But if you don’t maintain your own mailing list, you’re missing out on the best way to reach your community of friends and fans, grow your audience, and sell more books.
What Makes a Mailing List So Great?
Writers focus a lot of energy on social media. If that’s you, you might be proud of the hundreds or even thousands of followers you have on different platforms.
Unfortunately, outside of “Likes” and “Shares,” you have no way of knowing who actually reads your social media content. If they don’t bother “Liking,” readers remain anonymous and invisible.
Also, a “Like” is a one-click effort requiring little investment or commitment. You’ve probably noticed how easy it is to click “Like,” and then never give that content a second thought.
Your social media followers are mostly casual and, profile pictures aside, faceless.
A mailing list subscriber, on the other hand, is so committed to your work they’ve invited you into one of the last private spaces online: their personal in-box. They want to engage with you… and they are explicity asking you to engage with them.
And when you do? It’s far more intimate than a reply on a Facebook wall. Sure, the e-mail you send to your list goes out to your entire list, but everyone on your list can reply directly to you.
It’s a one-to-many communication with a built-in invitation to become a one-to-one relationship.
For a fan, that kind of personal access to an author they admire is very special indeed.
Because of their deliberate intention and the intimacy of their relationship with you, your mailing list community members are, on average, far more likely to buy your books when you ask them. They’re the crème of the crop.
Stuff You Can Do With A Mailing List (You Can’t Do With Social Media
If you’re willing to get your hands dirty (up to the elbows, in some cases), you can get a fair idea of how many of your Facebook fans read a post on your page. Because Facebook knows so much about everyone on their platform, you can get some nifty information like gender, location, age, and so on.
But you still don’t know exactly who – John or Mary or Sven or Helen – read that post. And just as importantly, you can’t know who didn’t read it.
You can do that with a mailing list.
You can tell who opened the email, and who clicked on links in the email. With both of my preferred mailing list service providers, MailChimp and ConvertKit, you can even figure out who went so far as to purchase a book on certain sales platforms… and who didn’t.
Wouldn’t it be great to know who clicked on a “buy me” link for your latest book… but didn’t actually buy the book? Wouldn’t it be great to send those people a follow-up email asking why they didn’t ultimately make the purchase?
You can do that.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to poll your subscribers and, based on their answers, segment them into interest groups so you know you’re sending them only the information they care about most?
You can do that.
Social media is great for being… social. That has its place, and is certainly valuable.
A mailing list takes the social aspect of your marketing (one-to-many / one-on-one interaction) and adds laser-like focus and highly granular analysis… all while still communicating in your voice and with your style to the people most committed to supporting your work.
How Do I Choose A Mailing List Service Provider?
There are a lot of companies providing mailing list services. You can even host and manage your own… but I wouldn’t recommend it. You have better things to do with your time (like write more books).
In my many years as a fiction and non-fiction author, magazine editor, serial fiction writer and “showrunner,” and author services provider, I’ve used both MailChimp and ConvertKit to reach out to my community of friends and fans.
Both are great choices for authors, and each has their pros and cons. Let’s go over some of them:
Both MailChimp and ConvertKit provide custom sign-up forms that can stand on their own or be integrated into a website, automation and “auto-responder” functions to send messages in a “time released” fashion, and both provide extensive statistics and analytics to help you get the most out of your subscribers’ behavior.
Both MailChimp and ConvertKit help you create beautiful e-mail message templates that look great on the desktop, tablet, or phone.
MailChimp lets you start for free and then pay as you go or pay as little as $10 / month for extra functionality, more message sends, and a larger subscriber base.
Mailchimp also allows you to create Facebook and Instagram ad campaigns that seamlessly integrate with your mailing list without ever leaving your Mailchimp account.
ConvertKit begins as low as $29 / month, with higher rates for larger subscriber counts.
ConvertKit has a more intuitive workflow and user interface, including a way to segment and group subscribers based on their activity, that’s more refined than MailChimp.
ConvertKit also integrates with third-party services and applications like shopping carts, lead generation and lead capture tools, and automations services like Zapier.
Whether you select MailChimp or choose ConvertKit, it’s important to note that with both services, your data is your own. You can export and save subscriber email addresses and other data any time you like. Try doing that with Facebook..!
So Which One Is Best?
Figuring out which service is best for you depends on your needs and, to a lesser degree, your budget. I will say this: assuming you consistently release books people can buy, your investment in a mailing list service will pay for itself and help you make more money in the long run.
Mailchimp is less expensive for smaller lists, but more expensive as your list grow.
ConvertKit requires an investment from the beginning, but offers more flexibility.
Mailchimp is probably better for simple lists with one product line or area of focus: “I just sell books.”
ConvertKit is probably better if you’re an author with more than one product line or area of focus. For example, perhaps you write both fiction and non-fiction, or also provide services like editing, proofreading, ghostwriting, or courses / coaching.
Now That You Have Your List…
Okay, let’s say you’ve decided on a mailing list service provider and now have a shiny new mailing list.
How do you get people to subscribe?
The best way (and this is the golden rule for everything you do with your list) is to provide something of value in return. When discussing attracting new subscribers, this thing of value is called a “lead magnet.”
The lead magnet should be something special that’s also exclusive: the only way to get it is to subscribe.
For fiction authors, a side story featuring a supporting character from one of your novels is a great choice… and a great way to introduce people to your work.
For non-fiction authors, it could be a checklist or a “cheat sheet” describing a process, or a compiled list of handy resources related to your subject matter.
Either way, it’s a digital product – an e-book, or a printable PDF file – that you can make once and distribute forever with no cost to you.
Both MailChimp and ConvertKit have easy methods to send the lead magnet once a new subscriber confirms their subscription.
You can promote the lead magnet to your social media followers, announce it on your website, and so on.
Once people are subscribed… what next?
I recommend setting up a sequence of email messages that automatically go to a new subscriber at regular intervals (say one message every day).
In this sequence, you can introduce yourself and your work, ask the subscriber to share their own interests and (this makes them feel rightfully important) how you can best provide value for them, and, when the sequence is over, finish by offering them a discount or early access to one of your books or other products.
During the sequence, let your new subscriber know how often they can expect to hear from you… and stick to that promise. Once the sequence is over, resist the urge to only write them when you have something to sell. Remember, provide value!
- …send “behind the scenes” glimpses of your work in progress
- …offer tips, resources, and best practices for your readers who like that sort of thing
- …give subscribers first looks at book cover designs, deleted scenes, and the like
- …run polls and contests
- …organize a “street team” of virtual promoters who get special perks in exchange for spreading the word about your next book or other product
- …turn the spotlight on subscribers themselves by highlighting one of them!