far more likely to notice and read interesting information from you in their e-mail inbox than they are in their social media feeds. 

List-building mechanics

Use your website to acquire e-mail addresses by adding a form connected to an e-mail marketing service such as iContact, Constant Contact, AWeber, or MailChimp. (Don’t be intimidated by the technology – most of them will walk you through the process. And a couple of those are affiliate links.)

You can also collect addresses by gathering business cards when you speak or by using a sign-up sheet at events, or by hosting a social media contest. In all cases, you have to let people know that you’re adding them to your list.

When you’re acquiring addresses from your website, you need to offer readers an incentive to add themselves to your list – call it an “ethical bribe.” What can you offer them to give up their addresses? Maybe it’s the first chapter of your book, a short story, a how-to report, an audio file, or a discount on a future purchase.

Think about what you’ll send to your list on an ongoing basis, too. Whether you send a newsletter or an occasional update about your progress, any ongoing messages have to be useful, helpful, or informative. If they aren’t, people will unsubscribe quickly.

Learn the rules

I’m disappointed when an author who subscribes to my newsletter adds me to her own newsletter mailing list automatically. It’s a solid indication that she didn’t learn what she needed to know about e-mail marketing before starting to build that important list. If she did, she’d know that adding anyone to your list without their permission is counter to federal guidelines. 

When you add people to your list — rather than letting them add themselves — those people might report your email as spam.

If you get labeled as a spammer by doing that sort of thing, you’ll be shut down.

Here are a few tips to avoid becoming that e-mailer that nobody likes:

  • The e-mail messages you send to your list have to include instructions on how to unsubscribe. The services listed above add this for you automatically .
  • It’s called “permission-based marketing” because you must ask for permission. People must consciously choose to receive your messages. They must “opt in.”
  • Make sure your message content focuses on the recipient, not on you. Don’t send repeated “buy my book” messages. Send useful information that will benefit the subscriber. 

Building an e-mail list takes time, so start the process as soon as you can. Send regular messages to the people who have “opted in” to receive your information, and you’ll be rewarded when your book hits the market.

What’s keeping you from collecting names and e-mail addresses and creating a list?

Subscribe to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter and get the free special report, “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources,” immediately!

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  1. Sandy…great post! I hang my head in shame…I am one of the ones who has NOT put together an email list…but it is one of my top priorities for 2014. I guess I was hesitant because I didn’t know ‘how’…I will follow the links to those email companies you list and check them out tonight.: I promise.:)

    1. I’m so glad it’s a priority for you, Vivian! Yay! Each of those companies offers a lot of helpful info, so try to spend some time on their sites learning more.


      1. Thanks, Sandy! I just checked all of them out…Mail Chimp seems perfect for me…free for under 2000 subscribers and you can send up to 12,000 emails a month…sounds too good to be true.:)

  2. What is much better is to have an email list (of sorts) so your subscribers can talk to each other. I have been using yahoogroups since 1996 and now have 20,000 people who have joined my listserv to talk about the problems faced with those who love someone with a personality disorder.

    Actually, I have 15 lists divided by the type of relationship, eg a list for siblings, parents, partners, and parents. The partners list is subdivided by people who want to stay in the relationship, those who are deciding, and those in the middle of a divorce.

    I built this list before I actually wrote the books. I carefully noted all the problems they brought up and researched how to solve these problems. For example, communication was a major concern. So I did research on validation and other issues.

    Because I had so thoroughly created the book based on my listservs it was a breakthrough book that sold more than half a million copies in 14 languages. Between the royalties for that (only half because I had a coauthor), my two followup books, and my online bookstore selling CDs and booklets of things too specialized for the books, I have made enough in royalties to hire someone for $500 dollars a month to manage the groups for me.

    In addition, my list members do all my selling for me by word of mouth. Noting is more powerful than a number of people hear “buy this book” from their peers. Because of this, I do not have to do much publicity at all. The books literally sell themselves. I have ecommerce on my site and a fulfillment house to sell my books, which I negotiated either for free or at a discount from the publishers. As a result, I don’t have to do much to sell the books at all. I’m not busy enough!

    Also, because of my knowledge I became an expert in the field and have been invited to TV shows, radio shows, and asked to do presentation here and in Japan.

    I really wish other authors would use this model. I was able to use it because I had a 15 year background in marketing.

    In addition to all this, I also have an opt-in mail list called Border-Lines. I get subscribers by putting the sign up on my home page at BPDCentral.com.

    I have written a few articles for ASJA and want to do more. I fear that other people will become jealous when all I want to do is spread the love. When I see people not doing the research they need to do to make their books indispensable simply by asking the readers what they need, it frustrates me. If they did the right research up front, they wouldn’t need to spend years doing frustrating publicity that may or may not be targeted to actual readers.

    1. Thanks, Randi. There’s community engagement, which is your Yahoo list, and there’s an e-mail list — they’re different vehicles with different purposes.

      I LOVE how your community members sell for you! I’ve seen that in action on other Yahoo listservs, too.

      Congratulations on your success and for your willingness to share what you’ve learned.


  3. Right now my email list is a fraction of my followers on social media. But your point about it being far better is sure true. I’m lucky to get half the views of my list on anything I put up on the networks. Then the stats tell me only a handful of those bother to click on and read whatever I write. It’s harder to know how many open their emails, but it can’t be worse than that.

    One of the things I’m trying right now is different wording on my email button. The only kind I’d ever seen was your basic “click to follow this blog” and “Sign up to get your freebie”. Putting things in words I the visitor would think of is supposed to be much more powerful. We’ll see!

    1. Cheri, far less than half of your social networks ever see what you post — it’s a small percentage at best, unfortunately. Social media’s value is in its ability to let you connect with influential people you might not be able to otherwise reach, more than in helping you promote a book, your business, or anything else. Sure, it helps with promotion, but you want be using it for other reasons, too, if you want it to be worth your time.

      You might also do some research on the color of your “call to action” button, too. It makes a difference, apparently!


      1. Is there any particular reason why only a fraction of your posts goes to your followers on Facebook, or do they just acknowledge they want you to pay money to get to the people who signed up for your service?

        Also, when people talk about the importance of social media, why do you think they overlook listservs and message boards, which have been so fruitful for me?

        1. Randi, posts from your personal page show up in the feeds of all of your Facebook friends, but if they’re not looking at their feeds when you post, they’ll miss it unless they have fewer than, say, 100 friends (and most of them aren’t real active). It works the same way with Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. In order for people to see what you’re sharing, they almost have to be on the site when you are, or they have to look you up there to see what you’re talking about.

          When it comes to Facebook fan pages, what you post there only shows up in a percentage of the feeds of people who “like” your page. That’s Facebook’s way of getting you to pay to promote your posts so more people see them.

          Listservs aren’t social media — a listserv is software that lets large groups communicate by e-mail. When people talk about social media, they’re talking about online applications, not e-mail communication. While both listservs and message boards are excellent vehicles for communicating, as you obviously know, they aren’t really “social.” Also, they both pre-date social media, which suggests that the users skew older. If your audience is younger, you’re less likely to find them on listservs and message boards.


  4. Good information. I’m heartened by Randi’s success story….almost make me want to sit down to write a non-fiction book. I’m twisting my brain around trying to see if his suggestions can work for a writer of mysery/adventure fiction. It’s difficult to get people to give me their e-mail addresses. I have an embarrassingly low number.

    1. Jeanne, Randi’s comments are about a listserv, which isn’t the same thing as an e-mail list that you build by collecting names and addresses from an opt-in form on your website.

      It can — and does — work for fiction. Are you currently gathering addresses on your site? If you are, are you offering them a useful incentive — an “ethical bribe” — to sign up for your list? And…one more question…what do you send to your list on a regular basis?


  5. These comments by you and Randi sound so intriguing, Sandy. I want to build a listserv. How do you do that? And, how do you create a website? I have only a Windows 2003 computer. Is it possible to do these things on this old computer?

    1. Jan, you can probably find lots of information online about starting a listserv, which is essentially an e-mail group of people interested in the same topic. When one person replies, everyone gets an e-mail with the message. Yahoo might be the best place to start. I think you can create a website from any computer with Internet access, but I’m no expert, believe me!


    2. There are two easy ways to create a community. If you go to yahoogroups (and I think google plus too though I have never used it) and you create a group, it can be seen in a directory for everyone to notice. Then you can promote it on your own. Essentially, it is group email with everyone being able to subscribe and unsubscribe using certain commands like sending an email to unsubscribe-welcome to oz. It’s a community of people who want to talk to each other about certain topics.

      BPDFamily.com offers another kind of community, a message board model. You can go take a look. Technically this is harder. But they both involve oversight. You want to find a few volunteers to help you out.

      1. The type of computer you have doesn’t make any difference for either of these. If you want help setting up a message board or listsev let me know. You can go through yahoogroups and join several and see how they work. Some groups keep archives of old messages. If you go to my Welcome to Oz, I have kept archives for a dozen years.

  6. I am a subscriber to your buzz email, and have enjoyed reading a lot of good information which you have provided. I am with a traditional publisher, so some of it I cannot do, but I am very much interested in the email list, and have tried it on my website. I also am interested in checking out what Randi said about yahoogroups. Does the lists you mentioned earlier work with any websites? And do they put the information on my website for others to sign up?

    1. Sara, I believe the e-mail list management services work with just about any type of website infrastructure. The companies don’t put the address collection form on your site — you do. They provide everything you need to do that, including instructions. To make sure this was done the right way on my site, I outsourced it to my web person. You might want to do that, too.


    1. I’m so glad it helped you, Mili. That’s great! Your blog post is wonderful — I’m sure that it, in turn, will help others.



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