The Importance of a Mailing List

One of the most powerful tools anyone who is selling something can have is a mailing list. Prior to the internet, mailing lists were still sought after through postal addresses. The execution of those mailing lists were costly and wasteful. However, now we have email lists and while you may need to pay to maintain your list (based on the service you use and the number of subscribers you have), the cost is more manageable while the value remains the same.

Well-established authors discovered the value of digital mailing lists with the popularity of ebooks. In a matter of a few clicks, readers can be notified of a new release, buy it, and begin reading it. To marketers, that connection is gold.

I previously shared some tips to build your mailing list. That post, while effective if you have steady traffic to your books and your social media pages, doesn’t necessarily relate to newbies who are fighting an uphill battle to get devoted readers.

A few months ago, I participated in my first group promo that gathered email sign ups, and my list went from 23 subscribers to 5,445 subscribers in a matter of minutes. With it, Mailchimp forced me to pay $65 a month to send an email to those subscribers.

That payment was a tough bill to pay. I suddenly had the subscribers, but I didn’t have the sales to support a monthly cost. Still, I was optimistic that they would pay off.

The first thing I promoted was a free promo for my holiday short story, Snow After Christmas. I gave away over 300 books, which was the most I’ve ever given away (granted I was participating in another group promo to get downloads).

The open rate for that email was 46.9% (2,539 opens) and had a 7.7% click rate (418). The number of unsubscribes was understandably high (432 unsubscribes, 25 reports of spam), but the engagement was more than my previous 23 subscribers.

What bothered me were the number of people who hadn’t even opened the email. Over half of the list ignored my email and I was paying for them. I couldn’t afford to pay for them, so I decided to try to purge them further. I sent another email in the same month to the remaining 4,981 subscribers (advertising another sale), but I was mostly hoping to see who still didn’t open it.

The numbers were worse (18.1% open and 4.9% click), though the culprit might be using the same sale for the same book two weeks later. Those who wanted to pick up that particular book (that wasn’t even my main series) already did. I had 142 people unsubscribe and another 12 mark it as spam.

I sent a few more emails advertising sales for The Full Moon and saw more unsubscribes (maybe due to frequency, maybe due to people actually finding the unsubscribe link instead of ignoring it).

What I did after that was likely very foolish, but I was keeping an eye on my costs. I deleted the subscribers who hadn’t opened the last two emails… My list dropped down to 1,721. If they had opened one of the last several emails I sent, they stayed. Otherwise I booted them.

That put me under the 2,000 subscriber limit and made my list free to me again. But it also decreased my reach. In hindsight, I should’ve kept those dwindling 5,000 subscribers until my next novel is released in August to see how the list would respond to a new release in my series.

I was a part of another group promo where people chose whether to sign up to my list or not and I discovered an interesting thing: some of the people who were just on my list but never opened anything signed back up.

How could that be?

Well, according to some other authors, Mailchimp reporting can be off. Depending on the browser or the email client, subscribers might’ve opened and clicked my emails and it never properly reported. If I would’ve known that, I don’t think I’d have deleted any subscribers. I wish I hadn’t.

It might also be that they just didn’t care about my holiday short story and they just wanted to see what new fantasy books I put out. So again, I should’ve waited until The Harvest Moon comes out in August. Lesson learned.

After another group promo (which are great, by the way), I’m about to receive another big chunk of subscribers, but these will be different:

  1. The author running the promo is going to email the subscribers prior to sending us the list verifying that they want to be signed up to 30 authors’ lists. This will likely significantly decrease the number of subscribers still okay with it, but with over 2,400 subscribers so far, any fraction of that will still be beneficial.
  2. After I receive the list, I’ll put the new subscribers in a separate list and email them, asking them to sign up for my list. Those that do get added, those that don’t will be forgotten.

We’ll see how it goes. In the end, if you have a responsive and engaging list, that’s the backbone to your sales. Those are the people you can count on to buy each new release.

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