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Author: Iola

I provide professional freelance manuscript assessment, copyediting and proofreading services for writers of Christian fiction and non-fiction books, stories and articles. I also review Christian novels at www.christianreads.blogspot.com.

Six Ways to Build Your Email List (and Two Ways Not To)

Six Ways to Build Your Email List (and Two Ways Not To)

I’ve been talking about author platform for the last few weeks. We’ve covered:

I hope I’ve convinced you that a solid author platform needs all three: a website, email list, and a social media presence. It’s not difficult to set these things up (and if you want help, sign up to my Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge).

The next challenge is how do we, as authors, build an email list. Today I’m going to cover some good ways—and a couple of bad ways to build your email list.

First, the bad ways. Don’t:

  • Adding people to your email list without permission.
  • Buying an email list.

Adding people to your email list without permission.

Don’t add people you know to a list on Word or Excel or Gmail or Hotmail, then email them. It’s against the law:

  • The CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act applies if you live in the USA, or if you have anyone from the USA on your email list.
  • The GDPR (General Data Protection Legislation) applies if you live in the European Union, or have anyone from the EU on your email list.

I’ve received these emails. I even saw it recommended in a marketing book a few years ago, that authors “add people you know to your opt-in list”. Yes, this author was ahead of the times in actually having a newsletter list, but did she not understand the meaning of the words “opt in”?

Adding people to your list without their explicit permission is against the law.

You can only email people who have given you permission to email them (which is where Seth Godin’s phrase ‘permission marketing’ comes from). And you must give people the option to unsubscribe.

As I’ve said before, the best way to ensure your email list complies with relevant laws is to use one of the major email list providers, such as Aweber, ConvertKit, MailChimp or MailerLite.

Buying an email list.

Buying an email list is a waste of money. No one on that email list has consented to be on your email list. No one.

Sure, they may have consented to having their details passed on to “selected marketing partners”, but that doesn’t mean they want to be on your list. One of the organisations I’m a member of has passed my mailing address onto “selected marketing partners”. All their selected marketing mailings go straight in the round metal filing cabinet. It’s a waste of their marketing budget, and I’m now keeping a mental list of the credit card providers I’ll never use … the ones who waste money on mailing lists that could be spent on serving customers.

You have no way of knowing whether the people on a bought email list are interested in what you write (or even if they’re interested in books), because they haven’t opted in to your list.

Instead, try one or all of these tactics to build your email list:

1. Email and Ask

Email friends you think would be interested in joining your newsletter list, and ask if they’ll sign up. You don’t have to rely on email. You could also send a text message or Facebook DM, Tweet them … even talk to them. The point is that you’re asking for permission.

And they can sign up though the link you provide (which you’ll get from your mailing list provider), or you can add them directly into your mailing list. But only with their permission.

2. Ask at Events

Ask for newsletter sign-ups if you’re speaking at an event, such as a writer’s conference or retreat, or a book launch. The less technical among us have a physical sign-up sheet, then add people to the list manually. A more technical person could have a QR code on a bookmark, or a PC/tablet so people can enter their own data.

3. Ask Online

Use a plugin such as Bloom or SumoMe to prompt website visitors to sign up for your email list. Or see if your mailing list provider has signup forms. Pin a post on Twitter. Add a sign up button to your Facebook page. Include a link to your signup form in the bio you use for guest posts.

Friends, family and colleagues may well agree to sign up for your newsletter just because you asked them. But strangers are unlikely to give you their email address unless there’s something in it for them.

That ‘something’ is a giveaway of some kind—my subscriptions did increase when I started offering new subscribers a gift (I offer a list of Christian publishers for my Christian Editing Services list, and a list of my favourite Christian authors for my Author list).

4. Host a Webinar

Natalie Lussier hosts a free 30-day listbuiding challenge, and this is one of her techniques. Plan a webinar on a topic of interest to your readers. When they sign up, give them a link to share the webinar with their online contacts. Everyone who signs up is then added to your email list.

Yes, this means getting over your fear of public speaking, and your fear of being on camera.

5. Host a Giveaway

A lot of blogs host giveaways, but most are of the ‘leave a comment to be in the draw to win’ variety. That isn’t helpful for collecting email addresses—no one wants to leave their real email address in a blog comment. But authors can use tools such as Rafflecopter or KingSumo to run giveaways where they collect email addresses in exchange for an entry.

But I’ve found having a giveaway isn’t enough. It has to be promoted. And that’s where my final suggestion comes in:

6. Join a Cross-Promotion

A cross-promotion is where you join forces with other authors to host a giveaway. There is generally some cost involved in this, as setting up and hosting the giveaway takes time, effort, and technical know-how. But the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. A cross-promotion means it’s not just you promoting your giveaway—all the other authors involved will be promoting it as well. This means you’ll get in front of a lot more people.

I’ve recently organised one cross-promotion and participated in a second. Both were very sucessful in terms of adding people to my author email list. In fact, they were almost too successful. I’m having to clean out my existing lists so I don’t have to switch to the paid version of MailChimp.

There are two main types of cross-promotion. The easiest to organise is when each entrant’s information is provided to each of the participating authors. The disadvantage of this approach is that entrants didn’t specifically request to join your mailing list, so you may have a large number unsubscribing.  However, they did consent for their information to be passed to each of the participating authors.

The other type is where entrants choose which author lists they want to opt in to. These are more difficult to organise. The advantage is they produce more engaged subscribers because they have proactively opted in to your list.

But how do you host a giveaway? I’ll be back next week to discuss the main options for organising or participating in online giveaways.

Do you have an email list? What listbuilding techniques have you found worked?

Book Review | How to Best Optimize Blog Posts for SEO

Book Review | How to Best Optimize Blog Posts for SEO

How to Best Optimize Blog Posts for SEO used to be a blog post, although the blog post had 20 tips and the book has 25. It is very short, and the actual content ends shortly after the halfway point (there is then a sample of the author’s 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge).

Thompson starts by explaining what SEO is and why it is important to bloggers and authors. I had read (and reread) the older blog post several times, but I still found several areas in which I can improve. What’s especially good is that the author provides links as well e.g. she says it’s important to have a great headline, then links to the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer.

Yes, SEO experts will know all this stuff. But I’ve read blog posts by some of these experts, and they are borderline unintelligible, or go into a lot of detail about things that aren’t relevant to book bloggers. I like Rachel Thompson’s simple, no-nonsense style, which is easy to understand and implement. It’s a short book but not expensive, and definitely worth the small investment.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review.

About How to Best Optimize Blog Posts for SEO

Are you unsure how generate more traffic to your blog? Do you feel overwhelmed by all the SEO articles out there (or not even sure what the term means)? Do you wish someone could break it down for you in simple steps?

Then this is the book for you!

Rachel provides you her top 25 tips laid out in easy to understand language gleaned from her own ten years of successful blogging as well as optimizing and managing countless client blogs. Containing a wealth of information, these tips will help you increase traffic to your site!

Topics include:
· SEO terms defined
· Specific ways to increase traffic to your blog right now
· How to optimize each post for maximum exposure on Google
· Ways to connect with readers
· How to integrate your blog posts on the various social media sites

If SEO confuses you, this is a great beginner breakdown for any new blogger, writer, veteran author, and even small businesses.

Find the book online at:

Amazon | Goodreads

About Rachel Thompson

Rachel Thompson is the author of Broken Places (one of IndieReader’s “Best of 2015” top books and 2015 Honorable Mention Winner in the San Francisco Book Festival and Los Angeles Book Festival and 5/5 Readers Favorite), and the multi award-winning and best-selling Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed.

Rachel founded BadRedhead Media in 2011, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, IndieReader, FeminineCollective, BookMachine, BlueInk Review, and TransformationIsReal.

Not just an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, Rachel is the creator and founder of the blog-sharing hashtag phenomenon #MondayBlogs, the weekly live Twitter chat #SexAbuseChat, (Tuesdays, 6pm pst), and #BookMarketingChat (Wednesdays 6pm pst) to help writers learn how to market their work.

She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. A single mom, Rachel lives in California (with her two kids and two cats) where she daydreams about Thor. And sleep.

Five Myths Non-Writers Believe

Five Myths Non-Writers Believe

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a writer. But you weren’t always a writer. Once upon a time you were a reader and—perhaps—an aspiring writer.

Like me.

I’ve always been a reader. A bookworm, if you like. And like many readers, I also wanted to be a writer. Specifically, a novelist. I won two school writing competitions in high school and even went on a creative writing camp, but the endless essays of high school and university didn’t leave much time for personal reading or writing.

I didn’t know much about the publishing industry.

Okay. I didn’t know anything about the publishing industry.

I started reading for pleasure again when I got a job, but not writing: I already spent enough hours a day in front of a computer, writing client reports and our company newsletter. I had one colleague whose wife was writing a novel. I asked how it was progressing: he said she was still in the research phase, which was going to take her a year. I asked a few more times but stopped asking when I got a look that said she wasn’t making much progress (or not making as much as her husband thought she ought to be making).

I had another colleague who announced one day that he’d finished his novel. I asked when it was going to be published. Yes, I really thought it was that easy.

When I started researching the craft of writing and the business of publishing, I soon realised that many of my assumptions were incorrect. In particular, there were five myths I believed about writing:

  • Anyone can write a novel
  • Writing is a good way to earn some extra cash
  • Running spell check is enough editing
  • Getting a novel published is easy
  • Writers write. The publisher does the rest

Are you laughing yet? Or do some of my naïve ideas sound eerily familiar? I’ve since discovered my ideas were misguided. But I’ve also discovered there is an element of truth in some of them.

Anyone can write a novel

This is both wrong and right. Anyone can type 80,000 words and call it a novel. Slapping a cover on it and uploading to Amazon isn’t hard (it can’t be, given the quality of some of the novels on Amazon).

But writing a good novel is hard, and not just ‘anyone’ can do it. It takes patience, perseverance, and practice. And most people don’t make it.

Writing is an easy way to earn some extra cash

If you’re prepared to make money writing scam recipe books (using recipes copied from dodgy websites) or scam self-help books (using advice copied from wacko websites) or other scam books (using information copied from Wikipedia), then yes, writing can be an easy way to earn extra cash. Even better, hire someone on Fiverr to ghostwrite (or ghostcopy) the book for you.

But is that writing? It’s certainly not the writing dream so many people have. In reality, pursuing a career as a writer, especially a novelist, is going to cost you a lot of money before you earn anything from it. And most writers also have a day job to pay the bills.

Running spell check is enough editing

Once the manuscript is written, editing is just a matter of running spell check, followed by a quick read-through to make sure spell check hasn’t missed any your/you’re or their/there/they’re errors. That’s editing.

No, that’s running spell check. Editing goes into a lot more detail, and a good novel will have one gone through several stages of editing before it is published (not to mention being read and red-penned by critique partners and beta readers before it goes to the editor). And then it will be proofread—which is different again.

Getting a novel published is easy

Check out your local bookstore. Check out the publishers of those novels. Getting your novel published by one of those publishers isn’t easy. It’s a long way from easy.

But the advent of vanity publishers and self-publishing make it easy to find a publisher. Any vanity press will take your money, tell you you’ve written the next great American (or Australian or British or Canadian or New Zealand) novel, and for another $10,000 they’ll be able to put your novel in front of influential Hollywood producers (and take a first-class holiday in some swanky resort).

But self-publishing platforms such as Amazon, DrafttoDigital, iBooks, Kobo and Smashwords do provide newbie authors with a way of getting their novels published and printed and on sale. And it’s not difficult. But authors soon find that writing and publishing was the easy part . . .

Writers write. The publisher does the rest

This is the final myth, and is one that continues to drive new authors to traditional publishers. They don’t want to be involved in the publishing or the marketing. They want to write. Period. The problem with this myth is that all authors, no matter how they are published, all authors have to do more than write.

Even traditional publishers expect authors to contribute to their marketing efforts. At the very least, these will include a website (which the author pays for), social media profiles and regular updates (which the author undertakes herself, or pays someone else to manage), and attendance at certain industry events and conferences (which the author pays for). These efforts may or may not sell books.

Self-published authors have sole responsibility for marketing — there is no one else. They can just write, but then it’s likely no one will buy their books.

Myth or Truth?

Yes, there is an element of truth in each of these five myths. But more myth than truth. Oh, well. Back to the writing . . .

Writers, what myths have you heard that you now know aren’t true?

Readers, what do you believe about writers that might not be true?

Building Your Author Platform: Do I Need to be on Social Media?

Building Your Author Platform: Do I Need to be on Social Media?

Yes. And no.

In terms of building an author platform, you need methods of attracting potential new readers. Some people call this outreach. Social media is great for outreach. It’s not so great for selling.

The disadvantage of social media is that you don’t own the platform. If you infringe the rules of the social network, they can delete your account. This leaves you with no way of engaging with or converting potential readers. And that’s why a website and email list—things you own—are the two most important foundations of your author platform.

This happened to me last year: Twitter suspended my account. I got it back, but what if I hadn’t?

As I see it, there are two main functions of social networking for authors:

  1. To help us connect with readers
  2. To help us connect with other writers

This is why social networks are important. Writers often work in isolation, and online social networks provide us with valuable and necessary ways to connect with others. My favourite social network is Facebook, and I think of it as the water cooler in my virtual office, the place I head for a short break to recharge before starting the next item on my to-do list.

Connecting with Readers

I believe connecting with readers is more important to an author’s long-term success, because it is the readers who are going to buy your book (or books). For this reason, my suggestions around social networks are more focused on connecting with readers than with other writers–as this is the weak spot for most writers.

We need readers.

We need readers because they read our books. They talk about our books. They review our books. They buy our books. Sure, writers are also readers (or should be). But there are more readers than writers.

Connecting with Writers

Yes, connecting with writers is important, especially in the early stages of your writing. You need to learn to write, and other writers are going to be the people who help with that. Writers will be your first teachers, your first readers, your first fans. They will give you advice on what do, and what not to do. They will help you find a community, essential if your writing is ever going to be anything more than you and a computer.

But in the long term, connecting with readers is more important. Because while all writers are readers (or should be), not all readers are writers.

So what do you want or need from a social networking site:

  • The ability to connect with other users
  • A market demographic that matches your target reader

This means the social networks which are right for me might not be the same as those which are right for you. For example, I discovered as I was researching this post that there are specific social networks for specific groups (this probably shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did). For example:

  • MyMFB has 1.5+ billion followers, and is touted as the Muslim alternative to Facebook.
  • Twoo is a Belgian site geared to teenagers and twenty-somethings.
  • Renren (everyone’s website) is China’s largest social platform.
  • VK.com is the Russian version of Facebook.

None of these are appropriate social networks for me, as my target reader is a Christian with English as their first language.

But these social networks could be great options for writers targeting non-Christian readers in these countries and people groups.

So, no, you don’t need to be on every social network. But you probably do need to be active on a couple of social networks. And you do need your own author website (discussed in this post), and you almost certainly need an email list (click here if you’d like to join mine!).

Do you …
Know you need to start building your author platform but have no idea where to start?
Have a blog and a couple of social media accounts but don’t know what to do next?
Have a website, but aren’t sure if you’re on the right track?

Then join my March Marketing Challenge: Kick Start Your Author Platform. Click here for more information.

What’s your favourite social network, and why?

#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop | Do I Need an Email List

Building Your Author Platform: Do I Need an Email List?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the author with the biggest email list wins.

Well, not quite.

It’s not exactly universally acknowledged. But successful indie authors use email lists and newsletters to build relationships with readers, then to sell. But the relationship comes first. Remember:

  • Attract
  • Engage
  • Convert

Potential readers may have been attracted to our website through a range of methods: social media (which I’ll talk about next week), word of mouth, advertising, a previous book. Email is a way of engaging with potential our target audience, and hopefully converting them into paying readers.

Yes, email newsletters sell books.

The BookBub List

Many indie authors are seeing huge sales success through accessing the giant of all mailing lists: BookBub. Their Christian Fiction list has over 800,000 subscribers. And that’s not even a big list—the biggest lists are Crime Fiction, Thrillers, Cozy Mystery and Historical Mystery, each of which has over 2.9 million subscribers.

This is why authors are prepared to pay big bucks to get a featured deal on BookBub: it’s getting your name in front of a lot of readers who have indicated they are interested in your genre. But BookBub also illustrates another truth of publishing:

Advertising sells books. But not many.

A Crime fiction paid listing will sell an average of 4,000 books—a little over 0.1%. So an advertising blast to 1,000 people (e.g. 1,000 Twitter followers) might sell one book.

Even a free BookBub Crime Fiction listing (the author paying to list a free book) will net an average of just 52,000 downloads—a little over 1% of those emailed. However, that’s still enough that most authors make back their advertising fee as people read the free book, then buy the next in the series.

But authors—indie, small press or traditional CBA—can’t afford to rely on BookBub or similar programs. For one, BookBub is inundated with authors willing to pay hundreds of dollars for an advertisement, so no one can guarantee a listing. The same goes for the other major ebook advertisers, such as EReaderNewsToday, and Inspired Reads. The answer: build your own list.

Build Your Own List

There are good reasons why authors should develop their own mailing lists, and the main one is control: you want to be able to control how and when you connect with readers, rather than being at the mercy of when BookBub will accept your book, or when your publisher will decide to promote you.

What do I Email?

Blog Post

Some authors email the full text version of each blog post. This is an easy feature to set up in MailChimp, and doesn’t even require you to write the email—MailChimp does all the work. I personally don’t like this approach as I’ve probably already read the blog post through Feedly. However, many readers report they check email more often than they check blogs, so this will work with some people.

Link to Blog Post

I’ve also found authors who send a link to their latest blog post, but with some extra information e.g. what motivated them to write the blog post. I rather like this approach – it’s not difficult (the hard part is writing the blog post), but it still gives newsletter subscribers something extra they wouldn’t get if they were only following the blog, something that makes them a little bit special. It also means you can alter your voice a little—I find newsletters often have a more chatty feel than blog posts.

Digest Email

Some authors send a digest of all the posts on their blog and guest posts they’ve written, in case you’ve missed any.

Exclusive Content

Some authors go to a lot of effort to produce an informative newsletter full of exclusive content (i.e. not something that’s previously appeared on a blog!). Randy Ingermanson’s Advanced Fiction Writing newsletter is a great example of this (and if you don’t subscribe to Randy’s newsletter, you should).

Special News

Some authors only send emails when they have special news to announce, like a new book release or a sale. While this is great, I’m not convinced it’s sharing often enough to build any form of relationship with readers, which might mean people unsubscribe when you do email simply because they can’t remember subscribing.

Automation Sequence

The email marketing experts recommend sending new subscribers an automated sequence of emails as soon as they opt in to your email list. This can be between one and five emails, and they are designed to engage with new subscribers.

Sales and Promotions

Some newsletters exist simply to share relevant sales and promotions, such as AppSumo and Goodriter. I don’t recommend this as an approach for fiction authors, and non-fiction authors should only use it with caution—you don’t want people unsubscribing because they think you sold them a dud.

Some newsletters are a mix: Randy includes information on sales and promotions, for example. My Christian Editing Services newsletter includes a digest, some exclusive content, and I feature books I’ve edited which are now on sale.

Do you have a newsletter? Which provider do you use? How often do you email? What content do you send? What do your readers seem to like?

Book Review | Market Like a Boss by Honoree Corder and Ben Hale

Marketing is a huge topic, and a short book like this can only ever scratch the surface even when dealing with the niche of online book marketing. That can be seen as both a weakness as a strength—a weakness in that there is so much How to Market Like a Boss! doesn’t say, but a strength in that it does provide to a quick and easy-to-read introduction to the subject.

Much of the information can be found in other books on book marketing and in greater depth. But there were a few comments and tips I haven’t seen in other books, such as the calculation of the lifetime value of a fiction series reader, or the description of different types of email lists.

One point the authors make strongly which bears repetition is this:

Marketing is highly specific to the brand and the products. What works for one will not necessarily work for another. In short, there is no “one size fits all”.

This, I think, is a mistake many authors make—believing there is only one way to sell books. This is demonstrated y the number of books and training courses from authors proclaiming their way as the one true way with disclaimers in the small print that there is no guarantee of success). It’s refreshing to find two authors who don’t buy into the myth.

This short book is packed with useful advice, and offers a solid end to the series (the previous books were Write Like a Boss! and Publish Like a Boss!). It’s not the most comprehensive book on marketing, but it is worth the investment.

Thanks to the authors for providing a free ebook for review.

Building Your Author Platform: Do I Need a Website?

Building Your Author Platform: Do I Need a Website?

Last week I discussed the need for that elusive necessity, an author platform. This week I’m talking about the main foundation of an author platform: a website.

Your author website is your online home.

It’s where readers will go to find out about you and your books. I asked in a reader group and they confirmed this: they most commonly visit author websites to find out:

  • More about the author
  • When the author’s next book releases
  • What other books the author has published
  • The correct order of a series

And a website is where agents, publishers and editors will look to see if you have that magical author platform. It’s where publicists and bloggers will look to find information about you.

You also need a way for readers to subscribe to your email list—your list provider will probably have a way to integrate this with your website. I’ll talk more about email lists and why they’re important next week.

Your website one of the foundation elements of your platform and of your passive marketing. While it’s a lot of work to build a website, the ongoing maintenance isn’t as difficult, as long as you set it up properly (and remember to keep all your themes and plugins updated, especially security plugins. I’ve learned that the hard way).

What does my website have to have?

Not a lot. You need:

Home Page

To bring people into the site and introduce your brand.

About Page

To introduce you as the author, in order to engage with readers and begin to developing a relationship.

Books Page

(Only once you actually have one, of course!)

Your Books page should include all your books. The general guide is to feature your newest books at the top of the page, but a series should always be presented in reading order.

Contact Page

To allow people to communicate with you.

Email Signup

This isn’t a page, but a form. Ideally, this should appear on every page, and should be a central feature of your Home page. We’ll talk more about email lists next week.

Other pages

Other pages, such as a blog, media kit, reviews, and writing advice are all optional. Which makes it a lot easier to set up a professional author website, and a lot harder to find excuses as to why you can’t!

Many authors procrastinate about building an author website.

It’s too hard. It’s expensive. They don’t have time. I can relate—but I still managed to build an author site in a week using the fabulous 5-Day Challenge from Shannon Mattern at WP-BFF.com. (Click here to find out more.)

If you’d like a little more support, consider joining my Kick-Start Your Author Platform Challenge. (Click here to find out more.)

What questions do you have about author websites? What is the best author website you’ve visited, and what made it good?

Building Your Author Platform | What is an Author Platform?

Building Your Author Platform: What is an Author Platform?

It’s a term we hear a lot: author platform.

But what is an author platform, and how do you build one?

Simply put, an author platform is any means by which you can connect with readers and sell books. And you build it. Brick by brick.

The size of an author’s platform is important to publishers, because it’s a broad indicator of how many copies of the book they might be able to sell. This influences their decision on whether they will publish the book … or not.

A book by a famous politician, sportsperson, media star or preacher? Check. A book by the son or daughter or spouse of a famous (or infamous) dead person? Check. A book by someone whose last book sold a bazillion copies and was made into a movie? Check.

Because those authors all have a platform.

A book by a new author no one has ever heard of … maybe not.

While an author platform is important for traditionally published authors, it’s vital for self-published authors. Self-published authors don’t have the marketing power or distribution networks of the big traditional publishers, which means there is no one to help. Self-published authors have to connect with readers and sell their books themselves.

And that’s where having an author platform is important.

A good author platform will achieve three aims:

1. Attract potential customers
2. Engage with potential customers
3. Convert potential customers into actual customers

Marketing gurus will tell you a potential customer needs to be exposed to something seven times before they buy. People move through several stages between first hearing about you and your books to actually buying one of your books. A well-designed platform will help them move through those stages.

This process is called a sales funnel. In Sell More Books with Less Social Media, Chris Syme outlines the six basic phases:

1. Discovery
2. Awareness
3. Research
4. Word-of-Mouth
5. Purchase Point
6. Conversion or Sale

How Do I Build an Author Platform?

You can’t build an author platform overnight any more than you could build the pyramids overnight. You build one brick at a time, starting with:

  • A website
  • An email list
  • Social media

I’m going to address each of these over the next few weeks—why they are important, and how they help you to attract, engage, or convert (and which is best for what).

Meanwhile, what questions do you have about building and maintaining an author platform?

Email Marketing

Email Marketing: 5 Lessons Learned from Signing up to 20+ Author Newsletters

I recently undertook a marketing research exercise—I signed up to the mailing lists of around twenty Christian authors through a multi-author online giveaway to find out what makes a good email. The emails I received from the participating authors ranged in quality and effectiveness from great to illegal.

Here are the five key lessons I learned reading emails from over twenty authors:

1. Use a Mailing List Provider

Email marketing in the USA is controlled by the CAN-SPAM Act (that’s the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act. Isn’t it great that marketing is placed on the same level as porn?). Yes, the CAN-SPAM Act is American and I’m not. It still applies to anyone with Americans on their email list.

The Act has several requirements, including:

  • You must have your full name and physical address in the email
  • You must provide a clear method to unsubscribe
  • You can only email people who have consented to receiving your emails
  • You must not share personal data such as email addresses with other people without permission

One author emailed me and 218 other people using CC. I now have their personal email addresses … and they have mine. This clearly contravenes the CAN-SPAM Act (the giveaway promoter assures me the offending author will be getting an email to “discuss” this).

Using a reputable mailing list provider will help ensure you don’t break the law by requiring you to include necessary information such as a name and address, and an unsubscribe option. It will also help your mail delivery rates, as mail from a personal Gmail or Yahoo account is more likely to end up in the recipient’s spam folder).

Note that even if you use a mailing list provider you still can’t add people to your mailing list without their permission (as has also happened to me this week, and as I have seen recommended by a self-proclaimed marketing “expert”). Most recommend a double opt-in, which both complies with the law, and helps ensure your mailing list isn’t filled with spam bots.

2. Introduce Yourself

The best emails started with an introduction to the author by name, and a reminder of how I subscribed to their email list (through the giveaway, in case I’d forgotten). This is good email list practice, as it helps cut down on spam complaints. It’s also good business practice, because you want subscribers to learn to recognise your name over time and get into the habit of opening your emails.

I got a couple of emails where I couldn’t work out who sent them. The sender was an email list provider, they didn’t introduce themselves, and the signoff at the bottom of the email was from a nickname (e.g. Kath), not from the author name. How can you convert subscribers into buyers if they don’t know who you are?

3. Keep the Presentation Professional

Some of the emails I received were plain text. These were plain and functional, but there was nothing wrong with them. Most used customised templates with branded headers and other images. I like pretty things and I’m interested in visual branding, so I liked these branded newsletters both for the content and for professional delivery.

But some emails were a horrible mix of plain text and colours straight out of the 1980’s. Why use plain black text when there is red and green and blue? In consecutive paragraphs? It looked like the newsletter equivalent of the recent job advertisement for a Graphic Designer for the City of Los Angeles.

Advertisement for Graphic Designer

4. Give Permission to Unsubscribe

You have to offer the option to unsubscribe, but don’t hide it at the bottom of the email. Offer the option in the middle of the email—or even at the top, right under the introduction. Not everyone who signed up for your email list actually wants to be on it. They may have signed up to all the lists because they thought it increased their chances of winning (it doesn’t). They may not have intended to sign up to all the lists. Or they may be conducting marketing research into email list best practice …

While most mailing list providers are free to begin with, you will have to start paying at some point. You don’t want to be paying for people who actually don’t want to be on your mailing list, so it’s better to say goodbye gracefully.

5. Offer a Subscriber Incentive

The better authors offered some kind of free downloadable gift in their introductory email. In fact, after getting a dozen or so emails with a free offer, the few that didn’t offer anything stood out in the wrong way.

Why offer a gift that appeals to your target readers?

  • It helps readers decide whether they like you as an author
  • It leverages the principle of reciprocity
  • It’s not asking for a sale

Some authors offer a free download of the opening chapters of their books. This sounds nice, but it’s not really an incentive—I can get that from Amazon or other online retailer. I’m also not a fan of gifts that don’t relate to your books. A pretty booklet with Bible verse memes is more appropriate for a devotional or inspirational non-fiction author than a fiction author.

Further Information

If you’re looking for further information on email lists, I recommend you read Email Lists Made Easy for Writers and Bloggers by Kristen Oliphant. It’s excellent, because it’s realistic, not the get-rich-quick-quick-quick some experts seem to sell. She also has a free downloadable workbook to help you work through some of the major decisions.

Note that since Email Lists Made Easy was published, MailChimp has added autoresponders to their free plan (MailChimp is free for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails a month). Also, she doesn’t mention MailerLite an email provider. I know several authors who use and recommend MailerLite for the cheaper prices, ease of use, and excellent customer service.

Those are my five lessons learned from reading several dozen emails from over twenty authors. What tips do you have to add?

An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post | Are you Writing Memoir, Fiction or Faction?

AuthorToolBoxBlogHop | Are You Writing Memoir, Fiction, or Faction?

Welcome to the first #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop of 2018!

The monthly Author Toolbox Blog Hop is organised by Raimey Gallant, and has over 40 participating blogs. To find more posts, click here to check out the main page, click here to search #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop on Twitter, or click here to find us on Pinterest.

Are you writing real-life stories?

I work with a range of authors as a freelance editor. Most are writing fiction, because that’s my specialty (specifically, Christian fiction). But I do have a few clients writing stories based on true life events. Sometimes these books are clearly non-fiction—memoir (I shared my top tips on writing memoir last week). Some are pure fiction. Others are a mixture of both.

How do you decide which is the most appropriate for your story? Memoir or fiction or something in between?


Memoir is the appropriate choice when the author is discussing good experiences (like a relationship that has had a positive effect on her life), and when the author is prepared to tell the truth.The whole truth. Including the ugly parts. Anything less is fiction, not memoir. And good memoir, like good fiction, is shown rather than told.

Soul Friend by Jo-Anne Berthelsen is an excellent example of memoir. It doesn’t tell all the events of jo-Anne’s life as an autobiography would. Instead, Soul Friend follows a theme in a way that changes the way the reader sees the world. In the case of Soul Friend, the memoir follows Jo-Anne’s journey with Joy, her spiritual mentor, which had me envying the relationship.

Or Fiction?

In contrast, Words by Ginny Yttrup is a novel about sexual abuse written by someone who has herself experienced abuse. Yttrup says she doesn’t use her own experiences in Words, but it’s clear she has used the memories and feelings from her own experiences, then adapted those to her fictional writing.

Words is typical of what readers expect in fiction: clear point of view, clear character goals, motivations, and conflicts, a three-act plot, and showing the story rather than telling. There is an excellent build-up of tension throughout the novel, and the writing is outstanding—emotive without being graphic.

Fiction based on real-life situations is the appropriate choice where the author is prepared to weave a story around the main events and themes, rather than feeling obliged to remain true to what actually happened. It may be easier to compartmentalise when writing fiction: these difficult events are happening to your character, not to you.

Choosing to write a story as fiction will mean creating characters rather than adapting real people. It will mean creating a plot that fits the expected three-act structure, rather than relying on what actually happened and when. But fiction still requires the author to go deep into the feelings of the situation—positive and negative. Especially the negative, because good fiction is about conflict, about things going wrong or things that shouldn’t have happened.

Or Something In Between?

Then there is the middle ground: writing a fictional account of a factual story. This is known as a non-fiction novel, or faction. One well-known example is Roots by Alex Haley, which details nine generations of his family’s history.

I’ve read many novels which take this faction approach. Some are writing about the experiences of people and events from long ago, perhaps from their own family history. Some are writing about events that are closer to home, about people they know e.g. friends or parents. And some are writing their own story in novel form.

I’ve read (and edited) non-fiction novels, both those based on the author’s own experiences, and those based on their family history. Some were written as pure fiction, others were written as faction. The stories which worked best had the following features:

The author was sufficiently distanced by time to be able to write about the people and events without personal bias.

This may be because the author is writing about other people (e.g. parents or other relations, or complete strangers) rather than about himself or herself. Authors who are writing about themselves often don’t pay enough attention to the goals, motivations, and conflicts (GMC) of their lead characters—possibly because they didn’t have a personal goal at the time. This lack of GMC makes for a weak novel.

The author was prepared to be honest about the faults of the characters.

No one is perfect in real life, and no one likes reading about perfect fictional characters. This means the author needs to ensure the main characters has faults … even when that main character is based on the author. And they have to be real faults, not the kind we dredge up for job interviews (“People say my biggest fault is that I work too hard”).

The main character’s actions felt realistic.

The problem with creating an almost-perfect main character is that personal stories (fiction or faction) are almost always stories where something went wrong or where something bad happened. That’s good, because good fiction is about conflict, about things going wrong. Sometimes this leads to characters making decisions that are out of character … because that’s how it happened in real life. It’s not enough for that thing to have happened in real life. It also has to make sense in the context of the character the author has created (even when that character is based on the author or someone s/he knows).

The author was prepared to change what actually happened.

In fiction, the needs of the story are paramount. If cutting a scene, changing the timeline, or combining characters makes it a better story, the change is made. Even if that wasn’t how it happened in real life (because fiction has to feel realistic for the reader).

The author kept to one story.

I read one World War II novel that had a good first half, but then turned strange in the second half. When I read the author’s note, I found the first half had been based on the real-life events of one person, and the second half based on another. That’s why the second half seemed as though the heroine was acting out of character: because she was literally a different person.

But this can happen even if the author sticks to one character. Good fiction is like memoir: it focuses on one key theme or story question. A scene that doesn’t move the character closer to their goal has no place in the novel. Even if it’s the time you (aka your character) met the Queen. Stick to the story.

What is Right for Your Story?

So what is right for your story? Memoir, fiction, or faction? Only you can answer that question, but I hope these tips will help you decide.

Are you writing a real-life story? Is it memoir, fiction, or faction?