Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Author Newsletters — Part 1: Getting Started

Do you have an author newsletter? Why or why not?

I’ve heard the “why nots.” Here’s a sample list:
• It takes too much time.
• It costs money.
• Fans already hear from me on social media.
• My sales are already good.
• It’s wrong to toot my own horn.
• I’ve heard I have to put my physical mailing address on it.

May I suggest you turn those around?
• It’s a better use of your time to keep a fan than to find a new one.
• Marketing costs money, but there are free/inexpensive options.
• All social media limits your reach — pay if you want to be seen there.
• Your sales could be better!
• Are you hiding your talent in your sock drawer? See the parable of the talents!
• Yes, sadly, this is true. But it doesn’t have to be in detail.

Six years ago I signed a contract with Barbour Publishing for a novella. I was so excited and told everyone! Dozens said to me, “Let me know when and where I can buy it!” My reply? “Oh, there’s no danger of you not hearing about it. It will be all over my blog and Facebook and Twitter.” And some of these people said to me, “Oh, I don’t go there.”

Until then, I thought email lists were for the big names who had fans clamoring for their next book. But that’s when I realized mailing lists were for every author, because an email in a fan’s inbox was much harder to miss than an announcement on social media, even in the days of organic reach.

Convinced? Let’s get started.

1. When should you start?

Today. If you’re already published and don’t have a list, get started! If you’re planning a career but don’t have a book out yet, get started! Even if it consists of you, your two alternate email addresses, and your mom for now, slide the puzzle piece in place and get familiar with how to use it.

2. Why not just send personal emails or BCC emails?

Have you ever gotten an email from that one author who assumes you want to hear from him or her, but you don’t? And then a few weeks later, again? You didn’t ask to be on this list, and you see no way to get off it short of hitting reply and saying so, but that seems rude.

Don’t be that author. It’s more than rude. It’s illegal.

Ever heard of the can-spam law? The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act became law in the USA in 2003 to protect the public’s inboxes from unsolicited email marketing. A similar act was introduced in Canada in 2014, and other countries either have legislation or will likely soon pursue it.

This means it is illegal to send bulk email from your personal email address, whether it is Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, or your site email. You are required by law to provide a disclosure, your mailing address, and an unsubscribe link.

3. How do you choose an email marketing service provider?

There are so many options it’s mindboggling: Mailchimp, Mailerlite, Mad Mimi, Get Response, Aweber, Vertical Response, Constant Contact, Convert Kit, Infusion Soft, YMLP, My Author Biz, Sendinblue, Sendy, and probably others. Have a good look at what several of them offer before making a decision. Prices and customization vary wildly.

Some considerations: Cost. Auto-responder sequences. Ease of customization. Ease of navigation. Reports and statistics. List management or segmentation. Attractive templates. Searchable contact list. Automatic removal of duplicates. A/B split testing.

Many authors open an account with Mailchimp because they offer free service for up to 2000 subscribers. Some of those authors love Mailchimp and never want to leave, while others feel trapped, believing that moving their list is too difficult or expensive. Think you won't reach that number? I went from 200 to 1,700 in 9 months, then to over 5000 in another year. You might, too. If you believe in your career, think long-term.

Mailerlite is free through 1000 subscribers and offers more bells and whistles on their free level. It is cheaper than Mailchimp above 2500 subscribers, and has a layout that I find easier to navigate.

TIP: If you think you might ever, for any reason, wish to move your list, use a landing page link wherever you post it rather than a direct link. If you have a self-hosted Wordpress website, you can use the plugin Redirection to send the subscriber directly to the hosted link. They’ll never see the detour, but you can change the redirection in five seconds should you ever need to.

4. Create an account

If you are uncomfortable having your home address posted publicly on every email, consider these options: a post office box, your place of work, your church office. Ask permission before using someone else’s address.

Choose a ‘from’ email address that is from your website rather than Gmail or Yahoo, as the free email addresses are notorious for not being delivered. I use a Yahoo address for my daily check-in, and have my site email automatically forwarded to it. I have a ‘reply-as’ set up so that replies can look as though they are sent from Valerie comer dot com rather than Yahoo.

Once you’ve filled in those areas of your account, the service providers will automatically add the info to the footer of each and every email.

5. Create a webform

A webform is the signup code that displays on your website. Keep it simple — the more fields you require, the more likely people will click away without subscribing. Email address is the only vital one. If you have the option to make the webform a bright color, go for it. You want it to stand out on your site. Bright yellow or red is good, even if it clashes with your website!

6. Place the webform on your site

Once you’ve customized your webform, you’ll have the option to capture the code for it in html and/or in Javascript. Copy and paste the provided code to:
• Top of the right-hand sidebar.
• A dedicated squeeze page.

You might also wish to consider a pop-up. I know, I know. We all hate them, but (for some unknown reason), they work!

While creating your dedicated squeeze page (aka landing page), clear all distractions from the page. The only option should be completing the form or clicking the x to close the tab. Do make it clear what you’re offering and how often they’ll hear from you.

7. Create an autoresponder

The steps depend on your chosen service provider, but all of them can be set up to automatically send an email to each new subscriber. Use it to thank them for signing up and to offer a link to your incentive (more on that in an upcoming post). Mailerlite allows you to set up multiple autoresponders, even in the free level.

8. Test your webform

Go to your website, subscribe to your newsletter, and see what happens. Is the process what you expected? If not, unsubscribe, fix the flow, and subscribe again. Repeat until you are pleased the entire process is working correctly. Now you are ready for your first subscriber!

This is the first in a four-part series on author newsletters that I’ll post randomly through 2017. We’ll also consider how to find subscribers, how to choose content, and how to track your statistics. Click here for Part 2: Finding Subscribers.

Valerie Comer's life on a small farm in western Canada provides the seed for stories of contemporary inspirational romance. Like many of her characters, Valerie and her family grow much of their own food and are active in the local foods movement as well as their church. She only hopes her creations enjoy their happily-ever-afters as much as she does hers, shared with her husband, adult kids, and adorable granddaughters.

Valerie is a USA Today bestselling author and a two-time Word Award winner. She writes engaging characters, strong communities, and deep faith as she injects experience laced with humor into her green clean romances. Visit her at ValerieComer.com.


  1. Thanks, Valerie. Email lists and newsletters ... I'm of the view that the more I read about the topic, the more likely I'll pick up ideas that fit with the way I want to "do" email. The only essential is that it's a must-do!

    1. Agreed! There are a variety of ways you can do it, but it's vital these days!

  2. Excellent. I'm in the process of transferring from Mailchimp to Mailerlite because of the fantastic autoresponder flexibility.

    1. Yes, I've settled at Mailerlite for now myself. Hopefully for a long time!

  3. Great post Valerie, thank you. I'm catching up your posts on this topic to date. I'm also thinking of transferring from Mailchimp to Mailerlite.