Fiction Writers: A Simple Approach to Build a Better Email List

by | Jul 1, 2016

You likely know that getting more people to subscribe to your mailing list should be one of your top priorities.

Failing to do so would be a huge business mistake. Besides, as a fiction author, email marketing is one of the best ways to cultivate a readership.

The problem? It’s easier said than done.

  • You have to get people to subscribe.
  • You have to send out engaging emails.
  • You have to compel your audience to support you.

These are huge marketing challenges. And while improving your persuasion skills is a good idea, there’s another adjustment you can make that’s also effective.

Best of all, it’s simple to do.

The surprising benefits of choosing a smaller target audience

Let’s start with a brutal truth: People don’t like giving out their email addresses.

That means it’s hard to get a signup from someone who isn’t already enthusiastic about your work. And even if you do, it’s challenging to hold their attention with the emails you send.

So what if you focused your email marketing on people who have enjoyed at least one of your stories?

This is a different mindset than trying to get anyone with some interest onto your mailing list. Targeting readers who have experienced and liked your fiction writing makes your email marketing choices clearer. By tailoring your actions to a very specific group of people, you’ll increase the chances they’ll positively respond.

The areas of your email marketing that will benefit include:

  1. Attracting subscribers

    • The magnet for fans is your storytelling. Offering free eBooks is great as a lead generation tactic as well as an incentive for email list signups.
    • It’s clear that asking for a subscription to your mailing list at the end of each of your fiction pieces is one of the best places to do it.
    • You know if you’re not getting more subscribers, it almost always comes down to one of two reasons:
      • your fiction is not yet seen by the right people,
      • or, your writing needs additional refinement
  2. Sharing content that engages

    • Once you know you’re emailing fans, then coming up with ideas for your emails should be a lot easier. If you understand why they like your storytelling, then you can figure out ways to elevate their enthusiasm.
    • Remember that existing readers have a certain level of interest and familiarity with your work. You can make references from your world that outsiders wouldn’t get. The engagement level is high.
    • You can show your appreciation by giving stuff that you know will be valuable to your fans. Maybe that’s your time by responding with a personalized email, or your writing by sharing some flash fiction.
  3. Presenting desirable offers

    • If you’ve done the hard work of finding and engaging people who like your fiction, then you shouldn’t have to make any hard sells. Your offers are geared for an audience who want them.
    • You’re also in a position to ask for non-monetary support such as book reviews and spreading the word on social media.
    • If you track your analytics, you’ll see open and conversion rates that are reflective of a true readership that you’re connected with online.

Over to you

Do you have specific criteria on who you want on your email list? Please share your experience in the comments below.

profile-of-Jason-Kong-e1351222381642Jason Kong is the founder of Storyrally, a free email-based subscription that helps fiction writers with their online marketing. Sign up now and receive the guide “How to Use Testimonials to Hook New Readers.’

You can find more articles written by Jason here.


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  1. Jordan Smith

    Great Post Jason! Yes, getting email list you make your business contact easier and more successful. As you know that email marketing could bring us a lot of benefits while we are doing online business. We can keep in touch with our clients and customers and they can receive all of information that we updates immediately. Also, I would like to recommend the best email list service provider helps us to provide most accurate and cost-effective way to reach our prospects!

  2. Harald

    Great post, Jason. But there’s one part I sort of disagree with (or would like clarification about): You say (for fiction writers): “The magnet for your fans is your storytelling.” Maybe yes, maybe no. Especially if a writer is a NEW fiction writer of historical fiction without any existing ebooks (but is an experienced non-fiction writer). I’m thinking it can be just as important for such a writer (ahem!) to create attractive/compelling material ABOUT the fiction story, like the setting or time period, as an example. Especially when that setting/time period is super-famous, and the writer has uncovered interesting elements (including graphics) in the course of doing the research. I mean, that writer is now, basically, an expert of that setting/time period. So why not create exclusive content based on that research (3-5 page PDF?), which seems easier to me than creating new fiction content just for this? Thoughts? Thanks!

    • Susan

      Great idea! (Note to self–do this!). Harold, care to reveal your time period? My bio is of a 19th century New England woman. Your comment has given me some great ideas.

      • Harald

        Hi Susan! Sure: 17th century North America. May I count on you as a potential reader? ;-)))

        • Susan Bailey

          Could be. :-) You describe your project the way I think of mine. :-)

    • Jason Kong

      Harald: Thanks for the comment.

      In the example you describe, I can see how content around research can be compelling to people interested in that particular historical context. But if your primary goal is to build a readership around your fiction writing, then isn’t your fiction writing the best way to attract those people? In other words, are you more likely to get someone who likes your storytelling by someone who likes the research around a historical setting, or someone who actually likes your storytelling?

      While you could write fiction for the primary purchase of bringing in new readers, any story you publish (whether for free or for pay) can serve as the qualifier of who you want on your email list that I referenced in the article.

      I’m not dismissing the value of research that goes into a book, especially to fans of that genre. I’m just saying that it’s probably not going to be an equivalent marketing substitute.

      • Harald

        Thanks for the fast reply, Jason! Hmmm… I think we may have to agree to disagree about this. Or at least, split the difference. While I think my writing is good (or so my editors say), that’s not the main draw. There are a lot of good writers out there. But there’s only 1 writer who is writing about exactly what I’m writing about. Maybe I’m in a unique situation, but my subject is killer (location, time period, characters, conflict, etc.). So why not play up on that?

  3. Susan Bailey

    I really like this approach to building an email list. I can see this applying to non-fiction as well (I am writing a biography and have written a spiritual memoir that was published) as there can be compelling storytelling in certain genres. Up until this point the advice I’ve seen for building an email list is to create compelling content and give away magnets, always with the promise of exponential growth. But what if you appeal to a small niche? What your post does is legitimize such a scenario. I have yet to see any marketing guru deal with this question: why is it every time I gain 1 new subscriber, I lose twice as many, usually in the same week? It gets demoralizing until I remind myself of something Derek Halpern of Social Triggers once said (and I’m paraphrasing): “Be glad to lose subscribers because you only want to keep those who are really committed to you.” Your post suggests a path for attracting those subscribers. Thank you!

    • Jason Kong

      Susan: Well said, thank you.

      The angle with marketing I like to take is that when someone starts paying attention, it’s within the context of how their lives are made better. In the case of fiction writers, the people they need most are those who care about their storytelling, which is why it makes sense to have your email marketing revolve around that. For non-fiction writers, it’s your specific subject or niche.

      And while there’s obviously not just one reason why people lose subscribers, sometimes people sign up with a certain expectation and then leave when it’s not fulfilled. So the natural questions are:

      1) What expectations (both explicitly and implicitly) are you setting with people that subscribe your mailing list?
      2) What are you doing to fulfill (or even better, exceed) those expectations?

      • Susan Bailey

        Great questions! In the course of marketing my books I lost my writer’s voice for my blog and am now trying to regain it in obscurity (definitely not a bad thing because I can really experiment). It will take time to develop a good, strong voice — these questions will help in that regard.



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