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is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date.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
Talk about graduate level education–and super generous behind-the-curtain content! Thanks for this Joanna. Super helpful and got the wheels turning for sure for my own products…
Joanna Penn says
Glad you found it useful 🙂
Kari West says
Thank you for writing this! I have found your website to be incredibly helpful in starting my own self-publishing journey. I’ve currently only written one book that I’m looking to self-publish. What would you suggest I offer for the free content in return for signing up for my newsletter? I was originally thinking of offering the first 100 pages of my novel (since that’s normally how long I personally give a novel before deciding whether to continue reading or not), but now this post is making me question whether that’s a valuable enough incentive. Any suggestions?
I really enjoyed this informative article. As an Indie author, I have set up a permafree book (the prequel in the series)and a reader magnet (the first book).
If you give away a permafree book and then a reader magnet – how do you then ask readers to pay for your subsequent books?
Do you always offer them at a discounted price?
My second question is if you are doing advertising, do you market and advertise your permafree book and hope they click on the link inside to the reader magnet book or do you advertise the reader magnet book that takes them straight to the landing page and you get their email?
Thank you for writing this! I have found your website to be incredibly helpful in starting my own self-publishing journey. I am clearly kicking myself that I didn’t have all this set up earlier!
Peter Blyth says
Great advice as always. After listening to your interview with Nick a while back I actually wrote two novella’s specifically to be free promotions. Honest intent is going to be free to everyone as a funnel to my other books, while Tigris will be exclusively for mailing list subscribers only. Because I wrote them for this purpose it’s less of a wrench to give them away.
When I’ve a lot more books I may review this and make the first actual novel in each series free, but that will need to wait til I’m further into the author journey.
Meredith Abernathy says
How do you build a list before you publish your first book? Most marketing advice says to build a mailing list and market as early as possible, well before your book’s launch if you can.
But whenever I ask, people say it’s basically impossible to build a mailing list without a published book.
What can an unpublished author offer as a mailing list bribe? (That readers actually want.)
Joanna Penn says
That advice is mainly for non-fiction writers who can easily build an audience through talking about their topic and writing a book later. For fiction, you need something – at least a short story, to start building a list. But there’s no rush 🙂 This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Meredith Abernathy says
Okay thanks. I do want to do what I can, as early as I can.
But I recently listened to your audiobook How to Market a Book. One thing I noticed was that you kept reminding us we all start at 0. It’s a lot more encouraging than when people say “All you have to do is…” because it takes the pressure off.
Thank you that was so helpful. I really appreciate your honesty.
So what do you do if you only have one book? what can you give free?
Name of a character in my next book? Any thoughts?
I have heard that if you offer a free book to subscribers you also need to have an option to buy, so making this a truly free book. Is that correct? Or just good practice?
Joanna Penn says
It’s up to you. There are no rules 🙂