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Many book publishers don’t want to take a chance on a new author—unless that author has a built-in community of people likely to buy their next book. In other words, publishers now expect authors to have a platform.
What’s that platform? Think of things like a large social media following, a YouTube channel, or an impressive list of email subscribers.
Read on to discover how email marketing for authors is the best way to build a platform that’ll not only impress publishers and agents, but also lead to a bigger advance or self-publishing success.
As a busy author, you probably don’t have time to manage a complete digital marketing campaign. With your limited time, you should make email marketing your priority over digital advertising, public relations, and even social media.
Email is a rare form of online marketing that doesn’t force you to be a digital sharecropper.
Digital sharecropping is when you’re reliant on a third-party, like Facebook or Google, to reach your audience. To understand the problem with digital sharecropping, imagine your audience is almost entirely on Instagram. If Instagram changes its algorithm, suspends your account, or shuts down completely, you could lose your audience in a flash.
That won’t happen with email. With email marketing, you own your list of subscribers outright, and you reach your audience as directly as possible. Email marketing puts you in control.
You won’t have to guess where your readers most likely hang out online in order to reach them—because everyone, no matter their demographic, uses email. You’re less likely to waste your time marketing to the wrong people.
With social media or online advertising, you hope that as many people as possible see your content. But you don’t always have control over that. Emails skip the algorithm and arrive right in your readers’ inboxes.
The average small business Facebook ad spend is $1000-$2000 a month. By comparison, email marketing costs start at just $9 a month for up to 2500 emails, and the ROI is as high as $38 for every $1 spent.
There’s no need to learn graphic design, social media strategy, video editing, or photography. With email marketing, you can simply write to your readers. And, if you do want to make your emails more “designed,” a simple drag-and-drop template builder within your email marketing software can make the process easy for beginners.
Now that you know why email marketing for authors is so important, keep reading and learn how to get started.
As you implement your own email marketing, you’ll likely come across the following vocabulary. Here are some quick definitions to get you up to speed:
Refer back to these terms as needed while you read the rest of this guide (and as you research email marketing software.)
Before you start email marketing, there are a few things you must have in place:
Next: what type of email marketing should you do?
Here are some common email types authors can use to market to their readers:
The email newsletter is one of the most common types of email marketing, especially for authors. It’s also one of the simplest for email marketing strategy beginners.
An email newsletter typically goes out at a set frequency, such as once a week or once a month. Typically, an email newsletter is text-heavy rather than full of images or design. Newsletters may include updates or news related to you or your book, recent content you’ve created, shorter-form published work, or something more creative.
The purpose of a newsletter is to provide reliable content your readers can count on and to keep your upcoming books top of mind for your subscribers. Newsletters are a perfect form of email marketing for authors because they help you keep your email list engaged—even when you don’t have a new book out.
Jocelyn K. Glei is an example of an author who uses an email newsletter well:
Lead-nurturing emails are emails designed to eventually convert a new subscriber into a buyer. This type of email may sound unfamiliar if you’re new to email marketing, but the concept is straightforward: A lead-nurturing campaign follows the subscriber through their journey of getting to know you and your work until they’re ready to make a purchase.
You might start a lead-nurturing campaign with an introductory email and then follow up every week with an email that offers something of value to your reader (for free). Once your reader knows you, trusts you, and feels like you’ve provided lots of free value, you can then ask them to buy your book.
Promotional emails are just what they sound like: a single email written with the goal of selling something. For authors, these emails will usually be selling your latest book.
Promotional emails often come into play during the months leading up to your book launch. Promotional emails can encourage pre-orders and create a buzz around your new book. For example, look at this promotional email from John Grisham for his new book The Guardians:
Survey emails are emails where you ask for feedback from your readers. Not only are survey emails important for understanding what you could be doing better, but they’re also ways to drive engagement. Authors could use survey emails to ask for book reviews, to source ideas for new things to write about, to ask for feedback on your email marketing itself, or to simply encourage readers to directly reply to your email.
So you know you want to do email marketing, but now you need people to send to. List growth is important for any author, but it takes some work.
Here are some ways to make your email marketing successful from the start:
Let’s take a deeper look on attracting quality subscribers.
Very established authors might not need to offer a compelling reason to sign up for their email list. However, most authors should tell people explicitly why they should subscribe—and possibly offer something in return.
Getting a free chapter of your book is an enticing reason for people to subscribe to your email list. Also, it’s a good way to ultimately drive sales for your book. Once people start reading, they might buy your book to read the rest.
For example, author Lee Goldberg offers a free download for his book McGrave:
Fiction authors should consider giving away a free short story to email subscribers. This helps new readers know your writing style, and it immediately provides something of value.
Fiction author Virginia King uses this strategy to get people to sign up for her email list:
This tactic means that everyone who subscribes to your email list will be entered to win a free copy of your latest book. Promote the giveaway across your social channels and ask people within your network to help spread the word too. You could add even more value by making the free book a signed copy.
This strategy works well for nonfiction, self-help, or business authors, as it helps readers get a preview of the expertise, teaching style, and the value that’s also inside the book. In exchange for subscribing, readers get a free download or mini e-course of a helpful lesson taught by you.
In one example, we can see how Erin Lowry, the author of a financial guide, offers a free financial how-to worksheet in exchange for your email address:
If you have an active blog, you can offer to send every new piece of content directly to your readers in their inboxes. This way, subscribers can count on consistent content they love, never miss a post, and don’t have to check your site to get updates.
Even when you don’t have a new book launching soon, you should still keep your list engaged.
Imagine subscribing to an email list and not receiving any email from the list for six months. Then, suddenly, you get a promotional email—and you don’t remember why you signed up or who the person sending it is. So you unsubscribe.
Unsubscribes can happen for a number of reasons, like when you don’t consistently email your list, or when you send irrelevant content to your readers. An email newsletter is an easy way to keep your readers engaged. For example, Tim Ferriss has a popular email newsletter that he sends every Friday, no matter what:
Welcome emails or sequences set you up for a successful relationship with every new subscriber. Welcome emails help new subscribers feel good about their decision to join your list, give context for what to expect, and immediately encourage engagement.
Author Jen Sincero has a great welcome email:
In the months before your book launch, you should shift into a more promotional mindset with your emails. You’re no longer simply keeping your list engaged. You want your readers to know about your new book and go buy it. A promotional strategy can ensure that your email marketing drives sales for your book.
Book Marketing Tools recommends this sample strategy:
See how the series of emails naturally warms the reader up and gets them excited to buy your book? Plus, with the help of automation, you can create these emails so they’re automatically sent to subscribers while you sit back and work on other promotional efforts.
For your email marketing to be effective, subscribers need to open your emails and read them. That’s where email copywriting comes in.
Email copywriting is what you write for your subject lines and the body of the email. Good email copywriting encourages high open rates and click-through rates because it keeps people reading.
Here are some tips to write compelling emails people want to open and read.
Most email marketing software allows you to personalize “From” names on your emails. When you use your name in the from section, rather than a generic email address, your email seems more personal. An email from “Valerie” is more likely to be opened than an email from “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Subject lines are the gatekeepers to the rest of your email. If your subject line fails to make people open your email, the rest doesn’t matter.
Spend time crafting a compelling subject line.
When in doubt, use your subject line to tell people exactly what to expect in your email. For example, “Free chapter inside” may get more opens than a clever (yet vague) subject line that doesn’t reveal the content of the email, like “A surprise for you.”
Most marketers suggest a subject line around 41 characters—or even fewer. Shorter subject lines are easier to read in a hurry, and they’re less likely to get cut off in mobile email viewing.
Scroll through your own inbox and look at the subject lines. It’s likely many of them are similar in length, punctuation, capitalization, and content. To make your subject lines stand out, consider trying some of the following tactics:
Author Glenn Fisher often uses his subject lines to tease curiosity and encourage opens. For example, check out one of his recent emails:
The only way to know what subject lines work for your audience is to test them. A/B testing is an email feature that allows you to send one subject line to a portion of your email list and a different subject line to another portion. The subject line that gets more opens is the winner and is then sent out to the remainder of your email subscribers. You can also use these results to guide how you write your subject lines for future emails.
Now that people have opened your email, you must keep them reading all the way to the end.
Make your emails feel like an intimate letter between you and your reader. The last thing you want is for your emails to read like a promotion from a big company. The easiest way to make your emails feel personal is to use a personalized, human greeting. For example “Hi Sandra” or “Hey friend.”
You can also segment your lists for a highly personalized experience. Not all your subscribers are the same, so why should their emails be?
You can drive that personalization even further by automating these messages based on specific triggers, like the purchase of a book or a recent signup.
As an author, writing your emails like a story should come naturally to you. But it can be helpful to think about every line in your email as having one goal: to get the reader to read the next line.
Every email you send should have a goal. What do you want your readers to do? If it’s a promotional email, your CTA should be to order or preorder your new book.
For less promotional emails, such as a newsletter, your CTA could be to reply to the email (driving engagement), read a blog post on your website, follow you on social media, or invite friends to join your email list.
Like your greeting, your signoff should make the email feel like it came from you personally. So choose a way to end your email that’s special. Some authors, like Jen Sincero, actually insert their signature into the closing. But a simple “Take it easy” or “Until next time” (or whatever feels most like you) will suffice.
An effective email copywriting tactic is the addition of a P.S. after your closing. Many people skim the email body copy but will read a P.S. in full. So, use a P.S. to repeat a CTA or add urgency to it.
Make sure you don’t make these common email marketing mistakes.
Tell new subscribers what to expect from your list in terms of frequency and content. It’s best to do this before they sign up, but you should also tell them in the first email they receive. Otherwise, subscribers are likely to be confused or annoyed because your list wasn’t what they expected.
Don’t make the mistake of rolling new subscribers right into your regular email schedule. Instead, send at least one email welcoming them to your list and setting expectations for what’s to come. This helps new subscribers feel good about their decision to join your list. Bonus: Welcome emails are one of the most opened emails of all, with a 92% average open rate.
If you send too many emails, subscribers might feel like they’re being bombarded with content. If you send too few, subscribers might forget about your list. Both can lead to unsubscribes.
There’s no right answer for how many emails to send, but a good rule of thumb is to send no more than one per day and send at least one per month. One survey revealed that most people prefer one email per week.
Most people read emails on their smartphones, not their desktop or laptop computer. So, make sure your emails are designed to be read on a small screen. That means making paragraphs short, and, if you’re using HTML, ensuring your design looks good on mobile.
You’re an author, so your readers know exactly what your writing sounds like—and they’re subscribing because they enjoy your style. Don’t make your emails sound like everyone else’s. Readers will be confused and disappointed if your emails don’t feel like they come from you. Use the tactics from this guide, but write like yourself.
Your regular email client (such as your personal Gmail or Yahoo Mail account) can’t be used for your email marketing as an author. Most personal email clients limit the number of emails you can send at once and also don’t offer any analytics or scheduling.
If you want to use email marketing to promote your books, you should invest in an email service provider. Here’s what to look for in an email marketing software for authors:
You’re a writer. You shouldn’t have to learn how to design emails (or pay for a costly graphic designer) just to market your work through email. That’s why the first thing to look for in an email marketing software is an easy drag-and-drop template builder.
Your email marketing software should have mobile optimization built in. That way, you can create your email just once and have it look amazing on every type of device.
Personalizing your email marketing with readers’ names not only encourages a higher open rate, but it also makes your conversation with each subscriber feel more intimate.
You don’t have time to send every email out individually. Your email marketing software should allow you to schedule emails in advance and send your welcome email or series to new subscribers automatically.
If you can’t understand your email analytics, they’re useless to you. Make sure your email marketing software comes with an analytics dashboard that is easy to understand. The analytics dashboard should be designed for business owners or creatives, not data experts.
When you understand your email analytics, you take the guesswork out of your strategy. Email marketing software like Campaign Monitor provides plenty of insight into exactly what’s working and what’s not. Here’s what you should look at for every email campaign:
Campaign open rate
This is the percentage of people who opened your email. We suggest aiming for a 20% to 40% email open rate. If your open rate is lower than this, you should try changing your subject lines to be more enticing.
Your click-through rate is the percentage of people who clicked on a link in your email. Our research suggests that a click-through rate of about 15% is healthy. If your click-through rate is much lower than this, you should change the way you write your email body copy, so that it leads more directly to a call to action.
This is the percentage of people who unsubscribed after reading your email. We suggest that you aim for an unsubscribe rate less than 2%. If you have a high unsubscribe rate for one of your emails, it’s worth investigating why.
Had you not sent an email in a long time? It could be that people have forgotten who you are. Have you been sending emails more than once a week? It could be that people want emails less frequently. Or maybe you haven’t properly set expectations for your list.
The delivery rate is the percentage of emails that successfully made it into a person’s inbox. You want your delivery rate to be as high as possible. If your delivery rate is low, it’s time to “scrub your list.” To scrub your list is to remove any email addresses that are undeliverable.
Your top five campaigns
Once you’ve been emailing your list for a few months, look at which campaigns have delivered the best results: the most opens, clicks, and engagement. See if there are any patterns that emerge, such as a style of subject line, email length, time sent, or type of CTA. Then start applying those tactics to more emails.
Throughout this guide, you’ve seen examples from other authors who are using traditional email marketing to sell more books and build a thriving platform. But some authors have found a way to be more creative with their email marketing. For people in creative fields like writing, the unique approach can be very successful.
Take a cue from the following authors and don’t be afraid to try something new:
Viv Groskop is the author of How to Own the Room. Instead of sending a regular newsletter about updates in her life, she creates a truly value-packed weekly email. Her newsletter is a curated list of things she’s been watching, participating in, or reading that her subscribers would want to do also.
Mark Manson, the author of the bestselling book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, sends a weekly newsletter called “Motherf*cking Monday.” The newsletter always consists of three opinion-based writings he’s produced recently that fall in line with his edgy and, at times, controversial brand.
Warren Ellis is a comic book writer known for his unconventional newsletter, “Orbital Operations.” In it, he writes long, rambling missives that give readers an insight into his creative mind.
Email marketing for authors is a must, especially for new and established writers looking to build a platform and sell more books. Fortunately, email marketing is one of the simplest and most effective digital marketing tools out there.
To implement the techniques and tips outlined in this email marketing for authors guide, start by exploring the beginner-friendly ways to build beautiful and effective emails with the Campaign Monitor template builder.
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