26 Jun 2017
Probably the most effective way of staying in touch with your dedicated readers is through an author newsletter. It’s the perfect match: you have something you want to sell, and they are there to hear your message. They want to hear from you ; if they didn’t, that’s what the “unsubscribe” link is for.
There are many services that will help you. Do you need one? No, but it takes time and effort to set up and maintain a mailing list. These services make it easy to add a signup box on your web site, collect the emails, remove people who want to leave the list, and send your messages. It may not seem like much work when you have a dozen fans, but if you have a thousand or more, you’ll appreciate the help!
What’s in a name?
Instead of asking people to sign up for your author newsletter, ask them instead to join your readers’ group! This contributes to the illusion of intimacy, makes them feel more like they’re joining you in your publishing journey, and less like a pool of customers to be exploited.
Setting Up An Author Newsletter
The process can be broken down into three steps.
1. Set up an account
2. Build your funnels
3. Write and send the newsletter
Set Up an Account
There are plenty of companies to choose from. The most popular ones are MailChimp, Constant Contact, Mailerlite, and AWeber. There services and fees vary, but most of them have a free level, then start charging a monthly fee once your list has grown beyond a set number of emails. They also provide additional services for a fee.
Build Your Funnel
This is a mental metaphor for the way a person becomes a member of your mailing list. Funnels, as you know, are wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. They’re like fishing nets. You set a number of them, baited with a lure, and the little fishies go down it and end up on your mailing list.
A Lure for Your Net
You don’t have to offer something to get people to sign up for your author newsletter, but marketers have found that offering a reward is a good way to increase sign-ups. You can use anything. Some fiction authors bait their hook with a free novel, or the opening chapters, but a short story will do as well. Non-fiction authors can offer ancillary material, such as charts, case studies, or a booklet. This is a place where you can be innovative and creative.
There are several funnels you can build:
1. On your website. This can be a box set to one side of the blog (in a place called the sidebar). It can be in a blog post pinned to the top of the blog (WordPress has an option that allows you to pick one post and make that always appear at the top of the blog page). Or, it can pop up when a new visitor shows up at your website (warning: this can annoy people into clicking away), appear when a pre-set condition is met, such as x amount of time has passed, or after they click on a link that will take them away from the site. You set this up within your website, depending on the blog’s software or theme.
The signup usually appears as a simple form: first name, last name and email address. Some have the email only. You can choose to offer something for signing up, such as a free book, the free first couple of chapters of a book, or something else, or nothing at all. The visitor types in their information, clicks a button and sends it to the mailing list. The company sends a confirmation email, the customer clicks the “confirm” link on the email, and they’re good to go.
2. In your books. Whatever format your book is in — print, ebook, or audio — should include a funnel for your newsletter. Include a mention of it at the front and back of the book.
3. With special offers. Giving away a book or a couple of chapters on Instafreebie? Make sure it includes a link to your newsletter. Printing flyers or catalogs for an arts and crafts show or a book festival? Same thing.
Writing and Sending
According to a schedule you set — monthly, quarterly, when you have a new book out — you write your newsletter. At the company’s website, there’ll be a form where you’ll place the text, add headlines and images such as an author photo, book covers, pictures of your pets, whatever. Send the newsletter, and you’re done!
Back Up Your Followers
If you choose a service to manage your mailing list, schedule times during the year to make a copy of your email addresses. This makes sure that if your service suddenly goes under, or (horrors!) erases your list, you’re not totally up the creek.
In your books, when you include a link, craft it so it can remain the same should you switch to another mailing list company.
For example, some companies offer a direct link to their site. If you change companies, you’ll have to update that link in all your ebooks. Use a link that takes the reader to your website, and let that page take them to the mailing list company. It adds an extra step to the process, but it’ll save you a lot of hassle later.
Lesson: Try not to put your company in the hands of others.
What should you write in your author newsletter?
Short answer: Anything you want.
The best answer depends on the kind of relationship you want with your readers. Is it purely promotional? Then it’s about your books. Is it to convey a personal tone? That’s when you write about your future projects, your trips, your cat or dog.
To learn what works for you, join other authors’ mailing list and see how they market themselves.
Let’s take a look at two of them, picked at random from the many I receive:
Wayne Stinnett: Personal and Brief* Wayne Stinnett writes thrillers set in South Florida, the land of Carl Hiassen, Elmore Leonard, Dave Barry, and John D. Macdonald. His newsletter is short and friendly. It consists of 373 words about his trip to Key West for Mystery Fest, describing his visit to Mallory Square and Ernest Hemingway’s home. This is an ideal alignment of his interests with his books.
He also does a bit of networking. He mentions meeting John H. Cunningham, another author with south Florida connections, and links to his books. Stinnett also wrote another 124 words on “What I am Reading,” promoting the latest book in the Road series by his friend Michael Reisig.
Apart from the banner ad promoting his latest book, the tone of Stinnett’s newsletter is informal and friendly. The email’s subject line, “Just Returned from Key West,” makes it seem less like a newsletter and more like a personal note. It certainly looks better than my last newsletter that used “Newsletter July 2017”.
Marie Force: ProfessionalMarie Force’s author newsletter is slick and professional. Romance and thriller writer Marie Force’s newsletter, on the other hand, is slick, polished, and professional. It opens with a big banner ad announcing the publication of her latest book, “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Below it is a link of icons linking to her website’s blog, online store, reader groups and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube).
Under the headline “Thank You for a Great Release Week!” she praises the readers who reviewed her book, quoting some of them by name (first name only, I assume, to protect their privacy). At the bottom is a list of links to the book at all the major online bookstores, including separate links to Kindle stores in the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Australia.
Then she announces that her next book, “Fatal Threat,” is coming out four weeks away and that advance reader copies are available to members of her “Fatal Series Reader Group” on Facebook. The book is also available for presale, and there’s a list of links to it as well.
She also encourages fans to check out another of her series that some of her fans have been reluctant to try. She publishes a letter from a reader testifying to that, and how she loved them after reading one. To encourage others to do the same, Force offers a free copy of the first book.
Force’s author newsletter is the opposite of Stinnet’s. She is all about the marketing. Her newsletter is long, but crisply written. There’s not an ounce of fat anywhere. Her fans are already sold on her books. They want answers to these questions: “What’s new?”, “What’s next?”, and “What have I missed?” That last question is important to answer when Force has six series and more than 60 books!
While these are two different marketing styles, they share a common goal: to engage with readers and to sell books. Without knowing anything about them, I would assume that they did not deliberate long over how they would write their newsletters. It’s a natural extension of their personalities and how they approached the business side of their job. This means that you shouldn’t be too concerned about it, either. Just do it, and let your readers sort it out.