Your best asset for selling books is a growing and engaged list of email subscribers.  

But how do you grow your list? How can you gather a group of subscribers who want to read your work? It’s the million-dollar question every author should be asking.

Ryan Zee has an answer. He started BookSweeps.com, now one of the largest book giveaway and lead generation sites for fiction authors, to help authors grow their email list and use it to sell more books. He’s worked with thousands of authors across every major genre, bringing their books to new audiences, and introducing readers to great authors. 

We interviewed Ryan about how BookSweeps helps authors. 

Thomas: We talk about email marketing because it’s proven to work.

Why is email so effective for selling books?

Email is effective is because the author gets to communicate one-to-one with their readers. On social media and other marketing channels, an algorithm controls who gets to hear you. The algorithms limit what you can share with your readers in that they prioritize and deprioritize certain kinds of content.

You don’t have those content limitations when you send an email. With an email newsletter, it’s easy to direct people to a link where they can learn more about anything you want to share.

How can I make my author newsletter interesting?

Thomas: How can authors make their newsletters more interesting for readers?

Ryan: The most important thing you can do in your newsletter is to keep your promise to your reader. Remember what you promised when they signed up for your newsletter, and then make sure you deliver it. If you said you’d send them different things, you should experiment with quizzes, news items, early access to books, giveaways, and freebies. Then find out which your readers like best.

Thomas: That’s a good reminder. I’d add that authors need to make good promises when they ask people to sign up. You must promise a prize or goodie your readers actually want, which means you’ll need to get to know your readers. 

The secret of marketing is that there is a human on the other side of the screen. You need to know that person so you can offer something they want. This could be as simple as asking what they want to receive from you.

Jim: How often would you ask your readers for that input?

Ryan: We run a big survey about once a year. I know Mark Dawson asks his readers annually. We’ve been surprised about the feedback we’ve received.

Thomas: In late 2017, we surveyed our audience. We found out there were many indie authors and nonfiction writers listening to the show. After we got to know our listeners and learned more about what they wanted, we made changes to the show.

How can I grow my email list?

Jim: How can authors grow their email list?

Ryan: I specialize in is list-building giveaways. But lead generation ads on Facebook are still working well. Lead generation ads are a specific kind of Facebook ad. When you create an ad, Facebook will ask what you want to accomplish with it. If you answer “get more email subscribers,” it will help you create a lead generation ad.

Those are the ads where readers click on the image, and a little box pops up and asks them to click to confirm. That click would add the reader to your email list, and you would send them a free ebook in exchange for their email address. 

If a group of authors in the same genre offers a selection of ten books in exchange for an email address in a Facebook lead generation ad, it can be even more effective.

What is an author newsletter swap?

Cross promotions and newsletter swaps are also great tools for authors to grow their email lists.

If your book is available for free on BookFunnel for the price of an email address, you would partner with another author in the same genre. You promote their book to your email list, and they promote yours to their list. You can swap with as many authors as you can find who will work with you. It’s free and only requires your time and coordination.

Thomas: The key is to swap with an author who writes in a similar genre. You can find similar authors to work with in the Novel Marketing Facebook group.

A cross-promotion would be when 20 authors writing in the same genre create a single web page that offers 20 free ebooks in exchange for an email address. All the authors promote the giveaway to send traffic to that page, and readers can download those books individually. That is what BookFunnel does.

What is the best way to format my author newsletter?

Thomas: When it comes to email formatting, I have strong opinions. Some email service providers have fancy templates that allow for highly designed newsletters, what do you find works best? Does the fanciest email win?

Ryan: No. It’s peculiar to me that the same companies that provide these HTML-heavy templates write support articles that recommend not using them. I read an analogy that your email is like an airplane, and each image you include is like a weight on the wings, making it harder for it to fly and reach its destination. The more complicated features your email has, the less likely it is to reach the recipient’s inbox.

The first rule of email is that deliverability is king. People can’t read an email that isn’t delivered. You can increase the likelihood of your email being delivered by using plain text emails. Some people don’t like plain text because they look a little funky, but you can also use the normal HTML template with minimal or no images.

That might mean sending an email without a header image, but emails without header images are delivered at a higher rate and are also more effective when it comes to engagement.

Thomas: I’ve done those tests myself. When I’m working with a client, the first thing I do is strip away the email formatting. Most people read email on their phones, so lots of graphics and sidebar images make the email hard to read on mobile.

People enjoy reading emails from real people in their real lives. Those emails aren’t complicated with formatting and multiple images. When your email looks like it came from a real person because it starts with the recipient’s first name, it’s more likely to be delivered and enjoyed.

You can include an image of your book cover or a personal photo once in a while, but use your email provider’s image box or image feature if you’re going to include one. If you don’t, it will mess up the mobile formatting.

Believe it or not, plain text emails outperform highly designed emails by a significant margin. Clicks and opens mean more sales.

Simpler is better for many reasons when it comes to email. When in doubt, go the simple route.

Ryan: You can also simplify the text itself. I always try to make sure there are only two or three lines together in a block. When readers are on their phones, it’s hard to skim a huge rectangular block of text. Smaller blocks make it easier for readers to concentrate. 

What is BookSweeps?

Thomas: Let’s talk about BookSweeps. What is it?

Ryan: BookSweeps is a giveaway and lead-generation platform geared primarily toward fiction authors. We work with some nonfiction authors, and many of them are Christian authors.

We run promotions that help grow their email lists, Amazon Followers, and Book Bub Followers.

We put out a promotion schedule every quarter. For example, each promotion is geared toward a particular niche as specific as Contemporary Cowboy Romance, or Space Opera Sci-Fi.

Each promotion includes 30-40 authors. We create a contest page, provide promotional materials, as well as tips and reminders via email, and then we promote the giveaway to our 100,000 subscribers. We encourage the authors to tell their subscribers about the promotion as well. 

Thomas: With 100,000 subscribers is almost like you’ve got your own BookBub type of platform, but instead of selling books to readers you don’t know, BookSweeps introduces readers to new authors by providing a free short story or ebook in exchange for their email address. Then an author can start building a relationship with them directly through email.

Ryan: The giveaways we run usually have a big prize like an ereader as well as copies of each author’s book. When readers get to that contest page, they’ll see the book covers and some information about each author. They can select which authors they want to hear from via email.

After 10-14 days, when the promotion ends, we distribute the lists of new email address to the respective authors. Many of our authors add several hundred addresses to their lists after a promotion.

How much does BookSweeps cost?

Thomas: How much does BookSweeps cost?

Ryan: Most of the promotions are in the $25-$50 range depending on the genre and promotion.

Thomas: If I’m writing Science Fiction, how many subscribers can I expect to add to my list?

Ryan: Anywhere from 400-1200, with most of them falling in the middle. It’s one of the most cost-effective ways to grow your email list.

Thomas: That’s super affordable. On Facebook, you can expect to spend a dollar or two for each new email address you get. For non-techie authors, Ryan does all the technical work for you. Your expense is just chipping on the big prize, and Ryan does the rest of the work. It’s one of the few easy strategies to get a lot of emails at once. 

What do I send to my new subscribers from BookSweeps?

Thomas: What is the difference between an organic subscriber and a sweepstakes subscriber? Should authors treat them differently? 

Ryan: If you’re able to segment them in your email service provider, you should. You’ll get a sense of how those addresses are performing relative to your other subscribers. When you approach sweepstakes subscribers, they are complete strangers who are on multiple lists already. They’re probably heavy-duty readers. If you write to them from that perspective, they’re probably expecting something free up front, but use that first email to open the door to a relationship rather than selling your book.

Thomas: The first email you should send to those new subscribers is your free ebook or a short story to introduce yourself and your writing.

Ryan: Yes, that is the best practice. If someone knocks on your door and says, “Hi. I heard you’re a romance author,” you wouldn’t immediately say, “Buy my book!” You’d offer a charming introduction, and maybe you’d give them a sample of your writing. It’s a more tactful introduction.

Jim: After a promotion ends, readers have potentially signed up to hear from several other authors. They may suddenly have 15 free short stories in their inbox at once. How do you make yourself stand out from those other authors?

Ryan: First, follow the email tips we’ve talked about. Present yourself in a professional way, and don’t be overwhelming. Many authors are still making rookie mistakes like using a purple background and dark text. Make sure your emails are clear, easy to read, and mobile responsive. Have an onboarding sequence ready to send so they can learn about you and what you have to offer them.

To grow your list and sell more books, learn about pricing and upcoming promotions at BookSweeps.com.

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