Part 2: Mailing Lists, Giveaways, and GoodReads
Previously, on Part 1:Forums, Groups, and Blogs, Guest Blogging, Blog Tours, and Endorsements.
Mailing lists: The best time to start a mailing list for promoting today is, like a blog, five years ago, because they take time to grow organically.
While social media seems like the easiest and most obvious way to reach out, you’re not nearly as visible as you think you are. Facebook “throttles” posts so any post with a link can only be seen by a maximum of 30% of the people following it (usually more around 14%, unless you pay them to “promote” your post to a wider percentage of followers), and twitter is running blacklists of people they’re shadow-banning for similar effect, while WordPress has deleted blogs hosted on their site for non-approved politics. Even if they didn’t, or you’re on self-host wordpress, blogger, or livejournal, the setup for displaying posts can make important information quickly scroll to the second page. A mailing list done right will always reach your fans, every time.
What do you put on your mailing list? Depends on your style of communication. While most authors would love to use it only to announce the next book and maybe the occasional sale, they really need to send an email at the very least quarterly (monthly is better) to remind people with internet attention spans who they are, why they are interested in hearing from this author, and thus likely to open the next announcement of new story instead of reflexively dismissing it as spam. Some authors do upcoming snippets, and/or cut scenes with director’s commentary, contests on naming a character… and some do a general folks chatter on life, how the garden is doing, birds they’ve seen, etc. mixed in with story ideas and upcoming books.
But when you send out a new book announcement, you can count on almost all of the recipients checking their email, and everyone who was waiting for the next in that series to go check it out. (These are fans of yours who trust you with their email address, so this is as targeted a target market as you can get.)
How do you grow a mailing list? By letting people know it exists. If you have a blog, you’ll want it up at the top of your sidebar, or a pinned post before any others, so people can see it.
If you have a static author page (not social media, just enough to keep scammers from capturing your press/publisher name’s domain), then you want it on the landing page. Some people prefer to put it in as pop-up or pop-under; I personally dislike popups with a fiery burning passion of a thousand suns, but I have to acknowledge they do work at driving every eyeball to knowing you have a mailing list and an opportunity to sign up. (They also annoy and turn off some of your would-be readers, like me, and won’t be seen at all by someone with an effective adblocker. Pick your poison.)
Many authors, artists, musicians, and other small businesses, on realizing the ways that twitter and facebook work to annoy, harass, & drive off their users, will make sure they stick their mailing list signup loud and proud there, and regularly remind new fans finding them that it’s better and more reliable for getting info than the social media. For example, Marian Call put this in her “About Me” on Facebook (fanbridge is her mailing list signup):
Members: My band members are the many, many voices in my head. http://www.mariancall.com to listen, purchase, or learn more. http://mariancall.fanbridge.com to NOT MISS SHOWS! I only accept friend requests on my other page from people I know well (no offense), so if you’re a fan or business connection or acquaintance, let’s be friends here! I am a geeky acoustic singer-songwriter from Alaska. I travel the country playing for your amusement, and I love connecting with friends and fans. Thanks for visiting! Hope to meet you on the road! You can also find me on Twitter (@mariancall). Listen for free on Spotify or thru Bandcamp on my official website (preferred), http://www.mariancall.com/. PLEASE NOTE: for business correspondence, booking/logistics etc., DO NOT contact me via Facebook. Call or send e-mail. I seldom respond to Facebook contacts except to say “e-mail me.”
Some authors, especially those using permafrees (stories with the price set to $0 with no expected end date, as opposed to a brief free run during a promotion), will try to get more signups by sweetening the pot with “sign up for the mailing list and get a free copy of Book 1!” or “Sign up for the mailing list, and get a free prequel novella set in the Chibi Cthulu universe!” I prefer to avoid the logistical complications of downloads, and would prefer to have all the stories out where people can pay for them. But it’s an option – be aware that it will dilute your mailing list with people who didn’t know you, tried your stuff for free, decided they don’t care for it, and ignore all your emails thereafter.
And then there are the giveaways. Place like Rafflecopter make it easier to run the logistics of giveaways, and I’ve seen blog tours and goodreads promotions run pre-release, with “sign up for the mailing list and you’ll be entered to win a copy of this new book before it comes out!” This actually makes sense with an interested enough crowd – by creating artificial scarcity to make a product valued, the recipients are going to value it more, and be more likely to review it.
On the other hand, the giveaways tend to drastically dilute the effectiveness of your mailing list, as people who are only interested in winning, not in your book, will enter just because they can – they don’t really care about updates or your latest releases, as opposed to your fans. Some authors have a lot of success at running it as a numbers game – that 25% of 40,000 people opening their emails is better than 85% of 250 people opening their emails. On the other hand, when you’re starting small, you won’t have lots of money and time together to blow on mailing list management (who does?), so I recommend a higher-quality clickthrough list that’s small enough you can use the free versions (we use mailchimp, just like my favorite meadery.)
Last and most fraught with interesting times: Goodreads. Goodreads is a community built on readers reviewing books, and has its own quirky internal etiquette and politics. Some authors use a Goodreads account to great effect; others have tried it and are more likely to respond to the idea of promoting there with “Kill it with fire!”
The first thing to understand before you brave goodreads is that there are people there who feel that it is for readers, and authors should not be allowed. They range from well-intentioned people who want to focus on talking about books without authorial oversight to the people who’ve endured one too many authors behaving badly (mainly spamming forums with their books or protesting ratings & reviews), to power-hungry social justice warriors out to ensure that all badthink and wrongfun is punished.
The second thing is that you’re going to get a lot more people who use 5-star to mean “the books I re-read until the pages fall out”, and so a 3-star may mean “pretty good” to them. That’s how it rolls there, so don’t let it get to you.
The minimum to do is get in there and make sure your books are listed, with correct covers; the next step is making sure your blog has an auto-feed to there. Some authors, like Mary Catelli, Cedar Sanderson & Lois McMaster Bujold, have a question-and-answer section open, and regularly check it, answering questions from curious fans and readers. Others participate in the forums and groups, and use this target market of dedicated readers to run giveaways of Advance Reader Copies. (As noted above, sometimes these giveaways are for mailing list signup growth as well as generating reviews and word of mouth right as the book is officially published.)
For all its minefields, GoodReads has a large audience of voracious readers who are looking for more to read, and can provide enthusiastic support, word of mouth, and reviews both on the site and on vendors’ sites. Some authors – especially romance – have found it a great way to connect and build a fanbase without having to use a blog or other social media.
As always, what works for some authors doesn’t work for others; none of this is a proscribed “you must”, merely, “here are options that may or may not work for you.”
next week: discount mailing lists like BookBub and other things that take less time and more money