Hi there! You’re probably here because you’re either wondering how to use email marketing to sell more books. Although setting up an email system can feel like a huge task, it’s one of the most important tools in your marketing toolkit. It will help you build and connect with your readers, which will lead to growing book sales. In this article, we cover everything you need to know about email marketing to get started. Sit back, relax, and get ready to get smarter on all things email marketing!
Here’s a breakdown of the steps you’ll take to get your email list set up:
- Understand why your email list is so important
- Choose an email service provider (ESP)
- Get familiar with best practices on email marketing
- Welcome subscribers to your list
- Attract – and keep – subscribers
- Measure the effectiveness of your emails
Your Email List is Your #1 Most Valuable Asset
A list of subscribers (email list) is the most valuable asset you have in your marketing arsenal. Why? Because having a subscriber list enables you to directly reach your readers whenever you like and because email marketing is the most effective marketing tool out there.
When you send an email to your subscribers, every single subscriber gets that email in their inbox. If half of them open that email, you have reached 50% of your subscribers at very little cost. Let’s say you have 100 email subscribers. Every time you send an email, all 100 subscribers will receive that email in their inbox and 30-50 of those subscribers will open and read your email.
Email Marketing Sells More Books than Social Media
On social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and search (Google, Yahoo, Bing), less than 6% of users will click on your post, tweet, website or blog content. For example, if you have 100 fans on Facebook, every time you publish an update you can expect 6-10 of those fans to actually see your update. If you want to reach the rest of your fans, you will have to pay Facebook to boost your post. Let’s say 100 people search for the term “good mystery book on Google” – Google chooses which results to display on the search results page. If your website or blog post makes it onto the first page of results, you can expect 2-12 people to click on your content. Additionally, both Facebook and Google are always changing their algorithms, so what works today may not work tomorrow. Unfortunately, you don’t have control.
You Own the Relationship with the Reader
With an email list, once you have an email address you own the relationship with that reader. No additional paying to reaching them, no middle men, just you and your reader in direct contact. Every time you send an email all of your subscribers will receive it. This is what makes email marketing more effective than any other marketing technique.
It’s not hard to see why your email list is one of your most valuable marketing assets. Email will sell more books than social media and will allow you to own the relationship with your reader. In this post, you will learn how to utilize email marketing to connect with readers and sell more books.
Let’s move on to choosing and setting up your email service provider, so you can start collecting email addresses and start emailing your readers.
Understanding Email Service Providers (ESP)
Email service providers (or ESPs) help you manage the email addresses that you collect. They also help you send and analyze campaigns (emails) that you send to your subscribers. There are a handful of great ESPs out there, but today we are going to focus on MailerLite and MailChimp.
Can’t I just use my personal Gmail or Yahoo account for email marketing?
It isn’t possible, or recommended, to send emails to a large subscriber list through your normal email address. Personal email accounts limit you from sending emails to large batches of people. Gmail only allows you to send 500 emails per day, while Yahoo will limit you to 100 people per email you send. Additionally, personal services do not provide you with reporting on who opened or clicked your email.
Mailchimp has long been a leading email provider. They make setting up mailing lists, creating campaigns, and running reporting intuitive and easy. Mailchimp is free until your audience reaches 2,000 subscribers and unsubs, or you send more than 12,000 emails per month. As your list grows, the cost to use MailChimp grows. For example, you will pay $74.99 per month if you have 5,000 users on your list and $219 per month when you have 25,000 users on your list. The larger your email list, the more it’s going to cost. But that’s okay. Because a mailing list of 25,000 subscribers is going to generate income for you and that income should far exceed the $219 per month cost for your ESP.
MailerLite is the newer kid on the block. They have many of the same features as MailChimp and keep working to enhance their platform. MailerLite is free for the first 1,000 subscribers and you can send up to 12,000 emails per month while your subscriber count is below 1,000. Like MailChimp, the cost to use MailerLite will grow as your mailing list grows. However, MailerLite costs less than MailChimp does for comparable list sizes. A list of 5,000 subscribers on MailerLite will cost you $30 per month, while a list of 25,000 subscribers will cost you $140 per month.
Which email service provider you choose is up to you. MailChimp recently underwent some changes, so be sure that any information you read about the service is from them, or is up to date.
Creating Your List or Lists
The first thing to do once you have an account is to set up a list (in MailerLite, “lists” are referred to as “groups,” In MailChimp they are called “audiences”). Your first decision is what to name your list. Remember you may eventually have multiple email lists, so you want to make the name of each list clear so you know who the subscribers are for each list.
If you are an author who writes in one genre you, can create one mailing list and sync all your giveaways with that list. For example, if you are a steamy contemporary romance author you can create one list and name it “Steamy Romance Readers”. If you decide to branch out and start writing mystery books, you would create a new list called “Mystery readers”. This way you have grouped all the readers who like the same type of books so you can tailor your email content to them (we’ll cover that later in the post).
Before you can begin sending emails you need to choose an email service provider (ESP). ESPs help you send and analyze the campaigns (emails) that you send to your subscribers. MailerLite and MailChimp are two ESPs that are reputable and easy to use. Once you have selected an ESP you will create your first email list.
Now before we get to the actual sending part, we’ll need to go over how often you send to your subscribers.
Put Yourself in Your Subscriber’s Shoes
It’s a universal truth that nobody likes being inundated with tons of email. So how often should you send emails to your readers? Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. When you sign up for emails from another author, a company, or an organization you support, do you really want to get an email from them every single day? Probably not.
And what happens if this author, company, or organization sends you an email every single day? Your enthusiasm for that person or brand starts to diminish. Your feelings of goodwill turn to feelings of irritation. You get bored of them. You stop opening their emails. Eventually you unsubscribe. This is called email fatigue. As an author who will be emailing readers, you want to avoid email fatigue at all costs.
Spamming Your List Erodes Your Asset
Earlier in the article we covered the importance of your email list and how it is one of your most valuable marketing assets. You are spending time and money to build your list. So it’s important not to decrease the value of your email list by emailing your subscribers too frequently.
If too many people unsubscribe, don’t open, or mark your emails as spam, then that will begin to negatively impact your quality score. “Quality score” is the official way of saying “what Google, Yahoo, and other email clients think of you”. If your quality score is low, then your emails may bypass your subscribers’ inboxes entirely, going straight to spam. It’s difficult to recover from a poor quality score, so being smart from the beginning is highly recommended.
69% of readers say that they unsubscribe because they are receiving too many emails. With that in mind, studies show that emailing your subscribers 1-3 times a month leads to the highest engagement and the lowest fatigue, so we recommend you start by sending 1-3 emails per month. For more information on how to grow your mailing list, check out our post on email list best practices.
Phew – okay! Now that we’ve gotten email frequency out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff: the actual part where you send. First, we want to focus on the types of emails you’ll need to send to your subscribers.
Start by Saying Hello
The first step in being an email marketing champ is to make a good first impression. And the best way to do this is with a Welcome Email. We know you have a lot to tell the reader, but the best way to begin an email relationship is by introducing yourself and by keeping the introduction short and sweet. A Welcome Email is the very first email you send your reader. It should include these elements:
- Thank you – Thank the reader for signing up. Communicate that you are excited to have them as a subscriber.
- Introduction – Tell the reader who you are, what you write. and why you love it. Make this personal so the reader has an opportunity to connect with you.
- Gift – Give the reader something. This can be a free book. It can be a promise (promise the reader you will not spam them or share their email addresses with others). It can be a feel-good anecdote (how a reader has touched your life, how your book brought a smile to someone, and so on).
- Social – Include links to your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Goodreads profiles.
Once you have crafted your Welcome Email, you can automate it so it will send to each subscriber after they sign up for your mailing list. Both MailChimp and MailerLite support this type of automation and make it easy for you to set up.
It’s All About The Relationship
You and your subscribers are in a relationship. And like all good relationships, both parties get something out of it. Every time you start creating an email to your readers, ask yourself: what are they getting out of it? The answer to this question will give you ideas for what to send to your readers, and will ensure that you’re not always the “taker” in the relationship.
So, what type of content should you send your readers? Here are some ideas that work for successful authors:
- Freebies & Promotions – If you are running a free promotion on one of your titles, or you are discounting one of your tiles, this is a good time to email your readers to share the deal.
- Inside Information – Readers love a good scoop, so you can email them with new information that not everyone knows yet. Some examples: the theme of your next novel, the final title of a soon to be published book, or even a picture of the desk where you do your writing.
- Appearances – Let your readers know if you are doing a reading or attending a festival or conference.
- Sneak Peeks – Share the first chapter of your new novel or a scene from an upcoming book.
- Beta Reader Invitation – Extend an invitation to readers on your list to become beta readers for your work.
- Review Requests – Ask your readers to review your books on Amazon if they have read them.
To be consistent and effective in emailing your readers, you need to plan ahead. Successful authors put aside a few hours every month to plan when they will email their readers and what each email will say. Ideally at the beginning of each month you will set aside an hour to plan when you will send the next 2 months’ worth of emails. You will want to space your emails out and time them with planned activity around your book. Here is an example plan that you might create on January 1st:
Example Email Plan for January and February
Jan 5th – Happy new year, this what I’m hoping to publish this year, and here’s a deal on one of my titles
Jan 20th – This is the inspiration for my series, here are included images that inspired series of characters, and here are some links to the books in the series
Feb 12th – Have a Valentine’s Day Giveaway (partner with other authors)
Feb 27th – Make a new release announcement
Once you have set your plan, remember to block out a few hours in the days leading up to sending that email so that you have time to create the email content.
Send emails that provide your readers with interesting, valuable content. Set up an automated welcome email that introduces yourself to every new reader. Make a monthly email plan for when you will send each email and what each email will say.
Now that you know what to send, let’s talk about how you’re going to get results that will lead to sales. You need to know how to optimize your emails for high open and click rates to do so.
Get Readers to Open Your Email
The first step in effective email marketing is getting your readers to open your email. Readers will decide whether or not to open an email based on 1) who the email is coming from and 2) whether the subject line is intriguing to them. Readers see who the email is from based on how you set the “Sender” field in your ESP. It’s best to set this field with the same name you used when asking your subscribers to sign up for your emails. That way the reader will know who you are and will be expecting to receive emails from you.
Once you have set the sender name to be familiar to the reader, the next step is deciding on your subject line. There are a few elements to keep in mind when crafting your subject line:
- Personalization: when possible, include the name of the subscriber in the subject line
- Urgency: include a reason for the readers to open the email now
Example: Ricci, my book is on sale for a limited time [note that this includes both personalization and urgency]
- Interest / Curiosity: pique the interest of the reader with something out of the ordinary
- Length: Keep your subject line under 60 characters
Example: Who is Mr. Darcy? [note that this targets both a piqued curiosity and a simple, to-the-point length]
Things to avoid in a subject line:
- Don’t use all caps or READERS WILL THINK YOU’RE YELLING AT THEM!
- Avoid words that trigger spam filters
- Don’t over-promise what’s inside the email just to get people to open the email
Getting Readers to Engage with your Content
Now that your reader has opened the email, how do you engage the reader with your content?
Earlier in our post we talked about the type of content to include in your email. How you present the content is almost as important as what the content says. To make an email readable and engaging:
- Break up the content into bite-size chunks so the readers can easily scan the emails
- Use bullet points and white space to create flow
- Use buttons to make your call to action obvious and visible
- Keep the email short
- Make the unsubscribe link easy to find
An easy way to check all these boxes is to use the pre-formatted templates that your email service provider (ESP) provides.
When crafting your email content, make sure you know what action you want the reader to take and make that action clearly visible and prominent in your email. Keep it simple. An email that is mostly text with one big call to action button will work well.
Make sure it’s clear who your email is coming from. Craft short and interesting subject lines to get your reader to open your email. Keep your email content short and easy to scan. Use buttons to make your call to action prominent and visible.
Want to test how effective your emails are? You’ll need to get familiar with our favorite m word.
Metrics, Metrics, Metrics
There are 3 metrics we use to measure the effectiveness of email marketing:
- Open Rate
As the name implies, your open rate measures how many people open your email. To calculate open rate, take the number of people who open the email and divide it by the number of people who received the email. If you send an email to 100 readers and 22 people open the email, your open rate is 22%.
- 2. Click Rate
The click rate tells you how many people clicked a link inside your email. To calculate click rate, take the number of people who clicked a link and divide it by the number of people who received the email. If you send an email to 100 readers and 6 people click on a link in the email, your click rate is 6%.
- Unsubscribe Rate
The unsubscribe rate tells you how many of your readers unsubscribed from your list after receiving your email. If you send an email to 100 readers and 1 person unsubscribes, your unsubscribe rate is 1%.
Once you’ve started tracking your metrics, how do you know if they are good? One method to evaluate your metrics is to compare them to benchmarks. Benchmarks are the averages that other people or companies are seeing when they send emails to their customers. Mailchimp provides an up to date benchmark list for different industries so you can use their metrics as a starting point. Comparing email marketing metrics with other authors is also a good way to measure how you’re stacking up.
Another important method to evaluate your performance is to monitor your metrics over time for how they are trending. If your open rates start to trend down, that can be a sign that you are sending too many emails and readers are getting tired of opening them. Upward trends also give you information. If you send an email that has a very high click rate compared to your other campaigns, it’s worth analyzing the email that outperformed to figure out why that was. Then take that learning and apply it to future emails.
A Note on Unsubscribe Rates
Your unsubscribe rates should be well below 0.5%. High unsubscribe rates are an indicator that 1) the people you are adding to your list do not know what they are signing up for or have not opted-in, 2) you are emailing too frequently or 3) your content is boring, annoying or offensive. High unsubscribe rates will hurt your reputation and deliverability. Some ESPs will send you a warning if your unsubscribe rates are too high, and some will suspend your account if your unsubscribe volume continues. So it is very important to monitor this metric and evaluate your practices if your unsubscribe rate is high or trending higher.
Most ESPs will also show you how many spam complaints your emails are getting. A spam complaint occurs when an email recipient clicks on the “report spam” button or when a recipient contacts your ESP directly to complain. Most emails going to small lists should receive zero spam complaints. Occasionally an email you send may receive 1-2 spam complaints. Anything over these thresholds means that your recipients did not knowingly subscribe to your list or that your content is highly annoying or offensive. Spam complaints endanger your reputation and, like high unsubscribe rates, can lead to a suspension of your account. To avoid spam complaints, make sure your recipients have opted in to receive your emails.
There are 3 main email marketing metrics to monitor: open rate, click rate and unsubscribe rate. Compare your metrics with benchmarks and peers, and analyze the trends of these metrics over time. Maintaining a low unsubscribe rate is critical to the health of your list and your email marketing efforts.
And There You Go – You Did It!
By following our steps, you’ve created a successful mailing list that allows you to engage with your readers and sell even more books. To recap the post, let’s go over our main points again:
1: If You Didn’t Know, Your Email List is Your #1 Most Valuable Asset. Email will sell more books than social media. And email will allow you to own the relationship with your reader. Every successful author has a mailing list and a plan for emailing their readers.
2: Understanding Email Service Providers (ESP). Before you can begin sending emails, you need to choose an email service provider. ESPs help you send and analyze the campaigns (emails) that you send to your subscribers. MailerLite and MailChimp are two ESPs that are reputable and easy to use. Once you have selected an ESP you will create your first email list.
3: Put Yourself in Your Subscriber’s Shoes. Once you have readers’ email addresses, you want to be sure to take good care of them. You can do this by being smart about how frequently you plan on emailing them and coordinating with other authors if you are engaging in Group Giveaways. The optimal frequency for emailing your readers is 1-3 times per month.
4: Start by Saying Hello. Send emails that provide your readers with interesting, valuable content. Set up an automated welcome email that introduces yourself to every new reader. Make a monthly email plan for when you will send each email and what each email will say.
5: Get Readers to Open Your Email. Make sure it’s clear who your email is coming from. Craft short and interesting subject lines to get your reader to open your email. Keep your email content short and easy to scan. Use buttons to make your call to action prominent and visible.
6: Metrics, Metrics, Metrics. There are 3 metrics to monitor: open rate, click rate and unsubscribe rate. Compare your metrics with benchmarks and peers, and analyze the trends of these metrics over time. Maintaining a low unsubscribe rate is critical to the health of your list and your email marketing efforts.
Thank you for taking the time to read through our mailing list post! Have you tried any of these steps? Have something that works for you that isn’t on our list? Let us know below!
Looking for more information on email marketing? Check our our post on how to set up an automated welcome email in Mailchimp.