How an Email List Can Foster Reader Engagement

by Joel Friedlander on November 20, 2013 · 11 comments

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I’m often asked why authors, particularly novelists, should bother with an email list. Aren’t email lists just for nonfiction writers or Internet marketers with something to sell? Novelists are trying to get readers involved with the worlds that they create, and to care about the characters who populate those worlds.

In other words, they really want people to get engaged with their writing.

This gives you a hint about why email lists can be really effective for writers who are trying to find readers. It’s all related to the level of engagement that exists with your readers.

In the book business readers sometimes become fans, anxious for more involvement with the author of a book that’s made a big impression on them and looking forward to more books from the same author.

Online, it’s also common for fans to become readers. Someone who encounters you on Twitter or by reading your blog may become sufficiently intrigued by your writing to buy your book. So this process goes both ways.

Since you are marketing online, your aim is twofold:

  1. Attract people who may be interested in your ideas, your writing, or your solutions to problems.
  2. Inspire enough trust and interest in a percentage of those people that they are moved to buy your book, your service or your product.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?

Where the Email List Comes Into Play

Think about this process from the point of view of levels of engagement. Let’s plot it out:

  • A reader notices your name on someone else’s blog or in an article. They become aware of you and perhaps the name or genre of your book, but they have no engagement with you.
  • They decide to click a link and are now on your blog or website. They might stay and read if something looks interesting, or they may bounce right off. They have engaged with you but at a very low level.
  • Perhaps they find something on your site, like an article, a great “About” page, or a sample chapter from your book that they really like. They decide to come back and visit again. This is a higher level of engagement. They will remember you and perhaps come back.
  • Either the first piece of content they saw or repeated exposure to your writing makes them want to stay connected in a world where it’s all too easy to lose track of a link you put aside for later. They subscribe to your blog through the RSS feed or an email subscription. This is a much higher level of engagement, and we’re starting to get into the range where this person has given you “permission” to keep sending them the content they are enjoying. At this point you have something of a relationship, although mostly a one-sided one.
  • The reader realizes that you have a lot to offer to them. Looking for a way to stay connected or to get a special piece of content you are offering, they opt into your email list. You are now at a high level of engagement. Granting someone access to your inbox is an act of trust and hope. Now you can take your relationship to a higher level, since you can interact with your subscriber more intimately.

If you didn’t have an email opt-in available, you would never get to this level of engagement with readers. You can answer blog comments, but how many do you get? You can guest post, run ads, write for magazines, but they all pale in comparison to the immediacy of a permission-based relationship in which you are invited to send email to your reader.

Even if you never use your email list to attempt to make book sales, the ongoing communication you have with the subscribers to your list is in itself a force that helps to cement your relationship with readers and fans.

Your email list: a way to hold out a hand to the people who most want to stay connected to you & your work—Click to Tweet

So if you don’t have an email opt-in form on your blog or website, put one up this month. It’s not hard to do, and there are many services that will help you get started. But do it. It’s a way of holding out a welcoming hand to the people who most want to stay connected to you and your work.



Originally published as Levels of Engagement, or Why Authors Need an Email List on Dana Lynn Smith’s blog The Savvy Book Marketer.

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    { 9 comments… read them below or add one }

    Carol Fragale Brill November 20, 2013 at 5:44 am

    another timely post, because we don’t have a email op-in on our blog and not sure how to create it.
    I often see posts with directions on how to do things like add email mail options on WordPress, but never see BlogSpot instructions. And, haven’t figured out how to access customer support.
    anyone have any suggestions or experience to share?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 21, 2013 at 11:39 am

    I hope readers have some info for you Carol, because I’ve never used Blogger. But it’s worth finding out, since a percentage of your visitors will sign up, and that will end up being a good thing.

    Reply

    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt November 20, 2013 at 6:36 am

    I have a Follow button; people who want to receive an email every time I put up a new blog post click on that. There is a short piece of the post’s beginning (a section I think about a lot when writing posts), and anyone who wishes to read more can easily click on the link to read the rest.

    But I hate the ‘sign up for FREE GIFT’ links offering me some booklet or other – I have yet to find one that was actually useful, and I end up unsubscribing as quickly as possible, and still battling unsuccessful unsubscribes for some of them months later.

    Just because something is offered free doesn’t mean it’s worth the time you spend reading it. I’ve learned to avoid things titled ’10 tips you’ve never heard of for improving your writing/marketing/publishing.’

    I’m not sure whether novelists should do this – and I see too many websites and blogs with the sole focus: BUY MY BOOK.

    The ones I like best – and will still try occasionally – are the ones that promise a single newsletter once a month at most.

    It should be quite clear when you sign up for anything – Follow or email list – what you are allowing yourself to be emailed for. Otherwise, all you’ll get from a live one is an unsubscribe, and an unhappy reader.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 21, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Hi Alicia,

    Have you downloaded my “10 Things You Need to Know About Self-Publishing” PDF? It’s in the top right corner of this page. It’s a very useful piece of content for people getting involved in publishing, and has lots of links to resources and sound advice on a bunch of common issues that confront authors.

    I realize we all have a limit on how much stuff we want to get in our inbox, and that’s why I include an “unsubscribe” link (that works) in every piece of mail I send out.

    If you use an email provider to deliver your blog posts, you can get away with just one opt-in. For those of us who use Feedburner or another service to deliver our articles, we actually need 2 sign ups, one for the blog feed and one to build an email list.

    Reply

    JLOakley November 20, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    I signed up for Mailchimp, but I don’t have a link to it on my website. They get a notice when a blog post goes up. But I’d like to add more using this service. Any tips?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 21, 2013 at 11:44 am

    JL, you have a nice list building, with almost 400 people on it. Mail Chimp is a great service, and if you poke around in there you’ll find that you can also write and send emails to the people on your list, outside the blog posts. This can be very valuable to you, so do check it out.

    Reply

    Marialena November 21, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    Thanks for these ongoing tips. I knew an email list was valuable, but it took me a while to find a simple way to proceed. I know the plug-in I’m using now isn’t the best in the long run, but it’s a start. It’s exciting to have strangers (ok, just a few), start signing up.

    Reply

    Peter J Story November 25, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Excellent advice. I recently added an email subscription feature to my blog, and am hoping for some engagement through it. I know that I have a few readers who are dedicated, though I’m the only one who has signed up yet.

    Reply

    Garuda - Free Software To Blast Email December 11, 2013 at 3:45 am

    Hi Joel, first of all there is a great thank for this great post. An email list is the most important factor that affects most of the email marketing results. A high quality email list gives you better revenue than having a low quality email list.

    Reply

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