In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the importance for authors of building a mailing list. Yes, even in the age of social media you need a mailing list because with social media, you have no guarantee that all your Twitter followers or Facebook friends will see your messages. That’s determined by an algorithm (in the case of Facebook) and vagrancies of the platform (Twitter). There’s no guarantee that everyone who receives your newsletter will open it either, but you’ll probably see higher positive returns.
Building a mailing list seems to make some people nervous, perhaps because it’s about accumulating numbers, a lot like acquiring Facebook friends or Twitter followers. All I can say is that it helps to have a zen-like attitude about it. Expect it to be slow and steady. You may have the occasional windfall but expect to build a mailing list the way you build your reading your audience: one person at a time.
Of course, there is a shortcut to building a mailing list: namely, you can buy mailing lists from commercial companies. I don’t know any author who has done this (or would fess up to doing this) but the consensus seems to be that it’s not worth the cost, since most people on a bought list would probably have no interest in your books and would just unsubscribe immediately.
So, what other ways are there to build your list?
In my experience, contests seem to work best. For a while, it seemed really popular to give the hot gadget of the day, whether it was the latest Kindle or even an iPad. That fad seems to have waned, perhaps because it is hard to get enough entries to make it worth your while. I gave away a NOOK tablet in conjunction with the release of my second book, THE RECKONING, and it did well for me but primarily because a couple Facebook-based reading groups ran posts on the contests and sent over a lot of entries.
Whether the prize is big or small, don’t forget to state in the rules and wherever you advertise it that by entering the drawing, entrants are giving permission to be put on your mailing list.
Some book websites and conferences offer promotions to help build your mailing list. You can run a contest on Fresh Fiction, for example, and you’ll get email addresses of everyone who entered. I recently ran my first contest on Fresh Fiction and found it worth the money, but bear in mind that my type of book was probably a good fit for this site’s audience.
Use every opportunity to add names to your mailing list. Doing a talk at the library? Put out a sign-up sheet. Presenting at a bookstore? Have a drawing for a small prize—a store gift card, or an item bought from the store—and ask participants to write their email address on the entry slip (and don’t forget to tell them that by entering, they consent to be added to the mailing list. Give them the chance to opt out.)
Have a sign-up form featured prominently on your website. I have them on multiple pages. (See an example here.)
Consider asking author friends to mention your website and mailing list in their newsletters. And, of course, you’ll do the same for them in return.
Mention your mailing list on your promotional materials (bookmarks, postcards, even your business cards.)
Next: now that you’ve got a mailing list, we’ll talk about what to send out.
You may be interested in: Mailing List Basics