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
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.
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 “Amazon.com” and “Amazon UK” is far better than “Amazon.co.uk”
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 “Wellsfargo.com” and the link sends you to “Phishingcentral.com”
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. https://blog.mailchimp.com/yahoo-changes-may-affect-your-deliverability/
Basically, you really want a custom domain and email, because if you’re sending from SomeAuthor@Gmail.com, 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!
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!