Starting A Mailing List

Every writer should have a mailing list. That’s one of those of those bits of advice that you will get sooner or later if you hang around writers’ boards on the internet long enough. It also happens to be true although it took me a long time to realise it.

I started my mailing list a few years back. To be honest, for the first year or so, I made no effort to attract folk to my mailing list whatsoever. And, oddly enough, it never seemed very useful.

Then I read Your First Thousand Copies which made a pretty convincing case not only for mailing lists but for using the much-hated browser pop-up to get people to sign up for them. Which is why many of you who visit this site get to see the aforementioned pop-up every couple of weeks. Since that time I have collected a couple of hundred names. That is still pretty small as mailing lists go but much better than it was.

So what are the benefits of mailing lists? Well, it depends on the kind of mailing list you want to run. Your First Thousand Copies recommends using your mailing list in the way most writers use their websites – to promote reader engagement by sending out articles, extracts from your books and other stuff, as well as sales links.

I’d love to do that but I am a bit too lazy, and by the time I had this information I had already spend a lot of time getting this blog rolling and, much as I enjoy writing it, I did not feel like setting out to create something that involved just as much work.

So, in the case of my list (which you can join here if you are interested), people who sign up get to hear about my new releases before anybody else and also get occasional freebies and special offers.

Often I release my new books at a low introductory price and then raise them after a few days and being on the mailing list gives you a head’s up about this.

Last month I gave away free copies of A Cold and Lonely Place to everybody on the mailing list. Amazingly enough a large number of people went off and bought it anyway. So thanks to everyone who did that. I’ll be doing similar giveaways in the future.

What benefits does the mailing list give me? Well, it gives me a bunch of initial sales, which is always gratifying and more to the point, that bunch of initial sales, even with a mailing list as small as mine, gives me a chance of getting onto some of the less important charts at Amazon. This visibility in turn leads to more sales. That’s the theory anyway.

Does it work?

As far as I can tell, yes. The past few times I’ve done a new release I’ve managed to hit the the charts for sea stories, short stories and a couple of others which I can’t be bothered to check my records of right now. My average sales per new release have been higher as well even after the initial introductory price has gone. As time goes on and my list gets larger, I might start to appear on the more important charts which in theory should lead to even more sales creating a virtuous loop.

Now you’re probably thinking that’s all very well for an indie writer but what about folk still with traditional publishers. Well, I reckon there is an even stronger case for them using a mailing list, particularly in the US where, if your book does not take off in the first couple of months it will be stripped and returned.

Having a mailing list means that you can notify your fans that your book is out and that they should go get it. You have a short window of opportunity to make your mark and you need to do everything you can to take advantage of it. It’s a bit like turning the voters out on election day.

Why use a mailing list? Why not just advertise it on your blog or website? Because there is no guarantee that people will be checking those out when you need them to be doing that. Your email will arrive in their inbox, and you can provide them with a handy-dandy sales link to click on which makes the task of buying your book easier. And hey there’s no law that says you can’t also use your website to make these announcements.

So how do you go about setting up your mailing list?

There’s all manner of laws concerning spamming and holding people’s personal data on your computer, so I recommend using a service like Mailchimp or Aweber who have already jumped through the legal hoops for you.

Mailchimp is free until your list reaches 2000 addresses (by which time you probably won’t be too worried about paying). Aweber costs money from the get-go but a lot of marketing professionals swear by it. There are a number of other services which I don’t know much about but which a swift Google search will turn up. I use Mailchimp myself and I’ve never had a problem with it.

Reputable services use what is called the double opt-in system. This means that once somebody signs up for your list they get sent an email and they need to click on a link within that email to opt-in. This gives them a chance to rethink signing up if that’s what they want. Of course, this also means there is a chance that the confirmation email might get caught in a spam filter so if you sign up for my list and haven’t got a response please check your junk mail filter.

Once you’ve uploaded your books to Amazon and whoever else you publish them with, you just need to wait a day or so until the books are live then you can cut and paste the links from the website into your mailing list newsletter and you’re good to go.

The nice thing about having a mailing list is that the list grows organically once its started. Just put a link to the sign up page at the back of your books and on your website and you are set.

Bonus Tip. If you decide to go with Mailchimp the web interface can be a little fiddly. It’s WYSIWYG but to create links you need to select text and cut and paste stuff into boxes. Making headers involves selecting text and clicking on buttons. It’s not difficult but it does take time and getting out your mailing list is one of those things you want to make as easy as possible.

I recommend using markdown and signing up for a free account with Draft. This has a nifty feature that allows you to send your markdown text to Mailchimp and have it transformed into fully functional HTML complete with links.

For those of you unfamiliar with markdown, it’s a simplified version of HTML meant to be easily usable and readable by ordinary folks. You can find out more here

You can learn enough markdown to create you mailing list in two minutes. In fact here is all you need.

To create a header in markdown you enclose your text in hashtags. The more hashtags you use the deeper the header level you get. One hashtag means a level one header, two hashtags means a level two header and so on.

Thus ####This is a level four header#### gives you

This is a level four header

You get italics by enclosing text in asterisks like so *asterisks*.

You get bold text by enclosing your text in **two asterisks**.

You create a link by enclosing the word you are intend to be clicked in square brackets and then placing the target of the link in normal brackets immediately thereafter. The format is [linkword](www.targetlink)

And there you have it. You now know enough markdown to create your own Mailchimp newsletter using Draft.

If you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.

8 Replies to “Starting A Mailing List”

  1. I agree completely. A mailing list is a really vital tool. The only downside is that sometimes people email me back because they can’t figure out how to launch the Kindle app on their tablets or whatever, but after many years in IT, nothing fazes me. “)

    1. Now I am curious– do you have any idea why they do that? It’s not the first thing I would think of doing if I signed up for someone’s mailing list. I sometimes get people emailing with technical questions about how to do a cover in powerpoint or set up an ebook in calibre, but that’s because of the posts I did on the subject a couple of years back.

  2. I’m not sure. I can hazard a guess, though. I suspect there is a large portion of the population for whom technology is as daunting as the prospecting performing surgery upon oneself, and even as trivial a task as sideloading a file is formidable. And it has always been common for people to write or email writers to complain about things the writers cannot control, the cover art and the publication date and the book layout and such (though that has changed now with indie publishing).

    Anyway, this happened enough that enough that I picked the most common questions (usually related to Smashwords) and wrote up some walk-throughs that I linked to on my site, and that seemed to help.

    1. Thanks, Jonathan. Your explanation makes perfect sense. I like your idea of putting walkthroughs up on the site. I may do that myself for some of the more common questions I get.

  3. I use Mailchimp for my mailing list. It works pretty good, and I’m way below 2000 so it’s still free for me.

    Another point about having a mailing list for traditional publishing is that agents will be more likely to accept your query if you already have a platform. And a mailing list is a great tool to build your platform.

        1. I used to, Jevon. These days my work is either with publishers I know personally or I publish it myself so I don’t have much call for one. I don’t imagine that situation is going to change any time soon.

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