Your author newsletter is one of the most powerful–and often overlooked–tools in your author marketing arsenal. There are many schools of thought around how to best use an author newsletter, and many tools (both free and paid) at your disposal. As with most of what we talk about here on the blog, start with the basics, and add on as it fits your business needs.
Why an Author Newsletter?
Believe it or not, email remains one of the better ways to turn casual readers into customers. In one study, 60% of internet marketers said that email marketing outperforms social media. And when you think about it, it does make sense.
Email, unlike social media, isn’t a constant stream of updates. When you get an email, you pause on that item and then delete it (or–gasp–leave it in your inbox). Twitter, Facebook, Instagram all have a feed of content constantly drawing your attention away. When you put together a monthly newsletter, you’ve got a chance to re-hash your big moves from the previous month or announce something new, and you’ve got your audience’s full attention.
Newsletter Service Providers
While you can absolutely manage your own newsletter sign ups with a spreadsheet and your email, who has time for that nonsense? A ton of email marketing companies have sprung up over the years to help small businesses reach and retain their customers. But just like KDP, these service providers are simply a service. You’ll have to build your lists on your own.
For our money (which is none), we like Mailchimp. It’s one of the most commonly used out there, with a lot of bells and whistles. Most of what we’ll talk about in this blog relates to Mailchimp’s service offering, so adjust accordingly.
Some other options include Constant Contact, ConvertKit, GetResponse, and more. Here’s a handy list of services and what you get with each.
Being former project managers, we thrive on strategy. Your newsletter should fit right in with your larger marketing plans (need one? Hire us!). How do you plan on growing your newsletter lists? How often will you send them out? What kind of content will you share? Keep in mind that strategies are fluid, and if you’re an all-in-one shop, be careful not to load too much onto your plate.
Our author alter-ego S. Usher Evans shoots out a newsletter about once a month. At first, when there wasn’t much news to share, the newsletter would go out at the beginning of the month. Now, she’s coincides the newsletter release when she’s running her monthly eBook ad sales.
In these newsletter, the main goal comprises the top third (or what you see before you scroll). Since she’s driving sales, the book of the month gets top billing. The rest of the newsletter contains updates such as appearances, recent blog posts she wants to highlight, a writing update, and a small review of a book she’s read recently.
All About You
As part of any marketing strategy, you also need to understand your audience. While having a long newsletter doesn’t necessarily work for someone marketing to teenagers, who prefer images to text, you still need to make sure it’s not impersonal. Use your newsletter to talk about your ups and downs, any personal anecdotes (as you feel comfortable sharing), and, of course, any big writing events that have happened. You should be the same person in your newsletter as you are on social media as you are at your author events. As we’ve noted before, it’s all about the soft sell.
Building Your Newsletter Lists
Your newsletter list should be an extension of your author platform, and one that you should be building months ahead of publication. But how do you get folks to hand over their email addresses?
Bears saying: Never, ever sign anyone up for any newsletter without their express permission. In the first place, it’s illegal. In the second, it’s just a bad marketing move.
We’ve found the best way to grow newsletter lists are threefold. The first is kind of obvious: give them something in return. S. Usher Evans gives away eBook copies of her standalone fantasy Empath through her website. We’ve also found great success with Instafreebie, which connects to your Mailchimp account if you pay $20 a month.
The second way occurs if you’re a convention-vendor like we are. We slap our iPad and keyboard on the table, connect with Mailchimp’s iOS app, and offer eBook lovers a second option other than taking our card.
Finally, a new idea is taking hold in author communities. Groups of authors banding together to do massive giveaways. Some authors report getting 1,000 subscribers in a single go, and those subscribers read and buy more books. We’re testing this theory currently with Ryan Zee, so we’ll let you know how it goes in a future post.
There’s a couple of schools of thought about how frequently you should be bothering your email subscribers. Some authors prefer a set schedule: at 10 days, they get an email about X topic, at 40 days, an email about Y topic, at 70 days, an email about Z topic, and so on and so forth. This is what is known as a drip campaign. For nonfiction authors, a drip campaign makes a whole lotta sense. After all, you can provide tidbits of information every few days and help educate your audience. For fiction authors, it becomes a bit more trickier. We’re currently testing some theories on this, and we’ll write up a blog post once we’ve done our homework.
For everyone else, about once a quarter, you should dive into your subscriber list and clean it up a bit. Mailchimp will tell you (via their stars system) what level of engagement a person has with your content. If they’re a five-star user, they open and click often. If they’re a two-star user, they’ve never opened a thing.
Someone who’s been on your list for a year and has never opened anything might be a candidate for a “Hey, are you still here?” email blast (and maybe a coupon). If they still don’t respond, then yoink ’em off your list. You can also use this same feature in Mailchimp to send thank you emails to your most active users.