By Jason Kong
Strictly speaking, building an email list is optional. Except if you’re a self-publishing fiction author, it really isn’t.
Whether you’re looking to get more readers, garner more support, or generate more sales, email marketing will help accelerate your progress. Activities such as launching your next book or encouraging positive word-of-mouth for your latest project will see better results too.
While you’ll want to use a list management service such as AWeber or MailChimp, that’s just the first step. Email marketing takes skill, but it’s also useful to understand how the practice works within the context of being a fiction writer.
That’s the purpose of this article. Here are seven insights to improve your email marketing if you’re a storyteller by trade:
There’s only one kind of person you want subscribing
Everyone talks about the importance of making your email list bigger. The problem with this common view is that the emphasis is on getting more people, not what kind of people you’re drawing in.
Who do you want signing up? Readers who already care about your fiction writing.
Not newcomers to your work. Not folks only lukewarm on your books. You’re seeking fans, those who already have experienced your storytelling and want more. They are the most likely to subscribe to your list and the most motivated to respond to your messages. These are the folks you need to be in contact with.
Growing your email list is about attracting and retaining your most loyal readers. The better your marketing tactics are organized around this understanding, the better you’ll do.
When your subscriber numbers finally do go up, that will actually mean you’re getting the right people.
The best email sign-up incentives are free stories
If you want to increase your chances for getting an email subscription, highlight the compelling benefits for being a subscriber.
Fiction authors will often mention contests, discounts, and insider extras to encourage an email sign-up. These are excellent choices, because they revolve around your work.
But the greatest sweetener of all? Receiving more of your storytelling.
Because if that doesn’t help motivate someone to subscribe, then that person really isn’t really a fan. The whole point of your email list is to connect with loyal readers.
Now, giving free fiction to your subscribers doesn’t mean you have to go over the top. One story can work, and it can even be a novella or short story.
Consider the following examples of a free offering:
- A story for email subscribers only, not available anywhere else
- The first book of a series, which has the additional benefit of boosting sales for the rest of the books in the series
- A book you currently offer for sale in a digital format
A free story is both an incentive and a thank-you for signing up, and an excellent way to enhance the relationship with your best supporters.
Have a dedicated landing page asking for a subscription
The typical email sign-up boxes have very little to them. One to two sentences summarizing an offer, a few fields to enter a name and email address, and an assurance of no spam.
Having this simple arrangement in a website’s sidebar makes sense, where the emphasis is on brevity and easy-access. This is an ideal setup for interested readers who know they want to sign up and just need to see where.
But it’s not so great for prospects who aren’t so sure. These people need more detail and more convincing.
That’s where a dedicated landing page can help. It’s a designated page on your website making the best possible case of why someone would want to subscribe to your email list. The copy would include any necessary background on what kind of writing you do, the type of content in the emails, and any extra incentives you’re offering for signing up.
Because you have a specific web page for all this, you also have a unique URL. That makes it easy for you to direct the right people to the landing page. Share your link at the end of all your stories, in social media, or anywhere online when it’s appropriate. Remember, your target audience is whoever wants more of your storytelling.
Don’t underestimate the value of a quality landing page. This one step can dramatically increase the number of email subscriptions you get over its lifetime.
Use autoresponders to build immediate goodwill
Most email marketing services offer the feature of initiating an immediate reply message upon sign-up. You can set up one or more emails to be sent in sequence and in pre-determined time intervals, for each instance a new subscriber comes on board.
Most authors use autoresponders to send some kind of welcome email. A nice note to say thank you, and perhaps previewing what kind of content to expect. If this is all you do, however, you’re missing out on a great opportunity.
What if you released a story via autoresponder, but a chapter every few days?
What if you asked your subscribers for their favorite stories and their reasons why? If you received a response, what could you learn?
What if you shared a list of books from other authors that you’ve read, just because you think your subscribers would enjoy them?
The moment immediately following a sign-up is a special time, because that’s when an interested reader is anticipating something good. Your storytelling is at the forefront of that person’s mind, and you can bet any email received during this limited window will be opened.
How will you reward your subscriber’s full attention?
Email subject lines can make or break your open rates
Most of us scan the emails in our inbox.
Not only scan who an email is from, but also the subject lines to get an idea of the content. According to Copyblogger, on average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. You don’t want a poor email title to be the reason why a reader dismisses your message.
Consider the following two email subject lines. Which one will more likely get someone to click, all else being equal?
- Enter my contest today!
- How to win a chance to have a character in my next book named after you!
If we’re to assume your loyal readers are the ones receiving your emails, what kind of headline would make them curious? Excited? Just like the hooks in your storytelling, you want your readers eager to find out more.
The few extra minutes you spend on your email subject line can yield huge dividends. After all, if your email isn’t opened, it doesn’t get read. If it doesn’t get read, then your message can’t make an impact.
Being respectful is more important than ever
You will be tempted.
When you have someone’s email address, you have access to an exclusive communication channel. With just a click, you can tap into one of the scarcest resources anywhere: someone’s attention.
What’s to stop you from abusing this asset?
Nothing, really. And that, of course, is the danger. It’s too easy to add people’s email to your list even though they didn’t grant you permission. It’s too easy to use a hyped-up email subject line then fail to deliver on your promise. It’s too easy to broadcast a message that furthers your own interests but is irrelevant to your fiction writing.
Respect is a critical component of trust. When you cross the line, you’re devaluing the relationship between you and your fans.
The ability to email your loyal readers is a privilege, not a right. Treat that connection –and the people you’re connected to– with the utmost respect.
If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong
Email marketing serves a definite purpose. It’s an effective means to support your fiction writing.
It’s also an additional commitment to your already packed schedule. Preparing emails worth reading takes thought and care. This can be difficult, especially when time and energy are in short supply.
But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the process. In fact, you should. You have an opportunity to be creative through your writing, thrilling in every way weaving your fiction is. You have a chance to engage with a readership that enjoys what you do, and want to hear from you.
So yes, email marketing is work. But it shouldn’t be painful or tortuous, like you’re trying to impress a stranger. You’re writing to a friend, someone already on your side, and staying in touch.
This very well may be the most enjoyable marketing activity you get to do.
Do you have any email marketing secrets to share with your fellow fiction writers? Let us know in the comments!
Jason Kong is a Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. He also runs Storyrally, an email-based subscription that helps fiction writers with their online marketing.
You can learn more about Jason here.