Building an email list is one of the best things any author can do. Why? Simple. You own your email list. You certainly don’t own Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and all the other social media platforms where you promote your book. Most of us (while we might own stock) do not own a controlling interest in Amazon, where many of our sales likely come from.
In fact, the only retailer you own is your website, and the only channel to reach your readers that is yours to take with you (no matter who your email provider might be) is your email list.
But I constantly hear from authors things like this:
- I write only a couple of books a year. What do I talk about?
- I only sell books, not merchandise or anything else. How do I keep my audience engaged?
- So I have this huge list of readers. What else can I do besides sending them a monthly newsletter now and then?
The truth is, there is so much more you can do with your email list, from different kinds of content to building different teams to determining the best targets for your ads on Facebook and elsewhere.
Here are several creative things you can do with your email list.
Keep readers engaged with sneak peeks and shorts
Your readers want to know about you, sure. I mean, that’s why my dog features so often in my newsletters: he is much more popular than I am. However, readers also want substance. If between book releases the only thing you share are posts about your family vacation, your pets, and how hot and cold it is where you live or are visiting, they’ll get bored.
But you probably have other stuff you are writing besides books, right? Right?
I’m assuming you said yes there. Give your readers a sneak peek at what you are working on. Give them a chance to give you feedback on an “unedited” chapter (note: be sure this is at least reasonably edited and not full of grammar and spelling mistakes). Start a series of short stories or character profiles related to your book or series and release them only to your newsletter list.
Or there is another alternative for using those stories…
Start a Patreon or similar reader support group
This might not seem like an incredibly creative idea, but these types of things are often overlooked by working writers. However, if you have a large email list or you want to grow it more, starting a Patreon group, or using something like MightyNetworks or TopFan is a good way to leverage the fact that readers want to support you. Your top fans want you to write more, and they want to see what you are working on.
For those not familiar, Patreon and similar platforms give your supporters a chance to show their support for your projects financially. Most authors give their “backers” on these platforms unique content, merchandise, prizes, and other items in exchange for that support.
Creating different levels of support with different rewards offers your readers and followers incentives to support you in a way they feel comfortable. The place you will find these supporters and superfans is most often your email list, and they are willing to go a step further to support your author career.
Build a list of reviewers and even beta readers
Some of your reviewers may already leave reviews every time your book comes out, but data tells us, on average, you get one organic review for every 1,000 books sold. Those are big numbers! How do you get more reviews? Ask for them. Who do you ask? Those who are a part of your email list, yes, but you are better to create a “street team” of review ninjas who post reviews as soon as your book releases.
Many authors do this in different ways, but usually the subscriber signs up for another list: the review team. You should have a creative name for this team, and make it seem like an exclusive club everyone wants to be a member of. Include an invitation to this group in the welcome sequence people get when they first subscribe to your list, but send out a targeted email a few times a year to invite people onto that team as well.
This is the group you send your advanced reader copy (ARC) to before anyone else sees it so they get the opportunity to leave a review. Remember to be careful here: you cannot require a review if you give someone a free copy of your book as it violates Amazon’s terms of service, but you can track who reviews your book and who doesn’t, and you certainly don’t have to keep them on the team and give them a copy of your next book. I suggest using StoryOrigin or a similar service to track review copies and reviews.
For those superfans who send you lists of the typos or other things they found in your books, or little facts you might have gotten wrong, you can start a beta reader group with those who know your voice and your writing already. This can offer you feedback you wouldn’t get anywhere else.
Take a survey to gather actionable data
“Those are all great ideas,” you say. “But those seem like a lot of extra work.” Well, they can be, but there are things you can do that enable you to act right away. When authors are running ads, they often struggle with targeting. But one of the greatest sources for targeting information? Your email list.
Getting that information is becoming more difficult. It used to be that with some hidden fields and clever manipulation, you could find out a lot of information about your email subscribers. However, with new privacy laws a couple of things are happening: it is harder to legally gather that information, and your subscribers are more likely to control the data they are giving away.
But there is a solution: ask your audience questions that help you take the right kind of action with your ads. Ask them things like:
- Who is your favorite author? (These are author targets other people like your readers will be interested in.)
- What other genres do you like to read? (Possible genre or subgenre targets.)
- What are your favorite books you have read this year? (Potential book targets.)
- Do you prefer physical or ebooks?
- What device do you usually read ebooks on? (Device targeting.)
- Do you listen to audiobooks? (Do you have an audience for these before you produce them?)
You can probably think of other questions more relevant to you and your list as well. Use this asset to gather data that you can use in your marketing and advertising, but in other business decisions as well.
Create lookalike audiences
The final, and perhaps most valuable, way to use your email list is to create a Lookalike Audience (LLA) for Facebook ads. How does it work? Well, quite simply you upload your list of email addresses to Facebook and tell it how closely to match the people it targets with your ads to those on your email list.
If the person on your list has a Facebook account, Facebook knows a lot about them, and they use that information to target other Facebook users with similar interests. The ins and outs are a little complicated, and you probably need at least a thousand subscribers to use this technique, but these are often some of the highest performing ads that authors see.
As Google evolves and changes, we will likely be able to use these audiences to run ads to Google books and even for similar audiences with Apple, but right now the most useful place for them is in creating Facebook ads.
This is the same technique that big ecommerce retailers use to create their Facebook ads, and it’s certainly a proven technique for authors as well. Perhaps the most valuable use of the lookalike audience is lead generation ads used to find even more email subscribers.
This is far from a comprehensive list of things to do with your email list. You can build your list with newsletter swaps, group promos, and using reader magnets in a variety of types. You can use the front and back matter of your books to attract subscribers.
But once you have someone on your list, keeping them engaged and using the information they share with you is one of the greatest benefits of having a list in the first place. Just be sure not to neglect the other things you should be doing anyway, including a strong onboarding sequence, sending regular newsletters, building excitement around book launches, and all the other activities that make a mailing list successful.
At the same time, engage the same creativity you do with your writing when it comes to marketing and using your email list. Your readers will appreciate it, and you’ll reap the benefits as well.