Email List Building Essentials For Authors
“Do authors really need an email list?” I get this question in my inbox at least once a week. And spoiler alert, my answer is always a very emphatic, “YES!”
Your #1 goal in building out your website, and in everything you do to market your books online, should be to grow your email list.
In fact, your email list is one of the most important elements of your author platform—and it’s something you can start developing right now, no matter where you’re at in the writing, editing, or publishing process.
Why Do Authors Need An Email List?
Having an email list is one of the best ways to build relationships with your readers over time. It’s what helps keep you top of mind the next time readers are looking for a new book to read, or a book to share with their friends and family.
But it’s also part of a long term “safety net” strategy for you, the author.
Unlike social media, having an email list gives you an audience that you can reach out to yourself, no matter what happens.
If social media disappeared tomorrow—or if social media went down the day of your book launch, let’s say—you’d lose access to all the contacts you’ve built over time. But this isn’t the case with your email list.
So, let’s talk about how to actually get started with your email list—and to do that, I’m going to walk you through three steps to help you get your email list up and running.
List Building For Authors: 3 Steps to Get Started
Before digging into these three steps, you’ll want to choose your Email Service Provider (or ESP). I’m not going to cover the “tech” parts of setting up your email list, but most ESPs offer training videos that will help you get your email list up and running.
Step 1: Define Your Target Audience of Readers
Your target audience is made up of readers who are going to love your book just as much as you do. These are the type of people who will buy your book, enjoy reading it, and recommend it to all their friends. They’ll leave you glowing reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, comment on your social media posts, and respond to your emails.
In other words, they’re the potential readers that your author platform needs to speak to! This is why it’s so important to understand who they are, what they like, and what they might want to see from you (other than good books!) before setting up your email list.
Now, if you’re like most of the authors I work with, you might be thinking, “"But I have nothing interesting to share!"
Many writers think they have nothing relevant or meaningful to offer readers. But the root of the problem isn’t really having nothing important to share. The real problem is not knowing who you are trying to share it with.
It’s extremely difficult to determine what to communicate when you haven’t first taken the time to fully identify who you are trying to communicate with.
What you need to do is identify your communication sweet spot—the common ground between YOUR interests, passions, and needs + YOUR READER’S interests, passions and needs + YOUR BOOK (the genre of your book and the core emotion books in your genre evoke in readers).
When you can identify this sweet spot, it enables connection—and it makes communicating with your target reader way easier.
You no longer have to search for something to say because your shared interests, passions, and needs lend themselves to a natural discussion.
This is why knowing your reader is critical! So, that’s step one—define your target audience and find your communication sweet spot.
Step 2: Start Generating Leads For Your Email List
When a reader gives you their email address and asks to hear from you, it's a big deal! You'll want to have a lead magnet (or some kind of freebie) to give them as a way to say thanks and bring them into your world more.
Here are some ideas of things you can give away as a lead magnet:
- A short story or novella based around one of your characters
- The opening chapter of one of your books (or multiple books)
- An entire free book (if you have more than one book available)
- Bonus scenes, deleted scenes, epilogues, or sneak peeks
- A behind the scenes look or insight into your writing process
- Recipes (<- Yep! Think outside the box as long as it's relevant)
- Links to Pinterest boards/aesthetics for your book
- Spotify playlists that capture the vibe of your book
- Sketches or inspiration photos of your characters
- Book club questions for your published books
- Audio or video recordings of your books/chapters or interviews
- A promo code or discount on your latest book
- A list of recommended books in your genre/like your book
The options are endless! Just make sure whatever you offer is something that’s relevant and that falls within your communication sweet spot. If you write thrillers, don’t offer your target readers a cookbook (unless it’s somehow relevant).
When it comes to sharing your lead magnet, I recommend at least making it prominently featured on your website, sharing it on your social media accounts, and highlighting it in the opening pages of your book itself (this will make it visible in the "Look Inside" section on Amazon). You can mention your lead magnet in any interviews you do (newspapers, podcasts, YouTube, TV, etc.), too.
This will help you make sure you’re collecting the email addresses of your current (and potential future) readers. But again, think outside the box! The ways in which you can share your lead magnet are limitless—and the more you share, the more subscribers you will collect, which in turn means the more books you’ll sell in the future.
Now, you might be wondering, “What happens after someone subscribes to my email list? How do I communicate with them in an effective way?”
Well, that’s where step three—developing your ongoing content and communication strategy—comes in!
Step 3: Develop Your Content Strategy
Once someone subscribes to your email list, it’s important to stay in touch with them.
Regular email contact with your readers creates a long string of impressions, so that your name stays at the forefront of their mind.
When an opportunity arises—a book club needs a new book to read, your subscriber (or a friend) wants a new book to read—people are far more likely to think of you if they frequently see your name.
This means that in order to make it easier for you to stay in touch with your subscribers, you’ll need to do two things—1) create an automated “Welcome Email” that gets sent to your new subscribers, and 2) develop an ongoing content strategy.
Step 3a: Create Your Automated Welcome Email
You can find “Welcome Email” templates (for authors) all over the internet, but essentially, the goal of this initial (automated) email is to share a few things: your lead magnet (if you have one), a brief introduction to who you are, what kind of books you write, etc., and what your subscribers can expect going forward.
Step 3b: Develop Your Ongoing Content Strategy
A content strategy describes how you will communicate with your audience on an ongoing basis. How often will you communicate with your subscribers? Will you send regular email newsletters? Post on social media? Write blog posts? Share podcast appearances? YouTube Videos? Or something else?
If you’re just starting out, don’t overthink this part!
Keep it simple at first and add additional types of content (or send out content more often) once you’re more comfortable.
Consistency is more important than doing “all the things” at once.
In practical terms, this might look like sending out an email newsletter once a quarter—yes, that’s only FOUR per year! It might also mean only showing up on Instagram once a week to start. Whatever makes sense for you—and whatever you can consistently commit to—is good enough for now!
And if you’re not sure what kind of things you can communicate about to your subscribers, here are some ideas:
- Writing updates and new releases
- Events and appearances
- Book reviews and recommendations
- Personal notes or photos
- Answers to commonly asked questions
- Quotes from your book (with images to share)
- Spotify playlists of songs that inspired your book
- Book club questions for your books
- Anything you want, really!
Again, this is not something you should overcomplicate. Let your voice and personality shine through so that your subscribers can get to know you. Afterall, this is why they signed up for your email list, right?
Once you’re done with step three, you’re all set! Over time, you can iterate on how you’re delivering content and/or communicating with your subscribers based on what you learn about them and/or your own preferences.
We all start with zero subscribers.
But if you want to get your books in the hands of readers, creating an email list is not something you can skip out on. It’s an essential part of your author platform.
Your list will grow over time as your readers find you and as you actively promote your books, so don’t stress out over this part if you’re just starting out. Aim for progress, not perfection and you’ll see your email list grow over time.
Most importantly, have fun with this!
Never forget that on the other side of your marketing efforts is another human being who (most likely) genuinely wants to engage with you. If you keep this in mind, building an email list and marketing your book can actually be fun (and not so overwhelming)!