Email Best Practices for Authors

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So you’ve built yourself an email list of readers, fans, bloggers and book enthusiasts. Congratulations! I bet you’re ready and excited to start talking to them via email, aren’t cha?!

Well … not so fast.

Before you start creating your next great email campaign, there are a few things you should stop and think about first.

002-natureI wanted to take a moment and ground ourselves in some high level email best practices for authors. I’m not going to address list building today, because let’s be honest … there’s no easy, fast way to build a qualityΒ list that engages with you regularly and has the metrics to prove it. These things take time, strategy and mad patience for nurturing the relationship.

And that’s really what email is all about … growing and strengthening your relationship with your readers.

So what makes me qualified to talk on this subject? Well … the past fifteen plus years of my life have been largely dedicated to digital marketing and email marketing is a large part of my 9-5 gig. I’m well versed on multiple email platforms from Pardot to Eloqua to MailChimp to Constant Contact and more. Plus my day job requires me to stay up to date with the latest email marketing trends and best practices. It simply seemed like a crime to sit on that kind of knowledge while watching my industry peers not make the most of their email marketing opportunities.

Also, because I’m a data nerd at heart, I have also been collecting (and subsequently studying) fellow author emails like CoHo’s Owen Gentry collects confessions. For the most part, I really like what I’m seeing! However, amid all the really good stuff out there, there are also lots of really bizarre and not so strategic things going on in author email land. Which inspired me to create this blog post.

So let’s take a step back and consider your overarching email strategy, shall we?

Capturing Your Audience

015-bookMake the most of your existing assets. Readers should be able to quickly and easily access your newsletter sign up forms from multiple locations. Integrate your form on your Facebook page, website, the back matter of your eBooks, and even consider having track-able links in other social channels such as GoodReads, your Amazon Profile and more.

During events (not of the virtual variety), make it easy for interested readers to sign up. Sure you can do the “write your email here” on a piece of paper … but half the time you can’t read their writing and the other half you forget to manually input their info into your list. So go digital.

  • If you use a Square or PayPal credit card swipe devices, you can actually add a feature for users to have their receipt emailed to them and include a check box to opt-in to future communications from you
  • Apps like iCapture can secure your subscribers during events and integrate back to your platform, even if you don’t have internet access during the event.
  • And MailChimp recently released its own app that ties back directly to your list. (I used it recently at the Route 66 Author Event and LOVED IT! Super easy to use.)

One thing to note is to be leery of constantly running giveaways on social media encouraging newsletter sign ups for a chance to win some kind of prize. Often times these individuals are looking for a fast freebie and unsubscribe quickly, sometimes marking you as spam, which goes against your credibility. Once in a while is perfectly fine, but don’t rely on this approach as your sole list-building opportunity.

Remember that once you’ve received a new newsletter subscriber, the onboarding process has begun. So you need to focus on creating a positive experience for your reader.

Onboarding Subscribers

004-paper-planeThe onboarding process can most simply be explained as the first event (or series of events) that occur once you have captured a new lead. In our industry, the lead is a reader or prospective reader.

If your email platform requires two-step verification, there is a series of automated communications that deploy that require additional confirmation from the recipient–a protective measure to avoid spam. However, I was shocked to discover that less than half of the authors I’ve been following via email have customized these messages. These touch points are a huge opportunity to show off your personality, introduce them to your books and even remind them of the fact they signed up to receive your emails in the first place.

Furthermore, of all the authors who customized their onboarding email messages, significantly fewer create an automated onboarding series — meaning 3-5 emails sent out over the course of the first few weeks of joining the respective newsletter.

Those who created an automated series did an excellent job introducing themselves to the reader through personalized messages, making a title or two on their backlist available for free and encouraging the lead to engage with them in other social channels.

Think About Your Messaging & Prioritize Your Content

003-mailboxMost of the author emails I’ve been examining have a very clear purpose with each deployment. However there are instances where I read an email and think to myself Why the heck are you sending this? There is no real purpose to this eblast.

And that’s not a good thing.

Emailing your newsletter list just for the sake of emailing them is a really fast way to annoy your audience and risk having them unsubscribe.

If you don’t have anything newsworthy to share, consider skipping that particular email touch point.

But when you do have something newsworthy to share, keep the most important messages up front. The least important at the end. Seriously. Don’t bury your buy link at the bottom of your email. Most people won’t make it down that far. So whatever it is you’re trying to communicate, keep it up front and center.

Remember that newsletters are a great way to showcase your personality, too. Here are a few fun things I’ve seen authors include to give a little insight into their daily lives beyond the book world:

  • Include their favorite fall drink recipe
  • Attached a family photo of a recent vacation to the Caribbean
  • Shared a recent review they left for a new-to-them author
  • One author even created a gif of her with her new puppy

It doesn’t have to be anything crazy (or even in every single email), just a little snapshot of humanity to make your readers smile.

Include A Strong CTA

010-megaphoneHaving a strong call to action, or CTA, is paramount for conversions and enticing your audience to act upon what you’re doing. And what’s just as important is how you communicate it.

Every email you send needs to serve a distinct purpose. Are you communicating to alert your mailing list of a sale on one of your backlist titles? Are you sharing an exclusive excerpt from your work in progress? Are you unveiling the cover of your upcoming release?

No matter what you’re communicating, clearly, boldly and loudly tell them what you want them to do.

  • Buy Now for 99-cents!
  • Add Birthquake to your GoodReads TBR list today!
  • Download An Unforgivable Love Story for FREE!

Utilize buttons and eye-catching fonts and even colors to draw attention to your CTA. You are not deploying your email to a bunch of mind readers, so tell them exactly what it is you want them to do.

Learn How To A/B Test Your Subject Lines

013-rubikYou could have the most brilliant email under the sun, but if your subject line sucks, your audience will never open your message. But lucky for you, you’ll find that most email programs offer A/B testing.

But what is A/B testing? A/B testing can improve open rates, effectively garnering more conversions on your call to action. Essentially, you come up with two separate subject lines and your email platform will split the recipients into two test groups upon deployment and report back on performance.

Some platforms, depending on your plan and the size of your list, can even test the subject lines in the morning with 25% of your mailing list, and then deploy to the remaining 75% of your mailing list later in the day leveraging the subject line that yielded the stronger open rate.

What’s helpful about A/B Testing is that you can determine what your audience reacts more strongly toward, and then begin recreating and leveraging that approach in future communications.

Additionally, some programs will allow you to A/B test more than the subject line; there are opportunities to A/B test designs, your call to action and more!

Optimize Your Email Strategy

011-chessUnhappy with your current metrics? Open rates leave a lot to be desired? Click-to-open ratio below industry standards? Then you need to shake things up with your approach.

If you’ve been sending emails in the morning or during the lunch hour, try sending in the evening after dinner.

Historically Tuesdays and Wednesdays are highest for email open rates, but why not look at when your Facebook Audience is online the most and target during that time period? This info can be found under the Insights Tab on your Facebook dashboard. There’s a wealth of knowledge available here if you go digging!

Why not consider testing a “Pay Day” campaign where you push a new release on Fridays or the 15th / 30th of each month when employers traditionally cut paychecks?

One thing that I personally love to do is retarget an unopened email campaign. Virtually every email platform will allow you to resend an email to anyone who didn’t open the email the first time (read up on this as it requires special segmenting within your lists and each platform executes differently). However,Β I recommend changing things up a bit before redeploying. Odds are if you send the same exact email the same exact way, you’re going to get the same exact results.

Here’s what works for me when retargeting an unopened email campaign:

  • I give it a completely different subject line
  • I will switch from HTML to text-only as sometimes HTML emails get kicked to spam or promotions folders; plus text-only often feels more personal than having all the bells and whistles
  • Deploy a completely different time of day
  • Resending 2-3 days after the initial email dropped
  • Lose all the images, sure they’re pretty … but sometimes simplicity works best
  • Include a short note at the end letting the recipient know this was a re-send, and to make sure to add my email address to their safe sender list to avoid having future messages from me get misfiled by their email platform

Be Mobile Friendly

017-smsAccording to The Radicati Group’s Email Statistics Report, 80% of email users are expected to access their email accounts via a mobile device in 2018. That means next year you need to be prepared for four out of five recipients to read and open your messages while on the go.

The good news is that many email platforms are adapting for this insight and automatically updating their templates. But as authors (and subsequently marketers of our own books), we have to adapt, too.

Being mobile friendly requires more mindfulness of the images you select for your emails, the length of copy blocks, and how you organize your messages.

  • Keep your paragraphs short
  • Consider utilizing bullet points as a quick and easy way to organize your messaging
  • Ensure that any images you include don’t have microscopic-sized copy
  • Test and preview your email on your mobile device before deploying to ensure formatting doesn’t shift in an undesirable way

Follow up on your metrics

001-chartBe your own best student. A few days after you deploy your email campaign, double back and look at the numbers in your reporting dashboard. Start with open rates and click to open rates. Then do a deeper dive and see what links your readers are clicking. Most clicks occur toward the top of your email, so keep all of the super important info and links up front and center.

Virtually all platforms report on this kind of data when you get granular on the data. Over time you will discover the kind of content that receives the best interaction and be able to replicate it for future engagement.

Segment When You Can

008-family-treeBeing able to segment a list, while a seemingly daunting task, is easily one the best strategies you can have. When establishing your mailing list, consider having subsets for bloggers, individuals who only want updates on new releases, readers who want everything, etc.

Segmented lists will always perform better because the recipient receives exactly what they want.

But the best way to segment is when collecting the initial data upfront. So consider having special opt-ins for any type of segment you foresee wanting to market to in the future.

One of the current trends for new releases is the “Live Alert;” a list building opportunity for you to inform interested readers when your latest book has gone live. If you elect to set one of these up, be sure to include a check box to allow users to opt-in to your main mailing list. DO NOT just dump everyone onto your main list, that’s not cool since they’re only signing up for the release alert and you don’t want to tick anyone off.

It has been my experience that those signing up for the Live Alerts respond well to being given the opt-in option. During the release of Birthquake, 92% of individuals who signed up for the Live Alert, also elected to join my main newsletter list via the opt-in check box.

Be Mindful When Communicating With Bloggers

005-relationshipBuilding and fostering relationships in this industry can be tough. It also can be time consuming. But it is hands-down one of the most important pieces of the marketing pie.

So talk with bloggers in your network. Learn how they want to receive information about your upcoming releases and adapt to their needs.

There is nothing personal about collecting a hundred emails from bloggers and just sending them details on an upcoming release without actually building that relationship with them first. A little introduction and personalized message will go a long way.

So ask if they’re interested and have the capacity to help support your upcoming release. Don’t just assume. These men and women blog because they love books and sharing their latest and greatest read; not because they owe anything to us.

Give Your Email More Legs

007-emailSo you’ve deployed to your mailing list of 7,500. That’s awesome! But don’t let the awesome content you’ve shared die an untimely death with an open rate of 10%. That’s only 750 people opening (and hopefully reading) your message. Plus you hopefully have a social following. So post that newsletter to your Facebook page. Blast it out to your Twitter followers. Share with your friends on social. Add it as a GoodReads blog post.

If the content isn’t exclusive to your mailing list (like an excerpt from your WIP just for your newsletter), there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be promoting it elsewhere. More eyes on the content means more awareness of your brand and more opportunity for engagement and hopefully conversion.

Consider Retargeting Your Newsletter Audience Outside Of Your Newsletter

016-targetDid you know that you can create custom audiences with Facebook Ads leveraging your mailing list contacts? Or that you can remarket to those who visit your newsletter via the web with remarketing ads within the Google Display Network? And the best part is neither of these options have to break the bank. YOU decide what you want to spend.

And with many readers needing multiple touchpoints of exposure before warming up their one-click finger, it would be smart of you to consider how you can best communicate with your audience before you begin your campaign. There’s a lot of clutter out there, so plan, plan, plan!

So What’s The Bottom Line?

012-checklistI could wax poetic about effective email marketing and best practices for our industry, but let’s just cut to the chase.

  • Subscribers should be able to quickly and easily find your newsletter sign-up and experience an onboarding process that is ownable to you, the author.
  • Don’t be that guy who emails their list every week without anything important to say.
  • Each email should serve a distinct purpose, with a clear message, and strong call to action.
  • Test and learn! The best part about working in the digital space is how easily you can change things for future campaigns. So find what works and keep improving upon that.
  • Optimize and and do things differently until you get the results you crave.
  • Don’t just keep mobile in mind … keep it in the front of your mind. If it won’t look good on your handheld screen, figure out a different way to include that piece of content.
  • Study your metrics. If you don’t know what’s not working, you can’t figure out how to fix it.
  • Segmentation is your friend!
  • Give love to your bloggers and find out what they want and how they want it.
  • Make sure your newsletter doesn’t die a sad, lonely death in an email graveyard. Repost it to other social channels and repurpose valuable content!
  • Your newsletter audience shouldn’t be just for your newsletter. Discover ways that work for you to talk with them outside of the email space.

 

All of the above information is pretty high level, so if you have questions please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or message me with via the CONTACT tab at the top of this page.

And remember, as with everything in life, things change. So as of the writing of this blog post in November 2017, the methods detailed here are considered best practices. Ask me again in three months and I may very well have something different to report on!

If you’re interested in learning more about how I structure my email campaigns, you can sign up to receive my newsletter via the pop-up on my website, the newsletter tab on my Facebook page, the back of some of my titles (the early ones don’t have it included), or in my bio on Amazon, GoodReads, BookBub, BookSprout and virtually any other place I have a digital footprint.

Icons courtesy of FlatIcon.com.Β 

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