Our thanks to content marketer Joan Selby for this guest contribution!

Email marketing is one of the most useful tools there is for indie authors to stay in touch with their readers. Unfortunately, there’s a misconception that email marketing is all old-hat, with many authors focussing more on social media marketing and blogging than on building a high-quality email list.

But failing to take advantage of email is a rookie mistake. After all, one report from McKinsey found that email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter. That’s partly because when you send out an email, it arrives straight in someone’s inbox – a bit like personally calling each of your readers whenever you have an update, but with a lot less hassle.

Many authors don’t know where to start with email marketing, which is where this post comes in. So, without further ado, here are five top tips to help self-published authors to build up a decent email list.

1.    Offer freebies in exchange for sign-ups

Including an email sign-up form on your website is all well and good, but if you really want your list to grow then it’s a good idea to offer a freebie in exchange for your visitors’ details. This gives people an extra incentive to provide their information because, let’s face it, everyone loves a freebie.

Many digital marketers use a similar tactic, running webinars or releasing e-books in an attempt to capture data. Authors can take that concept and run with it – for example, you could create an exclusive bonus scene for one of your novels that’s only available to people who join your mailing list.

2.    Proofread every email

Nobody likes a typo, but it’s even more important for authors to make sure that everything they send is well-written and error-free. If your emails include spelling mistakes and grammar fails, they could be doing more harm than good – after all, if people think you can’t write a decent email, what will they think about your books?

Steve Reed from SuperiorPapers points out another reason why proofreading is important. “Even a single spelling mistake can cost sales,” he explains, citing a 2011 experiment by internet entrepreneur Charles Duncombe. “So whether you’re writing an essay, publishing a book or sending out a marketing email, you’ll want to remember that proofreading isn’t optional – it’s essential.

3.    Send your emails on a schedule

Setting a schedule and sticking to it will help to build up anticipation ahead of your emails. For example, if your subscribers know that you send out an email every Friday afternoon, they’ll keep their eyes on their inboxes until it arrives. This can also help to establish a routine – if you send out ad-hoc emails every couple of months, people will forget that they’re on your list and potentially get annoyed when they finally hear from you.

That’s not to say that you can never break your schedule – in fact, the best approach is usually to follow a schedule while sending out additional emails as needed. That way, your regular emails set expectations while any extra emails are an unexpected bonus.

4.    Measure and test

One of the biggest advantages of email marketing – and digital marketing in general – is that you can measure and monitor the performance of almost everything. You’ll want to measure the average open and click-through rates of your emails – as well as whether people are unsubscribing and how many of the emails bounced back – to keep an eye on the health of your list over time.

Most email marketing providers also allow you to carry out A/B tests. This means you can change a single element – such as the subject line – and send out each of the two variants to half of your list. You can then identify which subject line worked best – and figure out how to apply that to your next batch of emails.

5.    Obey the law

Many countries – including the US and the UK – have strict laws in place that govern the way that you can use people’s data. As a general rule, you should never add someone to your list unless they specifically ask to join it, and you should make it as easy as possible for people to unsubscribe. You also need to include your real-world mailing address.

You should also avoid buying lists from other people. While this can be done legally, it’s an ethical grey area and unlikely to lead to sales or reader engagement. Focus on developing your own list instead – you won’t regret it.


Email marketing is a fantastic way to stay front of mind and to let your readers know about everything from competitions to new releases. In fact, timing an email campaign to coincide with a new book launch is a great way to make a splash when your book comes out – and to get those all-important early sales. Good luck.

Joan Selby is a content marketer and a blogger; a graduate of California Institute of the Arts and a fancy-shoe lover; a writer by day and reader by night, giving a creative touch to everything. Find her on Twitter and Facebook