Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ch 4.8 Get Thee A Mailing List

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)

Ch 4.8 Get Thee A Mailing List

If you publish books, you should have a mailing list. Period. 

Really. It's that simple. 

Why Do I Need One?
Social media outlets come and go, and access to all those followers can change in a heartbeat if the social media outlet changes their terms (I'm looking at you, Facebook), but having control over your own main mailing list gives you a direct connection between you and your readers.

When Should I Start a Mailing List?


Even if you only have two people on it. Even if you haven't published yet. Because you will publish, right? And there are people in your life (even now) who will want to know when that happens. Start the list small, ask people to sign up if they want to know when your book comes out, and let it grow organically.

How Often Do I Send Out Email?
Do not feel like you have to hit a time schedule. Don't clutter up your readers' inboxes with newsletters. You aren't providing "content" for your readers; your list is there so your fans know when your next release comes out. Most often, they are signing up because they enjoy your work; tell them you won't spam them and that the list is just for new releases or similar news. They will appreciate this! The value of the newsletter (to both you and them) is letting them know when that next new release comes out.

How Do I Make a Newsletter?
There are free and paid services. Mailchimp is one of the most user-friendly I've seen and they are free up to 2000 subscribers. Above that, you're probably making enough money to justify the paid versions. Check out my newsletter sign up form and an archived newsletter for examples of what Mailchimp's newsletters can look like. My newsletters tend to be fancy, but that's not necessarily best (it's just my style). Some of the more appealing newsletters are very homey and simple. Be creative! And make sure it reflects your personality. Mailchimp also has lots of statistics so you can see how many people are opening which newsletters - and thus gauge their effectiveness.

How Do I Get Newsletter Subscribers?
The two main ways I get new subscribers is through giveaways and links at the back of my books. In every book, right at the end, I have a link for readers to sign up to be notified for future releases. Sometimes I'll put something in there about an upcoming release, like this:

for future releases including her upcoming steampunk fantasy romance

Giveaways are another way to garner subscribers, especially if you use Rafflecopter, where you can put an easy click-through link to the sign-up form.

People Have to Opt In
Adding people to a mailing list without their approval is a really good way to get yourself marked as a spammer (not to mention anger potential customers - never a good thing). Plus, most subscription mail services (like Mailchimp) require you to have permission before you add someone to your mailing list. In fact, Mailchimp has an entire list of ways that are not okay to add people to your mailing list, including lists purchased, leased, imported from your address book, etc. Basically, you need people to opt in - yes, it's an extra step. Yes, there may be people who want to subscribe but don't know it's an option - for that, send them a nice email saying, "Hey, if you'd like to hear about my future releases, subscribe here!" Although it may be tempting to garner email addresses a hundred other (shady) ways, there's no substitute for someone who actually wants to be on your distribution list. (p.s. if you have a ton of "marked as spam" unsubscribes from your newsletter, Mailchimp will shut you down. Seriously, don't mess with this.).

Even if you're not a spammer and people originally opted-in, sometimes they will unsubscribe. Don't freak out when people unsubscribe - unless you're sending out newsletters so frequently that people are starting to mark you as SPAM and unsubscribing in droves. But if you're using the newsletter for new releases or special deals only, you shouldn't have a problem. On average, I'll send out one newsletter a month. Sometimes less. Each time I'll get an unsubscribe or two. In between, I'm gaining subscribers all the time, so on average, the list is growing. This is a good sign (to me) that I'm doing things right.

Note: I have a separate newsletter for my Debt Collector serial because when I'm writing a season, new releases come out much more frequently (every two weeks). I didn't want to overwhelm my regular subscribers, who may not even be interested in Debt Collector. I've found the Debt Collector list to be very loyal, very few unsubscribes - people are there because they really want to be there.

That's the best kind of subscriber of all.

Organic vs. Aggressive
You can be aggressive by running lots of giveaways of big cash items and requiring people to sign up for your newsletter, but my experience has been that these types of giveaways net you short-term subscribers who are interested in the prize, not your books. Letting your list grow organically, where only people who are genuine fans of your stories subscribe, not only keeps the unsubscribes to a minimum, it also keeps the "open rate" high.

Don't spam.
Run giveaways every once in a while just for subscribers.
Provide value in every newsletter.
In general, treat your subscribers well - they're your best fans and you want to keep them happy!

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)


  1. I'd also add don't randomly sign people up. I've been put on lists and have no idea who the people are. A real turn off.

    1. This is a good point, although technically, most mailing list servers (like Mailchimp) explicitly state that it's against their TOS to do that - and possibly illegal (I can't remember the exact wording). But a serious no, no, in any regard.

      I will add it in - thanks Caroline!

  2. Thanks for all the helpful information you've been providing, Sue! Although I've been doing the indie thing for a while, I've still learned new stuff and it's been a helpful review.

    Question for you: how do you do giveaways for your newsletter subscribers? Do you just randomly choose names and send them free stuff, or ???

    1. I've done a few different things. Right now, I'm giving away a free short story (I have quite a few to choose from, with the serial!) to any new or current subscribers. I sent out a newsletter with a link to the form to fill out... then I send them the short story. The bonus here is getting work in their hands - as I've said before, the best marketing for your work is the work itself. So having a bunch of my loyal subscribers trying a new tidbit? Win all around.

      Other times, I've had a restricted-time Rafflecopter (just an hour or two entry time) - strictly speaking it was open to the public (i.e. anyone could enter the rafflecopter on my FB page) but only subscribers knew when the contest was going to be.

      Or I've had people "reply" to the newsletter to enter and picked from there.

      Imagination is the limit! :)


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