Email Marketing is the best tool for driving book sales. It is the tractor that pulls all the other marketing efforts behind it.
Your email list is gold, and no one knows that better than email marketing expert Bryan Cohen, who we interviewed. Bryan is a two-time USA Today bestselling author and the co-host of the Sell More Books Show Podcast. He’s written over 850 book descriptions for other authors, and he has over 30,000 email subscribers for his fiction and nonfiction email lists.
Why should authors bother with email when readers get so many messages already?
Bryan: You’re playing the percentages to an extent. If you post to your Facebook page, group, or profile, only a tiny fraction of your fans and friends will see your post. You may get a “like” here and there, but as few as 6% of your fans will see it. If you have 100 followers, six of them will see your post, and a smaller percentage will engage with a like, comment, or share.
By contrast, if you send a high-quality email to your subscriber list, nearly every subscriber will receive your email, and at least one in five readers will open and read it, usually more.
Readers are more likely to engage with emails than content posted on any social media platform.
Thomas: Not only are you engaging with the highest number of people through email, but you’re also meeting them when they’re in the best frame of mind.
When people are on Facebook, they’re scrolling and not looking to make a purchase. Facebook is like a cocktail party where people mill about and chat, but they’re not ready to buy something.
But people are accustomed to making purchases through email. Amazon sends emails saying, “Here are some products similar to the one you were looking at earlier today.” When consumers browse the email, they’re primed to make a purchase.
Bryan: People are skimming Facebook, but they are more likely to read and absorb the content of your email.
Why do authors have trouble connecting with their readers via email?
Bryan: Many authors feel weird about anything related to marketing. They’re generally uncomfortable with selling. For new authors, anything that appears to be an organized effort to sell books feels “salsey.”
When they do finally set up an email list, and their readers from social media become email subscribers, authors worry about sending too many emails and filling up readers’ inboxes. They only email their readers when they launch a book, which may only be once a year.
That strategy is problematic because your emails are so infrequent that readers forget they signed up to receive emails from you. If they do remember, they won’t feel compelled to read an email from a stranger.
When we send an email, we are trying to sell books, but we’re also aiming to keep our names in front of readers so that they look forward to reading our emails and remember who we are.
Thomas: The psychological phenomenon called The Spotlight Effect hinders many authors and their email marketing.
People understand themselves to be the protagonists of their own stories as if a spotlight is shining down on them and everyone is watching. It’s easy to assume everyone else is paying as much attention to us as we are paying ourselves.
Authors often think their emails are glowing in their subscribers’ inboxes and that every typo will be found and scrutinized. But if you haven’t emailed your readers in two years, they’ve probably forgotten you exist, and they won’t even read your email.
You need to email at a regular frequency, but your content must also be valuable. If you simply remind them you exist, but your content is boring, you’ve just reminded them how boring you are.
Even if email subscribers don’t read your email, they see your name and remember that you exist.
Bryan: Fans don’t necessarily read every email. Your email marketing service provider will show you the percentage of people who read your email. Maybe the data says 30% of your subscribers open your emails, but it’s not the same 30% every time. As you send valuable content at a regular frequency, most of your readers will read at least one of your emails.
Thomas: One technique to help you reach more of your subscribers with a single email is to use the “Resend to unopened” feature, sometimes called an “echo send.” Your mail service will allow you to resend an email a few days later to the subscribers who didn’t open it the first time.
You may want to tweak the subject line, but you can squeeze a few more readers out of that email. But this is one of the techniques authors hesitate to use because it feels too “salesy.”
If that’s how you feel, remember that readers are on your list because they want to know when your next book comes out. Do them a favor by resending the email to increase their chances of finding out about your new book.
What other mistakes do you see authors make with their newsletters?
The first mistake is sending emails too infrequently.
Another common mistake is sending an email with no “meat” in it.
Some authors only send emails saying, “Click here and buy my book,” while others ramble and bury the “buy” link at the bottom of the emails. Sometimes authors will include multiple links, and the email is too watered down. Readers are unlikely to click on your purchase link if they have seven others to choose from.
So many things can go wrong with email, but you can never go wrong by being genuine. When you aim to be yourself, you’ll create emails people want to read, even if the email does have a typo.
Thomas: One of my clients was a traditionally published novelist whose books came out only once a year. She wasn’t sure what to write in her newsletter between releases, so she started writing a flash fiction short story about something embarrassing or funny that had happened to her. The stories weren’t directly tied to her fiction, but they did show off her storytelling skill. Her audience loved the glimpse into her life. The open rates were surprisingly high on those emails.
It was surprising to me because I don’t necessarily like to read those kinds of stories, but her readers did.
How do authors usually set up emails to go out to their readers?
Bryan: You need an email marketing service that allows you to automate emails to your new subscribers. Ideally, a new subscriber should receive an email as soon as they sign up for your list. After they’ve signed up, you’ll schedule a series of subsequent emails to introduce yourself and bring the subscriber up to speed on which book is available for them to read next.
I like for the first email to deliver the reader magnet or freebie they signed up for. I use BookFunnel to make it easy for them to receive. Then, in the following weeks and months, I schedule a series of emails introducing the author and giving readers opportunities to buy books.
If you tackle the technology learning curve, you can segment your list and send the right emails to the right people at the right time.
Thomas: When we started the email list for Novel Marketing, we created an onboarding campaign (or drip campaign), which is a series of emails that drips out over time. The open rates on some of those emails are as high as 70%. Some are lower, but that data allows us to tweak the emails so that future subscribers get the improved versions.
If you’re not sure which email marketing service to choose, listen to our episode that compares MailChimp, ConvertKit, and MailerLite.
How do you get more subscribers?
Bryan: That’s the question everyone is asking. There are many ways to get subscribers, but the highest-quality subscribers come to you organically. No one wants to hear that answer because you can’t throw money at organic subscribers and grow your list in 24 hours.
To gain organic subscribers, you need a website with great content.
When readers buy your books on Amazon, they’ll find a link to your website in your Amazon bio. They’ll click over to your website, see your great content, and hopefully type their address into your sign-up form to subscribe.
Continually writing additional books is a great way to get organic subscribers.
One of the most successful indie authors in 2016 had a list of fewer than 10,000 readers, and yet he had a seven-figure income. He doesn’t use any of the list-building-mania tactics. He simply writes more books, and people come to him organically.
There are other ways to get subscribers on your list. Paid promotional sites like StoryOrigin, BookSweeps, and AuthorsXP let you promote your freebie (or reader magnet) to their large lists of readers for a fee. Readers who choose to download your free reader magnet are added to your subscriber list.
Facebook ads are another good list-building tool. Twitter has an ad platform that’s less effective, but none of these readers will be as engaged as organic readers, who search for your website because they read something you wrote.
Thomas: You’re not recommending buying a list from another author. You’re recommending buying an ad where people can sign up for your reader magnet by typing their email address to be added to your list.
Sending an email to a purchased list of addresses is a sure way to get your email address marked as spam. If a few Gmail users receive an email they didn’t sign up for and they mark you as spam, your emails will go to the spam box of every person on your list with a Gmail address.
Jim: Growing an organic email list takes time. As you write more books, win awards, and give podcast interviews, your list will grow organically.
Does setting up automatic emails make you seem less like a person and more like a company?
Bryan: It seems like that would be the case, but when you spend time and effort giving each of those automated emails a personal touch, you will get responses from readers
I like to include a question at the end of my emails. Whether I schedule them or send them live, I always get answers in reply.
Some companies use “swipe files,” where they provide generic copy for you to use in an email. There’s nothing wrong with using a swipe copy template, but you must personalize and tweak it so that your voice comes through. If you don’t, your readers might get the same email from multiple authors who copy and paste the same swipe copy.
Thomas: You can also personalize the email by using the subscriber’s first name in the greeting. If you’ve collected first names on your sign-up form, you can personalize each email so that it reads, “Hello Thomas.” If the subscriber didn’t enter their first name, the personalized email would just say, “Hello There,” or some other generic greeting.
Don’t go crazy adding graphics and color to your emails. The emails you like most come from your friends. Your friends don’t spend time graphically designing their emails. Sending plain text emails and limiting your graphics to one or two images will make your email seem like it came from a friend.
How do you make email marketing more comfortable for authors?
Bryan: I wasn’t always comfortable writing emails. I didn’t even like to respond to emails I had received because it felt so uncomfortable, and I worried about saying something wrong.
Many authors feel they shouldn’t spend time writing emails because it takes away from the book-writing they want to do. But if you give yourself permission to spend time writing the emails, you’ll overcome that mental hurdle.
When you’re first starting, block out a day for writing emails. By the time you’ve written your third email, you’ll start to get into the flow, and the rest of the emails will be quicker and easier.
So many gurus talk about building your list, but if you don’t have an automated onboarding sequence of emails set up, don’t spend one dollar building your list. If you buy a promotion and people join your list, but you don’t email them for three months, you’ve probably wasted your money.
Thomas: If it feels intimidating to write your emails in the email marketing service editor, write them in Word or Google Docs. I write mine in Google Docs so my editors can review them before I send them.
Jim: Find another author and tackle this project together. You can critique and sharpen one another’s email sequences. It might be the impetus you need.
Bryan: If you’re having your book edited, ask your editor to check the emails you wrote.
What’s the best place to connect with you, Bryan?
I crafted this plan with bestselling and award-winning author James L. Rubart. The Five-Year Plan is a step-by-step guide for your writing career. Learn what to do in each quarter of the year to avoid the mistakes that hijack success for most authors. Set yourself up for success. Learn more at NovelMarketing.com.