When I began the marketing and publishing process, the notion of a newsletter appeared on my radar immediately. But I was confused. Was this a snail mail thing? A bulletin to pass out? No. In self-publishing, most writers build an author newsletter list. At first, this seemed secondary to me. No one would know who I was, after all, right?
So I got by for a couple months with an author list of about 40 people (nearly all family and friends). This served no real purpose, because while my family and friends bought my first book, they would have done that without my single, solitary welcome email.
I kept seeing everywhere (my Facebook writers’ groups, Twitter, etc.) that newsletter building was paramount. And then, I started to see posts in which writers were seeking newsletter swaps. All I had at the time was a working email address, a MailChimp account, a couple dozen subscribers, and no automated emails or plans to send them regularly.
I didn’t want to hassle people. In my own personal inbox, I am not apt to open junk mail or ads or spam, after all. So why should I do that to my readers?
The joke was on me. I didn’t HAVE ANY READERS.
So I dove in deeper. Here is how I went from 40 subscribers to over 2000 subscribers in fewer than three months. While I’m at it, I’ll include information on what should be in your emails and resources to guide you in setting up these elements.
Steps for Building Your Newsletter
1. You’re gonna need a reader magnet
A reader magnet is something to offer your readers in exchange for their membership in your author newsletter. Quid pro quo. A reader magnet most often takes the form of a free ebook or a free sample of an ebook.
If you don’t have a first-in-series that you’re willing to use as your free reader magnet, it may be smart to create a preview or sample of your first-in-series.
If you have the time and energy and don’t have a series, a completed short story or novella or full-length novel would be most ideal. Whatever it is, it needs to represent your body of work in a way that will not only draw in the right reader, but will also hook them into your series or encourage them to read your stuff.
You will need to format this reader magnet accordingly. I use Draft2Digital now, which I quite like. Sign up, follow the steps, download the epub, mobi, and pdf files of your ebook, and you’re ready to go.
You do not need to complete the final step to have those three downloads, but you can publish through D2D if you’d like to start gaining exposure through Apple, Kobo, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.
2. Pick a service
The industry favorites are MailChimp and MailerLite. The interfaces themselves have differences, but you won’t fully appreciate their differences until you’ve grown comfortable with designing your newsletters, embedding your forms, scheduling, and analyzing the data. Don’t panic! It comes with practice.
Know that you’ll have your regular emails and your automated ones. The latter would include a welcome email which your service will automatically send when a new subscriber joins your list. You will design and schedule the former.
3. Design your welcome email
This early email should be genre appropriate. The best way to find out what works for your genre is to subscribe to successful independent authors from your genre. See what they do, and try to work within that template.
Basically, though, you ought to have: a branded header, a brief introduction of you and your work, info on what your readers will expect as far as content and frequency, and your social media links.
This welcome email may be sent after your new subscribers to your author newsletter download your reader magnet, in which case you should mention that you’re available to help them with technical issues.
4. Set up newsletter swaps
Do you have a book to sell? If so, it’s time to set up swaps to start marketing and promoting your book with other authors in your genre.
Schedule swaps. A newsletter swap is a deal in which you and an author from your genre, or a similar genre, will trade dates to share each other’s new release or discounted book.
Where to find swaps? Facebook has been my go-to, and it will likely be yours too. There are Facebook newsletter swap groups for every genre. Dig around in Facebook’s best-attended indie support group, 20BooksTo50K, or search for groups. Once you begin making connections with other authors on Facebook, start asking the names of their swap groups.
How many swaps do you share per newsletter? How many newsletters per week? Or month? Look to others in your genre for the norm.
In sweet romance, once weekly is just about right. I think most authors in my genre share an average of four titles per newsletter. Some only share single featured titles. Some share up to seven! The more swaps you set up, the more placements you’ll get for your book. But don’t schedule with abandon. Start out slow and get the hang of it first.
5. Plan your regularly scheduled newsletter content
Your author newsletter might include:
- A personal note from you: Your life. Book news. Behind the scenes. An excerpt. A photo of your mangy dog. Etc.
- Book covers and links: These are the swaps I talked about earlier. A linked book cover and a call to action are the basics. Download now! Grab it while it’s hot! You might include a brief blurb or your own praise of each book along with the title and author’s name if you want to get fancy.
- Value added: What’s value added? That’s indie speak for freebies. Readers want something more from your newsletter than ads for other books. They want to learn about you and they want to feel like they are getting “value” for their “dollar” (in this case, the dollar is their time in subscribing to and reading your emails). Freebies can take the form of group promos, which I’ll get to soon.
- Links to your Amazon page or your own collection for good measure. Each week you’ll likely have drawn in new readers who maybe skimmed your welcome email. Now’s not a bad time to remind them about your groovy backlist.
6. Find your audience and grow your list of subscribers
If your goal is to sell books, then you need to know who reads your genre and target them. Begging random internet strangers to follow you, read your author newsletter, buy your books is ineffective. It’s a waste of your time. This is where your reader magnet comes into play.
There are a few prominent websites through which you can disseminate your reader magnet and therefore gain subscribers. For each of these websites, you will join group promotions, wherein (similarly to the newsletter swaps) you will share a link to each promotion you join, just as other joiners will do.
You can find examples of these group promotions in almost any author’s newsletter. The group promotion link and landing page will have an amateurish-but-genre-appropriate header-sized image that links you to a landing page chock-full of free books. To download each book, the viewer must join that author’s email list.
If you’re just starting out and are hoping to limit spending, I highly recommend StoryOriginApp.com. It’s currently in beta and free to join. On SOA, you’ll find promotions for nearly every genre. The interface is user friendly and Evan, the creator, is super-duper accessible and helpful.
Once you get rolling and decide to open your budget, you might next try BookFunnel, which has netted me the highest sub rates per promotion. BookFunnel is not free, but I highly recommend it for scaling. StoryOrigin taught me about NLs and magnets, but BF brought the most subs.
You can upload your reader magnet and join promotions on other sites, such as MyBookCave and ProlificWorks. I do not currently use either, but it doesn’t hurt to try them out, as each has a free version. I am simply able to fill my newsletters with promotions from the previous two sites for now. Plus, PW doesn’t require readers to subscribe, which is a turn-off for me.
Welp, that about covers it. Here are the main take-aways (I hope!):
- Subscribe to other authors’ newsletters and take notes.
- Create a reader magnet.
- Schedule swaps.
- Join group promos.
Once you’ve got that down, you can start analyzing your reports and reading more about how to make a great author newsletter. In fact, if you weren’t aware, the absolute best resource for newsletter building is Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque. Her book is revered as the best reference material on creating, building, and tending to an effective newsletter.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and dig around online. Resourcefulness is key to making a dent. You got this.
Katie Chambers, owner of Beacon Point, is a nonfiction and fiction substantive (developmental) editor and copy editor for independent authors, content writer and editor for business professionals, and online teacher and tutor.
As an editor, she acts as a beacon by building partnerships with authors and encouraging them.
She loves books and believes they have the power to transform lives. And as such, she wants to ensure that nothing stands in the way of an author’s message or story by reducing errors and strengthening their writing and plot and character development.
Visit her business website, follow or chat with her on Twitter, or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
If you’re an author, take a look at her writing resources page to access free resources for you.