I got lucky. The month that I sold my novel was the same month that I started my newsletter, Living the Dream, for my coaching business. I had no idea that as my list of subscribers grew I would have a great platform from which to launch the book 18 months later. Thanks to that list, I was pre-selling my book long before it hit store shelves.
I was cultivating an audience without realizing it. But now I know that having a list is a goldmine, both for selling your book and for getting your book noticed by a publisher. These days if you can prove that you come to the table with a huge audience, a big advance may follow. But how do you get such a list? These tips will help you go from seed to harvest as you grow your group.
(1) Start with who you know
Most of us have some form of list already, either in your email system’s address book or your basic holiday card list that you use once a year. It may be as small as 10-25 or as big as 200-400. Start out by sending a general email letting the people on your list know that you’re getting organized and planning to send out regular notes, newsletters, whatever you plan to send. Give them the opportunity to opt out if they’re not interested. Most will probably stay on since your family and friends are interested in hearing about what you’re up to.
(2) Whenever you meet new people, get permission to add them to your list
At this point in your writing career, it’s essential that you’re out meeting people at least once a month. You can go to networking events, take classes or (and this is the best) do speaking engagements. Non-fiction authors especially should be speaking regularly because you want to establish your expertise in your topic or topics. You can collect business cards when you network or take classes and get people to sign in with their contact information at your event. Make sure you GET PERMISSION and let people know they will be hearing from you via newsletter, etc. It is truly poor form to put people on your mailing list without their knowledge. It’s also called spamming!
I know that signing people up is key because I’ve observed popular authors doing just that. I once attended a reading by E. Lynn Harris because I knew he had a huge -and faithful- readership and I wanted to glean some clues as to how he did it. Sure enough, the room was packed and every single person behaved as though they knew him personally. When it came time to sign books, he made an announcement: he would sign your book if you signed his! He made it clear you would be hearing from him via email, birthday and holiday cards. People were all too happy to sign the list. Brilliant!
(3) Find a list service to maintain your list
You’ll quickly learn, as your list grows, that your email account may not allow you to send mass messages to groups larger than 50-80. Also, it’s not a good idea to only have your list on your computer, you’ll want it backed up elsewhere. The solution: sign on for a list service. You’ll have your database expertly maintained, plus most list services will give you templates and allow you to send out really good looking HTML email messages to your list. You can also get code and links that allow people to sign themselves onto your list from your website. There are many you can try. I use both Constant Contact (http://www.constantcontact.com) and 1 Shopping Cart (http://www.1shoppingcart.com). If you’re not selling products or services, you may not need a shopping cart so Constant Contact may be just the thing for you.
(4) Communicate to your list regularly
You want to keep in touch with the people on your list so they don’t forget about you. The way you do it is up to you. As I said above, E. Lynn Harris sends notes and cards to his list. A colleague of mine sends daily inspirational quotes. I’m a big fan of email newsletters because you can provide news on your activities and useful content for your readers. When you provide content, such as tips for real estate investors, marketing ideas, or even cookbook recipes, you are establishing your expertise. You’re also giving people a good reason to stay on your list -they’re getting good stuff out of it. In the past I have offered discounts on my services, gift certificates for people to give out over the holidays and articles with career counseling and goal-achieving tips. And every issue of Living the Dream also features my book and the stellar reviews it’s received. You can see past issues by going to http://www.creativecoachingplans.com/newsletter.html.
(5) Generate excitement and anticipation with your list
When your book is nearing publication, you’ll want to start letting your audience know that it’s coming. You can generate pre-sale orders, alert your list of book reviews as they come out and let your audience know where you’ll be appearing when you start speaking and doing book signings. My book was first listed on Amazon.com about six months before its publication date. I sent out a “special announcement” letting people know it was there and encouraging them to pre-order the book. On that glorious day my book ranked as high as 3,000 on Amazon’s list! I may not be J.K. Rowling, but I think that’s pretty good. Plus, that’s the kind of information that helps distributors sell your book to bookstores. They know you already have an awesome audience just waiting to buy!