Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Email lists are a vital marketing tool, allowing you direct contact with your readers while increasing the effectiveness of your message. Every author should be working on building their email list, but how exactly do you go about doing that?
In this article, I’ll be suggesting 5 incentives you can offer fans to get them to join your email list. It’s always a good idea to associate your name with quality and enjoyable content; if you can combine that with building your email list then so much the better.
1. Exclusive / Advance information
Obviously you want to promote any new releases or events as much as possible, and where better to start than with a group of people specifically interested in what you’re up to? Let readers know that by providing their email address they’re signing up to a service that’ll remind them about a product they enjoy.
If you want to go one step further then consider a policy of providing your email list with that information first. Let your fans know that before it goes on Facebook or is mentioned on Twitter, you’ll personally contact them with key updates. They’ll be the first to know when your new book is coming out, the first to have access to the synopsis and cover designs, and if there’s a book trailer coming out then they get the link before anyone else.
The further in advance you can offer information, the more desirable subscribing to your email list becomes. Words such as ‘exclusive’ or ‘advance’ need to be true, but they’re guaranteed to attract subscribers.
An important part of this is including your email sign up form at the back of your books. Readers who have just finished a book are going to be very likely to sign up to hear about new releases.
2. Free content
Everybody loves something for nothing, and as a writer nothing advertises your work better than a sample.
You can make the savvy decision to offer a preview of your novel to subscribers, with the dual benefits of building your email list and getting them hooked on the story.
You could also offer short stories, poems or articles to email subscribers. This takes a little extra work, but it does allow you to use that ultimate buzz word: ‘free’.
Author Neil Gaiman makes a habit of posting short pieces, interviews and essays on his social media, making his website and Twitter page amongst the most popular on the web. Exclusive content is exciting for readers at the same time as it’s advertising your work as an author.
Competitions allow you to attract a lot of subscribers with relatively little expense. An offer of five books, the only condition of entry being an email subscription, and you can attract hundreds of addresses.
Linking your giveaway to your email subscriber list is possible with most giveaway services. They usually allow you to set your own conditions whether that’s email list subscription or Facebook likes. While you do need to offer something in exchange for reader’s email addresses people are generally quite free with them, so offering a reward as tangible as free stuff will really bring in the big numbers.
The size of your contest is down to you so you can get creative. In 2005, Stephen King ran an eBay sponsored auction, offering the winner:
One (and only one) character name in a novel called CELL, which is now in work and which will appear in either 2007 or 2008… Character can be male or female, but a buyer who wants to die must in this case be female. In any case, I’ll require physical description of auction winner, including any nickname (can be made up, I don’t give a rip).
The auction eventually closed at $25,000. Regular authors can’t expect quite the same response but there are still a lot of people who would kill to appear in a work of fiction, especially when all they need to enter is an email address.
Operating on your readers can be dangerous, and you should only do so if you’re a qualified surgeon. Of course for those of us who aren’t there’s the other type of surgery, where readers pose questions to authors either about their work or for advice on writing.
The effort you put into surgeries is down to you, but it doesn’t take much time to choose five questions a week and provide your readers with the benefit of your wisdom. This won’t just invite people to join your email list but will foster close links between you and your fans. Any reader who gets their question chosen will be thrilled, and budding writers who come to you for advice will be grateful for your time and insight.
Offer a weekly or monthly round-up of content you’ve enjoyed, whether that be books, movies, television, theatre or some other art form.
It’s difficult getting custom recommendations, and there are few people whose taste readers trust more than an author whose work they enjoy. This is a classy move and one that will make you friends among fans and other authors.
Author Chuck Palahniuk has a ‘Chuck Recommends’ section on his website full of books his fans may enjoy. Not only is this guaranteed to please his audience – they’re definitely interested in books after all – but any recommendations they enjoy reflect positively back onto Chuck.
There are a number of paid recommendation services online, and that’s without the undeniable pleasure of reading a book because your favourite author suggested you might like it.
Appreciate your audience
However you advertise, collect and use your email list, remember that the platform is a privilege. Be glad of the opportunity to address your readers directly and let it shine through. If subscribers feel like you’re genuinely talking to them, and not just advertising your latest novel, they’ll appreciate it.
In fact, the biggest lure for subscribers isn’t free content, but recommendations from users who are already on the list. If someone sends you some kind words on the quality of your email communication then feel free to use it to advertise the service, but above all treat your subscribers in a way that makes them want to talk to you.
No-one expects to get an email that’s tailored just to them, but the sense that an author really appreciates direct contact with their readers will go a long way. Happily for the vast majority of authors this isn’t something they’ll have to fake.
If you’re interested in attracting readers, check out 6 Features of a Fiction Writers Website. Or for more on engaging with your readership try 5 Crucial Tips To A Better ‘About the Author’ Page.