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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?