Start an Email List from Zero

It’s like magic! The joys of having an author email list and how to start from zero.

Reasons to Grow an Email List

  1. So many book! There are millions of books in the world, and yours is a drop of water in an ocean of choices. You need to collect the names of people who like your writing to help you launch your next book!
  2. An email list builds a direct bridge to your “village” for the purpose of building relationship. These people have indicated their interest in you. What’s more precious than that?
  3. You don’t own social media platforms; posting to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etcetera, is like building a house on rented land. At any moment, the rules can change, the owner can raise the rent, or the platform can go away. Remember Google+, Periscope, and MySpace?However, you OWN your email list, so if Facebook stops showing your posts to your target audience or starts charging you to get seen—Oh, wait, that already happened!—then you can still reach your subscribers.
  1. You will accumulate your one thousand true fans, a number that will help assure your future success. These are your supporters, your street team members, your beta readers, your reviewers, and the people who will buy your next book.

Your email list is pure gold; Facebook simply can’t compete. If you don’t have a list, you are always starting over at zero for each new book.

Those are some big reasons to get started, but how?

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    Common Mental Objections

    Common objections to starting an email list are:

    I don’t have a book yet.

    This is the hardest mental hurdle to overcome, but wouldn’t you prefer to launch your first book with the help of a few supporters who aren’t your blood relatives? More about how to start from zero below.

    I’m not making any money, so how can I pay for an email provider?

    ConvertKit is pricey, but it has a free version. I prefer MailerLite to Mailchimp and ConvertKit. I’ve used all three services, and I think Mailerlite is the best value and the easiest service to use.

    Use a reputable provider or you may wind up in “Gmail jail,” where your emails get diverted to the Spam folder. Don’t send mass emails from your Gmail account (or any other personal email account), or you can get your account shut down. Yikes.

    I don’t know what to say in my newsletter subscribers.

    If you have an email list, then you need to actually email people. See Newsletter Tips below.

    Newsletter Tips

    • Be real. People have a fake-o-meter, and they don’t appreciate anyone who makes like they are something they are not.
    • Be personable and likable without being fake. Your newsletter is not a good place to preach your political or religious beliefs unless you are writing a book about your political or religious beliefs. It’s possible to be authentic about your beliefs without putting readers off. Err on the side of caution and common sense.
    • Learn about your audience by asking questions, polling, playing games, and gently stalking your target audience—nervous laugh—to see where they hang out and what they enjoy.
    • Share samples of your writing. Unlike your blog which I mentioned at the beginning, people have subscribed to your newsletter to read your stuff. Send them sample chapters, short stories, and links to your Advance Reader Copies.
    • Recruit beta readers from your subscribers. On the second and subsequent books, you will know who actually delivered feedback and who just wanted to read for free.
    • Do giveaways.
      You: “But I don’t have a book!”
      Then give away someone else’s book.
    • Lastly, provide value. Always make it worthwhile to open your email, and make it about your readers, not yourself.

    To sum up, make your newsletters (and blog posts) entertaining, inspirational, and/or educational, and stay focused on the readers.

    Examples:

    If your readers love all things science fiction, then write about the world of science fiction: the latest awards, movies, shows, and books, the incredible experiments being done around the world, and the far-out theories of what could be next.

    If your readers love Regency, then wow, you’ve got a bunch of historical material to unpack. Share your research, amazing facts, short biographies of famous figures, recipes, diary entries, and customs.

    I hope the examples above prove helpful to you. If you really get stuck, search for “writing prompts” and use your responses in your newsletters. Sometimes, a conversation will develop.

    How to Start from Zero

    You don’t have a book finished, and you don’t have a website. Get started anyway by following these steps:

    1. Write a short story (fiction) or a long article (non-fiction) that goes with your brand and is related to the book you are writing.
    2. Edit your short story or article, and format it to a professional level. Pay someone to help you, if necessary.
    3. Put your story or article on Dropbox. Get a share link.
    4. Create a Mailerlite account (or the provider of your choice). You will need a physical address to comply with the law; I use a P.O. box.
    5. All of the major email list service providers let you create landing pages, so follow your provider’s directions and create one. The landing page will offer your short story or amazing article for free in exchange for an email address. (I like to get first and last names too.)
    6. On your landing page, make it clear that by signing up for the freebie, they will receive regular issues of your amazing newsletter full of fun giveaways, articles, and free stuff. Assure them it’s easy to unsubscribe at any time.
    7. Create an automation, a series of two or three emails your new reader will receive during the first week. #1 - Make sure they received their story or article (with the Dropbox link, just in case). #2 - Introduce yourself. #3 - Mention the status of your next book and offer them something else of value.
    8. Set up your landing page so the new reader can confirm their email and afterward, download the freebie using the Dropbox link from Step 3 above.
    9. Turn on the automation.
    10. Turn on the landing page.
    11. Start mentioning your free story on social media. Tweet about it. Post about it on Instagram. Tell your friends.
    12. If you have a budget, use Facebook ads to drive traffic to your landing page.
    13. Lucky 13! As soon as you have a subscriber, begin sending a newsletter on a weekly, semi-monthly, or monthly basis. Your first subscriber won’t know they are an audience of one unless you tell them.
    14. Finish your first book, or your next book, as soon as possible.
    15. One additional way to build a list is to do a giveaway of three-five books in the same genre as yours. Amazon permits you to buy Kindle books for other people. Be cautious about offering generic prizes; you don’t want to fill your list with people collecting gift cards rather than potential fans.
    16. Be okay with it when people unsubscribe. They weren’t going to be your fans anyway. You want a “warm” list, not a useless list of people who never open your emails.
    17. This is not a one-day effort. Find a way to promote your freebie every day.

    Best Practices

    Everyone begins at zero. Things may start out slowly, but this is a long game. Just be persistent.

    • Do not buy an email list.
    • Do not email people without their permission.
    • Do not share or sell your list.
    • Only send people what they signed up for; don’t suddenly send them emails for your sticker store on Etsy.
    • Adhere to anti-spam laws.
    • Send regular, scheduled “campaigns” (newsletters).
    • Create a publishing schedule by brainstorming as many topics as possible ahead of time.
    • Try to get at least one newsletter ahead, so you will be covered if events disrupt your life. (I’ve learned this through bitter experience.)

    Summary

    An email list belongs to you. It gives you a direct line to someone’s email inbox, a way to initiate a conversation, to renew the connection.

    The willingness to work hard to connect to readers is one of the key differences between an author struggling to pay the bills and a professional, financially-solvent author. These days, it’s essential for authors to master this side of their publishing journey. It’s business. It’s art. And it’s connection.