It’s often valuable to look at your business from the customer’s perspective and this summer we are going to do just that with email.
Let’s get all fancy and call it the Subscriber Journey.
We are going to map the various stages in the typical subscriber journey, identify common problems for each distinct stage, and then point you to solutions as well. Not just that, we’ll also drop some killer tips for those who might have the basics down but want to take things to the next level.
Viewing email through this prism has one very handy side-effect: it helps you dodge the primary pitfall with email marketing, which is seeing the acquisition of someone’s email address as the goal, the endpoint, the result. When it’s really the beginning of your story with that reader.
One which can be short and underwhelming, or long and satisfying.
People can approach email the wrong way, thinking it’s just a numbers game where you grab as many addresses as possible, email them relentlessly about your books, and then keep desperately running around grabbing even more email addresses to replace the hordes fleeing your machine-gun approach to marketing.
That's like hauling water home with a very leaky bucket. Let’s build a pipe instead.
But before we get to that, I need your help with something.
Starting From Zero Hits 10,000 Students
It’s almost a year since I launched my free book marketing course Starting From Zero and I think many of you have enrolled and found it useful. And I know lots of you have really helped spread the word, thank you.
I’m just about to hit 10,000 students, which is an amazing milestone in a year, and I’m rolling out an ad campaign today.
If you have taken Starting from Zero and found it useful, I’d really appreciate a comment or a share on this Facebook post.
Oh and if you haven’t yet checked out Starting From Zero, now is a great time to do it because I’ve remastered all the sound, added closed captioning to improve accessibility, and refreshed some of the resources.
And it’s still free BTW.
OK, back to the plat du jour.
What Is The Point Of Email?
…is a question many of us ask ourselves when dealing with a thorny technical issue, or experiencing the crushing disappointment of a tepid response to a launch email.
So let’s pose a fundamental question first. What’s the point? As in, what’s the goal here? What are we aiming for?
If your answer is “lots and lots of email addresses,” I’m afraid that’s incorrect. What you really want is a happy and healthy list of subscribers. Bigger is better for sure, but the focus should be on the happy and healthy part more than anything.
If you focus more on numbers, you will make the classic mistake of thinking the work ends when you get that email address. When it’s really just the first stage in a longer journey.
The Subscriber Journey. So let’s map out a typical subscriber journey in this week’s email, and we’ll break down each stage over the summer.
Stage One: Baiting The Trap
Readers will enter your mailing list through a number of different ways: they might sign up on your website or social media, see an ad on Facebook, or participate in some kind of group promotion – perhaps to win a prize of some sort. However, most readers will probably sign-up to your list because they read a message from you telling them to do just that at the end of one of your books.
In one sense, this stage is a bit of a numbers game in that little will happen on its own – the amount of sign-ups you get through any of these pathways will be mostly dependent on how much traffic you can generate for each of them. Or to put it more plainly, if you aren’t selling anything, you won’t see many readers signing up to your list.
However, in another sense, quality matters more than quantity here, because if you aren’t baiting the trap with a sexy piece of reader-cheese, then you will get very few nibbles, no matter how many you can push through the tubes.
So, there’s your Priority #1: you need a Grade A piece of reader-cheese.
Stage Two: Setting The Trap
You don’t want that primo reader magnet to go to waste, so you also need to ensure that the trap does what it’s supposed to in the ensnaring department.
In real world terms this means you need:
A professional email delivery service. You can’t use Gmail for this for reasons we’ll get into later on.
A seamless way of getting your reader magnet onto your subscriber’s devices. This is trickier than you might first think, so I recommend a (cheap) dedicated service for this specific task called BookFunnel.
A domain-name email address – on attached to a your very own domain rather than something like a Gmail address. The email services I recommend like MailerLite and ConvertKit require you to have a domain name email address to use their services – for very good reasons we will get into, along with some important things you need to consider when picking your exact email handle (short version: don’t be generic, use a name).
Because of the above, you need your own domain as well, obvs.
That’s your email architecture, if you like, and we will go through how to set it all up and get it purring in later emails.
For now, let’s not forget our dear reader as we are supposed to be looking at things from her perspective. What she wants is an easy way to sign up to your list (or she won’t do it), an easy way to get your freebie (or she’ll give up or get angry), and just for the entire process to all… work.
Which can be harder to get right than it looks – but the above set-up helps considerably.
Stage 3: Rolling Out The Red Carpet
Most email lists are run one of two ways.
Type A: you sign up to a newsletter and… nothing happens. You might get an email a few weeks or months later, if it doesn’t drop into Spam, and you might remember who they are… or not.
Type B: you sign up to a newsletter which triggers a tsunami of desperate emails trying to sell you the same thing over and over again, like a broken robot trying to make rent.
There is a happy middle ground, however, one which you can easily plot out once you view things from the perspective of your shiny, new subscriber.
Our reader is confused by Type A newsletters. “Did the subscription work? Or did something break? Was I supposed to get something?” Confusion is never good, and it’s generally followed by something worse: either they are annoyed, or they stop caring altogether and forget who you are.
Type B newsletters are worse again. Our poor reader feels like a lemon being squeezed, that she’s just a walking dollar sign to be exploited. A quick unsubscribe usually follows, possibly even a spam report if the emails are shrill enough.
This is not a tricky tightrope to walk once you have the right mindset, but you basically want to take the radical step of treating subscribers like real human beings.
You also want to give whatever freebie you promised them, do a few technical bits and pieces to ensure they get future emails, and also set expectations appropriately around what your newsletter is going to be like.
Stage 4: Are You Not Entertained?
The Type A/B newsletters above don’t just mess up the welcome sequence, they also make the mistake of getting the cadence wrong – i.e. how frequently you should email your subscribers.
Email too infrequently, and they’ll forget you (and you will have technical issues around getting your emails delivered to everyone’s inboxes).
Email too frequently, and no one will stay for the long haul (and you will be in serious danger of racking up enough spam reports and unsubscribes to damage your sender reputation – endangering your ability to get in everyone’s inbox, not just those who become disengaged).
There is a happy middle here too and you can find your own groove that works for you and your business.
To give you some guideline though, many fiction authors are happy emailing monthly, although some will be a little more frequent (I don’t recommend being more infrequent than monthly).
And then many non-fiction authors will often email more frequently (I do monthly for fiction, weekly for non-fiction), but it’s hardly compulsory and depends on what you write and how much time you want to spend on email.
Either way, quality is much more important than quantity. I’d rather… not send an email then fire out a bad one.
As for what you might send them, we’ll get into that but the short version is that you share things of mutual interest. You have something in common with all your readers, one hopes – you are a big fan of the genre you’re working in.
There’s a whole universe of things you can share once you put your fan-hat on and talk to them as if you are sitting on a barstool at a conference. It’s a little bit of a mindset shift, but once you get into it, there’ll be no stopping you.
Stage 5: Reaping The Harvest
It’s not all about making friends and sharing things of interest and singing Kumbaya.
Ultimately your goal is to make money, to sell lots of books to everyone on your list, to get their help in spreading word of your launches and promotions, and also to boost things like reviews, or any group promotions you might be in, and so on.
You can do a little of that as you go along, of course, as long as you remember to lean much more towards Gives rather than Asks.
Trust me, you will get a much better response if you have given your audience a lot first.
Authors vary on how much they might ask for things in the welcome sequence or in their regular newsletter. Everyone figures out their own balance over time. But one thing is certain, when it comes to a launch (or a major promotion of some sort), you don’t need to be shy. That’s the time to hype up yourself and your books. That’s the time to be a lot more salesy.
You will have earned the space to do that effectively.
Put yourself in our putative reader’s shoes again for a moment. She signed up to your list because she likes your books. She is going to be very excited that you have a new one – especially if you haven’t been doing the hard-sell in every single email fired her way/.
Let me be clear. You don’t need to be demure at all when you have a new release or a sale running – shout it from the email rooftops! Be excited! People respond to excitement!
Just make sure you aren’t wearing the pimp suit every single time you show up at our reader’s house.
That gets old fast.
Stage 6: Rekindling The Flame
Speaking of getting old fast, not every subscriber journey is all peaches and cream 24/7.
Some readers will become disengaged over time, either because you made some missteps, or they have Life Stuff going on, or because of some annoying technical reasons - where your emails starting dropping into their Promotions tab, or whatever. (Or sometimes they are getting your emails but your dashboard is wrong!)
Type A newsletters handle this by... not really handling it at all. Often they just let open rates continue to fall, mistakenly blame their provider perhaps, or just moan about how email isn’t the hot ticket it used to be or otherwise throw their hands in the air.
Type B newsletters often just plow straight ahead and keep acquiring more and more new subscribers to offset the deadweight, or maybe just cut people from their list without taking any preliminary steps.
But there’s a better approach because some of these guys can be brought back into the fold with a few technical tricks. And then you can leave any sheep who want to stay out in the wilds with a clear conscience.
(Follow me for more bad farming analogies.)
Coming Soon To An Email Account Near You
Those are the 5 (or 6) stages in the typical Subscriber Journey. There’s problems to avoid at each stage, work to be done at each point to get it just right.
In some cases, that’s just a little set up time and occasional monitoring (and making the right decisions, of course).
With others, it’s continual work – but easily worth it for the huge rewards that a large, happy, and healthy list can bring.
Beginners: don’t freak out about how much work you have ahead of you. There are large parts of the above where even half-assing it can bring some great results.
Everyone else: we’ll break all this down in more detail over the summer, give you solutions to all this problems, and show you some next level tricks too.
Next week however we are going to cover something else, so it’s not All Email All The Time. We’ll probably resume this series in a couple of weeks after you have chewed the cud a little.
P.S. Pining for home this week with John Francis Flynn and My Son Tim.
Broomfield Business Park, Malahide, Co. Dublin, Ireland
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