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The year is drawing to a close and as an SEO-aware blogger my thoughts naturally turn to click-hoovering headlines like “7 Trends Which Owned 2019” and “10 Things You MUST Change in 2020.” Like certain political personages, this technique is inexplicably compelling to large swathes of the population.

But if you had to put me on the spot and suggest just one thing you should try and get better at for 2020, the answer is easy: email.

No matter where you are in your career – whether you have 100,000 raving superfans who scarf down every piece of literary detritus you fling from your authorial cage... or your nascent readership only consists of, well, your editor and proofreader – devoting time to improving your email game is a solid investment.

I regularly see authors indulge in any number of myths surrounding email. This is a position I recognize all too well; I was one of those authors, until I finally decided I would Get Better At Email exactly two years ago.

Here’s what I used to do, until my Damascene moment towards the end of 2017:

  • Invite people to sign up to my “New Release Mailing List” at the back of my books.
  • Promise not to email them unless I actually had a new book out.
  • Follow through on that promise but not emailing them whatsoever after they signed up… until I had a new book out.

I thought I was being considerate. I thought it would attract more people to my list as everyone seems to be swamped with email these days. I thought most readers wouldn’t really care to hear from me in-between releases, and that I’d run out of things to say very quickly anyway. I was wrong – so very, very wrong.

Here’s what actually happened: people forgot who I was. Open rates fell with every launch – releases which were quite far apart as I was writing and releasing quite slowly at that point in my career. Even worse than that, out of the (ever-declining number of) people who were actually receiving and opening those messages, fewer and fewer were clicking, and less again were buying. Reviews were dropping. Sales were increasingly tepid. It was a cascading, clusterfudge of exponential fail.

It got to the point where I was dreading sending my new release announcements. Instead of sitting by my computer and eagerly refreshing my sales reports and lapping up all the replies from excited readers, I would take myself to the pub instead.

(Note: while that might well be a solid launch-day strategy, the reason was doing it wasn’t so hot.)

This eroding confidence began to manifest itself in the emails themselves – which became eyes-down, apologetic affairs, when they should have been (rightly!) hyping a new release. This started to have a knock-on effect on the copy I was using for my email sign-ups, and, eventually, all my marketing messages. It was a cancer spreading through the entire business side of my authorial life.

The sad part is the books were better than ever before but less people were reading them because I couldn’t make even my core readers care about them. And I guess that was because I wasn’t really caring enough about my core readers. I just assumed they would hang with me for whatever amount of time it took me to write the next novel – but of course they are going to forget who you are. Especially when you have done nothing to deepen that relationship.

I thought I was being considerate by not emailing them after they signed up, but what I was actually doing was ignoring them until I wanted something from them. Money, to put a finer point on it.

To put it another way: I thought a new release announcement was a Give when it’s really an Ask. You are asking them for their money, remember? And I was basically only turning up at their house when I wanted to stick my hand in their purse. I was never really giving in this relationship.

I knew something was wrong for a while. I wanted to change but I didn’t know where to start – or even what being Good At Email looked like – or what my version of that could look like (I’ve never been one to just adopt solutions right out of the box).

But once I started tapping into the right information, the path ahead became very clear. I’m not saying that overhauling that side of my business, and mindset, was a quick-and-easy fix, but it happened in far less time than I could have predicted. Turns out you can get somewhere pretty quickly once you're pointed in the right direction!

Email is such a big topic that we’ll spend a few weeks covering it. Next week we’ll dive into actual specifics – and point you to some superb resources – so that you can start mapping out some changes too.


P.S. Writing music this week is Soft Cell covering The Supremes.

David Gaughran

Broomfield Business Park, Malahide, Co. Dublin

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