You’re all up to your eyeballs in gizzards and gravy, collie-shangling around the place like some kind of gal sneaker, but wrap your gigglemug around this: you're getting an email anyway. Fret not, fellow traveler. We'll keep it light on the technicalities this week and just talk about mindset.
If you missed the first two emails in this series, then head on over to the newly updated Email Archive and tap on the section for Email Sorcery and behold yonder links. Everyone else: let’s dive—wait that sounds far too energetic. Let’s slide in. In fact, let’s lay down here on the shoreline and let the sea gently wash over us before slowly tugging us in to the saltwater.
Errr. Okay. *game face*
When you want to make an improvement, it’s natural to look at those more successful than you. However, it’s a mistake to assume that bestselling authors – I mean truly bestselling authors, those shifting millions of copies a year – are brilliant at everything and that their business is a perfectly oiled machine, enshrining all the latest best practices in everything.
Having worked with a few of them up close, it’s probably more accurate to say they tend to be exceptionally focused and hard-working, all excellent storytellers usually with a keen sense of how the market is trending too, and very, very good at one or two important ways to reach readers. Not necessarily all of them.
Some huge authors have never really run a Facebook Ad. Others barely have a functioning website, let alone any kind of content marketing strategy. And then lots and lots of them, quite frankly, won’t exactly be brilliant at email.
The problem for you is that you might look at Bestselling Betsy and conclude that you don’t need to bother readers unless you have a new release, or you might listen to Chartsquatting Charles when he proclaims that “everyone is too busy for email these days and you’re better off focusing on Facebook.”
It’s hard to voice disagreement when your sales are dwarfed by Awardwinning Alice and she is telling everyone that emailing people monthly is a waste of time and all those words should be going into your next book anyway, so it can start to seem like some kind of consensus is forming to be minimal in your approach to email, only using it to broadcast news of your latest releases. An opinion which might be totally baked into your brain once Genrequeen Gemma helpfully shares that her last launch email put her in the Top 10 on Amazon even though she hadn’t contact people since her last book came out, over six months ago.
These context free tidbits are less helpful than they appear. Maybe Gemma’s hold on that genre crown is slipping and she’s absolutely pouring money into Facebook Ads because her open rates are slipping – precisely because she goes six months without speaking with her readers. Perhaps our friend Charles above thinks everyone is too busy for email because he’s seeing worsening response rates and engagement, because he’s not providing value in every message – each email is just flogging another one of his books.
Or maybe they are just so bloody good at all that other stuff they are doing that it neatly masks the trick they are missing with email.
Yes, it’s possible to be successful without embracing everything email has to offer – just like it’s possible to be successful without ever running an ad or paying for a truly professional book cover; you’re just making it harder for yourself.
It's important to remember that email can do two key things for you. First, it can bring you in a truckload of new readers. These are always welcome, of course. Second, and most importantly as this is what email is uniquely great at, it can retain readers like nothing else. We work so hard to gain new readers, whether that’s through complex and expensive marketing campaigns, or through laboring over a story until it sings, that its a real shame to let already interested readers slip through your fingers because you didn’t have a system in place to snag them and communicate with them and keep them engaged in-between books.
This might all sound like preparatory piffle but please don’t make that mistake. When it comes to email, the right attitude is key to everything.
Other authors might complain about falling open rates and lowering engagement and write it off as a sad but inevitable function of our always-on world. Other authors might shrug their shoulders at tepid mailing list growth and tell themselves that everyone gets too much email already. Other authors might decide that readers don’t care about hearing from them all the time, and they you don’t have anything to say anyway.
We won’t be them. We will WIN AT EMAIL. *stadium roar*
I haven’t looked back since I made the decision to be Officially Good At Email. I remember going to Erica Ridley’s amazing workshop at NINC in October 2017 and my iPhone literally overheating from talking so many notes. I couldn’t believe what was possible with email – I was so close-minded about it that I simply wasn’t aware. And all the dumb arguments I was using to prop up my lazy, outmoded way of thinking about email were just shattered.
Which left me primed for Tammi Labrecque’s email course when it first launched in November or December of that year – quite handily one month before a major launch of my own. While that wasn’t quite enough time to grow a huge and responsive list in time for my new release, it certainly was enough to internalize the core principles of successful email marketing. Chief among them: respect your readers, provide real value in every email, and give much more than you ask.
Tammi (and another friend of mine, Michelle) also convinced me to write a brand-new reader magnet – Amazon Decoded – which was hilariously bashed out in the four days before Digital 3 launched. Talk about pressure…
My author list was small enough back then. I'd never really pushed the email angle that hard because... well... I never quite knew what to do with subscribers once I got them.
And those who did make it onto my list despite my rather tepid calls-to-action were quite unengaged for the most part. Not their fault – I hasten to add as they are literally reading these words! – I hadn’t released anything for authors for three or four years and probably hadn’t emailed them very much in the interim either. I think we can call them stale subscribers without them taking it personally, he says in hope.
I was able to re-engage a good chunk of those guys by giving them a cookie (Amazon Decoded) and switching to a regular email – one with value in every message. This also boosted sign-ups considerably. I was not losing so many through “natural wastage” as before (read: waning interest), and I was gaining new subscribers at a much greater speed with:
(a) the promise of a cool freebie – one they couldn’t get anywhere else for all the money in the world (exclusivity is just as important as desirability when it comes to choosing your reader magnet);
(b) a weekly email genuinely packed with value that was also exclusive – I decided early on that the content in the email would be fresh, exclusive, and hot-off-the presses (we’ll talk about this more in future emails - it's a big and important topic);
(c) me! I was a lot more effective at driving sign-ups personally as I knew they would genuinely get something out of it this time, rather than just being cold names on an unused and unloved list. This part of the equation is often under analyzed but I was happier and better at the job of getting subscribers because email was no longer a pain point but sparked joy instead, in the parlance of our horrific, horrific age.
The net effect of all that was an 850% increase in list size. Not too shabby. Even more importantly, these people (that’s all y'all!), were much more engaged. They were responding to emails, they were clicking on links, they were enjoying the content and recommending it to others. All signals were a-go.
This is not without cost, it should be said. Those emails need to be written. Those messages need to be responded to (I’m always late, and always sorry!). You need certain infrastructure in place for all this to work properly – not just the toolkit I spoke about last week, but also little touches like professional looking email graphics.
Nothing pains me more to see a beautifully crafted email and an amateur graphic! These impressions matter so much, and it doesn’t take that much care to make them look so much better. Always go the extra mile for your readers. Even if they don’t notice it in a way they are vocal about to you, they will, at the very least, register it subliminally. Messin' with their mind, yo.
But most important of all is the content. I remember author Ernest Dempsey saying something to me at a conference once when he was talking about how he communicates with his readers, namely, sometimes we forget we are storytellers. We write these emails and launch announcements and onboarders and we kind of switch into this business-y copywriting style – which we do need to do at times, maybe but sometimes we forget along the way that we are storytellers.
And that’s something we need to keep at the forefront when crafting the content that will form the heart of all those emails we send to readers. We’re not just selling something. Wait. Scratch that. We’re not selling something, period. With most of these emails I will be urging you to write, we’re seeking to delight, entertain, educate maybe. In other words, we're seeking to engage.
And there’s no better way to do that than through story. And THAT is something we know all about.
More next week,
P.S. Wine-guzzling music this week is from Mashed Potato Records out of New Orleans: Crab Walk by Duff Thompson & Friends.