“If you build it, they will come” is not an effective marketing strategy for authors.
Readers need to know when a book is available, and that doesn’t just happen by itself. Let’s face it: Getting on social media to post “Buy my book!” doesn’t exactly inspire readers to purchase it. So what’s an author to do? Take the time to strategically and patiently build a loyal “tribe” of readers through an email newsletter list. As Seth Godin, best-selling author and marketing expert, says: “Selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don’t.”
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Why send email newsletters?
“Marketing used to be about advertising, and advertising is expensive,” says Godin in his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. “Today, marketing is about engaging with the tribe and delivering products and services with stories that spread.”
In other words, it’s about connecting with your audience. People want to feel a part of something, and when they do, they are compelled to share that with others.
Sage Cohen, author of The Productive Writer and Fierce on the Page, considers her newsletter an ongoing conversation with her readers that began when they first read her books. “I share real, often vulnerable, stories about my life and how I have interpreted and steered these events to inform and benefit my writing life. The newsletter is delivered without banners or logos, so it feels like a personal email. Many of my readers write me personal responses each time they receive an email from me.”
This form of communication goes beyond sharing about your next book or event. It is about engaging with the reader.
“I try to use my newsletter to reinforce the connection between myself and the reader,” confirms Chris Guillebeau, author of the $100 Start Up and Born for This. “I use it to promote my new books or events, of course, but I also try to keep it personal to ensure there’s a real reason for any newsletter email I send.”
Who is your readership?
Although many different types of people may read and enjoy your books, keep your ideal reader or target market in mind when building your email list. Best-selling children’s author Debbie Dadey does not reach out to her readers: “My target audience is parents and teachers and librarians, not the children themselves, as they can be quite young.” Kids can reach out to her through her website, but her newsletter focuses on connecting with the people who make the buying decisions for the children.
Guillebeau has a slightly different strategy. “Write for your grandmother – or any other [one] person. I learned this lesson years ago when my grandma subscribed to my list. The next time my dad went to visit, she said, ‘Chris has been sending me so many nice emails lately.’ We think she didn’t know I wasn’t writing only to her! After laughing about it, I realized it was actually an interesting lesson. You should imagine that you’re writing your newsletter, or anything else, to one individual.”
How can you build your readership?
When building your email list, your goal should be based on the quality of your subscribers and not the quantity. A list with 50 devoted readers who love your writing is more valuable than a list of 300 who signed up because you gave away a free short story.
To begin collecting email addresses, you need a website, somewhere for readers to find you and a place to host your sign-up form. Once that is live and you start getting traffic to your site, you can encourage people to sign up for your newsletter.
Social media is a good place to start, but on her blog, publishing expert Jane Friedman says social media appeals should not be a long-term strategy. “They require active marketing on your part and are reliant on time-based feeds and platforms controlled by others. Putting a sign-up form on your website is an essential marketing strategy: the list should grow without you having to do anything, assuming your site gets even a small amount of traffic.”
Once you begin building your list and sending out newsletters, pay attention to what works and what elicits responses. Cohen says, “I measure the effectiveness of my newsletter with delight: mine and my readers. When my feedback loop confirms that I’ve made a real connection with real people, I know I’ve hit the mark.”
What should you include in your newsletter?
Everyone is busy. If you send out a newsletter, make it easy to read and one that has value for your reader. Think about what will make it visually appealing. A long page of dense text is daunting and will probably be deleted. But if you break your information into short paragraphs or sections and add photos, it is more likely to entice someone to read it.
In his book Content Inc: How Entrepreneurs Use Content to Build Massive Audiences and Create Radically Successful Business, author and entrepreneur Joe Pulizzi believes one of the biggest reasons content marketing fails is because people stop doing it. “I’ve seen business after business start a blog or e-newsletter or white paper program or podcast series and stop after a few months…Success does not happen overnight. You must commit for the long haul if you want to be successful.”
One strategy Pulizzi has is to create a content calendar. You don’t need a fancy program. A spreadsheet or even a notebook to track your ideas works fine. Once you decide how often you want to send out your newsletter, create your calendar with ideas and notes for each one you plan to send.
Think about your audience and your goals. Then add notes for your content ideas, links, book news, photos, and anything else you might want to include. It doesn’t have to be detailed but enough to give you a head start when you sit down to create the actual newsletter. Doing this planning legwork ahead of time – that is, before it’s time to build the actual newsletter – ensures you are more likely to continue doing it.
You want to be genuine with your readership to create a real connection. “I am always seeking the point of convergence of what I want to share and what readers want to hear. Based on the responses I’ve received over the past decade, I have come to understand this sweet spot with my readers. What I’d advise for others is to try offering a variety of content that feels authentic for you. Pay close attention to what people respond to – and then evolve your content in that direction,” Cohen says.
When you get ready to send your newsletter, create a subject line that is intriguing and encourages people to open the email. Avoid terms like free offer or read this right away or any other words or phrases that might be seen as spam. You don’t want your hard work to end up in the junk folder.
How often should you send a newsletter?
Think about the newsletters you receive and the ones you take the time to read. Do they arrive daily, weekly, monthly? Also, think about your workload and consider what you can realistically accomplish and maintain. You will be excited at first and may be tempted to put one out more frequently, and then lose your steam. Whatever you decide, you need to be diligent and stick with it.
If you are consistent with your frequency and authentic with your content, a newsletter is the perfect way to stay connected to your readers and build a loyal following.
Cohen says the bottom line is to be yourself. “That’s how the people who want what you’re offering will find you. And deliver on your promises – that’s what will keep them coming back for more.”
—Kerrie Flanagan is a freelance writer, publisher, writing consultant, and author with seven books published under her label, Hot Chocolate Press. Web: KerrieFlanagan.com.