Every writer needs an email list. It's just that simple. In this article, I'll share with you why every writer needs an email list, some of the myths about email marketing, and how to get started building an email list today.
If you want to write a book that sells thousands of copies or more, you need people paying attention to your work. If you want your message to spread, you need people's permission to communicate with them. And if you want your words to change something, then you need an audience. The best way to do all that is by building an email list.
Many writers don't get the attention they deserve, and this frustrates me. Their messages fade into oblivion before they even have the chance to be heard. Why is this? Because many writers neglect the single-most important tool to their success: an email newsletter list.
Need help setting up and using an email list? Check out the best email marketing tool for writers and bloggers: Convertkit.
My experience as an author with email marketing
I was talking to my publisher the other day about marketing strategies for my next book, and do you know the first question they asked was? It was: How big is your email list?”
They didn't ask, “How many RSS subscribers do you have?” or “How many ‘hits' does your blog get?” They asked about my email list: the most important asset an author has in their toolbox.
My friend Tim Grahl, the book launch expert, tested this in his book marketing agency and found that email was nearly 100 times more effective than social media in selling an author's book.
Email is nearly 100 times more effective than social media for authors.
I've personally seen this myself with a recent book launch where the book sold 15,500 copies in the first two weeks of the launch. Do you know how many of those were sold via social media? About 500. And the other 15,00? Well, that was all thanks to email.
As a writer, I get more “mileage” out of my newsletter than any other platform, including my blog. When I send an email to my list, I often get hundreds of replies, far more engagement than a blog post gets. If I send a link to my email list, people click it. If I ask a question, people answer. If I talk about my new book, people buy it.
Of course, this doesn't just apply to writers. Musicians use email to get word out about their next tour. Retailers use it to share special deals and drive sales. And of course, authors use it to announce news of their next book.
It's all about the list. And if you don't have one, you're in trouble.
What is an email list?
Email is king. It is, hands down, the best way to build an engaged audience, sell a product, or create excitement around your next project. Without an email list, you will struggle to get the traction your message deserves and leave your fate up to chance.
But what actually is an email list? Let's actually start with what an email list is not.
When I say “you need to build and mail list,” I am not talking about that list of your friends in your address book. I'm talking about a group of people who have specifically opted in to receive updates, offers, or other information from you.
To have a successful email newsletter list, you need three things:
- The right tool. You have to have a means of collecting people's email addresses and communicating with a large group of people at once. Typically, this is managed by a third-party application like Mailchimp, Aweber, Infusionsoft, or my personal favorite: ConvertKit. These tools allow you to email hundreds or even thousands of people at once without the message going straight to the junk or spam folders. (More on how to set this up below.)
- People's permission to communicate with them. You need to get people's permission to sign them up for your list or invite them to opt in. If you don't do this, you run the risk of spamming people, which is illegal and can come with all kinds of not-so-fun repercussions.
- A website. Before you can collect people's email addresses, you need to have some place where you can host a signup form, and this is best done on your own self-hosted blog or website. This will allow you to start collecting people's email addresses and communicating with them. If you don't yet have a website, watch this tutorial on creating a self-hosted blog in 8 minutes or less.
Email is not dead
But wait a second. Isn't email dead? Maybe you've heard this, that people don't read email anymore or that it's better to use Facebook or Snapchat or whatever these days. But if you've believed these claims, I have bad news for you: you've been duped.
“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” —Email
If email is dead, then why does every social network ask for an email address before you can create an account? Why do most people still check email first thing in the morning? Because email is still the most popular way for people to communicate online.
Every day, people check their inboxes (often multiple times per day). They sit in front of a screen, glued to Outlook or Gmail, refreshing until they get that gratification of knowing someone else in the world cares about them.
Certainly, the way people communicate online is changing and some may not be reading or using email as much as they did a decade ago. But email is not dead — it is very much alive and well. And being almost as old as the Internet itself, it's not going away anytime soon.
In spite of these false claims of its death, email continues to stick around, outlasting many of the marketing fads that have come and gone. Email still plays a critical role in a most people's lives. As Barry Gill from the Harvard Business Review says:
Email is not dead, it’s just evolving. It’s becoming a searchable archive, a manager’s accountability source, a document courier. And for all the love social media get, e-mail is still workers’ most effective collaboration tool.
According to a recent study, email is still an important part of many people's work lives, with the average person spending up to 50% of their time in the inbox. Here are some other interesting facts about email:
- The average worker receives 11,680 emails per year with an average of 32 per day.
- 42% of all email in a person's inbox is considered essential or critical.
- Email is still considered by most to be the best collaboration tool for teams and individuals.
- People use email for more than sending messages: 76% use it to exchange documents and 50% to archive important messages.
If you've been avoiding building your email list because it seems like an outdated technology, it's time to face the facts. Email isn't going anywhere. And if you're a writer, you need an email list.
Why does a writer need an email list?
Why is an email list so powerful, especially for writers? A few reasons:
- Email is personal. It's a friendlier medium than blogging or even social media. When people see your email in their inbox along with all their other friends, this builds trust.
- Email is an asset. With Twitter and Facebook and other channels, you have to go through the “middleman” to access your audience. But with email, your message is delivered straight to your readers. You don't need anyone's permission.
- Email is private. When you start a conversation in someone's inbox, they feel like they can be themselves and share whatever they may be struggling with, what they want, or questions they have. I love the rapport this builds with readers.
And beyond that, email is universal. Nearly every person in the world has an email address. With over 3.9 billion accounts in the world (according to a study by Radicati ), three-quarters of which are consumer accounts, email is by far the biggest marketing channel in the world. That number reached 4.9 billion email accounts in 2017 and continues to rise.
Email, as a network tool, outnumbers all the users on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and every other social media channel — combined. That makes it the world's largest social network. If you haven't tapped into the power of email marketing, then you're missing out on an incredible opportunity to engage with the people who want to hear from you.
How to build and grow an email list
So, you need an email list. I hope that's clear by now. But how do you get started? Here's what you need to do:
- Get a good email marketing service. I recommend ConvertKit. It's affordable and easy to get started. (Note: Apple Mail or Outlook will not work for this, because these tools don't allow you to send messages to multiple people one at a time. If you do this, using the BCC column, your messages will likely get filtered as SPAM.)
- Create a signup form on your website. It needs to be obvious and not hideously ugly. If your website doesn't have a clear opt-in form, then you're missing out on a lot. Tools like ConvertKit and Mailchimp make this easy with their own WordPress plugins. Or you can use a pop-up with a tool like Sumo.
- Offer something for free. This can be an eBook or a free article series or whatever your readers find valuable. It's a way to reward subscribers with something other than just your regular content. For a step-by-step tutorial on how to do this, read: The Essential Guide to Writing an eBook and Sharing it with the World.
- Start emailing your list something new once a week. Don't overcommit to a frequency like once a day or even a few times a week. Start small and be consistent. A weekly newsletter is plenty. What should you send? Whatever you want. For many, just a short message or article is a great way to begin. Your main goal is to add value and be helpful, so that people continue to read and pay attention. If you make it about them, they'll make it about you.
- Ask readers to share. If you do a good job of adding value, people will want to share your stuff. But it doesn't hurt to ask them once in a while to tell their friends. For this I like using clicktotweet.com and have readers send their friends and followers to my newsletter signup form.
Remember: Always be generous
And then, what do you do once you've launched the email list and started collecting subscribers? Once you have the right tools and start building your list, where do you go from there? Well, hopefully forward.
But here's an important tip: Instead of seeing your email list as “yours,” what if it was theirs, something you shared with your community, something you stewarded instead of hoarded? When people give you permission to talk to them, you have a great opportunity and an important responsibility. You can choose to invite or interrupt. To exchange ideas or blast out information. To give or take.
As marketing expert Seth Godin says:
If your email promotion is a taking, not a giving, I think you should rethink it. If you still want to take the time and attention and trust of your 4000 closest friends, think hard about what that means for the connections you've built over the years. There are few promotional emergencies that are worth trading your reputation for.
It all comes down to trust. If you build something special, it will draw people in and keep them there. Good luck.
Getting started: Next steps and resources
But maybe this all sounds confusing and you aren't quite sure where to start. I totally get that. It was for me, too. This stuff can get complicated, and sometimes you need someone to hold you by the hand and walk you through what it takes to build an email list and use this tool to grow your readership.
So here's what you should do next if you're not sure how to get started: Sign up for ConvertKit. This is the best email marketing tool for writers and bloggers. They will help you get your list set up and working right, install the right forms on your website, and even help you grow your list. Check out ConvertKit to begin.
Bonus: Read my post on advanced tips for building and growing an email list.