Thursday 26 May 2016

Indie Spotlight: email lists

Indie Spotlight is Siobhan Daiko’s monthly column on self-publishing. This month she advises indie authors on the importance of maintaining an email list.

Most indie authors recognise the importance of having an email list. However, we might ask why should we use email when we can connect with readers via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest? The answer is that we are more in control of who sees our emails, whereas on social media we have little say in the connections. My own Facebook page, for example, only shows my posts to less than ten percent of my followers. And Facebook doesn’t even provide me with a record of who has liked my page.

Email is much more personal. When recipients get a message from us, even though they know the email has been sent to a number of people, they still feel as if we are having a one-to-one.

The downside is that open rates can be low, and click through rates even lower, so it might seem as if email is just as difficult as fighting with the Facebook algorithm. However, at least we give recipients the option of seeing our email, whereas followers on Facebook and Twitter might miss our posts. As in all forms of human contact, however, it is important to establish a relationship with our recipients by establishing trust, setting expectations and sending valuable content. Ultimately, the control is in our recipient’s hands to open our mail or not, but creating an email strategy and being intentional can increase our open rates and engagement. Tim Grahl, in his book Your First 1000 Copies, states that after helping an author with marketing, for every one book that writer sold on social media, he sold ten through his email list. The end result can be that, once we get our list working, it could have a much better return on investment that most social platforms.

So, how should we get started with our list? It is important to note that we don’t send emails through our Gmail or Hotmail account, which would contravene the CAN SPAM Act. We need permission to email people with marketing type content, and using an email service provider gives them an easy unsubscribe option.

There are a range of email service providers, and we should check which suit our needs, long-term goals and budget before choosing. These are some of the better known ones.

MailChimp: free for up to 2,000 subscribers (does not include all features). User-friendly templates. For added features, and once we get to 2,001 subscribers, we’ll need to jump to USD30/month.
Mad Mimi: free for up to 100 subscribers, then jumps to USD10/month. The templates are not as easy as MailChimp’s, but it is still relatively simple to use and affordable.
ConvertKit: USD29/month for up to 1,000 subscribers. If we want to be super targeted and detailed with our list and break up subscribers into different categories easily, ConvertKit has an amazing arsenal of tools.
ActiveCampaign: USD17/month (if you pay annually) for up to 1,000 subscribers. If we want to be more intentional and targeted with our readers, like ConvertKit, this is a good option.

There are other choices: use Google to find them. Some start cheap but increase in price steeply. It is important to decide our long-term goals. We need to think about targeting the right readers, and tailoring the content of our emails to their interests.

One of the best ways to encourage people to sign up for our email newsletter is to offer them an incentive. This could be a free short story, a sample chapter from one of our books, or even the chance to participate in a draw for a gift card. We can add a link to our newsletter sign-up form on our website and other social media accounts, highlighting the incentive, but we should always remember to connect with recipients and not simply shout: buy my book!

Siobhan Daiko is a best-selling indie author.