Elizabeth: Mailing lists and Newsletters

A number of the sessions I attended at the recent RWA conference dealt with marketing and author promotion.  Gone are the days when writers wrote, and “all those other folks” took care of promoting, marketing, and actually selling books.  The advent of self-publishing has also given rise to self-designing, self-promoting, self-marketing, and a lot of other “self-” things that cut into the time when, as a writer, you’d probably really just rather be writing.

Maybe that’s just me.

One of the things that many of the conference sessions I attended had in common was a focus on newsletters and developing a mailing-list as a way to reach potential readers and get them to actually buy your books.  Erica Ridley talked about the mechanics of choosing an email provider, evaluating features, and providing incentives for readers to sign-up on a mailing list; Mark Dawson talked about  leveraging mailing lists in the book launch process;  and a group of authors talked about the benefits of cross-promotions for expanding visibility and growing mailing lists.

While the presenters all made valid points, I had to wonder how effective mailing lists and email newsletters really are, especially considering the amount of time their care-and-feeding seems to require.

Over time, I’ve unsubscribed from the majority of the author mailing lists that I initially joined.  After a particularly annoying incident – when I signed up for (what I thought was) a single author’s mailing list but instead wound up on the lists for several dozen authors that I had absolutely no interest in – I’ve steered clear of signing up for anything.

I’m guessing I’m not the reader that authors who successfully leverage their mailing lists are looking for.

In these days of privacy concerns and an abundance of spam, not to mention phishing emails, scams, and the like, signing up for a mailing list for a new or unknown author doesn’t always seem worth the risk, even if they offer something free in return if you do so.  The majority of the authors I follow are on Facebook and, since the information they post there is pretty much what they put in their newsletters (if they actually have news letters), I can easily keep up with them and find out when they have a new release coming out, without ever having to leave my News Feed or sign up for anything.

There are, of course, a few exceptions; newsletters that I still enjoy seeing pop up in my email box.  Those newsletters have a few things in common:

  • They’re not jammed packed with information
  • They don’t use a lot of graphics and different fonts
  • They’re not just a sales pitch
  • They’re clearly readable on a cell-phone screen
  • They’re funny and/or include personal touches
  • They look professional

That said, I don’t know that any of the email newsletters I’ve read have ever caused me to make a purchase I wasn’t already planning to make.  For those that arrive on a regular basis, I guess they do at least keep me from forgetting about the authors, but I’m not sure if that’s really all they hope to accomplish when they send them.

How about you?  Do you enjoy receiving newsletters from your favorite authors?  Do they influence your buying decisions?  Is a robust mailing list part of your marketing plan?

6 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Mailing lists and Newsletters

  1. While I don’t (yet) have a newsletter, I’ve seen that they can work. My critique partner sends out one every month, and every time she does, she gets a few downloads or purchases of her books. I’ve heard other writers use newsletters for serial-type short stories or vignettes (usually of ancillary characters in their other books), and some offer free, only-available-if-you-sign-up content (perhaps of your main character’s backstory) just for subscribing to an author’s newsletter.

    Time permitting, I plan to do short stories/vignettes and subscriber-only content when I get my newsletter up and running.

    I am glad to hear your comments on what you like/don’t like. I will definitely make sure the content fits well on a mobile device.

    As for receiving content from other authors, if they’re authors I like, I read them pretty regularly. Others, I skip around. But I agree that short and sweet is best.

    • Glad the comments were helpful. Being able to read things easily on a mobile device is a big item from me, since that’s pretty much the only place I read my email. Colors and fonts are important as well, not just from a preference standpoint, but from an ADA compliance standpoint for readers who may have visual issues – something I have to pay attention to in my day job.

  2. The only newsletters I’m subscribed to are the ones from people from Eight Ladies. I prefer blogs, which I can access on MY timeline, not the author’s.

    Didn’t there used to be fan clubs that would send out news and tidbits? Usually run by fans? I’m not sure if that was a bookworld thing, or only a musicworld thing. Fandom stuff is slightly more interesting; a lot of writers don’t lead very interesting lives. (-: They sit in their chairs and write!

    But a fandom newsletter could include news about the whole community — birthdays, other authors we like, etc. I mean, how much news can a single author come up with? Out of the ones I love, they tend to write one book a year, and they may be nominated for an award four or five times a decade.

    With that said, I still think I’d prefer that in a blog format, to be accessed when I want to access it.

    However, they say that only ten percent of marketing works, and nobody knows which ten percent that is, so we have to do it all.

  3. Interesting that you would ask. I’ve sent out one newsletter to date, with another one planned for September 1, to coincide with my release of The Demon Always Wins. My subscriber list currently sits at 31–less than half the people who have pre-ordered the book.

    My publicist just let me know that the list is too small to even use to identify a “look-alike” profile for her to use in targeting ads.

    On the other hand, it feels like having loads of newsletter subscribers before I actually have a book to offer gets the cart before the horse.

    • Jeanne – that is a conundrum. Getting a robust mailing list before you have a book out is a challenge. Fortunately, in a few more weeks, you will have a book out and then should be better able to start building.

    • Well, it won’t be a problem for long; you’ve got another book coming out soon, so things should feed into each other.

      Lois McMaster Bujold once said, I think, that the best way to promote a backlist is to write a new book. LOL.

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