Sunday, 18 May 2014

The benefits and pitfalls of having an author mailing list

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A topic I've repeatedly come across in self-publishing is establishing a mailing list - a list of interested, consenting contact's emails so that you can send them important updates about your book/product/cat's eating habits/whatever they've signed up for. So, writers can contact readers about their books, and readers receive updates directly from the author.

Sounds great, doesn't it? 

Overwhelmingly the status quo seems to be that a mailing list is a necessary aspect to any success as a self/independently published author. 

But, I surprisingly found that there are some pitfalls to having a mailing list.

I thought it would be worth sharing some of the perhaps more obscure pros and cons with you as well as linking to some of the posts that helped inform me (at the bottom of the post)! You can also see my mailing list signup form above as an example too (hint hint! Sign up if you'd like to receive advance updates on Books of Caledan). :-)

Advantages of mailing lists:
  • You have your own reader base at your fingertips to share important updates with.
  • Mailing lists allow authors to be independent of rising (Google+) and falling (Facebook) social networks; your fans travel the internet with you.
  • Authors can send targeted promotions to parts/all of their list/s, which means authors can offer certain/all subscribers incentives - like I offer such as advance knowledge of release dates, special offers, exclusive content, and so on.
  • Authors can integrate signup forms on their platform. I've added a signup to the top right of my blog and at the top of this post just to highlight how easy it is: Mailchimp provided the form coding for me, so no coding knowledge needed. Very handy! You can integrate mailchimp with both facebook and twitter too.
  • Some mailing list services are free (up to a limit). I use MailChimp, which allows up to 2,000 subscribers for no fee. This means that there's no financial burden or obligation for new authors/businesses. Most authors I've encountered seem to use either MailChimp or Aweber above that threshold/for paid accounts.
  • Authors can import/export mailing lists across platforms/hosts, so you're not tied to one service if you find a better provider or change your mind.
  • Authors can schedule mails to be sent out at times to be most convenient to your readers wherever they are in the world! Plus this means you can schedule them in advance and then forget about them - the provider then sends them out as scheduled.
  • You can add incentives to encourage signups - upon signup, a response email automatically sends to each new subscriber linking to the amazing freebie giveaway you've offered. That way, the subscriber get's something (good) for free, you get their email address/permission to contact, and the list provider handles the distribution.

Blogs I'd seen about mailing lists tended to be very heavily weighted in favour of them. There are drawbacks though, which I didn't discover until testing out the idea for myself.

The disadvantages of mailing lists:

  • A paid account with Mailchimp is required to setup response emails to new signups (i.e. sign up and get a free reward emailed automatically i.e. ebook, download etc). I think Aweber is much the same. That's a great aspect of the incentive nature of mailing lists, though it could be overcome on a free account by manually emailing every single new subscriber. That's only effective therefore on smaller operations unless you pay for the feature.
  • Sending too many emails, spam emails, or if too many people don't open your emails/unsubscribe, then your account could be marked as a spammer and shut down. So email content needs to be a balance of quality, useful and relevent content that doesn't bombard people and is always interesting/valuable enough for subscribers to open and read.
  • You must put your business address on each and every email you send out to comply with international anti-spam laws. In order to eliminate this (because you can't use PO Box addresses either), you'd have to put a business address - for example an accountant or solicitors address there (or a publishers/agent)... but that involves having access to such a facility. Personally, it's an understandable but worrying breach of confidential information.
I hope that this has been a useful insight into some less obvious advantages/disadvantages of mailing lists. Some further useful reading on mailing lists can be found on these blogs, which include some "how to" information and are well worth a read:

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