There is so much more you can do with your author newsletter these days beyond simply telling your fans that you have a new book.
Email isn’t just good at bringing you new readers, it’s uniquely good at deepening engagement with your audience. These tricks won’t just help you increase the responsiveness from your list – they’ll also help you make some cold, hard cash too.
Before we dive in to these next-level strategies, please note this is primarily intermediate/expert level stuff. If you are less experienced – or less convinced of the merits of email marketing, like contacting your readers regularly and using onboarders etc. – then read this post on the power of email marketing instead.
1. On The First Date, Take It Slow
Authors are getting better at offering strong enticements to sign up – commonly known as magnets or bribes or sign-up bonuses – as well as deploying automated sequences to further warm-up new subscribers. But sometimes we can be a little… overeager.
Your first priority should be to keep the promise that you made to the reader, which means ensuring the subscription happens smoothly and they get their free ebook.
If you overload the first emails the subscriber receives, you might get dropped into Promotions or *gasp* Spam. If you’re lucky the subscriber will email you complaining they didn’t get their gift. If you’re lucky. Most probably won’t even bother complaining which means you’ve just lost a sign-up.
Don’t hit new subscribers with ten different links to all your Amazon listings and Facebook Page and Twitter account and Website and BookBub profile… at least until you have confirmed their subscription, and they have received their sign-up bonus.
There might be a little delay if you deliver your reader magnet as the first email in your welcome sequence, rather than in the confirmation email, but there are all sorts of advantages to doing so, which you will know all about if you have read Newsletter Ninja – which you really, really should.
Besides, the more CTAs you roll out at once, the more diluted the response will be. Always focus on the most important and, here, that’s getting the relationship off to the right start by keeping your word.
2. Always Test Deliverability
Getting your author newsletter into reader inboxes is important and making sure that initial welcome sequence does so is absolutely critical. Never leave it to chance. Not only should you minimize links (and images) in those first couple of emails, you should also test to ensure those emails aren’t dropping into Promotions or Spam.
Sign up to your list under an alternate Gmail address – specifically: one that you have never had any email history with – and send your test emails to that address instead of your own. If they drop into promotions, then you need to fiddle with that email before letting it out into the wild, whether that’s reducing images, taking out a few links, dropping some buttons, or taking out any words with a high spam score in your message or, in particular, the subject line.
3. Use Contextual Magnets
Reader magnets are great! Sign-up bonuses of any kind always act as a strong hook for your author newsletter, and any downsides (such as attracting freeloaders) can be deftly handled during your welcome sequence.
But not all reader magnets are created equal and sometimes it pays to think beyond a simple one-size-fits-all approach. Some bribes will appeal more to existing fans, others will do a wonderful job of bringing in new readers.
Savvy authors often have a different sign-up bonus depending on who exactly they are trying to entice on to their list. Is this reader new to me? Or is this a long-term fan who just hasn’t signed up yet?
It might be easier than you think to differentiate – just look at the entrypoint. Someone coming in via a giveaway is most likely to be a new or otherwise cold sign-up. At the other end of the spectrum, a sign up at the back of a book is most certainly a warm lead, an existing fan, and a different magnet could be optimal here. It’s more work, sure, but it might also give you a second bite of the cherry, getting some highly valuable sign-ups from those who weren’t enticed the first time around.
This is just the most obvious way that you can have contextual magnets. Non-fiction authors can really go to town here, offering all sorts of content upgrades around their site, from worksheets and checklists to video guides and ebooks, there are many possibilities. But the format isn’t as important as tailoring that piece of content to where it appears. This might sound like a lot more work, but a super customized piece of content doesn’t need to be very long if it hits the mark.
All this can apply to fiction more than you might assume. I’ve seen authors offer deleted scenes, alternative endings, spaceship schematics, case files, maps, and recipe books based on their stories.
4. Red Hot Affiliate Action
Warning: this is sexy and dangerous. There’s a lot of potential money to be made from affiliate schemes, but all that glittering gold can blind you to the point where you start to view your list as a cash cow… and then proceed to milk it dry. I’ve seen authors with huge lists completely destroy them after they had basically lost respect for their readers and just viewed them as numbers and dollar signs. Each of those email addresses is a real flesh-and-blood person and the second you forget that you have already lost.
There are ethical and legal concerns which you should educate yourself on with regard to affiliate schemes but the short version is if you are completely transparent about any affiliate relationships you may have, you won’t go far wrong (legally or ethically). The FTC recently made its guidelines even clearer on this stuff: you must be transparent and explicit.
One thing that can trip you up regardless are Amazon affiliate links. You can’t use them in email. This is incredibly dumb, but Amazon considers email to be “offline communication” and your affiliate account could be terminated if you drop affiliate links in your emails – and Amazon seems surprisingly sensitive to the practice, especially if you consider much more egregious sins it routinely ignores. Just don’t risk it.
Anyway, this topic is probably of limited interest to most of you. Fiction authors can monetize their newsletter in other ways by selling book-related merch (I know some authors who make crazy money with this), but affiliate schemes are usually only useful for writers of non-fiction.
If only there was some magical way of showing certain people specific niche content, and keeping it hidden from the rest…
5. Dynamic Content Blocks
If you don’t know what tagging and segmentation are, then read this excellent guide from MailerLite. Note: that is an affiliate link. Not only am I an affiliate for MailerLite, and use MailerLite personally, I strongly recommend that you use them too. I switched to MailerLite last year and it has been a very positive experience.
Anyway, even if you prefer another reputable and effective email service like Active Campaign or ConvertKit, I still recommend perusing the MailerLite help pages regularly. They have a ton of guides like that on every imaginable email topic, with lots of video content too which makes it all very digestible. And a lot of it is general best practices which apply no matter which service you use. They are smart digital marketers.
Those who are with MailerLite can enjoy a cool new feature. Dynamic Content Blocks take segmentation and tagging to a whole new level.
The way segmentation and tagging works is already pretty cool. For example, if your erstwhile subscriber Alice Audioslave clicks on the Chirp link in your announcement of a new release, you can automatically tag them in your database as an audiobook listener.
Then the next time you want to distribute some audio ARCs, then you can specifically email the people who clicked on that link with an ARC offer. The possibilities really are endless with this, but you get the idea. You can set up separate segments or groups for “audiobook listeners” or “Barnes & Noble customers” or “readers in Australia” or whatever takes your fancy.
Some authors get very fancy with this and tailor their new release announcements, sending separate emails to their Apple customers, with Apple specific links and branding, or push their launch email out to Australian subscribers at 11:00 am in Sydney, instead of the middle of the night.
Real whizz kids take it to another level again and have all sorts of conditional automations which only kick in if subscribers take certain actions (usually if a reader clicks on a certain link).
That’s all well and good, but Dynamic Content Blocks take this one step further again, and allow you to send the same email to everyone but have different bits of content appear to any given subscriber, depending on how they are tagged. Which means that, in our above example, our diligent author would only have to send one email to all their subscribers, but the system would adjust the content to reflect their interests and preferences.
Email converts like nothing else, but you can push those rates even higher by having the content dynamically reflect readers’ interests. This is getting pretty fancy, people.
6. Classy goodbyes
Breaking up is never easy and it’s usually best to end on good terms. Even the most entertaining authors will get unsubscribes, but you shoud know that this is also an opportunity.
It’s not just generic sign-up forms and confirmation emails which can be customized but unsubscribe pages too. That’s right!
“But they don’t love me anymore,” you might protest, not without grounds either. Here’s the thing, though: not all unsubscribes are quitting because their love has turned to bitterness and hate over you repeatedly squeezing the toothpaste from the middle like some kind of monster; some people are just overloaded with email at that moment. Others are just… hungover.
For example, for my non-fiction author newsletter which goes out weekly (rather than monthly) my #1 unsubscribe reason is that my emails are too frequent. I don’t mind – it is supposed to be frequent! Plus, I know this doesn’t mean they hate me or my newsletter and will never buy a book from me again; they’re just swamped right now.
Even for people with the more standard monthly author newsletter, a handful of subscribers can still, at times, feel overwhelmed. It’s not about you per se but often down to the overall volume of emails they receive. Plenty of those people may still interested in you and your books, they just don’t want to be on your list right now for whatever reason.
Don’t take it personally and don’t slam the door in their face! Customize that unsubscribe email so it isn’t so cold and impersonal.
More importantly, give people the opportunity to follow you in more low-touch ways, like on Amazon or BookBub for New Release Alerts only, or on Facebook for bite-sized newsy bits, if that’s more their speed. They may come back to you – and in my experience, that happens more than you might think. Another reason to keep things friendly.
That’s just the basics. There are so many more things you could potentially do with an unsubscribe page, and MailerLite goes through just some of the possibilities here (affiliate link, of course). Particularly useful and relevant might be the example from USA Today Bestselling Author Kelsey Browning, but never be afraid to import best practices from other industries!
Getting specific advice on best practices with your author newsletter is important, of course, but also keep in mind that the publishing business tends to be a couple of steps behind the rest of the world.
7. Get Help With Your Author Newsletter
Don’t worry if you aren’t in a position yet to implement advanced techniques like this, it’s great just to be aware of some of the things which are possible with email. Then you can start working towards them.
Here are my recommended resources for getting to the next level with your author newsletter:
Read This Book
Newsletter Ninja – so good, I’m mentioning it twice. Buy it, read it, do what Tammi tells you.
Listen To This Speaker
Erica Ridley is my other favorite email expert. She often gives talks at conferences like RWA and NINC – get ready to take a lot of notes. I’m not even joking when I say my phone was overheating after one of her workshops.
Make this hummus
Nothing to do with author newsletters, as such, but it is tasty and delicious.
Use this email service
You need to use a specialized service to deliver your author newsletter. MailerLite is my preferred provider. It is what I use for all three of my pen names and I’m very happy with it indeed. That’s an affiliate link, of course, but feel free to do your own research.
There are a million articles out there comparing all the different services and you can read why I chose MailerLite here and check out my further thoughts after I made the move in this guide to moving from Mailchimp to MailerLite. Short version: it’s powerful, easy-to-use, very competitively priced, and the customer service is excellent.
As I said above, you might consider an alternative like ConvertKit to be more suitable to your needs – especially if you get really deep into automations (affiliate link) – but MailerLite is hardly basic on that front and more than suffices for my needs.
I’m also very comfortable giving MailerLite a general recommendation as it has a pretty stellar free plan too where you don’t pay until you reach 1,000 subscribers. Companies like Mailchimp might sound a better deal but if you look at the small print most of the features are hobbled on their free plan these days.
Plus, Mailchimp has gone this direction recently – not good, and why I left them after eight years. I rather suspect that was a factor in MailerLite doubling in size last year. Oh, Mailchimp…
Check out this WordPress theme
You need a clean, fast-loading landing page to collect email addresses for your author newsletter. I always recommend WordPress and my current theme – which I cherish, love, and adore – is a custom version of Parallax for Writers by GoCreate.Me which is designed by indie author Caro Bégin – who perfectly understands our specific needs – and does so many nifty little things under the hood.
Use this service to deliver your magnets
Speaking of nifty, BookFunnel is the best at delivering your reader magnets. Not an affiliate link, just an awesome company which puts authors first and specifically designs its products based on our needs, pain points, and feedback.
Aside from being best-in-class at getting your free ebook onto reader devices (a tricky enough technical challenge), and handling customer service for you (anyone who had a reader magnet several years ago before BookFunnel existed can share their pain!), BookFunnel has lots of cool additional features which I recommend exploring.
Particularly relevant here is that BookFunnel is very flexible and can allow you to set up multiple funnels with different entrypoints with as many different magnets as you like – and it integrates neatly with MailerLite too.
Take this free course on author newsletters
Finally, this might all be overwhelming. Well there’s no might here. This is a lot of stuff. You may have hit Peak Stuff, in fact.
To help you get a handle on it all, the Newsletter Ninja herself – Tammi Labrecque – has put together a free course on getting yourself all set up to slay at email.
It’s called Rock Solid Foundation and you can sign up here. Don’t worry about the Out of Stock message, that just means the class starting on Monday is full.
There will be a new one in February and Tammi tells me you’ll get an automatic email when it opens up again for registration. It covers some pretty great stuff too – so much that I signed up myself to get a refresher!
The glamorous and discerning folk who are already subscribed to my newsletter will have heard about this free course weeks ago – part of the reason why the first round is full – and we will be in the class kicking off on Monday.
They have also been enjoying two months’ worth of emails from me guiding them through the process of absolutely slaying with email in 2020. Just like Tammi’s course above, this newsletter is free, and I cover Facebook, BookBub, and Amazon Ads (I’ll be sending Episode 11 in my FREE guide to Facebook Ads tomorrow, just as an example).
It’s not just ads and email, I regularly talk about other topics like reader psychology and branding and content marketing. Sign up here to get an email each Friday.
Not only that, but you get access to all the stuff you missed too, so you can catch up on the whole email series, and everything else too.
You also get a book for signing up, and the entire list of ancillary benefits is growing all the time too. And that’s even before I add some really juicy stuff beyond what is listed below… which is pretty great already, if I do say so myself. And I do!
That’s it, let me know your email questions in the comments.