Are you an indie author feeling overwhelmed by marketing advice, yet still unsure how to network with readers and other authors? Today we’re talking about mailing lists—why you need one and how to build lasting connections with your readers & peers.


Why do you need a mailing list?

“Everyone” says you need an author mailing list, but why?

#1 – You control it. No one can tell you how to talk to your subscribers: they’re your subscribers.

#2 – Platforms change; subscribers don’t. When was the last time you logged into MySpace? If you had spent time and money building a following over there, would that be as effective for you today? A couple years ago, there were a number of businesses whose organic model on Facebook died once Facebook started changing their algorithms and boosting paid posts.

When we rely on other platforms to reach our readers, we are but ants hoping that the elephant we’re riding on remains benign (and healthy).

Don’t be a helpless ant!

What kinds of emails should I be sending to my list?

In the Chris Symes Smarty Pants Book Marketing Podcast, Episode 10, she breaks down email types into 4 different categories:

  1. Blasts or broadcasts – (i.e. I have a New Release!)
  2. Newsletters – (includes multiple features i.e. writing snippet, book review, author interview, other people’s books)
  3. Campaign emails (“a bunch of emails that you string together around 1 event,” i.e. email 1- look a giveaway, email 2- did you join the giveaway?, email 3 -last chance for the giveaway!)
  4. Hybrid – a mix of everything up above

Not every author needs a newsletter, but every author SHOULD have a mailing list. You can have a list where you only do #1 occasionally, or you could have #4. Some authors have #4 type lists and mail their readers weekly; others only do #1. This is one of those things where you have to figure out what works best for you.

Using your list for networking and cross-promoting with other authors

One of the other things you can also utilize your list for is doing swaps with other authors, particularly those who write in your genre. Some may say, why would I want to help the competition?

But really, OTHER AUTHORS ARE NOT YOUR COMPETITION.

Just because someone is a Charlaine Harris reader doesn’t mean they will only read that vampire series, and no other vampire series for the rest of their lives. In fact, they are probably more likely to pick up another vampire series (which could be yours!)

Big name authors like Charlaine Harris are more like genre gateway authors that introduce readers to niches that they might have never known they would enjoy. But you don’t have to be an NY Times best seller to be a gateway author. Every author can be a gateway author.

Let’s face it, very few of us can write fast enough to feed the appetites of some readers. So why not use your time in their in box to help your readers find more authors they might enjoy? In that way, you are not marketing in the sales-skeevy-kind of way. You are providing VALUE to your readers which will entice them to open your emails.

Once you start thinking yourself as a gateway author, you can leverage your own email list to network with other authors by putting their promotions (like free or discounted books) or new releases in your regular monthly emails.

But I don’t know enough authors, you might say. I don’t know anyone who writes in my genre!

Here’s where social media can help.

My social media of choice (yours may be different) is Facebook. I belong to a number of indie author Facebook groups, some of which are dedicated to authors cross promoting each other. Some are multi-genre like Instafreebie Promos, while some are genre-specific like PNR Cross Promo.

About a month before I plan on sending out my newsletter, I will often post that I have openings on a newsletter going out on a certain date. Usually there is a swap (as in I feature your book to my list, and you feature my book to your list) but since I don’t have any new releases or that many books out, I usually tell them that I will put them in my newsletter now in exchange for a swap later on down the line. Most authors are agreeable because why wouldn’t you want your book exposed to more readers?

When I don’t have any new releases or that many books out, I will put another author in my newsletter now in exchange for swapping my book in theirs later. Most authors are agreeable, because why wouldn’t you want your book exposed to more readers?

If you do ask someone to do a newsletter swap for you, don’t make the other person hunt down your information. I strongly suggest having a viewable google-doc for all the PR information for each book with all your links. SFR author Athena Grayson has graciously agreed to let me link to her sample PR packet here and you can see how she does her own here.

This is useful not just for newsletter swaps but if you need to contact other promo outlets.

Note that this is not the only method of providing content of value for your subscriber and it’s not for everyone. Some of the cons of this method are:

1. I don’t curate the books I promote. I can’t read in my genre when I’m writing (I’m too impressionable and don’t want to inadvertently copy others) so I have no idea of the quality of the books I recommend in my list. I have periodic reminders in my email list that I don’t read in my genre when I’m writing, but I do INTEND to read the books I promote. Also, I spent a long time working as a freelance reviewer. One person’s Hemingway is another person’s Stephanie Meyer and vice versa. Former-reviewers-turned-authors are NOT the average reader. My readers have definitely confirmed to me that what I enjoy and what they enjoy are sometimes very VERY different things.

2. Am I conditioning my newsletter subscribers to expect only freebies from me? Possibly. This is definitely a danger and something that I’ve heard other authors said that they experienced with their lists. But it’s a business risk that I’m willing to take, at this time. YMMV!

Resources to Start With

If I haven’t convinced, you, indie author and thriller writer Mark Dawson’s podcast on how he leveraged his list for his book launch is well worth a listen, or a read, since the transcript is also available on his site here.

Want more even in depth information about email marketing? Kissmetrics, a major digital marketing business, offers a free concise (17 pages) PDF ebook that is great for beginners. It’s not specifically directed towards authors, but it will give you the “lingo” you need to understand to get started. Note that you do have to give them your email address to get it.

Quick-access resources cheat sheet!

Thanks to author Athena Grayson for sharing her PR packets with us for this article! Visit her at AthenaGrayson.com

Thanks to the Startup Indie Author for sharing this expertise today!

About Startup Indie Author

After reviewing books for almost a decade, AM decided to venture into the realm of self-publishing under a pen-name-that-will-not-be-named. Her blog, Startup Indie Author, is about misadventures of learning business and digital marketing skills for successful self-publishing. To get more newsletter and indie publishing tips, sign up for her usually-once-a-month-but-sometimes-twice newsletter at: signup.startupindieauthor.com

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