The Email Marketing Trap Fiction Writers Must Avoid

by | Jun 24, 2015

Does any of this sound familiar?You hear of a successful novelist that runs a monthly email newsletter. So you decide to do yours monthly too.A fellow fiction author says he paid to have a custom design for his emails, consistent with his brand. You fork out money to do the same.You read a blog post about the importance of offering a free gift to encourage more email signups, thus growing your list. You have no idea what to use, but figure something is better than nothing.Generally speaking, looking to others for guidance isn’t a shortcoming. When we tackle a new endeavor and have no clue what to do next, it’s natural to seek information from the people around us. That’s especially true with a complicated undertaking like email marketing.Fiction writers are familiar with this dilemma. Time is precious, which means shortcuts are welcomed.The problem is that you can waste a lot of your energy following the most popular tactics and so-called best practices. Not because any of these actions are flawed, but because they don’t quite fit what you’re trying to achieve. Putting faith in such a method is a trap.Ultimately, your circumstances matters most. The email marketing approach you take needs to work for your situation, regardless of what it does for everyone else.Here are three questions to help you avoid the email marketing trap:

  1. What are you able to do?

    You want an honest assessment of your skills, resources, and experience.A simple example: some fiction authors send out emails to their subscribers no less than once a week. No joke.These writers thrive on engagement. They want to stay on the radar of their readers as much as possible, even if it’s with a small update or a brief message to ask how’s it going.That type of exchange frequency may not be for you. If figuring out what to say and responding to responses feels overwhelming, acknowledge that limitation.Email marketing is an on-going effort. Unlike a book, there’s no ending. Be mindful of long run consequences.If that means doing less or a simpler plan, then that’s what you do.

  2. What are your preferences?

    Knowing what you can do is one thing. Knowing what you want to do is another.What is the impression you’re giving when a reader finds your website, or sign-up form? What kind of experience are you creating for the recipients of your emails? What is your vision? While email marketing will always be about connecting with your readers, there’s a wide range of ways to accomplish that.So yes, do your research. Observe your fellow authors and learn tactics from trusted sources. But beyond that, attain the insight of why certain actions are taken. You’ll be in a better position to make an informed decision about how to conduct your email marketing.Most of all, realize that you always get to choose. You don’t have to use html in your emails, and you don’t even have to call what you do a newsletter. The good news is, there’s always another way.Visualize what’s important to you. Then make it happen.

  3. What tactics support your strategy?

    When you take a lot of random actions, you tend to get a lot of random results.That’s the danger of doing things without the knowledge of why they’re done. Offering a compelling bonus in exchange for an email address may increase signups, but using an incentive unrelated to your fiction writing will attract the wrong kind of subscriber. Knowing the reasoning helps.Email marketing is a process, but it’s best executed with a plan. There are foundational parts that work in concert, and certain steps that need to be performed before others. You can’t expect to be successful just by copying a few fellow authors and reading a couple of blog posts. Go deeper, beyond the how. Educate yourself on the why and make more impactful decisions.


The bottom line

No, you won’t do everything perfect the first time, just because you’re equipped with the rationale behind your actions. But chances are, you’ll be less frustrated if you take a smarter approach.Email marketing, at its best, is a sustainable system that provides promotional leverage for your fiction writing. Assessing your situation, preferences, and strategy is an investment towards that effort, and not necessarily easy. But it’s worth it.


tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Pamela

    I’ve always been confused about ‘e-mail marketing.’ I write a weekly blog. I write little vignettes that seem to please my followers. In my blog I have little tabs those readers can hit with links to my books, if they so choose. That’s as comfortable as I feel being in my readers’ e-mails every week. I notice some wonderful authors (like Louise Penney) send out a monthly e-mail newsletter and also post at least weekly on FB. This seems more civilized to me.

    • Jason Kong

      Pamela: Email marketing refers to the use of email as a way to communicate directly with people interested in what you have to offer, and does include selling. That does not, however, mean you’re selling all the time. In fact, it probably works best that you don’t.

      In your case, it sounds like people can opt-in to receive an email notification whenever you publish to your blog. That arrangement can certainly use some elements of email marketing if you choose.

      But most of the time when people talk about email marketing, it includes the use of a email management tool like AWeber or MailChimp. Those services allow you maintain separate lists for different kinds of communications, the ability to have certain emails delivered at predetermined intervals, etc. Basically, you get more options to manage your subscriber relationships. Your philosophy in terms of what you send and how frequently would remain intact.

  2. Zachary Totah

    Great insights, Jason. Thanks for sharing. I’ve struggled with the whole email marketing thing, so I appreciated your tips.

    • Jason Kong

      Thanks for your comment, Zachary. Good luck!

  3. Anne R. Allen

    For me the most important think to think about with email marketing is: what do your customers want?

    If any author sends me a newsletter every week, it’s an automatic unsubscribe. I’m also less inclined to buy their books. I feel they are robbing me of my precious time in order to beg me to do stuff for them and brag about themselves.

    Working “hard” on newsletters may make an author feel like they’re successfully competing with other authors, but the most important thing to think about is “what are your results?”

    Email marketing, like cold-calling on the phone, is an intrusion on somebody’s time. Make sure you don’t wear out your welcome.

    • Jason Kong

      Anne: I totally agree that respecting a subscriber’s time is critical. An author can only get away with frequent emails if subscribers welcome them. And that scenario usually will not include messages that are self-promotional and nothing else.

      But what if an author sends weekly emails that some fans love and others feel are excessive? Do you simply alienate the casual reader? Have multiple email lists that appeal to distinct groups? There is no single right answer, of course, which is one of my main points. It all depends on an author’s situation and what’s best for him/her.

  4. Crystal Walton

    Thanks, Jason. That’s probably one of the most freeing articles I’ve read on the topic. Thank you for acknowledging what so few people do.

    • Jason Kong

      Of course, Crystal! I’m glad you found the article helpful.

  5. Jack Eason

    All good advise Jason for those who unlike me don’t maintain a blog. :)

    • Jason Kong

      Jack: Well, I suppose the general advice in the three bullets could apply to a blog as well. :) But I think most people get that blogs can be used in many different ways, and however the owner likes.

      With email marketing, writers zero in on the marketing aspect. And perhaps that’s why they use fewer tactics, because if they don’t, they’re worried the marketing part won’t work.


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