If you’ve been following the Email List Building Series, you have learned why building your email list is so important, how to create a stellar opt-in “bribe” and how to set the whole thing up using an email marketing service like Aweber.
But here’s the question EVERYBODY is asking:
“What do I actually email my subscribers?”
Technology hurdles aside, this has got to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks preventing writers from creating an email list and developing their email marketing campaign.
And if you’re just starting out, write fiction or haven’t yet published, ‘what to email’ is an even bigger obstacle.
Overcoming the “I Have Nothing to Share” Barrier
What many writers struggling with this assume is that they have nothing relevant or meaningful to offer their readers.
There is no book to promote, no events or speaking engagements to flog, and–in the case of fiction writers–no central, non-fiction topic to teach.
But the root of the problem isn’t really having nothing important to share.
The real problem is not knowing who you are trying to share it with.
But because it’s a critical concept to understand in order to answer the question, “What do I send to my subscribers?”, I am reinforcing the point yet again:
It is extremely difficult to determine what to communicate when you haven’t first taken the time to fully identify who you are trying to communicate with. (Click to Tweet this idea)
Good Friends and Socially-Awkward Moments
We’ve all been in a situation where small talk is required. The conversation is usually stilted and uncomfortable until you stumble upon a common point of interest–your children attend the same camp, you volunteer at the same charity, you’re both cheering for Brazil to win the FIFA 2014 World Cup…
The moment you find a shared activity, enthusiasm or passion, the conversation immediately changes. A connection is made, the awkwardness slides away and the amount of time you spend in conversation with that person usually increases.
You no longer have to search for something to say because your shared experience lends itself to a deeper discussion.
This effect is exaggerated in conversations with good friends. Mutual areas of interest, values, ambitions and even problems encourage a well of conversation that rarely runs dry.
The same principle can be applied to your readership.
Knowing your reader is critical. Whether you are trying to build a community around your book, your blog or via your email list, the key to an easy conversation is finding that intersection between your interests and theirs:
Who are you trying to reach? What is meaningful to them?
Who do you already share a common point of interest with?
How can your work, your ideas and your content answer your reader’s question, “What’s in it for me?”
Look for and attract those readers who can immediately connect with you based on a passion, a subject or a need.
By so doing, you can skip over most of the stilted, stalled and awkward small talk and dive directly into the conversations that matter.
Developing Well-Crafted and Smartly Targeted Email Content
Crafting intriguing, relevant and valuable emails does take time. But the more you understand the needs, wants and interests of your subscribers, the less time you have to spend wondering what to send.
Think of each email as part of a continuing conversation that will allow you to grow a relationship with your subscribers. If the goal for your email marketing is anything less than this, it’s simply spam: irrelevant, unwanted and unhelpful clutter in their inbox.
Use the following checklist to help you establish a basis for a well-crafted email:
Have a Goal for Each Email
It’s not just about adding warm bodies to an email list. You need to know what you want from your subscribers once you get them there (hint: it can’t always be “Buy my book!”).
Include a simple call to action in each email:
- Click a link to a post on your blog.
- Like your Facebook Page.
- Enter a contest.
- Fill out a short survey.
- Write a short review on Amazon.
Spend Time on Your Subject Line
The subject line of your email is as important to get right as a headline to a post–you only have a second to capture your subscriber’s attention, and entice them to open your email. There is no value in having subscribers that never read your messages, so take the time to make it count:
- Exciting, mysterious, tempting, intriguing or questioning subject lines often work well.
- Keep it short for those who read their emails on their mobile devices.
- Make sure that you deliver on whatever you promise in the subject line. A misleading subject line is as bad as an uninteresting one.
Establish Your Voice
The voice you use in your emails should be very similar to the voice you use on your author blog–and have as much personality.
Your goal is to increase engagement with your subscribers, not bore them with stuffy, business-like correspondence. Use a friendly, personal (but still professional) tone in your mailings.
Explaining the focus, frequency and content of your newsletter lets subscribers know exactly what they are signing up for.
Ensure it is absolutely clear who the email is from. Include your name, your business name or blog name (if it’s different), and a mailing address (a post office box works best if you work from home).
It’s also important to include a reminder in each email as to how you obtained their email address, why they’re being emailed and how they can easily unsubscribe.
Here’s a fun example of what I see when I receive emails from Jon Morrow of BoostBlogTraffic.com:
Note: If you’re wondering why you got this email, you subscribed to get one of the following: Headline Hacks, training on guest blogging, or post updates to Boost Blog Traffic. If you’d rather I didn’t email you, you can unsubscribe below, although I’ll admit it might hurt my feelings. I’m a delicate little rosebud. 🙂
Treat Subscribers Like They’re Part of Your Inner Circle
People like to feel that they belong; that they are a part of something special. Personalize your content as much as possible and write your emails as though you’re talking to one person, not hundreds.
Increase the exclusivity and make your subscribers feel important by finding ways to reward them for their continued loyalty and support.
Be open and listen to what your customers are really asking for – not just what you assume they want. And be prepared to make adjustments and change course to ensure you are meeting their needs.
Adjust the Recipe as Needed
Work on getting the ‘mix’ of promotion, helpful tips, and fun stuff just right. No one likes to be bombarded with blatant and excessive promotional material.
The perceived value of your emails must outweigh the interruption, so avoid the me, me, me and concentrate on providing the content that they want to receive.
Show You’re Human
Until you get to the point where your list is too large, respond personally to any questions, feedback, kudos and criticisms. Encourage subscribers to reply to your emails if they have any inquiries or concerns, and be as prompt as you can in addressing those concerns.
Length, Style, Formatting and Frequency
Short, concise, and scannable plain text emails work best, especially if your subscribers are using their mobile devices to read their emails.
If you want to add design and images or video to your emails, do some testing to ensure that your fancy newsletter template or images are actually being seen by your subscriber’s email program in the way that you intend.
Don’t attach files to your email. Instead, provide a link back to a page on your blog where your subscribers can download the PDF file.
The frequency of your emails is a delicate balance that is most often determined by trial and error. No two lists are the same, so where daily emails may work for some audiences, one email every two weeks will be preferred by others.
The type of content you’re sending also plays a role. Lighter, shorter content (like quotes, or links to other articles) can usually be sent more frequently. But more in depth, meatier emails can be sent with longer intervals between mailings.
Your goal is to try to stay top-of-mind, but without overloading your subscribers’ inboxes or becoming a nuisance. The more valuable your content is perceived to be, the more tolerant your subscribers will likely be with a higher frequency of mailings.
Join the Lists of Successful Authors
Create a swipe file folder and keep examples of other people’s email content that caught your attention. Analyze it and decide what might work well for your readers.
The key is to apply the concept, not just to copy the content. Just because something is working for another successful author (or blogger) doesn’t mean it will necessarily work for your community.
Use an Autoresponder
An autoresponder allows you to create a series of pre-written email messages that can be scheduled for delivery on set dates and times. It’s a great timesaver, but still allows you to maintain a regular and consistent connection with your subscribers. Professional, simple to set up, and nobody gets missed.
Here are some ideas of what you can “drip” out using an autoresponder series:
- A series of welcome emails or a multi-day tutorial to help orient new community members and get them caught up.
- Offer a simple email course.
- Send weekly inspirational or humorous quotes that fit with your personality and brand or topic area. You can also pull quotes from your books to pique the interest of your readers.
- Serialize an ebook, similar to how Wattpad increases reader engagement.
- If you write non-fiction, or if your audience is primarily writers, you could set up a weekly “coaching” session on to do’s, tips or reminders to encourage their learning.
- Use an auto responder series to countdown to a big event like a new release, a big speaking engagement or for a course that you have created.
Use an Email Marketing Platform
The idea of using an email marketing platform may seem like a more complicated and elaborate system than you need to just send an email or two out to your small list.
But it’s not.
Remember, writing is your business. Even though you may be starting small, using an email marketing platform that has built in subscriber management (like Aweber), helps to ensure your email marketing is compliant.
Laws are getting tougher on people who are sending unauthorized and unwanted electronic commercial messages (a.k.a. Spam), so you need to be sure what you are sending is relevant, timely and requested. (For more on this, see Hubspot’s article on U.S. CAN-SPAM Act or Copyblogger’s on Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL)).
Before You Hit Send…
Just as you wouldn’t hit publish on a post without taking the time to polish it until it shines, don’t send emails out into the world that you haven’t buffed to a sparkle.
Proof read your email, fix spelling and grammatical errors and check that your links are working properly by sending yourself a test email.
Is your subject line too enticing to be ignored? Is the content relevant and valuable to your subscribers? Do you have a clear call to action (i.e., have you told your subscribers exactly what you’d like them to do, and made it easy for them to do so)?
Be Patient and Think Long Term
Developing an easy, meaningful conversation with your subscribers will take time, so don’t try to rush it.
Plan your email marketing campaign over the long term, and be prepared to make adjustments as your readers’ wants and needs change, as well as your own.
Time for Content: What Do Your Subscribers Really Want?
Now that you have some simple email guidelines in place, it’s time for a few tips and ideas about the types of content that you might send.
Remember: not every type of content will work for every audience, so use the following list to spark your own ideas or spin them to work for the unique needs of your readership.
- Author interviews (yours or other authors in your genre).
- Share a link to a Pinterest board that tells a visual story about your book (or a character), with colours, locations, moods, people, foods, clothing, themes and so on.
- A bi-weekly or monthly progress report of your journey (make it meaningful for your subscribers by sharing lessons learned, inspirational moments and challenges to be overcome).
- Inspirational, humorous or factual tidbits that speak to your message, reinforce your philosophy as an author or reveal more of the real you.
- Weekly or monthly wrap-up of your best posts, or links to other author articles worth sharing.
- Surprise your subscribers with more than they were expecting (a bonus chapter, an additional guide, an extra service).
- Check your email and blog comments and answer your readers’ most frequently asked questions.
- Your comments, insights or opinion on a hot genre or industry related topic.
- Updates on author news, a new release, book awards, price promotion, book signings and appearances.
- A roundup of your book’s recent reviews.
- Repackage older, but evergreen, posts. Create image quotes (I use PicMonkey or Canva), short PDF ebooks, a Slideshare presentation or even a video to share with subscribers (try Animoto).
- Free downloads of short stories, a poem, a sample chapter preview, guides or checklists for subscribers only.
- A review of a book you read and loved that you feel your readers might also enjoy.
- Poll your readers and get their opinions on future projects or book cover ideas.
- Allow subscribers a peek behind the curtain and share a bit more about you than you do on your blog.
- Share a list of book recommendations.
- Fun (and not so fun) facts about the writing life from your perspective and experience.
- If your subscribers include writers, share writing, publishing and marketing tips and resources.
- Similarly, if your work is non-fiction, share tips, useful articles and additional resources in your area of expertise.
For additional ideas, check out the monster list of incentive ideas in Part Two of the Email List Building Series, and consider using anything that didn’t make the final cut for your opt-in freebie.
Bottom Line: Find Out What They Want and Give it to Them
If you’ve made it this far in the Email List Building Series, you should have a pretty good handle on what makes your readers (and subscribers) tick.
Your subscribers want to feel like they belong to something important, to be treated well, and to feel like you “get” them (and they you).
Keep everything you’ve learned about your ‘tribe’ at the forefront as you continue to design and tweak your email campaign, and the easy conversations will come.
It’s time to do a little research! 🙂
What types of content have you shared with your email subscribers that has received the most engagement? What has received a lack-lustre response?
What have you seen other writers share in their emails that you have found particularly compelling or valuable. What other tactics have they employed to keep you happily and eagerly opening their emails? (hint: use the checklist above to evaluate their use of calls to action, subject lines, voice and so on).
So that we can all learn to craft better, more valuable emails for our subscribers, please share the results of your ‘research’ below.
(Please note: Some affiliate links are included in the post above. I will earn a small commission if you buy from one of my links, at no extra cost to you. This helps Your Writer Platform continue to provide loads of free, quality content. I appreciate your support!)