You must build an email list.
You hear this repeated so much online because the truth is inarguable, and yet so many writers resist. Building a list is key to unlocking online limitations, but it took me more than two years before I actually started doing it for myself.
Well, at least two years before I did it right.
I followed the advice early, but went about it all wrong. Yes, you must build a list. But more importantly, you want to build a list that’s populated with potential buyers of your books, products, or services.
I read the advice to "start a list" and so I did. But my list was filled with readers from my first online adventure, Writer Dad. They loved my writing and life perspective, but they weren’t buyers. Even if they were, I had nothing to sell.
Your list must be congruent with the books you wish to promote. If you don’t know what those products are yet, give it thought. Choose a topic you feel passionate about — a subject you could speak on for a long time without getting bored.
Your list (or lists) can be extremely lucrative, and readers who opt-in to receive your content should still be giving you value five years later, provided you’re still giving value to them.
The best way to build a list is to listen to the needs of your market, give your audience something of value that they couldn’t get elsewhere, then continue to groom and grow your crowd until they are eager to hear everything you have to say.
1. Getting Your Email Opened Is Only The Beginning
Yes, building a list is important, but gaining the attention and loyalty of that list is even more so. It isn’t enough to get someone on your list. You want your subscribers to look forward to your email, open them when received, click on your links, and look forward to whatever you’ll be sending next.
Use a smart subject line to get your email opened, but treat the open as just the first step. Once you capture your reader’s attention, prove that you deserved it by providing a useful solution to their most pressing problem; or something to make them laugh, think, or grow. But the subject line is only the beginning.
Even the most effective subject line in the world merely gets you in the door. Your job is to address the issues. Your subject line is an invitation to dinner; you still have to cook the main course.
Blogs are great, and so is social media. Both platforms provide a wide net to communicate with your audience. Yet nothing beats the sacred space of a reader inbox. Effectively bond with your readers through email and they will be more likely to open every email you send.
Just remember, getting your email opened is only the beginning.
2. Bond on Your Blog, Sell in Email
Blogs are an amazing tool for drawing a crowd, nurturing community, and finding new readers, but they’re a weak and often ineffective place to close the deal.
Email is the best place to sell your products or services. Whether you’re selling your products or someone else’s, friendly blog posts from a familiar author can make people more receptive to buying. Product reviews, case studies, and product announcements can help you sell a product or service.
Just remember, a blog post isn’t a sales page. Blog readers rarely appreciate a hard sell, though you can always use a blog post as a "warm-up," introducing your reader to a particular idea before sending them to the actual sales page. Always be up front with your readers. If you’re linking to an affiliate product, which you’ll get a commission on, or reviewing a product, for which you’ve been compensated, tell your readers up front.
In a world of scheming marketers, readers appreciate the freshness of honesty.
While this advice is more specific to service providers and information marketers, it holds true for fiction as well. Put your personality out there, and give your readers a reason to subscribe. A reader who opts-in to have your information sent to them, whatever that information might be, is far more likely to act on it.
People are more responsive in email, and it’s a great place to be direct. Build your relationship through regular blogging, but further it, and close the deal only in the inbox.
3. Deliver Consistent, Quality Communication
So, you’ve built a list, made your promises, and you’re winning people over with your personality. How do you turn list subscribers into buyers?
You must first earn the right to send promotional emails to your readers. This isn’t automatic. You earn that right by repeatedly delivering value to their inboxes. Every time one of your subscribers opens one of your emails, they should get encouragement, a smile, inspiration, or some sort of free tool, tip, or resource to improve their life or business in some small way.
It isn’t enough to make connections, you must also nurture the connections you make. You probably have friends you haven’t spoken to in years. How do you think they would respond if you called them out of the blue and asked them to help you move this coming weekend? You’d probably never make that call.
If you would never make the call, why would you send the email?
You’ll maximize your open rates and multiply your level of response if you’re able to deliver quality content during the times when you have no launch, product, or service to sell. Your readers will appreciate that the only reason you’re sending them an email is to let them know you care.
If you only send your readers content when you have something to sell, they’ll come to think of you as that friend who never invites them out on the boat or to a party but always calls them when there’s work to be done and they need help.
Send your readers content whenever you think it will benefit them, and they’ll be a lot more likely to help you when you need to move something.
4. Use Open Loops for Powerful Email Auto Responders
You love stories, right? So does everyone you know, even if they’re a curmudgeon who would never admit it. People’s love of stories starts before preschool and dies with their final breath. Well-told stories are the magic key to getting your emails opened, anticipated, and shared.
Find the intersections between your life and business, then turn that into your story. Your reader has similar intersections in his life. By engaging with your audience on a deeper level, you make your relationship with them matter more.
Like sales copy, short sentences, powerful openings, and open loops are the three secret weapons of highly effective email marketing. Save the prose for your bestseller. In email, people are looking for brevity.
Punchy. Powerful. Compelling.
People want stories, not page-turners. Short sentences help you capture and maintain reader attention. Once a reader is one-third down the page, they’re likely to make it to the bottom, especially if your email isn’t too long.
Always end your email with a postscript. This may seem silly, but if you learn to use the "P.S." well, you’ll realize it’s the sentence in your email that matters most. It’s in the postscript where you will embed your open loops and storytelling angles.
Have you ever watched serialized television— LOST, 24, The Sopranos? It was the open loops that kept you coming back. Sure, you probably loved the characters, pace, setting, and dialogue, but what had you talking to your friends and sitting on the edge of your seat and talking to your friends the next day were the open loops that left you wondering what in the world was going to happen next week.
This is easy for you to do with your list if you think of your emails as a series rather than as individual broadcasts. Don’t write your emails one at a time; write them in batches, as if you were serializing a story. Leave open loops for your readers that will have them anticipating your next email, then opening it as soon as they see it.
Simple storytelling through short emails takes time to master, but it’s worth embedding your emails with open loops as often as you can. They work, both for bonding with your readers, and training them to open your email.
The more powerful your email sequences are, the more your readers will look forward to opening them, and the more mileage you’ll be able to mine from every broadcast.
5. Train Your Readers to Click
You must train your readers to click. If this seems unkind, sorry. I’m not implying your readers are dogs, children, or anything else which might need training.
We all get trained by life. Any behavior, done with repetition, becomes habit. I have more habits than I can count — good, bad, and a million or so right in the middle.
So do you.
Every habit affects your life in some way, and each started small and was repeated until it became automatic. You want your readers clicking on your links without stopping to think. Send them somewhere that’s in their best interests, or give them something that helps them move their life or business forward every time they click, and spending time with your words will be an easy habit for them to form.
If your emails consistently deliver quality information that is in alignment with your original promise, your readers will continue to benefit. However, if you send your subscribers to irrelevant or self-serving links that offer little or no value, you will train your readers that your links aren’t worth clicking.
This is relatively straightforward, yet many writers and content marketers miss it. They end up suffering abysmal open rates and even lousier click-through rates as a result. Make your emails worth your readers’ time and they’ll greatly enhance the value of the time you spend marketing through email.
6. Bond First, Sell Later
Whether you’re writing a blog post meant to sway a sale, or an email sequence that ends in a sales page, you must develop a solid foundation with your readers before asking them for a single cent, at least if you’re looking for long-term buyer relationships.
Intimacy takes time. Think of your first sale as intimacy you want to establish with your reader. Rush it, and you might damage the relationship forever.
This philosophy holds true, even if you’re in a hurry. Let’s say you have a product to promote. And let’s also say you’re in a tight spot and need money within the next 30 days.
Your mortgage is due; your car is going to be repossessed, or your credit cards are all one charge away from their max. You absolutely must sell something in a month, but you have no relationships with your list.
You can do it.
If you have a month, spend the first three weeks being as kind, helpful, and as unbelievably awesome as you know you can be. Answer every email, and reply to every Tweet, post on Facebook, or comment on your blog. Always go above and beyond and then some.
Then, when it’s time to promote, you’ve earned the right.
But here’s the thing: that’s the way you should be running your business anyway. Even if you don’t need to make a sale in the next 30 days, try spending the next three weeks being ridiculously awesome. You will be surprised how many of your readers will reach out to connect, thank or offer to help you.
Always put the relationship first and the sale second. It may take longer to get where you want to go, but you’ll have a list with legs once you arrive.
If you want more awesome writerly advice and a great in-person community, consider attending StoryShop Summit, the conference for writers, hosted by writers.