Sunday, January 11, 2015

Building an author mailing list: PART 1, Do you need one?


Do you need an author mailing list?  Yes, you do.

Seriously.  You need a mailing list, period.

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series that will convince you that you do.  And prove that it’s super-easy to get started.  Part 2 will show you how to get readers to sign up, and Part 3 is the nitty-gritty how-to (but don’t worry, it’s easy to get started).

If things were different, if Amazon and other sites told you who was buying your stuff, or gave you access to their information, then I might not think you need a mailing list at all.  Then again, do you want those sites to control your relationship with readers?

Didn’t think so.

Amazon is not your friend.  Amazon wants to suck your buyers in, then grab their info so they can sell them other writers’ books. 

Pretty nasty, huh?  So that means you’ve got to look out for yourself.  (Not to mention that you may want to sell through other sites, besides Amazon.)

Still, you might not understand exactly why you need a mailing list.  Maybe one of these sounds like you…

  • “But I’ve only got one book!”

(and maybe you’re not sure when the next one is coming out) 

Are you a writer or not?  I hate to sound harsh, but I have seen lots and lots of people who sit around flogging their OLD book in time they could be using to sit down and write their NEW book.  There, I said it.  Don’t be like them.  Figure out what your next project will be – this is important.  Pick something and start working on it.  Even if you get derailed later, at least you’re moving in the right direction.  Then, start a mailing list and get people on it (PART 2 of this series will tell you how).

  • “Who’s going to care what I think?”

These are people who have already read your writing (PART 2 will tell you how to get people who like your writing onto your list).  They like what you’ve written enough to click through and sign up.  You have to assume they care, at least a little.  Some may not; they might unsubscribe.  That’s okay.  Write short, friendly emails (about what?  read on), and some folks will like what you have to say and keep on reading.

  • “My mailing list only has 3 people on it!”

As far as I’m concerned, that’s enough.  Well, okay, maybe not three… maybe five; maybe seven.  My first mailing of this list went out to 7 subscribers, back in May 2014.  Six months later, it was over 500.  (Still not huge, but it made me happy anyway!)  You decide what number will “tip” your scales, motivation-wise, and get you started, but don’t wait for a huge number.  Your list will grow.  And it’s probably better for you if it starts small, so you can figure out what works and create emails they’ll look forward to reading.

  • “What’s better – blogging or emailing?”

These are very different things.  For the average writer, you’re going to get a LOT more out of a mailing list than out of a blog.  If you write nonfiction, a blog might be a good thing.  People searching for “whale-watching” or “sock knitting” will turn up your blog and maybe like your writing enough to buy your books about whale-watching or sock knitting.  But if you write fiction, you’re out of luck.  nobody’s going to search for “middle-grade chapter books Jewish swimmer funeral practices Holocaust survivors,” which is, by the way, what my next chapter book is about, and I plan to let my mailing list know about it as soon as it’s available.

BONUS – mailing list emails are short and sweet to write, like sitting down to write a letter to a friend.  Blog posts are hard to write and can take a ton of time away from “real” writing – ie kids’ books.

“I have no idea what to write!”

Write to your mailing list like you’re talking to a friend.  Picture one specific, friendly person in your mind when you write.  Just open up.  Chat with her – or him.  Don’t make it businesslike, just make it friendly.  Here are some ideas for what to write about:

1) Share your process.

“I’m writing a middle-grade chapter book about a girl whose grandfather has just died. She’s discovering all kinds of stuff about him that she never knew… especially how much they have in common, like swimming.  It’s a tough slog, but I’m trying to get it ready for March or April.”

(This is true, by the way.  Except I’m trying to get it ready to show an editor in about 3 weeks!)

2) Ask questions.

“What was your favourite book, as a kid?”  “Do your kids like pictures in middle-grade chapter books, or do they think they’re too babyish?”  Start a conversation.  Remember, if they’re interested in what you’re asking, they can always hit Reply and email you back.  I love when my mailing list folks do that.

3) Give them stuff.

Do you have a short story or “teaser” you could send out in advance of your next book?  I want to do this with Chapter 1 of my current book (see above), which is finished but still missing something… maybe those readers can help me figure out what that something actually is.  And of course, if you have a KDP freebie coming up, let them know.  I’m experimenting this year with 99-cent deals on books.  Tell them about that, too.  (Haven’t had any luck with Kindle Countdown deals, but if you do those, tell your readers!)

Whatever you do, don’t let readers forget about you.  Here’s #1 rule of author mailing lists:




Even if your next project is waaaay off on the horizon, don’t let them forget about you.  If you’re not releasing a book a week, or even a book a month, that’s okay.  Just keep in touch from time to time so they don’t forget you. 

Letting your list grow cold – waiting more than a couple of months between emails – is worse than bad.  Why?  Because let’s say you don’t contact readers for a few months… and then you finish your book.  Great news! 

So you email them out of the blue, but they’ve forgotten by now that they ever signed up for your list.  So now they think you’re spam.  They get angry.

Angry Readers = Very Bad Thing.

So even if you don’t have a book to promote, keep in touch.  It seems like such a basic thing, but a lot of writers forget.

Oh, and as for how to get readers to sign up for your mailing list… I’ll talk about that in PART 2, Building a mailing list:  Calls to action.  Also stay tuned for PART 3, the nitty-gritty mailing list “how to” that’ll wrap up the series.

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Did you know that I have not one, but THREE mailing lists, by the way?  That’s because I do 3 different things, and I know there isn’t much overlap.  The regular signup for writers is down below, but I also have 2 other lists if you’re interested:

  • The MamaLand List.  Jewish parenting tips, inspiration, for readers of my own kids’ books, plus my Jewish family life and homeschooling blog.
  • The Aliyah Tips List.  Very specific, this is aimed at Jews and others who are interested in moving to Israel and our daily lives here.

And, of course, here’s my children’s writing list signup, if you haven’t joined already…

1 comment:

  1. Great advice. My wife is always hounding me that having 4 books out means nothing without some self promo... via an email list! Going to start it soon!

    Thanks Jen!


As always, I love to hear from you.