Do you maintain your own mailing list?
If you don’t, you’re missing out on the absolutely best way to reach your community of friends and fans, grow your audience, and sell more of what you create.
What’s So Great About a Mailing List?
Writers focus a lot of their valuable, limited energy on social media. That’s probably you, right? I bet you’re proud of the hundreds — or even thousands — of followers you have on different platforms.
Unfortunately, despite “Likes” and “Hearts” and “Shares” and “Claps” and whatever the current approbation du jour might be, you have no way of knowing who actually reads your social media content. Unless they comment or otherwise take the time to write about your social media post, “fans” remain effectively anonymous and invisible.
Also, we all know a “Like” is a one-click effort requiring little investment and zero commitment. Think about how easy it is to click “Like” and then never give that content a second thought. Be honest: can you remember each of the posts you “Liked” yesterday? Heck, how about today?
Of course you can’t.
Bottom line: Your social media followers are mostly casual and, profile pictures aside, faceless unknown quantities.
A mailing list subscriber, on the other hand, is so committed to your work they’ve invited you into one of the last private spaces online: their personal e-mail inbox. They want to engage with you… and they are explicitly asking you to engage with them.
And when you do?
It’s far more intimate than a reply on a Facebook wall. Sure, the e-mail you send to your list goes out to all of your subscribers at once, but everyone on your list can reply directly to you.
It’s a one-to-many communication with a built-in invitation to become a one-to-one relationship.
For a fan, that kind of personal access to an author or creator they admire is very special indeed.
Because of their deliberate intention, and the intimacy of their direct connection with you, your mailing list community members are, on average, far more likely to buy your books or other creative work when you ask them.
Because they’re personally invested in your success thanks to the direct connection and trust you’ve established.
Your mailing list subscribers are the crème of the crop. They’re more important to your success than almost any other segment of your community of friends and fans.
Stuff You Can Do With A Mailing List (That You Can’t Do With Social Media)
If you’re willing to get your hands dirty (up to the elbows, in some cases), you can get an approximate idea of how many of your social media fans read a post on your page / wall / stream. Because social media sites (Facebook in particular, amirite?) know so much about everyone on their platforms, you can often get some nifty information like gender, location, age, and so on.
But you still don’t know exactly who – John or Mary or Sven or Helen – read that post. And just as importantly, you can’t know who didn’t read it.
You can do that with a mailing list.
You can tell who opened the email, and who clicked what links in the email. With my preferred mailing list service provider, you can even set things up to figure out who went so far as to purchase a book on certain sales platforms… and who did not.
Wouldn’t it be great to know who clicked on a “buy me” link for your latest book… but didn’t actually buy the book? Wouldn’t it be great to send those people a follow-up email asking why they didn’t ultimately make the purchase?
You can do that.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to poll your subscribers and, based on their answers, segment them into interest groups so you know you’re sending them only the information they care about most?
You can do that.
Social media is great for being… social. That has its place, and is certainly valuable.
That said, a mailing list takes the social aspect of your marketing (one-to-many / one-on-one interaction) and adds laser-like focus and highly granular analysis… all while still communicating, in your voice and with your style, with the people most committed to supporting your work.
How Do I Choose A Mailing List Service Provider?
There are a lot of companies providing mailing list services. You can even host and manage your own… but I wouldn’t recommend it. Just because one can do something doesn’t mean one should do something. You have better things to do with your time (like make more art).
In my many years as a fiction and non-fiction author, magazine editor, serial fiction writer, and creative services provider (even though I’m starting over with a blank slate), I’ve used a lot of different mailing list services. I’ve even done that very thing I just advised you not to do: I’ve installed and run open source mailing list software myself (ugh).
Comparing Two Mailing List Service Providers: ConvertKit and MailChimp
ConvertKit and MailChimp are both great choices for authors and other creators, and each has pros and cons. Let’s go over some of them:
- MailChimp and ConvertKit both provide custom sign-up forms that can stand on their own or be integrated into a website.
- ConvertKit and MailChimp each have automation and “auto-responder” functions to send messages in a “time released” fashion.
- MailChimp and ConvertKit both provide extensive statistics and analytics to help you understand and take actions informed by your subscribers’ behavior.
- Both ConvertKit and MailChimp help you create beautiful e-mail message templates that look great on the desktop, tablet, or phone.
Mailchimp also allows you to create Facebook and Instagram ad campaigns that seamlessly integrate with your mailing list without ever leaving your Mailchimp account.
ConvertKit has a more intuitive workflow and user interface, including a way to segment and group subscribers based on their activity, that’s more refined than MailChimp.
ConvertKit also integrates with third-party services and applications like shopping carts, lead generation and lead capture tools, and automations services like Zapier.
ConvertKit and MailChimp have different approaches to how they handle the concept of a subscriber list:
MailChimp requires you to have different, distinct lists for different subject matters. For example, if you have a user who wants to be on your New Releases announcement list and your Weekly Updates list, those are two different distinct lists.
ConvertKit maintains your subscribers in one master list. You organize the members of that list (through the software) by segmenting that list. It’s subscriber / community based, rather than list based.
Whether you select MailChimp or choose ConvertKit, it’s important to note that with both services, your data is your own and is very easy to export in an easily understandable and reusable format. You’re not “locked in” to either service.
What Do These Mailing List Service Providers Cost?
MailChimp lets you start for free with limited functionality, and then pay as you go or pay as little as $10 / month (based on subscriber count) for extra functionality, more message sends, and a larger subscriber base.
ConvertKit begins as low as $24 / month for up to 1,000 subscribers, with higher rates for larger subscriber counts. All price points include full access to all features offered by the service.
Which Mailing List Service Provider Is Best?
Figuring out which service is best for you depends on your needs and, to a lesser degree, your budget. I will say this: assuming you consistently release books or other creations / products people can buy, your investment in a mailing list service will pay for itself and help you make more money in the long run.
Mailchimp is less expensive than ConvertKit for smaller lists, but more expensive as your list grows. If you choose MailChimp’s free plan, you will not have access to the platform’s full range of features.
ConvertKit requires an investment from the beginning, but offers more flexibility and gives you access to its full feature set.
Mailchimp may be better for simple lists with one product line or area of focus: For example: “I just sell books.”
ConvertKit is the better choice if you’re an author or creator with more than one product line or area of focus or plan to offer more than one product line or area of focus. For example, I am an author, but people who read fiction might not care to read my non-fiction. I serve clients as a coach and consultant, but most of my clients have no interest in my fiction.
ConvertKit enables me, through automated features, to categorize my subscribers into segments that ensure they don’t receive e-mails outside of their declared interest.
Which Mailing List Service Provider Do I Use?
Having paid to use both MailChimp and ConvertKit extensively for years, ConvertKit is the best choice for me. I prefer ConvertKit for its flexibility, range of features, ease of use, and support response time. It’s also a smaller company, very nimble and responsive, and I confess, I usually back the underdog.
Finally, from what I’ve read and heard and seen, I like and respect Nathan Barry, the creator of ConvertKit. The fact that this has led me to support ConvertKit with my wallet is a testament to the idea that building a connection with your community matters a great deal (and that’s what having a mailing list is all about!)
As with many of the products and services I use, recommend, and endorse, I have an affiliate relationship with ConvertKit. At no additional cost to you, I will receive a monetary commission if you click through to ConvertKit and make a purchase. MailChimp does not have a monetary affiliate program, however if you click through via any of their links in this article to MailChimp and use their service, I will receive “email credits” on my free MailChimp account.
Now That You Have Your List…
Okay, let’s say you’ve decided on a mailing list service provider and now have a shiny new mailing list.
How do you get people to subscribe?
The best way (and this is the golden rule for everything you do with your list) is to provide something of value in return. When discussing attracting new subscribers, this thing of value is called a “lead magnet.”
The lead magnet should be something special (read that as: meaningful to your specific community) that’s also exclusive: the only way to get it is to subscribe.
For fiction authors, a side story featuring a supporting character from one of your novels is a great choice… and a great way to introduce people to your work.
For non-fiction authors, bloggers, coaches, and service providers, it could be a checklist or a “cheat sheet” describing a process, or a compiled list of handy resources related to your subject matter.
Either way, it’s a digital product – an e-book, or a printable PDF file – that you can make once and distribute forever with no cost to you.
Both MailChimp and ConvertKit make it easy to send the lead magnet once a new subscriber confirms their subscription.
You can promote the lead magnet to your social media followers, announce it on your website, and so on.
Once People Are Subscribed To Your Mailing List… What Next?
It’s time they got acquainted with you (and you with them).
I recommend setting up a sequence of email messages that automatically go to a new subscriber at regular intervals (say one message every day).
In this sequence, you can introduce yourself and your work, ask the subscriber to share their own interests (this shows them you care about them as people — and you had better!) and ask how you can best provide value for them. When the sequence is over, offer them a discount or early access to one of your books or other products (if that fits with what it is that you do).
During the sequence, let your new subscriber know how often they can expect to hear from you… and stick to that promise. Once the sequence is over, resist the urge to only write them when you have something to sell.
Remember: Provide Value!
• …send behind the scenes glimpses of your work in progress
• …offer tips, resources, and best practices for your readers who like that sort of thing
• …give subscribers first looks at book cover designs, deleted scenes, and the like
• …run polls and contests
• …organize a street team of virtual promoters who get special perks in exchange for spreading the word about your next book or other product
• …turn the spotlight on subscribers themselves by highlighting one of them!
Remember: a mailing list is the number-one best way to sell your books and other creative works, whether you use ConvertKit, MailChimp, or some other service… but that’s not the only reason to have one.
Use your mailing list to build a committed, close-knit community of friends and fans, the finest of the fine… Treat them that way with content that keeps them there for years and years and makes them super-fans!
Talk To Me About Mailing Lists!
Do you have a question about what you’ve read here? Any other recommendations / suggestions? If you already have a mailing list, how about sharing your experiences and how you use it? Let’s have a conversation and raise everyone’s collective level of awareness… in the comments!
Opinions & Advice For People Who Write
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