Three Email List Building Essentials For Fiction Authors

If you’re a fan of my blog or have read my latest book, you know that building an email list is one of the “Big Three” marketing strategies I recommend all authors must be doing to sell more books and build loyal fans. The key to email list building is not using a one-size-fits-all template but understanding the relationship between the maturity of your author platform and your email list building
Authors in the beginning stages of building a platform with little or no budget need to rely on more organic strategies that don’t involve giving away a free book or buying ads to get people to sign up. You can still build a list but your methods are not going to look the same as an author who already has thousands of emails and several book series under their belt.

No matter what your platform level, there are three basic list building essentials you should implement. Again, the methods may look a little different for beginning authors, but they are marketing best practices—strategies that will work for everyone.

  1. Give fans an incentive to sign up for your list. This is one that really trips up authors with less than a few books. I am always asked, “I only have one book. What can I offer?” The only problem you’re going to have here is if you are not writing a book yet and have absolutely nothing created that you can share. If you are writing your first book, or have one or two published, there are a lot of things you can giveaway for an email address:
  • Just writing your first book:
    •  Promise regular updates on how your book is progressing. Fans absolutely love a peek behind the curtain. What chapter are you writing? Where are some of the locations in your book? Describe a main character and their conflict. When is your cover coming out? Try reading a short excerpt (in your own voice) and offering the audio link as an incentive to sign up. After people sign up, you want to send out an update around once a month to keep your book on their horizon. The closer you get to the publishing date, the more excitement you’ll generate. These updates aren’t necessarily about you personally, but about the book itself and the writing process.
  • Working on books two through four:
    • Again, the update email is a popular choice. News on your next book is a good way to keep fans engaged. What updates can you share? Audio excerpts from the books you already have out are popular. You can record these yourself with a free application like Audacity.  Review snippets from your first book(s) also lend social proof to your writing. Use them sparingly like spices in a recipe and never make them the only thing you send out in an update. That looks a little shameless.  Contests can be a good enticement now that you have something to give away. Also, you may want to offer free copies of your book in a limited download window using a service like Amazon S3 or BookFunnel.
  • Multiple series:

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  1. Make sure you have a follow-up email series that begins when people sign up. Also known as an auto-responder sequence or a funnel, this allows you to keep top-of-mind with your subscribers while you continue to offer them more valuable content. The methods for this are different depending on your email service provider and whether or not they support the function. The follow-up emails are critical for building fan loyalty from the start.

Every major email provider has a confirmation opt-in process for subscribers. You can sometimes bypass it depending on how your fans are being added, but you don’t want to, especially if the confirmation email is customizable. In that email, make sure you do three things: Thank them for subscribing, tell them what you’re going to do with their email, and let them know you’re going to reach out again soon with some valuable information you know they will want to see. If you have promised them a free download of some kind, make sure to encourage them to confirm their email right away so they can receive the free item.

After they confirm their subscription, the responder sequence should start. If you don’t have access to an automatic responder system, you’ll be putting together your own welcome email and sending it manually. Here are some examples of what you can do depending on your email provider and what you are giving away.

  • Free email service with no auto-responder options and no follow-up books:
    • If you are using the free version of Mail Chimp, you won’t have an auto responder option. Make sure you set your sign-up form to send you notifications every time someone subscribes. If your subscribers are coming in at less than five a day I recommend setting up a data base to track your welcome email. Or you may want to export your new subscribers on a weekly basis and send out a batch welcome email each week. It might look something like this:

email dbase

Put together your own follow-up welcome email and keep it as a master on a document. Every time you get a notification that someone has confirmed their subscription send them the follow-up email the next day. Always remember to keep track of the date your welcome email goes out. And make sure they confirm their subscription before you send the email. The email should include: a greeting and a list of the places you’d like to connect with them—Facebook, website, blog, and your Amazon author page. Invite them to connect with you. Also, give them a preview of what you will be sending them to keep in touch. Note: When you are getting more than five email sign-ups per day, I strongly recommend upgrading to the paid version of MailChimp if you can afford it. This will give you access to an auto responder system and allow you to automate this whole process.

  • Paid email subscriber service with auto-responder sequencing available. The process looks a little different if you have a subscription that supports a follow-up email sequence:
    • Email #1: Schedule the welcome email to go out upon confirmation of the subscription. If you offered a free book, excerpt, or chapter, there should be a link to it in this email. Thank them again and let them know you’ll be touching base with them soon. Invite them to email you if they have trouble downloading their free product or have questions. You may not get too many people that actually do this, but it shows that you are approachable and care about them. Start off on the right foot with your fans.
    • Email #2 goes out 7 days after the welcome email: Greet them and express an interest in their opinion about the free book or excerpt. Invite them to “reply to this email” and let you know. In this email, the main purpose is to let them know where they can connect with you: Facebook, website, and any other social channels you have. Invite them to connect.
    • Email #3 goes out 7 days after the last email (Day 15 from the welcome email). Greet them and thank them for their input on the last email. This reminds them that you want to be accessible. Start sounding like a friend. Tell them if they liked the free book, they’re going to love the next book in the series. Give them a cover shot, a book description, a link to buy, and maybe a review snippet. Thank them again for signing up.
    • Email #4 goes out 7 days after the last email (Day 22). In this last email in the auto responder sequence, invite them to review the free book if they haven’t already. Let them know how important their feedback is. Invite them to connect on social media again. If you have a review team, you may also want to solicit them for that.

After your initial email sequence is finished, you have established an initial loyalty track. Don’t be discouraged if people unsubscribe. Chances are they were only in it for the free book. Always be more concerned about the quality of your email subscribers than the quantity.

Make a commitment to send out engaging and value-laden emails to your fans. Use the “sandwich method” when you are pitching a book or a request for them to do something in an email: start with a thanks or positive message, put in the meat (take an action), and follow it with another thanks or positive message.  Make it worth their while to open an email from you. Remember there is a person behind every email address so forge a personal connection with all your emails.

  1. Email sign-ups – location, location, location. Embed your email sign-ups where people will notice them. Never underestimate the power of suggestion. Make your sign-up forms easily accessible so people can notice them wherever they are. Here are some prime locations:
  • Pinned tweet: pin a tweet to the top of your home feed so that people who search and find you on Twitter see that opportunity when they land on your profile page. Confirm the availability in your cover photo, maybe even using an arrow to draw attention to the sign-up:

email list call to action

  • Pin a post on your Facebook page: using the same logic, pin a post on the top of your Facebook page so that when people search and land on your home page they will see the sign-up.
  • Use sign-up forms on your website: If you have a side tab or a horizontal “tile-style” website, make sure you embed or link a sign-up form on your home page. If your side tab repeats on inside pages, put your sign-up form at the top of the tab. If you do not have a side tab, consider a pop-up lightbox form. Set the timing of the form to pop up at least 15 seconds after people have arrived so it doesn’t invade their initial look at your website.
  • Embed a sign-up form on your Facebook page. Use your email provider’s app to do this and make sure you move it into the top three positions on your “Manage Tabs” pulldown so that it shows up under your cover photo and on your right side tab as well. This will enable visitors to sign up for your list without leaving Facebook.
  • Put links to your email sign-up in all your social media bios and your Amazon Author Page and on your Goodreads page as well.
  • Put a link in all your contact information locations (press room bios, contact information tab on website).
  • Put a link in your email signature.
  • Put a link in your About section on Facebook in the space where it says “website” so the link will be live.
  • Put a link to your email form in the front and back matter of all your ebooks.
  • Put a link to your email form at the end of every blog post, if you have a blog.
  • Once a month, be sure and cross promote your email sign-up on all your social media channels. If you are on Pinterest, make sure you have a “Contact Me” board with all your social media channels, your website, and your email sign up.

I’m sure you can think of more creative places to link your sign-up forms. Just remember, offer opportunities everywhere people are looking so they can take an action. They don’t have to be invasive, just make sure they are noticeable and accessible.

No matter where you are in your author journey, an email list building strategy is crucial. Sign up for my free webinar on May 17 to learn the five essential list building strategies for all authors.