Authors, you know you crave them: subscriptions to your opt-in email list. The people who willingly sign up to hear from you, who follow you and your books, who aren’t subject to the vagaries of Amazon, the fortunes of Barnes & Noble, or the flakiness of Google Play. The ones you can send exactly the information you want, whenever you want: book covers, links, special offers, requests, insider information.

They are your independence and your future.

The trick is, how to get them to sign up, and how to keep them. Yes, the title of the blog says how to build your list. But have you ever heard the old adage that the best customer is a repeat customer? The same goes for your list. The best way to build your list is to keep those who subscribe from unsubscribing, because nothing defeats your efforts like adding 100 new subscribers only to have 200 unsubscribe.

Note: I use Mailchimp to administer my list, but Constant Contact is also good; they manage your unsubscribes and clean bad emails from your list. I also use an editorial calendar to plan my content for my two blogs and my four Mailchimp lists: I blog as a novelist for readers, as an indie author for other authors; I e-blast to readers, other authors, my “street team,” and media/book bloggers; you don’t have to do anything but e-blast to your readers if you don’t want to. My editorial calendar helps me look out several months and plan my most compelling content.

So here are my top tips for building and maintaining that all important Author Opt-in Email List (assuming you have a well-written, well-edited book with a good cover that attracts readers in the first place):

1. Start with your best contacts, and reward them for helping you.

Your first 100 subscribers will be the people that you already know. Professionally. Personally. Blog followers (who you may have gotten by commenting on their blogs with something relevant and interesting). Social media contacts. But don’t assume that those closest in will affirmatively subscribe. Send them an email, telling them to let you know if they don’t want to be on the list, and letting them know that for those people that remain on the list through X date, you will send a free gift. See below re free gifts.

2. Reward subscription with what your ideal subscriber wants from you.

Make that free gift the one thing your readers most want. No, not money. More of your writing, especially more of your writing that is related to what you’ve already written. For instance, a short story or novella featuring your characters/fictional world. Essays or nonfiction pieces that are background or supplements to your books. Advice or content you don’t offer anywhere else. True exclusives that can be delivered electronically.

How? Maybe you do it through BookFunnel. Maybe you are cheaper than that and you share files through Dropbox or Whatever works for you. Then, when you email that initial group that sticks with you, ask them to share the email to people they think would want to subscribe and receive the same free gift.

Meanwhile, set up your automated subscription to send the link to your free gift/content in the welcome email your subscribers get from your email service, i.e., Mailchimp or Constant Contact. Here’s how that welcome email looks for my subscribers:

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 7.04.30 AM3. Don’t miss an opportunity to ask for subscription.

If you don’t ask at the right time, you won’t get subscription. Here are a few places not to miss, where you are talking to readers who are interested in you:

  • At events. When I speak or appear, I pass around a book and promise people my handout and other free goodies in return for their subscription. Then I deliver great content that they want desperately. This is my second biggest source of subscriptions.
  • When someone leaves a comment on your blog (yes, you should blog, although the content would be different) or your website (use plugins for your email app, like Mailchimp or Constant Contact), like this:Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 7.15.33 AM
  • Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 7.16.31 AM
  • In your website sidebar with a linked image that offers the free gift.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 12.34.55 PM

  • My best source of subscriptions? At the end of your books, like this:Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 11.19.45 AM
  • On your social media pages/profiles, like your Facebook page, using an app for your email service, i.e., Mailchimp or Constant Contact, like this:Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 7.11.04 AM
  • Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 7.11.34 AM
  • Jane Friedman recently recommended exit popups using a Mailmunch app for your website. I’m giving it a try. Thoughts on exit popups in general or mine in particular?

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 12.36.59 PM

4. Don’t overuse your list.

Nobody wants to hear from you three times a week, even your mother. However, your list is only valuable if you use it regularly. How regularly? Twice a month is the advice I hear frequently (no more than twice per week for a blog). I can’t quite stomach that yet and send my lists once a month. We’ll see if I get braver. It’s a delicate balance between effectively using it the right frequency for impressions that lead to sales and driving people to unsubscription. Yet unsubscribes are a reality of mail lists. Sometimes people go on tears and unsubscribe to everything (yes, even your mother). Don’t take it personally. You’ve lost them for now. You’ll replace them if you keep working at it.

5. Send people the information they wanted when they subscribed.

Y’all, keep it short (400 words or less if possible). Keep it interesting. Have personality. Use an image. Use links, but don’t go overboard. And for goodness sakes, make it about your books!!! Whenever possible give something away in return for responding to a call to action. Biggest lesson I’ve learned in the last year? It’s all about the subject lines—there are tons of good articles out there on how to get people to open email. Emojis are one, believe it or not. My open rates and click throughs go through the roof when my subject is fun and has emojis. However, Google it and get some advice that works for you and your style.

Building a list is a long term project. It’s taken me since 2008 to build mine to over 6000 readers, and I wish it were 10 times that, but I know it would be ten times smaller if I hadn’t been working on it all that time.

6. Bonus: Check out Ryan Zee Promotions for multi-author contests that add hundreds of emails to your list at a time and are very reasonably priced. More info HERE.

For tips like these and many more, check out my classes on the SkipJack Publishing Online School (where you can take How to Sell a Ton of Books, FREE).

Your tips in the comments are greatly appreciated!


Pamela Fagan Hutchins, winner of the 2017 Silver Falchion award for Best Mystery (Fighting for Anna), writes overly long e-mails, hilarious nonfiction (What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too?), and series mysteries, like those in her What Doesn’t Kill You world, which includes the bestselling Saving Grace and the 2015 and 2016 WINNERS of the USA Best Book Award for Cross Genre Fiction, Heaven to Betsy and Hell to Pay. You can snag her newest release, Bombshell, if you’ve already run the rest of the table. She teaches writing, publishing, and promotion at the SkipJack Publishing Online School (where you can take How to Sell a Ton of Books, FREE) and writes about it here on the SkipJack Publishing blog.

Pamela resides deep in the heart of Nowheresville, Texas and in the frozen north of Snowheresville, Wyoming. She has a passion for great writing and smart authorpreneurship as well as long hikes and trail rides with her hunky husband, giant horses, and pack of rescue dogs, donkeys, and goats. She also leaps medium-tall buildings in a single bound (if she gets a good running start).

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7 Responses to Top Five Tips for Authors to Build Opt-in Email List Subscription

  1. Great tips, Pamela. Thanks. I’m struggling because for 1.5 years, my blog was strictly for writers (advice, how-to tips, etc.). I had 1,100 subscribers and they loved it. I don’t have the time or patience to maintain two websites, so now it’s my author website. Many from blog read my book, loved it, left great reviews and are spreading the word about me. Terrific!

    However, more and more, I’m getting subscribing….true fans o’ Marcy McKay. I’m not sure what to blog about anymore…my book? Writing? I don’t want to turn off either group, but I’m in a quandary about what to do.

    • Pamela says:

      It’s a hard decision. One thing to do would be to maintain an editorial calendar and alternate focus between readers and writers. The other is to pick the the group you want to move forward with and write for them. Of the two groups, readers are the pickier ones, I think.

      • I may try to segregate between the two populations. All blogs will be posted to my website, but only email the groups I think want that topic. Yes, I’ll miss some, but I won’t know if I don’t try.

  2. Thanks for this, especially about the subject line. I’m just getting started and hadn’t thought about how important that was.

  3. Eric Hutchins says:

    Really excellent blog. Tons of good information. I am really liking the exit pop ups, they make so much sense to me. And there is something cool about how you have done them, the swinging “tags” that really catches your attention. Good stuff.

  4. […] On to the good stuff! For the last few years I’ve been working on building my subscriber list. Not all subscribers are, however, created equal. You want the subscribers that are the epitome of your ideal reader, and you want subscribers that open and act on your content (not just stay subscribed). I have not done a good job on converting subscribers to action, and I’d like to build more quality subscribers. (Read my past post on building your list, here). […]

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