Email Marketing for Authors: Introduction

Email icon with text

For authors, an email list can be the most productive part of their author platform, and one that’s often neglected in favor of chasing Facebook fans and Twitter followers. Unfortunately, this is completely backwards.

The trouble with social media fans and followers

Relying on the fans and followers approach to stay in touch with your readers has two major shortcomings: (a) these third parties own your lists, and (b) they control your access to your readers to varying degrees.

Although Facebook is the poster boy for restricting fan access (as of this writing, posts to your Fan Page only reach maybe 20% of your fans!), all third parties have various limits (format, frequency, content, length, etc) they place on your ability to communicate with your readers.  There’s usually nothing malicious about these limits – their platforms were just not designed to help you sell stuff, they are designed to help them sell stuff. And by the way, this applies to relying on your publisher to seek and manage your reader base as well.

Then there’s the ultimate risk: you might lose the ability to connect with your readers entirely if they fire you (your publisher doesn’t pick up your next book), ban you (because you broke one of their obscure “terms of service”), or simply go out of business (MySpace anyone?).

Don’t get me wrong: there’s a vitally important role for social media in the business of authoring, and that’s finding new readers. But first –

Instead, nurture a cadre of loyal readers

Here are three giant truths of today’s world of book selling:

  1. Nothing sells more books over the long run than word-of-mouth.
  2. There is no more effective word-of-mouth engine than a cadre of loyal readers.
  3. There is no better way to cultivate and enthuse that cadre than regular email contact.

On the other hand, with a little work on your part, you can have a reliable, unfettered, and effective (more on this later) method of nurturing and cultivating your readers and fans so that they not only remain loyal but also help you spread the word. This method is an email list, and building it and cultivating it should be at the heart of your career-building efforts as an author (second only, perhaps, to writing the next book).

Yep, it’s that important.

The best way to do that: email

In addition to being a means of communication that you have complete control over (compared to Tweets and Facebook posts):

  1. Email lists (done properly) are opt-in lists. This means that every single person on it has indicated they would LIKE to be contacted by you about your books. Compare this, for example, to its opposite: an ad in a paper. Similarly, an email opt-in is a much stronger commitment than someone “liking” a page, so your email list is the group that is most likely to buy your next book, an intention you can cultivate through a regular sharing of previews and updates.
  2. Because of the above, this is the group that is most likely to evangelize for you, and by sending them your top quality content via email you give them something to evangelize with that might lead to additional signups. In other words, sharing emails is much likely and naturally going to grow your quality reader base than getting people to share on Facebook or Twitter. Note that delivering that “top quality content” is much easier in an email, where you control the channel, but often not possible in social media, where the host controls the channel.
  3. Research has shown that emails have much higher conversion rates (meaning percent of recipients who actually take action as a result) than social media or searches. And get this: the ratio compared to social media is more than 4-to-1. Think about that. If you put an announcement in Facebook that your new book is available, and make the same announcement in an email, your email recipient is four times more likely to buy the book. The research didn’t look into why, but I’d be willing to bet its because in your email you can portray the offer how you want to, and aren’t restricted by format or cost.

Finally, it has long been true in the world of business that it’s so much easier to keep a customer than it is to find a new one, and that’s doubly true for good customers. That’s why its so important to focus on retaining your existing reader base first, then worry about growing it through social media.

Major takeaway from this post

Growing and nurturing an email list that you own and control is a core strategy for long-term authorial success. And you can take that to the bank!


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