“How do I grow my newsletter?”
This is an extremely common question among authors. They read about the importance of newsletters on various book marketing blogs or other author websites — I’ve written about it myself. And, by the time they get signed up for a newsletter service (Mail Chimp being the most popular) and they place an opt-in form on their site, they start to wonder “How the heck do I build this thing?”
Building your email list is a gigantic task. It is not easy and it takes time and concerted effort. Everyone knows this and everyone says it.
What is not often discussed is the exact mechanics of how to build a list, the number of subscribers you should be targeting, and what to do with them once you’ve got them.
This second article in the Book Marketing in 2016 series goes through:
1) Why you newsletter may not be growing very quickly
2) Why your newsletter may not be getting you the response you want from readers
3) How to fix these issues and get it rolling again.
Let’s get started!
Why Your Newsletter Isn’t Growing
As the head of ThirdScribe, I can see the deep details of the effectiveness of certain marketing strategies. One of the biggest pushes by all authors right now is building your email list. And many authors — especially new authors — are having a tough time with it.
The reason for this, in my opinion, is pretty simple: The methods others have used in the past to build that list do not work as well in the present.
Unless you are already selling very well, you’re going to have to do something different than what has worked for others in the past, because a new author needs a better lead than a couple of free books to get newsletter signups. You’re going to have to expend real effort to promoting yourself in order to get your books/content/website so it can be seen by enough people to enable them to sign up for your newsletter.
“Your primary problem revolves more around getting readers to notice you.”
If you are NOT already selling a lot of books — perhaps, because you just started — your primary problem revolves more around getting readers to notice you in the first place. A free book isn’t going to do that on it’s own, so you have to approach the entire prospect here very differently. You need to take a broad spectrum, multi-vector approach to reach the people you need to grow that newsletter.
More on that process below, but first let’s talk about those members you already have.
Why Your Newsletter Might Not Be Working
It’s become apparent as we move into 2016 that the quality of your subscribers is much more important than the quantity.
These charts are illustrations of the data from the 55 mailings sent out to Apocalypse Weird’s general email list, from the beginning of the list to it’s close, specifically Open and Click rates. We built our mailing list, primarily, by offering a free book for it — specifically Nick Cole’s The Red King, the first book in the Apocalypse Weird maxi-series. As you can see in this first chart, as Nick is a prominent author, the “free book” method worked very well to build the list. But, building a list under the pretense of a free book may not get you the response you may be hoping for.
Subscribers vs Opens vs Clicks — Raw Data
What we see here is that once The Red King caught on, the list started building subscribers quickly. However, even though we were always building subscribers, our newsletter opens quickly stagnated and our actual click rate remained almost static with the pre-growth numbers.
Despite having nearly 20 times more subscribers, the actual action rate barely rose above baseline, averaging 55 unique clicks per mailing. Why?
For those wondering, there was a lot of spam protection on those forms. We are very confident the signups we got were real people. So why didn’t clicks grow in proportion to subscribers?
When we dice the data up a bit, things become more clear.
Open Rates and Click Rates
When you look at the action rates — the percentage of subscribers who are opening and clicking — a clear trend becomes apparent.
Yes, we gave away copies of a great book for free — as many now feel is common practice for building your list. But, the problem here is that the allegiance to many of those subscribers was purely to a free book. When we promoted other books — books to be bought — response went WAY down, aside from our strongest fans. The ones who joined us not for a free book, but because they genuinely loved the books and authors involved.
When I talk about “Super Fans” vs “Casual Fans”, this is a great representation of what I’m talking about.
How To Improve This
The mistake made above, and that many continue to make, is to treat the “free book for signing up” as a transaction. “Thanks for signing up, here’s your book.”
Don’t think like that!
“If it’s just an impersonal transaction… they’ll walk away with their free book and never return.”
If it’s just an impersonal transaction, then the person who signed up will take it that way, and they’ll walk away with their free book and never return. Just like what you see in the charts above.
Authors need to think of newsletter signups as an opening, akin to buying someone a drink in a bar. You’ve met, you gave them a book, and now you can talk a bit. Make that first email more than the delivery of a free book and use that opportunity to bring them into your growing community.
In other words, in 2016 you need to focus on the fan, not the giveaway.
Whether your newsletter prompt is in a free book or on your website (preferably both!), the first challenge is always getting it seen. After all, no one will sign up if they never see that they should.
To that end, there are FIVE actions an author can take that are the most likely to improve their newsletter signups:
- Set Up A Funnel. “Funnel” is a sales term for when you create a system to drive people to an action. A common way to do this is to offer up something of value (like a free book) to get them to take an action (like sign up for you newsletter). At the end of that free book, is perhaps another action — buy a book, for example. It’s a chained series of events. If you don’t have one, you should set one up. Not sure how to do that? Then read this.
- Ask Nicely – And Keep Asking. The most effective tactic for new authors? Telling people about your newsletter (and free offer, if applicable) and asking them to sign up. Yes, that means actually getting engaged with the audience. You CAN NOT remain static. Prompt for it in every blog post. Mention it every now and then on social media. Tell your friends.
- Draw Them In With Content. The first order of business is to raise your own profile, and you do that by writing regular, timely, shareable content on your website. In other words, you need to blog. Preferably about topics your audience is interested in reading about.
It is imperative that you are reaching out to both new and existing readers in a way that brings them back to you, your books, and your newsletter — and that means bringing them to your website. The best way to do that is through compelling content that is shared across the social web.
- A Personal Appeal At The End Of Your Book. The other action item is to ensure that everything you publish has a prompt for action – to visit your site, join your newsletter, and review a book. A great way to do this is in a short, personal letter, immediately at the conclusion of the story, asking the reader for these three things. Don’t make it an ad, make it a nice letter thanking them for reading your work, hoping they enjoyed it, and informing them how they can help.
- Treat Them Special. You only have one chance to make a first impression, so make sure you do a great job at it. That first email to a new follower should happen right away, have the offer in it (if applicable), and have a nice message welcoming them. Preferably with some kind of cool, special access info or link.
You should then follow up once or twice a month with something interesting. Some kind of insider information that only subscribers get. It could be upcoming news, insights into your next book, book signings, sales, specials. You can even enable special protected pages and posts in your website only subscribers can open. Get creative and see what works for you.
If you want to offer a free story of some kind as an incentive, that’s up to you. I recommend it, it works. However, it is crucial you remember that giving away a free book does not mean those readers are now fans of yours — it doesn’t even mean they read it. The follow up email to that free book is crucial to getting that new reader on board with you.