Mailing List Basics – And New Books!

Mailing list campaigns

I am a big proponent of having your own mailing list – it’s a direct link to people who like your books enough that they want you to tell them when a new one comes out. No worry about the middleman, no having the list be hostage to some company or platform that might go bankrupt or fold. Seriously, happy readers get new entertainment, and you get paid. What could possibly be better?

That said, there are a couple things to keep in mind. Peter uses Mailchimp, so all my examples are going to be drawn from there; Aweber and others may use slightly different terminology, so interpret as you go.

1. Quality over Quantity

Never forget your mailing list is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The end goal is to sell more books. Getting 1,000 people to sign up for your mailing list means nothing if they don’t buy your next book. We’ve taken a really low-key approach to mailing list growth: it’s on Peter’s blog sidebar, and otherwise we haven’t pushed it.

Other authors have run rafflecopters for free books or run Facebook ads where the call to action is a mailing list signup – but while they’ve expanded the amount of signups dramatically, the amount of opens / clickthroughs has dropped correspondingly. Some have still come out way ahead, others came out with a larger headache, more expense, and further in the hole. Proceed with caution, do research.

As a result of our approach, we have a fairly small mailing list, but while industry average for promotional emails is 19.3% open rate, 2.7% click rate… Ours is, on average, 49.6% open, 10.7% click rate.

Given that many inboxes these days have a “promotional” tab that exile everything that makes it past the junk mail filter, 50% open is pretty darned awesome. As for that 10% open rate – that includes clicks to other authors on cover-reveal emails (usually 4-5% click rate), and the westerns (8% click rate, because a lot of the scifi readers don’t read westerns.)

2. Specific parts of the promotional email

Subject lines

I’ve found that if the headline is “(New Book Title) is out!”, the open rate drops dramatically. “September Newsletter”, on the other hand, works awesomely. Amusingly enough, there’s an upsurge of sales anyway with the former: a statistically significant number of people will read “(Book Title) is Out!” and then go to Amazon and buy the new book, without ever actually opening the email.

Overall, though, “August Newsletter” gets more sales over the next 48 hours than “King’s Champion is out!” So September is “September Newsletter”, and not “Forged in Blood is out!”

Preview (The line you see on some email systems after the subject line)

“You’re getting this email because you signed up to hear about news and new releases from Peter Grant – and we have news for you!”

Why? Because the average interested reader may or may not know what the new release is named, and on the first cup of coffee, “King’s Champion is out!” may hit the same mental spam filter as “Hot sexy Tasmanian Devils!” So I give ’em a reminder why they’re getting the email. You’re getting this because you asked for it! Don’t reflexively hit that “spam” button or the “unsubscribe” link!

Body – This thread needs pics!

Put in the book cover. Many people are visual, and so you want to give them the “this is what you want” in visual form. (I know, I’m talking to writers, who tend to think in words. When talking to artists, I have to remind them to add words to the email instead.)

Put in the blurb. Make sure you use line breaks, paragraph breaks, and don’t give ’em a wall of text. This email may be read on a cell phone – make sure everything’s readable in mobile format, not just on a browser set at your monitor’s size.

Call to action: Put in the link to buy it! Say something like “Buy this Here:” Really, it’s okay to ask for the sale when people have signed up to buy your stuff.

Country-specific sales: We’re exclusive on Amazon, so what I’ve done is I put in the top 5 countries’ sales links. You can break this out on your KDP (and other) dashboards. While you may not have many Canadian, German, UK, or Australian fans, the ones you do have will appreciate taking the time to put in a direct link to click and buy. They appreciate with money! (I actually have this set now to the top 5 countries that are clicked-through on the mailing list – making it easy for the people who see it to get the books.)

3. Avoiding Spam / Junk filters

First, the easy one: in the body of your email, do not provide link text that’s different from the link but can look like http text. What do I mean? I mean, “King’s Champion on Amazon” is far better than “” and “Amazon UK” is far better than “”

Otherwise, some spam filters are going to detect the difference and flag it just like emails that ask you to update your bank info at “” and the link sends you to “”

Second, the harder one – DMARC means you want a custom domain name.

What is DMARC? Here, check this post from Mailchimp – the other major mail providers have since joined.
Basically, you really want a custom domain and email, because if you’re sending from, but it’s coming out of mailchimp’s servers instead of gmail’s, it won’t get authenticated as sent from gmail – and thus it’ll get bounced to spam.

And last but not least,

4. Getting people to sign up – or buy the next book?

It’s a truism of marketing that you can only have one effective call to action at a time – so while you can ask people to buy the next book, or sign up for the mailing list, or leave a review, asking them to do multiple things will drastically reduce the number of people doing anything at all.

Do I believe the truism? It depends on placement. If you ask busy people to do one thing, they will – if they want to. But if they don’t want to, they skip right past and don’t do any of the other things you’d like, either. If you give people with time multiple options, they’ll choose what they want.

Mailing list emails are a great place for single call to action. People don’t tend to spend a lot of time on any single email, and you want to get them to do one thing before they delete the email and move on without looking back. So “The new book is out! Buy the new book!” is a pretty great message for an email.

“Buy the next book! Review the last one! Enter this raffle! Check out this book by someone else!” is asking too much, and the clicks go down dramatically.

(Random aside: I try to have something people can do for each email. So if I send out a cover reveal email, then I provide a link to another author who overlaps with the reader’s tastes under “check this out!” at the bottom. 1-2 authors good; 3 is really pushing it.)

The back of a book, being arrived at without the pressure to get through 35 emails and on with their day, is a great place to try multiple calls to action. Thus, it’s a great place to stick “Please leave a review”, and hotlinks to “other books by this author”, and, yes, a link to a mailing list signup.

Note that on the cell phone version of the kindle app, Amazon has a page that pops up before you get to the back matter with 1.) a link to next in series, titled “buy the next book” in bright yellow bar. 2.) a number of stars to tap for leaving a review. Amazon puts a lot of effort into selling books, and this tells you they’re trying to get you to dig in your virtual pocket for more change (or reviews) before you have a chance to put the book down, leave that headspace, and go back to other things.

(This also prevents most readers from seeing the back matter you put in. Eh, can’t have everything. Kindle device readers, on-computer readers, and crossloaded devices will still display it, so stick it in!)

Blogs are the inbetween ground – while a single call to action works best, you can stick in multiple calls to action and options, like “Here’s my latest book, which you want! Already got it? Sign up for my mailing list so you’re one of the first to know when the next one’s out!”

5. Emails as feedback / audience engagement

Obviously, when a new book is out, you want readers to go forth and enjoy the new book. But most of us aren’t releasing a book a month – so what do you do if you release two books a year or less?

You can keep fan engagement going with other announcements: sales, con appearances, interview links, previews of the upcoming covers, update on how the dogs are doing (Some authors’ pets have fans of their own), and questions you’d like fans to answer.

Some authors will test their covers in their mailing list “Here are two possibilities for next cover. Which do you like more?” Some will ask their fans to pick (from a small list) a name for a bit character, or who ends up with whom among the side characters, or what color the wedding theme should be, or if they want the next book to be in series X or Series Y.

Asking fans for their opinions is not only excellent market research / reader feedback, it makes the fan feel like they have an investment in the book, and they’re more likely to promote it via word of mouth when it comes out.

On the other hand, this can easily grow to be an enormous time suck. Don’t become someone who answers emails for a living, and writes as a hobby!

6. Calls to Action:

Would you like to motivate me to keep writing these columns? How about giving yourself a real treat while you’re at it? There’s an easy way to do both: my darling man has not just one but two new books out, that you can pick up and enjoy!

If you like sword and sorcery, justice and old men who apply experience and cunning to overcome evil and enthusiasm, then you want to give King’s Champion a try! It’s right here on Amazon!

But even better, if you’ve already read that, here’s the story of a sword from across space and time! Peter has a story in Michael Z Williamson’s new Freehold anthology, Forged In Blood! Follow the story of Kendra Pacelli’s sword from ancient Japan when a surly ronin is called upon to defend a village against a thieving tax collector who soon finds out it’s not wise to anger an old, tired man… to Peter’s own story set in the founding of the Freehold on the planet Grainne, to the far future!

Thank you!


  1. Note that your mailing list has to provide an easily locatable method for unsubscribing, that it part of the anti-spam laws passed … a decade ago?

  2. I had a Mailchimp account for a retail store a couple years ago, it worked very nicely from a user perspective. As for driving sales, it was pretty meh. The retail store died. (Retail generally is in trouble, invest wisely.) For driving sales of an e-book it may do better, particularly if you put a one-click-buy link to Amazon in the newsletter itself.

    In that regard, Twitter and Facebook paid advertising are an UTTER WASTE OF MONEY for a brickandmortar store. An ad in the local paper, even a quarter-page, got a lot more customers. As in, when there was an ad you could see the sales bump on the graph. When there was a Facebook campaign, there was no bump. Nothing. Sponsored tweets were like throwing money down a well.

    Doing a targeted Facebook campaign for an e-book, if you could buy the book right from the ad, that -might- work. If people have to click-through to buy, it probably wouldn’t. Based on my (limited) experience, people don’t click through.

    1. I should a as an afterthought, know your customer. The older people still read the local paper, so if that’s your constituency, the paper is your friend. Kids nowdays, I don’t know what the hell they do. Instagram, probably.

      And get off my lawn. 😡

  3. I saw this offer earlier, if you want to try your own domain, e-mail and website they offer the domain registration, mail and a web site free for a year. The prices after that aren’t bad either.

    This is just the first good one I hit, many similar offers are out there. I personally use and have for many well satisfied years.

    Having your own e-mail server (incoming and outgoing) is very nice as you never get grief from your mail provider or have to worry about their reputation impacting your ability to deliver mail or their outgoing spam filters (I’m looking at you Cox Cable) silently eating your sent messages instead of delivering them.

    They do have sending limits making a different service like MailChimp a better option for sending newsletters and other mass mailings. “Our servers allow you to send 25 emails per 5 minutes, or to 250 recipients per 5 minutes.” but for all other mail they should serve well.

    If you can’t get a .com domain you like (that should be your first choice in most cases) others like .info are becoming well accepted. I’d avoid using a foreign country (to you except for possibly .eu) as a domain, you don’t need the grief you can get by becoming multi-national unless there is a darned good reason to go that direction.

  4. >> 19.3% open rate, 2.7% click rate… Ours is, on average, 49.6% open, 10.7% click rate.

    I remind y’all that that that open rate measurement is not reliable.

    One author emailed me “Finally: you haven’t opened a mailing from us in a while — so this mailing is partly to determine whether or not you still want to be on our mailing list. ”

    I said, “any method of doing this may be ineffective, worse it can be systematically ineffective, depending on email clients and firewall settings, so you exclude all listees with those settings.”

    I reference Kristine Kathryn Rusch who pointed to her comments section.

    Shantnu March 23, 2017 at 1:35 pm said

    With modern tools, you can get tons and tons of data, most of which is useless. You get lost in the data maze and forget to write.

    Some of it is worse than useless, it’s actually harmful. Open rates for emails, for example. Many email clients block the tracking pixel, and so the figure you get is a random number. And yet, I know many authors who trust this magic number and unsubscribe people they think are not opening their emails. Good readers are lost because someone wanted to boost a vanity metric.
    KKR added “Thank you for the reality check from someone who does data for a living”
    my webmail notes “Remote images blocked to protect your privacy. ” and can’t deal with mail receipt requests.

    And I had bought the book, but didn’t click through but used, IIRC, a bookmark

    1. Thanks for the link! I usually read KKR on the day she posts, so I bet I miss a lot of great stuff in the comments section… I ought to think about how to change that.

      And good point on the tracking pixel. Personally, I looked at the difference between clickthrough sales and the sales bump, laughed, and decided to only have the list shrink when people unsubscribe of their own free will. Because I don’t open all my promotional emails, but that doesn’t mean I’ll never open another one from a certain source again… and I sure don’t want to block any fans from getting the books they want! (Besides, if I had the time to cull the mailing list, I’d spend it filing the pile of stuff on my desk, cleaning out my own inbox, or cleaning out the fridge!)

      Thanks for buying the book – hope you enjoy it!

  5. A hot sexy Tasmanian devil is something I’d just as soon not encounter, thankyouverymuch. Otherwise, thanks for a very useful post!

    1. Believe it or not, I culled that from the word salad of my spam filter. It was such a ludicrous mental image that it stuck as “It Came From The Spam Filter, or, phrases that should not occur in nature.”

      Glad you found it useful!

  6. My biggest concern is the DMARC stuff, because no matter what address I put on my mailchimp campaign, it’s not coming out of that server. So unless I build my own list server, which is a pain in the butt, I’m always going to be filtered out by most of those places comparing the two.
    All anyone ever says is ‘use a different email address than gmail or yahoo.’ But that actually doesn’t stop the problem, as if they’re checking to see if return addresses match the server, they’re not going to unless mailchimp puts theirs on it.

    As for mailing lists, I’ve only got 60 or so people on mine. I wish I knew how many people followed me on Amazon, but Amazon refuses to share any info at all with writers (even though they share it with every other person selling stuff on Amazon, but then considering some of the writers out there, maybe that’s a good thing?). Yes, I haven’t been aggressive about signing people up, I haven’t done the whole ‘I’ll give you this free if you sign up thing’ because simply put I HATE MAILING LISTS, and will never sign up for one. I get too much spam already. So I figure my readers probably feel the same way.

    I still offer free stuff on my website, and I leave the opportunity there for any who wish to take it, I put links for it at the end of every book. I just don’t force it on people. Again, maybe because I don’t sign up for them, ever, I just don’t understand them, but I have a better than 50 percent open rate, so I guess that’s not bad?

    Thanks for the suggestions on layout, I think I will try that going forward, never thought to put the book covers in.

    1. @John Van Stry “My biggest concern is the DMARC stuff, because no matter what address I put on my mailchimp campaign,”

      Since you own the “From:” domain you can say what is allowed.
      It allows the administrative owner of a domain to publish a policy on which mechanism (DKIM, SPF or both) is employed when sending email from that domain and how the receiver should deal with failures

      So you can copy mailchimp’s list of servers.

      1. I didn’t know that they’d added the ability to list other servers in your DNS entry. Guess I’ll have to research that option. Would sure beat having to create my own list server.

  7. Thanks for the info, I’m old, so I use a very limited set of emails to let folks know when a new book is coming. Most of mine is via the blog and facebook.

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