book promotion, book sales, self-publishing

The power of a newsletter. I hope.


How can we gain readers? Blogging is approximate, Facebook is fickle and tweets are lost like bubbles that burst as soon as they’re formed. Only one answer, then: a newsletter. Well, that’s what I’ve heard, time and again, from self-publishing marketing gurus, foremost among them Mark Dawson and Nick Stephenson. Build your mailing list!  As Dawson puts it, my mailing list is a crucial – THE crucial – part of my business. It’s my most valuable asset. Because then you have email addresses so you’re sending out regular content to a (more or less) captive audience. So that’s what I’m doing. Last week, GD did me the honour of posting one of my letters, so the least I can do now is explain the mechanics behind it.

First you’ll need an email marketing service. I’m currently using Mailchimp, which has good functionality and is free up to 2000 subscribers. After that, it’s $30 a month, rising to $50 when you hit 3000. Not exactly cheap. As I’m getting close to 2000, I’ve started looking at alternatives. Among the best known is Mailerlite, which is free up to 1000, only rising to $35 a month when you reach 10,000 (by which time, if all goes to plan, you should be generating more than enough revenue to cover the cost). Here’s a more detailed comparison of the two. But they’re not the only ones: here’s a list of several more.

But readers don’t sign up to lists for no reason. In return for giving you their email address, they want something of value to them, such as a free book or a video course. Make your first book free, and if subscribers like it enough, they’ll buy the second, especially if it’s part of a series. Or so the reasoning goes. But with so many free books out there, for that to happen, you’re going to need a lot of subscribers.

Next you want somewhere readers will find you. A landing page on a blog is all very well, but unless you have a huge amount of traffic, the sign-up rate is so low it could take years to build your list to any decent size. Then there’s the call to action placed at the front and back of your permafree book on Amazon, including a reader magnet (e.g. Sign up to my newsletter to join my readers’ group to get another free book / short story / novella and be informed of new releases). Here again, the sign-up rate is tiny. The solution? Shared promotions and giveaways. Since I signed up to Mailchimp almost a year ago, I’ve participated in half a dozen. Results have varied, ranging from barely 20 subscribers to the current one (40 mystery novels), with over 700. Readers sign up to giveaways on one of the two main sites, Instafreebie or Bookfunnel. This video (20 min) explains how both of them work.

Finally, but of course not least, you need content. This is the hardest part – an insipid or uninformative newsletter will lose subscribers fast. But if it’s helpful, fun to read, or offers something of value (more giveaways, a free story), they’ll stay. All of them? That would be nice, wouldn’t it? But with each letter you send out, you can expect a hefty batch of unsubscribes. How many depends on the number of subscribers you have, so it’s best to talk percentages: in my experience, anything from 2% to 8%. Which is fine – lots of people sign up just for the freebies, so they’re unlikely to become your fans in any case.

Those are the ingredients then. What about the stats? How good a strategy is it? And what’s the best measure in any case? The most rewarding (financially) is the number of sales of a second book after readers have downloaded the first. If I include the sales of book two (Perfume Island) at the time of its launch, my conversion rate is 2.3%. Excluding the launch, it’s less than 1%. There are other measures, like the open rate of the newsletter (35% – 40% for mine) or the number of reviews on Amazon (Mark Dawson puts forward a figure of 1 per every 1000 downloads), but the bottom line, of course, is sales.

Am I downhearted? No. Nor even surprised, now that I know what the nature of the game is. For me, it’s way too early to draw conclusions. I’ve only got two books out, and there’s a lot I’ve still got to learn. My expectation is that until I reach at least 5000 subscribers, release a couple more books (and probably start spending on advertising), there won’t be any significant result. But so far this is the only strategy I’ve come across. It’s no doubt getting harder as time goes by, and it requires endless patience and perseverance, but there are plenty of authors who’ve used it satisfactorily. So sometime you can expect another post from me, triumphantly announcing I’m one of them. Maybe. In the meantime, you can always sign up to my newsletter.


13 thoughts on “The power of a newsletter. I hope.

  1. mimispeike says:

    I’m wondering – why do I need a newsletter? A web site widely and creatively advertised by (for instance) bumper stickers/flyers seen hundreds of times a day should outperform a newsletter, in my opinion. I have no hard data to back it up. My site isn’t ready to go public.

    If you advertise your newsletter at the front of a free book, you still have to get eyes to the book. A website with an easily remembered name ( with content constantly added to (same as you do with a newsletter, if you want repeat views) is no more work, after the initial site-building. I see a web site as the far more attractive option.

    I want to hear all thoughts about why a newsletter is important to have. My impulse is, send people straight to a web site. Cast a wider net with in-your-face appeals. Gather email addresses for special offers, but don’t make it the backbone of your campaign.

    Like Perry, I say get out in the real world in whatever way suits you. Old-fashioned visually-exciting mailers fall into that category as well.

    Without a list of names, who would I send them to? I’d grab that book of publishers, editors, and agents and start there. What would be the point of that? I’ve self-published, they won’t touch it. But maybe I’ll pique the interest of book professionals. Maybe I’ll get some of those eyes to take a look at my site. Maybe I’ll get some buzz out of it.

    Liked by 4 people

    • GD Deckard says:

      Hi Mimi,
      The promotional difference between a website and a newsletter is that readers have to go to your website while a newsletter comes to them. The newsletter has your website address, a good reminder for people like me who don’t remember website addresses. I can’t click my memory, a bumper sticker or a flyer. But I can click a link in a newsletter.
      Also, the newsletter reminds people *why* they might want to go to your website.
      Finally 🙂 a good newsletter is fun to write.

      Remember, is a memorable domain name in your memory only because it is yours. You have to put it out there in a format that people can respond to.

      Liked by 5 people

      • mimispeike says:

        You’re right of course, but a newsletter feels so passive to me. And I know how many emails I get and never open. It’s the sheer quantity that overwhelms me. Pinterest, Medium, Facebook, on and on. The notices I get from here, I’m glad to get. The rest, I mostly hit delete.

        I get plenty of newsletters too. I don’t care that I (obviously) signed up for them. It’s too much to deal with.

        Liked by 3 people

        • Yes, most people don’t open it. But if you build it to 5000, a 35% open rate is 1750. Of those, a few will be fans who read ARCs and post reviews. We hope. It’s one tool among many, different from a blog because you’re communicating more directly.

          Liked by 3 people

  2. victoracquista says:

    Thanks for the info. I was aware of most of it but some is new info. I receive newsletters from half-dozen authors that I follow loosely, but they vary in quality. Can’t say the newsletters have ever led to my buying a book, but I do think it helps to solidify a fan base.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Perry Palin says:

    I’m getting the newsletter of one regional author. I haven’t opened his newsletter in several months. When the last issue arrived, I happened to be reading one of his books. I have maybe five or six of his books, two in hardcover and the rest in trade paperback. I’ve purchased addtional copies as gifts to family. I’ve gone to his readings in neighboring towns three or four times. He doesn’t need the newsletter for me, but he wouldn’t keep it up if it didn’t pay. A good way, perhaps, to keep his name in front of his sometimes fans and readers.

    I’ve adopted a new marketing approach. The last three times I’ve sat down with a big glass of Baileys Irish Cream, or added a big dose of Baileys Irish Cream to a mug of hot chocolate, someone has called or emailed asking me for a signed copy of one of my books. Last night it was a guy who wants to review my book on his blog. Last night the bottle was emptied but his check is in the mail, and I’ll be going down to the liquor store today. Maybe they’ll give me a discount on a case of the stuff.

    Like Mellow, I’m glad I don’t have to make a living at this, but those calls and emails are pleasant.

    Liked by 4 people

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