The Importance of an Author Mailing List by Mandy Rosko
Okay, so every author worth his or her salt kind of knows this already, so I don’t think I’m going to be telling you anything new here. The point of this post is to convince you to actually get started. Why?
Because apparently I’m not alone as one of the many, many authors out there who, despite knowing how mailing lists are important, despite hearing again and again the complaints of other authors who regret not starting theirs sooner…yeah, I waited a long assed time before starting mine.
I kind of hate that now. Now I’m trying to keep a mindset where I don’t care about sales. I want subscribers first, second and third, and I’ll get to sales fourth.
Now here’s the best bit. I not only waited, but when I actually got started, I just sort of stopped looking at it and let it pitter off when the strategy I was using stopped working, which happened fairly quickly after Amazon started their new bit where a Kindle book will begin at the start of Chapter One, instead of on the cover or title page, allowing readers to see front matter. Same thing for the back matter. The instant someone finished a book, they were immediately taken to a review page instead of being able to look at free offers or a list of other books.
Considering the number of reviews I have, I’m not too sure how well the review page is working, even with my low sales.
But on to business!
Building a mailing list is not only insanely hard, but it can take a good amount of money and patience, because you’re looking at waiting a long time before you see results. A couple of months at the least.
Here’s a snap shot of what my list growth looked like after reading Nick Stephenson’s Reader Magnet Book:
I first started putting together my mailing list last year at the end of January or February. As you can see, those months are missing so I can’t really show you the growth there, but I still have April. The imports (225 of them) came when I attended Romancing the Capitol, a reader event, and gave away free signed print copies with the expectation that the readers got them by giving me their email addresses and signing up for the list.
I went to that event with no more than 130 books, possibly less, and encouraged people to take doubles for their friends, or themselves since I brought multiple series, or more books in one series. Which means that some people just saw the sign up form and signed up, possibly to feel good about also getting some free swag since I had those on the table as well.
It was awesome 😀
For the rest of April, people who signed up on their own, there were only 41. In May it was 32, and in June it was 21. July was 10. August was 8. Sept was 2. October was 1, and in November it was 7.
Notice that trend?
So here’s the thing I’m going to talk about. This isn’t just about list building and whatnot. It’s also about watching your list. Paying attention to it. Those months went by without me even noticing. Days add up and go by in a blink. I kept meaning to get back to it, but there was always more writing to be done, more edits, things to plan for, birthdays, Christmas, etc.
It wasn’t just that. It was that fact that I had read this book about a system that was supposed to work, but didn’t when Amazon changed how its customers read that was also a downer. I figured I’d get back to it because nothing I did was going to help anyway.
Then December came. Notice the slightly higher tick there? That’s 66 people. That came in when I did a Facebook event with a number of other authors. At the end of December. I think it happened on the 27th or the 28th. Before that bigger chunk, there were maybe 7-10 people who had signed up for the month based on my books and not so great landing page on my website.
When I announced the people at the party could get a free book and I got all those extra sign ups just from that, not giving them an Amazon link where they could buy something, but offering them something for free, I got all those extra people.
One Facebook event, one offer, barely any work on my part, and all those people signed up to hear from me, I was intrigued once more.
So, at that point, with RTC, and Nick Stephenson’s method, I was just under 500 subs. January came, and I’d already heard about another awesome way to get people to sign up for my list based on giveaways thanks to hanging out with the ladies at RAMN.
Instafreebie. I’ll explain that in a bit, but I also went back to Nick Stephenson’s books. I’d heard a couple of things, both good and some lukewarm, but nothing really bad. There was no one out there warning me he was a scammer, so I decided that I didn’t want to bother with all his free videos anymore. I wanted to take the risk and make myself a guinea pig by buying his class when it opened up and getting at some of his other videos.
In January, I started messing with Facebook Ads, advertising my Starter Library this time, not just one free ebook.
Not bad. This time I got 175 sign ups with 2 imports
Now I was totally starting to get greedy, and it was awesome. I wanted to see if I could do better on the next month, and I did. I used the Facebook ads in combination with another Facebook party, a group Valentines Day sale with 50+ other authors, and a Freebooksy ad to get this:
KAPOW! 583 sign ups with 8 imports.
BTW, these imports are coming when people email me saying they’re having trouble getting on the list themselves. I offer to manually sign them up and send them their books, and that’s how that happens. Just be careful that you have clear written permission to do this. People don’t like being signed up for something they don’t want.
Meaning if someone emails me saying “I want free books!” I don’t sign them up. I email them back, saying I can manually put them on the list if they like and send them their library. If they agree, I do it. If they don’t email me back, well I have my answer there, too.
Now back to work. Like I said, most of this is costing me money. The Valentine’s Day sale was free to join. I just had to advertise it to my growing list to qualify 🙂 That added me I think about 125-150 people.
The Freebooksy ad, when I watched it, I’m pretty sure added at least 200 people to the list. It’s hard to make an exact count since I also have people coming in through the Facebook ads, as well as a few trickling in from regular sales. I need to get one of those tracking pixels on my site, another thing that comes highly recommended that I’m still dragging my feet on. You can sort of keep track based on how many clicks you’re getting on your Facebook ad vs. how many you get the day of the Freebooksy ad and author promos, but I’m betting that it’s roughly 200 extra people, give or take a few, over the course of three or four days.
Be careful with Facebook ads and other online advertising spots! Some places I’ve used that I thought would get me major traffic that resulted in little more than a blip. These things will bring you subscribers, but not at the speed you would like or a cost that will keep you happy.
As of this writing, nearly 1AM on March 30th, this is what my Dashboard looks like. The first big spike is the Freebooksy, the second smaller one on the 17th is the St. Patrick’s Day sale with the other authors, and that small green bump at the end was an advertising spot on Fiverr that came highly recommended. I might give it another chance though, just in case there was something I missed when purchasing the ad:
Update: That last bump at the end was from a Facebook group promoting my permafree dragon romance. Almost a thousand copies in a day is pretty sweet when each of those books has a link inside to get those readers on my newsletter.
With my front and back matter advertising a free starter romance library to people who signed up for my list, these big jumps brought in new subscribers.
To date, here’s what March looks like for subscribers:
With two days left in the month, that’s 670 new subscribers plus 8 that were imported. I almost have a hundred more people than I did last month.
EDIT: On April 1st, at 2:55 am, that number is now at 730 subscribers. Not bad for the month 😀
Back to Instafreebie, however. All the people who signed up for my reader list through Instafreebie don’t appear on these graphs. I have no idea why since it’s Mailchimp connected, though they do appear on the monthly list number.
Anyway, here’s how many people have come in from Instafreebie in the three months since I’ve signed up:
This is from adding a new free book every month for people to choose from, and only those who opt into my mailing list get one, so I’m not sure how this list would have looked had I only used one book for the entire three months, or if I’ll continue to add new books every month. Probably not, as I’m pretty sure I’ll eventually run out, but I have enough of a back list that I can keep on going for a little while longer.
So to recap. At the end of December I had about 485 people on my list after a year. As of this writing, I have 2915 people on my list, just shy of 3000.
I have 29% of my goal of 10K subscribers, and I’m hoping to get that by the end of December if I can keep this momentum up.
Keep in mind this is after buying list building courses that are pretty expensive, and dumping $500 a month into multiple Facebook ads, and trying to get ones that are cheap and effective. I can spend this much because I have a pretty decent savings thanks to my other pseudonym that makes me good money for now, but I keep hearing stories of people who get readers onto their lists by spending only $5 a day on the ads themselves, and getting invited to Facebook Parties. I’ve also had to turn off some of my Facebook ads because Facebook is trying to charge me over a dollar per click. Something I’m not cool with and have been trying to get back down there for the last couple of weeks >.< It’s an expensive experiment when you can’t figure out how to get the cost per click below $0.50
Another expensive thing I did was a giveaway with KingSumo. Even with getting KingSumo on sale for $99, that, plus the cost of the prize still made it pretty expensive. After heavily filtering down the emails, I think in the end I got about 100 people on my list, which puts the cost per subscriber at about $2.20 each. Not too sure how I feel about that, but I’m willing to try again and keep experimenting with it to see what can be improved.
To not end on a downer, keep in mind that being invited to a Facebook party and advertising your list there tends to be free, though you should only do this if you’re actually hosting a spot. Do Not do this if you’re a guest there who is just there to have fun and get some cool free stuff. Also, I pay only $20 a month for Instafreebie. Basically, I got 1153 people on my list from spending $60. Totally worth it. Same thing with Freebooksy. Do that once a month, spend the $125, and if you can get even close to 200 people, then you’re looking at $0.50-0.75 per subscriber. Also worth it. Not everything has to clean out your bank account to be worth it.
I’ve also cleaned some people out of the list who are not active. I’ll have to do that again soon I’m sure. If no one opens a letter from me in 5 months, I can assume they don’t care and get rid of the email. Since I want my open rate and click rates to be high, this is mega important. You pay for the people on your list so make sure you can keep a decent open and click rate.
So here’s the thing, you might not need to buy any expensive training courses, or do the Facebook ads so long as you’re a super cool networker and can get invited to at least one Facebook Party a month and do your own advertising, while making sure your website is as clean as possible and ready to take in more people who want to get your free stuff. Personally, my website landing page still needs major work, too many distractions, but it does still work.
I did need these things. I needed the course to keep me from seeing something shiny and moving on. I’m lazy. I need something to keep me accountable and something for me to keep looking at to see that there’s still a steady improvement. Seeing the number of subscribers go up every day by 15-35 is great. Every time I get another hundred, I do a little happy dance in my chair. Or a silent squeal if I’m in public and don’t want anyone to see. With every thousand, I get a euphoric feeling. I want that to keep on happening.
I have to test out the list a little more, send the people on it some questions to find out if they prefer sales to contests and whatnot, and see how effectively I can sell to them without pissing them off. I’m trying to take it slow by romancing them with my winning personality and free stuff, so I don’t think I’ll have any decent numbers for another few months, though I’m already noticing a small bump in sales whenever I send out an email 🙂
It used to be that I’d be lucky to get a check from Amazon two months in a row. That’s how few books I sold despite having a decent back list size. Now, thanks to the Freebooksy ads, the Valentines and St Patrick’s Day sales, along with sending out my newsletters telling readers about these sales and my preorders, I’ll be getting some checks over the next couple of months.
Nothing too spectacular. This month I’ve so far got another $337 coming my way, which is still awesome, especially with the CAD to USD conversion rate.
That’s enough to pay my Car insurance plus gas and have money left over for me to go shopping with. It’s not what a lot of authors are making, but it’s nothing to sneeze at either. It makes my Facebook ads hurt less in the end, that’s for sure.
Again, it’s still too soon to see how much it will grow, if at all, but it’s kind of interesting that the only time I started making money on my self published stuff was when I stopped caring about sales.
~USA Today Bestselling Author Mandy Rosko