The biggest regret most authors have is not starting an email list early on in their careers. That’s because email has a better response rate than social media and is often cheaper than advertising. And yes, even if you are traditionally published you’re not excluded from creating an email list. These days just like indie authors, you’ll be expected to market your books despite having a publisher. This isn’t a bad thing it could give you leverage when negotiating a contract because an email list is considered an asset in the business world. It’s so valuable in fact, most publishers have email lists of their own:

Now before you start signing up for an email service, you need to know what the common pitfalls are. Sure, it’s easy to start a list but it’s difficult to maintain an interactive one. Also, authors may find themselves getting into trouble with things like; staying out of the spam folder, freebie offers, and data collection, so let’s find out how to run an email list like a boss…

Tip #1: How to Stay Out Of The Spam Folder

It’s not unusual to see authors complain that their emails are being put into the promotional tab by Google or worse, flagged as spam. This is a common problem and the reason why is because over the years spammers and criminals have used free email services (like MailChimp and MailerLite) to rip people off and even extort them. So service providers like Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo Mail have brought down the hammer and are identifying emails as trouble before they reach a recipient’s inbox. In fact, companies like Google are using an AI that considers things like IP address, domain health, and user feedback (how many times recipients hit the spam button), to determine whether or not you are a threat.    

So how do you get on the good side of email service providers? You start by:

  • Asking subscribers to whitelist your emails
  • Getting subscribers to interact through replying or clicking links
  • Deleting subscribers who don’t open your emails.

Sad But True Stories

Years ago, a woman on Facebook asked the question: I flag emails I don’t want as spam, is that wrong? The flurry of authors who chimed in was nothing less than comical. However, some people aren’t technically savvy and you will encounter them. For example, thriller author Mark Dawson talked about a person who contacted him demanding to be taken off his email list rather than simply clicking the unsubscribe link. You can laugh all you want at these people but it hurts your email list when people are labeling your emails as spam. In the U.S. and Europe, there are laws against spam and you can be fined for sending unsolicited emails. So in response, Dawson now puts the unsubscribe link at the very top of his emails.     

Tip #2: Content: What Do You Say?

Content can be as easy as sharing research (you excluded from your book) or personal stories. In my previous post: Email Marketing for Authors, I have a list of authors who have good email marketing practices. It would do a world of good, to find some authors you admire and sign up for their email list. Preferably, you should choose a mixture of famous and not-so-famous authors in your genre because there’s something to be learned from everyone.               

Tip #3: Write Good Headlines

Let’s be honest, most of us get so many emails that we only gravitate toward the ones that sound interesting. If you go to your inbox right now, you’ll find emails with headlines that were written by professional copywriters and those that are clearly not. In my inbox here are just some of the better headlines:

  • Have any feedback for us? (Affinity Publisher)
  • The Most Heartbreaking Story of Our Time (James Patterson)
  • So Close: Cover Reveal (Sylvia Day)
  • Free Fiction MondayThe Silence (Kristine Kathryn Rusch)

As you can see, the best headlines ask questions, evoke emotion, or get straight to the point. Now that you know this, you also need to be forewarned of the spammy kind of headlines that can get your email flagged and those headlines contain:

  • The words; free, cheap, discount, click or buy
  • Lots of exclamation points!!!
  • Strange fOrMatting 

Now sending an email with the word free in the headline won’t necessarily get your email flagged but it does increase the odds especially, if your subscribers didn’t whitelist or interact with any of your previous emails. That’s why it’s vital to get rid of the people who aren’t interacting or opening your emails, which leads me to my next point…     

Tip #4: Culling Your List

This is a touchy subject with some authors because it feels wrong to delete someone who signed up for your list. After all, we like big numbers it makes us feel important but your email list isn’t about your ego, it’s supposed to serve a purpose: to build and maintain a relationship with your readers. Besides, most email services charge per subscriber so culling your list is cost-effective. 

Some authors are against culling because sometimes the data isn’t always reliable. They claim that on certain devices open rates don’t always get registered. Okay, fair enough, but you can also gauge if people are opening your emails through interaction. As I said before, ask a question or say something you know will get a response because you need to know who’s reading your emails and who’s not.


Tip #5: How To Get Data Without Being Creepy

Analytics are vital if you want to have leverage with a traditional publisher or agent. The more you bring to the table, like newsletter subscribers and social media followers, the more valuable you look to them. That’s a given, but if you know the demographics, location, and behavior of your subscribers the more valuable you become because you can tell them exactly who to market to. Now be careful when mining data because you don’t want to become like Facebook, just hoarding information only to sell to the highest bidder. People these days are a bit more guarded with their privacy. So how do you go about this?  

Well, you can gather data from your audience the same way data brokers do on social media, through polls and fun memes. For example, you can take a poll like:

Most people are going to side with their generation because of our natural biases.

You can also simply ask the question: Since you know so much about me, I’d like to know more about you: where are you all from?

Remember, you have to keep this balanced, you don’t want to keep asking, and asking while revealing nothing about yourself. It’s only fair to give as much as you get. Keep in mind you’re building a relationship here with your audience not, hoarding data. Also, you need to protect this data because if you are ever hacked, you can be sued just like any other business. I’ve never seen this happen with an author or publisher, but it’s possible.     

Tip #6: Increasing Your Numbers

Over the years authors have used loss leaders (a.k.a. reader magnets) to get people to sign up for their email lists and have been successful, sometimes too successful. In the past authors used to give away freebies like Amazon gift cards or Kindles in exchange for an email address. These types of loss leaders were a terrible idea because they only attracted freebie seekers. Those people are never going to support your work and may end up just unsubscribing or worse, become dead weight on your email list. If you want authentic subscribers, give away a book or a chapter of your newest work but try to stay away from gifts that are unrelated to your work.  

Now some authors refuse to do giveaways of any kind, believing it cheapens their work but authors like James Patterson and Stephen King, have giveaways all the time and it doesn’t hurt their bottom line. Heck, even publishing companies have giveaways so I don’t think they would do that if it were cheapening the product. 

(Edited for clarity)

If you want to read the entire email you can here.

Nonetheless, some authors prefer the organic approach, where they just put their signup link in the book or on their website and believe that this will bring real, organic subscribers. This is the slow burn method and it sometimes cuts down on freebie seekers but so does culling your list of inactive subscribers. So, there’s that.   

A Final Thought

The reason why most authors don’t start an email list is fear, the fear that nobody cares. We’re also afraid we’ll say or do the wrong thing and ruin our career. But having an email list is a smart move if you’re looking to stay in touch with your readers cheaply and effectively. Gone are the days when you could just set up a social media account and buy an ad once in a while to get visibility. Today, social media has changed for the worse (when it comes to visibility) and advertising on sites like BookBub is becoming more expensive. Email marketing has remained reliable and has proven to be a better investment in your time and money.

If you’re ready to learn more about email marketing, I wrote a post called: Email Marketing for Authors where I list a set of free courses offered by reliable sources like Google and Mailerlite just click the pic.  


Anyway, if you found this post helpful, please like and share.