Thursday, November 03, 2016

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

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…:

A couple of months ago, we started digging deeper into the first bullet item above for how to keep our readers. One of the most effective methods for keeping readers is to use a newsletter, so we’ve been exploring our newsletter options.

So far, we’ve discussed:

Today we’re going to continue that exploration by thinking about our subscriber engagement strategy…

What’s a Subscriber Engagement Strategy?

As we mentioned last time, more than anything else, we want our newsletter to be opened by subscribers. Nothing else matters—not the size of our list or the content of our newsletters—if our subscribers delete our emails or never open them.

We talked last time about some of the sending strategies we can use to “train” our subscribers to open our newsletters. But once they open our emails, we then want them to take action.

We want them to click on a link to:
  • buy our new book,
  • share our work with others,
  • promote us or our work,
  • review our books, etc.

Of course, those actions are asking subscribers to do even more “work” than simply opening an email. So just as we “train” subscribers to open our email with those sending strategies we talked about last time, we might need to “train” our subscribers to take action with our email. That’s where a subscriber engagement strategy comes into play.

A subscriber engagement strategy looks at: How will we encourage our subscribers to take action?

The word “engagement” can mean many things, but here we’re talking about how our subscribers interact with us and our messages and might be willing to do work in exchange. Let’s take a look at some of the techniques we can use to train readers to engage with our newsletter content…

Include Links to Bonus or Exclusive Content

We can get subscribers used to clicking on links in our newsletter by including links to special goodies. These goodies could be just about anything that might entice our readers to click.

For example, we could include:
  • a snippet of our book, with a link to read the rest of the excerpt on our website
  • links to bonus content on our website
  • a link to an exclusive cover reveal
  • an excerpt of an exclusive slice-of-life scene/short story for our characters, with a link to the rest on our site
  • links to download free content (graphics, printable bookplates, etc.)

Readers trained to click links in our newsletters might be more likely to click buy links or share buttons, etc. 

Include Questions to Readers

We can get subscribers used to interacting with our newsletter content by including questions to our readers. Again, these questions could be just about anything that might encourage our readers to engage with us and our books.

For example, we could include questions about:
  • what we should name a character or pet in our next book
  • what book we should write next
  • what books they love enough to recommend
  • what makes their favorite books a favorite
  • what bonus content they’d love to see from us
  • what characters they’d love to see a slice-of-life scene for

One issue to keep in mind with this technique is that if readers expect us to reply, we might set ourselves up for a lot of time and energy in continuing those conversations. Alternatively, subscribers could be directed to answer in a poll type of format rather than a direct email reply to our newsletter.

Readers trained to interact with us might be more likely to review our books and/or help us promote our work, etc. 

Include an Invitation to Unsubscribe

Now this one might seem counterintuitive, so I’m going to explain the psychology behind it a bit more. *smile*

To avoid spam issues, we should always include an unsubscribe link with every newsletter email we send, but we’re talking about something slightly different here. An invitation to unsubscribe is a paragraph of content in the newsletter itself, giving people a guilt-free excuse to part ways.

This invitation isn’t necessarily something that we’d include on a regular basis (or in our normal newsletters at all). But if we run a special promotion that might have attracted a lot of freebie seekers or contest junkies, we can save money in subscription costs to let go those who aren’t actually interested, as most newsletter services charge based on the number of subscribers.

When we make it easy for our readers to unsubscribe from our newsletter, a couple of things might happen:

1. Those who signed up just for a freebie or giveaway—but never cared about us or our work specifically—might unsubscribe. At first, this might seem like a bad thing, but only if we’re focused only on subscriber numbers and not on results. Contest junkies who don’t care aren’t likely to engage with our content, such as buying our next book or helping us promote, and it’s not a bad thing to lose the dead weight that’s only going to cost us money.

2. At the same time, our call to unsubscribe can include enticements to stick around. *grin* We can remind readers of how to find the unsubscribe link…but we have this exciting news coming up soon, so they might not want to miss out.

3. When the opportunity to unsubscribe is pointed out, if they choose to stick around, they’re consciously deciding that they’re committed to us. When they don’t click that link, their internal thoughts are reinforcing that they like us and our work. That’s a good thing.

(Note: Many newsletter services punish authors (and may even delete an author’s account) if too many readers unsubscribe at once. So we need to be careful about using the invitation technique with too many readers at once.)

Readers who consciously choose to remain subscribed might be more likely to take action that matches their perception of commitment to us.

Depending on what else we’re doing to communicate with our readers, some techniques might be duplicated with our other efforts, such as a Facebook street team/reader group, and we’d have to decide if that redundancy was a problem or a benefit for our readers. The point is for us to think up options for how we can form stronger connections with our readers so they’ll be more likely to help us when we need it. *smile* 

We’ll talk next time about how to fix a broken 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.

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  1. Excellent post Jamie. I'm starting to build my newsletter now. This is exactly the sort of info I was looking for!

  2. Hey Jami,

    I especially liked the section on invitation to unsubscribe emails!

    One author I read from even has a link for unsubscribing from the emails about his personal life... I didn't unsubscribe since I was reasonably interested in the author as a person, though.

    About asking the readers questions to encourage them to interact with you, one of my "auto-buy" gay romance authors mentions from time to time that he would love to hear about any good books we've read lately. I never answer this question, though, because 1), I read too many good books all the time that I wouldn't know which to recommend. And 2), I don't know if I want to develop any friendships/ kind of friendships with authors I like, because I'm afraid that would make me feel obligated to give them more positive book reviews than I otherwise would have... So my "objectivity" (which actually doesn't exist) might be compromised.

    1. Hi Serena,

      Yes, I have a blog post newsletter and a newsletter for my new release news. At the bottom of every newsletter, I have instructions for how to add or delete themselves from those lists, so people can focus on what they're interested in.

      I don't get the attitude of being sneaky to try to keep people around. That's only going to make subscribers not like you--at least that's how I am. LOL!

      Oh, interesting point about how readers can appreciate authors but might not want to engage with them! That's a great example of why there's no one right answer to this. We have to think about what works for us, our writing, our readers, and our brand. :) Thanks for sharing!

    2. I forgot to mention that one of my auto-buy authors had a survey, and at the bottom box where you can write extra comments to the author, I wrote:

      "I love and read all your books! Keep up the good work!"

      To give them some extra encouragement. :D

      Actually I wanted to say that I reviewed all their books too, but then the author might be able to figure out who I am, so I didn't write that, haha.

    3. LOL! And that note is great! :)

      That's a type of engagement as well. Engagement doesn't have to mean "hey, let's be friends." ;) Thanks for sharing!