Effective Email Marketing for Authors

By Christopher Zoukis

One of the best ways for authors to alert their readers as to new works is to stay in contact with them from the start.  While it is recommended that authors frequently update their author websites (via articles and/or blogs), it is not reasonable to expect the majority of their readers to continue returning to the site for more information month after month and year after year.  Life simply gets in the way.  While RSS feeds can assist in keeping the author in front of their audience, email marketing really is the best option since it affords more control of the marketing campaign and allows for an increased level of personal involvement.

While there are a number of companies out there which will gladly take an author's money in lieu of email marketing services, most remove the author from the equation and many are essentially spammers.  The few who put in the required amount of time are very good, but expensive.  As such, the independent author would be advised to take their own email marketing into their own hands.  Without much effort or capital, any author can do just that.

Effective email marketing for authors can be fulfilled through simple tasks such as employing an email address collection mechanism, planning an email marketing campaign, designing and implementing an email marketing campaign, and revising  email marketing campaigns according to the results.  Any author, no matter how technologically astute or not they happen to be, can be an effective email marketer.  They can connect with their readers, provide valuable content to them, and maximize profits by doing so.

EMAIL ADDRESS COLLECTION MECHANISM

Effective email marketing for authors starts with an effective email address collection mechanism.  Typically this involves a simple submission application on the author's website which allows the reader to submit their email address for updates.  The best place for this is right next to a frequently updated blog.  It's also not a bad idea to place the same submission application on the website's homepage.  As such, when readers return to the site to search for updates, they are greeted by a submission box (which the author should think of as a tool).  It could be of use to offer a free gift (a sample chapter, article, or raffle contest, perhaps) to entice the reader to submit their email address.  By including a privacy policy -- stating that the author and representatives will never share or sell submitted email addresses -- readers will feel better about submitting their email addresses.  After all, no one likes spam.

While some readers are wary of submitting more personal information than necessary, it never hurts to ask.  The author might utilize a required field for an email address, but also include optional fields of first and last names and other identifying information (e.g., birthday, location of residence, etc.).  In doing so, the information can be inputted into an email manager system, such as Constant Contacts (discussed later in this text), with personalized emails sent out to all of the recipients via the manager system.  The software can address each email as if it were a personal email.  It can also automatically update the email client list with all submitted information.  As such, much of the grunt work is automatically handled for the author.

PLANNING THE EMAIL MARKETING CAMPAIGN

Once an email address is obtained, the author must craft an effective plan to utilize the reader email addresses.  Some authors opt to create a biweekly or monthly e-newsletter.  Others send out a teaser of new content periodically.  While the end goal for the author is to sell more books (and ancillary services), the goal for the reader is to gain value.  As such, correspondence with readers must focus on providing valuable content, not merely marketing to them.  Emails should never feel like a sales pitch.  They should feel informal and friendly.  Authors could even survey their email subscribers to find out what they would be interested in receiving and to ensure that they aren't coming across as a salesman, but as an expert in their field.

While teaser content and e-newsletters are common, some authors have pushed the envelope by offering subject-specific tools.  For example, genre authors have been known to provide tips on writing in their genre via email, book reviews of other promising texts within their genres, and updates about their personal life (to make a personal connection with their readers).  Others have integrated weekly podcasts or video chats.  Even photos of the author could be a nice touch.  Readers are primarily interested in useful content.  As such, an author could even send out via email their recently published work (e.g., published articles, blogs, short stories, not new books which will be for sale) as it is published.  This would be a great way to stay on readers' minds and to ensure them of the value of being a part of the email list.

DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION OF EMAIL MARKETING CAMPAIGN

While there are a number of services out there which will assist with email marketing, the answer seems to be to work with less than more.  Some firms will agree to blast out press releases, articles, and a whole lot of other information that essentially amounts to spam.  This is not the way to go.  The goal here is quality, not quantity.  As such, a simple email manager such as ConstantContacts.com is probably the best way for the author to go since they offer the tools needed to manage and implement successful email marketing campaigns and for a low cost.  While not recommended, if the author has less than 100 email subscribers, they could theoretically utilize their own Gmail, Yahoo, or MSN personal email account.  This is not advisable, since functionality is limited and can run the risk of appearing as spam to the email recipients' email providers.  Hence, the email could go into their spam folder and their email address flagged for spam.

The author should keep in mind that these updates need not be glitzy or involved.  Rather, a simple email of new content or a simple, easy to use e-newsletter would be preferable since their readers are most likely busy people.  If the author desires to offer video or audio, they are advised to link to that content (which would ideally be housed on their author website) from the email or e-newsletter.  Attachments or auto-loading software are rarely appreciated.  Attachments in particular are looked at as suspect since they have been known to contain viruses.

If an author is having a challenging time deciding which way to go, then conducting relevant market research may be the answer.  They could go to several of the websites of the authors which they enjoy, submit their email address, and review what is sent.  While some authors might do a bad job, others will do a good job worth emulating.  Like everything else authors do, they should search for the good, discard the bad, and improve upon what can be done better.

REVISING EMAIL MARKETING CAMPAIGN ACCORDING TO RESULTS

Quite simply, guessing is not an effective strategy when it comes to email marketing.  As such, authors should think long and hard about what appears to be working, what isn't working, and how to improve it.  The author could also consider surveying a sampling of recipients to find what they like, don't like, and what they'd like to see more of.  If the author is utilizing a service like Constant Contacts, they will even be able to see how many of the recipients opened emails within each email campaign and what actions they took (e.g., clicking on links, printing the email, forwarding the email on to an associate) within it.  As such, this adds vital data to the marketing matrix and plan moving forward.  After experimenting with a few ideas in this regard, the author should start to see differences based upon their revisions.  This will guide them on the path forward, and bit by bit the author will come to understand what works as they gain more experience in the email marketing realm.

To assist in analyzing the data, the author should save each email sent and the exportable report from each email campaign (from a service like Constant Contacts, if applicable).  This will facilitate the analysis of the subtle differences between campaigns.  The differences -- and their varying results -- are the building blocks upon which to grow.  After a time, areas of improvements will become apparent and the application of them will yield results.

MOVING FORWARD

The goal of effective email marketing for authors is the same as the goal of an author website, Twitter feed, or Facebook profile.  It is the same as the books which the author publishes and hopes readers will buy.  It is all about value.  Readers desire value in whatever activities they engage in.  This is regardless of if they desire an escape through an engaging science-fiction novel, a dream through a text about starting a small business, or genre-specific writing tips through an email newsletter.  They want value in whatever form they seek it.  It is the author's job to provide this value.  If the author can find an effective way to provide value through an email campaign, their readership will grow, their sales with it, and their own dream -- the dream of a valuable career -- will present itself.  All that is needed is a little time, effort, and dedication to make it happen.