Thursday, August 04, 2016

Indie Publishing Paths: What’s Your Newsletter Plan? Part One

By Jami Gold, @JamiGold

Part of the Indie Authors Series

We’ve covered a lot of information in this Indie Publishing Paths series so far. In the first section, we focused on how to decide which path will work best for us.

Once we know our goals and priorities and are ready to put our book up for sale, we need to decide on:

The second phase of our indie publishing journey is to figure out how best to increase our chances for success along our chosen path. Whatever our goal, we’ll have a better chance of success if we can hold onto our readers from book to book.

So far, in the second part of this series, we’ve covered our options for…:

One of the other options we discussed for how to keep readers in Part One of the Reader Retention Plan phase was to direct readers to a newsletter. While many of the other possibilities for keeping readers are optional, an author newsletter is pretty much a requirement. So we’re going to spend some time over the next few months exploring our newsletter options.

Why Are Newsletters a “Requirement”?

Okay, creating an author newsletter isn’t actually a requirement. After all, no self-publishing police will come to arrest us if we don’t have one. *smile* But newsletters are our best tool for communicating and engaging with our readers.

Think about how we—as readers—hear about our favorite author’s new release. Unless they’re J.K. Rowling, the release probably won’t make mainstream news.

We might hear about their release from social media…if we happen to see their tweet or Facebook post or they paid money to advertise. We might hear about it from Goodreads, Amazon, or Bookbub…if we’ve set ourselves up to follow them or rate their previous books. But with the “follow” option on other platforms, the authors never see who’s following them and probably can’t control the messaging as much as they would like (such as with extra content, all retailer links, etc.).

One way we can make sure that we never miss a new release or sale announcement for our favorite author is to sign up for their newsletter. We know this as readers, and the same applies for our readers.

If we post on social media, we might be lucky to have 5% of our contacts see our message. With newsletters—built of lists of people who want to hear from us—it’s more common to see 50% or more of those on our list engaging with our content.

Even if our list is small, more people might see our newsletter than hear our news from all our social media combined. If someone loves our work and wants to make sure they never miss a future book, why wouldn’t we want to ensure they can get our updates? *smile*

Newsletter 101

If we’re on the internet—reading this article—chances are we’ve used email. At the most basic level of using email to connect authors and readers, we could simply collect our readers’ email address on a piece of paper and send email to each reader individually.

A newsletter program allows us to automate various aspects of sending those emails. Think of newsletters as an email distribution list (with everyone blind carbon-copied) on steroids—so we have more options for formatting, scheduling, creating multiple distribution lists, etc.

However, for as straightforward as email can be, there are a couple of “best practices” we should understand before setting up a newsletter…

Best Practice #1: Do We Have Permission?

Most newsletter programs and/or email providers require us to have permission to message those on our list. We can (and probably will) lose our account if we fail to meet this requirement (potentially losing access to our whole list).

Legitimate newsletter programs are strict about this requirement because they have to be—or else risk their business. If some of their customers cause problems with spam (unwanted email), the email providers of the world (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) might not accept email from that newsletter program at all—for any of their customers. Boom. They’re out of business.

This means that we never want to add someone to our newsletter list unless they’ve agreed to be there. That agreement can come different ways:
  • They can provide us with their email address on a paper form, such as what we might have with us at a book signing, workshop, or other appearance.
  • They can provide us with their email address on an online form, such as what we might have on our website.

In either case, the reader should know what they’re signing up for. In other words, we shouldn’t tell them the form is for entering a giveaway, accessing special content, etc. without mentioning the newsletter part too.

With an online form, the process often requires readers to complete a second opt-in step, such as the newsletter system sending them an email with a link they must click to confirm their subscription. This double opt-in process solves two problems: It ensures that someone couldn’t sign up another person’s email without their consent, and it weeds out fake emails from those who might just be trying to get a freebie.

Again, if we think like a reader, we understand why this best practice of confirming permission is so important. I don’t know about any of you, but I get email all the time from those I never requested it from. And if you’re anything like me, we’re not happy about that fact. I unsubscribe and have a bad impression of whoever sent the email.

Unless our goals are to reach random people rather than our readers—and we don’t care about making a bad impression—we should ensure that those on our list want to be there. That means we shouldn’t buy a list of random email addresses, and we should respect our list by sending only the content they asked for.

(For an example on that last point, if we told subscribers we’d send email once a month, we shouldn’t email more often than that other than for rare exceptions. Or if we told them they were signing up for news on our new releases, we shouldn’t send them every blog post too.)

Best Practice #2: Don’t Wait to Start Building Our List

Assuming we follow Best Practice #1, it might take a lot of time to build up a list. A big list isn’t something we’d be able to build in just a few weeks before our debut.

So as soon as we know we want to be a published author, we should set up a newsletter signup for our new release updates. Yes, it might be years before we have news to send, and we might not have any idea how we’d use our list yet. Set it up anyway. Start collecting names and emails.

How? As I mentioned last time, as soon as we’re serious about becoming a career-focused writer, we should create a website for our online home. A sign-up form is a major reason why we need that site.

Depending on how we set up our site, we can use a newsletter service to create that form. Popular newsletter services are: MailChimp, Constant Contact, MailerLite, VerticalResponse, MailPoet, MadMimi, GetResponse, etc. And many of them offer a free option for those first starting off (usually up to 1000 to 2000 subscribers).

Even if we don’t want to create a basic website yet, we can use a signup form on some newsletter providers’ sites. MailChimp‘s signup forms can collect up to 2000 email addresses for free and can reside on their site, so all we have to do is link to the form. No website needed.

We might get only a handful of sign-ups our first few months, but those are email addresses we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t started. *smile* 

We’ll talk next time about strategies for growing our list, but until then, let me know if you have any questions in the comments!

After escaping Area 51 armed only with a ukulele, Jami Gold moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where she could put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fortunately, her muse, an arrogant male who delights in causing her to sound as insane as possible, rewards her with unique and rich story ideas.

Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | GooglePlay | Kobo | Additional Retailers

About Ironclad Devotion, the latest release in the Mythos Legacy series:

A faerie princess evading her fate…

Earth is no place for a faerie, but Kira can’t go home without dooming her people. Desperate to avoid the pull of her homeland, she fosters an abandoned girl, the child’s joy a source of much-needed energy.

A blacksmith with something to prove…

When Zachary Chase discovers he has a daughter, he’s determined to be part of his child’s life and not repeat his mother’s neglect. But to open the little girl’s heart, he must earn her foster mother’s trust.

One night is never enough…

Despite their rivalry, Kira and Zac’s desires tempt them into one no-consequences night. Yet the more passion flares between them, the more Kira risks destroying the life she’s carved out on Earth—and endangering those she cares about in both worlds.

Amazon | iTunes | GooglePlay | B&N | Kobo | Additional Retailers 


  1. Cool! I especially like your point that we can create our author website and collect newsletter signups even if it'll take YEARS to send our readers anything!

    For me, I'm taking forever just editing one book (thanks to being distracted and writing other stories instead of editing this WIP, lol), so it would literally take an X number of years for me to have any updates, haha. We talked about posting blurbs of our books-in-progress on our author website, if I remember correctly. This is a good idea, though I worry that I'll need to change the blurbs of previous books in a series to match some things in the later books. (Plot and worldbuilding inconsistencies happen. :( )

    It would be great if I could get a bookcover image for each of my WIPs too, yet a problem is that I keep wanting to do so "after I've gotten much more skilled" at drawing, lol; well, I'll think about this.

    Another issue I can think of for my situation, is whether I can use my pen name rather than my real name for my author website, especially as my Facebook account uses my real name. I would have to explain to my parents if I change my FB username, since my Mom has FB too. Well, I don't HAVE to tell them about my nonbinary gender identity, I guess; I could just say that Sieran Lane feels like a good pen name for me that matches my personality better than Serena Yung does. But maybe this wouldn't even be a problem if I just post a link on my Facebook profile to my author page that uses my pen name!

    Oh, one more kind of related question: Do you think it's important to use an "updated" author photo? For instance, if I'm in my 50s, could I still use a photo from when I was in my 20s? (I know these aren't passports, but I'm just curious about your thoughts on this, lol.)

    1. Hi Serena,

      LOL! That's an interesting question.

      From what I've seen, people expect author photos to look enough like the real person that they'd be able to recognize them at a signing table. For some people, that might mean their author photo would work for 10-20 years.

      But I've also seen some get new pictures every 1-2 years or so because they've made drastic changes to their hair style or color. (Imagine a woman with long black hair and bangs going to a white-blond military buzz cut. People might not believe she was the same person without photographic proof. :) )

      As for your other questions, we don't have to display a cover on our site for our works before publication. A "coming soon" cover has been shown to not have a negative effect on reader interest. (It won't have the potentially positive effect of a great cover but be neutral instead. A bad cover could have a negative effect, so no cover is better than a bad cover.)

      And I think your plan to list your author page on your personal profile would work. I'm not sure if FB allows it, but I've seen some people change their name to something like: Serena Yung/Sieran Lane.

      Or you could list "Writing as Sieran Lane" as your career or in the About or the Intro section. So there are definitely options for how much overlap you decide you want. :) I hope that helps!

    2. Yeah, it helps! Oh Facebook also has a place where you can write in a list of your nicknames. Sieran Lane is on this list, haha.

      Hmm, yup, I can do it with no cover images so far, but I am very encouraged that my drawing and digital coloring skills keep improving! So this looks promising. Fiverr has gigs to help design a cover that can be as cheap as $10! I would have the images ready from my illustrations and DepositPhotos. Hope they won't use a non-free font and ask me to pay for it, though! Lol

  2. I've been lurking at your lovely site for a while and this post is pushing me forward--thanks! One thought I'm thinking through is how to morph the "need" for a newsletter with my love of helping other authors market their work. My latest idea is to join up with 2 or 3 like-minded authors and collaborate on a newsletter--adding information about each writer and grouping our email lists together as we build them up individually. Thanks for spurring my thinking!

    1. Hi Carol,

      Interesting! I've seen many authors "co-promote," mentioning each others' books in their newsletters, and I also know of several promo-specific newsletters (like smaller versions of BookBub) run by authors. But it sounds like your idea might be a combination of those two ideas--building up a single list for co-promotion.

      Cool idea! :) Good luck with it!