How to Build an Email List For Authors in 7 Easy Steps

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When you’re trying to promote your book on big online platforms, you’re trying to shout over the entire internet. When you’re trying to promote your writing on social media, one tweak to the system can smother your posts in an algorithmically generated feed. Writers and authors in all fields are getting sick of it.

It’s why platforms like Substack have seen explosive growth over the past couple of years. From high-profile journalists to writers who are just starting out, authors want to connect with their audiences without having to game the system.

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Why authors need to build an email list

Every author could use an email list, no matter what field they’re in or where they are in their career. The “If you build it, they will come.” approach to marketing doesn’t work. In the current landscape, it’s all about cultivating communities and creators forging real relationships with their fans.

Social media platforms can cut you off from your audience at any time and for any reason. An email list allows you to own your own “social graph”: the network of relationships you worked so hard to build up. There’s nobody between you and your audience, and the flexibility of the medium lets you tailor it to deliver the most value to you and your readers.

How to build a successful email list

It takes five minutes to build an email list, technically. But if you want to give it your best shot, here are seven easy steps to follow that will increase your chances of building a successful email list.

1. Choose an email platform

The first step to building your email list is choosing a platform. They all offer the same basic services. What you should look for is ease of use and a good deal on pricing.

EmailOctopus is a good fit for authors that integrates directly into BookFunnel, and that’s free if you’re sending to 2,500 people or less. Substack is the #1 newsletter platform transforming journalism, and that’s free no matter how many subscribers you’re sending to. Other email platforms you might look into include:

  • Tinyletter
  • Buttondown
  • Mailchimp
  • ConvertKit

The great thing about an email list is that, unlike social media platforms that try to keep you around by holding your followers hostage, an email list is totally portable.

If you grow a decent following on Substack and decide you need something more advanced and customizable, you could literally copy and paste your list of subscribers into another platform. 

2. Think of a free gift

In the world of self-published non-fiction, especially in B2B and professional coaching circles, it’s common for authors to get signups with a free gift. Marketers often call this kind of thing the “lead magnet.” This is usually something like a small portion of the book given freely or a condensed guide on one specific topic the book covers.

But even in fiction, authors are finding ways to supplement their books with additional content. If you buy sci-fi author Simon de la Rouviere’s Hope Runners of Gridlock on Gumroad rather than Amazon, he gets a bigger slice of the revenue, and you get extra content like a “Director’s Commentary”-style companion guide and even a soundtrack album.

Get creative with your free gifts and lead magnets. Do whatever feels appropriate for your book. For non-fiction, you could give away:

  • “Cheat sheets” and helpful guides
  • Exclusive access to video tutorials
  • Resources or templates for readers to work through

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3. Build a landing page

You likely already have an author website. But you should create a specific landing page for your newsletter signups and direct people there.

One benefit of your own email list and website is that you get to own the “customer journey.” This is the path the reader takes from the moment you gain their attention to the moment they buy your book.

Ecommerce companies put a lot of time and money into their customer journeys, and for good reason. Whether they’re investing in call tracking systems to trace the reasons for customer calls or segmenting online referral sources, the customer journey is vital as it’s the first impression people have of your brand.

You might think of yourself as more of an artist than an entrepreneur. But even a little bit of thought into the impression you’re making on potential signups will go a long way. A landing page is one of the best ways to increase your ebook sales.

There’s no need for complicated analytics. Customer journeys will follow the “attention, consideration, purchase” model used across marketing in all fields. As an author, yours will look something like this:

  • The reader comes across your book. Maybe they’ve bought it. Maybe they’re just browsing through the first few pages either in a store or with Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.
  • The reader notices the free gift in your book, available if they sign up to your email list, and a URL to follow.
  • They follow the URL and arrive on your highly-optimized, A/B-tested landing page.
  • The page reminds them of the free gift again, and they sign up.
  • They get the first email immediately.
  • A few days later, they receive the second email in an automated flow.
  • After that, perhaps they start receiving the regular emails you send out to your whole list.

You have countless options for building your own landing page, just as you do with building your whole site. If you don’t have a site and you’re looking for an all-in-one solution, both ConvertKit and Mailchimp have tools to build a landing page built right into the platforms.

email list for authors free gift
Image by Bob Dmyt from Pixabay

4. Give readers a warm welcome

As soon as your reader signs up for your list, it’s important to deliver your free gift or lead magnet immediately. What’s next?

This email could be the first of a series – a series you write once and send out on a schedule to new signups automatically. A sequence of emails like this is called an email flow. It’s one of many best practices in eCommerce email marketing you should take inspiration from.

Email flows can be “programmed” to respond to the actions of their recipients. If a reader isn’t opening or clicking on your email, you might want to send them a re-engagement email.

Research how to write re-engagement emails to find out the best practices that get users back into your email flows.

Taking another page out of the eCommerce playbook, once your list grows to a certain size, it’s a good idea to think about audience segmentation.

You don’t want to lose subscribers by spamming them with irrelevant content. Unlike social media, where you’re broadcasting everything to everyone, email platforms allow for detailed audience segmentation. Use this to separate your more “casual” subscribers, ones who came for the freebies, from the more engaged fans who’ve come to you from your book or from guest blogs you’ve written.

5. Promote your email list across your site

It’s important to promote your mailing list across your site, not just on the landing page. Check out J.F. Penn’s site with “FREE BOOK!” right there at the top of the homepage.

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You could put it somewhere on the homepage with attractive anchor text, but if you have a successful blog on the site, you should promote your mailing list there too.

If you run your own site, owning your customer journey allows you to look at detailed analytics like goal conversions and the most common exit page on your site. Look up a video tutorial on Google Analytics, set it up on your site, and monitor the activity closely. Employ A/B testing and figure out how to best optimize your site for your target audience.

6. Promote your email list across the web

Your landing page should be the main focus of your promotional activities, as it’s the piece of the site you’re optimizing for conversions. Link to it in your social media profiles and author bios, link to it in guest posts, and spread it around any online communities you’re a part of.

The more people you funnel into this page, the more data you’ll have to look at and run A/B tests on. This will enable you to increase the number of signups to your page over time.

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7. Engage your readers

Finally, you want to keep readers engaged without spamming them. Email on a regular schedule, but be clear on the landing page about how often you’ll be emailing. Research the answers to questions such as “What is customer engagement?”, think about why your readers signed up for this list, and think of ways you can deliver value and keep them interested. 

Once you’ve got your readers into your list, you might think that’s the end of it, but you’ve got one more potential hurdle to clear: the spam filter. In a world of rising cybercrime attacks like ransomware, phishing scams, and even vishing scams, it’s better for the spam filters to be safe than sorry. That means there’s a chance they’ll wrongfully block you from sending emails to your readers, even though they personally signed up for them.

You should mention whitelisting in your welcome email. Include a quick reminder in your first email for the reader to either add you to their contacts or the whitelist in the spam filter.

Why shouldn’t you make an email list?

With email platforms available freely and website domains starting at around $20 a year, there’s little reason for authors not to build an email list. Even if you’re just starting out with a small audience, the passionate community you can cultivate with your readers is a great marketing asset that will stay with you as you grow.

About the author

Patty is the EMEA Product Marketing Manager for RingCentral Office, the leader in cloud communications solutions with cloud-based integration. Patty is passionate about creating value and differentiation, ensuring a better experience for customers and partners. She gained a wealth of international product marketing, product management, GTM and market development experience, across a range of high-tech SaaS in a fast-paced, hyper-growth environment that assumes both strategic and tactical execution. She is not new to UC, starting in Tandberg, then Cisco, driving the launch of video collaboration and services, and Enghouse with global responsibilities for hosted CCaaS. She has written for sites like Quirks  and Prettylinks.


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