I believe we Indie Authors have to stick together people and that is why I am sharing some of my top email list building mistakes. Before I jump to the conclusion that email lists don’t work, I am going to identify some of the things I am doing or have done wrong. Before finding solutions, we must identify the problem. Sometimes it is not that something is not working, we are just doing it wrong.
Problem#1 – Randomly Asking People to Sign-Up
When I started focusing on building my list, I didn’t pay attention to who was signing up. I just wanted the numbers up. I had heard the hype about getting email list subscribers and how helpful it was to authors. By just asking people to sign-up, people subscribed who were not part of my target audience. This means that when I came out with a book, they weren’t taking action. It wasn’t because they didn’t like me or thought I was a bad person. It was probably because they didn’t read the kinds of books I wrote!
Lesson: I should have been seeking targeted readers (readers who like my genre/topic) and not everyone. Just like a target audience isn’t everyone, my email list is also not for everyone.
Problem #2 – Hard selling to my list
In other words, selling my books directly to my email list. I just thought, what’s the point of having an email list if you can’t sell your book to your readers? Isn’t that what the list is for? To help authors to sell books?
Lesson: I should have been nurturing the list with reading material, short stories, etc, giving away copies of my current works and hoping for reviews (this helps if I’ve learned lesson one).
Problem #3 – Not Focusing on Core Fans
I was too busy trying to build my list and increase my numbers that I didn’t pay attention to the few people that were engaged and reading and responding. These are my core fans. They are the ones who will buy, leave reviews and communicate consistently.
Lesson – Not everyone will respond and interact with my list. This is the hard part and I am still trying to figure how to get people to simply communicate with me. But, there are core fans and when broken down, this is a more realistic number far as readership is concerned. It starts to matter little how many people are subscribed if the people subscribed aren’t readers interested in the kinds of books I write (again, goes back to number one) or intrigued enough to interact with me.
Problem #4 – Not collaborating with other authors in my genre
This one is kinda not my fault. Kinda. OK it is, whatever. The point is, I am finding it difficult to find Indie Authors of black historical fiction. I hate to have to add the “black” part but there is a difference between the historical fiction I write and the historical fiction novels that come up when I put Historical Fiction into Google or Amazon’s search engine. There probably shouldn’t be a difference but it is. I have to put in Black Literature or something to find books like mine. Needless to say, I am not interested in just any historical fiction but historical fiction as it pertains to the African American experience. While Romance and Urban Fiction writers are abundant, I am having a hard time finding Indie Authors to connect with of my genre. I participated in a writer support thread on Instagram for example and stopped when I realized the people following me were Romance writers. I enjoy Romance and I support Romance writers but it doesn’t really help me on the flip side.
Lesson: Find more writers in my genre? Interact more on Goodreads maybe? I don’t really know what to do here. Where are y’all at? Lol.
Problem #5 – Not making use of Giveaways (using my book or books in my genre so that the readers who enter are my targeted readers)
I have not been taking advantage of giveaways as much as I know that I should. Giveaways work when it comes to building an email list. I know this for sure. I don’t like to keep talking about my books over and over again. I do not think it works very well. Probably because I assume people have already made up their minds as to what they choose or choose not to support and I don’t like the idea of begging people to support me (which is the image I get when I think of constantly pushing books in peoples faces).
Lesson: I should use giveaways more as a way to build my email list and promote my books. Update: I forgot to mention that when it comes to giveaways or contests in which people subscribe to your email list as a form of entry, for a contest or giveaway to be successful, the prize must be relevant to your niche. And since the goal is to get new subscribers, what you give away should attract people who are interested in what you write about. And as always, I am talking to myself here. I am trying to learn this too.
And there you have it. My top 5 mistakes. Now, don’t make them!
Enjoy Black History? Literary Fiction? Historical Fiction as it pertains to the Black experience in America? Poetry? Young Adult / Coming of Age stories? Subscribe to my email list HERE. (get a free book when you do!…I also dabble in Sci-Fi!)
Some time ago I started a short story on this blog called The Men with Blue Eyes and I have decided to finish the story in my email list. The story is a short Sci-Fi Fantasy loosely based on another book of mine. It is about a group of angels called The Watchers who come to Earth to possess the bodies of men. Tina, a young attorney, claims her nephew was abducted by one of the blue-eyed men two years ago and that they are the cause of his murder. After seeing a therapist and taking medication, Tina has since lived a normal life. But when she spots an unidentified man at a local club and members of Tina’s former case come up missing, it forces her to revisit the traumatic life she had hoped to leave behind.
I hope to continue on with the story but have decided not to finish it on this blog but to finish it in my email list. If you like it, I may decide to turn it into something more but we won’t discuss that right now. Right now I am just writing it for fun. Let’s not cloud it with the talk of work lol.
If you are interested in reading more of this story, you may subscribe to my email list HERE to see what happens next! I will begin feeding the first few chapters next month. BUT if you subscribe now I’ll send you the first 4 chapters, revised and updated!
Remember that you get access to exclusive information when you sign up for my email list!
Here’s a quick tutorial:
- Access to my books for free
- News and Writer links / resources
- Updates on my projects / books I am reading
- A chance to promote your book using my platform (email me your book cover and buy link after signing up. I have stopped doing this but I am ready to begin again.)
- First notice of events, sales, and special announcements
- Personal reflections not shared on this blog
To be clear, signing up for my email list is not the same as signing up for this blog. Signing up for this blog gives you access to every post I publish and a chance to connect with me and my writing. Signing up for my email list gives you access to anything I do not share on this blog so you won’t just be getting the same information. What you will get as a member of my email list is exclusive pieces of inspiration, free books and resource links you won’t find on this blog.
Peace and Hair Grease
Some great tips from Don!
For me, indie publishing has consisted of a lot of trial-and-error to determine what things work and what things do not. Unlike other types of sales and marketing, as an author it is not only about selling books, but, to some degree, you are selling yourself. This is something I’m extremely uncomfortable with, but I’ve found some ways to adjust my approach to make it more tolerable.
This list consists of some of the things I’ve tried that have worked for me. Your mileage may vary.
- Blatantly asking people to buy your books doesn’t work. Instead, I’ve tried to use my blog, Facebook, and other social media to try to convince people that my work might be worth checking out. I do this by trying to entertain or teach with the material I post.
- Word of mouth is extremely important. Your existing readers are your best salespeople. I like interacting with them…
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I’ve learned so far that there’s a lot more to building an email list than getting people signed up. I’ve had an email list for years but I feel that only now am I starting to really understand how it works. A little. OK so maybe I just have an inkling of an idea. Who knows but it’s a start.
While having one is great, building an email list and the upkeep is not easy! OK, well, it’s not hair-pulling difficult but it does take some tending to. I don’t want to scare anyone away. It’s not brain surgery or anything like that but I guess that’s why they call it “building”. You don’t build anything over night. There are lots of steps and parts to keeping an email list updated and valuable.
Here are some things I learned, or I should say I am learning, about the email list:
More Subscribers Mean Little to Nothing
At first, I was concerned with getting more subscribers. I mean, that’s a start, right? Yes and no. Yes because of course I want readers. No because that’s just the beginning.
I learned that getting people to subscribe, as challenging as it can be, turned out not to represent as much of the process as I’d thought. While getting subscribers is great, you should know that it’s never a guarantee that people will:
- Stay subscribed to your list (people can unsubscribe anytime)
- Open the emails you send
- Click on your links
- Support your product / service
One of the first lessons I am learning in my continual quest to better understand list building is that subscribers mean little to nothing in the grand scheme of things. It is not so much how many people are on the list so much as it is how many of these people are engaged: open emails, read the content, click links and offer feedback. Are they part of my target audience or just taking up space? Are they at all interested in what I have to say?
I’ve learned that an email list of only ten people on it in which eight are engaged and supporting is better than a thousand who can care less.
2. The “From” Address – Use the name that is the most popular and noticeable to your readers
When setting up an email list, part of the process is to enter a “From” Address or the name you want to appear as the person the email is coming from. For the two years or so of sending emails through Mail Chimp I used Literary Korner Publishing, my business name and all was well.
Toward the close of last year, I decided to do something different. I stopped using my business name and used my name, Yecheilyah, instead. I wanted to see if my open and click rate would increase. It did. It worked because it is the name most familiar to my readers.
3. Email – Use a business email address
Another thing I started off with is using my personal Gmail account as the email linked to my list. When setting up an email list, you’ll also have the option of choosing where the emails will come from / people can reply to. In the beginning, it was my Gmail account. I have since changed this.
Toward the close of last year I changed my email. It required an upgrade but it was worth it. It does look more professional but I’ll be honest in saying I didn’t do it for how it would look. I did it to make sure my emails aren’t going into my subscriber’s spam folders. As a result, my open rates did increase. I didn’t get a snapshot so you’ll have to take my word for it. I’ll remember to snag some images next time.
What’s a good business email address?
Your name (at) your domain name dot com (firstname.lastname@example.org)
4. Headline – Choose a headline that will speak to your list
I didn’t start off paying much attention to my email list headline. If people opened the email they opened it. If not, oh well. That’s how I saw it.
And then I grew up…
I am not doing this for my health which means that it does matter if people are finding value in the content or not and if I am seeing a return as a result. So, I started to pay more attention to the Headline of my emails or the title that people see that tells them what the email is about. It didn’t occur to me that if this didn’t speak to them there would be no reason to open the email! Yikes.
Somehow, I’d taken it for granted that people, though signed up, are not obligated to open and read the content. I thought about blogging and how important the title of the blog post is. (Click Here for 5 Creative Ways to Headline Your Blog Post) I decided to apply this to my list.
Just like someone must be interested enough to click on the blog and read it, someone must also be interested enough in the email headline to open the email and read it.
The headline is the first clue to the reader on what the email is about. If it is something they can care less about, they will not open the email. I have noticed that putting more thought into my email headlines has increased the open rates as well. Meaning, more people are opening the emails and clicking on the links. (A decent open rate is anywhere from 30-55%. It means that most of your list is seeing every email. But do not expect everyone on your list to be engaged. I’ve learned that even if only 20% of my list is communicating with me, that’s good).
5. Dividing the List – Sub divide your list by interest
I really didn’t want to do this. The only reason I can think of is laziness. I didn’t feel like splitting anyone up and sending more than one email.
And then I grew up…
I have recently began the first process of dividing my list and I feel good about it so far! The feedback alone told me a lot about the people who open and read my emails and gave me an idea into what it is they each want. Right now, I am only working with two lists and it was interesting to see who fell into which group.
Monthly – My monthly email list is compiled mostly of people who have either known me for years (at least more than two years but also as long as ten), enjoy getting everything summarized into one list, or who I know have busy schedules and don’t feel like being bothered with me more than once a month. They know me too well.
Bimonthly – My bimonthly email list, which is much smaller, is compiled mostly of people who have met me recently (anywhere from one week to one year ago), open my emails regularly and give the most feedback, are interested in emails about inspiration and motivation, and who like their emails smaller.
I loved the process of dividing them up! It was fun and helped me to focus on every single subscriber and to get to know them on a more personal level based on their interest.
6. Less is More – Limiting the Creative Mind
I consider myself a boring person outside of writing. But when I am writing and putting together emails I love colors and images! I love doing different things and experimenting. I love being silly and using my cartoon avatar. However, I have since pulled back a little with this.
Maybe I’m just getting older or I just know better but I cut a lot of that out. My avatar remains but outside of this I’ve limited the number of images used, switched to a basic theme with a white background and toned down the colors. While I’d love for my email to look like a magazine spread, images increase the possibility of spam as well and too much going on is distracting. The white background on the other hand made everything pop and it is easier to read.
7. Removal – Taking people off your email list
What? You mean I did all that work to get people signed up and now I have to…take them off?
Yea, pretty much.
It took my numbers down a notch but I feel that the cleaning will do me some good. I am not interested in having people subscribed who really don’t want to be there or who are just there to spy, just for the sake of numbers. That’s never been me. One thing I am sure everyone should do every now and again is to clean up their email list.
This means to go through the list and either (1) reach out to or (2) remove altogether those emails belonging to people who never open your emails or interact with you at all. I imagine they see the emails and trash / spam them but for whatever strange reason they don’t unsubscribe. Or maybe they subscribed because you had a contest or offered something for them and now that they got it they’re no longer interested. Whatever the reason, it’s their business. Growth is not just about gaining. It’s about losing too. I believe trimming the weeds will help me to grow and I will soon have twice as much support as I’ve had to lose.
The point is that I want people on my email list who want to be there. Not people who are just there to spy or be nosy. They hate my guts but they open every email. That doesn’t make any sense. I also don’t want people on my list who never open a single email but they won’t unsubscribe. I don’t understand why they are there.
Even when people unsubscribe themselves, I’ve learned this is not a bad thing. It literally does me no good to have people around who don’t want to be. This is a business not a hobby. Whatever is not contributing to growth has gotta go. Don’t be afraid to get rid of dead weight.
When I look at my list today I feel good. I know that the people subscribed want to be there and if they ever feel bored, I hope they will just unsubscribe. That’s just the realness of it. You win some, and you lose some but you live. You live to fight another day. Yes, that’s from the movie Friday. It doesn’t have anything to do with this article but I thought I’d leave you with a chuckle. Or not.
Interested in being part of my crew? They’re great! Emails go out once or twice a month based on your preference. CLICK HERE to sign up and thank you!
Start a Blog – A blog can be a great way to get your feet in the door far as reaching out to an audience is concerned. The frequency to which you can publish articles on the blog can help people to become familiar with you and your writing style. I think blogs are especially important for people who aren’t necessarily known for writing (a doctor or construction worker) but they’ve decided to write a book. Starting a blog first can introduce them to the writing community (whichever community that is) and get people familiar with them as a writer. It’s one thing to enjoy doing something but it’s an entirely different thing to translate that into a language that others will understand. The immediate feedback from the blog can help writers to access not just where they are with their writing (if they can engage a group of people or not) but also help to draw out the people who are interested in what they are writing about. Blogs also provide ample opportunity to network. It is the first step in learning how to do so. By commenting on blogs, liking posts, and sharing information you are networking even if you didn’t know you were doing it.
Incorporate Blogging into Your Platform Growing Strategy – Before I move on to the next bullet point, I am not finished with blogging just yet. I think more so than starting a blog, it’s important also to make it a part of your platform growing strategy. By this I mean it may help to try to learn to blog. (Something I think we never stop learning to do!) If the blog is going to be the place where you reach and interact with people the most, make it a part of your writing schedule. Be sure to carve out a day or time where you can schedule your blog posts so that you have regularly updated content but are not neglecting your life outside the blog. You can also schedule a day where you can catch up on the blogs of others (you are following other blogs right??) and be as engaged as possible.
I like to schedule my blog posts to publish anytime around 12:00 – 1:00am CST or sometimes as late as 2:00am. This gives people on the other side of the world a chance to read the post while I’m sleeping. I can then take the rest of the day when I am up and about and read the blogs of others via my mobile. This is why I am usually re-blogging throughout the day (depending on where you are in the world). It keeps this blog updated and consistent. I am not necessarily at the computer 24/7 but by having my main blog posts (such as articles, creative pieces or poems) scheduled to go out, my time is free to browse the rest of the day. Quotes, music, reblogs, I can do all of this via my phone. As long as the long posts are drafted, edited, and then scheduled to go out, I am free.
If you’re new to this blog, go back and read How to Blog in Your Sleep, a post I wrote some time ago on scheduling your blog posts to go out when you’re sleeping. This helps your blog to work for you even when you’re not awake. Also check out How to Make Your Blog Work for You (Even When You’re Not Blogging). Don’t be distracted by the numbers if they are low. So, what. Focus on being consistent and engaging with your content and the rest will take care of itself. Celebrate every victory and measure your growth with social media not by numbers alone, but by the feedback and engagement you receive. If people are liking, sharing, and commenting, that’s a good thing and the numbers usually follow.
Website – If you have no books out or just one or two books, it’s not necessary to go all out with paying for an expensive website (especially one that that will require e-commerce when you’re not selling), but you can set up something simple to help promote yourself as an author. For more, be sure to go back and read 3 Reasons You Need an Author Website (and why it’s not the same as a blog).
Sometimes, you don’t have to spend money on a full-fledged website. Just a landing page is great for those building an email list, have no books out, have only a couple books out, or are not selling books.
Landing Pages – I forgot to mention Landing Pages in the post about author websites. I forgot all about it. Not everyone needs a full-fledged website. For some of you, a Landing Page will do instead. A landing page is just what it sounds like, a mini website or page people “land” on as a result of clicking on the link from someone’s blog or website. It is like a digital business card or mini website. Landing pages are also good for encouraging email list sign-ups.
Email List – I hate to beat a dead horse (poor horse) but if you are publishing a book, it’s good to have an email list. No, it’s great to have an email list! Email has been around forever and remains the best way to keep in contact with people. You would want to set up an email list the same time that you set up your blog, website, or landing pages. (You can sign-up for mines HERE. Shameless plug. Gotta love it.)
Content is a big question when it comes to the email list. I started by just sharing updates of my work (and I still do) and my writing. Other writers I know share their writing as well. Exclusives are great (everyone wants to be exclusive). So exclusive or non-published content is a great way to start. Right now I am sharing excerpts from my unpublished memoir and I am happy that my readers are enjoying it so far. We are three chapters in and I am excited to share Chapter 4. These are works that no one, not even this blog, has seen. They are just shared with my email list subscribers. You can always start by just sharing exclusives of your writings or tips you have. We all have the insight to share. You’re an expert on something I am sure.
The email list, in short, will give you an opportunity to grow your platform even more and beyond the blog. There are people on my email list who don’t follow this blog or are even online like that. The email list gives me a chance to keep them abreast of my work. The email list is also more reliable than social media accounts and blogs. In the event, you want to stop blogging, (or something goes wrong and you can’t get your subscribers back which, I’ve heard horror stories! People with thousands and thousands of followers they lost either due to transitioning to self-hosted or something else) you don’t have to lose your audience. The email list helps you to keep in contact with those who support you beyond the blog.
Social Media – Finally, once you’ve got your blog, website, and email list, set up your social media handles. Your Facebook or Twitter or IG accounts. You will feed the content of your blog to these for more exposure. As people share your content, you grow your platform even more. Choose a few where you get the most engagement and dedicate yourself to them. Don’t try and be everywhere, just find the one place your readers are at and where you get the most out of.
- Start a Blog
- Build a Website / Landing Page / One Page Site
- Build an Email List
- Set up your Social Media Pages
These will help you to build a readership or at least start to. Of course, there are a gazillion other things, but this is a great start. I made the mistake of not starting out this way (I didn’t always be into the online scene like that. There was a time I didn’t even have a cell phone but that’s another story) but I know lots of people who did and they published their first book on a strong start. Their first books did very well just by doing the above. Remember, the foundation is everything. If the foundation is weak, so is everything else. Whether you’re Self-Publishing or publishing Traditionally it doesn’t matter. You will need a platform once the book is published. Don’t wait until you publish the book, do all of this before you publish. Start out strong and finish likewise.
I’ve put together a Promotional Website for The Nora White Story, my soon-to-be-released novel series. CLICK HERE to discover the launch schedule and everything you need to know about this project. My email list subscribers already know about it. Wanna get first dibs too? CLICK HERE TO SIGN-UP FOR MY EMAIL LIST. I am sharing my memoir, writing updates, and more. Thanks a ton!