Author Newsletters–A Survey

Author Newsletters–A Survey — Kimia Wood

Blank stares do not equal book sales…

Marketing gurus will advise you to have an author newsletter. This keeps your fans engaged with your brand, updated on your latest works, and excited about your books.

Supposedly. But does it actually work?

I have no experience being a successful newsletter author. But I am a pretty experienced newsletter reader. So I thought I would go through the many newsletters I myself am subscribed to, and consider the elements of each.

What makes me more engaged with an author and their books? What turns me off? Well, fortunately I never delete my emails, because I was able to wade through several years’ worth of other authors’ newsletters, and draw some conclusions about my own habits.

This is obviously very personalized, but I think we can draw a couple broad lessons from this research:

TL;DR: Three Lessons to Keep in Mind

1) Giving away free stuff is an awesome pull to make people sign up, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to sales.

For years, I’ve been told that giving away a free book to people who sign up for your list is one of the best tricks in the business, and “the number one way to build your subscriber list”. But is this true?

I was pretty convicted by something Barb Drozdowich said in a recent #BookMarketingChat (on Twitter):


I know this is true, because it’s true of me. If you offer me free food, free t-shirt, free books, I’ll love it…but I get angry when people charge more that four or five dollars for an ebook. (Seriously…some people charge as much as ten dollars for an ebook novel. What insanity is that?!)

So, while you/we might get lots of “numbers” on our list with a strategy of bribery, are we attracting the clientele that will want to buy? Or do we have a strategy to convert the freebie-seekers into devoted, paying customers?

2) Personal rapport can make or break a brand.

Kristen Lamb can tell you that your “brand” is just how people view you and your product – or, the emotional reaction they have when they see your name.

McDonalds. Steven King. Doctor Strange.

I bet just those simple words communicate a lot, and you have some kind of emotional reaction to each one.

When you go on social media, your blog, your website, etc., people watch you. Maybe one day you snap at someone on Facebook…People see that. Even if you were stressed out that day, and aren’t normally rude like that, and the guy totally deserved it anyway – that single instance might form a large percentage of someone’s perception of you.

You’ll see below that I subscribed to some of these author lists because I “met” the author in some other context, liked who I perceived them to be, and wanted to give them that support (and stay in the loop about their projects).

For a couple other authors, their personality or their writing are so far from my cup of tea that I will never give them my business.

Not anybody’s fault, really. We just “aren’t made for each other.”

3) Connection is potential.

The ideal, of course, is a passionate fan who will buy all your books in hard copies (the better to treasure), tell all their friends about your books, and pounce on every newsletter hoping it contains good news about a new thing to read.

Compared to that, a lurker who sometimes, maybe opens the email and skims for pretty cover images isn’t that impressive.

But it’s a foot in the door.

You’ll notice that some of the authors below don’t send out consistent emails, or I wonder why I don’t unsubscribe because we really don’t have that much in common.

But as long as I’m still subscribed, we have a connection. It’s really depressing when only one or two people open your newsletters (and it’s your parents!) but at least there’s a chance.

Maybe one day they’ll be weeding through their inbox and say, “Oh, what is this? Maybe I’ll read it and find out…”

Or, even if an author’s normal genre isn’t for me, maybe they’ll branch out into [sci fi spy/murder mysteries with something-about-a-long-lost-brother] (fill in your own blank), and I’ll go hmmm…oooohh.

The EvidenceAuthor Newsletters–A Survey — Kimia Wood

In the following survey, I have included how I subscribed to the list, a brief summary of their brand and my relationship to them, and other details like where they host their email (hosting email on your official author domain is more professional than a free email address, just as having an official author website is more professional than just an Amazon Author Page, for example; another thing to keep in mind as we evaluate authors’ brands).

And now, if you really care to wade through the raw data…my case studies:

Case Alpha

Why I signed up:

I signed up as part of a giveaway — celebrating a publishing company’s new releases. I gave my email address to several participating authors.

How often the author sends mail:

She briefly sent an email a month, then took a two-year hiatus for family reasons.

Did this affect my connection to her brand? Well, when the most recent email popped up in my inbox, I didn’t recognize her name…but once I started scrolling through the message, I recognized the titles and cover images of her books.

“Oh, yeah, I think I saw the launch campaign for that. Was I interested in it or not? Can’t remember…”

Email content/type:

Each email so far has announced some news relating to her books releasing. Topical and to-the-point with plenty of images to grab my 21st-century interest.

Domain: gmail

Have I read the author’s book/books?:

No. I had a chance to win some copies when I originally signed up, but haven’t read any of her stories.

Her stories are YA Fantasy – so I wouldn’t mind reading them, but without one of my personal “must-read” elements, I won’t be going out of my way for it.

Summation

From the author’s perspective, she’s gained nothing by having me on her list. I haven’t bought a single copy of her work, and I’m not sold on her brand.

But I am here. And after two years of no interaction, I’m curious enough to flick through her emails and see what I missed.

If she announces a story about an orphaned kick-butt spy investigating a murder for the sake of his brother, I WILL BE THERE.

Case Bravo

Why I signed up:

Author Newsletters–A Survey — Kimia Wood

Free stuff is like a porch light to moths…(moths love free stuff…)

The author wrote a guest post for a craft/marketing blogger I followed. She offered a free short book on writing craft in exchange for signing up to her newsletter.

How often the author sends mail:

Lately I’ve gotten at least one a week…possibly two a week.

Email content:

The author’s brand is helping other writers, so all her emails relate to the craft of story creation, improving grammar/professionalism, etc.

Lately, each email contains a preview of a blog post, and to read the rest of the post you must click through to her site.

Subject line: Usually the title of the post – thus optimized for author-related concerns and interests.

Email domain: author’s domain

Have I read the author’s book/books?:

I won a copy of one of her craft books in a Twitter giveaway, and have received a couple of her fiction books for free in other giveaways.

Her fiction is good. I think I’ve outgrown her authoring advice, but for writers just starting out it could be helpful – and she has a lot of free advice on her blog.

Summation

I rarely read her emails – mostly because her writing philosophy is more legalistic than mine, and I have moved on to other advisors.

Once in a while, if the subject line piques my interest, I will read the post and share.

From the author’s perspective, though, the relationship is a wash since I’ve never earned her a dime.

Case Charlie

Why I signed up:

A book I bought based on her recommendation; see my review

This newsletter is owned by a book review blogger, and I wanted to get to know her, secretly hoping she would one day review my books.

How often the author sends mail:

Two or three emails a week.

Email content:

She sends out her book reviews (that she also posts to her blog and Goodreads), plus author interviews, a couple book spotlights, some guest posts, and posts celebrating book launches.

It’s more of an investment to read, but I usually enjoy reading her reviews and guest posts when I do. (Plus there are pretty book cover images to look at.)

Email domain: wordpress

Have I read the author’s book/books?:

N/A

Summation

Thanks to her recommendations, I have bought and enjoyed a couple books I would never have known about otherwise…and I have won at least one book in a giveaway, as well.

Case Delta

Why I signed up:

Another book review blogger, I was hoping she could one day review my works.

How often the author sends mail:

One to three emails a week, averaging two per week.

Email content:

This blogger posts reviews, book spotlights, author interviews, Top Ten Tuesday posts, character interviews, and the like.

The big issue, though, is that she uses some kind of WordPress plug-in to manage subscriptions to her blog. The plug-in only includes a short paragraph of the post in the email, and makes you go to the site to read the rest.

If the post is a book review, this means that all you can see is the book title, the publisher, the genre, and a tiny snippet of the back cover copy before the text is cut off.

To actually see the blogger’s thoughts on the book, you have to follow the link to her site. (And some of us are hesitant to open a browser because we always have seven tabs open for some reason.)

Email domain: wordpress

Have I read the author’s book/books?:

N/A

Summation

Sometimes relationships don’t work out. The technical difficulties mentioned above combined with the fact she read mostly Romance (which is my mortal enemy), and I realized I was never reading her emails.

I unsubscribed a few months ago.

Case Echo

Author Newsletters–A Survey — Kimia Wood

Teamwork makes the dream work.

Why I signed up:

I “met” her and her books in our mutual indie author circles.

When I saw she was running a re-launch event for one of her books (a book I had been eyeing previously) I jumped on the chance to participate.

I also joined her regular author newsletter list.

How often the author sends mail:

She seems to send out mail whenever she has book release news, or is running a sale. So…thus far the frequency has been one or two emails every couple months.

Email content:

The emails tend to focus on her book releases and deals.

Subject line: tends to mention “deals” or to reference something I can “get”. So, a focus on sales and specials.

Email domain: gmail

Have I read the author’s book/books?:

I received a free copy of one of her books as part of the launch party. While I cannot by law be required to write a review, I did write an honest review of the book (and gave her feedback for some minor fixes before launch. ‘Cause I’m picky like that).

Summation

While she hasn’t earned any money off of me, we have had some positive interactions. Though she doesn’t email often, I know who she is when she emails (except when I mistake her for someone with an almost identical name…).

Case FoxtrotAuthor Newsletters–A Survey — Kimia Wood

Why I signed up:

We got to know each other during an indie author co-op event. I interviewed her for my blog, and I think I just decided to give her my sign-up. Because she seemed nice.

How often the author sends mail:

An email every month or two – sometimes an extra one for a sale or special book launch news.

Email content:

Her emails focus on sales, book launches, and news about her books…though she also gives more personal updates on her private life from time to time.

Email domain: gmail

Have I read the author’s book/books?:

I have not read any of the author’s books…though I’ve been tempted. Allegorical fantasy/Biblical historical is not exactly my thing, but under the right circumstances…

Summation

Again, so far she hasn’t made a dime off of me. But maybe one day…We’re building bridges, here…

Case Golf

Why I signed up:

This one is a musician, and I downloaded a free album of his from NoiseTrade. The “cost” was getting on his (and NoiseTrade’s) newsletters.

How often the author sends mail:

It’s been averaging three emails a month, but it could be more if there’s a lot of news. He faithfully sends an email whenever he releases a new song, or his song is featured somewhere. (He’s quite prolific, actually.)

Email content:

I don’t always read his emails, but when I do…I’m always touched by his kind, down-to-earth, appreciative manner (plus updates about his kids – you know). He also shares album art or merchandise in his emails…so, pretty pics to look at.

Every email ends with four or five things he’s enjoying or learning about currently; always fun when you see something you recognize pop up there 🙂

Email domain: author’s domain

Have I read the author’s book/books?:

I have downloaded two different free albums from him…but I keep feeling like I should go pay a voluntary donation because the instrumental stuff is so beautiful.

Summation

I really am going to pay for something one day…I can feel it.

Case Hotel

Why I signed up:

I forget how we met, but it was probably on Twitter.

He’s a writing advisor, and offered a free hand-out/cheat-sheet with 22 questions to get your story on track, or something like that. The cost for this “free” resource was joining his email list.

How often the author sends mail:

Once or twice a month.

Email content:

No promotion. No selling. Just straight-up writing tips, tricks, and the like.

Subject line: is basically the title of the post he’s written…so the content under discussion is clear. He also likes to include examples from the classics in his posts (y’know, classics like Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare).

Email domain: author’s domain

Have I read the author’s book/books?:

He might have written a book, but he sure doesn’t push it. He’s all about offering free resources to authors – from his blog posts, to  downloadable cheat-sheets you can use to have his tips always near you.

Summation

His advice is usually pretty good, and his email pitches never over-sell his posts. (No “If You’re Not Writing Like This YOU’RE NOT A REAL WRITER” kind of stuff.)

He hasn’t gained anything from me except some “shares” of his content, but maybe that’s enough for his ambition.

Case India

Why I signed up:

I heard about this large bundle of writer resources being given away for free! All it required was signing away your life to a couple newsletters.

This is one of those newsletters. This is one that lasted.

How often the author sends mail:

About an email a week, although he only sent out one in December (probably taking a break). Basically, he offers occasional online classes via video session, and sends out emails to advertise them…then another email the day of to remind you to “join us”. Yay.

Email content:

He offers classes (online via video). He runs a book description business. And he writes his own novels, goes to conferences, talks about his baby daughter, invests time and money in marketing and advertising…

Basically, he is Mr. Type-A Author.

But he also includes interesting and/or helpful author tips in each of his emails, which is why I’m still subscribed. I’m not really a “classes” type person (plan ahead? to meet with other humans? and interact?) but he shares enough useful or encouraging tips in the email body that I’m still on board.

Email domain: author’s domain

Have I read the author’s book/books?:

He has books. He has classes…and description packages, and conference tickets, and videos and…!

And I haven’t shelled out a red cent (surprise!).

Summation

See above. I am a parasite.

Case Juliett

Why I signed up:

I signed up as part of a giveaway — celebrating a publishing company’s new releases. I gave my email address to several participating authors.

How often the author sends mail:

An email every other month, plus extra ones for book launches or sales. (Exactly like my own newsletter!)

Author Newsletters–A Survey — Kimia Wood

This is Grumpy Kitty’s “epic glare.”

Email content:

Ugh. Where to start.

She seems nice enough. She gushes about her work-in-progress, fan-girls about her favorite books, squees about the author conferences she’s attended, *faints* with delight at her faithful, energetic fan-base –

Basically she sounds like she’s fourteen. Yet somehow has READERS, A HUSBAND, AND A BABY.

The world is NOT FAIR.

I still skim her emails, but quickly – so as to not get too much sugar-cream latte on my eyeballs.

What is WRONG with the world? WHY are people drawn to her? It’s like listening to a tween at a Justin Bieber concert…or Taylor Swift…or pick your pre-adolescent idol…

Here’s the cover of my new book! But I’m going to make you scroll all the way to the bottom of the email to see it because that’s cutesy and I’m convinced you actually care about my books and me and have lots of time to waste playing little games just to see a PREVIEW of a book you haven’t read yet, but are totally jazzed for because OF COURSE you’ve read Book 1 and want to find out what happens because I didn’t actually tie off the plot but left it with a cliff-hanger — don’t you love me? <smiley face> <kissy face> <smiley kissy heart-eyed face>*

Email domain: author’s domain

*This is not an actual quote. This is just how it sounded to my ears.

Have I read the author’s book/books?:

From what I’ve heard, her YA series features cliff-hangers. Probably a love triangle. It’s better for everyone if I just stay in a different state.

Summation

Why haven’t I unsubscribed from this saccharine squeak-parade yet? I have no idea. Even if I were handed one of her books for free, it might be damaging to my sanity to read it.

I’m sure she’s a perfectly sweet, nice, friendly Christian writer with perfectly acceptable books…but I can’t read any of her books because the frosting and coffee and nerd glasses and girl! broke my reader.

Case Kilo

Why I signed up:

Here’s another “internet friend” I met through our mutual network. I first saw one of her tweets retweeted by someone else, and said, “Yeah! That sounds like my kinda girl!”

I eventually decided I should give her the support of subscribing to her list (though I also got one of her books for free through a promotion on Book Cave, and would have been subscribed to her list through that if I hadn’t already been on board).

How often the author sends mail:

A once-monthly update, plus special notices for book launches and sales. When you first sign up, she also has a series of emails to “welcome” you in and help you get used to her style.

Email content:

Subject line: almost always about some interesting historical story or anecdote.

The body of the email contains updates about her works-in-progress, what she’s been reading lately, any sales going on (and not just for her books – she also promotes other authors that she enjoys), and finally a historical anecdote she’s discovered in her research (like the life of a queen who ruled a Crusader state, or the story of two ship-wreck survivors who helped each other survive).

If you’re into little tidbits like that, it could be right up your alley. She’s very much about giving more than she takes.

Email domain: author’s domain

Have I read the author’s book/books?:

Yes. Several. A couple of them, I even paid money for 🙂

Summation

I’m not sure my connection with her brand is exactly strengthened by subscribing to her newsletter (since I’d be a “fan” anyway)…but at least it helps me know when she has released a new book (in case I missed the Twitter chatter about it).

Case Lima

Why I signed up:

For a giveaway.

How often the author sends mail:

Sometimes she sends an update every month. Sometimes she’ll send out updates about her new and upcoming books. But I haven’t gotten an email from her in six months…and I don’t remember unsubscribing…!

Basically, she’s not very consistent.

Email content:

Her emails can include anything from devotional material about following God, to news about her books and giveaways, to exclusive scenes about non-POV characters in her series.

Email domain: author’s domain

Have I read the author’s book/books?:

I received one of her books for free: a YA romance masquerading as a story about kids with strange spiritual powers. But it was mostly an angst-fest, set in the head of a too-dumb-to-live teen girl.

Summation

She sounds like a pretty stable, grown-up, orthodox Christian lady…but it would take a lot of convincing to get me to touch any more of her books.

(That exclusive scene I talked about above? It took a character who was one of the most mature, rational, and actually likable people in the book – and turned his thoughts into the same angsty, drama-riddled balderdash we had with the main character! Made me want to scream.)

Case Zebra

This is a bonus case, since it’s not an author: but I always read through my emails from GoG.com. Why?

1) Pictures (lots of images for games!)

2) Sales (they put games on sale all the time, and sometimes I see a game that catches my eye for really cheap! AKA spending money)

3) Titles (it’s amazing how evocative some of these titles can be, even if I acknowledge the game is not my style)

One of these days I need to write a post about how game images and titles are so appealing, and even games that really aren’t my genre look appealing.


Author Newsletters–A Survey — Kimia WoodJoin my newsletter for a free e-copy of my post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on my latest reading and writing adventures.

Kimia Wood currently lives somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

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