For authors, email marketing is widespread. Many bestselling authors have large email lists, and industry professionals (like me) can’t shut up about how important email marketing is. It’s not uncommon to attend an indie publishing conference and see multiple sessions on author email marketing.
So, email is a great tool for authors, but how do you do it? What are the best practices, tips and tricks to success with email marketing? When someone says they are an email marketing expert, what are they doing that sets them apart?
Well, if you’re looking to level up your email marketing, begin email marketing, or are wondering what it takes to make email marketing work, you’ve come to the right place.
At Written Word Media, we send hundreds of thousands of emails every day to promote books. We’ve been at it for a while, and we like to think we’re pretty good at it. Keep reading for our top eight tips to become an author email expert!
First, a quick word on why email is such an asset for authors and marketers in general (see? I told you I can’t shut up about it).
Why email is so important for authors
First and foremost, email is the cheapest and most targeted marketing channel available. Sending an email is cheap, sometimes free, and is a direct line of communication with readers that is unlikely to be broken.
Other platforms like Facebook and TikTok can change rapidly. If you post, you don’t know who will see it. Yes, you may reach new people, but there’s no guarantee that all of your fans are getting the information you are sharing. A strategy that worked one week might suddenly become ineffective, robbing you of a large segment of your audience.
Email isn’t like this. It’s too dispersed across separate email service providers (ESPs), so a single actor cannot impact or change the system in a catastrophic manner (like Meta can with Facebook & Instagram algorithm updates).
Email is not only reliable, it’s also cheap. Many email service providers have a free option up to a certain number of subscribers, and once you get past that point, it’s still one of the cheapest advertising options out there.
Lastly, because email is so targeted, it is where you can communicate confidently with your biggest fans. Yes, your fans probably follow you on social media, but your biggest fans join your email list, and these are the people who can help build your career.
Whether it’s asking for reviews, finding ARC readers, or boosting a new release; having a direct line to your biggest fans is simply too important to turn down.
So, email marketing is great, but it’s even better when you become great at email. So, let’s get into our top eight tips on becoming an author email expert!
1. Email open rates are unreliable
But not unhelpful! You may have heard a few years ago that Apple rolled out new privacy protections to email accounts on apple devices.
I won’t go into the nitty gritty, but the result of the protections is that Apple users will show as having opened an email, even when they haven’t.
This means that your email open rate is probably not as high as it seems. But, just because it’s wrong, doesn’t mean it isn’t helpful.
One bonus is that your open rate should be inflated by roughly the same amount each time you send. So, while you don’t know your open rate down to the exact percentage, you will know if your most recent email was opened more than your last one.
Looking at open rate for email campaigns is still helpful, but, unfortunately, using open rate as criteria to build segments or lists is not a good idea.
If you build a segment of readers who have opened one of your emails in the past year, you may end up with many Apple users in the segment who haven’t actually opened an email. They just appear to have because of Apple’s privacy protections.
When building a segment or list around reader behavior, use clicks as the main criteria instead. This tracking, while not perfect, is more accurate.
2. Keep your email list clean
No one likes a dusty email list; it can trigger allergies. But seriously, when we talk about “email hygiene” or “cleaning a list” we’re talking about making sure your email is filled with the most active and engaged readers.
Readers who join your list will inevitably unsubscribe, that’s fine. But, many more will stay on the list, and simply never open, click, or do anything to provide value to you as an author.
While this isn’t a code-red emergency, email experts know that being efficient makes a big difference.
These “disengaged” email subscribers present two main issues:
1) They could be causing you to pay more to your email service provider.
2) They could be more likely to mark one of your messages as spam. Gasp!
Email marketing experts monitor their lists to catch when a user stops engaging and becomes lower value. Most email service providers will give you the tools to do this. You just have to learn how to use them.
How to track subscriber engagement
With email, engagement comes in the form of opens and clicks. While these metrics are not perfectly tracked, they are still enough to get a good indication of how engaged a reader is with your emails.
The theory of email engagement is that if a reader doesn’t engage with an email for a long period of time, then they likely won’t begin to at any point. Therefore, sending to disengaged readers is a potential waste of money depending on how your payment plan works with your ESP.
Decide what makes a reader “disengaged” for you
Whether a reader is disengaged or not will look different for different authors, but the primary factor to consider here is how often you are sending to your list.
If you send one newsletter a year, and a reader misses it, you can quickly end up with lots of readers who haven’t clicked an email in two to three years.
In contrast, if you send every other month, so six times a year, readers have more opportunities to engage. So, a reader who hasn’t clicked an email in two years is less likely to come back. They haven’t engaged in the last 12 emails you sent them, so maybe they just aren’t interested anymore.
Deciding your engagement criteria is arbitrary, but a good rule of thumb is to see how many readers have clicked an email in the past year. If it’s a good chunk of your list but also helps you weed out less valuable readers, it’s a great start.
And remember, Apple users may appear to have opened an email when they actually haven’t, so using clicks as your primary criteria is always a smart move.
Build your engagement list
When you send an email campaign, typically you pick a list to send to. Now that you have your engagement criteria, you will make a segment, list or audience (whatever your ESP calls it) based on your criteria.
If your criteria is engagement in the past year, make a segment or list with that criteria. So your new list will be full of readers who:
1) have clicked an email in the past 365 days
2) have joined your mailing list in the past 365 days
By sending to this list, you can potentially save money and get fewer spam reports, but also get a better sense of what your true fans respond to.
But, you shouldn’t abandon your disengaged readers without trying to win them back!
3. Re-engage lapsed readers
After you’ve made an engagement list, you will have a group of readers on your main list who are not classified as “engaged.”
It might make sense to download these email addresses to your computer and save them before deleting from your ESP. This could result in lower costs, but you’ll have to do the math yourself.
But, before we go about removing emails, it’s time for a last-ditch attempt to re-engage these readers. They haven’t responded to what other readers have, you’re about to remove them from your list entirely, so it’s time to get weird! You’ve got nothing to lose!
What have you been sending that hasn’t attracted these readers? Can you send them something different and catch their attention?
Consider sending your disengaged users a coupon, a free novella, a link to a video, or simply an email asking if they want to stay on your list.
Most likely won’t engage, but if you get a few more back on your engagement list, it’s a win!
4. Frequency/ Consistency
Consistency is underrated in the world of email marketing. Sending emails with similar formats and at relatively evenly spaced intervals is helpful for a number of reasons, but the primary thing to consider is the reader experience.
When a reader joins your list, they are likely testing it out.
They may have joined your list to get something (a free book or a chance to win a Kindle in a Subscriber Surge Giveaway), or they read one of your books and wanted to learn more and support you.
Regardless, if they decide they don’t like or want your emails, they will unsubscribe.
This is fine, but the key is to hang on to the reader who does like what you’re doing. For these readers, you need to build a relationship based on expectations and trust.
By sending emails that have a common visual theme and at a regular cadence, you fulfill the expectations of the readers who remain on your list.
If you are less consistent with your content and cadence, readers will have a harder time deciding whether they want to be on your list or not.
This doesn’t mean you can’t experiment. In fact, you should. But try to do so within your brand and while maintaining a send cadence that is recognizable to your audience.
Bottom line, staying consistent can lead to some big wins. So, if possible, it’s a great thing to do.
One of the great things about email marketing is the ability to automate so much of what you send out. A monthly newsletter will likely be a more manual process, but, if your ESP allows for it, there are a number of things you should automate and take off your plate.
Automate your welcome flow
When someone joins your email list, it’s best practice to welcome them as fast as possible.
By doing this, you are warming up the reader by helping them understand what your emails look like, what they can expect, and how you will talk to them.
Creating a welcome email or flow of multiple emails that automatically send when a reader joins your list is an easy way to improve your email performance and make readers happy!
Automate your freebie delivery
Many authors will offer a free novella to readers who join their mailing list. This is a great way to increase the size of your list, but sending out novellas manually is a chore and half.
Instead, create an email that has a link to your freebie, and automate a send to any reader who joins your list from a signup form that promises a freebie.
This may be all of your forms, in which case you can simply have this in your welcome email, or this may be available only to certain readers, so you’ll want to trigger the flow based on how a reader joined your list.
Email automations can cost more, so evaluate if it’s worth it before getting going. But, if you have the capability, email makes it easy to automate many aspects of your messaging.
6. Track how readers get on your list
This can be easier said than done, but understanding how a reader got on your list is a great way to level up your author email marketing.
Not every source of readers is created equal. Some readers, like the ones who see a link in your backmatter and rush to join your mailing list, are high-value and very engaged. Other readers, like the ones who join just to get a freebie and then never open again, are less valuable.
There are also different ways of getting readers on your list, and some will be more effective at growing your list than others. The number of readers you get from your backmatter might be much smaller than the number you get from a giveaway.
By placing a “source” variable on all of your subscribers, you can understand how readers got on your list. This helps you make better decisions in the future when trying to grow your list because you understand which methods are most effective.
The source variable can be placed automatically when a reader signs up via a signup form. Each email service provider will have different ways to do this, so contact your’s for exact instructions.
If you run a Subscriber Surge Giveaway and get a .csv file of readers who have opted into your list, you will also want to assign a source variable to those readers when you upload them. Most ESPs will also have a process for this, so contact yours for more details.
By assigning a source to your email list subscribers, you will be able to analyze and understand how to improve your email marketing over time. By setting up this system early, you set yourself up for smarter marketing in the future.
7. Test what readers respond to
No reader audience is like another, so it’s important to learn what works for your readers specially. The best way to do this is by testing.
A hallmark of digital marketing, testing different email templates is something that every email marketing expert does, and for good reason.
Simple changes like writing shorter emails, providing more options for the reader, or adding emojis to a subject line; can lead to big improvements in performance.
Most ESPs will have a testing mechanism built in, but the basic idea is you will build two variants of an email template. Then, part of your audience will get one template, and part of your audience will get the other. Whichever template has the best results (generally this is clicks), is the winner!
8. Build your brand
Authors who build big brands often do so with their personalities and interests. This might sound difficult, but there’s something about email marketing that makes it easier once you dive in.
Email is personal. It’s as close as we can get in digital marketing to a handwritten letter. And this lends itself to connecting to readers.
Brands are built on authenticity. For authors, this often means telling personal stories, talking about how the next book is coming, or how you are facing a challenge.
Because of its intimacy, email marketing is a great way to build your brand by getting personal and consistent.
If you are sending emails, it makes sense to think about your brand and how they can support it.
A few tips on brand building:
- You likely have more in common with your readers than you think.
- Sign up for email lists of other authors who you admire. They can give you ideas!
- Define your brand colors and fonts, and try to stick them as much as you can.
- Share personal news and book recommendations (even if the books aren’t yours!). This helps establish trust & credibility with your subscribers.
- It’s OKAY to sell in your emails, just find the right balance. Consider offering something special like an exclusive box set to your email list when announcing a new release.
And that’s it! Eight tips to become an expert at author email marketing. Whether it’s understanding how email metrics work (and which ones you can trust), or building automated emails to save time, this guide will help you get to the next level of email marketing.
Have a tip for your fellow authors? Please share in the comments!