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Mailing Lists

You all have my permission to laugh at me. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Besides, I deserve it. Did I walk out of the bathroom with toilet paper hanging from my skirt? Lock myself out on the screen porch? Glue my fingers together accidentally as I was trying to fix a broken fake nail? (Actually, I’ve done two of these — you can guess which.)

No, my mistake wasn’t of the social gaffe type. In fact, I’m the one who was most affected by my stubbornness. I was only hurting myself.

I lost out on 20 months of potential mailing list signups. There, I said it.

I get hundreds, if not thousands, of emails each day. And those are just the ones that actually go into my inbox. I’m not counting the ones my spam filters catch or the loops I have set to digest rather than individual emails. I’m literally emailed out.

So it used to be that I refused to sign up for author mailing lists, because I thought I’d be getting long, frequent chatty newsletters, and really, who has time for that? And because I couldn’t stomach the idea of getting newsletters from authors, I didn’t think my readers would want to either. So I just didn’t bother setting up a mailing list. What was the point?

Fast forward to December 21, 2012. Not only was it the day that the world didn’t actually end, but my 2-book boxed set was included in the Kindle Daily Deal. When I mentioned on Kboards about the Kindle Daily Deal, someone said “make sure to update your Author Central to include your mailing list signup!”

Um, yeah. Mailing list. About that…

But she was right. I was getting an insane amount of traffic from Amazon to my website that day, so I needed a way to capitalize on that attention, particularly since I knew I was going to have the 3rd book in that series out within the next few months.

So I quickstepped over to Mailchimp and set up a super-quick account, embedded the sign-up form on my website, and voila! I started the morning without a mailing list, and somehow ended the day with 21 new sign-ups!

WHOA. 21 people signed up with no prompting whatsoever. This was fantastic! But what was I going to do with these email addresses once I got them? I still had no desire whatsoever to write a newsletter.

And that’s when it hit me. A mailing list can be whatever you make of it. I asked myself what info did I most want to know about the authors whose books I read and enjoy. The answer was simple — when is their next release coming out? And maybe also if they ever have a special discount on one of their books (like the Kindle Daily Deal I was in that day).

Period.

So that’s what I decided to do — use my mailing list for nothing else than notifying subscribers about new releases and special sales. No pictures of my children/dogs/guinea pigs. No writing tips. And I certainly wouldn’t be sending out frequent (monthly, biweekly, weekly, god forbid daily!) chatty emails just for the sake of sending something.

Not that these extras are bad — I’m sure lots of readers love them. I just personally have never been interested in opening up a newsletter from an author to learn about these things. But if the email subject line said “Release day!” then I’d probably open that email because if I enjoyed the author’s earlier books, I’d probably want to know when the next ones came out, especially if they’re part of the same series.

About two days after my Kindle Daily Deal, my ranking was falling fast and I wasn’t getting any more sign-ups, so I freaked out and decided to run a contest to encourage sign-ups. I advertised a giveaway of a $250 gift card to all mailing list subscribers, and quickly racked up another 200+ subscribers. Whoohoo! I was popular! My mailing list hadn’t even been live for 2 weeks, and suddenly I had more than 200 people on it.

Of course, as soon as the giveaway promotion ended, a handful of subscribers unsubscribed once they realized they hadn’t won. And that’s when it hit me. I hadn’t done myself any good whatsoever with that giveaway because I wasn’t attracting MY readers. I was just attracting people who like to win free stuff.

Courtney Milan called this the error of numerosity. I really should’ve read her blog post before I ran my silly little contest, and saved myself $250. You see, those aren’t my readers. They’re not going to buy my new book when it comes out. I needed to grow my list organically, even if it’s slow-going.

Nora Roberts has 453,472 likes on her Facebook page. But she’s Nora Roberts. She probably also has that many (or close to it) on her mailing list. Again, like I said, she’s Nora Roberts.

One of the big mistakes newer authors make is saying “I need more people on my newsletter” or “I need more likes” to be successful. But if the people “liking” you don’t actually like you (I feel like I’m back in junior high: “Do you like him-like him or do you just like him?”), then what’s the point?

After that little detour into getting new names for my mailing list, I decided to just roll with it. I put my mailing list signup prominently on several pages of my website and included it in the backs of each of my books (“Book 3 of the Dani Spevak Mystery Series, PAS DE DEATH, will be available in March — to be notified about release, please sign up for my mailing list!”), but that’s it.

During the remaining 2 months before release, I got an average of just under 2 new signups per day. Not amazing, but not bad when you think about it…if I’d started my mailing list when I first published back in April 2011 and had a consistant turnout rate like that, then I’d have (does quick math) … approximately 1330 subscribers to my list.

Instead I just have 315, and that includes 185 people who subscribed because of my contest. (Some of them actually very well might have signed up anyway because I know they’ve read my books and enjoyed them but others probably just are there solely because of the contest…16 of them unsubscribed almost immediately once they realized they didn’t win $250.)

And more importantly, I would have been able to tell all my subscribers all along about new releases. Instead, I only sent out my first newsletter 2 weeks ago when Pas De Death released.

According to Mailchimp, my stats were pretty impressive compared to all other newsletters. Apparently the industry standard is an open rate of a rather depressing 17.1%, but 57.9% of my subscribers actually opened their newsletter. (Most of the non-opens were from people who had subscribed during my contest, which tells me that I probably would have had even better stats if I hadn’t run the contest.)

And I actually added up how many copies I sold the first few days of the new book and it was within just a few copies of the number of people who had opened the newsletter, which tells me that most of the people actually opening the newsletter (and perhaps not surprisingly, most of the opens were people who had joined organically without a big push to do so) are MY readers.

I’m still getting just under 2 new subscribers per day, so hopefully the next time I do a new release, my stats will be even better. (And one of these days I’ll actually get up to that 1330 number…)

And the coolest thing that came out of my newsletter? When my dad was visiting over Easter weekend, he Googled to see if I had any new reviews, and came across a blog post on the Dance Spirit website. Dance Spirit  is the nation’s most popular magazine for teen dancers — my exact target audience. The info in the blog was very reminiscent of the text of my newsletter, so I did a quick scan of my open list on Mailchimp, and sure enough! The managing editor of Dance Spirit is one of my subscribers. Pretty cool!

Anyway, moral of the story is to start a mailing list and let it grow organically.

Although Amazon is now split-testing a new service where they’ll allow readers to sign up on your author page to receive notifications when your next book is released. Kinda redundant of an author mailing list, but hopefully reluctant readers will be more willing to sign up for this than to join an author mailing list.

I’m sure I’m not the only person out there who has hang-ups about newsletters.

 

41 responses to “Mailing Lists”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Fabulous post, Amanda! Thanks so much for sharing this experience…it’s really helpful!!

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    • Amanda Brice says:

      Glad to help! I figured there are probably others out there who could benefit from my dumbassery. 🙂

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  2. Fantastic advice, Amanda! I just signed up for your mailing list. I receive a number of newsletters from a bunch of authors — it really helps me me keep track of their new releases.

    I’ve set up a MailChimp account. All I need to do is get a P.O. address and publish a few books. 🙂

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    • Amanda Brice says:

      Yay! a new subscriber!

      Once I had my revelation about mailing lists a few months ago, I’ve since signed up for a few myself and now realize the usefulness. It really does help you keep track of when the new books are out!

      And you brought up a good point that I forgot to mention in my post. PO Box!

      The CAN SPAM Act requires all bulk emailers to include the snail mail address of the sender, so to be in compliance with the law Mailchimp (and other newsletter facilitators) will require you to list your address. If you don’t want your actual address included at the bottom of every newsletter, then you should get a PO Box. (PO Boxes can be useful anyway so that you don’t have to give out your home address to readers if they want to send you something.)

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  3. Jeannie Lin says:

    Great post Amanda! I think we as authors often underestimate mailing lists because a lot of us spend (too much) time on social media and are on line all the time so it’s easy for us to follow our favorite authors and visit their websites. The average reader is not hanging around all this author chat all the time. They’re *cough* working and doing real people things. So whereas only a few hang out on Twitter, everyone has an e-mail account.

    I get a bunch of promotional e-mails, much of which I just glance by, but that quick glance is important to those products or services. I don’t think about Omaha Steaks on a daily basis, but sure enough around Christmas, the e-mails were annoying, but I still bought a gift for my in-laws from them. And I’m totally addicted to AmazonLocal and LivingSocial deals! I found my current fitness boot camp habit because of them.

    My mailing list is a small list, but I do feel it’s grown organically. I used to put out an update every month, but I don’t always have news, so I’ve scaled back to releasing one when there’s something specific I want to let me readers know. I consider the e-mail list subscribers to be a more loyal group who are interested in my books as opposed to the larger Twitter or Facebook following, so I’m more likely to do giveaways there and announcements about events and what’s going on with my books.

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    • Amanda Brice says:

      Yes! That’s exactly it. I kept saying “why would I need a mailing list?” because I figured that anyone could easily find out when my next release was out by checking my Facebook page or my website (and it’s in my sig line at the bottom of every email) but the thing is, I’m plugged into the writing community. It’s easy for me to find out when other authors’ new releases are, but readers really aren’t plugged into the writing community.

      Make it EASY for them to find out about your new releases. Don’t make them hunt it down. Sure, it’s not too hard for them to visit your website and see that your new release will be on October 15, 2013, but are they really going to remember 6 months from now? No. Of course not. But if they signed up now for a notification, then 6 months from now when they get that little “Release Day!” email then they’ll say “Oh yeah! I wanted to know when that came out.”

      And yes, if someone took the time to sign up for your mailing list, then they probably like you-like you more than just “liking” you (on Facebook). 🙂 So they’re probably going to actually listen when you tell them about the new release. So definitely reward them from time to time with special subscriber-only benefits!

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  4. Liz Talley says:

    Okay, I feel exactly the way you feel…and I don’t have a mailing list.

    I don’t know how to do one – do you go to mailchimp and they give you instructions? Then I guess I get it added to my website?

    I probably do need one – people ask me all the time about when my releases are coming out. This would be a nice way to let them know. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I don’t want to do an actual newsletter, but I would like to let my readers know what is coming up.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Bemis Promotions did your website, right? Talk to the all-knowing and all-seeing Wizard Liz. She’ll get you all set up!

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      • Amanda Brice says:

        Yes, she is Great and Powerful, isn’t she?

        Liz, I just checked out your gorgeous spring version of your website and see that you do in fact have a signup form for a mialing list. I’d definitely look into it, because you probably are already collecting names/addresses! So start letting them know when your books are coming out!

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        • Liz Talley says:

          I feel pretty stupid right now. Hmmm…I better check with Liz and see what I have going on over there. Maybe I do have some names already. That would be cool 🙂

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          • Amanda Brice says:

            No, not stupid. 🙂 It’s totally something I would do. And who knows? Maybe you already have a bunch of names on the mailing list!

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  5. Elise Hayes says:

    Great post, Amanda. And, yes, I feel exactly the same way about mailing list. But having read your blog, I’ve now changed my mind. I might want to advertise that people on the mailing list will only hear from me for releases and sales, just to make clear that I’m not a newsletter kind of gal…but I totally see the usefulness of that mailing list now. Thank you!

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    • Amanda Brice says:

      I knew there were others like me!

      I’m hoping that the new signup feature on Amazon will help ease some people’s fears. They might be willing to sign up for a notification from Amazon whereas they wouldn’t be willing to signup directly from the author. And at least this way you know it’s just going to be a notification (with an easy buy-link) and not a long chatty newsletter.

      (Not that there is anything wrong with long chatty newsletters.)

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    • Amanda Brice says:

      Oh, and I should note that I do think that making it clear on my website that it’s only going to be used for new releases and sales is actually a selling point.

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  6. Tamara Hogan says:

    Hangups about newsletters? Amanda, OMG, I haz them.

    I feel like a hypocrite because I HAVE a newsletter, but don’t subscribe to any.

    Like you, and perhaps others with day jobs, I receive over a thousand emails a day not including writing loop posts, so wrestling my in-box into some semblance of submission is a perpetual challenge. Being I use other methods to keep track of upcoming releases from authors whose work I enjoy, I don’t need a newsletter to do that for me. I’m not a fan of character interviews, deleted scenes, pet pictures or contests; maybe I would be if I had more time, but right now there aren’t enough hours in the day. I also don’t impulse-buy books – heresy!! – so there’s that.

    That said, as I mentioned above, I DO have a newsletter. One of the things I’ve realized since starting this writing gig is that some of my opinions and perspectives are WILDLY out of sync with the majority of romance readers. A lot of people enjoy and see value in things I don’t, so I’m doing my best to meet readers in the middle somewhere. It’s an ongoing challenge. 😉

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    • Amanda Brice says:

      Yeah, my preferences seem to be wildly out of synch with most readers, too. But it’s not about my preferences — it’s about a way for my readers to hear from me. So if you don’t want to write a frequent chatty newsletter, then don’t. Use it simply as a way to let folks know when your new book is out.

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    • Elizabeth Langston says:

      Don’t feel like a hypocrite. It’s just a preference. As a businessperson, you’re offering a service that your customer wants. There’s no rule that requires you to want the same service from other businesspeople.

      The Ruby newsletter is the only one I’m signed up for.

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      • Amanda Brice says:

        EXACTLY. Just because you don’t want to receive emails from other people doesn’t mean that nobody wants to. There’s no reason to feel bad about not subscribing to any.

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  7. I have a newsletter, but I know I don’t use it effectively. A lot of that comes down to not feeling like I have anything *newsworthy* to share. Right now, I don’t have a new release or even an upcoming release to promote, and like you, I don’t really want to just send one out for the sake of being chatty. So, I’ll keep collecting those sign-ups and hope to have something to share soon. 🙂

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    • Amanda Brice says:

      Do you have any special sales coming up? Or maybe are you signing at a bookstore/conference/etc? Are you running any contests?

      Other than that, if you only want to send it out for “newsworthy” events, then just wait until your next release. Even if that means it’s just once a year, at least you’ll be notifying your readers!

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  8. Thank you for sharing your stats, Amanda, and your experience with the contest – when I saw you running that, I was very curious how it would turn out!

    I have a mailing list and send something out quarterly, just to keep my name *out there*. I also plan to send an alert when I have a new release or a sale. But yeah, I don’t want to inundate people or spend too much time on my newsletters when I need to be writing. Quarterly works well for me.

    And isn’t Mailchimp the best? Love it!

    I didn’t think about posting the information on my Amazon author page (duh). And I was just about to order stickers to go on my postcards that I’ll be handing out at RT. Was going to put my available books, but now I’m thinking maybe I’ll put my newsletter signup info instead! Thanks. 🙂

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    • Amanda Brice says:

      Mailchimp rocks my world. It’s really awesome. They have a forever-free option that allows you to use it for free, up to 2000 addresses. I do hope to one day amass more than 2000 addresses (don’t we all?!), but for now, I have some a while before I get there. So I’m all about the free option.

      I’ll spend the money eventually, but for now until I get 2000 addresses, I’m more than happy to do it for free.

      The new Amazon feature on the author page is actually RUN by Amazon, but it appears they are split-testing it for now. I can see it on author pages from my Kindle Fire, but now from my laptop or desktop, so it might be a while before it gets rolled out for everyone.

      So for now I’m keeping my own mailing list signup info on my Amazon author page (and in all my product descriptions — one of the benefits of selfpub is that I get the control the product description). But you definitely should put your mailing list signup in your author page! No reason not to.

      Hop on over to Author Central!

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    • Amanda Brice says:

      Re: your quarterly newsletters…

      I’m just curious what you include during the months when you don’t have a new release. (If I’m not mistaken, you have one new release a year.) I’m not saying this a bad thing…I’m just honestly curious and wondering if there’s more I could be including in my newsletter.

      I’ve taken the “only for new releases and sales” tactic, so I’m going to stick with it, particularly since I expect to have at least 4 more releases this calendar year. So this means that subscribers won’t be receiving newsletters from me on a consistent basis. Sometimes it might be months between newsletters, or other times it might be as often as twice in the same month!

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      • I give a basic (quick) greeting, “News” – which includes upcoming print releases through Harlequin’s DTC program, appearances I’m planning to make, and what I’m working on now – and an inspirational quote, recipe, or some other fun bit that is quick but gives them some insight into who I am. I try to keep it fairly short, personal, and informative. You know, what I’d want to see in a newsletter. 😉

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  9. Thanks for the kick in the butt. I’ve been waffling about starting a newsletter, quite sure that nobody would want to hear from me. But I have started collecting names. This post will push me to actually open a mailchimp account and get ready to roll out a newsletter for my July release. Thanks for reminding me that we all share this pain… 🙂

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    • Amanda Brice says:

      That’s exactly how I felt until I finally had the realization that if someone has signed up for your newsletter, then that means they actually want to hear from you. And you’re in no way required to do anything formal or frequent if you don’t want to. So if all you want to do is send something once or year or twice a year (however frequently you have releases), then so be it!

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  10. June Love says:

    Amanda, I love your post. I want author newsletters that are informative. Tell me about releases and sales. That’s all I need. You definitely have the right idea with your newsletter. Thanks for the advice for starting early and growing the list the right way.

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    • Amanda Brice says:

      New releases and sales — that’s pretty much all I want to hear about. Anything else is extraneous in my mind, so I figured others might feel the same way.

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  11. Great post, Amanda.

    One thing I’ll note is that the links you send out through your newsletter should be affiliate links–B&N, Kobo, Apple and Amazon all have affiliate programs, so you have no excuse–and that lets you get fairly decent analytics about who is actually buying from the links.

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    • Amanda Brice says:

      Affiliate links ROCK.

      That’s another thing — all authors need to sign up for affiliates accounts with all their retailers. There’s no reason not to.

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  12. Amanda Brice says:

    Oh, and this probably goes without saying, but DO NOT simply add people to your mailing list without their permission. If you have a disclaimer on your website or in your contest rules that says that leaving a comment or entering a contest will automatically get someone subscribed to your mailing list, then go right ahead, because you gave fair warning and they still commented/entered. But otherwise it is spam.

    There is nothing I hate more than getting an author newsletter I didn’t sign up for. Usually these come from authors on loops that I subscribe to and they harvest the email addresses from the loop. DO NOT DO THAT!

    First of all, fellow authors are not your readers. Well, they might be, but only if they actually ARE your readers, you know?

    Second of all, most authors know (either in person or through the internet) hundreds of other authors. Some of the loops I’m on have more close to 1500 members. Even if I read one new book from everyone on the loop, that would be enough reading material for the next several years…even without buying any new books from my favorite authors that I actually want to read! So really, you’re just wasting space on your mailing list that way.

    Besides, nobody wants to be spammed. That’s the quickest way to ensure that the people who you spammed will NEVER buy any of your books.

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  13. Gwyn says:

    Great post, Amanda. Putting the info into my “when you finally take the plunge” notebook.

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  14. Nan Dixon says:

    This is such a great blog! Now how will I remember all this the info when I finally get published!

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  15. Hope Ramsay says:

    Great post.

    I decided at the outset that having a mailing list was more important than facebook friends. So I immediately signed up with Constant Contact to manage my lists. It has some neat features — you can link it to your facebook page, and you can use mailing list signups as a place for contests if you want. I have used the Constant Contact form on a “Like Gated” page attached to facebook that has netted me additions to my mailing list and my number of likes.

    I completely agree with what you have to say about contests. But, there is something to be said about racking up the numbers. It says to a publisher who might someday offer you a nice, fat, juicy advance that you have worked to develop a “platform.” You and I may both know that the level of commitment on your list may not be high, but the publisher is going to be impressed with the numbers.

    Knowing this, I have a way, in Constant Contact to keep track of whether someone signs up for my mailing list via the webpage (someone who cares enough to sign up). And someone who signs up because of a contest on Fresh Fiction or my webpage or whatever. I can combine the numbers and tell my publisher I’ve got more than 1,600, now, but I know that the number of people who truly care is probably half that.

    So I wouldn’t say that mailing list numbers (or numbers of likes) are not important. They do send a message to publishers that you have a following and a platform and publishers are hungry for big numbers. So the do matter.

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  16. I was very wary about starting one, myself, so you are not alone! Great post, gorgeous!

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  17. Sophie Moss says:

    Great post, Amanda! I agree that a newsletter is essential. One way I’ve found to steadily increase subscribers (without subjecting my list to the people who are just trolling for giveaways) is to offer lots of smaller giveaways such as $25 gift cards or signed paperbacks about once a quarter. I usually run giveaways for a month at a time, so everyone has plenty of time to sign up. And my readers really like it, because I’m always offering them something for free. 🙂 The smaller giveaways don’t cost very much and they won’t entice the people who are just trolling for big giveaways, but it might entice true readers who are on the fence about signing up. That’s my two cents. 🙂 Good luck with growing your list!

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  18. Thank you for this! After falling out of the writing world for a few years and losing my contact with readers, I’m starting from scratch, including a new website with a new mailing list. It’s nice to know there are other writers and readers who prefer more of a special announcement type post than a big sprawl-y newsletter every month. I also hope to grow my new list organically. Good luck and thanks again.

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