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is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date.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
Your email list is the only way to consistently let fans know about your work.
If you own this list, you can always earn money from your creative work.
[Want to automate your author marketing and find your first 10,000 readers? Click here to out this free webinar with me and Nick Stephenson.]
Email is a critical part of how I connect with my audience, as well as how I make income, because once you have a list of people who have opted in to hear about your work, then you can tell them when you have books and products available.
This is how I was able to launch How to Market a Book and Business for Authors straight onto the Bestseller lists on Amazon next to some pretty big hitters.
The method for building an email list for non-fiction is well-established, and involves giving something of value for free in exchange for an email. Since you are usually providing targeted information with non-fiction work, it's easy enough to think of a useful giveaway in exchange for an email address.
My Author 2.0 Blueprint is now 92 pages of information on writing, publishing, book marketing and creative entrepreneurship, representing everything I know, for free. Lots of people sign up for it every day because it is obviously useful! (Get it here)
But growing your fiction email list is more challenging!
The principles are the same of course, and I have been been growing my J.F.Penn email list slowly over the last 18 months by offering a free short story and newsletter.
The results have not been that brilliant, to be honest!
But then Nick Stephenson, author of Supercharge your Kindle Sales, approached me with an opportunity.
He has a background in marketing and wanted to help supercharge my fiction email subscriber list by making a few changes on my site and in my books. His site, Your First 10,000 Readers, has a free video course that goes through these steps.
We all have myopia when it comes to our own work, and sometimes it just takes an outside opinion to improve things.
I'm always open to feedback and improvement, so I jumped at the chance to work with Nick. Here's what he suggested, and the results.
(1) Add a list signup in the FRONT of the books, as well as the back. Plus, use an enticing image instead of text.
I've had a list signup call-to-action in the back of my books for several years now, with the assumption that only those people who want to hear more from me will want to sign up, and those people would have finished the book.
Nick suggested I add something more enticing at the front as well as the back, particularly in my permafree book, Stone of Fire, An ARKANE Thriller Book 1. A free book is more enticing than a ‘newsletter' or a ‘free short story.' It's got to be value add.
He also suggested using an image and not just a text call-to-action. You can see the one I'm now using above right. It's definitely more enticing than a line of text with the same information. It links through to my Free Book page.
(2) Use a website squeeze page + email signup page with no distractions
Again, I have had an email subscribe box on the front page and sidebar of JFPenn.com since I began the site, but it wasn't prominent and it wasn't that enticing.
Nick's research showed that a squeeze page where people needed to click a button BEFORE they entered their email had a better conversion rate than just an email sign up box.
So we created this page so people could see what they'd be getting and a bit about me.
The only thing people can do on that page is to click the button in the middle or click away. If they click the button, then they get to enter their email, confirm the subsequent email (for anti-spam compliance) and then they get directed to a download page for the book in multiple formats.
(3) Use free content readers actually want
I used to have a free short story and newsletter as enticement for signing up to my fiction list. Nick pointed out that “no one wants a short story”! Of course, I think the stories are great and some people DO want to read short stories, but not as many people as would like an actual book.
So I decided to use Day of the Vikings as an enticing giveaway. It's a rollicking novella with lots of good reviews so it has real value. If people want this and like it, they will like my other books.
It's pretty representative of my writing style in general, plus it combines the characters from my two series: Morgan Sierra from the ARKANE series and Blake Daniel from the London Psychic series, so leads people into both of my worlds.
(4) Use permafree promotions to get traffic into your funnel
Once the signup page and the call to action is set up within the specific book you are using as a Reader Magnet, then you want to get more traffic to that book. One way is to use a permafree book at the beginning of the series. I have had Stone of Fire (previously Pentecost) as permafree on all stores for several years now, with over 100,000 downloads. I am clearly kicking myself that I didn't have all this set up earlier!
Some would say that the benefits of permafree have gone with the introduction of Kindle Unlimited and a flood of free books. But I'm still getting a few hundred to a thousand a month with Pentecost which is a good trickle as some of those go on to sign up and then may read the other books in the series – without relying on any other marketing strategy.
Ideally, you want to try to get a BookBub, Kindle Nation Daily or other promotion in order to start the flow of signups. But regardless, your daily downloads of the permafree book should start them trickling in anyway.
(5) Set up better initial email communication with auto-responders
I use auto-responders on this site if you sign up for the Blueprint. These are automatic emails that are sent at specific times after signup with no additional effort from me. It's more difficult for fiction as the aim is entertainment as opposed to education.
Nick suggested just being more open about who I am and why I write, as well as talking about what readers can expect from me. I have included an email about the types of books I like which hopefully gives the recipient and I something in common.
I know it took me several years of blogging here to become really open in my communication – so I am just early days on the fiction side. So if this kind of thing freaks you out, I totally understand!
When I implemented these changes in Nov 2014, I had 603 people on my fiction list. This had taken about 18 months to get to – not a fantastic result, but hey, I'm in this for the long term and it wasn't really worrying me.
So has it worked?
As I write this in mid Jan 2015, I have 2255 subscribers on my fiction list, a (very) significant increase in a short amount of time. I have some advertising booked on my permafree book coming up soon, so I will expect to see some more increases then too.
But basically, the changes are likely to work for the long term as they provide more value add for readers and are more obvious.
Why have I “failed” at this before?
I've been thinking hard about this. Why was I successful in growing a non-fiction list and not a fiction one? The mechanism is much the same. For me, it has come down to:
Lack of confidence.
Feeling that I didn't really want to advertise my fiction that much, just in case people didn't like it or me. I've talked about fear of judgement before and it still bites me on every release.
It's taken me a long time to become more confident in my fiction writing, and I have generally kept that on the back burner whilst writing more books. But with the publication of Desecration, I began to feel I was ready to share more about my fiction. I'm damn proud of that book – of all my books, yes, but that one in particular because I stopped self-censoring.
This switch in email marketing is just the latest in a series of changes as I move into the next phase of being a more successful fiction author.
There's something else that will stop you: Not enough product.
If you only have one book, you won't want to make it permafree, even if that could get you a list of readers for the next book. If you only have two books, it will still be hard. Three … you'll be almost ready.
So yes, as usual with fiction, writing more books will help you with everything – with your craft, with building an audience and with your confidence.
If you haven't started an email list at all yet, definitely put it on your list for 2015. I use Aweber, and Mailchimp is another alternative option.
If you want to automate your author marketing and find your first 10,000 readers, Click here or on the image below to join this free webinar with me and Nick Stephenson.
Do you have any questions or comments about growing a fiction email list for Nick or for me? Please leave them in the comments below and join the conversation.
Success image: Flickr Creative Commons by Bernard Goldbach
K.B. Owen says
Hi Joanna! Thanks for all the tips. I’m definitely going to try using a visual in the email signup call to action (and at the beginning of my book!).
When I checked out your fiction site, I didn’t see a squeeze page. Did you change your mind about that? I feel conflicted about using a squeeze page, because I find them annoying sometimes when I’m on the receiving end (esp. the ones where it’s hard to find the X, LOL). But I’ll definitely be giving that some more thought.
By the way, I use MailPoet on my WP.org site, which is easy to use and works well. All I need are more subscribers! *wink*
Joanna Penn says
Hi Kathy, you get to the squeeze page if you click the freebooks visual or link: http://www.jfpenn.com/freebook/
All you can do on that page is click the button or exit the page. No other options.
I think you’re meaning a pop up?
Great post! I’m definitely going to give this a try, and cross post between the two series I have running at the moment.
My biggest hurdle, funny enough, is getting my visual to show up in my Kindle content. I know there’s a way to do it, but I can’t get it to work. So what I did instead was created a “Click here to get your free book” link at the end of the promo. I’ll see how well that works…
Thanks again for the advice!
Hey Joanna–I was so excited to spread this post all over my social media channels! I’ve written down your ideas in great detail to use for my own (future) series. But I do have one technical question–if your book is for sale on various channels, how are you able to give it away for free? For instance, doesn’t that violate part of Amazon’s (lengthy/ridiculous/constricting) contract? Or are you allowed to give away promotional copies and is that what they consider this?
Joanna Penn says
Hi Ilana, you only have a problem with that if you are KDP Select and exclusive to Amazon. Otherwise, you can do what you like e.g. set for free on iBooks and Kobo and Amazon will price match to free.
Hey Joanna–thanks for answering my question re: Amazon exclusivity and how to offer a free book. But I’m still a little confused–how are you getting the novella to show up as $2.99 on Amazon if it was made free elsewhere? And where do the links direct people to the free download in their preferred format? Is it just the link to that book’s page on B&N, Kobo, Apple, etc.?
Joanna Penn says
I also sell the ebook – but you can get it for free here: http://www.jfpenn.com/freebook/
and if you sign up, you get directed to the download page which I host.
Dawn DeSousa says
Congrats on overcoming your fear and sharing your journey! As soon as I get more content, I will be back to this page to implement these suggestions. Note to self, “head down, create more content.” Cheers!
Amy Shojai, CABC says
I also signed up for Nick’s great video series and have made some adjustments to what I’d done previously. Like you, I have a number of nonfiction books and had the subscription link in a couple of “quick tips” low cost/occasionally free books. But (doh!) I hadn’t made any additional full-length books free in exchange for subscribing to my Pet Peeves newsletter, and added the image inside the quick tips books.
But I also ran a short Facebook add campaign announcing the “free book” to targeted readers.
My newsletter goes to readers of both my nonfiction pet books and the pet-centric thrillers and I only have about 1000 subscribers so far. But I’ve already seen results/increase in subscriptions. The “squeeze page” idea is next on my agenda, and once I have the third book in my thriller series out, will leverage that.
(BTW, hope to see you at Thrillerfest again this year!)
Mark Tilbury says
Having just set up a blog I made sure I included a subscription option on every page and links to all social media accounts to encourage a wider audience. I only have 2 subscribers so far but as I haven’t published anything yet, nor do I have anything I can offer for free, I’m not sure if I can expect much more.
You should have every confidence in your writing, fiction and non-fiction. I’ve learned a lot from this blog and Author2.0, and have been entertained by both the ARKANE and London Psychic books – which I bought on the back of of reading Pentecost for free.
Like Dawn said earlier I will have to implement your suggestions when I have more content as they have been very successful for you.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks for the kind words, Mark, and for checking out my books – and it sounds like you’re just at the beginning, so don’t worry about subscribers as yet 🙂 They will come – and you’ve set things up so that over time, you will grow!
Sue Coletta says
Thank you for sharing this. I recently started an email list with a free giveaway “50 Ways To Murder Your Fictional Characters”. I’m surprisingly happy with the results so far, but I’m always looking for new ways to improve. Mainly I wanted to get it set-up. I had no idea so many writers would be interested in my little 13-page booklet. Implementing these ideas should create an even bigger buzz. Your results are so impressive!
Lorna Faith says
Such a helpful post Joanna 🙂 Almost done Book #2 in my series, so I’ll be making more changes to my website and the back of the books. Thanks for sharing what has worked for you so well Joanna – you’re an inspiration!
I have a question: how do you make your book permafree on amazon Kindle? I tried and no luck. Thank you
Joanna Penn says
You have to have it for sale elsewhere for free so Amazon will price match. You can do this at Kobo, iBooks, Smashwords or other places. Then report a lower price on your book page to Amazon. It may take a few weeks but eventually, it will go to free. It’s faster if you’re selling more copies.
Prasenjeet Kumar says
Publish your books on Apple, Kobo, and Nook via Smashwords and set the price to 0.00. Once your book is uploaded on these platforms, contact KDP via their dashboard. Please note that Amazon does not price match smaller retailers. Send the KDP guys a link to the US and the UK store of these other big retailers (like Apple, Kobo or Nook) and ask them to price match your book on Amazon. Then wait for the magic to begin. This is how I got two of my books perma-free overnight. This is the fastest way to get your book perma-free. You don’t need to wait for months for Amazon to price-match your books and is a perfectly legitimate way. I hope this helps. All the best 🙂
When I saw Nick’s info earlier, I kept thinking of this quote:
The fool does at last what the wise person does at once…
Both people do the same thing for the same reasons! The only difference is timing.
We’re all guilty of it at one point or another.
Anyone who is reading this and hasn’t set up your email list yet… Get started at once. Start your autoresponder with a question for your reader.
It took four months before I got a subscriber who answered back, and the rush from that was bigger than it was for a sale! Now imagine having a few of those to look at whenever you’re feeling down. Awesome.
Jamie Hill says
Great work with this article, I have had a lot of success with my free promo’s with KDP, my next step is change one of my books to perma free to build my email list, will be following your strategy as suggested here to implement the process.
Great blog! Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers?
I’m hoping to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m totally overwhelmed ..
Any tips? Bless you!
Kristen Luciani says
Hi Joanna! I love your blog! You really provide so much fantastic insight to the world of self-publishing! I’m preparing for the release of my second book in a 4-book series and I’m trying to grow my email list. I do frequent giveaways and use signup as an option but I like the idea of giving my first book away for free. How would you recommend I do that? I wouldn’t want to gift it from Amazon because I don’t want to pay for it. it if I make it available for download on my site, won’t that be in conflict with the distribution sites? Just curious to hear your feedback! Thanks!
Joanna Penn says
To make your book free on Amazon, you have to update the other vendors and Amazon will price match. So changing the price on Kobo, iBooks, Nook and Smashwords etc will mean that your book ends up free. Then you can add in the email signup as this list describes. Hope that helps:)
Icy Sedgwick says
My two books were put out through small presses so I don’t have free books to give away. However I do have collections of stories set in both worlds. Do you recommend offering those as a freebie for a newsletter sign up, because at least they relate to the books that are for sale?
Joanna Penn says
That’s one idea Icy – or you could always just write something new 🙂
Icy Sedgwick says
There is that! Is length a factor?
Many people have sign-up boxes in the right hand column of their website and offer a freebie in the sign-up box. So it’s very obvious that to get the freebie, they have to sign up for your newsletter. The way Nick does it sounds great and I am in the process of doing it BUT it doesn’t mention they are signing up for a newsletter … can there be a problem with this?
Joanna Penn says
I don’t think Nick does a newsletter – he just sends out emails that are entertaining over time. It’s always best to say what people are signing up for. You can also do this again in the first email of the autoresponder series.
Jake Jackson says
Hi, I’ve been a fan of your blog and books for some time now, and often check back on your articles when I need to think harder about what I’m doing. This particular post is always very helpful, and level-headed. There’s so much blog content in the wild, written by would-be ‘marketing mavens’ that contain regurgitated advice but your voice remains fresh, positive and apposite. I’m a fiction writer, planning first publication, but with 6 books in the pipeline, being edited (yes, followed your advice), while I start the challenge of building a mailing list. So, thank you for the effort you put into these posts.
Alexandra Campbell says
Thank you for being so honest – it’s such a relief to see realistic email sign-up figures for both ‘before’ and ‘after’. And also really helpful to hear that it can be difficult and slow, but is well worth doing. All I need now is to have the same amount of courage….a really good post, which I will save in every possible place I can.
I appreciate your generosity in offering so much useful information. I am trying to provide useful information to my subscribers, and would like to increase my list. As a traditionally published author I don’t have the option of putting a free offer or sign up in my actual books, and I also cannot give them away for free. I am thinking about reading aloud a chapter and giving that away. I am offering stories that inform and inspire, but I am not getting new sign ups. Do you have any new ideas for fiction writers?
Audrey Pflugrath says
Thanks Joanna! This post was really helpful, there’s so much great info here. If you only have one or two novels for sale, would offering a free prelude to one of your books be something readers might sign up to get?
Joanna Penn says
I started with a short story 🙂