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One of the most common and most frequent questions beginning authors ask is, “How do I grow my email list?” They are especially confounded if they are starting from scratch.
If you’re just starting out, you may feel overwhelmed. Building and growing your email list seems like an intimidating task that takes Herculean effort.
When frustrated authors ask me how to build an author email list, I send them to a couple of websites that have a history of helping authors find readers and grow their email lists.
One of those sites is StoryOrigin.
StoryOrigin (Affiliate Link) helps authors grow their email list and consistently provides reliable results. Its creator, Evan Gow, and I met when StoryOrigin was just a twinkle in his eye. When we talked, I told him what I thought StoryOrigin should do to thrill authors. He’s added many features over the years, and I recently interviewed Evan to learn how StoryOrigin is currently helping authors build email lists.
What is StoryOrigin?
Thomas: For somebody who’s never heard of it, what is StoryOrigin?
Evan: StoryOrigin is a marketing tool and a community of authors working together to build their mailing lists, increase their sales, and find reviewers.
Thomas: How does it help authors build their email lists?
Evan: StoryOrigin helps you create a landing page for your reader magnet. Typically, a reader magnet is a 10,000-20,000-word short story or prequel to your series. It could also be a sample version of one of your existing books, or it could be Book One in your series. If you’re writing nonfiction, your reader magnet might be a tip sheet or a worksheet.
Your reader magnet is something you give to people when they sign up to your mailing list. StoryOrigin provides a mechanism to create a landing page for that reader magnet. We handle the delivery of that file and help readers get the digital file onto their preferred reading devices.
Once you have a landing page on StoryOrigin, you can cross-promote your reader magnet with other authors in our community to help drive traffic to your landing page and get more readers to sign up for your mailing list.
How does StoryOrigin help authors grow their email lists?
Thomas: People who are familiar with Book Funnel will recognize that StoryOrigin provides the same ebook delivery feature that helps readers get the correct version of the ebook on their device. If you use a Kindle, you get the Kindle version. If you’re on iPhone, you get the iPhone version.
In addition to ebook delivery, StoryOrigin offers a matchmaking feature to connect you with authors who write in your genre so you can promote each other to your respective readers.
StoryOrigin doesn’t require you to promote another writer’s work if you don’t like their writing. But if you find another author in the community who writes a similar kind of book, you can work together and share one another’s work. By working together, you’ll both grow your email lists faster than authors who don’t work together.
You shouldn’t view similar authors as your competitors. Netflix and the Olympics are your competitors. Work together with authors to grow your email list.
Evan: I like to call it “cooper-tition.” You are cooperating, but you are also competition. Cooper-tition works because readers can read 20-30 books per year. Some even read hundreds. A single author can’t produce that much content in a year.
When you’re between releases and don’t have something new to write about, you can recommend books by the authors you’re working with. You’ll become a source of book recommendations for your readers, and that can be incredibly valuable.
StoryOrigin helps you coordinate with other authors, but you’re also being rewarded because they’ll promote your work as well.
What should I write when I email my growing list?
Thomas: StoryOrigin solves at least two problems for authors. It helps them build their email list, and it gives them something to write about in their newsletters.
If you’re unsure what to write in your email newsletter, listen to our episodes on What to Include in Your Author Newsletter and How to Create an Email Onboarding Campaign.
But one of the best ways to make your email newsletter valuable is to recommend books like yours. Over time, your subscribers will start to view you as a source of solid book recommendations.
If you’ve got an email list of romance readers and somebody is looking for their next romance book, they’ll come to you for recommendations of the specific kind of romance that you write. You’ll build credibility with your readers, and when it comes time to recommend your own book, they’ll already view you as an authority for books in your genre. They’ll already like and trust you, so convincing them to buy your book becomes a whole lot easier.
How often should I email my growing list?
The most important thing to remember about email lists is that you must email your readers. If you never email them, they’ll forget who you are. When you finally send an email, they’ll mark you as spam because they’ve forgotten you.
Email your readers at least once per quarter, but you should aim to email them once a month.
Evan: Most authors email their readers once a month. But I’ve heard plenty of authors say they started emailing twice a month and saw open rates and click rates increase instead of decrease.
Authors are trying hard not to overload their readers, and they don’t want to send too many emails. But being a regular in their inbox helps your readers recognize your name and get to know you.
You might think that every two weeks sounds too frequent, but it’s not. When I read monthly newsletters, it feels like a long time since I received the last one. Emailing once every couple of weeks is a great rhythm. But if you’re just starting out, and you’re not sure what you’re doing, start a bit lower. Once a month is definitely where most authors tend to start.
Thomas: Two weeks is a long time. Two weeks ago, the Olympics hadn’t even started. A lot of life happens in two weeks. People don’t unsubscribe from your emails because they come too frequently. People unsubscribe when they don’t find your emails useful.
Some people pay for daily email newsletters because the content is so useful. On the other hand, some people unsubscribe from semi-annual newsletters because they’re not useful. The key is to write useful newsletter content regardless of how often you send it.
Readers are overwhelmed with choices. Amazon lists millions of books, and every day they add 1,000 new books.
Which ones are good?
There’s no right answer. Some people like horror books. Other people wouldn’t touch a horror book with a ten-foot pole. There are so many microgenres available, and readers search for the specific kind of book they like.
If you curate recommendations for your microgenre, you will create a valuable email list that will help you when your book comes out.
How does StoryOrigin work?
Thomas: I’ve seen people in our AuthorMedia.social community grow their email list very quickly with StoryOrigin, but the technical piece may be a little cloudy.
The first step is to create a great reader magnet with a good cover, which we’ve covered in a past episode.
Go to StoryOrigin (Affiliate Link) and create the landing page for it.
Evan: Next, you’ll want to cross-promote it with other authors. StoryOrigin offers two types of cross-promotion: newsletter swaps and group promotions.
A newsletter swap is the simplest. It’s a direct one-to-one cross-promotion with another author.
If you have a mailing list of 1,000 subscribers and you’re a dragon rider author, you’ll look for another author with 1,000 subscribers who also writes dragon rider books.
Through StoryOrigin, you can see how often the author sends newsletters and how big their mailing list is. When you find a match, you can request to do a newsletter swap with that author.
You’ll offer to put their book in your newsletter if they include your book in their newsletter. Then that author (or you) can either accept or decline the request. That’s how we promote each other’s reader magnet.
You can set up newsletter swaps for books, reader magnets, universal book links, or review copies. Your goals will determine what you choose to swap. But if we’re talking about growing our mailing list, we want to promote our reader magnets.
If you’re just getting started and you don’t have a mailing list yet, you might wait to participate in those one-to-one newsletter swaps until you have a bit of a list.
One of the easiest ways for authors to start growing their mailing list is to join a group promotion. In a group promotion, 20 or so authors list their books on a single landing page, and then they all drive traffic to that landing page which features a book from each of the 20 authors.
Instead of a one-to-one promotion, where I’m promoting a single book in my newsletter, I’m promoting a landing page that includes 20 books or reader magnets.
You might have zero subscribers, but some of those authors have 1,000-4000 subscribers. Since we’re all driving our traffic to the group landing page, we’re all building our mailing lists together. When a reader comes to that landing page, they can choose which reader magnets they want, and they’ll join those authors’ mailing lists.
Thomas: In many ways, it’s like a Book Sweeps (Affiliate Link) giveaway, which is another great website that works well. StoryOrigin is kind of like BookSweeps and BookFunnel combined. You get a landing page with 20-some book covers on it, and people can just click, click, click, to get those books or reader magnets. When they click, they’re added to those authors’ email lists.
Evan: That’s exactly how it works. Readers only join the mailing lists of the authors whose reader magnets interest them. It leads to happier readers and a more curated list.
You want to have a good reader magnet so that you stand out on that landing page when readers are wondering which new author they want to try out. Your prequel or short story will tell them whether they want to dive into the rest of your series.
Thomas: The bait needs to match the fish. Create a reader magnet that’s similar to the book you’re writing. Don’t write a sweet romance reader magnet if your work-in-progress is a Christian paranormal novel because that will attract the wrong kind of readers.
Can you use the timing of newsletter swaps to accelerate your book launch?
If I send an email promoting other authors throughout the year, could I cash in my promotion chips, so to speak, at a later date? Can I request that all those authors whose books I shared throughout the year share my book during a week that coordinates with my book launch?
Evan: We don’t have a system to facilitate that. Newsletter swaps are an agreement to promote each other via a specific link. Authors don’t have to send newsletters on the exact same dates. They can agree on dates that work best for each of them.
Thomas: That’s a great launch tactic. “I will happily promote your book today if you will promote my book launch a year from now.” For an entire year before your book launch, you can use your newsletter to promote and recommend books by similar authors. When it’s time to launch your book, all those authors will be promoting your new book to their email lists during your launch period.
Everybody will be talking about your book at the same time because you’ve already done them the favor of promoting their book in the previous months.
While there’s no system for that, authors can easily make that kind of date-specific agreement with each author.
Evan: I haven’t seen that exact strategy used, but I often see authors using their five free Kindle days. They’ll set up a group promotion focused on driving traffic to their Amazon page that week.
You can set up group promotions for reader magnets on StoryOrigin, but you can also set up group promotions for universal book links to direct traffic to your retail pages.
What is a universal book link?
Thomas: What is a universal book link?
Evan: A universal book link is a link that displays all of the retailers where your book is available, including Amazon, Barnes Noble, Google Play, et cetera. When a reader clicks one of those specific storefronts, it will take them to their country-specific retailers.
If the reader is in the United States, the universal book link will take them to the product listing for the book on Amazon.com. If they’re in the UK, it’ll take them to the listing for the book on Amazon.uk.
Most people don’t realize Amazon has many different storefronts, and they’re all at different domains. If you send a newsletter to your international subscribers, you want to send them to the correct Amazon store for their country. StoryOrigin will automatically send your subscribers to the correct storefront for their country.
Thomas: Our international listeners are applauding. If you live in the United States, you have no idea how annoying it is to get an Amazon.com link. If you live in the UK, Australia, South Africa, Canada, or one of the many other English-speaking nations, you can’t buy from Amazon.com. If you receive an Amazon.com link in one of those other countries, you have to go to the Amazon store for your country, which is a completely different website. Then you have to search for that particular book.
It’s like an annoying scavenger hunt. Universal book links are a seamless way to send international readers to the correct product page. If you start using StoryOrigin’s universal book links, you may see your international sales numbers increase. You may also have a lot less competition in those other countries because most authors don’t make it easy for readers in those other countries to find their books.
If you’re not getting sales in Canada, it’s probably because you’ve never sent a single link to your book on the Canadian Amazon store.
Evan: StoryOrigin makes it very simple for you to keep track of all the scheduling. It provides you with some really great information, like transparency about the number of clicks an author has sent to past cross-promotions. That way, before you agree to cross-promote, you can see whether they’ve upheld their end of the bargain in the past.
When you set up a cross-promotion with another author through StoryOrigin, you can both use universal book links, and you can be assured that your readers will find both books easily no matter where they live in the world.
Thomas: You can create a universal book link for Amazon countries through Amazon One Link, but it only supports the U.K., Canada, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and Japan. It doesn’t support Australia, and I’m so sorry. I know we have a lot of listeners from Australia. There’s a lot of frustration in Australia with American tech companies not acknowledging your existence, but I acknowledge your existence!
Evan: And so does StoryOrigin!
Thomas: We acknowledge that a whole nation exists down under, and some great people live there.
The advantage of the StoryOrigin universal book link is that it not only supports the countries that Amazon One Link supports, but it also supports rival bookstores outside of the Amazon ecosystem.
Many authors are exclusive to Amazon for their ebook, but their paper book is everywhere. If someone wants to buy your paper book from Barnes & Noble, you’ll have links to those other bookstores where they can get your paper book from their bookstore of choice.
These details don’t make a big difference, but the little differences add up to a lot more sales, which adds to more word of mouth and even more sales.
How does StoryOrigin help authors get more reviews?
Thomas: How does StoryOrigin help authors get more reviews?
Evan: On StoryOrigin, you can set up a landing page for readers to receive a review copy.
When readers sign up to get your reader magnet on a reader magnet landing page, they immediately get your story, and you immediately get their email address (if you’re using an email integration).
Review copy landing pages are different. As the author, you get to decide who receives a review copy. You’ll set up a review copy landing page where anyone can request to read and review your book.
As the author, you determine who gets approved to download the full version of your book. StoryOrigin makes this process a little easier for you.
When someone requests a review copy, they’ll indicate whether they intend to leave reviews for the book on Amazon, Goodreads, or BookBub. When readers request to review your book, they can also provide links to their reviewer profiles on those three major platforms. Most people don’t know they have an Amazon reviewer profile that lists products they’ve reviewed.
When you get a request from a StoryOrigin reader who wants to read and review your book, you can check out their reviewer profile and see what they reviewed in the past. Does this reader seem like a good person to review my book?
Thomas: That’s super important. If you approve reviewers who don’t like the kind of book you write, you’re going to get bad reviews. It’s important to pick reviewers who will give you a chance.
If somebody hates heavy metal and your book is heavy metal, they’re going to hate your book. Their negative review could hurt your book. Finding out what books they’ve reviewed and enjoyed in the past is so important.
Some reviewers will pick books just to hate on them.
If you want to learn more about finding the right reviewers, listen to our episode on How to Get More Five-Star Reviews.
Evan: Sometimes, readers just get something different than they were expecting. If you write steamy romance, but your cover looks like a clean romance, a reader might see your cover and think she’s requesting a clean romance.
Before you approve her request, you can check her reviewer history. If you see that she only reads and loves clean romance, then you should probably decline her offer to review. She’s probably not going to like your story and is likely to leave a bad review.
StoryOrigin also provides data about how many review copies they’ve requested, how many they’ve been approved for, and how many of those books they’ve actually reviewed.
Thomas: So you can see if somebody is just downloading free books and not writing the reviews.
Evan: Yes. If they’ve been approved to receive 20 review copies on StoryOrigin and they’ve only completed the review process for two, even if they are the right kind of reader, you might want to decline. You don’t want to just give away your books to people who aren’t likely to leave a review.
You can’t require readers to review anything that you give them. But you can be confident you’ll get a review when you see they’ve been approved for 20 review copies in your genre, and they’ve completed the review for 18 of those.
You can see their reviewer profile and see that they read in your genre. If you believe that reader will be a good fit for your book and you’re confident they’ll complete the review process, you can approve that request.
Once you approve that request, StoryOrigin will notify the reader, and they’ll be able to download the full copy of your book.
On the front end, StoryOrigin helps you vet readers. On the backend, we also automatically send emails to reviewers to remind them they have been approved and need to complete the review process within two weeks.
Even if you’ve already published a book, you can still offer review copies to increase the number of reviews on your Amazon page, for instance.
Which email service providers does StoryOrigin integrate with?
Thomas: Which email service providers does StoryOrigin integrate with?
Evan: When you integrate with StoryOrigin, we’ll send your email sign-ups directly to your email service provider. We integrate with the following email service providers:
How does StoryOrigin help authors distribute their audiobooks?
Thomas: You’ve added audiobook support for your platforms. How does that work?
Evan: In the same way you create universal book links for your paper books or ebooks, you can also create universal audiobook links on StoryOrigin.
You can set up your landing page with links to your audiobook listed at various audiobook retailers. It’s separate from the universal book link feature because you don’t necessarily want to drive your traffic to a page that lists your ebook and your audiobook.
Your readers may have set their preferences to buy ebooks from Amazon, but they buy audiobooks from Kobo or Audible. With StoryOrigin’s universal links, your reader will be taken to their preferred store, which actually increases your conversion rate.
StoryOrigin also helps you distribute your audiobook promo codes.
When you produce an audiobook through Audible, you’ll get multiple promo codes for listeners to redeem. When they redeem the code, they can download your audiobook for free. Those codes are really valuable because you only get a limited number of them. You want to vet the people who redeem those codes. They’re meant to be used as review copies for audiobooks.
You can offer those codes in StoryOrigin the same way you’d offer review copies. You have access to all the same reviewer information we talked about.
You can distribute promo codes from ACX, Findaway Voices/Authors Direct, Kobo, and Audiobooks.com.
Thomas: That’s one difference between StoryOrigin and BookFunnel.
Book Funnel has an audiobook app for iPhone and Android. You can listen to the audiobooks in the app, and you can give the audiobook away for free in the app if you want.
I don’t know if they let you sell it, but you’re distributing it directly to readers who use the BookFunnel app to listen. The downside is that readers need the BookFunnel app. The upside is that you can give away an unlimited number of free copies, assuming you’re not contractually obligated not to.
If you’re exclusive ACX, I don’t think you can legally do it.
With StoryOrigin, readers can listen in an app they already use, such as the Audible app. When authors distribute audiobook codes through StoryOrigin, they’re essentially getting a free ebook from Audible or Author’s Direct. It’s a more familiar listening experience for the listener, but authors are more restricted in how many free audiobook copies they can give away. Although I believe if you ask ACX for more codes, they will often give you more than the initial 25.
Evan: The other thing to mention is that Audible will not let you review a book unless you have purchased it through Audible or received a free code for it. If you purchase a book anywhere other than Audible, you won’t be able to leave a review for it.
If you’re looking to boost your audiobook reviews on Audible.com, you can only do that by giving them your Audible promo codes. They can only review if they’ve purchased or received a code.
Thomas: As somebody who has purchased over 1,000 books on Audible, I pay attention to Audible reviews. Readers can review the quality of the narrator, and I can listen to a sample to see if I like the narrator. As an audiobook buyer, I give more weight to Audible reviews than Goodreads or Amazon reviews.
Audible reviews are probably the hardest for authors to get because they have to be a “verified purchase,” and free promo codes count as verified purchases.
On Amazon, anyone who borrows a book from a friend can leave a review for it. But you can’t do that on Audible.
Evan: Audible reviews are important because readers are interested in the quality of the narrator and the overall quality of the book. Audiobooks tend to be more expensive. An audiobook might cost $25, so it’s a slightly more important purchasing decision for many people. They have to decide whether they’ll use their one monthly credit for that book.
What final tips do you have for authors?
Thomas: Do you have any final tips or encouragement?
Evan: First, don’t be intimidated. Many authors come to StoryOrigin and see authors with giant mailing lists, and they feel like they don’t belong.
But a lot of those authors were probably in your shoes just a few weeks ago. Even if you have zero people on your mailing list, you can still apply to those giveaway group promos which help you build your mailing list.
Just do it because the people who organize those group promos were probably in your shoes not long ago. They know exactly what position you’re in, and they’re usually more than willing to accept you and promote you even if you’re just starting out.
Secondly, create your own group promo. It’s really easy. It takes about five minutes to fill out the form, and your group promo will be listed in the upcoming promos.
As the organizer, you can accept your own books into the group promo and become the contact person for other authors. It will help you get connected with your colleagues in the StoryOrigin community. Those relationships are valuable, especially when it comes time to release a book.
Thomas: You can also organize your own group promo at AuthorMedia.social in the comments beneath this episode. Many of you write similar books. You can find each other there, and you can organize your promos.
And Evan, we’d love for you to join us at AuthorMedia.social. It’s our own special social network just for authors. I imagine a lot of people will have StoryOrigin questions there.
Evan: I’d be happy to jump in.
Thomas: StoryOrigin (Affiliate Link) offers a free version and a paid Standard Version for $10 per month or $100 per year. Sign up, log in, and start building your email list with StoryOrigin (Affiliate Link).
i think I’ll try this!
Hello from beautiful Montana,
Thanks so much for this information. I am a creative who loves to write, but find it difficult to market. I will look into this and see if it feels more intuitive for me. It will be a great way to build my email list if it works as promised.
Thank you again.
Fondly, Judy Helm Wright–Author/Historian/IntuitiveWiseWoman
Very helpful session with Thomas and Evan. I’m working on using StoryOrigin, and Evan has been very responsive to email questions.
I’ve already paid for a Book Funnel account so I’m thinking I shouldn’t also pay for Story Origin. Thoughts?