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A Guide to Email Marketing for Authors

December 3, 2012

email marketing dos and donts

These days, authors have to be do-it-yourself marketers. Marketing by email remains one of the most approachable, least expensive, and most effective vehicles. Are you using it properly?

Here’s something that happens a lot. I receive a short email inviting me to a book release party. I scan it quickly, and I have to admit, I trash it quickly. Why? The person’s name was not familiar to me. (I couldn’t find her in my contact list.) Not only that, the party is taking place on a weeknight, about fifty miles from where I live. I have to wonder: what was the sender thinking?

This sender erred by not making our relationship clear. Had we met at a writer’s conference? Does she subscribe to my newsletter? Had I signed up for her mailing list long ago? Or did she just scrape my address off my website like a spammer would?

She also erred by not making the content relevant to me. It’s not likely that I will travel all that distance for her book party. But I may have been interested in giving her book some publicity—especially if she had offered something of a reciprocal nature.

Often, I’ll get an email like this one: “I thought you should know that my new book, ‘The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread’ is out.”  That’s it. No context. No call to action.

It’s not that I’m cranky.  In fact, because of my profession, I am more likely to read book-related emails than most people. But the truth is, these techniques just don’t work.

Here are some key principles for effective email marketing:

  • Strategize for “top of the mind awareness”
  • Establish and develop a relationship with your email recipients
  • Provide content that is relevant to  recipients’ interests (not just your self-interests)

Market research has shown that most people do not buy a product (your book, example) right after they hear about it. But when they do buy a book (or need a speaker, or ask for consulting) you want them to think of you first. Regular mailings of value will keep your name at the top of potential buyer’s minds.

Let’s face it, unless you’re a famous writer, large groups of people are not going to be all that interested in what’s going on in your writing career. Don’t make me-centered selling your main message—buy my book, come to my reading, me, me, me. Provide something unique, interesting, and valuable to your readers and they will be interested in you.

Besides sending interesting content, you want to be considerate. If you plan to email to your list on a regular basis, include an “opt-in” message to all of the contacts on your list to make sure that they know how you obtained their email address; why they are being emailed; what kind of information they can expect to receive and how often; and how they can unsubscribe from your mailing list if they want to. Market “by permission” only.

Never expose your mailing list to all your email recipients. It’s rude! It undermines the recipient’s privacy and exposes her to people who choose to “reply all” when they’re sending what should be a private message. Hide your contact list in the BCC portion of your email and send the email to yourself.

Never scrape email addresses from websites or use mailing lists without permission. (This is what spammers do!)

Make sure you’re sending subscribers information that is relevant to their expectations. Do not mix your professional mailing list with the one to which you send jokes, religious, or political mailings. The writer who used to send me (and apparently his entire mailing list) off-color jokes in between promotional mailings achieved the wrong kind of top of the mind awareness.

Mail regularly (but not too often). Regular emails help to create top of the mind awareness. Also, your list is less likely to get out of date. If you wait for months (or a year) to contact the people who asked to be on your list, they will probably not remember why they signed up for your list or what relationship they have with you.

This is a long post! But I have more to say about email marketing. So if you’ve read until the end and would still like to hear more, let me know in the comments section, and I’ll post part two in the new year.

Mary Ann de Stefano is a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30 years of experience in publishing and writing consulting. She also builds websites and advises on e-marketing. Mary Ann does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.

  1. December 3, 2012 10:28 am

    Thanks for these common sense but need-to-be-said comments. I look forward to Part 2!

  2. December 3, 2012 12:23 pm

    Thank you. This is an excellent post and I would love to hear part two.

  3. Chris Hamilton permalink
    December 3, 2012 12:28 pm

    Great post Mary Ann. I am cranky about some of this stuff.

  4. December 3, 2012 1:14 pm

    I’d love to hear part 2. Thanks for the words!

  5. December 3, 2012 1:44 pm

    Wonderful, informative post from an experienced author and marketer. Can’t wait for part 2!

  6. December 3, 2012 5:20 pm

    Thank you for this terrific post, Mary Ann. It would be nice if it wasn’t needed, but it sure is!

  7. December 3, 2012 5:28 pm

    Most writers have a tough time marketing. This post contains valuable guidelines. Thank you, and I would love to see part 2.

  8. Charlene Lamy Edge permalink
    December 4, 2012 9:03 am

    As always you inspire and advise with care. I’m eager for part 2!

  9. Mary Ann de Stefano permalink*
    December 5, 2012 9:01 am

    Thank you everyone. I’m glad if you found this useful.

    The post came about because I was feeling a bit nostalgic. I was thinking about how I started marketing via email in 2005 with a simple text newsletter that I mailed occasionally to a list consisting of a few writing friends and clients. In 2009, I took a major leap and began doing a weekly newsletter for writers — MAD’s Monday Muse. My subscriber list has now grown to more than 1,000. I’m proud of the success of my newsletter, not only in list growth, but also in reader response. I learned some lessons along the way I want to share with others, especially because I see so many writers struggling with marketing and making rookie, avoidable “mistakes.”

  10. December 15, 2012 8:13 am

    I am looking forward to part 2. We have a non-profit ministry in our city – and so much of this applies to our communication with our database. Thank you!!!!

    • Mary Ann de Stefano permalink*
      December 15, 2012 11:51 am

      Thanks, Suzanne. I’m glad it was helpful.


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