Thursday, April 06, 2017

Indie Publishing Paths: What’s Your Master Plan? Part Three

By Jami Gold, @JamiGold

Part of the Indie Authors Series

After taking a month off for me to deal with health issues and so Janice could offer her wonderful Revision Workshop, we’re back with the next installment of the Indie Publishing Paths series. Over the course of this series, we’ve covered a lot of information. Indie authors can understandably feel overwhelmed by all the decisions we have to make, especially as each of those decisions comes with pros and cons for us to consider.

In this series where we’ve been covering our options, we first focused on how to decide which path will work best for us. We figured out our goals and priorities and walked through our options for the where, when, and how much of putting our book up for sale.

Following along with the second phase of our indie publishing journey, we then explored our options for how best to hold onto our readers from book to book, covering everything from using special links, including excerpts, or offering extras on our website. Over several posts, we also dug deeper into the most effective method for keeping our readers: using a newsletter.

Now we’re stepping back to take a broader look at what choices make the most sense for us. Once we know how we measure success and can identify our goals, we can think about which options will give us the best chance of meeting those goals.

Going along with that, today we’re talking about how our goals affect our choices for how to promote, offer content, and send out our newsletters.

Recap: Our Goals Affect Our Strategy

As we’ve emphasized throughout this series, there’s no one right way to be successful as an indie author. Just because our favorite virtual mentor chooses one method to reach success doesn’t mean that method will work for us.

Starting with the January and February posts in this series, I’m sharing how I made my decisions—and specifically, how my goals led me to those choices—so others can see how to think through our options. Depending on your goals, you might want to make choices similar to mine—or you might want to use me as a “what not to do” example. *smile* There’s no wrong answer.

These were the goals I shared in January:
  • Prioritize Readers over Sales Income: This can be expressed by making decisions that aim for high availability and acquiring new readers.
  • Establish a Professional Reputation: This can be expressed by making decisions that mimic the quality and offerings of the best of traditional publishing (print versions, etc).
  • Think and Plan for the Long Term: This can be expressed by making decisions that ignore short-term gains or avoid burnout.

That’s not a very long list, yet those goals have helped me come up with my release plan, as well as my strategies for retaining readers from one book to the next. Those same goals also affect my approach to newsletter signup, content, and subscriber policies, which we’ll cover below.

As I mentioned before, while my sales numbers aren’t anything to brag about, I’ve obviously thought a great deal about each of these choices. So simply following along as I share my thought process might help you clarify your own decisions for your indie publishing path. *smile*

How Can Our Goals Affect Our Newsletter Strategy?

As those goals above allude to, my focus has been on building a committed readership over the long term and acting as a professional to show respect for those readers. The choices I made on everything from how I market my newsletter signup to how often I send newsletters all follow from those goals.

Let’s take a look at the different options we covered in each of the previous posts about newsletter strategies and see how my goals led to my decisions on which choices to make. By laying out my thought process, I hope to help you clarify how your goals might affect your decisions.

How to Follow Newsletter Best Practices:

To respect readers (even those who aren’t my readers), I strictly follow the “best practice” of ensuring every subscriber to my newsletters gave their express permission. For example, I’ve never told those signing up that they’d get one thing and then delivered another, such as covertly forcing signups from contest entries or blog comments.

As a bonus, this same best practice also helps me maintain a professional reputation. If you’re anything like me, you don’t have a good impression of those who send newsletters you never signed up for, so I’d rather avoid that no-no.

As part of my goal of thinking long term, I followed the other best practice of starting my newsletter signup as soon as possible (back when first I created my website). My subscriber list is as large as it is partly because it’s grown organically over so many years. Remember, too, that as I shared in the post linked above, we can start a newsletter even without a website—so no excuses. *smile*

How to Build Our Subscriber List:

Another way I’ve prioritized readers—specifically my readers—has been to build my subscriber list following the quality option rather than the quantity option. This one is definitely a “your mileage may vary” decision, as both the quality and quantity options for building our list have pros and cons.

It’s a matter of philosophy, not professionalism. My decision is personal to me, and it’s just that I felt more professional when I followed the quality option, but others could easily feel differently without being any less professional. (My focus on the long term and avoiding burnout might have influenced my choice to take the more laid-back quality approach as well. *grin*)

All that said, I did participate in one large quantity-style promotion. However, my goal there was to take the best discoverability benefits of the quantity approach and then trim my list to focus on quality subscribers—so after the giveaway ended, I sent a newsletter about my freebie short story and reminded them to unsubscribe if they weren’t interested in my stories. Yes, really. *smile*

How to Encourage Readers to Open Our Newsletters:

Although many authors have success with sending out monthly updates, maybe with a giveaway each time, I decided that would lead to burnout for me. I have enough other demands on my time that my long-term strategy was instead to send my newsletters only when I had news.

Occasionally, my news is about a sale and not a new release, but it’s still an infrequent sending schedule. In other words, I incorporate the easiest aspects of “a little of this and that” newsletter approach to allow for flexibility and provide more value for my readers.

How to Encourage Readers to Engage with Our Newsletters:

Just like any professional strategy, each of those infrequent newsletters is sent with a purpose—an action item for my readers to take—to keep my readers engaged.
  • Most of my newsletters include links: buy links, links for a special offering, links to a book excerpt, etc.
  • My “welcome” newsletter includes a question about the types of stories they enjoy.
  • As I mentioned above, after a giveaway, I even included an invitation to unsubscribe because my focus was on results and not subscriber numbers.
How to Prune “Dead-Weight” Subscribers:

Contrary to one supposed “best practice,” my respect for readers means that I don’t follow the typical advice about how to clean up a “dirty” list (one filled with junk emails). That advice to delete subscribers who haven’t opened our messages assumes our newsletter service’s analytics are perfect about who’s opened our emails and who hasn’t, but several issues—from emails not displaying images to email forwarding—can make those analytics inaccurate.

I’d rather not rely on those numbers to decide who to delete…and accidentally delete valid subscribers who want to read my newsletters. Instead, I rely on less-drastic options to keep my list clean, such as watching for bounced messages and using the invitation to unsubscribe that I mentioned above.

Our Goals Direct Our Plans

I hope these last few “Master Plan” posts have shown how knowing our goals can help us navigate all the decisions we have to make as an indie author. As I mentioned, just those three goals I listed above have kept me on track through my debates of what to do.

At the same time, I want to emphasize that we can change our minds about those decisions down the line. Maybe we discover that our strategy no longer works to get us closer to our goal, so we can try something else that might get us further along. Or we might have competing goals, and we could prioritize one at first and later try prioritizing the other to see if it works better for us. Or we might find a middle-of-the-road option to take the best of each strategy that could help us with multiple goals.

As I shared above, for one event, I mixed and matched the best pro of a quantity list (discoverability) and used an unsubscribe invitation to keep it close to the pros of a quality list. In general, that strategy worked for me. Many of those giveaway subscribers are now my most engaged, and those who were just contest junkies are gone and out of my way. *smile*

Remember that we each have different priorities, so you might follow my thought process and decide to do the opposite—and that’s okay. As I’ve tried to point out, there are pros and cons for every situation. There are many ways to be successful as an indie author, so we each have to find the right approach for the goals we set to reach our definition of success.

We don’t want to blindly follow what a successful author did because their choices might not be right for our goals. Hopefully, learning the what and the why behind my choices will help others apply their goals to the options and find their measure of success.

Next month, I’ll explain the mechanics of my initial release plan, which helped me build up a committed readership. Until then, let me know if you have any questions. *smile*

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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About Treasured Claim, the award-winning debut novel of the Mythos Legacy:

A shapeshifting dragon on the verge of starvation…

For Elaina Drake, sparkling jewels aren’t a frivolous matter. Without more treasure for her hoard, she’ll starve. On the run from her murderous father, she’s desperate enough to steal—er, acquire.

A modern-day knight seeking redemption…

Disgusted by his father’s immorality, Alexander Wyatt, Chicago’s biggest corporate titan, is determined to be a man of honor. Yet the theft of a necklace, stolen by an exotic beauty at his latest fundraiser, threatens to destroy all his charitable work.

A predator made prey…

Passion ignites between thief and philanthropist, sparking a game of temptation where jewelry is the prize. But when Elaina’s exposure jeopardizes Alex’s life, she must choose: run again to evade her father—or risk both their lives for love.


  1. A nice balanced approach to newsletter building. thanks for sharing!

  2. I used to find it a bit annoying that authors would keep sending emails asking me to unsubscribe if I'm no longer interested (I AM still interested!!), but I understand the point of these emails nowadays. :) And yeah, I think it's a good idea to kind of balance quantity and quality, and ultimately focus on quality.

    1. Hi Sieran,

      Yeah, I wouldn't send a newsletter just with that request (probably), as you're right how that could just add to someone's annoyance. LOL! But I mention the "how to unsubscribe" instructions with many of my newsletters as part of the sign-off after the regular content (in addition to the footer link, which is always there). :)

    2. If I remember right, the email that annoyed me most for this issue, was one that told us at the beginning of the email that we can unsubscribe if we're uninterested, and repeated this message at the end of the email...

      So it felt very repetitive, haha.