Turn Readers Into Fans: The Email List Every Writer Needs for Book Sales

Published 31 May 2024
by Anca Antoci

Frustrated by the ever-changing algorithms of social media? Wondering if there's a more reliable way to connect with your readers? Building an email list might be the answer you've been searching for. I know this may seem daunting at first, but hear me out and you may change your mind. After listing all my reasons, I’ll share a few tips and also my growth story, including:

  • how I started out
  • what platforms and tools I’m using and why
  • what good having an email list did me

I have no affiliation to any of the platforms or tools I use. Feel free to explore other options that may suit your style more.

Why writers need an email list

Below are my top five reasons why I believe every author should have an email list.

1. To increase visibility and reach

I imagine you’re present on at least one social media platform. That’s great. How’s your engagement? If you don’t get many likes, comments and shares, it’s probably not because your content sucks.

It used to be so much easier to reach your followers organically before most platforms started monetizing their content. Now it’s pay to play. Unless you pay to boost posts, only a handful of your followers will see your content. So who has control over your post’s reach? Not you.

Now I’m not against paying for reach, but when you start out, you probably don’t have a budget for marketing, so my advice is to leverage as many free tools as possible.

2. You get to call the shots

Social media platforms are always changing, and algorithms too. Building an email list gives you more control over your communication with your audience. Don’t worry about algorithms and third-party platforms — connect with your audience directly and have full control over growing and managing your list.

Imagine you only communicate with your followers on Facebook and someone hacks your account (or Facebook bans your page). You lost all your followers with no way of reaching them any longer. You don’t own your social media audience.

3. Direct communication

With an email list, you can talk directly to your readers. With email, you can send updates, newsletter campaigns, special offers, and behind-the-scenes information about your writing process, upcoming projects, and more. This direct line of communication helps you build relationships with your readers and keeps them engaged and invested in your work.

Sometimes, I’ll just tell them something like ‘I was so engrossed in this book I’m reading that I burned dinner, and also I didn’t reach my writing goal’ and then proceed to tell them about the book, add the pretty cover and put a link where they can buy it. And sometimes, I’ll get replies to my email from readers who also enjoyed that book. I assure you this is very rewarding.

4. Establish your brand

As an author, you need a strong brand to stand out in a crowded market, building trust and attracting readers who connect with your voice, values, and genre, making them more likely to not only buy current books but eagerly await future ones.

Your email list can lay the groundwork for future marketing initiatives like book launches and promotional sales. Email your list to promote your book launch or let them know about a discount.

5. It drives sales

Sometimes people follow you on social media for random reasons like a nice profile picture (especially if you’re a young woman), a fun post unrelated to your writing, or they just follow back everyone. But those who sign up for your email list are interested in you and your work. When you release a new book, you can notify your list and get potential buyers. It drives sales without spending more on advertising.

Launching a new book becomes a vastly different experience when you have an established audience ready to give you the boost you need to help your book soar.

Tips on how to start your email list journey

1. Choose a platform

To start, you’ll need to choose an email service platform. Though you might be tempted to use your regular email account, it’s neither practical nor technically feasible as your list grows.

By using an email platform, you can schedule emails, build campaigns, keep subscriber info organized, and more.

2. Create a template

The hardest part is to create the first email. All email marketing platforms have templates. You can choose one and modify it, or create one from scratch. Play with the settings and layouts until you reach something that suits your style. Then try to keep it consistent through your communications, because this strengthens your brand image and helps you to maintain a consistent and professional look

It’s worth noting that you can duplicate it and use it as a template for every email you sent — just replace the content in each campaign. If you need inspiration, here is how my latest newsletter looks.

3. What to include in your newsletter

If you’ve never sent a newsletter before, it may look like a daunting task. Once you get the first subscribers, what do you tell them and how often?

The main takeaway is to offer valuable content for them. If it sounds like a sales pitch, they’ll flee. So here’s how I do it. I have five sections in my newsletters that I send every two weeks. The sections in my newsletters are:

  • Something personal. In the first section, I write something personal (what I’m working on, my struggles, something funny, what I’ve been reading or can’t wait to read) but keep it short. Also pets are fabulous for engagement, if you have one. I don’t have any, so you’ll have to power through this text with no furry incentive.
  • A book review or a blog post. The second section is where I share a review/blog post. Now you don’t need to do that if you don’t have a blog. I like to add a lot of visual elements to my emails because I find they perform much better that way. So, for this section, I add a banner (the same one from my blog) that when tapped/clicked links to my blog post.
  • Book swaps with other authors in your genre. You see, if I were to talk about my books in every single email, there’s no way I could make it sound less like a sales pitch. I like to use the 80/20 principle for this, where I talk about other authors’ books for 80% of the email, and about mine for 20%. You know what the best part is? Those authors whose books I show off in my email do the same with their subscribers and show them my book.
  • Group promos. The fourth section of my email is reserved for group promos. If you don’t know what group promos are, imagine a landing page with 30 book covers, including yours, with options to buy the book or subscribe to get a free copy. Now, if every author in the group shares the link to this landing page in their newsletter, your work is shared with everyone's audience.
  • Discounted books on Kindle. Now the fifth and final section of my newsletter has two book deals from Amazon. My niche is Fantasy, so I search for fantasy book deals (discounted for a limited time) available the day I send my newsletter, and pick high rated ones.

This is how I do it, but you can subscribe to your favorite authors’ newsletters and see what their emails look like. There is no one size fits all.

4. How to grow your list

You can share and promote an email list on social media, a website, and other online platforms. You can swap with other authors to widen your reach, because they’re not your competition. We’re all in this together. This increased visibility helps authors grow their following and connect with new readers. There’s a greater chance of getting noticed.

Also you can have a magnet link with a free sample of your work. Can you offer an excerpt? Maybe the first chapter, or a scene that you think will hook the reader in? Or you could write a short story, or a novella companion to your book. The thing is, you need to offer readers an incentive to get their email address. What that incentive is, it’s up to you.

My growth story

I published my first book in 2020. Despite working on it for years, I hadn’t considered building an email list early on. Back then, I didn’t even know that was a thing. I was like, ‘let me finish writing the book first and see about marketing later.’ That was a mistake I hope you won’t make.

When I sent my first email campaign, I had only 16 email subscribers, one of which was my husband. The others had been following me on social media and graciously offered me their emails to be informed when my book came out.

Through trial and error, I refined my process and developed a list of tips that I shared in this article. As a result, I now have around 2000 subscribers and send out a newsletter every two weeks.

What tools I use

1. Email platform

My husband suggested MailChimp for email marketing. They had a great free plan for up to 2000 subscribers. Since it was pretty much drag and drop, it was very easy to use even for someone inexperienced like me.

Later I switched to EmailOctopus for their free plan up to 2500 subscribers. I also love the scheduling feature in the free plan. MailChimp only offered it for the paid version.

2. Growing my list

The platform that helped me grow my email list is StoryOrigin. In a nutshell, you offer something free (called a reader magnet) and interested readers will give you their email address to download it.

When I joined StoryOrigin I had already published my debut novel, Forget Me Not, but it was in Kindle Unlimited, and according to Amazon TOS I wasn’t allowed to have it free on any platform. However, I could offer 10% of it for free. So that’s what I did at the beginning. At the end of the excerpt, I added a link to my book on Amazon where readers could purchase the book to read the full story.

Later on, I wrote Blood Knight novella and used it as a reader magnet to grow my list to around 2000 subscribers.

StoryOrigin also has a lot of other handy features for growing your list: newsletter swaps, group promos, beta readers, UBL, reader magnets and analytics to track your results. I used most of them, and if you’re curious about how they work just let me know in the comments. If there’s interest, I’ll write a story.

3. Creating content

I’m using ProWritingAid to edit any text and avoid typos. It’s a bit expensive, but I’m also using it to edit my novels, so it’s a good deal.

For any visuals I need in my newsletter (but also for social media posts, including the banner for this post or articles on my blog and website) I’m using Canva Pro.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading and I hope you found the information helpful to start your own mailing list. Daunting as it may seem, we all start from scratch. Growing takes time, patience, and the willingness to show up even when you’re not feeling it. It’s a long game, but you got this.