As an author, you might wonder why you’d need to build an email list. Short answer: email lists make things happen. But you need to engineer that by engaging, creating a platform for interaction, and building your tribe.
An email list of interested readers is a database that can kick off book launches, tease new content, promote appearances, and keep your readers engaged. They’re an incredible asset — especially as you prepare to publish new works — but authors frequently get frustrated over trying to build the “perfect list.”
Maybe that’s because the command to “build your author platform” isn’t clear. Sure, you can create an author website and blog — and find an email management program — but that’s just the technology. Your platform needs to have more than just characters and bytes on a screen, it needs to reflect your personality. It needs to attract and keep followers.
That’s where Seth Godin’s tribal concept makes sense. Godin’s Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us talks about the different groups we all belong to and how you can tap into them in your work (author) life. For example, I like reading spy novels, so I’m a member of that tribe. I can connect to thousands of other people who enjoy spy novels through online forums and book groups.
And that’s just a start. Where you eat breakfast, the kind of coffee you prefer, the television shows you watch, all of this shapes and influences your connection — membership, if you will — to specific tribes.
Which leads me to my point: your best tactics and techniques for creating an email list are about attracting and gathering your own tribe by giving them information. And don’t fret, regular communication to a list of people who have told you they want to hear from you is not SPAM. These people have freely given you their email address — a very closely guarded destination point — and they expect to get something in return. Namely, your ideas, opinions, thoughts, impressions, and, most importantly, your writing.
This is part of what makes an email list an author’s greatest asset. You have a willing and engaged audience that wants to know what you think and wants to hear more about your writing, and that can easily be leveraged to sell books.
So, in an effort to best utilize this valuable asset, here are six things you can do to make the folks on your email list produce results that can make a difference in your career.
1. Join in the conversation
Your fans and potential fans are congregating together, right now. You’ve probably interacted with them in forums like WattPad, Reddit, or Goodreads. The more deeply invested you are in your topic and your genre, the easier it’s going to be for you to find people to connect with.
Maybe this connection happens in person. It could be locally, at a bookstore or a signing or a writer’s group. Think about it: you already know what your tribe loves, it’s just a matter of putting in some face time.
2. Make a connection before you make a sales pitch
Before you start talking about your book, establish a connection. Do interviews with other experts in your space. Find where people already are, contribute, and get involved. Become recognized as an expert in your own right so that you’ll attract your own followers. Focus on being helpful, first and foremost.
It’s about offering genuine, useful information and ideas. You really want to share things of value. That will be what keeps people coming back and waitin for your content to land in their inbox.
3. Create a blog and website
Writers write — so start a blog and write regularly. But before that, create an author website. This is your home base and everyone who finds you online will inevitably land here.
Use your blog and website to expand on your ideas and teach what you are learning. This can be where you talk about things that didn’t make it into your books, or where you can experiment with side projects.
Maybe you don’t want to take the plunge and write a cookbook but you love talking about the best places for Korean BBQ in your city in addition to penning your mystery novels. Your blog is where you can do this, and your tribe is going to love it. Use your email newsletters to highlight your newest posts.
4. Set up your email marketing mechanism
The email platform you choose is critical. You have to use a robust tool where you can manage your assets and trust that your information is safe. Personally, I like Constant Contact, but there are plenty others out there.
You want to ensure you have this infrastructure in place because this email list is where your biggest fans — and best buyers — are going to reside. Luckily, once you’ve got your set-up figured out, you’ll be able to reach them easily and regularly.
5. Get your community involved
As your list grows, you might be surprised — and saddened — by the number of people unsubscribing from your list. That’s called list “churn,” and it’s perfectly normal. The key is to minimize the number of people who are leaving by getting them involved while continuously adding new folks (that’s how you grow your list). Nurture your list with things like Q&As and open-ended questions on your blog posts. From day one, invite your fans to participate and voice their own opinions. That’s where the true bonding — the tribal joining — really happens. Interaction is key, so do your best to foster it in your writing and outreach.
6. Be a match-maker
Remember, the goal is not to grow a mega list of disconnected followers, the goal is to build a tribe. That means they need to be able to interact with each other, not just with you. Give them opportunities to do this via digital and maybe even physical means. After enough of this inter-community engagement, you’ll notice you have a few super fans.
You can create a feeling of inclusion and importance among your most engaged fans. Tell them information ahead of everyone else. You could say, “Hey, I’ve noticed you’re really active in my community. I’ve got a new book coming out and I wanted to let you know ahead of everyone else — but feel free to tell your friends!”
If you build it — and put in the time and effort — your tribe will grow.
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