In my years as an Indie publisher, there have been a number of schools of thought as to what it took to be successful. In the salad days of 2012, the advice was, “Do a free run, then sit down and wait for the Brinks truck to back up with your money.” Those were good days, almost certainly too good to last. Since then, the advice has ranged from “write in a series and make the first book free” to “drive sales through Facebook ads,” to “use keywords and sharpened metadata to drive traffic.” Through it all, though, one thing has been constant: you need a mailing list.
The reason why is simple: You control how and when you access a mailing list, as opposed to investing everything into working the Amazon or social media algorithms. The problem with algorithms is, they change. What might be golden today can turn to lead tomorrow. A mailing list is yours forever, though, or at least until someone unsubscribes.
The key frustration I hear from most writers, though, is that it is awfully difficult to build a list into any kind of size that will deliver results. I feel your pain. Let’s look at the various ways to build a mailing list.
Offer a freebie. This is my favorite method for one simple reason: if someone subscribes to your newsletter mailing list to get a free eBook, that tells me they are interested in my books. I find that an attractive attribute. I put links at the back of every book, offering a free eBook for signing up. The problem with this method is, if you’re not selling or giving away many books, you won’t get many signups this way.
Social Media. This can actually be used in conjunction with the first method. You can post on Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Pinterest, wherever you have the strongest presence, offering a free eBook in exchange for signing up. The strength of this strategy is, it’s free. The weakness is, it’s easy to get lost in the rapidly moving river of information that is the characteristic of social media 2016.
Contests. Want a quick way to build your list? Offer to do a drawing for something everyone wants, with the cost of entry being to sign up for your list. Kindle Fires, Amazon Gift Certificates, etc. make for great prizes. This will typically do a great job of driving signups. The unfortunate thing is, the people who sign up might be just trying to win something and have no interest in you or your writing.
I used contests several years ago and built a list that I kept separate from my smaller, organic list. Then, I did a number of mailings. My organic list had an average open rate of 47%, and a click-thru rate of 21%. Compare that to my contest list, which had an open rate of 19% and a click-thru rate of 3%. That was enough to convince me. I pulled the people off the contest list who actually opened my emails and added them to my organic list. The rest, I deleted.
List building is a long process. The key is to keep at it every month. I started my list in March of 2013. Three and a half years later, I’m up to 2,500 people. The biggest gains were by giving away large numbers of books, then reaping the signup benefits. A single Bookbub ad can funnel more than 250 names to my mailing list.
Here’s another problem that can come with adding a lot of people to your list: delivering the free book you promised them. Initially, I hosted the document I wanted the reader to download on a page, then sent them instructions for how to sideload it onto their Kindles. As you can imagine, that led to a lot of emails expressing frustration and a lot of wasted time on my part, trying to help people figure out how to successfully sideload. There’s a reason I don’t work as a helpdesk operator. I’m not very good at it, and I don’t enjoy it.
Luckily, there’s a solution at hand: BookFunnel, which was launched earlier this year. I am a fan. Here’s how Bookfunnel works: You upload whatever book you want, including the cover, and you get a link. You can give that link out to whomever you’d like, and that person can download your book in whatever format they’d want — Kindle, Kobo, Nook, etc. It makes the whole process of giving your eBooks directly to your readers streamlined and easy. The best part is, if people still have a hard time with it, Bookfunnel has a helpdesk that will walk them through the process.
I use Bookfunnel to give away my free eBook when people sign up for my mailing list, but I also use it for my ARC (Advanced Review Copy) readers. With 200 ARC readers on my list, it would drive me crazy trying to deliver that many books. Instead, a single email with a link to the eBook’s Bookfunnel link takes care of everything. There are a number of great features as well. You can see what percentage your readers chose to read in IOS, Kindle, Nook, etc. That’s kind of handy information. If you’re concerned about the link getting out and abused, you can set limits as to how many copies can be downloaded, or you can set an expiration date for the whole link. Bookfunnel costs $20 per year, and that allows you to have up to 500 downloads per month.
By the way, why do I have 200 ARC readers? Because one emphasis at the moment is launching a book with a lot of reviews. I’m hoping that with that number of Advanced Readers, I will be able to launch each new book with 50+ reviews in the first week. That really opens up your advertising opportunities and provides social proof.
Good luck in establishing and building your mailing list. I believe it can be a key component of a good launch strategy.
24 thoughts on “Mailing Lists and Advanced Readers and Bookfunnel, Oh My!”
Hi Shawn. I am published with a small house, but do much of the marketing. Just curious, how did you recruit 200 ARC readers? That is awesome! I did not know about BookFunnel, but will be checking it out. Thanks so much for sharing this information! Have a great day.
I just sent an email out to my mailing list asking, “Would you like to read my books before anyone else?” 200 people said, “Yes!”
Working with these ARC readers has been a wonderful experience. They’ve given me great constructive criticism and already caught mistakes that had slipped by me, my editor, and my proofreader.
I don’t know what percentage of the 200 will actually leave a review the first week. Typically, I think that number is between 20-30%. I’m hoping that since these are all volunteers, I will be at the higher end of that spectrum. If I can launch with 50-75 reviews the first week, that will open up a lot of early promo possibilities and hopefully position the book for a BookBub ad sooner, rather than later.
Good information, Shawn. I did not know about Bookfunnel, and that sounds very useful. Thanks!
Glad to help. And, at $20 per year, it’s worth a try. I don’t know how I would have managed the ARCs I just sent out without it.
Shawn, this is great information. Thank you, and I can’t wait to start playing around with it.
Bookfunnel seems to operate in the same way as Instafreebie, which is the one I use.
Thanks for the excellent information, Shawn. Most appreciated.
It is similar to instafreebie, but not identical. Instafreebie, requires the person downloading to give their email address. In the case of my ARC readers, for instance, I already have their emails and that extra step is just another chance to lose more people before they finish.
Shawn i am only now venturing into mailing lists and mine has had just over 100 for the last 6 months. Will you be writing up about Mailchimp? I’m battling to get to grips with that programme now – so much to learn, so few hours in the day!! I’ve only just found out about bookfunnel was going to google it today to find out what it was. I’ll go look and probably sign up.
Hi Lucinda, I’m not sure what Shawn has in store for us for next month yet, so here are some articles that the IU staff has written on Mailchimp. I hope you find these helpful. https://indiesunlimited.com/tag/mailchimp/
I just came to post that same link and see that you’ve beaten me to the punch! 🙂
I’m quick like a bunny. 😀
Thanks for sharing this great article. I have just recently released my first ebook and have been utilizing the campaigns that Amazon offers. The giveaways do help. Just a matter of getting the link out to as many places as possible.
I will look into your suggestion of mailing lists next.
Excellent, Lance. Congrats on your launch. There are a ton of helpful links here on IU, if you get stuck.
Great article, Shawn. I’m going to test out book funnel. I found it interesting that they don’t have a login. But, so far, seems like a good start.
Yes, that is quirky. I’ve been impressed with their customer service so far. If anyone emails me, saying they have a problem, I just send them the helpdesk at Bookfunnel and they’ve taken care of it.
Shawn, as usual you have a wealth of information, and this time I think you’ve outdone even yourself!
Thanks for the info., Shawn. I’d heard of Bookfunnel before but had forgotten the name! It’s bookmarked now, thanks to your post. One thing though, hasn’t Amazon’s new-ish ‘Follow’ function sort of made private newsletters less relevant? I like receiving the Amazon notification of new books by my favourite authors but I’m not really into newsletters, unless they’re from people I know well. Of course if I do know them well, I probably don’t need the newsletter anyway. 🙁
I think of Amazon’s “follow” button as another tool in my tool belt, but for me, it absolutely doesn’t replace my email list. Here’s why: Amazon could decide to eliminate the “follow” button at any time, and I would have no way to reach those people who want to know when I have a new book out. With my mailing list, no one can change an algorithm or policy and take those people away from me.
Also, Amazon’s “follow” button is not reliable, in my experience. I have clicked it for a number of authors and am often not told when they have a new release available.
So smart. Thank you for this information Shawn. So nice of you to share. And the good people at Indies Unlimited!
Writing is not a zero sum game. I like it when we all get better together.
I have a newletter, and followers on BookBub who are contacted by them when I have a free or new release to offer, but I don’t see how bookfunnel will work for Amazon. Did I miss something?
I’m not sure. Bookfunnel is not intended as a promotional or discoverability tool. It is simply a deliver tool that takes you out of the middle and makes the whole process easier. I’m honestly not sure what you mean by “work for Amazon.” If you’ll elucidate, I’ll try to be more forthcoming.
I just started with Bookfunnel and love how professional it looks for the subscriber. I put the Bookfunnel link in my newsletter sign-up process and Vola, they get my free ebook. Also, a reason to use a newsletter vs the Amazon follow button, is you get to send newsletters with special events like sales, maybe to promote another author, or an author event. That’s why you need an email list. I just started mine this month, updated my webstie with a landing page, and I already have over 160 subscribes, most of them through Instafreebie. I’m thinking of starting my first giveaway next month. Good luck to everyone with their lists.
Comments are closed.