7 Expert Tricks To Improve Your Author Newsletter

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.

One last thing…

I hope you enjoyed this post! I just wanted to let you know that I send out exclusive content every Friday to my mailing list subscribers.

I talk about the latest tricks with Facebook Ads or BookBub Ads, I also get into topics like content marketing, reader targeting, and everything else under the sun that pertains to building audience and reaching readers.

By signing up to my list, you get access to the all the old emails too, as well as sneak previews of upcoming books (meaning you get the jump on the latest tricks strategies of everyone else), and exclusive discounts too.

You also get a FREE copy of Following – a book that you can’t get anywhere else! I strongly recommend that you join over ten thousand authors and sign up today because there are all sorts of bonuses you will enjoy.

Download Following for Free
David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

17 Replies to “7 Expert Tricks To Improve Your Author Newsletter”

  1. Dave – This question/comment is almost certainly misplaced, so I apologize in advance; although you do touch on it here. Do you have any recommended resources/tools for link tracking? Specifically when it comes to links that are placed in newsletters and/or the back matter of your Ebooks – both of which are big no no’s for Amazon Associate links. I’ve also read that AA links are not permitted for use in paid Facebook Ads, is that true? And would BookBub ads be another restriction since they appear in emails? The goal here being to gather data on where your sales originate. Sure you can use Mailerlite to add a tag to a clicker, but that only covers one delivery system. It would be ideal to have a (dare I ask, inexpensive) one-stop shop where you can generate traceable links and then aggregate all of your lead data in one place.

    1. My dream tool to solve all this problems doesn’t exist, unfortunately. And there are a few complicated issues intersecting here.

      First with regard to Amazon affiliate links and what is permitted, Amazon actually clarified the rules here not so long ago, and (finally, after some confusion) made it pretty clear that affiliate links are not allowed in ads. They were always clear that they weren’t allowed in Kindle books or in emails, but ads was a bit of a grey area. And there are bits of confusion remaining. Can I post an affiliate link on my personal social media? If so, what happens if I subsequently boost that post? A little more clarity there would be welcome.

      (Well, a total revamping of the rules – which are 15 years out of date – is what would be truly welcome. If we are driving traffic to the store, we should get the affiliate cut. And classifying email as “offline communication” and thus verboeten, is really silly, and surely counterproductive to Amazon’s goals.)

      And just to be clear, they aren’t permitted in BookBub Ads either. BookBub has no rule against that, but Amazon does. I know someone who was just warned the other day about this, so they do check at least at some level. Although, anecdotally, it appears a lot of authors still do this.

      (Another tangent: most of them I know doing it want the data more than the extra few pennies. I wish Amazon would, at least, give us some “dummy” affiliate links which didn’t generate income but gave us the precious tracking data.)

      That doesn’t mean you are without options here, though. Indie author Caro Begin goes through them in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nef8bOIUwO4

      Aside from the tips in that video, you can also check out ReaderLinks, which might solve most of those problems for you. I haven’t fully checked it out, the idea of relying on those links permanently kind of put me off tbh, but some people are big fans.

      But if you just want simple, free link tracking you can use a site like Bit.ly or SmartURL. Just be careful as many of these services can trigger spam filters when used in email (or in blog excerpts delivered to subscribers by email, for example). Some ad platforms also have restrictions on certain types of redirects that you’ll need to investigate.

      It gets harder and harder every year to get a clear picture.

      1. David – I appreciate you distilling all of that for me!

        I did come across ReaderLinks the other day, and I share your same reservations – not only because your links are in someone else’s hands and thus could go away if that service dissolves – but also because of it’s price tag. That’s not an expense I’m willing to eat for someone just starting out.

        I will say that after digesting Caro’s video, a sensible route to get BOTH affiliate income and a fairly strong data set might look something like this:

        Utilize Pretty Links (which use a URL assigned to your website, and thus not likely to get spam-shamed) in your advert/email that go to your website book page, and then use the affiliate link there to get the commission. If I used individual Pretty Links for my various adverts and emails, this would give me targeted data for how my individual ads/emails convert (at least) to clicks through to my landing page. And then obviously if those translate to sales, I have that data in aggregate from Amazon Associates.

        In regards to the UBLs from B2R (and perhaps I wasn’t fully understanding Caro’s train of thought), you don’t have the option of tying individual affiliate links to the individual UBLs, which results in essentially the same result as above – and instead of your landing page being something you own (i.e. on your website), it’s a landing page on B2Rs website. In effect, I see this causing the same problem you talk about when using (for example) MailerLite landing pages instead of your own.

        To boil this already long-winded response down to a simple premise: If I were to make my website book page a hub for all lead generators that aren’t AMS, then I could (in theory) get decent aggregate data on which promotional tools result in the most conversions, without having to try to draw correlations between my KDP dashboard and when I run ad campaigns or send email blasts.

        At a minimum, if I used a single Pretty Link for eBook back matter, another for email blasts, another for BookBub ads, and another for Facebook – and then compare my monthly clicks (per source) to my monthly aggregate affiliate data – I could fairly easily back out a percentage of sales for each method. When combined with monthly AMS conversion data, I could effectively pie graph my entire month’s income by lead source.

        Am I thinking about this correctly?

        (I’m picturing the Charlie Day conspiracy theory meme as I type this)

      2. You mightn’t like to hear this, but I think you must come to terms with the fact that you will never have a clear picture.

        Even if you could track everything properly, which you can’t, unfortunately, you can’t fully rely on something like Amazon affiliate reports. The tracking isn’t 100%. Your numbers from one end to the other will never line up. Things like pre-fetching (where sites load data in batches) can throw everything for a loop too. And that’s before we get into the rather large curveball that is mobile – the majority of the traffic now, and something people often use as a decision device. They see your ad on mobile, move to their laptop and purchase. There’s just no way to track that sale.

        You will just have to get a sense of it over time, and a lot of that will come from eyeballing your sales and ad reports, estimating rather important variables like conversion, and making a lot of guesses elsewhere too. And that goes double if you are in KU. You don’t get borrow data, you are only ever going to be estimating the number of borrows by triangulated reads and rank and sales. It’s just fuzziness in all directions… and you have to get used to that. And, to be honest, it’s getting fuzzier all the time. Soon we’ll be like bats.

        As for using some form of landing page, I wouldn’t recommend it. Any extra step you put between that click and Amazon will result in losing lots and lots of people and killing the profitability of your ads.

      3. David – Thanks for your insights on all of this, and I won’t venture further down the rabbit hole on this thread. Though, I may shoot you an email at some point in the future.

        It sounds to me like this could be a classic case of ‘analysis paralysis’ when it comes to getting caught up in the meta of the process. I’m a numbers guy (engineer by trade), so it’s in my nature to streamline and optimize things whenever possible. I’m a close follower of Mr. Dawson and SPF as well, and he oozes this mindset in spades, which is undoubtedly a contributor to his success.

        On the cusp of my first release, I relegate myself to stepping back and focusing on what I can do (now) to get the fundamental things right, and leave the meta for another day. As always, sir, much appreciation for your words of wisdom. *tips cap*

      4. This is it. I used to spend much more time trying to be granular in my analysis, but you are talking about a far greater time investments for really incremental improvements. It’s an 80/20 thing really. A little analysis gets you most of the way and you’ll only get that with experience – learning what each tool does, how each platform converts, how price will affect that. Basically a well-trained, well-fed gut instinct.

        I’d prefer a complete and accurate picture, but that isn’t achievable right now and pursuing it just chews up all my time which is better spent on other things.

  2. Dave,
    Could you do a post sometime on evaluating our newsletters? I’ve got all these lovely stats from MailerLite, including how many people subscribed via which path.* But I don’t really know what to make of them and I especially don’t know what to do about them. Like, if the landing page for one series has much lower conversion than the (identical) page for another series, should I craft up a different freebie for those folks?

    * This because I went mad last summer and created an ML landing page for every possible sign-up source: back of books by series, website, FB page, etc., contrary to your advice to stream it all onto a no-exit landing page on my own website. Now I’m wondering about the pros and cons of these methods….

    Oops, that turned into two questions. But I’ll bet other people could use some advice on what to do with all these lovely facts being generated for each newsletter.

    Thanks for a very useful blog!

  3. I enjoyed Tammi Labrecque’s ‘Newsletter Ninja’ and though it had a ton of good content, but then there was that fiasco with her second book in the series being canceled just days before release and I started wondering about her. On top of that, I signed up for ‘Rock Solid Foundation’ more than a month ago and never heard another word after the expected emails confirming my registration. I assume she had dropped the ball on that one, too, but now you’re telling me something about the January course being full and people being advised to move to the February course. I haven’t been advised of anything.

    It seems pretty obvious this woman needs some serious administrative help. She may have some great ideas, but when she can’t deliver on the simple mechanics she just ends up pissing people off. Like me.

    1. The Rock Solid course was always starting in January. It starts on Monday. What I said was *that particular class* is now full. Anyone registering now will get it in February.

      As for the book, she postponed it so she could make it better. I honestly wish more authors did that, rather than rushing books to meet certain deadlines. The pre-order was cancelled, everyone was refunded. The book is still coming, as I understand it. It happens.

      And I don’t want to put words in the mouth of “this woman” but you’re quite rude.

  4. I think people are unsubscribing from your non-fiction newsletter not because of frequency (although they might say that), but because you are so dang prolific. Haha. You are making us all wonder what we are doing with our time. Every email contains so much good advice, expert knowledge, and day-brightening humor. Thanks for all you do. I recommend everyone signs up for it!

  5. I address this to you solely as a reader, although I wear other hats. PLEASE keep telling authors, especially new ones to 1. always make sure the ebook “gift” makes it to their subscribers but especially 2. Don’t bombard us with links and links to books of your friends. I subscribe to newsletter to connect with the author, not to receive an email from an author containing 15 links to other people’s books (which I just received yesterday – chalk that one up as an unsubscribe). And I also don’t appreciate being asked if it is ok if the author charges $2.99 for a novella of 10K pages because it took her 3 months to write. Chalk that one up to an unsubscribe. I have read Newsletter Ninja, and I took most of it to heart, and I dearly wish other authors would do so also, because I am now spending half my time, instead of reading newsletters, unsubscribing to them.

    1. Thanks Kat, I think you make some great points. Any marketing technique can be deployed cleverly, or used badly. I also see a lot of authors be WAY to gung-ho in using list builders. As a reader, I do not want to get emails every week of so-called recommendations which are just there because the author is doing list-builder promos non-stop.

      Really, there’s no point constantly chasing new subscribers if you are going to treat existing ones so poorly. If you are going to recommend a book, the recommendation should be real. Respect your readers!

      I get the temptation. I am trying to grow a pen name list at the moment. It is tough starting from zero! And then you see all these group promotions out there, and sign up to them all. But are you sure the books you are promoting are good enough to highlight to your audience? Are you providing real value to your subscribers? I suspect not, in many cases.

      Sometimes no promo is better than bad promo.

      1. Agree! There are authors I’ve stopped buying because of the rubbish “recommendations” in their newsletters. Sure, some say they don’t read every book they recommend, but that means they’re not recommending the books at all. They’re spamming them.

      2. Thank you! Yes! Yes! Yes! I read a lot of indie published books, about 300 a year, but I’m very choosy about who and what I read. The email I mentioned with 15 links, they were all to very steamy contemporary romance books that I would not read in a million years because some are from “phony” authors, and others are just too badly written to be something I would waste time on.

        I do understand the shared promo idea, but David Gaughran is right, mis-use of anything ends up netting you less than what you wanted.

        And by the way, David can call me a fan girl. I think, I’ve read everything he’s written now (but since I don’t know the pen names, I’m not sure). Building a new pen? Add me. I read everything. lol

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