(First published in the August 2016 edition of the RWR (Romance Writer’s Report) published by Romance Writers of America.)
In the modern landscape of publishing, authors have more control than ever over how their work is created, published and promoted. Suddenly instead of just being a cog in the wheel of publishing, authors are at the helm of their own careers. However, the increasing control comes with a price tag. Gone are the days when we could just write books and then let someone else do the rest. Authors are expected to have a platform to communicate with their fans that usually includes social media, web presence and public appearances.
For those of us who are introverted, all of this can be more than a little bit overwhelming. Having a website and social media is one thing but having to meet people in person is terrifying. We all want to grow our careers but when did author promotion get so complicated? Put on makeup and show my face? Yikes!
Luckily there’s one way to stay in close contact with your fan base that’s highly effective, can be operated at minimal cost and doesn’t require you to change out of yoga pants. A Newsletter.
Do I Have Time for This?
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Great, another thing I’m supposed to keep up with. As if writing, editing, being witty online and agonizing over sales wasn’t enough. I get it. However, having a newsletter isn’t as time-consuming as a lot of people assume.
There are actually a few reasons why having a newsletter will make your life easier rather than harder.
First, it’s a direct line to your fans. Even though you have social media accounts, those accounts are not under your direct control. As many of us have found out, Facebook and Twitter operate under their own strange and often unclear rules. They can close your account at any time and whether you have 50 followers or 50,000 then you are now completely cut off from the people who read your books. With a newsletter, you can talk to your fans at the push of a button.
There’s also the issue of visibility. Over the past few years most of the social media sites have changed the way posts are viewed. It’s harder and harder to know for sure if your followers are even seeing your messages. When you have a new book release, you want to make sure that your fans know it’s available and how to get it. With a newsletter, there’s a much higher chance they’ll see the information you’re putting out. Plus, even though most readers are aware that authors are using a newsletter service, your message still shows up in their inbox just like any other email. I subscribe to a lot of newsletters and it’s fun when a message from one of my favorite authors lands in my Inbox. It feels like getting a note from a friend.
Okay, so now that you’ve seen the light and you’re ready to get started, what do you do? It’s very simple to get started and you don’t even have to spend any money upfront. All you need are a few resources and a little bit of time to get things set up.
How to Get Started
For those who are complete newbies to this, there are several newsletter providers with free startup options you can choose from. Mail Chimp, Mad Mimi and Mailer Lite all allow you to use the service for free as long as you have a small list (usually up to 1000 subscribers) so they’re a great place to start. No matter which provider you choose, know that you aren’t locked in to staying there. Once your list grows past a certain point you always have the option of exporting your subscribers and moving to another service if they are a better fit for your needs. So don’t stress out about choosing the perfect one to start with. You can adapt as needed. Remember, you are in control.
Once you have your basic list set up, now it’s time to let your fans know how to join. Make it easy to find the signup form. This tip sounds basic but you’d be surprised how many author websites don’t have the newsletter accessible from the front page. It’s best to get the signup form embedded in your website if possible and make sure to have a link on your Facebook page, too. The easier it is to find, the more of your fans you’ll get to join.
Most important, make sure you ask people to join directly! Even with the signup form easy to find, people are busy and bombarded with a lot of information everywhere they turn. If you want people to take a certain action, I’ve found it’s best to ask them straight out. Post about it periodically on social media and mention it with every book release. Let people know that your newsletter is the best way to get information directly from you about your books.
Now that you have your basic newsletter up and running, there are a few things to remember to keep your fans engaged and keep them from hitting the dreaded “unsubscribe” button.
Some readers like chatty newsletters but there’s a limit. Now I’m not saying that you can’t talk about anything but your books but I definitely recommend having a theme for your newsletter rather than just rambling. Be careful of oversharing. For most fans, reading is an escape. Keep it fun!
While we’re on the subject of fun, treat your subscribers well! These are your fans and if they’ve signed up to hear from you then you’ve got it on pretty good authority that they like you and your style. So give the people what they want! Reward them for being loyal fans with exclusive contests, information and prizes.
One note about prizes: I’ve found prizes work best if they relate to your book. After all, you don’t want people on your list just because they’re hoping to win money. You want the fans who would treasure a signed copy or a deleted scene.
Depending on your style, you might want to send a monthly newsletter with updates or only send them when you have a new release. There are no hard and fast rules so set up a schedule that works for you. If you publish frequently, you are naturally going to send more newsletters than others but even those who only publish once or twice a year can still send out updates to keep fans up-to-date on their progress and what’s coming up. Whatever you do, consistency is key.
Following these basic rules will usually keep your fans happy and your list thriving. The most important thing is not to abuse your list. The CAN-SPAM act (the law that sets out the rules for commercial emails) exists for a reason. You don’t have to be a lawyer to interpret it either. It’s really very simple. Make sure people know what they’re signing up for and then don’t send anything they didn’t ask for. If I signed up to hear about romance novels then I don’t want an email asking for donations to your cousin’s charity. Even if it’s a very good cause, it’s not what I signed up for.
Basically be considerate. If people are nice enough to invite you into their Inbox, be a good guest.
Just like any other type of advertising, it’s only effective if you are giving your target market what they want in a way that engages their interest. There are a lot of people vying for our interest these days, especially with email marketing, so you want your messages to stand out so they’ll be read and not deleted.
There are a few things you can do to increase the odds of your fans reading and engaging with your newsletters.
- Time your newsletters carefully. Some newsletter providers have an “optimize” function so they’ll send messages when your members are more likely to open them. However, you can usually estimate this on your own. If you sell most of your books in the US, then it doesn’t make sense to send out newsletters at the crack of dawn, even if you’re an early bird. Send messages in the evening when readers have time to open them and react. If you have a lot of fans in different countries try segmenting them in groups so you can send messages to each time zone separately. It really makes a difference in the open rates and doesn’t require much effort to do.
- Be careful of the spam filters. There are certain email providers that put all newsletters into a separate folder no matter what, but there are certain things you can do to keep yourself out of spam folders in general. Try to craft subject lines that are to the point and don’t sound like advertisements. Avoid using all caps, weird punctuation, symbols (* % $ !) or certain trigger words such as Help, Free, Act Now or Buy. Test out different subject lines to see what works best.
- Put the most relevant information first. I’ve found that the links in the beginning of my newsletter inevitably get more clicks than those at the bottom. Again, attention spans are short these days so make sure you keep that in mind when crafting a newsletter. Short blocks of text also perform better than long paragraphs in my experience. Keep things short, to the point and make it clear what action you want your readers to take, whether it’s to click a link to buy a book or visit your social media page. Generally your fans are excited to hear from you and they just want to know how to get more of your work. So make it easy by putting the most important links front and center.
Whether you’re a brand new author or a seasoned veteran, a well-crafted newsletter puts you in the driver’s seat of your career and allows you to control how you communicate with your fans. Use it as one more tool in your arsenal to stay in control of your career and close to your readers.