Thursday, February 5, 2015

Building an author mailing list: PART 3, How to get started (the nitty-gritty).


Ready to get started?

Great.  Let’s roll up our sleeves and dig in.

I hope I’ve convinced you that an author mailing list is a great way to chat directly with people who love your writing. 

(If you’re not convinced yet, go back and read Part 1 of this 3-part series to find out why you need an author mailing list.  Then read Part 2 about how to convince readers to sign up (hint:  just ask them).)

So now the question is, where do you start?

Step 1:  Choose a provider

There are a few email list providers.  Some let you get started for free.  The top two are Mailchimp and Aweber.  I use Mailchimp, mainly because it was free to start out, and slightly less expensive on an ongoing basis, but to be honest, I don’t love it.  Aweber looks like it starts at around $29 a month, but they let you try it for a month for $1.

The tricky part is that once you choose a mail provider, you’re kind of stuck.  It’s not impossible to move your mailing list, but it’s not easy, either.  That’s because any reputable mail provider works with an “opt-in” model where they double-confirm that subscribers WANT to be on the list.  This reduces the chances that you’re going to spam the world with your list.

Step 2:  Create an account

This part is self-explanatory if you’ve used the internet for any amount of time.  Give them your information, and they’ll bounce you an email to make sure you’re a real person.  Choose the lowest-level package for now.  You’re not stuck with it:  they’ll let you expand if and when you need to.

Step 3:  Create a signup form

If you have your own website, your form is probably going to live there.  But you can have a signup form even if you don’t have your own website.  Both Mailchimp and Aweber will “host” your signup form. 

Set up your form from your user account on their site.  On your signup form, give folks a quick couple of reasons why they want to sign up – like that they can find out right away when your books come out, or when they go on sale.

Don’t ask users for too much information!

This isn’t your chance to do a reader survey.  Getting on your list should be as EASY as possible.

All you really need is their email address, so don’t create a long, complicated form asking about their favourite hobbies, what car they drive, or anything else.  If you want to get personal in your emails, you can ask for their first name.  Even the last name shouldn’t be mandatory, though you can let them enter it if they want to.

Once you’re finished setting up your signup form the way you want it, they (Mailchimp or Aweber) will give you a URL (web address) where everyone can go to sign up.

Mailchimp will give you a link that looks like this:

Aweber will give you a link that looks like this:

Either way, those links aren’t pretty, or easy for readers to remember.  So we’re going to make them look a lot nicer with a catchy custom short URL.

Step 4:  Give yourself a catchy (short) link

There are two sites that let you shorten and customize your URL (website link) easily.

  • – for this site, you have to sign up, but the plus is that it can track how many people use the link
  • – you don’t have to sign up, so it’s quick & easy, but you don’t get any information about how many people are using your link

Choose one of these sites, or another one you like, and sign up if the site requires it.

Now, head over to the site and feed in the link to the signup form your mail provider gave you.  But don’t let either site give you the standard short URL.  Instead, customize it to something you can remember easily.

With bitly, you do this after you’ve entered the URL.  It will prompt you to create a “custom bitlink.”


At, this feature is called a “custom alias”:


Enter something like “SignUpHere” and try it out. 

So many people use these services that a lot of the catchier links are already taken.  If that happens, it will tell you your custom link is unavailable.  You may have to play around with it a few times until you get a link that’s available.

Hopefully, you’ll get a good address after a few tries, so that’s your catchy new URL link:

  • or

That’s what you’re going to share with your readers.

Step 5:  Let people know!

Remember that saying from W.P. Kinsella’s Field of Dreams:  “If you build it, they will come.”


Now that you HAVE a mailing list, don’t just let it sit there.  You have to get out there and tell people about it. 

You can also include the link to your mailing list in your Amazon author page.  If you have a facebook page, make sure it’s up there, too. 

Remember to give people you’re already connected to a reason to sign up – let them know that you won’t be sharing this information any other way, or that people on your list will get first crack at the deals, or whatever.  And ask nicely – using clear, direct verbs like “click here” and “just type your name”.

Most important, though, is calls to action in your books.  Go back to Part 2 in this series to find out how to include compelling invitations in the backs of your books to anyone who loves reading them. 

If you have a few books out already, you’ll need to redo the calls to action at the back to include your mailing list.  This can be a tedious step, especially for print books, where you’ll have to go through the whole submission process again (if you’re with LightningSource, it’ll cost you $100 to change each book’s interior, so in that case, you’ll have to decide if it’s worthwhile).

Then, just keep putting the word out.  Eventually, folks will sign up.  Even if it’s only a few at first, remember that these are your readers.  They’re true fans, people who are eager to hear what you have to say. 

As every teacher knows, it’s way better to have a few interested, engaged students than a whole classroom full of rowdy kids who aren’t paying attention.  These are the keeners, so do what you can to make them happy.

Now that they’re listening… what will you tell them???  Remember, it’s just you, chatting with your fans.  Don’t waste their time.  Keep it short, friendly and fun.  Take a look at Part 1 of this series for some terrific ideas.

More ideas from smart folks to help you get started:



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