Email is the most powerful form of marketing. Super savvy authors use email to sell books and build trust with readers. But the Kryptonite of email, which will weaken and eventually kills your list, is undeliverability.
Email marketing strategies only work if your readers receive your emails.
In this article, you’ll learn how to increase the deliverability of your emails to make sure they arrive in a reader’s inbox successfully.
Why is deliverability important?
After you’ve worked to craft a compelling email that addresses your reader’s most pressing need or tantalizes them with your most recent story, you want those emails to land where your readers will see and read them.
If your emails land in “spam” or “promotions” they are far less likely to work.
Think of your behavior when checking your email. After deleting or opening the emails in your inbox, how often do you check your junk, spam, or promotions folders or tabs?
For most of us, the answer is never.
You might be shocked to discover that 99% of sent emails are never delivered to the inbox. Most of them aren’t even delivered to the spam box. There is a spam box in the cloud where most email lands.
Only one percent of emails are delivered to your computer, and a fraction of those go to your spam box, promotions tab, or social tab.
Only a fraction of emails sent to you actually get delivered to your inbox.
What causes an email to go to the spam box?
ISP’s look at a lot of data to decide whether your emails should be delivered, but the most influential factors are your server’s reputation and what recipients do with your emails when they receive them.
Your ISP will look at the server the email comes from to see if it is a reputable server. If you send email from a reputable server, your emails have a better chance of being delivered to your readers. If you’re sending from a server with a bad reputation, your emails will most likely end up in the great spam box in the sky.
Past Behavior of Email Recipients
The past behavior of people who receive your emails also impacts deliverability. If a reader has opened every email you’ve sent, they’re much more likely to receive your emails in their inbox than someone who never opens your emails.
ISPs also look to see if any of your recipients have marked your emails as spam. If they have, your sending capabilities will be severely limited. If you have a list of 2,000 email addresses and five people mark you as spam, your emails will probably cease to be delivered to your entire list.
Your server may even kick you off their service to protect their reputation.
Your ISP makes assumptions on your behalf.
How can you improve the deliverability of your emails right now?
Tip #1 Use the double opt-in.
When someone signs up for your email newsletters on your website, they type their email address and immediately receive an email asking them to confirm that they want to receive email from you. They must click that “confirm” button to be added to your list.
Double opt-in prevents hackers and internet pranksters from subscribing people to random lists maliciously.
One of my clients had a form on his website that did not use the double opt-in. Somehow, Russian hackers subscribed thousands of people to this form, and they were added to his list automatically. Many of the recipients were in Russia, and they did not understand why they were receiving emails in English about books stuff they didn’t care about. Many of them marked him as spam, and his deliverability plummeted.
We turned on double opt-in for all his forms, and the problem went away.
Double opt-in is one of the easiest things you can do to improve deliverability, but there is a trend for email services to leave double opt-in turned off by default. Providers like MailChimp say that since only 60% of people who subscribe go on to confirm, the double opt-in makes your email list grow slowly.
However, if someone doesn’t have enough interest to click the confirm button in an email, will they be an engaged reader? You pay for the email service according to the size of your list. Do you want to pay for an unengaged person to stay on your list?
Use the double opt-in to build a list of engaged readers.
Tip #2 Create emails people want to open.
ISPs look at the open-rate for emails when determining spam status. It behooves you to write emails that recipients look forward to reading.
It may be cliché, but content is king. Whether you’re writing an email, short story, novel, or Facebook post, every piece of content you write makes an impression on your readers.
Many of the people on your list will read your newsletters before your novels. The tone, style, voice, and content you present in your emails will help readers determine whether to read your stories or not.
If you write good email content people want to open, your ISP will notice, and your deliverability will improve.
Tip #3 Survey your readers.
The best way to have good content is to survey your readers. Ask what they are looking for and what they are expecting. It might be they want a good short story every once a month, but you won’t know that unless you ask.
Reader Survey Tools
Tip #4 Create an onboarding campaign.
When someone signs up to receive email from you, the first email you send should thank them for signing up. Use a welcoming tone and include links to cool content they can use or enjoy.
Beyond the first email, you should also send a series of emails spaced out at regular intervals to introduce new subscribers to your work and style. The subsequent emails provide information to help the reader or a story they can enjoy right away.
Onboarding campaigns, also called drip sequences, tend to have high open rates. A standard email open-rate is between 20-30%.
Our Novel Marketing onboarding campaign is a series of seven emails where we introduce ourselves and get to know our listeners. Open-rates for this campaign are closer to 60%.
The first email is a list of our most popular and controversial episodes, and it helps readers learn about Novel Marketing. In the second email, we ask readers what their biggest frustration is. Their responses provide ideas for future episodes and signal to their ISP that they want these emails in their inbox.
The onboarding campaign is useful for sorting out your readers. People who do not want to read your content will unsubscribe, and that is good for maintaining a healthy and engaged readership.
If you’re not sure what to say in an onboarding campaign, Tim Grahl has created a thorough explanation and a template with suggested wording that authors can adapt.
Tip #5 Avoid a fancy template.
Artistic writers love to design emails using their marketing color palette and branded images. Unfortunately, emails with design elements are almost guaranteed to land in the “promotions” tab.
We’ve done a lot of testing using designed templates and using plain-jane text. The plain emails that look like they come from a real person get more clicks and attention. If you subscribe to our emails, you’ll see we use plain text and only incorporate images once in a while.
One exception is for ecommerce. If you are sending ecommerce emails, you want to land in the promotions tab. If you don’t, you’re more likely to get marked as spam. But authors who are offering a free story once a month aren’t selling something in every email. As they offer gifts, they earn their spot in the inbox.
Tip #6 Use a trusted sender.
Beginning authors often make the mistake of BCCing everyone in their email address book, but it’s very unprofessional. People can’t unsubscribe, and if they mark you as spam, it will poison your entire list so you can’t send normal emails to your regular contacts. It’s also potentially illegal.
I recommend starting your email list using MailChimp or, if you’re more established, ConvertKit. Both services are trusted senders and have good internet reputations. Even Constant Contact, which I do not recommend, is still a reputable sender and will help improve your deliverability.
If you want to start building your emails list, these are the trusted senders I recommend.
- MailerLite(Affiliate Link): MailerLite has the best-priced email marketing platform. It’s not as powerful as ConvertKit, but it’s easier and cheaper than MailChimp.
- ConvertKit (Affiliate Link): ConvertKit has powerful features, particularly when it comes to automation. It is also easier to use.
- MailChimp (Affiliate Link): We only recommend MailChimp for beginning authors. It’s free for up to 2,000 contacts. For a larger list, we recommend MailerLite or ConvertKit.
Tip #7 Send frequently.
People buy from people they know. Once your readers are familiar with you, they’re more likely to interact with you and buy your books. If they never hear from you, they’re likely to forget you exist. They may wonder if you’re still writing books at all.
When your name and emails appear in their inbox regularly, it’s a powerful reminder to your readers that you’re still writing. Even if they’re only opening every third email, seeing your name, even if they don’t have time to read, brings you and writing to the top of their mind on a regular basis.
When you have an offer they want to take advantage of, your name will be familiar, and they’ll be more likely to buy or interact with your content.
If you don’t send frequently enough, your emails will end up in spam traps.
Let’s say your reader signed up using their Comcast email address, but after a while, your reader cancels their Comcast account and uses a different email provider. His Comcast address stops working.
For a few months, Comcast will send an email saying, “this email no longer exists.” If you’re using MailChimp or ConvertKit, they will receive that notification and remove the address from your list.
But after a few months, Comcast will turn that unused email into a spam trap so that the only people still emailing that address are spammers. Every person who sends to that unused Comcast email address is marked as a spammer.
I worked with a client who hadn’t emailed their list in a year. They had so many spam traps on their list they were unable to send at all. They had poisoned their list because they didn’t email frequently enough.
Email your list at least quarterly to avoid spam traps.
Tip #8 Don’t send too frequently.
If you send too frequently, people will get annoyed with your emails and unsubscribe. Or worse, some people will use the “mark as spam” button to unsubscribe.
For most novelists, the ideal frequency is monthly.
If you have riveting content, feel free to send more often. But it’s far better to send an excellent email once a month than several mediocre emails every two or three weeks.
Familiarity breeds contempt. If you’re in your reader’s inbox all the time, they stop looking forward to your emails. Your emails become mundane and ordinary simply because they’re hearing from you all the time.
The exception is when you have a new release coming out. It’s fine to send multiple emails during launch week that countdown to release day. My clients have not seen a spike in unsubscribes during launch week when we send multiple emails.
People realize it’s a special event. People signed up because they wanted reminders about your book release, so they’re glad to get the details.
If you’re not sure what to send every quarter? Try recommending books in your genre.
Your core readers see you as a resource. You’re a trusted voice, and your readers are hungry for stories like yours.
But to recommend books, you must be reading books in your genre. So many writers don’t, and it hurts their writing. You need to know what is resonating with readers so you can write accordingly.
Tip #9 Eliminate bounces.
When you use a mail sending service, they eliminate hard and soft bounces for you.
A hard bounce means the address does not exist. A soft bounce means the email service provided was notified that the “inbox size was exceeded.” Maybe the subscriber has stopped checking, and they’ve run out of inbox space. After a certain number of soft bounces, reputable email service providers will remove the address to keep your list clean.
Tip #10 Eliminate inactive email addresses.
Since your open rates impact how and where emails get delivered, deleting unengaged readers will improve your open rates.
Additionally, since you pay based on the number of email addresses on your list, you don’t want to be paying for people who never see or read your email.
Your total number of subscribers will decrease at first, but your increased open rate will improve the chances of your emails being delivered to inboxes and read by people who want to see your content.
It is not about the size of your list. You don’t want people who don’t want you.
You can find tutorials on MailChimp, ConvertKit, and MailerLite that will help you run an effective re-engagement campaign and eliminate inactive addresses. Your open rates will increase by 10-15%, and your expenses will decrease.
Anyone you eliminate has the option of subscribing again in the future.
Tip #11 Keep a consistent “from” name.
Every email you send should be from the same name so that readers recognize you. For example, if the Novel Marketing emails came from Thomas Umstattd, Jr. one week, then Jim Rubart the next week, and James L. Rubart on the week after that, our readers may get confused.
Every email we send comes from Novel Marketing. People open emails because of who it’s from, not because of the subject line.
If your significant other sent you an email, you would open it regardless of the subject line. On the other hand, if you don’t recognize the sender, even a compelling subject line may not be enough to convince you to open that email.
You build brand value by using a clear and consistent “from” name.
Tip #12 Subscribe to your newsletter and check your sending reputation.
Every server has a sending reputation. MailChimp has good and bad servers. You can find out if you’re on a bad one by subscribing to your own email.
- Go to your gmail account
- Click “Show Original”
- Look for your IP address in the metadata
- Copy that IP address
- Past IP address into senderscore.org
- View the reputation of your specific IP address.
Every IP address on the internet has a good or bad reputation. If you’re on an IP with a lousy reputation, remove the inactive people from your list and then move to a new service.
Tip # 13 Configure valid DKIM and SPF records.
An important part of your sending reputation is to set your SPF, DKIM, and DMARC settings so that they all say ‘PASS.’ If you do not set your SPF record, it can hurt you. MailChimp allows you to do it, but they don’t force you to.
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SoulInspirationz.com, hosted by Eloise Whyte, has a growing community of readers who visit to find out about the newest releases and learn about the latest additions to the Christian Fiction Directory. The Directory has a division called the WISP Directory especially for showcasing indie and small press fiction titles.