The idea of email marketing may seem a little overly sales-y, but having a mailing list is a great way to keep friends, family, and colleagues in the loop — not to mention new readers and anyone you meet who may be interested in your book. The nice thing about a mailing list is that it’s one more way to reach out; for example, you likely have some Facebook friends who go months without logging in, but you’ll still want to make sure they know about a book giveaway or an upcoming event.
To create your mailing list, you’ll begin with family and close friends; then, begin to ask colleagues and more casual acquaintances whether you may add them to your mailing list. And, whenever you do a reading or any other event, pass around a guest book or a simple sign-up sheet so that readers can sign up to receive your mailings.
Among those who should be included on your mailing list are (and note that you should always get permission from the recipient before adding anyone to your list):
- close friends
- immediate and extended family
- classmates and former classmates, from grade school through grad school
- writer friends or members of your writers’ group
- parents of your kids’ friends and friends of family who may be interested
- colleagues, past and present
If your list is long, you’ll want to be sure to send out emails in small batches (twenty recipients or so) to avoid being targeted for spamming. As your list grows, you should consider signing up for an email service (I like Mail Chimp, which has free options and plenty of easy-to-use templates; Mad Mimi and Campaign Monitor are also popular). These programs allow you to design nice announcements about your book launch and other events; you can also do more lengthy e-newsletters if you have a lot to share.
A few pointers for email marketing:
- Be clear about what you’ll be sending. When people sign up for something, they like to know what it is, so don’t hide the fact that you’ll be sending out updates on your book; even if it sounds promotional, you need to manage expectations (and see below for how to do more than simply promote yourself). Also, be sure to let subscribers know that you won’t be sharing their email addresses with anyone else; maintaining the privacy of those who trust you with their email addresses is important.
- Don’t send e-mails too frequently. If, for example, you’re a teacher and hold frequent events, you might send out a regular e-newsletter, as long as the information is relevant to its recipients. But if you’re simply sending out announcements about the occasional event or new review, be a little more restrained; if you send out too many e-mails with too little content (or content that is simply self-promotional), people may stop reading them or they may unsubscribe. Also, these email campaigns take valuable time to create, so you’ll want to use this time wisely. I recommend sending out monthly emails if you have a lot of news to share; otherwise, I recommend quarterly updates (or even fewer). Either way, try to be consistent, so that no one hears from you too often but so they don’t think you’ve dropped off the face of the earth, either.
- Create different lists. This can take a lot of time initially, but it’s very valuable in the end. For example, if you’re a New York City writer with an email list of 1,000 recipients all over the country, and you’re doing a series of events in New York, not everyone needs to receive an email about these events. When you pass out a guest book or sign-up sheet, ask people to add their locations so that you can better target your audience.
- Offer a little more than promotion. While the purpose of the email may be to promote your book, offer a little something more as well — recipients may tire of the content if it’s always the same and always about you. For my own newsletter for writers (which I send out four to six times a year), I include a writing tip and a writing prompt, so that among any promotional stuff there will always be something for writers in there. I also try to add things that may be helpful for writers, from writerly resources I like to writing software I’ve discovered. You can also include links to other writers, blogs, and websites that you think your audience will enjoy — and consider offering book giveaways or other bonuses to your subscribers.
- Be friendly and personal. One mistake I made when I first started sending out e-newsletters was aiming to sound extremely professional. Then I noticed, having received a number of such emails myself, that this is a little boring and impersonal. So now I try to be casual and accessible, and I keep mailings short and to the point. You should always show how readers can unsubscribe if they’d like to, and it’s a great idea to invite feedback and comments. And always proofread your email before sending it. Typos happen, but I usually create a campaign at least a week in advance so I can look at it again with fresh eyes before scheduling it.
- Use pictures. Visuals are great for email campaigns; no one wants to wade through a ton of text, and most people simply skim through email announcements or newsletters anyway, so you’ll want a mix of text and images to help keep readers’ attention. You must, of course, own the rights to any photo you use — an exception is your book cover, which you’ll be allowed to use for marketing purposes, so you might consider having a banner highlighting the title and/or some of the cover design; think of it as your logo. (If you have more than one book, you can use the most recent one, or use something from your website that will familiarize readers with you as an author.) Choose a template that is easy on the eyes, with plenty of white space to make it skimmable and reader friendly.
- Don’t over-design. While you want to be visually appealing, don’t make the mistake of going crazy with too many images (which could be distracting) or fancy fonts (which could be hard to read). Strive for simple and engaging.
- Make use of the tools. If you use an email marketing service, check out the tools it offers for tracking who opens your emails, which links are most popular, etc. You can also experiment with sending your news out at different times of day and different times of the week to see what the best results are. Nowadays, email services allow you to connect your campaigns with social media, so you can link your enews with Twitter or Facebook if you’d like. It’s worth spending a little time on these to gauge the effects of your marketing efforts.
- Don’t worry about the “unsubscribes.” One thing I love about Mail Chimp is the little line that comes along with a notification that someone has just unsubscribed from my list; it reads: “Maybe they’re just not into you?” This always makes me smile, which is important when someone has just unsubscribed from my list. I find myself worrying about all sorts of things: Was my email too boring? Was it something I said? Did they read my book and hate it? The fact is, people are overwhelmed with email and it’s likely not personal (and if it is, there’s not much you can do about it anyway, so it’s best not to fret over it). Most often, I suspect, people unsubscribe for reasons having more to do with their own lives than with the content of your email.