PURPOSE OF THIS POST I’ve been told that my posts come across as, “You should definitely view this situation exactly as I do.” That is not usually my intent. Instead, I usually mean, “Based on my current understanding of the situation, this is how I think things are.” So to be clear, this is the reason I’m posting on this subject: - The topic is extremely important, and I think that, if I and others want to be successful, we need to give more attention to it. - I need to work through my thoughts on the subject, and typing it out helps to accomplish that objective. - Maybe the post will inspire others on the board to take actions that will eventually increase their level of success. IMPORTANCE OF THE EMAIL LIST It seems to me that success as a self published author comes down to two factors — writing and marketing. The former has been discussed in many posts, but less focus has been put on the latter. As far as I can tell, marketing for a self published author primarily comes down to two big components — promotions/advertising and building an email list. So if marketing is half the battle in becoming successful and the email list constitutes half of marketing, one could say that this subject makes up 25% of your overall strategy. Okay, that reasoning is specious at best, but it’s still a tremendously important subject. GOAL OF THE EMAIL LIST It seems to me that a fundamental truth of selling books on Amazon is that Amazon’s algorithms help those who help themselves. Stated another way: the higher you get in the rankings by yourself, the more Amazon will sell for you. Imagine hitting Save and Publish on your book, waiting until you get the confirmation that its live, sending out a single email, and then, BAM!, you instantly sell a freaking thousand books in the next twelve hours. That’s a good way to get you to a five figure month. USEFUL DEFINITIONS Before we go much further, I think I need to define a few terms. Note that the first is commonly used; the others are my own invention. Organic Subscribers — These are people who read your book and like it so much that they sign up for your email list. At the low end, they’ll probably buy the next book in your series and quite possibly will at least consider any other books you put out. At the high end, they’ll enthusiastically await all of your new releases. The primary positive about this group is that they’re much more likely to buy your book. The negative is that they’re pretty hard to acquire. Basically, the only way to find them is to get your work in front of as many readers as possible. Inedible, Genetically Modified Subscribers Chock Full of Antibiotics and Pesticides — These people find your mailing list through ads and usually sign up in exchange for something free. At the low end, they’ll unsubscribe (or report your newsletter as spam) as soon as the first email appears in their inbox or simply never open any of your emails in the first place. A small percentage of them, however, will end up in the same range as your Organic Subscribers. The positive here is that you can, for a cost, acquire as many of these as you desire by running ads effectively. The negatives are that the percentage of them that will buy your book is low (meaning you really need to watch your acquisition costs versus ROI); getting lots of spam reports can seriously screw you up, especially if you’re using MailChimp; and the more subscribers you have, the more you have to pay to maintain your email list service. Friends and Family — This definition is only useful in that you’re probably going to have people who you know sign up, and it’s hard to really put them in either category above. Note that I count people who I “know” from Mythic Scribes in this group. Note that everything about your email list is a numbers game. Whether your list is Organic or Inedible or a mixture, you can get the same results. It’s simply that you’re going to need to acquire a lot more Inedible Subscribers to sell the same number of books as an Organic Subscriber base. STATS FROM MY LIST Current Total Subscribers: 78 Inedible: 54 A couple of years ago, I offered the 2nd Edition of Abuse of Power for free download on my website and included an option on the form to sign up for my email newsletter. These subscribers come from that effort. I didn’t do anything with them until September of this year and started with 63 of them. Since my first email, I have lost 9 of these subscribers as either spam reports, unsubscribes, or invalid addresses. F&F: 6 Organic: 18 Six of these signed up after I contacted them to review an ARC. The other 12 are completely Organic. As my list adds Organic Subscribers and loses Inedible ones, the open rate is increasing. Here are the details (thus far, I send out one email each month somewhere around the 1st): September — 67 subscribers, 21.2% opens, 0% clicks October — 71 subscribers, 29.6% opens, 0% clicks November — 81 subscribers, 30.0% opens (in less than 24 hrs so far), 7.5% clicks Note that “clicks” for September and October were links to AoP and RotM respectively on Amazon. The “click” for November was a free deleted chapter from RotM available for download. LIST-BUILDING STRATEGIES To the best of my knowledge, none of these terms are used by anyone else but me. Low and Slow — Build your list purely organically by putting a link to your sign up in each of your books. Your only opportunity to gain subscribers is when someone buys one of your books. Aggressive — Learn how to do ads and spend thousands to bring in subscribers. Build lists numbering in the tens of thousands. I see advantages to both of these tactics. Going slow minimizes risk. As you grow as a writer, you add more and more subscribers, and each launch gets bigger. If you want to get to the 5 figure a month club quickly, though, you need to be aggressive. But with that aggression comes huge freaking amounts of risk. Hybrid — Grow mainly organically but do a few ads and promotions here and there. To me, that last is the best of both worlds. Keep your risk low but, at the same time, gain valuable experience in dealing with ads and maintaining lists. This is what I plan to do. MY PLANNED TACTICS FreeKindleGiveaway.com — This site offers participants a chance to win a free Kindle in return for subscribing to a “sponsor’s” email list. The monthly platinum sponsorship costs $50, and sponsors average between 800 to a 1000 signups. The sponsorship is linked to a specific book as well, so there’s a possibility that I will see an uptick in buys and/or reads of RotM. I plan to participate in December. Facebook Ad — I have to say that I’m a little nervous about dipping my feet into this pool as I’ve read that this is not an easy process. I’m really scared that I’m going to sink a lot of time into it and get little in return. On the other hand, I think this is something that I simply have to learn at some point if I’m going to be successful as an indie author. My plan is a small campaign in December in which I offer a free short story set in my Repulsive world in exchange for a sign up (note that the respondent will not have to subscribe to get the short story). Separate Lists — MailChimp (as far as I can tell) allows you to place subscribers in separate lists, and you don’t have to pay until the total number exceeds 2000 subscribers. The FreeKindleGiveaway.com promotion will probably result in a high number of spam/unsubscribes, so I plan to put those subscribers in a list of their own and handle them with kid gloves until I see some responses. I also want to keep subscribers who indicate an interest in my superhero stories separate from my epic fantasy list. Track Buys per List — I think that there are a couple of ways to track purchases (in lieu of simply tracking clicks). One way would be to create a separate funnel page for each list and track incoming and outgoing clicks to that page. I’m hesitant to pursue this option because a) it seems like it just creates another opportunity to lose potential customers and b) I’m still not tracking actually purchases. A better way, I think, is to use affiliate codes. I think that Amazon allows you to create multiple affiliate accounts, and you can track purchases independently. Thus you can put separate codes with a link in the email sent to each list and track actual sales. The downside that I have to investigate is whether using an affiliate link makes being reported as spam more likely. Cleaning Lists — I read a post from someone who really seemed to know what he was doing, and he advocated frequently dumping subscribers who aren’t opening/clicking. I’m unclear at this point as to the exact reasoning/value of doing this (until I near the 2000 mark), but it’s something that I wanted to flag for future research.