The Writer’s Guide to Building an Email List

Written by Kimberley Grabas


Ahh, the ‘List’.

As a writer, building your email subscriber list may not (yet) have become paramount in your quest for an engaged audience.

Setting up and tweaking your blog, learning the intricate language of Twitter and ensuring your brand is hallmarked for longevity has, thus far, consumed every moment of your free time, right?

But if you spend any time online, and particularly within the marketing community, you will hear this important proverb ad nauseam:

The money is in the list.

The reason?

Building an email subscriber list is one of the best ways to ensure the long term success of your business.

How Does This Apply to You?

Building an email list is arguably the most important element to building a following and getting your message heard. It is the most direct and cost effective way to communicate and engage with your fans and subscribers on a personal level. The bigger your list, the bigger your online marketing asset—and the more interested publishers are.

A large Twitter following, significant traffic to your site, or an active Facebook community is great, but an email list is better. Here’s why:

You own your list. If Facebook deletes your fan page or Twitter kicks you off, you are effectively kicked out of the conversation. You don’t own the content, and what’s worse, if you don’t have an email list, there is no way to contact your followers to let them know what happened.

Blogs, websites and RSS readers can disappear. Once you have an email list, you can always stay connected with your audience and keep them informed of what you are doing.

Here are a few more benefits to building and maintaining your email list:

  • The conversation via email is personal, direct and private. It provides an excellent medium for staying in touch with your readers.
  • It’s cheap, cost effective and everyone online has an email address.
  • You will always have a way to communicate with your audience. Pat Flynn of the Smart Passive Income Blog and  Jeff Goins at GoinsWriter both had issues with their sites recently. They were able to communicate to their readers via email and mitigate what might have been significant and expensive consequences.
  • Use your email list to broadcast every time you have a new blog post and send a surge of traffic to your site.
  • Inform your readers and fans of a book launch, new product or freelance service and provide a link to your sales page.

Here’s a tip: Subscribe to successful authors, marketing gurus, popular self-publishing blogs and so on to get a free marketing lesson in each email you receive.

Look at the subject line for their email. Did it catch your attention or intrigue you? Did you open the email? Why?

Analyze the copy used in the body of the email. What was the tone they used? Was it conversational or salesy? Was there a ‘call to action’? (Were you asked to do something, like click on a link? Did you?) How did they get you to take that action?

So, If the Money is in The List, Should I Use My List to Sell?

Use your email list like you use social media–as a way to connect further with your readers and fans. Interact and inform your readers; don’t constantly promote and sell.

Use your own experiences as an email recipient to define what is great content. Spammy, hard selling is out. Remember, as with everything involved in building your writer platform, you are trying to build trust in you and your brand. It only takes one click to unsubscribe, so make it worthwhile for your reader to stay.

If your subscribers trust that your newsletters or updates provide awesome and unique content (and are not just filled with shameless self promotion), your open rate will increase and your subscribers will be happy to spread the word about you–and what you have to offer.

Provide a call to action or link that directs your reader back to your site where you are promoting your book launch, speaking engagements, new post or other events and services. Keep it conversational, engaging and have a single purpose or action.

Think quality, not necessarily quantity, and consider managing your readers expectations by letting them know when and how often to expect emails from you. By attracting relevant pre-engaged visitors (for example, through guest posting, social media and great on-site content) and providing the most useful information you can, you should see a steady rise to your email subscriber list.

Getting Started

One of the biggest oversights many writers make in their book marketing efforts is not starting an email list right from the start. In fact many successful online entrepreneurs have stated that waiting before developing their email lists was a big mistake they made early in their careers–and a costly one.

Don’t wait for perfect. It’s tempting to put off list building until your site is tweaked to perfection, you have a killer “ethical bribe” (more on this below), or you finally have a book to market. It also might seem easier to just work on your social media strategy and leave list building for a later project.

The problem is, that building your email list is just too important to ignore.

Online marketing strategist, Derek Halpern of Social Triggers urges those of us marketing online to stop promoting our social media profiles at the expense of our email list. He notes that “email marketing crushes social media marketing”, and he uses some statistics from his own extensive platform to prove his point.

With this in mind, move building your subscriber list to the forefront of your book marketing efforts and ensure it has a prominent position when developing your author blog or website.

Building your email subscriber list is a key component in creating and maintaining a ‘captive’ audience. By doing so, you will grow an accessible, thriving fan base that will be the cornerstone of your successful writing career.


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