How to Start, Build, and Grow Your Email List

One of the most essential steps you’ll ever take when preparing for your book launch and starting your career as a serious author is your email subscription list. Having a good, strong, dependable email list of actively engaged subscribers is crucial to your success as a writer and your book’s success. And as daunting as it sounds, it’s really not that difficult to get one started! But before we dive into the how-to of list-building, let’s first lay the foundation on the why.

Do I Really Need an Email List in 2021?

Yes. More so than ever. And here’s why…

Think of it in terms of where you live. Having a dependable list of subscribers is like owning your home, while relying on your social media accounts to reach readers is like renting.

Your profile and your feed on all social-media platforms are nothing more than rented space! Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, heck, each and every one of the social media platforms is owned by some huge corporate conglomerate. They only allow you to rent space on their platform. Each and every contact you’ve developed on each platform, you have borrowed from those site owners. So, if they decided tomorrow they are rich enough and don’t want to fool with social media anymore, and they decide to shut them down… guess what happens to all your content and all your contacts? That’s right… they’re gone!

However, the space you’ve created on your website and/or email account is technically your space. Once your subscribers give their permission for you to contact them, you own the right to contact them, and you own all the content you send to them every time you email them. You can say what you want and do what you want without fear of being locked in “Facebook Jail.” That alone should be reason enough for you to have your own email list.

Am I saying to get rid of social media? Absolutely not! In fact, ride that wagon until the wheels fall off! But instead of depending on social media to grow and reach your reader list, start thinking of it more as a support system rather than your go-to way of communicating.

Okay, so where do I begin?

Decide on Your Author Email

Easy-peasy. First thing’s first, make sure you have created an author-ish email account! And by author-ish email account, I mean, not the one you created in middle school (I’m talking to you [email protected]!) It needs to be clear this is your professional author email account. Pick an email prefix that is clearly related to you as a writer, such as [email protected] Got it?

Pro Tip: If you are fine with having an extension that says “@gmail.com or @outlook.com” you can leave it at that. However, if you have or want to have your own domain extension for your website and email (i.e., mine is [email protected] because my Google domain for my website is christinakayebooks.com), you must first buy your domain on Google Domains, GoDaddy, etc., and set that up. All domain sellers also offer you at least one email box for free or around $5/month.

Pick Your Email Hosting Service

The very next step is to pick your email hosting service. Here are some of the most common email hosting services out there:

Pro Tip: I highly recommend MailerLite. They are more affordable, user-friendly, and they even have newsletter templates specifically for authors!

Create Your Lead Magnet

Next, you’ll need to create your freebie aka Lead Magnet! This is crucial to building your subscriber list, and it’s pivotal in any author’s marketing campaign. A Lead Magnet is a downloadable resource (usually a pdf) you offer to readers for free in exchange for signing up for your email.

Some common Lead Magnets authors use are as follows:

  • First 1-2 chapters of your upcoming release
  • First 1-2 chapters of a backlist book
  • Free entire copy of a backlist book
  • Character Interview with any of your lead characters
  • Behind the Scenes Sneak Peek into your upcoming release

For my current Author Lead Magnet, I am using the tried-and-true “first few chapters” download.

 

Whatever you choose to go with, simply create your lead magnet in Word (or Docs) and save it as a pdf. Quick and easy!

Pro Tip: You can also use Canva to create a beautiful and enticing Lead Magnet. Either way, make sure it’s not too long (no more than, say, 20 pages), visually pleasing (include images if you can), and relates to you, your books, and your brand.

Okay, I’ve Got My Lead Magnet, How Do I Send It to Readers?

The key idea behind a lead magnet is that it’s so appealing (and free) that readers are willing to jump at the chance to give you their preciously guarded email address just so they can get their paws on what you’re offering. And here’s how that works.

Step 1: Create a Landing Page

Step 2: Attach Lead Magnet to Landing Page

Step 3: Send the Landing-Page Link to Everyone

I highly recommend you start by sending it to all your established friends and family, as they’re most likely the ones who will jump at the chance to support you! Then you can post on your social feeds. Without sounding too salesy, simply explain to folks that you’re starting your first newsletter and you’d love to give them something free in exchange for signing up.

Now, just sit back and watch your subscriber list grow daily! Your email hosting service will do all the behind-the-scenes work!

I Have 50 subscribers Already! Now What?

First off…congrats!

Once you’ve established fifty, thirty, or even just twenty subscribers, it’s time to start nourishing your growing email list. If you create a subscriber list but you never post anything fun, entertaining, or informative, you’ll quickly lose those few you’ve started with and you’ll not be able to grow your email list. Make sure you are providing regular updates to your subscriber list and make sure every broadcast is something they want to hear about.

I always recommend starting out with just once-a-month newsletters. This takes some of the pressure off authors who are just getting started and who are in the middle of all the other things required of them for a successful book launch. You can also release your newsletter every two weeks or once a week, depending on your preference and availability. Whatever frequency you choose, just be sure you are consistent and that you never leave your subscribers hanging.

Whichever email hosting service you go with, you can even schedule your newsletter drops in advance. Let’s say you wanted to send a new email out every two weeks. You can batch several of them (meaning, write them all ahead of time in one sitting), then upload the content and schedule them to go out on whatever date you want them to.

Once again, the key to growing and nurturing your subscriber list is consistency! Do not over-commit!

Pro Tip: I recommend picking a day out of each week to be your dedicated newsletter release date. For example, at Write Your Best Book, our newsletter typically goes out every Monday morning. So by Sunday night, our content is written, images pulled, and we upload it to our hosting service and schedule it for 9 AM the next day. Being consistent works miracles when it comes to engaging and nurturing your subscriber list!

 

I Think I Get It, But What on Earth Am I Supposed to Talk About Once a Month/Week?

Great question! I’m asked this frequently. Here are some easy to write but interesting ideas for your newsletter content:

  • Announce book sales
  • Announce giveaways/contests
  • Excepts/bonus chapters
  • Share your writing process
  • Share your writing milestones
  • Share curated content that fits your genre
  • Announce book releases
  • Announce cover reveals
  • Talk about “how I stay motivated”
  • Share the story behind your current release

Pro Tip: Be sure to brand your newsletter template and each newsletter you send out. By this, I mean, use the brand colors you have (hopefully) already chosen for your marketing campaign, and use only those colors and fonts in each newsletter.

***

Above all else, make sure your newsletter is full of you! Make sure your voice shines through. After all, you’re a writer, and your voice is what makes your work so unique. It’s why people want to hear from you in the first place. It shouldn’t take you more than thirty minutes each week to type up your content and schedule your newsletter.

For more advice, tips, and tricks on starting, growing, and nurturing your email list, or to ask me anything about writing, publishing, or selling your own books, feel free to email me at [email protected]

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Have you started an email list? What was (or is) your biggest challenge in doing so? Tell me in the comments!

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About Christina Kaye | @writeyourbestbook

Christina Kaye is an author coach, book editor, public speaker, and writing instructor, as well as host of a top-ten rated podcast for authors. Through her business, Write Your Best Book, Christina teaches, supports, and encourages authors to write their best book and become their own book boss through a wide range of book editing and author coaching services, as well as online courses and downloadable resources. Christina Kaye is also an award-winning, bestselling suspense novelist in her own right.

Comments

  1. Great breakdown of the steps here.

    One model I keep in mind about what to send: most content falls somewhere on a continuum between “the writing” and “the person behind the writer.”

    So samples and announcements are the obvious thing to put on one end. Related to those are background and other fun stuff about the story, and beyond that are observations about how and why you write — or your thoughts about other stories you and your fans probably share an interest in. And at the other end are the completely ordinary snippets that might only have a glimpse of you being a writer in them: pets, home repair incidents, and all the rest that help you connect.

    • Great info, Ken! I only had so many words to smoosh all this info into, so I could only list a few great ideas for newsletter topics! These are all great, too!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Christina!

  3. Eric Troyer says

    Good advice. Thanks!

  4. I’m having trouble deciding on a lead magnet. Although I’m marketing one genre, my books are in different sub genres. Also, my upcoming release is the final book in a trilogy. Will people care enough to read an excerpt from that? Won’t there be spoilers?

    Thank you for this article.

    • writeyourbestbook says

      Sionnach, Great question. And yes, it’s hard deciding on the right lead magnet. But in your situation, I believe I’d create my lead magnet from the FIRST book in my series, not the last. This will work as sort of a “teaser,” getting people both interested in your series AND introducing them to the world you’ve created so they will hopefully buy and start with book one. And an added benefit…no spoilers!

  5. Christina,
    Thanks for the fabulous tips – very helpful.

    However, I tried to sign up for your newsletter through the link in this article, and got a 404.

    • writeyourbestbook says

      Cathryn,
      Yes, I know. I’m very sorry for the inconvenience. We’ve had ALL the technical difficulties the past two weeks with our website, email, you name it! And we’re currently working on gettiing it all fixed (most is already back up) by the end of this week. We’d love to add you to the email list, though, as we’re pretty proud of our little weekly gems. If you’ll simply email me at [email protected] and remind me, I’ll add you right then and there manually. You’ll receive your first regular newsletter Monday! Thanks for letting me know!

  6. Louis Schlesinger says

    Terrific post! Thank you, Christina and Katie.

  7. Thanks for posting this blog Katie.

    Last night, my work on a social media platform that shall not be named, because Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Apple and Google says ‘it incites violence’ went up in smoke.

    I had over 600 followers over 8 months of getting to know writers, artists, game devs and all sorts of creatives. None of us ever seemed to be calling others to acts of ‘violence’. . .

    I should have been building an email list as well. . .

    Like this article says, we’re only ‘renting’ space there. An email list is all about ensuring you have those contacts after something negative happens.

    My only consolation – the CEO and others backing said social media website are working hard to get their website back up. And there are other social media websites – and we’re rebuilding on a few now.

    I hope it is up soon – and I’ve changed my current writing project from Tales from Trinity City to a collage of short stories about the Internet and how messed up it has become I am calling Tales from the Internet.

    • writeyourbestbook says

      Mark, I’m so sorry to hear that happened to you! Sadly, you’re one of many people I know who’ve had this happen in just the last couple weeks! Exactly why you need a good, strong newsletter, right? I’d love to hear more about that book! You can always email me at [email protected]!

      • Thanks – it’s not taking as long to rebuild on other platforms. Once you meet good friends once, you tend to want to stick together. From here on out, I’ll look out for email lists – I have a mail chimp one that I had configured but I’m not using much. The great ‘purging’ of all social media websites have been a great concern of mine.

        My stories are going to be very controversial in nature, but there’s a Bill Barich quote that keeps me working on them – a Good writer refuses to be socialized. He(or she) insists on his (hers) version of things, his (her) own consciousness. And in so doing, he (she) draws the reader’s eye from its usual grove into a new way of seeing things.

        The three stories, which I am writing to be dark satire, goes in order –

        Story 1 – a narcissist is using hatred for a certain political figure to make thousands of month, even though he voted for that candidate. He appears online as something he is not – using identity politics to generate sympathy to exploit people’s outrage. It’s a negative character arc where one of their close ‘allies’ will betray them and expose what they are doing. Of course, the betrayer are also doing that to exploit others to make money and clout.

        Story 2 – a truly vulnerable person who follows this person disintegrates once her idol story ends. She has schizophrenic episodes of Putin chasing after her, with Russian bots and trolls. She ends up at the ex that got her hooked on cocaine. After the binge, she realizes most of the people in her ex’s drug den are just like her – hurting people who believe insane ideas online, probably being exploited like she was. She goes onto getting into recovery, telling people her story and improving her life by getting out of San Fran and moving to Kentucky to be with her parents again, and eventually gets married and has a family.

        Story 3 – Another protagonist sees everything that happens between the first two stories and wonders – WTF?! How is this all happening. He goes to mount googolympus to get some answers from the technical trinity – Jack Dorsey, Susan Wojcicki, and Mark Zuckerberg. After a bunch of run-around answers, they finally give him the 10 technommandments – what all people must obey in order not to be deleted off the Internet. . .

        That protagonist looks at them as the crazy idiots they are and says – oh hell no, I’m outta here, I’ll make an alt-tech account. . .

        As I said, it’s my thoughts about the Internet, hopefully many people on the Internet will have a moment of self-reflection. . . Do they believe these ideas because of anxiety, fear, paranoia? Are they being exploited by bad actors? Should we just leave bad social media places behind for green pastures? Maybe having a break can help you?

  8. Great advice, thank you Christina. Do you have any thoughts on reviving an old email list? I developed one for my historical fiction but now have turned my pen to writing fantasy. I haven’t contacted them for some time.

    • writeyourbestbook says

      Great question! Briefly, you’ll want to first use your service provider to go in and remove any “inactive” subscribers. Then, with whoever is left, you’ll want to do a “re-engagement campaign.” Your first in forever newsletter should: A) grab their attention with an irresistable subject line and image, B) at the very top when they first start reading, hook them with a cool fact, quiz, puzzle, news story (relevant) or just anything to say “hey, guys, I’m back and better than ever.” C) Remind subscribers who you are, what you write, and update them on life in general, your writing, and yes, your genre switch. D) If possible, throw together a freebie to send attached just because. Also, the genre switch should not impact your list or click rate because it’s typically more filled with readers who just want to hear from you, regradless of what genre you’re writing (IMHO). Hope this helps!

  9. I would love to set up an email list, and I tried to last year before realising I’d need to provide my personal address to comply with anti-spam regulations. Unwilling to do that and with PO boxes costing upwards of £200 a year, I put it on the back burner until something happens with my first book. Is this a common issue for people?

    • Hi Katherine,

      I’m in the US and mine is fairly reasonable through the govt. postal service. I’ve heard places like Fedex and UPS offer PO boxes, but I’m not sure. I definitely didn’t want to give out my personal address either. I hope you find a solution soon.

    • writeyourbestbook says

      Katherine,
      I was super excited to answer this for you…then I realized you must be in the UK! And I’m not up to speed with current British law, sadly. However, since others who are in the US may also be curious about this…there’s good news! While, yes, you do have to include AN address somewhere in your newsletter (usually at bottom near privacy policy and consent), it DOES NOT have to be your home address where you live. It ONLY has to be somewhere you can receive physical postal mail, which can be a business address, other home address, and YES, a PO Box address! Again, this is current US law as of November 2020. All I could confirm for you is that UK law is “very similar” to US law on this issue, but nothing about if you can use a PO box there or not. I hope you find out because I’d hate for you to miss out on this!

  10. Sorry, but I’m still confused! Early in the article it says “instead of depending on social media to grow and reach your reader list…”. But then when it comes to hitting the send button on your newsletter, it says that you *should* use social media to grow your list beyond your immediate circle of family and friends. So it still seems to me like the chicken and egg problem at the core of building a list still isn’t being acknowledged to any helpful degree. What am I not getting here?

    • writeyourbestbook says

      J,
      I’m sorry I was clear as mud on that. I honestly didn’t even notice that when I wrote it. But it’s actually clearer than I made it seem. Let me explain (or try to). No, you should NOT rely SOLELY on social to grow and reach your reader list. As in…rely then leave it right there with no further action and hope that, by doing so, that’s all you’ll have to do and social media will magically grow your list for you. However, yes, in order to snag those readers, ONE option is to post your landing page link on your feed to direct people away from ONLY social for you and TO your newsletter. I guess what I meant to say (and failed) was don’t ONLY rely on social for growing your readership. Use Email, too. But yes, do make use of your social followers and REDIRECT them to your email list. Once both are up and running, continue to use BOTH but just don’t ever SOLELY rely on social since, especially this past week, it’s unreliable and somewhat precarious. HOPE THAT HELPS!

  11. Thanks for the tips. I have a small list, but I need to grow it more. Your suggestions are a great help.

  12. Eratta Sibetta says

    Wow! This is great! Thank you so much. You make it sound so easy. This is the best present for a new Author. I do not have an Author platform and don’t even have a website yet. But of course this is the easiest way to do it.

    • writeyourbestbook says

      Eratta,
      Lovely name! It really IS pretty easy. But it does take time and patience because it won’t grow overnight like a Chia Pet! And the good news is, whichever provider you go with for email, they almost all have TONS of FAQ, blogs, articles, support, and other ways to literally walk you through the whole process, including templates you can use so you don’t have to worry about designing. Also, yes, you should also get a (free/cheap) website running as soon as you can. I recommend Wix. But just be sure you’re aware that one does not replace the other. It’s not “either or.” You need BOTH a website AND a newsletter. Good luck!

  13. Bert Rinkel says

    This is a great article! It puts the need for a subscriber list in perspective! Others just write the technical steps, but this gives a perspective. Well done

    • writeyourbestbook says

      Bert, Awww..that’s one of the best comments I’ve read all day! Warms my little blog writing heart! And I agree with you. So many “how-to” articles for writers simply tell us what to do, and maybe some how-to steps, but they rarely explain the WHY behind it so we can understand the importance of it. That’s exactly why I do that in all my blog posts, even the one on my own site.

  14. Kristina,

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge, time and talent with us. This is all solid advice which I very much appreciate.

  15. Eva Rottenanger says

    This was very helpful.

    I’ve heard all this advice before, that is, as an author, I need to get from A to Z. However, it left the dangling question of: How?

    Your advice is different, more like:
    OK, let’s get to B first: do it like this, and now let’s look at how to get to C……

    I also like how you put advice into action by collecting my email address.

    Well done, and very clear.
    Thank you.

    • writeyourbestbook says

      Eva,
      Love, love, love this comment! Yes, that’s what I at least TRY to do in all my blog posts. So many bloggers just assume the reader is inside their head and undertands what they understand, and that’s so untrue. So, I’m glad to hear my “style” works for you!
      Quick question, though…did I collect your email? Don’t get me wrong. I’d LOVE for you to be on my email list and receive once-a-week free writing advice from yours truly! But I honestly can’t recall grabbinig your email. Plus, our email server (ironically) is down right now, so I can only add subscribers manually. Hopefully, that will be fixed tomorrow. So feel free by Friday to sign up (but only if you want to)!

  16. On the “back end” of email newsletters, make sure you find out what is a normal “open rate” or read rate / clickthrough rate for your type of newsletter. Before you evaluate your success rate, you need to know what’s plausible to shoot for in terms of metrics. For news media, if 20-40% of your readers are opening your newsletter, that’s good. Although be warned, it’s been almost a decade since I last checked those stats.

    I only mention this because I saw a novelist complain about being around 30% for read-rates, and she thought it meant that she was wasting her time. Only she wasn’t, at least not by news media standards. She was actually doing very well.

    As for the other 80-60% who aren’t opening the newsletters? Here’s why I am often amongst that group:

    1) I signed up to the newsletter so I can know right away if an author has a new book out. Just seeing the newsletter pop up in the inbox will send me to the ebook store. You may see the newsletter as a way to sell me on buying the book, but if you’ve achieved “Shut up and take my money” status then I don’t need the ad. I just need to know the book exists 😀

    OR

    2) I signed up to the newsletter to keep abreast of your blog if you don’t blog everyday. The appearance of the newsletter tells me you have a new post to go to; I don’t need to read the newsletter itself.

    For those two reasons I’m not necessarily going to open the newsletter. From what I remember, I’m not alone in my approach as a consumer. But note, whatever is a “routine” topic for your newsletter, i.e., 1 or 2, if you deviate from the routine to tell about a one-off event, e.g., you’re holding a contest, your book is becoming a movie, etc., please indicate that in the subject line.

    • writeyourbestbook says

      All such great additional info! I didn’t have enough “room” to get into metrics and click rates, etc. So I’m so glad you added this! To confirm, yes, according to HubSpot (2020), the “average” acceptable click rate is 20.94%, so anything above that is golden! And yeah, I have heard so many people say similar things about 20-30 or more percent click rates. However, while I understand your #1 and #2 reasons for opening/not opening newsletters, not all (good) newsletters are bent on sell, sell, sell. In fact, while i subscribe to the 80/20 rule (80% of content should be nurture, 20% sales), I go further than that. I NEVER sell on either of my newsletters. Hard rule at Write Your Best Book and on my author list. Author list – I simply inform of updates, giveaways, or special discounts and provide relevant, entertaining, short content. Business list – I send only 1 per week (every Mon), it’s about 1 page long, filled with ONLY helpful, practical writing tips, tricks, and advice, and that’s it. I do have one small button under my signature that I update each week which links to whatever my current offer is or wherever I want to drive traffic (if they want to). But I’ve never used my newsletter to drive sales (though, it’s a hopeful added benefit since the bigger the list, the higher your potential readership). For me, I have so many other avenues for lead gen AND I know from a consumer standpoint, I despise getting salesy, pushy newesletters, that I just use my newsletter to inform, nurture, and teach (which is its own subtler version of marketing if you think about it). And one final thought. While yes, an author can and probably should include links to their recent blogs inside their newsletter, in my opinion, those are two avenues meant to compliment and support one another. And these days, I don’t think that many authors use their newsletter JUST to say, “New blog post is up!” But I’d be so sad if you were on my email list and you assumed that the appearance of a new newsletter simply implied a new blog post and you deleted without reading! 🙁 You could be missing out on some really entertaining or even helpful content! Thank you for such a thorough and thoughtful comment. I appreciate hearing others’ insights on my blog posts!

  17. Thank you for the breakdown. These are great tips!

  18. You are making it very hard to procrastinate on this particular goal. This article is fantastic. Just the things I need to get started.

  19. Thank you so much. All of this information is golden and actionable. I greatly appreciate it.

Trackbacks

  1. […] of our marketing and interaction with readers is online. Christina Kaye lays out how to start, build, and grow your email list; Walter Rhein shows how to use Amazon’s embed feature to preview your book anywhere, Beth Whitney […]

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