Monday, 23 September 2013

The importance of having a mailing list – and how not to go about it

A piece of marketing advice for self-publishing authors I’ve come across often is that they – we – need a mailing list. The logic is simple. People who will subscribe to your mailing list are those who are willing to receive news about your work and – hopefully – buy your books too.

I’ve ignored the advice so far. Mostly, I admit, out of laziness. It has seemed like a lot of work in addition to everything else I’ve had to set up during the past year. But I have time for it now, and a need for it too. I have a new book coming up this autumn I’d like my existing readers to learn about as easily as possible. Of course, if I had set one up last year, I would have many more subscribers by now.

A couple of timely blog posts have reminded me of the necessity too. The Writer’s Guide to Building an Email List by Your Writer Platform summarises all the benefits a mailing list offers:
  • Blogs, websites and RSS readers can disappear. Once you have an email list, you can always stay connected with your audience and keep them informed of what you are doing.
  • The conversation via email is personal, direct and private. It provides an excellent medium for staying in touch with your readers. 
  • It’s cheap, cost effective and everyone online has an email address.
There’s a lot more important information on that post. Check it out.

Lindsay Buroker’s post Authors, Why You Should Start a Newsletter makes good points too:
  • Think of your newsletter subscribers as your inner circle. What cool things can you do to reward them for being fans? At the very least, you can let them be among the first to know when you have a new book coming out.
  • Sending newsletters out to your fans is also a way to keep your name in their minds, something that can be especially useful if you’re not the most prolific writer.
It’s a great post too. She also has a follow up post where she tells how to add a newsletter to your website.

So, excited and with a deadline, I decided to set up my own mailing list. I got inspired even, and wrote a short story to give to all who subscribe to my list. I think it’s a sweet little piece that readers of my Two-Natured London series would like, and my editor didn’t disagree. (I should probably mention that paranormal romances, even in short form, aren’t really his cup of tea.)

With the offering ready, all I needed was to select the service provider. I made a short work of it. MailChimp has been recommended a few times as both good and cheap service, so I decided to try it out.

Unfortunately, the experience hasn’t been entirely happy so far.

I’m not sure, if it was me or them, but after a day I didn’t have my mailing list ready. Ok, the first setback was definitely me. I typed my e-mail address wrong when I registered and didn’t get the confirmation e-mail. However, I have to add, too, that the confirmation page lacked the usual “didn’t get the e-mail, click here” link. Well, I figured that one out myself – after a while.

That was the easiest part. I’m not saying that MailChimp is difficult to use. The site looks nice, the service offers many options for making your newsletter look exactly like you want it to, and it comes with all sorts of forms that make it easy for people to both subscribe your newsletter and – should they so choose – unsubscribe too.

What it didn’t have, however, is an easy to follow path that would have guided me step by step through the process of setting a mailing list. I ended up spending a day tweaking forms and newsletters, with no idea what to do with any of them. If the site had guides, I didn’t find them. I’ve seldom felt so stupid, staring at the screen, unable to comprehend what I was supposed to do next, or how to make use of the stuff I had already done.

So, no mailing list for me yet.

I haven’t given up. I understand the reason for why I need a mailing list. And I’m fairly sure I can tackle MailChimp too – though if you have handy first-hand experiences to offer, please share them on comments. Anything to prevent me from tearing my hair out in frustration.

In the meanwhile, if you want to set up your own mailing list, check the posts I mention above. Don’t be discouraged by my experience. Maybe I just had a stupid day. And stay tuned: I will have the mailing list soon.

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