If you have been self publishing for any length of time, or you know anything about online marketing, then you will no doubt have heard the oft worn phrase, “The money is in the list.”
The list being referred to is, of course, an email list, and in marketing terms it is one of the best tools an author can have to drive sales and reviews of their books.
That’s all well and good, but the challenge of learning how to fully utilize email marketing is still a big stumbling block for many authors, which it really shouldn’t be because the whole process is simple enough once you understand what you need to do.
That is the purpose of this article, to help you understand the fundamentals of lead generation and email marketing. Or to put another way:
How to get people on to your list and what to do with them from there.
We will look first at lead generation and the different methods to build your subscriber list. Then we will look at some ways to keep those subscribers engaged, and hopefully responsive to your requests for reviews and sales.
To create an effective lead generation machine you will need two things to begin with: a website and an account with an email marketing service.
If you are an author, you probably already have those things in place, in which case, skip ahead to the next section.
For those who still haven’t set up a platform yet, let’s discuss briefly what you will need in order set one up.
Firstly you will need a website, preferably a self-hosted WordPress site like the one you are on now. If you don’t know how to set up a WP site then pay someone to do it for you. The whole process is fairly simple though. There is a bit of a steep learning curve to begin with, but after a short time you should be able to at least get your site up and running. There are loads of great tutorials online to show you how to do this. Find one, follow it and get a simple website set up. Nothing fancy, it doesn’t have to be.
An author website should be designed to sell books and gather leads, not much more. You don’t want anything to get in the way of that main purpose, so keep things simple.
Once you have your website set up, create an account with an email marketing service. Many authors use Mailchimp because it is free for the first 2000 subscribers. Go with that. Be aware though that the amount of emails you can send is limited with the free account. If you are only sending one a month or so you should be fine though. Again, there are plenty of Mailchimp tutorials out there to help you.
Now with the basics out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the process…
Lead generation is simply getting people to subscribe to your list, and you can do this on-site or off-site.
On-site lead generation is gathering leads via your website through the use of email subscribe forms, which we will talk about in a moment.
Off-site lead generation is gathering leads away from your site, via places like Facebook and Twitter, or through links in your books.
In order to entice people on to your email list in the first place, you will need to have what is known as a lead magnet. A lead magnet is usually a free book that you give to your subscribers in return for their email address.
A very useful book on this subject is one called Book Magnets, by author Nick Stephenson. I suggest you get this book and read it as soon as possible. Get it from Amazon completely free.
If you don’t have a book yet, or only have one book, I suggest you write something–a short story or novella–specifically for giving away to people.
While you can still gather leads without using lead magnets, you will get many more signups if you do use one. The short time it will take you to write something to use as a lead magnet will be worth it anyway, believe me.
So once you have a lead magnet in place, it is time now to start gathering those leads.
On-Site Lead Gathering
To gather leads on your website you will need to use optin forms. If you are using WordPress (which you should be) then there are lots of plugins you can use to create pretty cool forms for your site.
I have used every plugin going for optin forms, but the only one that really does the business is one called Thrive Leads (affiliate link). All of the forms you see on this site are created using Thrive Leads. They are functional and they look good, plus you can customize them to suit your own needs in terms of design.
The other great thing about Thrive Leads is that they allow you to create a form that just has a single button to click. It has been shown that these kinds of forms get more sign ups than forms that display a box asking for a persons email. Asking straight up for someones email can be off-putting. A better way is to tell them they can get this great free book if they click the button below. Once they hit the button, they have already committed themselves. All is left for them to do is enter their email in the pop-up box. Go ahead and click on one of the forms on this site to see what I mean.
In terms of placement, you will need a prominent sign up form on your home page. It should be the first thing a person sees when they land on your site. Look at my home page and you will see what I am talking about. Make it stand out to grab people’s attention.
After that, you can put forms wherever else you want. The top of the sidebar is a popular position, as is the end of a post. I prefer to keep mine “in-content” as you have seen, since the form can’t be ignored as easily.
It is up to you where you put your forms. Test them out, see which ones work best.
The great thing about Thrive Leads is that it allows you to put forms anywhere, and also test different forms against each other. Like I say, there is no good alternative to this plugin, which is why I and so many other authors use it. On-site lead generation is important and Thrive Leads (affiliate link) will help you do it right.
Off-Site Lead Gathering
The next place you should put your optin link is in your books. Many authors like to put their link in the front of their books, as well as the back. Might as well. Cover your bases and all that.
Along with your link, add a simple message asking for people to sign up to your newsletter in return for giving them a free book or story. Don’t forget to do this, as it will help you gather plenty of leads, many of whom will be “warm” because they have already read and liked your books.
One of the quickest and best ways to gather leads is by utilizing social media, specifically through the use of Facebook and Twitter Lead cards. These are a form of advertisement that basically display your ad to a group of people that you have specifically targeted. Once a person clicks on your ad, they will be able to sign up straight away without having to go off-site to a landing page on your website. That is a huge plus for these lead generation cards!
It will cost you money to use lead cards, but not a great deal if you work them right. Remember that each subscriber you get will possibly buy your book and any future books you release, plus they will review them, so the cost is not that great in comparison to the long term value you are getting. Just learn as much as you can and proceed with caution.
To explain the ins and outs of setting up and using these lead generation cards would take another full article, so I will direct you to two articles that explain everything brilliantly, simply and in detail.
Those two tutorials will tell you everything you need to know.
Next up, we will talk about what to do with your subscribers once they have signed up.
How To Keep Your Subscribers Engaged
This is the tricky part for a lot of authors: what to do with all those leads once you have them.
What you should not do is dive straight in with the hard sell tactics. That will likely get you many “unsubscribes”.
The first thing you need to do is welcome your new subscriber onto your list. You can do this by setting up an autoresponder sequence containing two or three emails. If you don’t know how to set that up, figure it out! It’s not hard. I’m only going to talk about content here, not technical details.
So the first email in your autoresponder should be a short welcome message, usually with the download link to whatever book magnet you are giving away. At this early stage, people just want the book you promised them, so say a quick hello and then give them the book. Tell them you will be in touch again soon to talk more.
Send your second email about two or three days after. This email will be a longer welcome, explaining who you are and what the person can expect from being on your list (we will go into specifics on that in a moment). Be friendly and conversational.
If you have more books, send out a third email a few days after, telling your new subscriber about the books and where they can buy them. If they read your free sample, they will likely be interested in buying your other books as well. And don’t forget to use your Amazon affiliate link, because hey, it’s free money.
You can see that right away you have a sales funnel set up, and all on auto pilot, which is even better.
What To Put In Your Emails And How Often To Send Them
In terms of how often you should email your list, different authors have different opinions on this. Some will send emails once or even twice a month. Others will send an email only when they have significant news to share, like news of a new release.
The average send frequency seems to be about once a month. This is enough to engage your list and make sure they don’t forget who you are. Anymore than that would seem like overkill to me.
In terms of content, there are lots of different ways to keep your list engaged. Here are some suggestions:
- Share news of your new releases
- Tell them about what ever you are working on now
- Share excerpts from your works in progress
- Tell them about books by other authors in your genre
- Share short stories that you have written exclusively for them
- Ask for opinions on the cover for your upcoming book
- Ask them to help you name one of your characters
- Talk about relevant TV shows and other books
- Point them to free books by other authors
- Talk about whatever is relevant to your audience and what you think they will enjoy hearing about
I’m sure there are many other ways to get content for your emails, but those are the main ones that I use.
The thing to remember is that you should always try to offer your list some sort of value, and to not sell to them constantly. Sell only when you have a new book out, or are running a special discount or something, and even then, don’t go overboard. You have no need to, as these people are already warm leads don’t forget.
Starting An Advance Review Team
Arguably, the biggest advantage to having an email list is that it gives you the ability to create an advance review team, or “street team” as they are often known.
One of the keys to success in self publishing is to get as many early reviews as possible for your newly released books. This not only gives your book social proof, enticing other people to buy it, but also helps your book rank well in places like Amazon, thus garnering you more sales.
To get these early reviews, you will need a group of people from your list (as many as possible) who are willing to read a copy of your book before it is officially released, and then leave their review of the book on Amazon or one of the other platforms.
You will find that a fair number of your subscribers are willing to do this, but you will also find that only a small percentage follow through with a review.
I suggest you ask people to sign up to a different list if they want access to review copies. Send them to a form or landing page (again, figure it out!) that explains what it is that you require of them, and that you are only interested in people who want to commit to leaving a review. Not all the people who sign up will follow through, but you will at least weed out most of the leechers who only want the book for free.
Once your book goes on sale, discount it to $0.99 for twenty-four hours to give your list a chance to buy it cheaply in return for all their help and support.
Respect your email list. Treat the people on it like gold dust, especially those on your advanced review team. Sure, sending out monthly emails can be a chore, but remember that your list will help you sell books and make a career out of publishing, so the short term pain is always worth it. You will see this yourself every time you release a new book and you get those early reviews and sales.
And that’s about it! Everything you need to know to get you started with gathering leads and building and engaging with your email list.
Like everything in this business, you will learn what works and what doesn’t through trial and error. Many authors have their opinions on what works for them, but that doesn’t always mean those things will work for you as well. By all means, gather as much knowledge and information as you can, but just remember to thoroughly test it all out yourself.
It may all seem like a lot of work, but I promise you it is worth it. And necessary. Just remember to have fun with it!
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