Mailing Lists Will Stop Working

A lot of crystal ball gazing for this year made by various people has included the prediction that mailing lists will stop working. Everyone is complaining that people are getting too much email and the author mailing list will stop being so effective because readers have subscribed to too many newsletters. Readers have told them so, and therefore it must be true.

How many readers told them this? Oh, one or two. But “everyone” is saying it.

Ok, you can feel my sarcasm now.

What is really going on?

In the past few years, we have seen a lot of authors jumping onto the mailing list bandwagon. They did competitions, they did Facebook ads, they did mailing list swaps, and huge variety of schemes which concentrated on fast tracking their mailing list building.

All of a sudden, a lot of authors had huge mailing lists without ever having given any thought on what to do with these people on their list. So they did what you would normally do with an author mailing list: they started emailing them when they had new books out. Surprise surprise, these people did not buy their books. Huge lots of them even unsubscribed or reported the emails as spam. On top of that, a lot of authors increased their list while using expensive mailing services, so while on one hand their list was not buying their books, on the other hand they were paying a lot to keep all those people there.

I have seen all this happen more often than I can recount.

So therefore the conclusion must be that mailing list don’t work, that people are getting too much email, because some people responded to their emails telling the author so, and therefore that means list building is a thing of the past.

Seriously, what utter rot.

Email and mailing lists in various forms have been around since the beginning of the Internet. If you buy something from online retailer, chances are that you will be receiving the emails about special offers. These days you even get emails when your parcels are put in the mail, when they have been delivered to customs in your country, and when they have been delivered to your house.

People appreciate these emails, so what was this about too much email?

One of things I have learned in the past few years is not to listen to what people say, because it will very often differ markedly from what they do. So, a single reader who complains about getting too much email might just be writing a polite email to all the authors whose emails she is now getting as a result of taking part in a competition. This person is not your true target audience. And of course she is right.

I get it, if people take part in a competition and as a result a hundred authors will be sending them emails, it is likely that a few people get sick of getting so much email that they didn’t realise they would get. You will hear from these people, but you hardly ever get to hear from those who appreciate your emails.

Mailing lists are not about the few complainers, they are about the people who enjoy getting author newsletters. In fact, you want to get rid of the other people as soon as possible because they will never buy your books and they were only there for the contest or the free books that were part of your subscriber drive. Don’t worry about these people. It was never about them. It is about the ones you keep.

People who say that readers are getting too much email and that mailing lists will stop working are using the wrong argument to draw the wrong conclusion. They don’t know how to use email as an effective marketing tool, or how to separate what to send out to which people according to how they arrived on your list. In short: you need to ease competition entrants into your regular newsletter program or even send them completely different material.

The best feature about mailing list providers is that they are required by law to have a prominently displayed unsubscribe button. In fact I suggest that you make that button more prominent. If the subscribers don’t want to be there, you don’t want them there. Celebrate your unsubscribes. Your mailing list is not about people who unsubscribe, it is about the people who stay and start reading and buying your books because they sound cool or because you entertain them.

People who become your fans expect to be able to stay in contact with you. To email them about a new release is a great way of getting a good spike in sales when you book releases. To ask them questions about what you should do with the book’s storyline, to ask for title suggestions, or to name characters in your book after them is a great way of making them feel personal about your writing.

The author mailing list is the only tool that the author controls.

But make no mistake, getting signups from the back of the book and aggressive recruiting strategies like competitions and Facebook are two entirely different animals. There are tactics and philosophies attached to both of them and they do not mix. It is people who do not understand this who make comments about author mailing lists no longer working, and people are getting too much email. They say this, because they don’t understand the different mechanisms and strategies. They say this, because they have used the wrong strategies for the wrong group, and have held the wrong expectations for the wrong type of lists. And they’re impatient.

My entire business is built on my mailing list. Without it, my sales would be very small. I have taken care to build my list to include people who I want, and have done my best to sift out the rest. All it takes is an understanding of the tactics, patience and time.

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