This article by Tara Wyatt is from the July 2021 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc.  (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership. 

Newsletters, while an incredibly useful author tool, can be frustrating. What do you send? How do you find subscribers? Most importantly, how can you get the most out of your newsletter?

How to get started
If you’ve never set up a mailing list before, the first thing you’ll need to do is to pick a provider. There are dozens of mailing list services available, and the options can be overwhelming.  Let’s look at the three most popular platforms:

  • MailChimp is one of the biggest and best-known email marketing platforms. If you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers, the platform is free to use, but pricing quickly jumps to $31 per month for 2,500 subscribers and $79 a month for 10,000 subscribers, making it one of the more expensive platforms.
    • Pros: MailChimp’s reporting and the metrics available to users are thorough and extensive, and they have several beautifully designed templates, making it easy to send eye-catching emails to your subscribers.
    • Cons: Automations are difficult to set up (we’ll talk more about automations shortly), and affiliate links are not allowed.
  • MailerLite is a newer service, but is very similar to MailChimp in terms of its design and ease of use. The biggest difference is that they are significantly cheaper than MailChimp, as 2,500 subscribers will only cost you $15 a month, or $50 a month for 10,000 subscribers. However, only the first 1,000 subscribers are free, as opposed to the first 2,000 with MailChimp.
    • Pros: Extremely user friendly with an easy-to-use interface and helpful customer service, and features such as integrated automation and a landing page editor.
    • Cons: The reporting isn’t as comprehensive as what you get with MailChimp.
  • Aweber has been around for nearly 20 years and is a giant in the email marketing industry. The first 500 subscribers are free, which means they have the smallest free plan of the three services, but the pricing is reasonable: 2,500 subscribers, $29 a month; 10,000 subscribers, $69.
    • Pros: Aweber offers A/B split testing, analytics, and a highly functional mobile app for stats. They also offer user-friendly templates, and automation and list management tools. Their customer service is top notch.
    • Cons: If you’re not into the reams of data available on Aweber, there are cheaper options. Users have also reported deliverability issues with Aweber.

If you build it, will they come?
Now that you’ve chosen your email list service and set up your account, the next step is to get readers onto your list. Sadly, it’s not as simple as creating a newsletter sign-up form on your website and hoping readers will find it and subscribe. However, enticing readers to join doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are a few strategies that will help you start growing your list.

(Note: Integrating the sign-up on your website with the back-end of your newsletter is sometimes seamless and sometimes complex, depending on what platforms you’re using. You may need some technical assistance to get that set up).

Reader magnets
A reader magnet is something you’ve written that you offer to your readers for free in exchange for signing up for your mailing list. Your reader magnet can be anything, from a short story to a full-length book. If you’re just starting out, you could write a prequel novella to your first novel. If you’re uncomfortable giving away entire stories for free, you could create detailed character profiles for readers to download, or put together a sampler that contains the first chapter of each of your books. The idea is that the reader magnet will entice readers to give you their email address in exchange for this bonus goodie, so make it relevant and interesting to your target readers.

Another example of a reader magnet is a bonus epilogue. Include information about this at the back of the book, giving readers the link to sign up to download their copy. This is a highly effective strategy and attracts the readers you want—the ones who read and enjoyed your book—onto your list.

Once you have your reader magnet chosen (and you can have more than one, especially if you have reader magnets specific to certain books), advertise it not just on your website, but also in the back matter of all of your books. A reader who’s just finished your book is more likely to be “warm” and willing to hear from you on a regular basis.

As long as what you’re offering is enticing, reader magnets are a fantastic way to grow your list.

Onboarding automation
Once someone signs up for your list, what happens next? They need to hear from you right away, especially if they’re expecting the delivery of their reader magnet. This is where onboarding automation comes in. When you set up your mailing list account, you’ll also want to set up a welcome sequence containing anywhere from one to several emails that are sent automatically. (The process for setting this up will vary from platform to platform, but there is technical support available on all of the major platforms.)

The first email should welcome them to the list and thank them for signing up while providing them access to their free content. Follow up with a second email a few days later—here, you could highlight a permafree book (or offer them links to other free books if you don’t have any freebies of your own to offer), or give them more information they would find interesting and relevant. A third email could once again thank them for signing up while letting them know what to expect going forward (how often you send, what type of content you include, for example).

Now that you’ve chosen your reader magnet, you might be wondering how to deliver it to your readers. While it’s possible to simply host the bonus content on your website (or on a site like Google Drive or Dropbox), you could also use a service like BookFunnel. The main drawback is that BookFunnel isn’t a free service, but it offers numerous benefits you should consider.

If you’re using BookFunnel, you simply upload any reader magnets to the site and use the generated link they provide in your onboarding sequence, directing readers to the BookFunnel site to download their content. Any technical glitches or requests for help will go through BookFunnel and not to you.

Another advantage to using BookFunnel is that they offer monthly promotions where you can team up with other authors in your genre to offer readers a free book in exchange for signing up for your list. If you’re focused on building your list, this is an excellent way to find new readers.

However, if you’re on a budget, BookFunnel isn’t a necessity, and you can deliver your reader magnets by providing a link to a shared Google Drive folder, for example. You could also team up with other authors on your own to do newsletter building cross-promo. This is more time intensive, but a good option if you’re on a budget.

The care and feeding
Now that you have a mailing list and are starting to attract readers through your reader magnets, joint promotions, website, and back matter, the next step is to start sending on a regular basis. Whether you’re sending weekly, on the 1st and 15th, or monthly (and this will vary from one author to the next), be consistent. Sending regularly trains your readers to expect to hear from you and allows you to develop a relationship with them as opposed to simply showing up in their inbox when you’ve got a new book or a sale. Finding out how often your readers want to hear from you will take some trial and error. One way to fast-track this process is to survey your readers about their email marketing preferences and incorporate what you learn.

The content you include will be up to you and dependent on your readers and your brand. However, it’s a good idea to keep a list of content ideas so that you’re not stumped for what to send. Make sure that your content is relevant and engaging for your readers. If every single email is nothing more than a sales pitch, readers will lose interest and your open rates will drop. Some non-sales content ideas include a behind-the-scenes look at your work in progress, character profiles, book recommendations, a personal story, memes, news stories relevant to your books, recipes, updates on what past characters are up to now, and things that have inspired you, such as songs or places.

Another key to success is to pay attention. Subscribe to newsletters from authors who would have the same target readers as you, and look at what they include in their emails. What resonates with you? What gets clicked or elicits a response in your newsletters? Make a note of what type of content works best.

In addition, include a link to the reader magnets at the bottom of every email, as some readers may have missed content and will appreciate the link. It’s also a good idea to include a link to your most recent book and/or the first book in your series at the bottom of the email.

Hit send
A successful, fruitful mailing list is one of the most powerful marketing tools in your author arsenal. Focus on growing your list, sending regularly and giving readers interesting, click-worthy content, and you’ll reap the rewards.