Communicating with Your Readership: Building an Email List – Part 1 of 2

This article appeared in the September/October 2009 issue of Writers’ Journal. It’s part 1 of a 2 part series.

View “Communicating with Your Readership: Building an Email List – Part 1 of 2” as it appeared in Writers’ Journal.

You’ve built your web site or created your blog. You’ve spent several months creating content and finding links and you’re finally starting to see traffic on your site. Congratulations! You’re on your way. Now you ask, “What comes next?”

Writers' Journal Building an Email ListFirst off, you continue adding content and links. Hopefully that’s become a pleasant habit by now. Helpful or inspiring information is what will attract and keep people to your site.

To capitalize on that hard-won traffic, you need to start building a list of email address from people who are interested in you and your topic. A targeted email list like this is platinum and mentioning that you have a large one at your disposal in your query letter or book proposal will make an agent’s eyes light up.

Building a mailing list takes two necessary pieces of infrastructure: An offering and a method of collection.

Enticing Offers
The first thing you need to work on is something to offer people in exchange for their email address. Unlike the late 1990’s when signing up for email lists was new and exciting, ten years of SPAM tends to make people a little cagey with their contact information. I know I am.

Promising to let them know what you’re doing and when it’s happening is not enough these days. You need to come up with something that is of interest to your readers and that also contains something of value, such as:

  • Newsletters
  • Tips
  • Calendar
  • Short Stories/Poems
  • Word or Quote of the Day

Don’t limit yourself on this. Think creatively. There’s going to be something you have or know that someone else will want. Does your non-fiction topic lend itself well to: “5 tips to improve your lifestyle?” “8 things to avoid when…?” Would your fiction topic make a good personality test? Could you offer a weekly sonnet? Screen-saver illustrations?

These auto-responder offerings are either article-length one-time things, or paragraph length regular offerings over a set amount of time.

There are other ways of getting names and email addresses. The most effective way I’ve found is by handing out an evaluation sheet after my classes and offering to sign people up for my free tips if they just write down their email address and check a box. That relieves them of the burden of visiting my site to do it, and I’ve found that people are in a good frame of mind to respond to that sort of offer at that time.

Another way to build your own list is to find someone else who already has a list and make their list members some sort of special offer. This is a very touchy area. List owners worked hard to build them and do not just let you mail to their people. What you do is offer a free online talk, webinar, teleseminar, or some other event. Then have them use your web form on your site to register for it. Require an email address and then let them opt in to receive other notices from you. Deliver on your event and now those registrants are on your list. Just about any event that you could hold at your public library, can also be held over the phone or on the Web—book talks, poetry readings, consultations.

Another way to capitalize on someone else’s list is to offer to write content for the list owner to mail out. Make sure your by-line mentions your own offering and has a link to your web site where people can sign up.

The other thing you need in order to build your list is a method of collecting addresses and then mailing to your list. Fortunately, both those functions are essentially the same service.

If you’re proficient with HTML coding or have someone you can shanghai into helping you, it’s possible to set up a simple form that will collect the prospect’s information and then email it to you. Then you can email them the promised offering and keep their address for later. It’s free. It’s also time-consuming, cumbersome, and risky.

Time-consuming in that you have to manually add to your list, keep track of what you’ve sent and to whom, and remove unsubscribe requests. Cumbersome for all those reasons plus the tendency for most email servers to prevent you from mailing a single message to more than twenty or twenty-five recipients at a time, thus forcing you to send out multiple copies. Risky because sending out mass mailings opens you up to blacklisting as a SPAMer. Once your domain name is black-listed it’s near impossible to get it cleared again.

A better option is to pay a few dollars to an email service and let them deal with all of that. Good email houses will generate the collection code you need to put on your website, manage the addresses, keep you in compliance with all the SPAM laws, and incur any possible black-listing risk. Most also offer templates you can use to make your messages pretty when you send them out. All offer tracking so you can see how many people opened your message and whether they clicked on any links you put in there. Charges for these services can range from a flat $30-$40 a month fee to a scaling fee based on how big your list is and how often you send to it ($10/mo and up).

If you’re offering a pre-set series of tips or quotes that you want delivered daily or weekly, you need to find an auto-responder service. Auto-responders are email houses with an added feature that allows you to front-load them with a series of messages and then designate when they’re to be delivered. The responder then dutifully accepts each new sign-up and starts with message number one. It diligently delivers the entire series until it runs out. In the instance of a quote a day, you just keep adding to it.

Keep in mind that building an email list is like mining for diamonds. It takes a lot of work and patience, but that collection of contacts represents the people most likely to purchase your book.

In the next issue, I’ll go over formatting an attractive emailing and how to handle your loyal subscribers.

Angela Render is an author who has been editing and developing websites for over a decade. She teaches regular classes on Internet marketing. Her Internet marketing workbook, Marketing for Writers: A Practical Workbook, is available on her website at

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This entry was posted by on Thursday, November 4, 2010.
Filed under: Articles, For Writers, Marketing, Writers' Journal
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