E-mail Tips for Authors: Building and Using Your E-mail Lists

Photo credit: Skley via ChairsHunt / CC BY-ND

Photo credit: Skley via ChairsHunt / CC BY-ND

Some people think email is soooo 2000s. After all, isn’t everyone communicating via Facetime, Snapchat, Twitter and such… now?

Not necessarily! Email can still be extremely useful as an author marketing tool. Here are some basic e-mail tips for authors … from collecting email addresses to using your lists wisely.

Step by Step E-mail Tips for Authors

Step 1: Set up an email collection system
In order to start collecting emails on your author website, you need to have a place to store them. There are a few basic systems that you can choose to use.

The first is a simple WordPress plug-in (assuming your site is built on WordPress). One basic one is just called “Newsletter.” This is a free system that stores any email addresses that people enter on your site, and offers some bells and whistles, too, like newsletter creation, the ability for users to unsubscribe automatically (a legal requirement) and more.

Other people opt to go with something a bit more complicated, like MailChimp. This service is also free up to a certain point (once your email list gets to about 2,000, there can be a charge involved). It offers a bit more flexibility in terms of newsletter design, analytics and more.

Then there’s a more advanced service, like Constant Contact. There’s a monthly fee associated with this one, but it has more bells and whistles.

All of these types of services are incredibly easy to set up and give you a simple code to put on your site. Which one you choose should depend on how much time, energy and money you want to invest in this project. But the concept of all of them are relatively similar: Any email address entered through the site is automatically stored in the system, and that list can easily be accessed any time.

Step 2: Plan your communications with subscribers
Just collecting email addresses isn’t enough. You actually need to … you know …. use them. And this plan should be mapped out before you start collecting addresses, because (as you will see in step 3), you need to tell people what to expect before they sign up.

Start by planning how frequently you’re going to send to that list. Will it be a monthly newsletter? Will you just send everyone a quick notification every time you post a new blog entry? Or will it be a news-based notification — like if you’re doing a radio show tomorrow?

Once you’ve figured out the strategy you want to use, then make sure you have everything you need in place — like a newsletter template, a blog feed etc… — to make this actually doable.

Step 3: Start collecting emails!
So now that you CAN collect email addresses, how do you actually convince people to start giving you their email? It’s not as easy as you may think.

I’ve written extensively about this in the past, like in this post: 4 Ways to Improve and Increase Your Email Sign-Ups. So I’ll keep this one short.

But here’s the gist of it: People need a reason to sign up. They’re not going to give out their email for no reason. So offer an incentive, like a free download. And make sure you spell out what they should expect to receive and when if they give you their email address.

Finally, it’s important that you tell anyone and everyone that you will not sell or share their email. That assurance of security is essential.

Step 4: Think outside the box about utilizing your list
In this super-helpful recent article on PW by Jane Friedman, she outlines many of her recommendations for using email lists creatively. Here are some highlights.

  • Review your list and determine if anyone on it might benefit from an individualized email instead of a mass email. For example, if someone is an influencer (like a blogger who reviews books), this is someone that you might want to pull out of the larger list. You can then reach out individually to each of these influencers with a more customized message. This will increase the likelihood of making the most of that relationship.
  •  Your email list can be an essential tool in your book release strategy. For example, if you send out a newsletter pre-launch, you can include key details about where the book is available. You might also want to consider offering bonuses for people who buy the book on a particular day (like the day of launch). This can help you sell a lot of books at once, and might allow you to make it on one of Amazon’s top seller lists.
  • Consider collecting additional information from users, and then segmenting your email lists. Asking for more than just an email can be risky (the more you ask for, the more people will bail out). But if you want to be bold, consider collecting additional information, like where someone lives or how many of your books they’ve already read. This will allow you to segment your list and do what’s called “targeted newsletter sends” — dividing your list based on the specific message. In other words, you could notify only people in the midwest if you were doing a local book signing. Or allow you to send separate newsletters to people who are already your superfans vs. the newbies.

As Jane says at the end of her article, “That’s the point at which email marketing becomes among the most valuable and profitable marketing tools, where you can tie specific sales goals to each email you send out.”

I couldn’t agree more.

4 Musts for Building an Author Email List

emailI stumbled across this article on Publishers Weekly about why it’s important for authors to build email lists. In this day and age of social media, too many authors think that Facebook and Twitter followers are enough. They’re not.

To paraphrase the author of the piece, here are just a few of the reasons you shouldn’t neglect building an author email list:

  • You own your own email list and can do with it as you wish
  • You control what messages people receive, and when they receive them
  • You can track your emails in a way you can’t track social media

But here’s the challenge: How do you motivate people to sign up for your email list? After all, people are always hesitant to give out their email address. What kind of SPAM will they get? Who will their email address be sold to? Is the reward going to be worth the risk?

Here are four musts for building a proper email list.

  1. Have a good email list management system. So a user enters their email address on your site. Where does that go? Make sure that you have a system in place before you start collecting this information; a system which stores the email addresses and keeps track of sign-ups, unsubsribes, etc… These types of tools not only take some of the day-to-day management away from you, but they ensure that you’re never breaking SPAM laws. There are some plug-ins within WordPress that do this for you, or you could sign up for an account with MailChimp, which is free until you have more than 2,000 names on your list.
  2. Promise security. You’ve seen the messages. “We promise not to share your email address with anyone.” This is a crucial message to share with your visitors, because too many sites collect your email address and then share it with a third party. For example, say you write a book about pregnancy. And say you collect email addresses of people visiting your site. It’s a safe assumption that a good number of them are moms-to-be. Then, say, that you sell that list of email addresses to Pampers or Gerber. Those industries would have a real reason to want access to your email list, and would probably pay you good money to do so. But your users probably wouldn’t be thrilled to start getting emails from a company that they never agreed to receive notifications from. This is a great example of why it’s so important to promise people that you won’t sell their information.
  3. Offer a real incentive. What’s the main reason you give out your email address? It’s probably not because you’re especially interested in receiving yet another newsletter. It’s usually because there’s some sort of incentive (financial or otherwise) for doing so. Maybe you’ll get 20% off your next purchase. Maybe it will get you access to some helpful white papers. Think about what you can offer your readers (book club discussion guides, an autographed copy of the book, etc…) as a benefit for signing up and highlight that benefit in a prominent place.
  4. Make it clear what people are signing up for. This is yet another reason why people may hesitate to give out an email address. What exactly are they going to be getting? Are you going to be sending daily tips? A monthly newsletter? Your newly-posted blog entries? Random emails whenever you have news to share, like a new book being released? Spell out for your readers what they should expect to receive if they give you their email address, which should help relieve some trepidation.

And here’s an extra perk if you’re successful: authors who have a robust email list are especially appealing to publishers. So follow these leads and watch your subscriber list start to grow.

Authors: Setting Up Your E-Mail Client

In my article last week about choosing the correct mail client I discussed several different options you can consider, including MacMail, Outlook and Thunderbird.

This week I’d like to go over how to actually configure your e-mail client.

This guide is written specifically for use in our system, which uses a webmail-based interface. However, the guide should also be helpful to those who do not use webmail, or who’s sites are hosted elsewhere.

Configuring a mail client is a fairly straightforward process, but some of the more common issues that crop up are the following:

  • Outgoing mail isn’t sending, but incoming works just fine
  • Login settings are not correct
  • Email looks like it is sending but the recipient never received the email
  • Settings on the mail client show that it is configured correctly but no mail is received

If one or some of the above has happened to you while trying to configure a third-party mail client, don’t despair! The step-by-step guide below should help you configure the client correctly so you can send and receive mail.

Step 1. Log into your account

The first thing you will need to do is to log-in to your webmail account straight from your website. Every site that is configured to work with webmail (which includes all of our sites that we host) has a login portal from which you can check email. To access this portal, navigate to your website. We will use http://smartauthorsites.com as an example. When you enter your site URL in the navigation bar above, you just need to type the following: /webmail at the end of the URL to access this portal.

So if your website URL is http://annetteqwriter.com you would go to http://annetteqwriter.com/webmail. Then, on the screen show at the right, enter your full email address as the username, as well as your password. The system will sometimes not allow you to log-in if you don’t enter the full address with the domain. So, annette@annetteqwriter.com would need to be entered rather than just “annette” for the username.

Step 2. Navigate to configuration settings screen

On the next screen you have the option to use one of the built-in pieces of webmail software to check your email right on the web. While is a very useful feature, this guide is all about showing you how to bypass the need to log-in every time you check mail. This is what using a mail client is all about!

So instead we will select the “configure mail client” button, as this will help us figure out exactly which settings we need to enter into our mail client to get everything working correctly.

Step 3. Copy settings to your new mail client

This is the most important step in the process. When you arrive at the next screen you will see a lot of different settings and options. It might look confusing to you at first, but these are the settings you will need to either automatically configure or manually enter into your new mail client.

First, check to see if you are using Outlook or Mac Mail with your OS from the top box. Then select either POP over SSL/TLS or IMAP over SSL/TLS. Either option is perfectly fine in terms of receiving and sending mail – the key difference is that POP will download a copy of all email to your mail client whereas IMAP will sync with your mail client. So if you use POP then a copy of the email will not be retained on the server. We recommend IMAP.
Here is some more useful information about the difference between the two and why IMAP is preferable.

Once you make your selection, webmail will attempt to automatically sync your email account to your mail client. Almost all of the time this is successful. If, for some reason it is not, or the mail client of your choice does not have an option on this page for auto-synching then you will need to do it manually by entering the settings shown in “Manual Settings” below. These will vary depending on your server settings. You will almost always want to use secure settings, which are in the grey box on the left. Enter the username (full, with domain), password and IMAP/POP settings shown in the grey box into your mail client. This will allow the configuration script to complete and you will be able to start sending and receiving mail right away.

If you are synching with a mobile device, you will also likely need to use these manual settings.

Step 4. Watch the mail come in!

Email can definitely be a headache to set-up, and dealing with spam, bounced mail and other mail-related issues is not fun. But our hope is that the guide above will make this process a breeze.

Using a mail client is so much easier than logging in to your system every single time you want to check email. You may have gotten into the habit of using webmail, but a properly-configured mail-client is a must for running an effective business or marketing yourself as an author. It will make everything go so much faster. Personally, I would never go back to just using webmail!

5 Signs of Short-Term Thinking on Author Websites

Image courtesy of OpenSourceWay/Flickr

Image courtesy of OpenSourceWay/Flickr

Every author who contacts me does so because he/she knows it’s time to build a website. But what these authors often don’t understand is just how important it is to have a long-term vision when building a site. Think too short term and you might make mistakes that are hard to rectify down the line.

Here are five examples of how short-term thinking can damage an author’s web presence.

1. Naming the site after a book. There are certainly instances in which a website should be named after a book — not the author. But unless an author is absolutely, positively sure that he or she won’t be writing any other books in a similar genre, it’s a good bet to go with the author’s name as the website name. Otherwise, what is he or she to do when the next book comes out?

2. Making the website resemble/represent the first book. This is very similar to the item above. All too often, an author builds a website that reflects the first book cover. Maybe it uses the same color scheme as the book cover. Maybe the design is structured around an image or icon used on the cover. Regardless, this tells site visitors (either consciously or subconsciously) that the website is an extension of that book. Any future books will look out of place without a complete redesign.

3. Not collecting email addresses. I always (and I repeat, always!) recommend that authors start collecting email addresses of site visitors who are interested in their works. “But I don’t plan to send newsletters or anything,” they sometimes tell me. It doesn’t matter. Even if you never plan to do anything with the list, it’s a good thing to have. After all, you never know what you’ll be doing in the future — a TV interview, perhaps, or publishing another book — that you would love to alert all your followers about. Build the list. Figure out what you want to do with it later.

4. Making the site too design-heavy.  Web design can be a beautiful thing. But it can also be overdone. Remember: images can be a pain in the you know what to change. So, for example, don’t have your homepage text appear in an image. It may look pretty, but it won’t be easy to update when you have a new announcement to make. Ditto with the navigation. If the tabs on your site are images, it’s a whole lot harder to add a new page when you want to promote your new book trailer, press release, etc…

5. Not blogging or focusing on SEO. An author website is a long-term investment. It takes lots of time and energy to build it to where it needs to be. Over time, it will rise on the search engine rankings. The blog (if it’s regularly updated) will build a group of followers.  Anyone who doesn’t want to invest the time in either of these things is thinking short-term. He or she is also not being realistic. A site is not going to jump of the top of Google search results just for existing. It’s going to take some sweat and some thought to make it work, but a good author website is well worth it.

Can you think of any other short-term mistakes authors make on their websites? Share them with us!

A Great Way to Build Your Email List: A Book Giveaway

I stumbled across a post on LinkedIn today. The title was:

Book Giveaway: We are giving away 4 copies of this book! If you are interested, just send me your email and it will be sent to you as an Amazon gift!

Interestingly, there were a few responses (already) from people hoping to get a free copy.

This reminds me that an author really does need to think outside the box in an effort to build an email list.

Even if you offer to give away 10 free copies — which wouldn’t cost you a whole lot — it’s a great way to get people to give you their email address.

Let’s say you offer to give away 10 free copies to people selected randomly among everyone who enters their address before such-and-such a date.

You could possibly collect over 100 email addresses during that time period. That’s 100 people that you can email regularly with information about your upcoming book, news about your book being released as a Kindle, etc… In short, it’s a ready-made list of people interested in your writing that you now have the permission to reach out to regularly.

I love this book giveaway idea. If you have any others that you’ve used in order to build your email list, please share them!

4 Ways to Improve and Increase Your Email Sign-Ups

One of the recommendations that I give to all of my clients is that they include a place on their author website for fans to enter their email address and stay notified of upcoming events, etc…

There are so many different things that an author can do with that email list, including setting everyone up for automatic notifications whenever a new blog post is entered or sending out an email blast to everyone on the list when there’s news to share, like a new book release or a radio appearance.

But what often gets lost in this process is the mechanics of actually getting people to sign up, and what they receive when they do sign up. With that in mind, here are some tips on how to increase the number of sign-ups you receive, and improve the experience for people who actually do enter their email address:

1. Offer a bonus. Right above where someone can enter their email address, tell them what they will get for actually entering it. For example, “Sign up for my email list and get a free whitepaper.” That extra incentive may make someone who is unsure whether or not to give out their information take the plunge.

2. Guarantee privacy. Always include a discreet line of text right near the sign-up box that reassures people that their information will not be shared with or sold to anyone else.

3. Set expectations. Make sure someone knows what they’re signing up for. If they’re going to be receiving notifications every time you post a blog entry, tell them that. If they’re going to receive a weekly newsletter, they need to know that as well. Ditto if you only plan on sending updates when there’s really big news to share.

4. Customize your confirmation email. If you have a website built in WordPress, then listen up! We use a plug-in called G-Lock Opt In to collect email addresses through client websites. That system is then automated, so that after someone enters their email address, they receive two follow-up emails: one asking them to confirm that they actually did enter their email address and want to be on the list, and another (after they’ve confirmed) “welcoming” them to the email list. What many people don’t know is that these emails can be customized. I highly recommend that all authors access this tool and write their own emails to go out in place of the standard ones. Those emails should include:

  • A “thank you” message for signing up
  • A reminder of the frequency at which the person should expect emails
  • Links to the website, and any other social media sites you have a presence on
  • Whatever it is that you promised to whomever signed up. So, for example, if you offered a whitepaper to whomever joined your email list, this is where you would include a link to it.

An email list can be a wonderful thing for an author. Follow these guidelines and your list should start growing — full of happy followers — in no time.

5 Tips for a Successful Author Email Campaign

As I’ve mentioned many times before, collecting email addresses is a great way for an author to stay in touch with a ready-made audience of followers. By putting together an email list, an author can contact readers (instead of waiting for readers to come back to their website) when they are ready to announce a new book, a media appearance, etc…

In fact, even when compared to Facebook “fans,” each email address on your newsletter list is golden. According to BrightWaveMarketing.com, too many companies are giving up their “Register” buttons and replacing them with “Follow” buttons.

But, get this: A prospect’s email address can be worth anywhere from $23-118, while the average Facebook fan is only worth about $3.60. Remember, though: email addresses are only worth that much when you use them effectively. Here are some guidelines:

1. Track your emails! Make sure to send out your mass emails through an email client that allows you to track open rates, click-thru rates, etc… One such company is Vertical Response, but there are many others. This information is invaluable — it allows you to compare how different emails and subject lines perform, and adjust accordingly.

2. Personalize, whenever possible. People respond best to emails that seem to be personalized to them. If you have someone’s first name, use it in the subject line or the beginning of the email. If you know that a certain user either has or hasn’t purchased your book already, you can send them a customized email based on that information.

3. Think quality. People are going to read your emails if you have something of value to share with them. Maybe it’s an informative article. Maybe it’s a special deal on your new book. Make sure that your emails aren’t just promotional; they need to offer something to the reader as well.

4. Be consistent. Use the same “from” line in every email. If possible, keep the same format, too. People like knowing who they’re getting an email from and what to expect within it.

5. Don’t overdo it! There’s one thing that you really want to avoid in an email campaign: unsubscribes. Legally, you’re required to allow someone to unsubscribe from your email with one click. However, what you can do is learn about why people unsubscribe and avoid making those mistakes. The most common reasons people opt not to receive your messages any more? 1. Nothing of value in them (see point 4 above); and 2) They receive far too many messages. Ask yourself how often you’d like to be emailed by a company, and adjust your frequency accordingly. Anything more than once a week is probably too much.

Author Newsletters: Tips, Misconceptions, and More!

Several of my clients have asked me to send out newsletters to their mailing lists recently. But none of them seemed to understand exactly what a newsletter can do (or the information you can cull out of sending a newsletter). With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to outline exactly what an author newsletter can do, when it should be used, and what kind of information you can cull from it.

So let’s start with (correcting) a few misconceptions that authors have about newsletters.

1. “I don’t need a mailing list.” Every author should be building a mailing list. This is invaluable! It’s basically the contact information of people who are interested in your writing. You couldn’t pay for such a list (and if you could, the owner of the list would probably be asking for a lot more than you could afford). So start building your list as soon as your site is launched, and offer people a reward for signing up.

2. “Everyone who signs up for my newsletter gets my blog entries, right?” People who sign up for your newsletter do NOT automatically start receiving blog updates. That can be done separately, but it’s not what a newsletter is. A newsletter is a compliation of text/photos/links that you specifically put together to go out via email to your list.

3. “I can just send out a mass email and it’s the same thing as a newsletter, right?” No! A true newsletter is designed in HTML (and yes, it’s sent in an email), which allows people to see colors, images, links, etc… much like they do on a website. It can also be designed in two- or three-columns, ensuring that people will see more than one type of content as soon as they open it.

Okay, so now that we’ve corrected a few misconceptions, we’re confident that you understand why you need to build a list and send newsletters. Once you have the list built (and hopefully, growing), you need to start sending newsletters. Not immediately, mind you; but eventually. Here are some of the things that you could use newsletters to do:

  • Announce the release of the book and/or the launch of the website
  • Promote a special deal on the book
  • Announce a contest
  • Boast about a great review and/or award you won
  • Offer a teaser about your next book
  • Let people know about an upcoming article/interview you’re doing
  • Promote your podcasts

And here are some dos and don’ts about your newsletter:

  • DO write your newsletter in the first person. People want to know they’re hearing from you.
  • DO include more than one piece of content in a newsletter. That’s the beauty of the web — you can include teasers to multiple things and allow people to click through for more.
  • DO put your book cover (and a link to buy the book) in the newsletter. After all, that’s your goal, right?
  • DON’T put long, wordy pieces in a newsletter. Nobody wants to spend ten minutes reading an email.
  • DON’T have the newsletter live as a stand-alone piece. It should be a jumping point from which your fans can take action, like enter a contest, friend you on Facebook or buy your book.

Lastly, if you send your newsletter through a true newsletter distribution system (like we do), there are lots of things you can get from your newsletter report. This is why you often have to pay on a per-recipient basis to send it out. Here are some of the benefits of sending a newsletter out through such a system (as opposed to just sending out a mass email):

  • You can create both text and HTML versions of the emails. This way, anyone who is opening it on a computer can see photos, colors, images, etc… Anyone looking at it on a mobile device can easily read the text.
  • The system automatically adds an “unsubscribe” link to the footer of the email (which is a legal requirement) and will automatically take anyone who unsubscribes off your mailing list. Again, that’s something you could get sued for not managing correctly.
  • You can receive a report after the newsletter goes out, which tells you how many people opened the email and which links within the email were clicked on.
  • You can “test” emails, creating two different subject lines and having each person on your list randomly receive one or the other. You can then analyze which subject line got the best open rate, giving you a good idea of what piques your readers’ interest.

See what I mean? An email newsletter is far more than a mass email. And if you’re not using it yet, you could be missing out.

3 Creative Ways to Sync up Your Email List, Social Networking Followers

It’s a rare breed of author who has thousands of names on their email list and just as many followers on Facebook and Twitter. Most authors have either built a website and are just getting into social networking, or have been active on social networking sites and are just now creating a website and building an email list.

Either way, you may be wondering how you can have the best of both worlds and get people to sign up on every type of platform. An article in Internet and Marketing Report cites three different companies and the creative ways they migrated groups from email to social networking and vice versa. Don’t be afraid to steal these ideas!

1. Go viral. A company named Dingo offered its customers a $20 coupon if they signed up for the e-mail newsletter and “Liked” their Facebook page. But there was a catch: In order for the promotion to kick in, the company’s Facebook page needed to get its total number of fans from 300 up to 5,000.  And it worked. Within three days of sending out the note, they reached their goal.

2. Offer a reward. Timbuk2 wanted to get its newsletter subscribers to be Facebook fans, too. So they sent out an email blast informing everyone that those who became a Facebook fan in the next however-many hours would be entered to win a bike, helmet, or messenger bag. No surprise … it worked.

3. Keep exclusive content private. Crocs had tons of followers on Facebook and Twitter, but not too many email subscribers. So they posted on their wall and started tweeting about special deals and offers that are only available through their email newsletter. To make it even easier, they included a sign-up app on their Facebook page. We don’t know just how successful this effort was, but the Crocs execs describe it as a “giant leap” in subscribers.

Hope these ideas help you, too!

The 3 Most Common Reasons Why People Are NOT Signing Up for Your Newsletter

I encourage all authors who are developing a website to have a newsletter sign-up area where they can start collecting names and email addresses. This list can be invaluable, because it’s comprised of people who have already expressed interest in your writing and want to hear from you. You couldn’t BUY a list like this. Next time your book is going to be featured on TV (don’t we all wish that were the case) or when your next book is close to being released, you can notify everyone via email newsletter. Rather than waiting for them to come to you, you can come to them.

But getting people to sign up for a newsletter (and be satisfied with it) isn’t as easy as you would think. There are some simple, common mistakes that you can make in the process that can turn people off. Almost all of them fall into the same category: lack of information. Here are the common newsletter no-nos that you should make sure to avoid.

1. Not offering anything for signing up. You’re far more likely to get people to sign up for your newsletter if you offer them a reward for doing so. Maybe a downloadable PDF with some fun facts or free entry in a raffle. Get creative with your ideas.

2. Not letting people know what they’re getting. When you’re signing up for a newsletter, you want to know what kind of information you’ll be getting and how often it will arrive. So do your readers! Give them a general idea of how often they should expect to hear from you (weekly? monthly? quarterly?) and what your newsletters will include. Will they be news? Special offers? Contests? Ads? Tell them right off the bat.

3. Not guaranteeing privacy of information. Everyone is wary — and rightly so, nowadays — about giving out their email address. Too many websites have collected addresses and then sold them to vendors who are looking to advertise to a specific type of audience. Hence, all the SPAM messages we get. Make it a point to assure your readers that you won’t share their email addresses with anyone.

Add these three crucial pieces of information to the newsletter sign-up process and we guarantee that your numbers will increase. And when it does, share your story with us!