Whether you’re working with a traditional publisher, or not, establishing a mailing list on your author website is a must. Increasingly, your next book submission might not even be considered unless you can show a demonstrated audience via a social media following and/or mailing list. This is a rough truth if email marketing isn’t your strength (who thinks of this stuff when they write a book?!) but it’s easy enough to get started both creating the signup, and building a list, if you’re willing to dedicate yourself to it. And, happily, there are so many great service platforms you might use to do it, free and paid alike.
Let’s start with the basics of how email mailing lists work (if you’re already familiar with the basics you can skip to the next section):
Essentially, you, the author, sign up for a service that allows you to collect email addresses that are collected into a list that you can communicate with via email.
There are laws around how people end up on these lists, their ability to unsubscribe, and the collection of their data, so you want to use a legitimate service that is designed to manage this for you appropriately so you don’t have to think about it. You’re never going to just send an email to a bunch of folks in the “To:” line that you somehow managed to cobble together unless you want to either get in trouble, or make them really dislike you, or both.
The service plan you sign up for might allow a certain number of subscribers for free, after which you need to pay a monthly fee, and/or they may allow a certain amount of communication with your list before you need to pay.
It’s important that you, the author, own this service and your list. If your publisher owns your list, and your next book is published by someone else, you won’t be able to take that list with you.
To communicate with your list you will access your mailing list service account and there you will be able to create an email that gets sent to all subscribers on your list. You can do this manually, or you can automate some or all of it. For example, if you have a blog you might automatically send future posts to your list. Or, you might create an automated drip campaign that sends a series of emails after someone initially signs up.
When considering a service platform to manage your email mailing list(s), here’s what to consider:
How easy is it to use?
There are two components to this piece — the first is how easy is it to put the signup on your website, or in someone else’s email campaign (or elsewhere). You want to be able to easily generate signups with an elegant display without having to fiddle around with HTML and CSS. Often there is a plugin you might use for a website platform like WordPress that will make things easier, and Squarespace comes with its display built-in. But also consider how you might direct people to sign up from a link used elsewhere — will you need a website page dedicated to this, or does the service provide a link you can use? You’ll also want to consider the format of the signup — do they allow an embed on the web page or a pop-up? Which is most important to you?
The second component is how easy is it to send emails to your list. You want to be able to log in and create an email easily, knowing it will show up beautifully in your subscribers’ inbox. Does the service provide templates that you like? Do they offer suggestions for the best content to include and in what format? Frustratingly, emails are really limited in their display capabilities, so you want to make sure that what you create won’t end up looking like a bunch of broken code as that won’t reflect well on you.
How much does it cost?
If you have so many email subscribers that you are having to pay to communicate with them, it’s a great problem to have! But keep in mind that most service providers have a paywall at some point even if they start out as a free service. Their free service might limit the number of subscribers you can have, or how often you can communicate with them, or even what features are available to you. So make sure that whatever service provider you choose has a pay scale that sits well with you.
Does it integrate with your use cases?
If you want to create a signup on your author website, make sure it’s easy to do that and won’t require an advanced degree. Make sure to research the website platform you use in combination with the email mailing list service provider to find reviews from people who have done it. You can find solutions built specifically for a platform like MailPoet is for WordPress. You can find solutions that work on a variety of platforms and integrate with many other services, like MailChimp. And you can find solutions that are essentially stand-alone but allow you to monetize your content, like Substack. If you want people to have the option to be automatically added to your list when they use your website’s contact form, for example, make sure the service provider you select makes that feature available. If you want to keep an archive of your newsletter content on your website, make sure that’s easy to do too.
And, finally, here are some things to consider when integrating your list into your author website design:
It’s a fine balance making sure site visitors encounter your signup but aren’t totally overwhelmed by it. You need to think about this not just for a desktop or laptop display, but also on mobile. If your signup is immediate, prominent, and it’s unclear how to dismiss it, you’re more likely to lose a visitor rather than gain a subscriber. I recommend visiting other websites for examples of things you like and things you don’t because everyone’s tolerance is different. Sadly there’s no one-size-fits-all here — it’s personal preference. You can have an on-page embedded signup as part of the page content that is more successful than a popup, or the other way around — the success is based on the design and execution.
You need to give people a reason to sign up! If you want to collect people’s email addresses so that you can communicate with them later, you need to offer them something in exchange for that access. Unless you’re a household name (and even then), just saying, “Signup Here” (or similar) isn’t enough. Also, consider what you’re planning to use your list for so you can let prospective signups know what they can expect from you. There are countless things you can use your list for — you can send a regular newsletter (on whatever schedule works best for you), you can alert people of events and/or news, you can share interesting resources you come across, you can preview things coming in the future, you can share articles or posts you’ve created, you can share your advice and expertise, and any combination of those and more.
Don’t just put it in one place and expect folks to find it and immediately sign up. If you only have your signup on your Home page, but nowhere else on your site, you’re missing possible signups from folks who don’t experience your site in the way you might assume. Often when I’m working with web design clients they are under the misapprehension that site visitors experience their website like reading a book — starting with the Home page and then moving through the other pages one at a time using the navigation menu. I’m here to tell you that almost no one experiences your site like that! The site owner experiences the site like that because they are invested in reviewing it to ensure it is what they want it to be, and they do that methodically. Instead, your target audience website visitor might land on an internal page or blog post first, or click a link within the text on a page, or use a button before they reach the bottom of a page, or use any other navigation path you make available throughout your website. This means you want to place your signup in multiple locations, if not on every page. You can use the same text and design everywhere, or you can change it up depending on how much time you have available to maintain it in the future should you want changes.
I hope this gives you a sense of how important email mailing list building is for authors, how to go about choosing a service provider, and how to integrate the signup into your author website design. Once you get the hang of it both you and your fans will benefit from your success!
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