Email marketing is one of the most powerful forms of marketing available, yet many fiction authors either underutilize it or overlook it completely. This tends to happen because authors don’t know what they’re supposed to do with an email list. Most resources suggest monthly newsletters, but there’s often a year or more between our books, so what are we supposed to tell our readers about?
In this guide, I’ll help you understand how to create an email marketing plan by exploring:
- The benefits of email marketing
- How to choose an email marketing tool + my recommendations
- How to create an email marketing plan
Let’s dive into it!
The benefits of email marketing
There are three main reasons for authors to invest time and energy into email marketing:
- Meet people where they are. If you use the internet, you probably have an email address. Even the number of Facebook accounts doesn’t come close to the 3.9 billion people with email addresses.
- Deepen your connection with fans. The people who sign up for your email list are your most enthusiastic fans. Knowing this, you can tailor your newsletter content to their interests. For example, you might share character information or even snippets of upcoming books that wouldn’t interest someone unfamiliar with your fiction.
- Own your connection to your audience. Social media can be great, but at the end of the day, it’s completely out of your control. Your account can be suspended or outright deleted at any time. Platforms can shut down overnight or lose popularity at almost the same speed. Your email marketing list, however, belongs to you; it can be downloaded as a spreadsheet at any time.
All in all, email marketing is the best way to cultivate a long-term relationship with your audience.
How to choose an email marketing tool
There are several factors to consider when choosing an email marketing tool, and dozens of tools available for the job. I could write a whole separate article about this (in fact, I have). For today, I’ll just go over some of the basics.
Automation is one of those business-y marketing words that writers tend to flinch away from, but it is hands-down the easiest way to save time on marketing. You create the content once, select rules for when people receive it, and move on to doing other things while your software does the legwork.
Most email marketing tools restrict automation to higher-tier plans. This is particularly true for providers that offer a free plan; you’ll find that most free plans only let you customize the automated welcome message, rather than being able to create new ones. Pay close attention to the automation tools offered by any email marketing service you’re considering.
Ease of use
Creating effective email marketing content month after month is enough of a challenge. You shouldn’t also need to learn programming or deal with a convoluted system to release your newsletter.
The good news here is that most email marketing tools offer a visual editor. These editors use drag-and-drop functionality and typically display your newsletter as it will appear to your readers.
In an ideal world, cost wouldn’t be a concern. Unfortunately, many authors are working with tight marketing budgets. Others have no marketing budget at all. This is, after all, our after-work job.
Several email marketing tools offer free plans for people with small lists. Once you hit the subscriber threshold (typically 1,000 or 2,000 people), however, the cost varies greatly. Look for a program that increases the cost by small increments.
I’ve tested a variety of email marketing tools, and I personally recommend Moosend or MailPoet for authors (full disclosure: I blog for MailPoet, but am not an affiliate). Both of these options provide advanced automation features with their free plan.
How to create an email marketing plan
There are five main components to a successful email marketing plan:
Every marketing activity should have goals. In the case of your email newsletter, you’ll need two types of goals: subscriber goals and content goals.
Subscriber goals are simple numbers. How many people do you want to bring into your newsletter in three months? Six months? A year? Give yourself specific numbers to aim for.
Content goals are about what you want to accomplish with the newsletter itself. For example, you might want to immerse people further in your story world. You might also want to use your newsletter as a way to talk about shared interests, like the stories you’re reading, watching, or playing. After all, your readers share a love of the genre you write in. They’re probably consuming more stories in it than yours.
In the months leading up to a book release, you’ll also want to set a sales goal. This is the number of sales you want to make through your newsletter. You can keep this goal realistic by making it a percentage of your subscribers. For example, you might aim to convince 25% of your audience to purchase your book.
Next, you need to decide the type(s) of content you’ll share. Create a short list of content types that achieve your goals. For example, if your goal is to establish shared interests with your readers, your list might look something like this:
- Round up of what I’m reading, playing, and/or watching
- Review or recommendation for a specific book, movie, show, or game
- Fun facts from story research
- Pictures of/stories about pets
You might choose to use one type of content, like the story round up, for every newsletter or to alternate between some/all of them.
Without a schedule, email marketing tends to fall to the bottom of your to-do list until you’re approaching a book launch. For most of us, this means several months or even multiple years between an email. This is plenty of time for subscribers to forget who you are and when they subscribed to your list, leading to unsubscribes and possibly even being reported as spam.
Your schedule should include three things:
- How often you’ll post. Generally, for authors I recommend no more than once a month unless you’re leading up to a book launch. This balances the need for frequency with the struggle to come up with content between books.
- What day you’ll send the newsletter. This can be a day of the week, such as every fourth Monday, or a specific date like the 15th of every month.
- When you’ll create newsletter content. Leaving it to the last minute is a surefire way to send your content out late or not at all. Schedule a time to draft your newsletter each month. Make it the same time every month. If you use a digital calendar tool, program it into your calendar as a recurring event with reminders.
If you plan to send multiple types of content in your newsletter, consider scheduling these content types to go out in alternating months. This keeps your newsletter fresh and interesting.
Finally, you need to establish how you’ll get people onto your newsletter. There are several factors to consider here:
- Signup forms. The types of signup forms you’ll use and their placement on your site.
- Special offers. Many authors offer a little something extra to sweeten the deal of signing up for the newsletter. For example, you might offer a free short story related to your most popular series.
- Author bios. You want to include a link to your newsletter in the “About the Author” pages of your books. You may also want to include it in your bios for social media, your website, and even guest appearances on blogs and podcasts.
- Social media posts. The people who follow you on social media are clearly interested in your work, but they won’t know about your newsletter unless you share it. Schedule posts advertising your newsletter once or twice a week.
There are other ways to promote your newsletter, but this is plenty to cover in your first email marketing plan. We’ll talk more about how to promote your newsletter in the next article.
5. Book launch structure
Your email marketing plan should also include a template outline for book launch campaigns. The details of each campaign will vary, but establishing some basics up front can save you lots of time.
Some things to consider:
- How far in advance you start talking about a book launch
- When you do the cover reveal
- If you want to do a preorder campaign
- Whether your newsletter subscribers will get some kind of special incentive, like a coupon
- How many emails you feel comfortable sending
You may also want to create or find email newsletter templates to use for promotional messages. This means you’ll only need to customize a few details when the time for your next book launch campaign comes.
When you’re starting out and you only have three subscribers, it’s tempting to abandon your email marketing plan. After all, they’re probably your relatives or friends, people who will stay subscribed regardless of your schedule. But this is the best time to build a consistent email marketing routine, before there are hundreds or thousands of subscribers to notice when you mess up.
Over the next few days, consider your approach to email marketing. Think about how you want to connect with your audience, what interests you enough to write about it month after month, and how you can funnel existing fans into your newsletter. Then create your five part plan:
- Book launch structure
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