Growing Your Audience by Growing a Mailing List

Last week I shared three ways you can successfully grow your audience. This is a big concern for writers. I believe discoverability is the #1 word for authors. Our books are vying for the attention of readers in a sea of millions of other books. To grow your audience, you first have to have readers find you.

While word of mouth is great and often the best way for a book to rise in the ranks and get noticed by readers, we writers can’t spend all our time spreading the word (or convincing others to do so) about our books.

Some hope their publisher will do this for them, but we all know that’s really not going to happen. If you’re a big-selling author, your publisher will throw some money at your publicity. But at that point, it’s probably not needed all that much.

Just know that you can’t expect your publisher to grow your audience for you. I know a number of authors who want desperately to get picked up by a traditional publisher for the reason they don’t want to deal with marketing. Oh to be back in the day when publishers truly promoted their authors with paid ads and book-signing tours.

Little Things You Can Do

There are lots of little things you can do, and on the cheap or free, that can help grow your audience. You can create a website, guest blog on far-reaching blogs on nonfiction-related topics you cover in your novel. You can create an author profile on Amazon and Author Central. You can advertise on Bookbub (the best place, if you can get in) and other sites (though I’ve consistently found hardly any worth my $$).

All these little bits add up.

But are there ways to grow your audience fast and in huge numbers?

Facebook Ads

I pooh-poohed Facebook ads (mainly because I don’t pay much attention to them when I’m on Facebook). I also didn’t want to spend money on ads other than Bookbub.

But when I learned from a good friend that she was making bank via her Facebook ads, my ears perked up.

I’m now running these ads daily and seeing good results. And while I’m not going to go in depth about the strategies, know that there are plenty of blog posts and courses and email lists (Mark Dawson’s is one I’m familiar with, and he teaches Facebook Ads for Authors, a course I’m eagerly waiting to take) on this topic.

What I’m doing this year that’s exciting and working great for me in growing my audience is all tied in with this one big “MUST” that I avoided for years, sadly. I wish I had listened to the countless numbers of people who told me this was #1. No exceptions . . .

Grow Your Mailing List

Ugh, I finally had to suck it up and make the decision to expend vast amounts of time and energy toward growing my mailing list.

Why is this so important? Because your list is the basis for your success. Many authors will tell you it’s their list that makes their book launches and sales numbers. It’s their list of faithful fans who spread the word and leave reviews on Amazon.

It’s their list that shoots them to the tops of the best-seller lists on Amazon from day 1. And if you aren’t topping the best-seller lists, you aren’t being seen. Your book won’t be discovered. And because of that, you won’t grow your audience.

I know some of you are panicking. How do you start making a list? How do you get people on it?

Again, I’m not going to spend weeks on this or even a blog post. There are probably hundreds of blog posts and mailing lists (Nick Stephenson’s is a good one to Google and get on) and courses all about how to grow your list. Set aside time to read up on it.

You’ll need to get set up in Mailchimp, Constant Contact, or Aweber or some other mail distribution program. That’s a learning curve. And I’ve struggled with Mailchimp but now have it in hand. They have great customer support.

But just setting up a list is only the first step. You need to get people to sign up on your list, and not just anyone. You are looking for fans.

How do the successful authors get fans on their lists? They give things away. Some give away Kindles and other prizes using sites like Kingsumo. But mostly they give away free books.

Write a Book to Give Away

This is the main way to get readers: give away a book. Or two or three. Usually an author gives away the first book in a series. Mark Dawson gives away four ebooks when you join his list.

Which is making some of you ask: Do I have to have a series? No, you don’t. But you should have a few books out. I wrote a novella a couple of months ago specifically as a prequel giveaway for my series. I started a mailing list for my pen name, and within two months already had about 1,000 subscribers. And it’s clearly impacting (in a positive way) my sales and number of reviews.

I have a website for Charlene Whitman: When you go to my website, a popup offers you my free novella if you to opt into my mailing list. I’m beginning to believe, while a basic author website is helpful to platform, what really matters is getting interested readers on my mailing list. And once there, my readers get a free book and an autoflow of emails over months on various topics related to my novels. And of course all this is a soft push to both buy and review my books. But via my list I’m engaging and exciting readers who are turning into true fans.

How might you get people to join your list? Aside from promoting on your author website, you advertise (through social media or in the front pages of your novels or on Pinterest–I do all these) that you give away a free book when you join the list. Here is an example of one of my many Leadpages opt-in pages to get people on my readers’ list for my Front Range Western series.

If you join my Fast Track email list, you get a free copy of Writing the Heart of Your Story. Here’s the opt-in page. You can check out Leadpages HERE and join up!

Leadpages is great because it sets up the capture of email addresses and integrates with your mailing program. Meaning, when a person fills out the form, they are put in my specific Mailchimp group and they start getting all the emails I’ve set up in my workflow, the first of which they get immediately, and that one has the links to the free books.

Is this a lot of work? It is to set up. But once you have it all in place, it’s automatic. Those on my lists get emails sent every so often that are informative, entertaining, insightful, and encourage them to buy, read, and/or review my books. I give away freebies, I encourage feedback, I share ideas and covers. All to grow my audience in an authentic and meaningful way.

I’m really loving how my audience is growing.

You asked. You want to know how to grow your audience? I think the best way is to start a mailing list and work hard to grow that list. That means writing books, giving away a free book, writing emails that help readers bond with you. If you need some examples, sign up for my lists and get my emails. Or some other author’s list.

My friend I mentioned has more than a dozen novels in a very small niche market. She hadn’t ever sold many copies. But as soon as she started doing Facebook ads and following Mark Dawson’s blueprint, along with Nick Stephenson’s email-growing tips, she’s seen more than 1,000 new subscribers a day, and on a regular basis.

This translates into books sales and faithful, happy readers. She’s planning to quit her day job this year and live off her book sales. Something she never imagined she could do with novels in an obscure small market.

So while you have the best chance of success if you target a big-selling genre with manageable competition, you can see here how even a small niche genre market could work if you follow the Facebook ad/mailing list strategy.

I’ll be sharing more on my personal experience with this strategy later in the year as I expand and grow my efforts. Yes, it costs money, and right now I’m spending about $15-20 a day on Facebook ads. I hope to increase that. My friend was spending $300 a day. Few people can afford that, and she certainly couldn’t. But she quickly saw the long-term results of the strategy.

If you have a dozen novels and you give one away for free, and that reader “discovers” you and loves your books and buys them all, that $1 (costs will vary) investment in the click spent for that reader (clicking on your Facebook ad and opting into your list) translates into revenue of maybe $30 in book sales (net).

Maybe not everyone who joins your list will buy all your books. But many will. Many will be glad they’ve discovered you.

Something to think about, right?

What about you? Have you started a mailing list? Are you giving away a book? Share what results you’re seeing. And also what’s been working for you to grow your audience.

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  1. Good stuff, Susanne! Can I offer one more email list growing suggestion? A pop-up on your website that asks you to subscribe to a blog, get a freebie, or some sort of bonus collateral works wonders. I know lots of people are annoyed by pop-ups but my experience is they’re far more value than a hindrance.

    I installed a free Sumo Pro List Builder app on my WordPress site a year ago and it’s increased my list by 40% without doing a thing. Talk about a good return on a small time investment to set up and then it just runs automatically.

    One other tip – respect your subscribers’ privacy. Don’t share your list or even one subscriber’s address without permission. That’s sure to backfire and decrease your list, not increase it. An example – the other day, I got an unsolicited email from a realtor in South Africa who was trying to track down a Cape Town property owner to snag a listing. From Googling, he saw this owner had left a comment on my blog post and he wanted their email address. I forwarded the email to my subscriber who was shocked at the nerve of this guy and was so appreciative of my consideration. Now I have a long-term friend instead of an enraged unsubscriber. Lesson learned – treat all subscribers how you’d like to be treated and karma will pay back!

    1. Thanks, Garry. I must have just assumed everyone knew that. I experienced a huge growth in my mailing list once I gave away a free book, and of course, most of that is due to the pop-up opt-in form.

  2. A very good summary here, Susanne. You mention Facebook ads but you don’t mention AMS ads (Amazon Marketing Services). It’s relatively new, but because it’s inside the Amazon Books ecosystem, it works! And you can start with $1/day limit. I’m now 1 month in with one of my AMS ads, and because I’m in KDP Select, my KENP Reads jumped more the 700% (!) right after the ads started. Something to think about.

    1. Thanks for sharing that. I’d done a lot of reading up on Amazon ads and all the posts and comments were negative, saying it was a waste of money. Glad to hear you’ve had some good results. How much money per day are you now budgeting? I’m also running a Bookbub ad daily and getting a little response, but not a whole lot. So far FB ads are the most consistent for me. But maybe I’ll try this. I’m also going to try Mailchimp FB ads since they directly integrate with my mailing list.

    2. Oh, and when I went in to play around with creating an ad, I was stopped by the alert that I had to put in a minimum of $100. Which I’m not willing to do at first when trying a new ad campaign. It only allowed me to choose the per-click rate and that minimum budget.

      1. Here’s the deal: there are two types of AMS ads: Sponsored Products and Product Placement (or something like that). I only use the former. It shows up in a band on a book’s product page just below Also Boughts. I budget $1 per day and with massaging my keyword bids, I never reach that limit (I did at the beginning before I learned how to work the system). Admittedly, there have been some glitches with the AMS rollout (and one recently), but it seems to have settled down now. It’s definitely worth a trial run. You’re only out $1/day max, and you can pause or stop at any point. Give it a shot!

        1. Thanks for explaining. I avoided those because I personally find them questionable. Meaning, when I’m looking at a paid, sponsored ad on my product page, I think “wow, these authors must be desperate if they are paying to get seen.” I do see a lot of poor-quality covers and descriptions in these sponsored ads, so I think that’s why I got this impression. And worried that my books might be interpreted that way too. However, it may be that others don’t even think about that and just notice them and click on them. I’ll think about it!

  3. Susanne, your posts are always so helpful to me (and others, I’m sure). Usually, I don’t sign up for email lists, but I did yours some time ago I’ve been receiving and enjoying your ideas on writing ever since.

    I wonder if a mailing list would help a serial article. In March I’ll be blogging an analysis of James Runcie’s “Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death” for all my like-minded mystery friends and junkies out there who want to see how a mystery plot is constructed. I’ll go into the details of red-herrings, valid clues, and subplots, etc. Runcie’s novellas are great resources for dissection because they balance plot with character and philosophy for truly literary mysteries. It’ll be about an 8 week run with a new scene (section) presented each week.

    I’ll post the segments to the blog weekly and suppose I could give away a pdf of the whole critique when finished. But I’d be trying to get people on a mailing list as the series is running.

    Any thoughts on approaching this type of thing with a mailing list?

    And again, thanks for your great posts and articles.

    Mahlon Bouldin

    1. Hi Mahlon, and thanks for the kind words. I don’t know if people would sign up for a list unless you give something away for free and make clear what you are going to be sending them via your newsletter each month (or however often you plan to send it). You might think of a general purpose/theme for your content for your list and consider the kind of audience that would benefit from what you are offering. Hope that helps.

  4. Thanks for sharing your experience. Are you doing the Facebook ads to build your list? I tried them for a standalone novel and had some success with sales and page reads but not enough to make a profit. I’ve heard they’re most effective for giving away freebies or higher priced items like bundles.

    I’ve also had modest success with AMS ads. I’m currently working on my fourth book and will wait until that comes out before I do a perma-free. Nick Stephenson’s free video course has been a big help in getting me started. Heard good things, too, about Mark Dawson’s course.

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