In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy share their own progress and challenges with building an email list for their writing, and workshop ideas and potential solutions with one another.
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:
- Working out what to use as a ‘subscriber magnet’ to motivate people to subscribe.
- Searching for the marketing ‘sweet spot’.
- How to enjoy building an email list and still have time to write??
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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, Problem Solving our Email Lists. 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 live in Brisbane. I have four adult children and I was an early childhood educator. You can find all my information on alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi everybody, my name’s Donita Bundy, and for the past 20 years I’ve been using my theology degree to inform my teaching and preaching 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 and the second in our email list series, where we’re going to do something a little bit different. We’re going to have a go at problem solving our email lists with the goal that you can watch on while we wrestle with these issues and hopefully gather and adapt some ideas that can benefit you in your struggle to create a useful email list for your own writing career. Alison, would you like to be guinea pig number one? What is your current setup with your email list and how would you like it to be different?
Alison Joy: Okay, well, I only just started because I’m a newbie writer and I’m only doing an email list because someone told me I had to and that it needs to be part of your platform. So, I’m only just starting out. I have signed up to MailerLite. I have their free level, at the moment. I have what they call an onboarding sequence set up which is somebody signs up to your email, they get some automated emails to welcome them as they’re joining or they’re coming on board your journey as a writer, I guess, is the best way to have it.
So, I’ve done that. A bit of a learning curve. I’ve finally got there and setup a pop-up on my website. Now I have to actually get people to sign up for it so that’s where I’m at. I’ve got to figure out how to do that. Now, I understand from what I’ve read that I should have a reader magnet. So, I know there’s differing opinions about what is it, is one even necessary or what we should have as one. The most common one I’ve read is either a free book, which I don’t have at the moment because I’ve only just started out in my publishing writing journey, or a short story or a novella which sounds good but you need time to do that and that takes away from your writing time.
So, it’s just finding something for a reader magnet. Now, a reader magnet is something that you give someone as an incentive to hand over their email. So, it’s a reward, if you like, or incentive for paying with their email. So, I need to (a) figure out if I’m going to have a reader magnet and (b) get people signing up.
Belinda Pollard: It is tricky, isn’t it. But may I say, first of all, congratulations on actually getting that far!
Donita Bundy: Yay!
Belinda Pollard: Because that is massive. It’s not that easy. I remember when I was first muddling around and trying to set up my very first subscriber box where people enter their email and their name and work through the whole thing and it took a long time and it was a big learning curve. So, well done! You’ve made it that far. And now the challenge is how to get people that next step. What are you putting in the back of your books, at the moment? Are you doing an invitation to people to sign up to learn about the next book?
Alison Joy: Well, the first one, I don’t think I did, because I didn’t have anything. I didn’t know I had to, at that stage. The second one, yes. It’s nearly ready to go out, yes. I can have the signup in the back for my newsletter, website and newsletter there. I’ve also seen that you should have it, basically, everywhere. Everywhere you are, you should have a link to the signup things. So, it’s on my Facebook information and on my social media. I did do an online seminar, just recently, and one of the things the lady said that she does is she actually puts Facebook posts up about the newsletter and a hyperlink or a link to the newsletter in that post.
So, I think that’s something I should get on to. And she said she puts it up regularly. So that’s something because I have an author Facebook page but I could even put it on my personal one for people who know that I write that might be interested in signing up and then that would be another way. It’s probably something that everybody starting out experiences. Well, okay, I know I need an email list but where do I get all these emails from? How do I get them?
Donita Bundy: Are you blogging, Alison?
Alison Joy: A little bit.
Donita Bundy: Okay, because when you talk about giving away the free books and the free novellas and whatever, I personally struggle with that because I know that wherever you go, if you’ve got books, people are kind of saying, “Well, bring some free books to give away.” And I can understand that there’s value in that but it’s also, as an independent author who’s self-publishing, the costs are quite high.
Alison Joy: Yes.
Donita Bundy: And the income is quite low and so I just think there are other things that possibly we could be doing for reader magnets or to give away other than the work that’s involved and the time, like you said, to create these things. And I was just thinking blogging is something, it still takes time to do it well but not nearly as long, to be giving that away and it still gives people a taste of your voice.
So, if you’ve got a blog, even if it’s not regular, it enables people to get to know your voice and if they like your voice, well then they’ve already had a taster and then they might be, “Well, I like the way she writes. I like the way she sounds and what she talks about. I might invest in the book.” So that might be a way of less time in the big project of the giveaway. And, yes, the same deal, like when you post it on social media, it has a link back to your website. So that might be something to consider that’s easier to do, less time, and it’s still free, it’s a magnet still to get people to come and visit your website.
Alison Joy: I think I’ve read that the danger in giving out a book is that people just sign up for your book and that’s it. They don’t actually want anything to do with you. They just want a free book. So that’s also a thing.
Belinda Pollard: I know there’s been quite a movement over the last, say, three or four years of people giving away, advertising a free giveaway book. They do it through Facebook advertising, etcetera. They build up quite large lists, quite quickly, by giving away this free book and then the idea is that they hope to get sell-through to the other books in their series.
I actually know some writers who have done that and discovered that they end up with quite a lot of subscribers who just want free things. And I know one who’s actually gone through and cleaned out her list of all of those, and is not doing those types of promotions anymore, because of what that writer felt happened to her list with it. And I’m with you, Alison, I write fiction and I don’t write it massively fast and so I don’t have free books to give away either.
And I’m just wondering who you’re ending up with, because I know I’ve got plenty of free books on my Kindle that I’ve never read! Whereas the one that I go and commit to and pay for is the one that I’m more likely to think, “Oh yes, I’ll read that book.” It’s a really interesting psychology, isn’t it. And I think there might have been a little bit of a saturation in the market for that giving-away-the-free-books thing. Maybe it worked really well for the first cohort of writers that did it, and I just wonder if it’s falling off a bit now.
So, a couple of things I wonder about, you’re a photographer and I wonder if you might be able to do something with your photography which can also help you with your blogging, if you do decide you want to do some blogging.
Alison Joy: Yes, well, I did put together some screen savers for laptops and phones and stuff but then how do you actually get them to people? How do you actually say, “They’re there. I’ve designed them.” But I don’t know, everyone says BookFunnel but I can’t see on BookFunnel that there’s an option for something other than a book.
Belinda Pollard: Well, you can give a PDF on BookFunnel.
Alison Joy: Can you?
Belinda Pollard: BookFunnel, for the listeners, is a platform that you can sign up to for as little as US$20 a year and it will deliver things for you to people so that you can share the BookFunnel link and then you don’t have to mess with trying to deliver certain things to certain people. It can be fully automated and they also manage the tech problems if the person can’t download it which is—
Donita Bundy: Could I also, just quickly, sorry, to interrupt. I’m just quickly checking the name of mine. There is also an add-on, it’s called Photography Management. I’ve got a WordPress site and that’s a free add-on and you can create a gallery on there and then you could say to people who come onto your website, they get a password if they sign up to your email, and that password enables them to download the images. So that Photo Management creates galleries for clients – because I’ve done photography work for clients for websites and things like that. I create a gallery of their work. I give them the password. They go in there and then they can download those photographs.
So that’s another way. Just, it’s a photographic thing. So, there are several ways that you could do that but there are apps out there that will enable that. But even still, having a gallery on your website. I have one that I change, update monthly so it’s a bit of a draw if people are interested and they like my photographs on social media. I put the best on social media but I put the rest of the month on the galleries in my website. So that’s something else, just to have people come and look around, spend time in your website.
Alison Joy: Yes.
Donita Bundy: And if you’re refreshing that semi-regularly they know that, “I’ve been there. I’ve already seen them.” Whereas if you’re updating that. It takes a bit of work but it’s also creating content that people might be interested in just checking out.
Belinda Pollard: You need to have a signup form on your website and then where you have the place for the signup form you say, “Download my free screensaver,” or whatever. And I know that your books, Alison, are based on travel, places you’ve been. And I think that could be quite an interesting thing to think about, too. Could you, maybe, write a story about the place that you’ve been to write the book? It’s interesting because if people are reading it because they’re interested – I know you had one set on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia and could you write a little story about what you did there.
Alison Joy: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, it’s tricky and it’s hard to know. It’s trial and error.
Alison Joy: That’s the thing, yes.
Donita Bundy: Absolutely. I was actually just reading this morning a blog post. It came through Jane Friedman’s regular email that I get from her and she had a post on there from Ricardo Fayet about the importance of finding your marketing sweet spot. So that’s on the Jane Friedman website. And he talks about taking years, I know that sounds really discouraging, but still. There are so many things that they tell us to do to splatter out there, your information, everywhere and yet, realistically, there is only going to be a couple of things that suit you and your voice. And most importantly, things that you enjoy doing. And I think that is the key.
Find things that you enjoy doing because then it’s not a chore or a task because you’ll be doing it regularly. And experimenting with one thing for a while and seeing what the response is and then allow that to evolve into something else or try something else but it’s not a matter of doing everything at once. But I think the essence of what Ricardo Fayet was saying on his post was that we’re all different. Finding the things that suit us. And I would have to agree that honing those things that you use on your website to reflect your brand is really important because that’s more of that connecting and creating that community around like-mindedness. Because this is who I am. This is what I’m into. This is what I enjoy doing. I’m sharing that with you. Come on board for the journey if you like that stuff too.
So, trial and error and just picking one or two things at a time rather than trying to do everything. But definitely photography and travel writing. That first book, the scenery around the Great Ocean Road that you wrote in that first book was beautiful and, gosh, could have been used for Tourism Victoria. Like, “Oh gosh, I really must get down there.” So even if you know that whilst you’re researching, even if you did a blog on what you’re discovering and the places to go.
Alison Joy: Yes.
Donita Bundy: Tying in that travel and the research would be something that, I think, would be fascinating, really interesting. With your photography, if you were to do a talk about it, photograph it and then put that in some kind of, like Belinda said, a story or just this is my research, sharing my research. That might be something.
Belinda Pollard: Maybe that’s enough. Maybe you don’t need a subscriber magnet. Maybe a subscriber magnet is your website. You know what I mean, rather than having to have a free download which can be quite difficult to work out for fiction, can’t it?
Donita Bundy: Complicated. Complicated!
Alison Joy: I mean, there’s always stuff like deleted scenes or alternate endings.
Belinda Pollard: Crickets, really, when I tried the deleted scenes! But it might work for you. It’s worth a try.
Donita Bundy: I think that possibly, from my interacting with the Writerly world and being a reader, I find that is more successful once a book takes off and it’s huge and it has a readership, people are hungry for everything they can find about that. I mean, you only have to look at the Harry Potter series and all of the offshoots because people just can’t get enough. It’s when our books reach that level—
Belinda Pollard: We will get there!
Donita Bundy: When they’re very well-known and they’re consuming it that’s when you have, I think, the deleted scenes because what you’ve created, already, there’s this magnificent interest and people are hungry.
Belinda Pollard: Yes.
Donita Bundy: But before it reaches that point of popularity it might be –
Belinda Pollard: Probably not really going to work, yes. Good tip, Donita. Good tip. The other thing, Alison, is you had a book launch and I know that because I went to it, and you could have passed around a clipboard and said, “If you would like to receive emails …”
Donita Bundy: Good point.
Belinda Pollard: And I know that that’s tricky. I know, gentle reader, but this is difficult at the moment in the time of coronavirus and Alison launched her book before coronavirus. But she didn’t launch coronavirus! Just in case that was unclear! But it is more difficult now. But some of these manual ways of getting emails and even just things like asking our family if they’d like to be on it. We tend to despise that, or I do, anyway. You sort of think, “Oh no, that’s just family. That’s not real,” but they’re real people and they’re probably more invested in you than a lot of other people. And can help you get that initial feeling of, “Yes, I’m getting some movement here. Something’s happening. I have some subscribers.”
Tricky, isn’t it? It’s not easy. It’s not easy. You read a few blog posts and they make it sound easy and you think, “There is something wrong with me because it is not working for me.” I don’t think that’s the case. I think that it is quite difficult and we all need to be continually ‘trial and error’ working out what to do.
Donita, what’s your situation? What’s your current setup and how would you like it to be different?
Donita Bundy: As I said last time, I have just started anew and I’m in that process of, I think I’m finding my feet.
Belinda Pollard: That’s because your website crashed.
Donita Bundy: Crashed. My website crashed and I lost my whole email list. I recreated my website. It took me months because I wanted it to reflect who I am and my brand which is me. So I, like Alison, I’ve got the photography, I’ve got blogs, I teach writing so I wanted to have something about that. I wanted it to share who I am as a person, what I think is important and the heart of my website is about journey in the light, which is the Christian walk. And, of course, my novels are based on that, as well.
So, I set all this up and I started from scratch again. My website said, “I’m crashed but I’m rebuilding. It’s coming soon. Sign up.” And I had on the coming soon page, on the website, I had a one page, if you went to donitabundy.com it was a ‘Coming soon, click here for the email list, when we’re live’. So, I got a couple of people through that and then I do that like your tutor was saying, Alison, whenever I send my blog out, I post that with a link back to the website. So, everything comes back to the website. All my posts are connected back there.
So, then what I do is every month when I send out my newsletter, I have a bit about my personal story and what I’ve been doing because I’ve got fingers in so many pies as most of us who are self-published people. I don’t have one major fulltime job. I’ve got about five or six small jobs. So, I just give an update on what’s happening in that area and then I share my update on where the books are up to. So, number one is out and published and there a few sales coming through and then I’ll say where I’m up to for book two and I’ll have a teaser of what the cover looks like. Then I’ll have links to all the blogs from the month and I’ll have links to the podcasts for the month.
To start off with, I was going through this phase of cooking. I’m not really a cook. I cook because I have a family who likes to eat! And I tried to make nice, easy, healthy things so I was going through this phase and every month I was like, “Hey, I’ve just created this new recipe. It’s great.” And I put it on there and yadda yadda. And after I’m thinking, “Why am I putting this in my newsletter?” I’m trying to get people who are interested by reading recipes and I think, “That’s not me. That’s not me at all.”
So, I post sometimes on Instagram, and I have my gallery, so I thought what I’ll do is I’ll get four or five top photographs for the month which I think were, “Yes, this is the pick of the month.” And they’re on the bottom. And then I’d just say to people, “If you want to see more photographs go to the gallery, it’s been updated. If you missed any of the blogs or pods, if you’re interested, these are the links. This is where the book is up to.
This is what people are saying,” and then generally what I’ve been doing in the world of teaching, writing, blogging and the yadda yadda yadda.
And I’m finding that with my newsletter my goal is to be really genuine and honest. I’m not perfect. I have ill health. I struggle. I’ve got family therefore I have challenges. So, I try to be honest, and not doom and gloom, but this is my reality for the last month and welcome aboard. And so, at this point in time, I’m finding that particular recipe, says the non-cook, is actually working and all by itself.
I don’t know what else I’m doing differently but I know this, I’m with Mail Chimp, whenever I go to create a campaign, they call them. Whether it’s a blog or the newsletter, it’s called a campaign, I go in there and I’ll get, “Oh, I’ve got a new signup this month.” And so, people who signed up not really knowing what they were getting into may drop off. Like I’ve lost two or three people but generally every month I’ve got one or two new people coming on board.
Belinda Pollard: That’s great.
Donita Bundy: So, at the moment, for me, I think that recipe’s really working and I’m happy with it because it reflects who I am and I find that it’s sharing what’s been happening on my website and in my life. And like we spoke about last time, it’s about building communities, so I wanted transparency and honesty. The thing I don’t know how to fix is that I do it myself. When I’m busy I’m not very good at reading emails. I’ll go through and quite often if I’m busy and my heads not right, there’s a writer who I get their blogs and I really enjoy it, but I just don’t have time. I don’t have the headspace. So, I guess the thing is how do you get those emails out into interaction so people will come on board and actually interact.
I have one lady who it’s like I’ve sent her a personal email and she will email me back, “Thanks. It’s great to hear this, this and this. This is what’s happening with me this month.” And I’ll get a personal email back from her. I have another lady who handwrites me a response every blog.
Belinda Pollard: There is a tendency out there because a lot of the people who are writing about how to set up an email list, they’re kind of the big marketers and what have you and they’re showing you ways to get a 100 new subscribers a day and all of this sort of stuff. And most of it is by tricking people into signing up, fundamentally! And you’ve got a much smaller growth going on there but it’s genuine.
I have three websites and an email list attached to each. I have Gracewriters which is Christian writers changing popular culture; Small Blue Dog which is my writing, editing and publishing topics blog related to my business and belindapollard.com which is kind of my online hub. It directs the traffic to the various different places. My Gracewriters list is current and warm because we’ve been podcasting, because we’re doing the monthly Zoom meetings. So, it’s current and warm. I would like it to grow even just slowly but it’s warm.
The other two, the Small Blue Dog one is large and needs warming up because I have not been able to blog and post on it much. And my belindapollard.com one is small and needs warming up. So, my mailing lists have suffered quite a bit of neglect over the years and that’s just because of limited time. Just limited time. But I do have some plans and schemes in place for this year. Different ways to work on sending out a monthly email from the two lists that need warming up and also I want to rethink how I invite subscribers at the back of my books.
I’ve done some stuff where with my fiction I had a sample chapter of the next book. I’m going to take that out because I think what happens is people get to the end of a book and they want to just sit there with the characters, particularly because my characters run into trouble immediately! I write crime. They’ve just been through a world of trouble and I think, maybe the reader wants to just sit in the fact that they’re now safe and they’re together and not immediately launch into new trouble. So, I can tell them that there is new trouble out there and they can come here and find out about it.
But I really like what you’re doing, Donita, where you’re setting up a whole ecosystem of who Donita is and all the things that she’s involved in and the thing is ‘brand Donita’, basically. And I’m really inspired by that and I’m doing a lot of thinking about my own lists and how I’m going to manage them as a result.
We’re nearly out of time. How about I quickly pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that email lists are not too hard for you. We sometimes forget that. Sometimes think you’re quite old and maybe you don’t understand technology but that is lunacy because you understand everything. And we pray that you will give us encouragement. Help us not to be crushed by other people saying things that are really unrealistic for us to strive for, and help us to know how to create our community through our email list. We commit it to you 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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