Back in the day, choosing an email marketing company was easy. Pretty much every author chose MailChimp, and MailChimp was the best pick for almost everyone.
Sadly, those days are over.
MailChimp is not the platform it used to be. It has become expensive, hard to use, and it lacks the features that authors need to grow their email lists. Not only has MailChimp gotten worse, but its competitors have gotten much better.
In this article, you’ll learn about two great alternatives to MailChimp. If MailChimp is the only email marketing service you have ever used, I will introduce you to a beautiful new world.
I will also teach you an email strategy and how to implement that strategy on the best email platforms. Even if you are happy with your email provider, you will be able to apply these tips.
Why not just use Outlook to build your email list?
Before we get to the advanced list-building strategies, I need to answer a question new authors ask. ‘Why can’t I use Outlook or Gmail to send my newsletters?”
Sending your newsletter via Outlook or Gmail is bad for five reasons.
- People can’t subscribe or unsubscribe, so you must add them manually.
- Adding and removing addresses manually is super time-consuming.
- Your email open rate can’t be tracked. Open rate is a key metric traditional publishers consider when evaluating an author’s platform.
- Sending mass BCC emails annoys your friends.
- It’s potentially illegal, and it’s not in compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act or GDPR.
Don’t use your regular email program for building your author email list. Use an email service provider such as MailChimp, MailerLite, or ConvertKit.
MailChimp vs. MailerLite vs. ConvertKit
I would estimate 80-90% of authors use one of these three email platforms.
Most authors start with MailChimp because they get up to 2,000 subscribers for free. But as of last year, MailChimp has crippled their free plan, making it less than ideal for most authors.
I was on the fence about MailChimp when these changes first went through. Since then, I’ve worked closely with some of the email service alternatives. I discovered that the alternatives have better free plans, and they are easier to use.
While MailerLite doesn’t give you as many free subscribers as MailChimp, it has a fully-featured free plan. When your MailChimp list grows, and you have to start paying, MailerLite is about half the price of MailChimp’s paid plan.
ConvertKit is built specifically for bloggers and authors. MailChimp and MailerLite were built with small businesses in mind, which makes them more complicated for authors.
Since ConvertKit is made specifically for you, it has exactly the features you want and none of the complications you don’t want. It’s more expensive, but for many authors, that added expense is well worth the cost because it’s so easy to use.
List Growing Strategies
So now let’s talk about how to grow your list and how these three platforms compare when implementing each strategy.
Reader Magnet Delivery
One of the best ways to build your email list is to give away a reader magnet. Usually, authors give away a free short story, tip-sheet, or something else that is immediately interesting and valuable to your readers.
While it is technically possible to deliver reader magnets with MailerLite and MailChimp, it’s so complicated that most authors never figure out how to do it. Authors who do give away reader magnets on these platforms are forced to use a third-party service like BookFunnel or StoryOrigin to do it for them.
While ConvertKit integrates with BookFunnel and StoryOrigin, it makes adding a reader magnet so easy that you don’t need book funnel to deliver it for you. Especially if you only want to deliver a PDF, ConvertKit makes this super easy.
To learn more about creating reader magnets, see episode 145 How to Create a Reader (Lead) Magnet.
Landing Page Builder
Landing pages are webpages designed to get people to sign up for your newsletter. They can live on your website, but they don’t have to. All three platforms offer a built-in landing page builder. Landing pages work best when they are carefully tailored to the audience you are targeting.
For example, if you are doing a podcast interview, you will get more subscribers from those listeners if you create a special reader magnet connected to the topic of your interview and create a special landing page for the listeners of that podcast. What’s more, you’ll be able to measure exactly how many subscribers came to you from that particular episode.
MailChimp and MailerLite have powerful drag-and-drop editors that give you a lot of options and control over the design of the page. This is good if you want to spend a log of time making a complicated landing page.
But for authors, simple landing pages tend to convert more subscribers. When authors have the ability to create heavily designed landing pages, they are tempted to use all those design features, which makes the landing page less effective.
MailChimp and MailerLite also have complicated processes for adding a reader magnet to the landing page. I doubt many authors are able to figure out how to do it without digging through support documentation and YouTube.
ConvertKit, on the other hand, has a simpler landing page builder where you can add the reader magnet right on the landing page. It’s so easy that I can create a landing page to deliver a reader magnet specifically for a speaking event or podcast interview in about five minutes. Sometimes I create a landing page right before I walk on stage.
If you want to learn more about landing pages, listen to Episode 202 How to Create a Landing Page.
In general, all three platforms integrate with all the major WordPress themes like Divi (affiliate link) and list building plugins like Bloom (affiliate link). Where integrations matter, there is not much difference between MailChimp, MailerLite, and ConvertKit.
However, ConvertKit has special Teachable and Podia integrations that make it the best choice, especially for nonfiction authors, if you ever plan to create courses.
MailChimp has a slightly deeper integration with MyBookTable and MyBookProgress, but you can still connect them to MailerLite or ConvertKit. You just need to make a landing page first. You paste the link to the landing page into the plugin, and it will be integrated.
Winner: ConvertKit (for nonfiction)
Winner: 3 Way Tie (for fiction)
List Engagement Strategies
ConvertKit wins the first three rounds regarding growing your list, but let’s talk about engaging your list. It doesn’t matter how big your list is if those subscribers aren’t receiving, opening, and reading your emails.
Which platform is best for connecting with readers and thrilling your subscribers?
When someone first joins your list, they tend to have a lot of questions about you. This is a great opportunity for several emails to drip out to that person letting them about yourself, your books, and your writing.
Onboarding sequence emails tend to have a higher open rate than any other emails you send. While standard author open rates fall between 20-40%, it’s not uncommon to see onboarding emails with an open rate of 60% or more.
Authors with onboarding sequences have a stronger connection to their readers than authors without an onboarding sequence. Readers know them better, like them better, and they’re more likely to buy their books.
So how do our three platforms measure up?
The clear loser is MailChimp.
If you have 500 subscribers and want to customize and send an onboarding sequence, MailChimp will charge you $50 per month. That’s more than MailerLite or ConvertKit. And just because you are paying for the capability of sending an onboarding sequence doesn’t mean you have one. You still need to figure out how to do it.
Of the dozens of authors I have talked with over the last few months, only one had an onboarding sequence with MailChimp. She was paying for MailChimp, and also paid a third-party contractor to set up her onboarding sequence because it was such a complicated process.
If you use Mailer Lite and have an email list with 500 subscribers, creating an onboarding sequence costs you $0. That’s right. MailerLite allows users of its free plan to create onboarding sequences. For that reason, MailerLite wins the crown for the best free plan.
While ConvertKit doesn’t include onboarding sequences with ConvertKit’s free plan (affiliate link), their interface for creating sequences is the easiest to use. Pretty much every author I know who uses ConvertKit has an onboarding sequence.
While MailerLite is harder to use that ConvertKit, it’s still easier to use than MailChimp. MailerLite is the best bang for your buck if you’re on a tight budget and want an onboarding sequence.
Winner (less than 1,000 subscribers): MailerLite
Winner (more than 1,000 subscribers): ConvertKit
Sometimes people abandon their email addresses. They might switch from Yahoo to Gmail. Or they might get a new job and stop using their work address. Emails collect in these inboxes where no human reads them. These abandoned email addresses cost you money and make your emails more likely to go to promotions and spam.
So what should you do?
Clean your list.
Clean your list by gathering all the email addresses that do not open your emails. Then you send them a few emails (often called a re-engagement campaign) to see if they want to stay on your list. If you hear nothing back, remove them from your list.
Keeping your list free of these abandoned email addresses is like keeping your house free of bugs. It will save you money and increase the likelihood of delivery to people who want to receive your emails.
ConvertKit and MailerLite both have good methods for cleaning your list. MailChimp does not. MailChimp used to allow you to segment your list to delete abandoned email addresses. But now, they force you to use their broken “star” system, and it’s a terrible way to clean your list.
If you’re with MailChimp, the way to clean your list is to move to another provider for six months, clean your list with their tools, and then move back to MailChimp. Or, you could just stay with the new provider and be able to keep your list clean moving forward.
MailChimp wants you to keep paying for all the old, abandoned email addresses that no one checks. MailChimp users can expect to have a lower delivery rate than MailerLite or ConvertKit users.
If you want to be traditionally published, your delivery rates are another metric that traditional publishers evaluate. MailChimp could poison your chances with a traditional publisher, especially if you’ve been building your list for many years. The older your list is, the more abandoned email address you’ll have.
Winner: ConvertKit & MailerLet
As an author, you have one huge advantage over Amazon. You are a human being.
While Amazon is a faceless corporation, you are a real person with a face, name, and personality.
Some authors believe they will succeed by setting aside the advantage of their humanity to appear as corporate as possible. These authors design logos and use fancy email templates with graphics, banners, and lots of pretty colors.
This is a tragedy.
If those authors measured their marketing, they would discover that simple “human” emails get more opens, clicks, and replies than emails with fancy templates. I have read the research and done the tests myself. Simple emails perform better when they feel like they come from a real human.
The emails you receive from your friends might have a hyperlink or an image, but they don’t have banners, branded fonts, or a gallery of images. You want your emails to feel like they are coming from a trusted friend, not a faceless company.
If you subscribe to the Author Media newsletter, you will see that every email feels like it comes from a real person and not from a corporation.
MailChimp and MailerLite were built for businesses that can’t help but look corporate. While fancy templates are great for restaurants they are terrible for authors. It’s possible to send human-looking emails from MailChimp and MailerLite, but it’s extra work to try to make it look and feel human.
ConvertKit, on the other hand, has human-style templates built into the interface. You can include a hyperlink or image, but it looks more like an email that comes from Outlook or Gmail. As a result, ConvertKit’s emails are friendlier and receive more engagement from your readers.
The final consideration is pricing, and MailerLite is the clear winner at every list size.
MailerLite has the best free plan. Once you start paying, they are half the price of MailChimp and ConvertKit. On the surface, MailChimp and ConvertKit look to be about the same price, but ConvertKit ends up being a bit cheaper since they let you clean your list. The older your list, the more of a difference this will make.
If you’re paying for MailChimp, you will save money, time, hassle, and stress by switching to ConvertKit (Affiliate Link). I switched, and I have helped many authors switch to ConvertKit, and no one has looked back.
You will save even more money switching to MailerLite (Affiliate Link) which can be great if you are willing to put up with the increased complexity.
Is it easy to move?
It takes about 15 minutes to switch email providers. Often, it’s simply a matter of typing your login information, and everything will import automatically. It’s so easy that I refuse to do this as a paid service for authors until they have tried it themselves. In almost every instance, the author was shocked at how easy it was.
There is no reason to use an email platform you are not in love with. Your subscribers may not even notice the difference when you switch.
I use ConvertKit (Affiliate Link) and, if you can afford it, it’s the best pick. If you are time-poor and cash-rich, ConvertKit will be the easiest, fastest, and most enjoyable platform to use.
If you write nonfiction and are thinking about creating a course to go with your book, spending the extra money for ConvertKit will more than pay for itself.
MailerLite (Affiliate Link) comes in as a close second. If you are on a tight budget, it may be the best pick for you. Many novelists like MailerLite due to the lower price. If you are willing to do extra work to figure it out, you can save a lot of money with MailerLite.
MailChimp (Affiliate Link) still makes sense if you are a college student with no money, and you have between 1,000 and 2,000 subscribers. If that is not you, then MailChimp is likely not the best pick. I don’t see any reason to pay for MailChimp.
If you’re still not convinced, both MailerLite and ConvertKit offer free trials that you can play around with it.
Time is running out for Ethan Freeman, an ex-Special Forces Ranger, to stop a conspiracy to free The Destroyer and his horde of Fallen Angels.
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We are growing out of our house! The house that seemed so big as newly weds is now bursting at the seams with babies and a home office. A pandemic seems to be a crazy time to explore the housing market, but my wife and I have started the process of house shopping. If any of you have tips on buying or selling homes, feel free to shoot me an email.