In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss why everyone says writers need to build an email list… and look at practical tips for how to go about it. They also share personal experiences, practical tips, and spiritual principles.
Scroll down for audio, video, and a full transcript, or find the podcast on Apple Podcasts here: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/gracewriters-podcast/id1519376330
In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- What the research has to say about the role of email lists
- The practicalities of setting up an email list
- The spiritual and ethical implications of how we do it.
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Our presenters currently use the following email list management platforms, all of which have a free level for beginners:
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Find us on your favourite podcast player and at Gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, Email Lists – Why do they Matter? I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my blogs, books, and courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a romance writer under the name Alison Joy. I’m a former early childhood educator. And I have four adult children. You can find my information on alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi everybody, I’m Donita Bundy, and for the last 20 years I’ve been using my theology degree to inform my preaching and teaching and more recently, my writing. You can find out more about me at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Our topic today, the next in our Author Platform series, Email Lists – Why do the Matter? We’re going to look at what the research has to say about the role of email lists, some of the practicalities of setting up an email list and the spiritual and ethical implications of how we build and manage email lists.
Alison, you’ve been doing a bit of scouting around for us. What have you found? Why do email lists matter? What is their role?
Alison Joy: First of all, I’d just like to say that once you start googling things it’s like the universe is listening and you start getting information through your feed. So, I found out lots of interesting bits and pieces.
Belinda Pollard: I think it’s Siri that’s listening! But anyway, keep going.
Alison Joy: I don’t use Siri on my phone so it’s not her! But anyway. Yes, I think, yes, it is necessary to have an email list. From what I’ve researched and what I’ve read there’s two things that are vital and essential for your author platform and that is your own website and a mailing list. Now, people are going, “Why do we have to have an email or mailing list,” and the thing is if you have followers on Facebook that’s all well and good but if Facebook crashes how are you going to know who your readers are or the people who are interested in the information? If you have an email list then you’ve got that list and you can store it somewhere and if anything crashes then you still have all those emails. You would still have all those contacts so you’re not having to start from scratch all over again.
A lot of people use social media and there’s nothing wrong with that. It should be a part of your platform but it shouldn’t be the main thing because everything’s got a lifespan and just because something’s the flavour of the moment it doesn’t mean to say it will be in the future. And people tend to have emails for 10 years or more so you’ve got a bit of longevity there whereas something like, maybe, TikTok which is the current flavour may not be around in six to 12 months. Who knows? It will be the next thing and the next thing and everybody’s flocking to use that. So, I think it’s important.
And why do we need an email list? Okay, we want to tell people that we’ve got a book out and we want them to buy it but we can’t just say, “Hey, buy my book!” You’ve got to build a relationship with people because it’s a bit rude to only talk to people when you want something. You’ve got to build a relationship with people first and then when you want them to buy a book they’re going to be more open to it because you’ve built this relationship, this community, with them over time.
So, you need some way of doing that and email is the most direct way to do it. If you do it, say, through Facebook, and I’m sorry I’m picking on Facebook today, with Facebook you’re competing with everything that’s coming into everybody else’s feed and it could easily get missed. People might have a lot of emails but it’s more direct and you’ve got a better chance of being seen or people seeing your information if it’s an email because it’s direct into someone’s inbox.
Belinda Pollard: And it’s a more deliberate decision on the part of the subscriber, isn’t it? It’s a greater commitment from them. To just click “like” on one of your social media posts doesn’t take much but to say, “Mmm, yes, I will give this person my email address” is already a greater commitment at the foundation.
Alison Joy: And if somebody likes you enough to hand over their email address, that’s a big thing. And if they’re interested in, maybe, they’ve read a book and they like what they read so if they’re signing up for email obviously, they’re more interested in you as an author and maybe a bit about you. So, this is an opportunity to building relationship with somebody. And I think there was a quote that it’s a warm audience. So, people sign up for a reason, I like this, “So you don’t have to shout into a void of strangers.”
So, people have already signed up, they’re interested, they’re warm so they’ve taken that first step, so you just need to cultivate that relationship.
Belinda Pollard: And it can be quite lovely, too, when they reply. So, I tend to invite replies on my emails and I really love some of those little conversations that happen because people do reply and just, maybe, even tell me something about their life, or their writing if they’re writing, and what’s going on for them.
Alison Joy: The best way to do it is to have an email service provider which is relatively inexpensive. The thing is you can get information. You can get what they call analytics or metric. You can find out all the information like who’s opening your emails and who’s clicking and who’s doing this and who’s doing that. And if you’re into all that stuff you can get all the background stuff as well. And you can also, which is helpful for learning how to improve your relationship with readers like improving your emails and what you have in them and finding out what works and what doesn’t work.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, I’ve learnt some interesting things over about 10 years since I first started building email lists and trying and failing and trying again and trying various things. I’ve also learnt some interesting things from fellow writers about things like the size of an email list that we need for it to make a difference. I think often people think you’ve got to have 10 or 20,000 people on your email list for it to be worth bothering about, but I know someone who’s making a fulltime income with a writing list of only about 2,000 subscribers. So, it’s quite powerful if it’s a warm, engaged list. It can be massively powerful and also very satisfying in terms of building that community and connecting.
I think, too, there’s a couple of overarching principles that I would suggest when we’re thinking about it – because often we hate to bother people. We don’t want to be a pest. But what if we’re helping people instead of just filling up their inbox with junk. And what if our goal is not to trick unwilling people into buying our books or whatever it is that we have available through our email list but to help those who actually want what we’re writing, what we’re giving – to find it. We’re helping them to find something that they need and want and I find the more I keep thinking about that and trying to turn it around, turn it around, stop worrying about bothering people and thinking really deeply about helping people and praying for ways that whatever I’m working on, this particular time, can be more helpful to the people that God knows are going to receive it.
Because we’re not doing this on our own, are we? And we’ll talk about that more later, Donita, when we get to the spiritual and ethical aspects.
But first of all, the practicalities of setting up an email list and how each of us has been managing it. Alison, would you like to give us a bit of rundown of what you’ve been doing, first?
Alison Joy: Well, I am really a newbie at all of this. I just found out, “Hey, you need to have an email list.” So, I’ve just embarked on that. So, I’m only at the start of my journey, I haven’t got a ten-year list like you have, Belinda. I’ve just, as I’ve said, very recently started. Now, I didn’t have any opinion, one way or the other, on any email service provider. So, I’ve had quite a few gurus, if you like, suggest that MailerLite was the way to go. So, I thought, “Okay, that sounds good enough to me.” So, I signed up with MailerLite and they have a free level, I guess, if you want to call it that. So, you get up to a certain number of subscribers and everything is free. So, that suits me because I don’t have any at the moment so that’ll be a good start.
Yes, it is a learning curve but everything’s got a learning curve and once you’ve done it a few times it’ll get easier. So, that’s my thing. That’s my goal this year is to build a decent mail list, so I’ve set it in motion. Now, I have to just keep going with it.
Belinda Pollard: Donita, how are you managing yours?
Donita Bundy: Well, I started back in 2016. I started my website and I was following all the rules and ticking all the boxes and that was before Facebook changed the way that your posts reach audiences. So, I had started the journey and I was telling everybody that I was creating a website, I was moving into writing and I was on Facebook giving updates regularly and then I had the “Coming soon, it’s about to be launched,” and I had created a bit of interest through Facebook and Instagram before I launched my first website. And then at the launch I had the signup for the newsletter and at that point I was using an email list generator program that came with the website that I was using at the time.
So, I gradually grew and I had people who came on board because they had been following my journey starting the website and then they were interested in my blogs and they were interested in seeing where I was going with this writing thing. So, they came along for the journey. And then at the end of 2018-19, my website crashed and when it crashed I lost everything and because my email list was in the website, built into the website, I lost my complete email list.
So, I would strongly encourage everyone, when you’re starting something up, have it external to the website. So, then I started from scratch. Built a whole new website. Started out on a whole new website, and email list, and I went externally. I used Mailchimp mainly because I just received the most advertising from Mailchimp and I knew some other people that were on it. That’s why I use it. It has an app that I can keep up to date with what’s happening on my phone. It gives me all that data that you were taking about, Alison. And it also has a free version.
And so, this time I’m being more, the way I’m doing my emailing, my email list and what I’m offering is a little bit different and I’m trying new things but I send out my blog, through the email list, fortnightly. I talk about the Podcast, fortnightly, and I send out a monthly newsletter pretty regularly. I think I’ve missed one since I restarted. So, that’s been my experience with it, and I have to admit I’m pretty impressed that I’ve got slow growth but I’m not looking, you mentioned 2,000 Belinda, well, I’m a fair way off 2,000.
Belinda Pollard: That’s okay.
Donita Bundy: I’m really happy that, at the moment, it seems to be just generally ticking over, gradually growing and as people come on board, they get to know me. They check out the website, what I’m offering. Slowly growing so, I’m pretty happy with that and I’ll just keep going at the moment and see how that goes.
Yes, I use Mailchimp. I encourage you, use an external mail provider and just try things that suit you and your voice and your brand and that’s how you generate genuine recipients of your emails.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, I think, that authenticity. I use the AWeber platform to manage my email lists and it’s a bit similar to you, Alison, a guru recommended it way back when I was first trying to set up an email list so that’s one that I used. And I really cannot be bothered changing from it. And they have now introduced a free level, as well. So, I can recommend it. It’s a good way to manage email lists.
You basically need some way to collect email addresses and then you need one of these email list management software thingies to manage how it’s sent. Because sending it all from your own personal email address is the way towards tears before bedtime. So, don’t do that.
And you need content to send. So, they’re the basic things. And you need things to encourage people to sign up. I’ve got invitations in the back of my books and I’m always looking at them, thinking about them, tweaking them. When I do public speaking I include a feedback form which has a tick-a-box thing down the bottom, “would you like to sign up to this one of my email lists”. And I also have subscription forms on my websites.
And I’ve messed around that many times with what to use as an incentive. People will sometimes call it a lead magnet. That feels extremely salesy, to me. So, I just call it a subscriber incentive. Just a gift to give them in exchange for the email address.
And I’ve found that I used to have a really nice 20-30 page ebook that I gave people and I’ve found that a one page resource works much better for my non-fiction list. And my non-fiction list is my bigger list. I really need to work on my fiction list which I have been very bad at and that’s one of the things next time on the podcast we’re going to do a bit of problem solving on our particular email lists. I’ll be talking more about that then.
But we are Gracewriters. We’re Christians. Donita, can you get us started, please, on what some of the spiritual and ethical implications might be for setting up, managing, running email lists.
Donita Bundy: Thanks, Belinda. I think we’ve pretty much circled around and talked about most of these today. Firstly, I’d like to just mention, I’ve been reading Madeleine L’Engle’s book, Walking on Water which I received at Christmas. Thank you, Bill. This book is just full of gold and so I’ve just been meditating through this book and allowing those gems to take root and bear fruit. And to crudely sum up the opening chapters of this amazing book is that writers need readers. We need an audience. We also know that readers need writers and it’s a symbiotic relationship. We need each other.
If we add on to this the fact that we know that we are created in the image of God therefore each of us need relationship and community and connection. That’s how we were created. However, today in the world of social media we tend to make friends and connect through clicks and likes on social media with people who we may never meet, never actually talk with or really interact with. And so, in a world that is moving into more and more online communication and connection, especially in these COVID days, we need to navigate this landscape to find ways to generate genuine connection.
And an email list is a way, in a sense, that we can do this. As we’ve already mentioned, instead of seeing it as a tool to flog a product, we can look at it and use that analogy that Belinda used a while ago about transporting people. We are taking people from where they are to where they want to be. And it might be a short-term trip or it might be a long term, permanent change. We do that through education or entertainment or enlightenment. It doesn’t matter what kind of writing we have, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, songs, plays, comedy. Whatever we’re doing, the basis of that transportation is enjoyment and engagement through our writing. And our goal is to the take the gift we have been given, the words, and share that gift with others to create that connection and that transportation.
So, if we look at it in that sense, an email list, in a sense, is an invitation to invite people to our online home which is our website. It’s a way of establishing relationship and building community with likeminded people as Alison spoke about before. And in the words of the industry, create our tribe or build our tribe.
It’s a way of encouraging people to engage in the conversation that we have established on our website. To interact with what we offer. To be challenged and reflect and contribute. And in a sense that invitation, bringing people into our home, is a way for us as writers to be known and for us to know our readers. So, the way we go about establishing and building our email list will all come back to how we think of it and what we’re doing with it.
So, Belinda, you’re talking about helping people. And we want to offer that thing that we have, whatever it is, to our reader to connect. I’d also just like to touch on a great thought that I read in Madeleine L’Engle’s book. For those of you who have it and you want to look it up it’s actually on page 35. She writes:
For an artist is not a consumer as our commercials urge us to be. An artist is a nourisher and a creator who knows that during the act of creation there is collaboration. We do not create alone.
So, readers need writers but writers, we need each other. We need other writers and we need readers. They give our work life. So, if we think about it in this sense providing the gift that we have been given to connect, relate and transport it sheds a new light on our email list and how we go about doing that.
So, that’s where I’ve been coming from and I think we’ve all been saying it. As writers we might do it in isolation, we might write in isolation, but our writing needs a landing place and it needs to be given life in the reader’s hands and minds. So, it’s a symbiotic relationship and we need to use who we are uniquely created to be, feed that into our website and then share that invitation. It’s about being known and knowing each other. So that’s where I’m coming from. And again, Belinda, prayer, as you said, is very important in how we do this and how we establish it. The gift we’re given is now ours to hold onto but to share and this is a way for us to share and distribute that gift.
Some things are for free on our website, like you’ve been talking about the giveaways, other things they may need to pay for. But if people come on board and they like the voice, they like the way that we tell stories, if they like what we have to offer they are prepared to invest time to check it out, time to interact and, perhaps, at times, invest money to purchase that thing that we’ve created, as well. So, we weren’t created to be alone. As writers we definitely can’t be alone, but our email list is a way of that connection.
Belinda Pollard: Created for community and connection. That’s a beautiful thought. How about I pray for the Gracewriters.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for these opportunities that we have today to connect in different ways and across vast distances. Things that we didn’t have in previous generations, we’ve lost some things, we’ve gained some others. We just pray that you will help us to have wisdom and peace and courage as we work out how to create an email list and how to do all of our writing and connecting in ways that honour you and bring glory to your name. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Thank you, Alison Joy and Donita Bundy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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