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How Does an Author Build a Newsletter List?

Jul 07, 2021

A newsletter list is the single most important tool a writer can have when launching a book. But how do you get started—and what do you do once you have?

First off, you need to, no matter how daunting it seems and how much it seems like you don’t have time to.

You Start Small

Don’t get discouraged when you hear other people with newsletter lists talking about their huge numbers because having a small number of people who open your newsletter and take action is better than having a huge number that doesn’t. I’ve been building mine for years and can’t get it above 4000.

You can start by adding people you know but I will say when I did that, I got some grumbling. Maybe the people you know are nicer than the ones I know? I’ve had friends add me and I’ve been happy about it and then people I don’t know very well add me and I’ve found it annoying so use your best judgment about who to add.

Get a Newsletter Provider

Most people start with Mailchimp, which is free for up to 2000 contacts

You can also do it on Go Daddy. I host my site on GoDaddy and found their newsletter options too limiting but I know people who are very happy with it.

Other options include Constant Contact, Drip, ConvertKit, AWeber, InfusionSoft, GetResponse and IContact. I use Kajabi which I love but I do everything from there—website, courses, payment, the whole nine. If you need that, there’s no better and if you want to sign up using my affiliate link, do that here.

Have a Lead Magnet

If you offer people something, they’re way more likely to sign up for your newsletter than if you just say, “Sign up for my newsletter.”

A quiz is definitely a way to capture interest from people who care about your topic since everyone is endlessly interested in themselves! When I had one, I used a website called TryInteract.

If you’re saying, “Well, what would I put on my quiz,” here’s an example of a quiz I used to use as a lead magnet:

  • 1. I would like to have a career where I could help people through my creative work.
  • 2. I would be more motivated to embark on creative projects if I knew I had an audience for my work.
  • 3. I believe sharing my creative work could help other people.
  • 4. I believe sharing my creative work could help me.
  • 5. Friends tell me I should share my experiences.
  • 6. I have never heard of someone with experiences exactly like
  • mine.
  • 7. I have a unique take on things.
  • 8. I believe if more people knew about my experiences, I could help
  • them.
  • 9. I have spent some time thinking about creating work based on
  • my experiences.
  • 10. If I'd been exposed to work like mine when I was struggling, it
  • would have helped me.
  • 11. I have been wanting to embark on new creative projects for a
  • while but haven't known the exact steps to take.
  • 12. At some point in my life, I have kept a journal.
  • 13. I tend to feel better after doing something creative.
  • 14. I believe I could complete a project I was passionate about.
  • 15. I am open to sharing what I’ve learned with the world.
  • 16. I believe my life would be better if I did something creative
  • every day.
  • 17. I believe I would follow through on a project if I had guidance
  • and accountability.
  • 18. I believe I would follow through on a project if I had a way of
  • knowing people would hear about it.
  • 19. I've gotten encouraging feedback when I've expressed myself
  • creatively.
  • 20. I have occasionally made excuses for not meeting my goals.
  • 21. I periodically believe I can meet my creative goals but then find
  • myself discouraged.
  • 22. I think my work is as good as work I’ve read and seen and
  • heard.
  • 23. My recovery from my darkest experiences is one of the most
  • interesting things about me.

I then created two videos based on people’s responses to the quiz and funneled them into two different email sequences from there.

Truth? I found this process very confusing so I switched back to a cheat sheet.

Finding the right cheat sheet has been a challenge but I think I’ve finally found one that works: 20 Ways to Launch a Bestselling Book which if you’re reading this, you probably have. If not, remedy that now! The purpose of the cheat sheet is to give your newsletter readers something they can use but can lead to a need that your book can meet.

I just found out about someone named Glenn Allen who offers a mini course as his lead magnet and that seemed really interesting so I am considering looking into that.

Have a Nurture Sequence

Introduce yourself to your people through a few emails spaced a few days apart. Try to set it up so that if you’re sending regular newsletters, they’re not coming at the same time as the nurture sequence. 

If your book is already available, tell your readers during the nurture sequence about it and offer a link to it in the last one. If you’re writing your book, tell them about it. If you have a product, use your nurture sequence to offer it to them.

And then send newsletters regularly. I recommend picking a day of the week, telling them during the nurture sequence that day and sticking to sending newsletters then. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get people used to opening your emails. 

Provide Value

If you use a newsletter to just tell your readers about yourself, people are going to stop opening. Find out what they care about and give it to them. Make your newsletters entertaining. Here are some examples of amazing newsletters I subscribe to:

Ash Ambirge: No matter what she’s writing about, it’s hilarious. She’s not dashing these off. She’s infusing her personality in every line. And don’t say, “I don’t have time to do that.” Consider a newsletter a writing exercise. She defies my advice about how you have to have a lead magnet to get subscribers but that’s because she’s that good.

Jane Friedman: If newsletters for writers were studied in school, Jane Friedman would be core curriculum. She tirelessly scans for the most relevant stories. She has a weekly newsletter, Electric Speed, and then a paid subscription called The Hot Sheet that comes every 2 weeks and is worth so much more than the $59 a year she charges. (You can get your first 2 issues for free if you want to check it out.) She was onto the paid subscription model early. In that, she lists, dissects and reports on the most relevant stories about publishing, sometimes from sources like Publishers Weekly, sometimes exclusive reports from book expos and then every link that could possibly be of interest to anyone interested in writing and publishing a book.

Anne Trubek: I honestly don’t know how I stumbled across Anne but she has to write the best newsletter I’ve seen from a publisher. And I’m a publisher. Her company, Belt Publishing, focuses on books about Rust Belt, the Midwest, and its writers. and while she promotes those books in her newsletter, Notes From a Small Press, she also writes honestly and articulately about the business of being a writer. A recent one just killed me in all the best ways—it was all about why she was resentful about being quoted in The NY Times. She says the things other people won’t.

Ann Handley: She’s considered the queen of newsletters and for good reason. Her newsletter, Total Annarchy contains links and thoughtful stories; it’s the perfect mix of personal and professional. And she defies my advice about how you have to send a newsletter every week because she sends hers every two weeks. It’s so value packed that she gets away with it.

Here’s the thing: None of these people aggressively push their books in their newsletters. In fact they barely mention them. And yet I’ve bought and read all of them because I became such a fan of them because of their newsletters.



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How Do I Use My Book to Get Email Subscribers?



"None of these people aggressively push their books in their newsletters. In fact they barely mention them. And yet I’ve bought and read all of them because I became such a fan of them because of their newsletters."