Thursday, September 01, 2016

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

By Jami Gold, @JamiGold

Part of the Indie Authors Series

So far in this Indie Publishing Paths series, we first focused on how to decide which path will work best for us. We figured out our goals and priorities so that when we’re ready to put our book up for sale, we could decide on:
The second phase of our indie publishing journey is to figure out how best to hold onto our readers from book to book. So far, we’ve covered our options for…:
As of last month, we started exploring our newsletter options, as newsletters are one of the most effective methods for keeping readers. Last time, we discussed why newsletters are so important and what “best practices” we should follow. Today, we’re going to talk about our options for growing our newsletter list.

Let’s Talk about Newsletter Lists

Our newsletter list consists of all the email addresses we’ve collected from those who requested to receive information from us. As we discussed last time, the #1 best practice when it comes to newsletters is making sure we have permission to contact every email on that list.

That means we shouldn’t add email addresses to our newsletter list just because we happen to know someone’s email, such as an agent, editor, or writer. A response to a query letter or a comment on a blog is not a request to join our list. People shouldn’t be added to our list just because they interacted with us or our site.

As mentioned before, many newsletter programs require us to use double opt-in to ensure we’re not signing up people without their permission. That means they have to confirm that they want to be on our list before their subscription is activated—no cheating allowed.

So how should we add people to our list?

What Are Our Options for Building Our Newsletter List?

We’ve discussed many times that different authors have different goals. That applies to our goals for our newsletter list too.

Some authors want to build their list as large as they can (think quantity), and others want to limit their list to only those who are fans of their writing (think quality). Both philosophies are valid, as long as those in search of quantity still receive permission from everyone on their list.

Of course, we can also land somewhere in the middle of those two approaches. Or we can experiment to see what works better for us or change our mind about which option is a better match for our brand. As with many aspects of indie publishing, the decisions we make don’t have to be permanent.

The Quantity Option: A Closer Look 

The Why…

Those who opt for quantity aren’t concerned about whether everyone on their list already loves their work. To them, every address on the list is a potential sale.

They’ll use their newsletter list to introduce potential readers to their work. If people like their writing, great! Hello, new readers and fans. If not… Eh, they can unsubscribe. No harm, no foul.

Some writers who have gone all-in with this approach have found that the number of people who quickly unsubscribe is lower than they’d expect. After participating in an event to gather addresses, they’ve found that 70-90% of their subscribers will often stick around to receive future newsletters.

In an industry where one of the biggest issues we have to overcome is discoverability, every email address—whether they’re a contest or freebie seeker, just curious, or a genuine fan—is someone who’s being exposed to our work. Opting for quantity over quality is not a bad thing in this situation. These authors are simply using their newsletter list as a tool to improve their discoverability

The How…

Those who opt for quantity will spread the link to their newsletter signup form far and wide. They’ll include the link not only in the back of their book and their website, but they also might:
  • offer a freebie as an incentive to get people to subscribe
  • run Facebook ads, promoting a free book to those who sign up
  • participate in giveaways with other authors, pooling money for a prize, with newsletter signups acting as contest entries
  • co-promote with other authors, encouraging each other’s readers and subscribers to sign up for the other authors’ newsletters
  • collect emails at book signing or conference events, with a giveaway or exclusive information as an incentive 

The Cons…

Sounds great, right? A thousand potential readers is better than a hundred potential readers, even if a much lower percentage actually care about our work. But there are drawbacks to opening our list so widely.
  • A list full of non-fans will be less engaged. Just because we send them email doesn’t mean they’ll open our message or read it.
  • A wide list will cost us more. Many newsletter programs start off as free and charge once we have X number of subscribers. A list focusing on quantity means we’ll have to pay sooner—and pay for subscribers who might just be hitting “delete” rather than “unsubscribe.”
  • We might risk being labeled a spammer. Many newsletter programs keep a close eye on our “unsubscribe” numbers. If too many readers click unsubscribe in a short period (such as after a giveaway ends), our provider might assume we’re spammers and ban our account. 

The Quality Option: A Closer Look 

The Why…

Those who opt for quality aren’t concerned (as much) about numbers. They want engaged fans. They want readers who genuinely want to be on their list and aren’t there just because of a bribe. They want subscribers who will actually open and read their emails.

When they send out an email to their list, they want to be able to depend on a certain percentage of their readers taking action, such as sharing announcements with others or buying a new release on a certain day to try to hit a bestseller list. (In contrast, authors with a quantity list might develop a separate “street team” list to get this level of engagement.) These authors want to avoid the issues of paying for “deadbeat” subscribers or worrying about high unsubscribe numbers triggering a spam lockout from their provider.

Again, a quality list isn’t necessarily better or worse than a quantity list. It’s just a different philosophy. These authors use their list as a tool to improve engagement and action

The How…

Those who opt for quality tend not to reach out to non-readers/fans for subscribers. Any Facebook ads or other promotions are geared toward a different goal, such as direct sales.

They’re more likely to allow their list to grow naturally, as readers discover their work and sign up to get more information. Any outreach will be limited to an audience already interested in their work, and they might…:
  • emphasize signups on their website, where visitors are likely to be more interested in their work than a random person signing up for a contest
  • limit signup incentives to items of interest only to readers or likely readers, such as a freebie short story, rather than using non-specific incentives like an Amazon gift card
However, some authors take this a step further and even restrict access to their newsletter signup. They provide the link to their newsletter sign-up form only in the back (and maybe front) of their books. If someone isn’t a reader of the author already, they’ll never see the link to the newsletter signup. To encourage signups among readers, they might offer deleted scenes or bonus material to their fans on those final pages. Their goal is to pay a newsletter provider only for fans and true readers.

The Cons…
  • Obviously, the quality option will result in our list growing more slowly. Some authors care about these numbers, and some don’t.
  • By limiting outreach, we’re potentially missing out on people who would love our books—if only they knew they existed.
  • If we have low engagement from our newsletter (low open and click rates), we’re missing out on the benefits of this approach, and we have to ask ourselves if our list is really as “quality” as we think it is, or if we’re limiting ourselves for no reason. 

What about a Middle-of-the-Road Option?

All that said, we don’t have to be extreme with either of these options. We can reach out in many ways that don’t have to wait for passive, organic growth.
  • We can promote our newsletter to those we have contact with. For example, we can include our signup information in our email signature, and when readers email us, we can reply with a reminder that they sign up for our list.
  • In many ways, offering a freebie of our work as an incentive for signing up is a compromise between the two philosophies. A freebie can help with discoverability, but it’s more likely to attract only those who would like our work—especially compared to a generic Amazon gift card giveaway.
  • We can use the far-and-wide Facebook ad, giveaways, and co-promotion techniques but focus on likely readers (targeting readers of our genre or readers of a bestselling author with similar storylines or voice) to limit the drawbacks of the quantity approach. That means we might want to be wary of using giveaways of Amazon gift cards to build up subscribers. While those giveaways can be very effective at getting signups, subscribers won’t be limited to our genre (or might not be readers at all). A high percentage of people might be there just for the giveaway—who unsubscribe later (or don’t bother because they subscribed with a “junk” email address).
  • Even if we want to limit our signup link to readers only, we can ensure that we’re reaching out to potential readers in other ways, such as advertising. Or if we want to spread our link wide but focus on readers, we could include a trivia-type question in the newsletter signup based on something from our books. 
  • For another option, rather than setting limits, we might encourage self-selection of subscribers. For example, outreach for our newsletter could link to a landing page instead of just a form. On that page, we could introduce our genre and stories above the signup form, which might discourage people who aren’t actually interested in our genre and just want a quick signup as a giveaway junkie. Or after a giveaway ends, we could encourage those who aren’t interested in our work to unsubscribe, thus cleaning out the deadbeats (although, depending on our newsletter provider, this might be dangerous if too many take us up on the offer at once).
In other words, we have options, and we have to figure out what approach matches with our goals, our brand, and our comfort level of outreach. *smile* 

We’ll talk next time about deciding on our newsletter communication style, 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 Unintended Guardian, the free short story introduction to The Mythos Legacy: 

A shapeshifting gryphon cursed to eternal darkness…

Sunlight shouldn’t be deadly to Griff Cyrus. Determined to break his curse, he follows an oracle’s bizarre instructions to have a magical package shipped to his apartment. Since when do brown trucks deliver mystical cures?

A lonely woman craving the spice of life…

Kala Kaneko’s social life couldn’t be more bland. When a strange parcel arrives at her door by mistake, she seizes the excuse to introduce herself to the intended recipient, her mysterious neighbor.

Fate has a twisted sense of humor…

Griff expects the package to free him from the curse, but opening the box unleashes a mythical creature bent on Kala’s death. Yet if Griff follows his instincts to protect her, he could sacrifice his last chance at freedom.

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  1. Thank you for your recent posts on pantsing. I have been reading books on structure, and I was just about to decide I was doing everything wrong--and maybe quit. Your posts rescued me. I can keep on doing what I enjoy. All the points on most structures focus on problems. The same places for me are parts of the solution falling into place. The ending starts at 80% of the way. Will it work out? Do you have a structure for a problem solving book? (Not a romance) Or, can you recommend one? And, yes, I will continue pantsing even if I don't know if the structure will get a gold star from the experts. Otherwise, I am sure I would quit.

  2. Thank you for your recent posts on pantsing. I have been reading books on structure, and I was just about to decide I was doing everything wrong--and maybe quit. Your posts rescued me. I can keep on doing what I enjoy. All the points on most structures focus on problems. The same places for me are parts of the solution falling into place. The ending starts at 80% of the way. Will it work out? Do you have a structure for a problem solving book? (Not a romance) Or, can you recommend one? And, yes, I will continue pantsing even if I don't know if the structure will get a gold star from the experts. Otherwise, I am sure I would quit.

    1. Hi June, Interesting question!

      I often have people asking me to come up with story structure beat sheets for different genres, but I don't necessarily know enough about the specific aspects of other genres to define their beats. Instead, I usually direct them to one of my non-romance-specific plot beat sheets on my site:

      Almost all stories come down to characters trying to solve a problem, so you might be able to see how those plot beat sheets (and the story structure inherent in them) apply to your story. Good Luck! :)

    2. Your basic beat sheet appears to answer my questions. After I posted the above, I thought about what I wrote, and I realized I emphasized the parts of the solution. But, they always followed a worsening of the problem, sometimes a catastrophic worsening. So, I suppose I followed the basic beat sheet a couple pages early. This relieves my mind. By the way, I like your wording on your basic beat sheet. Makes more sense to me than other things I have read.

    3. Glad I could help, June! :)

  3. Nice points on the newsletters! I think I would like to take the middle road option. Oh if an author offers a free book when I sign up, I usually just end up buying it on Amazon because 1) I want the nice cover on it, and 2) the PDF formatting can be messed up, like having paragraph indents disappearing and words sticking together. I don't think the author did this on purpose to encourage people to buy them, lol, but yeah I tend to just buy the books for their better formatting. Once, an author gave me an ARC but I just bought the book later because the paragraph formatting on the PDF was terrible, lol.

    One author encourages us to sign up for his newsletters by having free short stories on Amazon; but these stories end in cliffhangers and you can only get the sequel if you subscribe to the newsletters! This has frustrated a lot of readers who don't want to sign up for anything, and some readers perhaps didn't even see a subscribe for the sequel button, because they gave a low rating on Amazon because the story ends on a cliffhanger or is incomplete. Some reviewers even explicitly say that the story and writing is good so far, but because it's incomplete, they have to take off stars.

    So that "sign up for part two of my short story" method doesn't seem good in this case. Gives you lots of unnecessary bad reviews on Amazon.

    1. Hi Serena,

      Interesting insights! As for freebie stories, there are several new options (instafreebie and bookfunnel) that might provide mobi or epub formatted books for our subscribers, but I haven't had a chance to check them out yet.

      And oof... Yes, while I understand what that author was going for, it doesn't seem like it worked well. That's essentially setting up an extreme bribe for subscribers, and human nature in general often digs in heels against such blatant manipulation. :) Thanks for sharing!

  4. Jami and Janice, thank you for the insightful food for thought. I prefer quality over quantity.

    1. Hi Tracy,

      I hope knowing that about your goals helps you find promotion techniques that work for you. :)