Book Business

The Marketing Department: How to Build an Email List (Part 3)

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The Marketing Department

How (and Why) to Build an Email List

One of a writer’s greatest pleasures is sharing her book with readers. But how does one reach those elusive readers?

Well, social media, of course.

Unfortunately, social media has limitations. Even though people opt in to your pages and feeds, it’s still not the most pinpointed approach. You’re putting information out there and hoping the social media algorithm will help it reach people who opted in.

Sadly, only a small percentage of those who opted in see your posts. So you still may not be reaching a large percentage of your readership. Not only do social media algorithms limit your potential reach, but lots of readers don’t engage in social media at all. Non-social-media users compose a certain percentage of your readership, and even though they don’t tweet, they can still be excited about keeping up with new releases.

Is there a way to skip the algorithm and keep everyone informed of new releases and other exciting events?

You bet. Even if readers aren’t active on social media, almost everyone these days has an email account. So….

Build an Email List

I’m all about finding the most efficient way to do a given task, but I’d also like it to be cost effective (read: free). Enter MailChimp. (Other mail services are available, but this is the one I’m familiar with.) Mailchimp is a service that helps you build a database of email addresses, design interesting forms and letters, and automate your emails. Mailchimp offers the option of tracking each campaign, so you can find out how many recipients opened the message and clicked your link. This service keeps your database, makes content creation easy, and keeps track of the results for you!

Free Plan.  You can create or important a list of up to 2,000 subscribers and send as many as 12,000 emails each month and pay nothing.

If your list grows larger, there are other plan options available for a fee. Their business plan is $10 a month and their ultimate plan costs for high-volume senders is $199 per month.

Money Saver: You can generate and maintain your own email list using Google Docs and a spreadsheet.

Using MailChimp, you can create a cool sign-up form like this: (I need to update this with my new covers! Project!)

Or you can use a sleeker embedded option in the sidebar of your blog:

You can also import existing lists of readers who have opted in previously.

The Takeaway

  •  If you use MailChimp, you must only send emails to subscribers who voluntarily opt in. You must have their permission to add them to the list. Plus, it’s just rude to add every person who has ever emailed you to your subscriber list. If they wanted to get your newsletter, they would have signed up for it. It’s presumptuous and unethical.
  •  Make every email count. Say something useful in each letter. If you yammer on in a weekly letter, the important stuff can easily be lost or your domain might be relegated to the junk mail folder.
  •  Tell readers the purpose of your list and how often you intend to email. Some people want to hear from you every week or month, but others simply want to know when the next book in your series is available. Let them know what to expect and give it to them.

The purpose of my main email list is to send book launch announcements. I don’t use it for anything else. Am I using the list effectively? Some would say no. But when my next book comes out, I will be able to email the people who specifically asked to be notified, and in the meantime, I haven’t made a nuisance of myself. As a result, my click-through rates are high, as are my link clicks. I get very few unsubscribes after each email.

Start building your email list today, and you could have a large built-in audience that is ready to snap up your book the moment it comes out. And since we’re talking about email lists….

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Making the Most of Amazon Prime: Prime Reading

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You guys, I am so behind!

I’ve had Amazon Prime for years, but I used it primarily (pun, sorry) for the free shipping, video streaming, Kindle Lending, and Prime Day sales.

But I was totally missing out!

Did you know about Prime Reading? You probably do. As I said, I’m behind. I recently went camping and wanted to load up my Kindle with things to read by the fire. While I was browsing, I came across this new-to-me-but maybe-not-to-the-rest-of-the-world feature and about danced a jig.

Tons of free things to read! I loaded up and took my devices to the mountains. There’s nothing like relaxing by a fire in total darkness with a nice book to read.

The fire where actual Prime Reading took place.

Okay, now back to Prime Reading itself. If you’re already a member of the Amazon Prime program, it’s included at no additional charge (unlike the Kindle Unlimited program). You don’t even have to own a Kindle. All you need is a device of your choosing and the free reading apps.

Boom! You get access to tons of books and magazines. And they are actually items you’d want to read! Seriously, go look. You’ll find something to enjoy or mock (whatever suits you).

Here’s how it works:

  1. Choose your books or magazines from the Prime Reading selection.
  2. Click “borrow for free.”
  3. The item is sent directly to the device you choose. (Again, you don’t have to own a Kindle. You can just download the free Kindle app and use whatever you have.)
  4. Read and enjoy.
  5. When you’re done, return the item.
  6. Choose more!

You can check out 10 items at a time! TEN!

Even if you hate the book, you’re not losing any money. It’s risk-free reading from your couch. No trip to the library needed.

With the price of Prime going up this year, it only makes sense make yourself aware of everything the program entails. And that’s:

I didn’t know about Prime Reading, but it makes me much more willing to pay the new, higher price. And it makes me wonder what else I’m missing out on.

So are you already using Prime Reading? If so, what should I check out next? Or are you just as behind as me?

Book Business

The Marketing Department: Action-Movie Marketing (Part 2)

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The Marketing Department: Action-Movie Marketing

Every author’s goal is to make their books visible to the widest audience possible, but the simple fact is that not every reader will be interested in every book. Therefore, some level of marketing focus is needed.

Stop Pray-and-Spray Marketing

Have you ever watched an action movie from the 1980s? The hero usually has a massive automatic weapon that never seems to need reloading. To make it even less realistic, the shooter never actually takes aim at the target before pulling the trigger and launching a single, well-aimed bullet. Instead, he sprays 10,000 bullets in the general direction of the bad guy. Take this scene from Predator for example:

Certainly, the goal of marketing is to get your book in front of as many people as possible. But if you aren’t making it visible to the right people, then you’re wasting a ton of time and money. It doesn’t matter how many times a person sees your book if they dislike the genre. They’re never going to purchase or read it.

So don’t market like an action film, throwing out a thousand ads indiscriminately and hoping to hit the right person eventually. Instead, pause, take aim, and use the minimum amount of ammo possible. Market more often to people who you know are already interested in your books–or in books very similar to yours. Don’t just pray and spray.

Take Aim: Define Your Target Audience

Describe your average reader. Having a general understanding of who reads your books will help you tailor ads to appeal to them.

  • Are they predominately male or female? Or are they a mix of both?
  • How old are they?
  • Where do they live?
  • What other books do they enjoy?
  • What other media do they consume? TV shows, movies, music?
  • What other authors do they enjoy?
  • What social media outlets to they use? (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc?)
  • What devices do they read on?
  • Where do they purchase their books? Which stores?

Use your answers to help guide your targeted ads. Narrow your audience so that you have the most chance of connecting with people who are already interested in the type of book you have written. Then, tailor each ad to suit the viewer and the venue. Don’t run the same thing on every platform. A Tweet should look different than a Pin. But all of them should be designed to appeal to your audience.

Conserve Your Ammo: Make Each Ad Count

Not all your marketing should be a call to action or a push to purchase.  Marketing really comes down to relationship building (aka making friends). Sometimes just having a pleasant conversation on Twitter can be better marketing than a major ad campaign.

When you do run an ad, make it count. Design it specifically with your friends (aka readers) in mind. Would your readers be more likely be on Instagram or Snapchat? What sort of pictures or videos would appeal to them? What hashtags will reach other demographics who share an interest in your genre?

ProTip: Keep records of your results and experiment to determine the best ads to run.

Advertise free items, not just those you have available for purchase. Free items might not make you a dollar right now, but they can offer you a great deal down the road. For example, you could offer the first book in a series free for a limited time. If readers enjoy the free intro to your series, they will be likely to purchase the subsequent books. Or you could offer a free short story to people who opt in to your email list.

Opt-ins: Social Media and Email Lists

Social media and email lists represent two different sorts of opt-ins, and they require different styles of marketing. While both types are voluntary–readers choose to see your content–people expect different things and will be put off if you do not behave appropriately for each venue.

 Social Media Opt-ins. People choose to view your posts on Facebook (whether as a fan page or group), Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat. Or they may search your subject out on their own using search features and hashtags. Either way, you are not broadcasting to the whole world. You are speaking to individuals who have chosen to follow you or are interested in the subject matter you discuss. Yes, your audience will expecting some amount of book-sales style posts. However, this is social media. They also expect you to be interact like a normal human, not like a commercial set to repeat. Nothing is more off-putting than following an author only to find that their entire feed looks like a giant, non-stop ad.

ProTip: use the 80/20 rule for marketing here. Spend 80 percent of your time making friends, sharing photos, or posting funny memes. Use only 20 percent of your social media time on advertising. 

 Email List Opt-ins. An email list is the ultimate marketing tool. Why? Because there’s no guesswork. You know these people are already interested specifically in you and your books. They chose to join your email list, and that means more than following you on social media. They invited you to send your content directly to their personal realm: their inbox.

Use this privilege wisely.

The people on your email list are your friends and biggest supporters. They have purchased your books in the past, and unless something goes wrong, they will continue to do so in the future. Find ways to thank them. You could offer discounts and coupons or exclusive free content, like short stories or deleted scenes.

No bait and switch! When you set up your email list, tell people what you intend to send them, and then send only that. If you plan a chatty weekly newsletter, let them know. If you’re going to recommend other writers (aka essentially run ads for other books), tell them ahead of time. If you only intend to send book launch announcements, let them know that too. No matter what you plan to send, make sure your readers know what to expect and when to expect it. Then respect them enough to give it to them.

That’s really what marketing is about. Making friends and then respecting them enough to sell only when appropriate. But knowing when to sell and when not to can be tricky. In the following posts in the Marketing Department, we’ll talk more about how to build an email list.

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Book Business

The Marketing Department (Part 1)

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The Marketing Department

When it comes to book marketing, writers usually have one of two possible reactions:

  1. Extreme Digust
  2. Extreme Exuberance

Both can be equally bad.

Extreme Disgust: Write, Publish, and Hope for the Best

Writers who fall into the first category of Extreme Disgust just want to write, publish, and hope for the best. They trust that booksellers’ algorithms will make their books visible, and people will buy them based on the cover, description, and sample.

This only works to a certain degree. Algorithms are fickle, ever-changing beasts. You might be humming along with consistent sales, and then wham! The algorithm changes. And suddenly, you’re sales trickle off to nothing.

Sure, you could always wait for another algorithm change, but a smart writer diversifies their marketing. Do more than one thing to be seen.


Extreme Exuberance: Sell Everywhere All the Time

Writers who fall into the second category of Extreme Exuberance try to sell everywhere all the time. Not only do they use booksellers’ algorithms, but they pay for ads all the time. Every tweet is a sales pitch, and each Facebook post contains a buy link. Every page on their author website has eighty-seven pop-ups, urging visitors to opt in to something or make a purchase.

The worst of the too-exuberant marketers overly engage with readers on vendor forums, in book discussion groups, in frequent email blasts, etc. No matter where they are, they market. Heavily. These types of marketers tend to come off as invasive and obnoxious. In fact, most forums where readers and writers engage have created strict rules to prevent authors from making a nuisance of themselves.

A Happy Medium: Be Engaged But Not Too Excited

The most effective marketers fall somewhere in the 1.5 range. They are engaged with the marketing process, but not so excited that all they do is make sales pitches. One of best ways to ensure engagement without over exuberance is to be conscious of what you are doing. How are you coming off to your potential readers? Do your best to show that you a human with other interests and ideas. People don’t want to be sold to all the time.

In short, you need to find the way that best suits your personality to become visible to potential readers without driving them insane.

And that brings us to the biggest question on every writer’s mind: how? What is the best way to build an audience? We’ll explore some of the options in the Marketing Department.

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Friday Five: Things I Do Not Like To Read

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Disclaimer: I do not hate most of these things. In fact, I read and watch shows that contain these plot devices or characteristics. However, I do not actively seek out these types of stories, and for me to enjoy them, they have to be exceptional.

1. Deep, Dark Secrets

I generally do not enjoy books that focus on deep, dark family secrets. They’re basically stories about people who refuse to speak to each other frankly, sometimes spanning multiple generations. No, thanks. I don’t love mistaken identity stories for the same reason. If the plot of a whole movie or book could be completely derailed by someone saying, “No, my name is actually John Smith,” then most of the time, I just don’t want to bother with it.


2. Ignoring the Obvious Question

I gave up on the TV show Lost because no one ever asked the obvious question of people who might know that answer. Someone needed to ask, “Hey, what is that smoke monster all about?” Even if the answer is “I don’t know,” the question needed to be asked.  If it becomes clear that whatever I’m reading or watching is all about presenting 10,000 confounding situations, but no one asks the obvious question, I’m out of there.

3. Boy Wizards

I love a good supernatural tale. Give me monsters, ghosts, walkers, zombies, and even vampires. My supernatural proclivities swing more in the direction of The X-Files rather than Harry Potter. I’m just not that into spell-casting magic. In general, I don’t seek out books about witches, wizards, warlocks, and other spell-throwing whatnots. I know I’m a backward bumpkin, but I haven’t read any Harry Potter.  *dodges stones* I’m not knocking it or any fans. I just can’t get into it.

4. Addicts in Recovery as Main Characters

I spend all my time waiting for the usually inevitable relapse, so I have a hard time enjoying anything else that’s going on. This most likely stems from my preference for comedy over tragedy. These stories are usually grim.

5. City Settings

I have nothing against cities, but I enjoy reading about settings other than Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. I searched for a mystery that took place in a small town but wasn’t classified as a cozy mystery. I wanted a serious, gritty crime that just happened to take place outside of a booming metropolis. (That’s why I wrote one.) Small-town detectives can be skilled investigators who simply don’t have every available resource available at a moment’s notice. Plus, readers get to travel to different venues and meet interesting locals.

Now that I’ve listed Five Things I Like to Read and Five Things I Don’t Like to Read, next week, I’m going to confess the exceptions to those rules.

What sorts of things do you tend to avoid reading or watching?