When I try to convince people to approach email a little differently, the most common point of resistance surrounds not knowing what to say to readers, but by the end of this email, you will have more ideas than you know what to do with.
Before we get to that, if you missed the first three parts of this series on email which were hatched over Christmas, head over to the Email Archive, and click on the section for Email Sorcery and that will get you all caught up.
Right. Emails. What do we bloody say? Errrrr…
Maybe we should look at what not to do first. We’ve already slayed the rather prevalent idea – once espoused by me, I should say – that we should only email readers when we have a new release, and I should have already sold you on the idea of regular contact, i.e. a monthly newsletter. (If you missed that, get thee to the Email Archive and regale yourself with my unassailable arguments!).
Aside from not emailing your readers regularly, what are the other common mistakes authors make? Probably the biggest is talking about themselves too much. Which sounds weird when you are talking about an author’s newsletter – what else would it be about other than you or your books? – but hear me out.
I’m subscribed to the newsletter of one very successful author, and while they do email readers regularly, pretty much the only content shared is new releases, news about upcoming releases, and sale announcements on backlist titles.
Now, if you are a fan of that author, a lot of this news is welcome, to be sure, but it also gets stale pretty fast. After a few months of being on this list, there was nothing really new or exciting in the emails and I gradually stopped paying much attention to them until I stopped opening them altogether. I wouldn’t be surprised if this author is seeing reduced engagement on that list, i.e. falling open rates and reduced responsiveness, and wondering where things went wrong.
It might seem counterintuitive, but it’s best not to exclusively talk about you and your books to your list. In one sense, authors are often relieved by this advice as they aren’t comfortable constantly pushing themselves or their books. However, they also wonder what they should feel that void with.
This shouldn’t be something you approach with trepidation because the mindset required here is something very, very fun: you get to be a fan again.
What you need to do is take off your writer hat for a moment. Allow yourself to be a reader again. You need to tap into that passion that first drove you to work in your niche and then explore all that common ground with your readers.
How do you make small-talk with someone you have never met? You find a topic of common interest and dive in. And you already have baked-in common interests with your readers because you all like the same kind of books – the kind of books you write.
Depending on what kind of books you write, in particular, those interests might range from hot guys to rad spaceships to how to bake the perfect sourdough but there doesn’t need to be a perfect mapping here. Let me give an example.
I probably read more science fiction than anything else, and I remember finishing Neal Stephenson’s epic doorstopper Cryptonomicon only to discover that there was a 10,000 word essay at the back on how the internet was built – I mean the physical wires and cables spanning the globe. Now, while I’m a huge SF fan and have an interest in tech, I can’t exactly say this is a topic I’d normally read about. However, I’ll definitely listen to Neal Stephenson talk about it for a couple of hours, and I happily devoured the essay (and can now bore people with factoids like Colonel Gaddafi’s kill switch).
Don’t be afraid to go niche – I’d suggest leaning that way rather than being too general. If you try and please everyone, or be all things to all people, there is a danger of being too bland.
Let me give a concrete example.
Periodically, I get reviews or emails or comments complaining about this or that in my books – as we all do, I’m sure. For me its usually complaints about cursing, or my sense of humor, or the tangents in my books. I got a salty one-star review a while back from a guy who complained that BookBub Ads Expert was just full of waffle, and that there was probably only 30 pages of real information, and he would have happily paid $9.99 for a book that size instead.
While I’d love to do 10% of the work for twice the money, all of those stylistic markers mentioned above are deliberate choices – that’s my voice (and my brand at this point, I guess), and my emails naturally reflect that.
It’s not for everyone and you don’t want it to be. Some people might be incredibly bored at the prospect of Neal Stephenson emailing them about how the Hubble Telescope was built, but that’s fine. They shouldn’t be on his list because that’s the kind of thing he writes about. They won’t buy his books and that’s fine.
You need to explore the common ground you have with your readers, and then communicate that to them with passion. In practical terms, this might mean a fantasy author reviewing The Witcher adaption on Netflix, a romance author discussing how the news about Harry & Meghan is straight out of the plot from a recent Hallmark movie, or a crime writer talking about how forensic labs really work.
You can talk about your own work, of course, just don’t make it all you, all the time. Indulge your inner fan instead – I think you’ll find it liberating and that your readers will respond to it too.
P.S. Writing music this week is Snooks Eaglin.