How Authors And Writers Can Build An Email List For Marketing

OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn

Blending internet marketing and tech-phobic authors can be a challenge, but on this blog I aim to bring the two together. One of the key concepts for internet marketers is growing a targeted email list. You will frequently hear “the money is in the list” and this is as true for authors as it is for internet entrepreneurs.

What is list-building?

You offer something of value for free in exchange for an email address. You can set up auto-responders which are automatic emails that go out directing the person to more useful information.

This is permission marketing. You have given something to the person and in exchange asked permission to send them more useful information.

List building is NOT list-buying. It's the growth of your own list over time in exchange for something of value.

What is the point of having a list?

If you have people's email addresses, and you are a trusted provider of useful information, people will open and read your emails. This means you can  use the email list to market your books (if the list has been set up for that purpose).

Imagine how powerful it is to have a list of 10,000 people and to send an email saying “My book is available now. Click here to buy”. This is the basis of all the Amazon bestseller campaigns which generally use other people's lists. If you build one yourself, you have a much more targeted list and you are a trusted provider to those people. Remember, if people know, like and trust you, they are more likely to buy your book.

How do you build a list?

You need to have something to give away for free that is:

  • Valuable and useful to people
  • Related to your product/book

Once you have that, you set up an email signup box like the one for the Author 2.0 Blueprint (top right). People enter their email and then get the free product.

It is very important to use a reputable service that:

  • manages this all for you automatically and is scalable (yes, you could have 50,000+ subscribers within a few years!)
  • lets people to unsubscribe easily (mandated by anti-spam laws)
  • enables you to send out broadcasts when you like as well as setting up auto-responders
  • enables you to manage and download your list
  • enables you to set up multiple lists from one account

I use Aweber (affiliate) which is one of the best and most highly reputable services. It is very simple to set up forms. No programming needed! It has a scalable monthly fee depending on how many names you store. If you sign up in the top right hand corner for the Author 2.0 Blueprint, this will take you through how the service works from a user point of view.

After you have set up the mechanism for sign-up and a great free offer, you then drive people to the list using the usual traffic building activities like blogging, social networking etc.

What free giveaway can you use?

As authors, we are uniquely placed to offer some great free giveaways as we produce quality information relatively easily. It is also very important that you giveaway something that is related to what you are selling. There's no point in giving away an ebook on finance if you want to sell romantic fiction on your blog.

So I give away the Author 2.0 Blueprint, as I am selling Author 2.0 online courses.  When I start list-building for the launch of my novel, I will give away the first few chapters.

Here are some ideas for your free giveaway:

  • First 3 chapters of your book, or a short story, or the first novella in a series of 3
  • Top 10 tips for <insert your niche here> e.g. Top 10 tips for growing organic tomatoes/ Top 10 tips for writing fantasy
  • Audio of you reading your work, or talking about the subject you are writing about
  • Blueprint or manual for a product
  • For fiction authors, check this post for more ideas.

The most important thing to remember is…

You want to be a valuable resource to people, either for information or entertainment. You do not want to be seen as a spammer. So give away great information, offer quality on a regular basis for free and people will be happy to buy from you when you have something they are interested in. Don't send unrelated offers. Don't abuse the list or they will unsubscribe. It's all about respect.

Image: Flickr CC Ebby

Do you have a list building strategy at the moment?

Joanna Penn:

View Comments (66)

  • Hi Joanna, love all your great and practical advice, and wondering if you're considering updating this particular post, as there must be many changes. If you've already done this please direct me to the right place on your site. Thanks so much again, Tanya Freedman.

  • Hey Joanna,
    Great information. I really appreciate all you have to share. I'm going to BlueHost right now to create my site and take over my indie-author operation. You've given me a lot to think about and it's difficult to simplify, but the one takeaway I keep getting is to think of the audience first. It's challenging as a writer because we have something we want to say yet find it difficult to look through the eyes of audience instead.
    Thanks again,
    Jason E. Hamilton

    • hi joanne - my wife has just written her first kid's book. I am the designated publicist. there is such a lot to learn about book marketing - praps as time-consuming as writing a book! when I have read your site, I've decided i'll pick 10 things I think are important and can learn to do - and get them done! First, build a website!

  • Building an email list is indeed an awesome thing. However, recently with the rise of social media, more and more authors would rather rely solely on growing their social profile than a list of emails.

    Someone would be more willing to buy a book if he sees 20 others left their own reviews about.

    • That's the reader perspective - but from an author perspective, social media sites will rise and fall, but if you own the email list, you will always be able to sell your work.

  • I've looked into Mail Chimp and AWeber, but the thing that stopped me from using them is that they require your mailing address and it is printed on the correspondence that you send out to fans.

    It seemed dangerous to make my mailing address so public. How did you get around this?

    • Hi Fran, Many authors use an accountant's address or another related but not personal address. I just use my own - and am not worried about it, to be honest. I actually get cards and presents in the post :)

  • The most important aspect if having an email list is to use for sending an email only when you have something engaging to share. I get a lot of newsletters every day most of them get deleted after reading first few lines. Quality of the material that you send out should be the first priority. Just because it is free it does not mean someone will read it. If it is put together just for the purpose of reminding about yourself, this type of email has a good chance to end up in a spam folder.

  • Hi Joanna, do you imagine that I could use my Monday walking group list as a starting point for an email list? I know these people well and a number of them have already received free books from me as gifts.. Then instead of another free book, could I offer them a free breathing and relaxation sessions after a walk as my freebie? I have the training to do this as I used to run exercise and yoga classes.
    I know this is unrelated to writing and books, but I've noticed that a lot of the walkers, who are all in the 50-60+ group, are very out of breath after a long walk.

  • I am trying really hard to comment here, but it keeps hanging up and sitting there for ten minutes or more, and then when I click the submit button a second time it tells me I've already submitted that comment, when it hasn't.

    Anyway. I need a better method for getting people to sign up for an email list other than offering a freebie of value, because I've had a freebie available for a signup on my website for months and haven't had a single person sign up.

    How do you build a mailing list from *nothing*? That's what I need to know.


    • Hi Megaera,
      On building a list from nothing, the best way is to put a link at the back of your books. Then as you market your books, you get a stream of people coming after they finish and want more. That's what I do at http://www.JFPenn.com
      Another way is guest posting or do a Rafflecopter giveaway.
      All the best, Joanna

      • Can you or someone tell me how to put links in an ebook when I'm using Mobipocket Creator for Amazon and Smashwords's meatgrinder for everywhere else?

        I haven't been able to figure that out, and I'm so gormless when it comes to this stuff that I would need baby steps.


        • I just type my email and web address in and it seems to automatically go blue and active so that one can click on it, There might be a better way, but try this and see if you are happy with it.

  • I second Gary's recommendation. I use MailChimp. They've recently had a redesign so they are much more intuitive to use. Excellent templates, too.

  • Hands down the best email list management service out there is http://mailchimp.com. It's highly reputable, easy to use, has a nice mobile app, makes it easy to create beautiful communications, and manages opt outs and permission very well. Their free option lets you do almost everything you want to do including some pretty sophisticated testing and analytics if you're up for that challenge. It is also pre-integrated with a number of other sites out their. In fact, we're in the process of integrating the reader management capabilities at lithive.com with it.

    Another very good option is is constantcontact.com which I've also used extensively for a brick-n-mortar retail business and it does a very good job as well. I think constantcontact *may* be a bit better at e-commerce integration, but I haven't used it in about 18 months since we no longer have that retail business.

    I'd highly recommend either in any case.

  • Thanks for the info. I think the most important part of all of this, is that the something I give away for free has to be of incredible value. The subscriber is giving me (the blogger) their valuable email address so it has to be an even or better exchange. That is where I am stumped. I write about Africa and animals on my blog, and the book I am working on is about my 30 years of strange, scary and funny experiences in Africa. I am just not exactly sure who my audience is and what they would find valuable. And maybe the answer comes from trial and error?
    Thanks. Lori from AfricaInside.org

    • Hi Lori, and yes, it is a matter of trial and error - but one idea might be something like a free PDF of 'top 10 surprising places to visit in Africa' , or ' 10 places you never knew you wanted to visit' or something like that - it's intriguing and may give people somewhere new to travel to, or at least armchair travel to. That's the kind of thing I would sign up for ...

      • Thanks Joanna, I love that idea yet feel all the true travel blogs do something similar (probably 'cause it works) so I thought of 21 trustworthy organizations helping African Animals or something along those lines. My blog is not a travel blog, nor a writers blog, nor an animal blog but all of them together. So, it makes it more confusing I think. Thanks for your valuable input.

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