If you’re like me, you siphon through a dozen or more “spam” emails every day. Some are emails to which I’ve subscribed and many others are unsolicited. A few, however, are emails I actually look forward to receiving; my daily investment tip, a list of recent blog posts from my favorite writers, or my weekly fantasy football summary, injury report, or hot pickup of the week. Email is a part of our daily life and, if used effectively, can be a great way to communicate with the people who’ve requested we do exactly that.

What is email marketing?

Put simply, it’s sending the same message in the same format to a pre-defined list of people. It’s a generic letter, ad, announcement, invitation, or article. While the opening, “Dear Jim,” may be personalized, it’s largely some sort of general content delivered to a mass audience.

Isn’t that spam?

It depends. If you send an unsolicited email (the receiver didn’t give explicit permission for you to send) then it would be considered spam. If, however, the receiver “opts-in” to receive your messages and communications, then it’s not considered spam.

Why, as authors, would it make sense for us to market via email?

I, surprisingly enough, asked this question more than you might think. Then I remember that writers write and aren’t always hip to the strategy behind marketing. Most of the authors that I speak with are first timers, so they’ve written a book and are simply looking to get their book in the hands of as many prospective readers as possible. While admirable, I ask them if the book they’ve written is the only book they’ll ever write. Nine times out of ten, they say no. Email marketing is great for those of you who plan on writing more than one book. Why? Because after you do all the work of building your audience, it makes sense that you’d have a way to communicate with them about what’s coming next. Why reinvent the wheel the second time around when you could be collecting email addresses from your fans and communicating with them ahead of your next release?

How to do it

There are a literally dozens of email marketing services and platforms in today’s marketplace. Some of the more popular ones are: iContact, Constant Contact, VerticalResponse, MailChimp, and Benchmark.

These services typically charge monthly based on number of subscribers or emails sent. They’ll usually include HTML (graphic) email wizards to help you generate your email and will include awesome statistical programs that let you see the addresses you mailed, the number of bounces (bad addresses), number of people who opened, and who clicked on what was inside your email. It’s a very powerful tool that will give you a lot more insight into your fan’s behavior than anything else out there.

I use Constant Contact. My mailing list isn’t huge, so I have the 0-500 emails and pay $15/mo. The support is great and once you get the hang of it, it’s a breeze.

The most important thing when using any of these services is to ensure you follow their guidelines when collecting email addresses. If you start spamming people, they’ll know and kick you off their service. Spamming is a big deal in the email industry and there is a low tolerance threshold for it across the board.

Collecting email addresses can be done in a variety of ways, but the most common and effective is to install a widget on your website allowing people to sign up or opt-in. Some folks offer a “free report” or freebie of some kind in exchange for collecting the email address of the person inquiring. As an author, you may want to consider offering a free to subscribers only short story, excerpt from your next book, or something else of value you think your fans might like enough to fork over their precious email address.

Here’s what the widget looks like. I created a “newsletter” link on my web site. Additionally, I added a “subscribe” button on the blog sections of my site.

Jim Moorman pic 1

Jim Moorman pic 2

What do I say?

This is the key to email marketing. What’s your message? What value are you delivering for your subscribers? How often should you send an email?

These are questions only you can answer for your work and your audience. If you’re a chef and have written a cookbook, emailing out new recipes weekly or monthly would probably be a great value to your subscribers. If you’re a non-fiction expert in a specific industry, say sales, maybe a weekly newsletter with a selling tip and a case study or story example of that sales tip in action would likely provide value for your readers.

I’m a fiction author, so I live to entertain and inspire. That being said, I don’t do a ton of email marketing as I don’t want to oversaturate my audience. I do one typically once per quarter and try to make it relevant to the season and what’s happening in my universe. It’s October, so I’ll share what I did last year at this time. I called it the Halloween Spooktacular.

First, I went in and created the email. My goal was to offer my subscribers the following:

  • An update on me, my book, news, etc. Let them know it was doing well and encourage them to spread the word
  • Fun and funny stuff. I wanted them to feel like I wasn’t trying to “sell” them. I wanted to give them something.
  • Give them something only a subscriber could get – a scary short story (Violet). It was appropriate for the season and while it’s now on my site and available for public consumption, at the time I sent this email, it wasn’t. Only after I saw that only 6 of my 300+ “fans” read it did I publish to the general public.

Here’s the first half of the newsletter:

Jim Moorman pic 3

Here’s the second half:

Jim Moorman pic 4

There was a clear “unsubscribe” option on the bottom of the message. All of my subscribers had “opted-in.” and the mail went out.

Jim Moorman pic 5

I sent to 343 people who were in a pre-defined “JF Mailing List.” I had set up.

Jim Moorman pic 6

42 of the 343 emails bounced, which means that the person who had entered their address mistyped it. I didn’t require email verification, so that’s on me.

9 of the 343 “opted-out,” which means that they signed up but then decided that they didn’t want to receive any further mailings from me. This is the safe, perfectly acceptable way for subscribers to behave.

As you’ll see, however, two people reported my message as spam meaning they never signed up and I had sent the message in an unsolicited fashion. My guess was that it was a couple jilted ex-girlfriends looking to exact some revenge.

133 people opened the email and presumable read it while 15 clicked-through on one of the links inside the message.

The service offered the kind of visibility simply sending a message to someone through Outlook or Yahoo couldn’t accomplish.

In conclusion

Email marketing can be a powerful communication tool once you start amassing a base of subscribers. Be creative and offer incentives for people to sign up. What will make it worth their while to do so? Why should they subject themselves to what they perceive will be yet another person inundating them with requests to buy this or that?

Good luck with your email marketing!