Everyone knows how crucial a successful mailing list is. Unfortunately, many writers are at a loss for what to say. They can write an entire book only to be stymied by email content! Others give it their best shot, but their subscribers won’t open the email. Even worse, they click the dreaded unsubscribe button and sever the relationship entirely.
Writing a good newsletter and keeping subscribers doesn’t need to be a daunting task. Try these do’s and don’ts to get started on the right foot and make your efforts count.
DO: Provide value to your reader in every newsletter.
If you don’t know what they’d find valuable, go to www.answerthepublic.com and search a relevant word that you know a lot about. It’ll show you the questions people are asking about that word. For example, I write about funeral topics. If I search for the word “funeral,” it might tell me that people want to know how much funerals cost, why we do funerals, the history of funerals, fun funeral options, etc. I choose a question and write a post that answers it. It’s useful and relevant to my audience. Value!
BONUS: the more value you give on a regular basis, the less sketchy it feels to ask for something later. Expert Tammi Labrecque recommends a ratio of three “gives” for one “ask.” You do not need to sell products in every email. Instead, sell yourself (not, like, literally. Cultivate a fandom)!
DON’T: Send an email for the sake of sending email.
If you have nothing valuable to say, you’re wasting your reader’s time. It’s annoying, and likely to provoke an “unsubscribe” if you do it too often. I only send mine once a month (if I had time, I’d consider sending two per month). I save up my content so my emails are meaty and worth sitting down to enjoy. Note: that infrequent schedule goes out the window around your publication date.
DO: Keep a running list of topics to mention in your next newsletter.
It might be a funny thing that happened last week, progress you made, a cool website or book. It might be so small that you’d forget by the end of the month, but those little tidbits add up and you can use them. When you sit down to write your newsletter, you’ll have some ready built “flavor” to supplement your main topic. It’s a nice, organic way to let your personality shine through without feeling forced.
DON’T: Forget that your audience is ever changing.
Remember the people who joined recently? They’re new to the party and aren’t up to speed. Don’t assume they know what you’re talking about, so provide a little reminder/reference. I’ve signed up for newsletters and unsubscribed because I was lost about who the author was and what they were talking about. Maybe include a roundup or summary of important things. Use a consistent tagline or image that reminds people who you are or what you write. Don’t rely on someone’s knowledge of previous newsletter content. If they’re confused, they’re uncomfortable… and they’re leaving.
My confidence in an author diminishes if I see constant typos in their communications. Make it easy to read too. Break up the text into chunks. Use headers and sub headers so I can skim past things if they’re not relevant to me. Be mindful of your color scheme. Most people are reading your email on their smartphone, so it needs to be easy to see. Add elements that make it look professional (like your header, footer, and logo). Add little personal touches so I can get to know the real you. I don’t want to read something that was written by a robot.
DON’T: Start creating newsletters without subscribing to other authors’ mailing lists first.
Make notes on what works, and perhaps more crucially, what doesn’t work. I’ve spent a lot of time researching newsletters and have seen examples, both good and bad. I’ve modeled my own after someone else’s that I admire. Happily, that author later subscribed to mine and recently sent me a message with enthusiastic praise. Nailed it!
If you’d like to get an idea of content and design, you can see my archive here without having to sign up for my mailing list. Clearly my content is tailored to my niche, but you can get ideas and apply them to your own genre. See my past newsletters here: www.LouisePachella.com/archive.
If you make mistakes, learn and grow. Do better in the next one. If you set up your welcome sequence or other automations a long time ago, periodically update them to reflect your new knowledge and design skills. Your recent emails may look fantastic, but a new subscriber’s first impression will be based on your shabbily done first attempt at a welcome email. Fix it.
Want more tips? I highly recommend the book Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque. Read it and get writing!
Louise Pachella is a funeral director, embalmer, and fledgling writer. She’s currently writing her first nonfiction books (Embalming For Amateurs: The Casual Reader’s Guide to Dead Bodies and Funeral Fun! Adult Activity & Coloring Book), but spends a great deal of time researching and procrasti-learning instead. Learn more at www.HisAndHearsePress.com.
2021 has been a huge year for changes at Amazon for authors. We’re all still feeling our way around Kindle Vella, and now they’re rolling out the new-to-us Amazon A+ Content program. It’s all part of some changes that should help authors – especially indie authors – boost their bottom line and have a lot more control over their presence and revenue streams on the site. Let's explore what's available with Amazon A+ Content for Authors.
So what is Amazon A+ Content?
If you’re an Amazon shopper, you’ve probably already seen it. You know how when you go in to buy yoga leggings or a new cell phone charger, the product pages have all these additional photos and layout elements that you don’t see for your own books on KDP?
That’s Amazon A+ Content!
It’s a program rolled out in 2016 and made free (and thus more ubiquitous) in 2019, and it allows sellers to control the layout of the product page more, allowing things like additional, interesting product photos with accompanying texts, graphics and comparison charts. However, the program wasn’t available to the average author.
Now all KDP books can take advantage of this feature at last!
Why would I want to use A+ for my book?
Setting up Amazon A+ Content for your books allows your Amazon sales page to turn into something that looks a lot like a landing page. While you cannot add links or encourage anyone to leave Amazon as part of the terms of the program, as you might do in a landing page, you can tell a compelling story for why readers need to buy YOUR book. Plus you can take advantage of the links already on Amazon – after all, clicking your author name takes readers to all your books, and if your book is part of a series, it will already have that set up, too!
While the stats for books are still emerging, Amazon has made the claim that A+ Content can increase sales by 5.6%, as reported by The Hot Sheet, but we have also seen claims elsewhere on the Internet that the boost can range anywhere from 3-10% in sales. Regardless, there’s no question that using this new format and content option just makes sense to build your book’s brand and your author profile!
What can I do with Amazon A+ Content for Authors?
Right now, here are sixteen kinds of “module” options, which is what they call each block of formatting you can now use. You can stack them, as long as you don’t let your description get too long, to create the best look and impact for your book.
Some of the format options that stood out to me were:
Including your company/publisher logo – great opportunity for imprints to shine, whether you’ve got your own or you’re working with a smaller publishing company.
A few formatting options to pair images with text – justified to the right, to the left, in an image carousel, in a row with images above and text below – all of these seem perfect for both fiction and nonfiction. Whether you’re introducing characters or places; adding a map of the world in which your book takes place; using aesthetic images to establish your mood; or adding a prettier, on-the-sales-page “About the Author” section, there are SO many options here.
Comparison charts – this is one you see in Amazon’s consumer goods pages all the time. You can only include your own “owned in KDP” books in this chart, but if you have multiple series and want to get readers interested in cross-pollinating them, this could be a useful tool!
Images with text overlaid on them – these offer a great opportunity to being some really mood-establishing images to your book’s page. What a great place to put a book quote over an evocative image, or to make an almost Instagram-style collage of images and words that speak to your brand/book’s mood!
There’s a few things you CAN’T do within the rules of the program – and Amazon does actually have to approve everything that goes into these modules before they go live – and the biggest thing is that you can’t redirect anyone out of Amazon. The full rules are worth a read-through before you get started.
And while it’s not against the rules, I’d say it’s a definite no-no to use images that are any less than crystal clear – getting that best resolution image will elevate your book’s sales page, but a fuzzy one might create an impression worse than not having A+ Content at all.
How do I get started with Amazon A+ Content?
Go to your KDP dashboard and select the book – yes, you have to do this for each of your books! Click the “Promote and Advertise” button, and scroll down to A+ Content.
Now you can go through the options for different modules and come up with a combination that represents your book’s “personality” and that gives readers a compelling reason to press the “buy” button.
So are you ready to try Amazon A+ Content for authors? I’d love to see what you create! I’ll be starting a thread in our WPS Mentorship Group inviting members to show off what they’ve been able to do, so if you’re not already part of it, now’s a great time to join. I’m hoping to see some really cool ideas! You can join us here!
Author Amber hated public speaking. She’d written a great nonfiction book that was ready to launch her coaching business to the next level, and she wanted to get out there to support the book launch. But the idea of standing in front of a crowd left her feeling panicked.
Speaking can be terrifying. Especially in front of live audiences.
But there is one way to speak to a big crowd – the biggest you can imagine, in fact – without breaking a sweat: podcasts.
Why should authors seek out podcasts?
You don’t have to stand up there with a few hundred (or thousand!) eyes on you. You can just sit in the comfort of your own home and record a podcast interview. Not one person needs to be staring at you while you try and keep the message on your book.
Many podcasts are audio only – so you truly can do this with ZERO EYES ON YOU.
Podcasts are edited before they are broadcast. You get the chance to take your time. Even to mess up a little. Of course, you’ll need to talk to the host about how much they edit, but you have the chance to clean up any major gaffes during podcasts in a way you can’t in a live interview.
Your podcast is recorded. Sure, that sounds obvious, but this means that you not only are speaking to the audience of TODAY, but you’re speaking to all the people who are going to discover that podcast down the road. It’s time invested in your book not just for today, but for the months – and years! – to come.
One podcast that is targeted to the right audience has the possibility to reach so many more people than any one talk or conference appearance would.
Podcasts are just simply great ways to reach a big, targeted audience without the stress of public speaking.
If learning how to get on podcasts sounds like the marketing opportunity for your book that you need, (and it's such a great tool because it costs you nothing to be on 90% of podcasts!) check out our ON DEMAND premium workshop with Kim Eley and Nakita Rowell-Stevens, hosts of the Sociable Scribes podcast. We’re going to dig into how to use podcasts to get results for your book.
As for what to say, we’ll dig into it at the workshop, but here’s some quick tips if you just can’t wait to get started!
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST FIRST! I am putting that in all-caps because it sounds obvious…but you’d be surprised how many people forget to do it! Listening to a few episodes, minimum, gives you a sense of the rhythm of the show and lets you understand the way the host interviews. And as you listen, make a note of what a successful guest on this particular podcast does. Are jokes a hit? Do they speak formally or casually? Knowing all of this ahead of time will make you more comfortable and more successful.
Come up with book-focused stories ahead of time. You’re there to promote your book. Decide on a few really tight anecdotes you can pull out that relate to your book, your writing process, or that otherwise directly target your ideal reader. You want to be interesting, sure, but you want to be interesting about your book. The goal is book marketing! It can be easy to get sidetracked once you’re talking, but don’t be afraid of prepping notes and even writing small reminders to yourself to stay on topic!
Have a call to action. In the same vein as keeping the focus on your book, be sure you have an ask for listeners. Since many podcasts have a long timeline before they’ll air, be sure you’re also thinking ahead about what your ask could be at air time! You can (and should) record before your book has been released, as well as keep pursuing other podcast opportunities after your launch. The best, easiest call to action is to buy your book. Let them know when it’s out and where they can buy it. Say the title clearly and slowly so listeners catch it, and don’t be afraid to repeat it!
Amber’s experience appearing on podcasts was a huge success – she spoke to new members of her target audience, and it helped her push her book, and her career, to the next level! And I want this for you and your book, too!
In our premium podcast workshop we'll cover how to:
Research the right podcasts & audience
Craft a pitch that stands out
Create a media sheet that makes you shine (using the template Kim & Nakita give you!)
How to be a standout guest so people share (and you get invited on more podcasts!)
Secrets to leveraging the podcasts to sell more books!
We’ll take questions at the end, and you’ll get a recording sent your way after the event, so you can rewatch it for more tips.
PLUS, you’ll get two great bonuses with this workshop…
My Pitching Podcasts course, a $47 value, to supplement and add to everything you learned at the workshop
A template to create your own media sheet that will help you stand out from the pitch pile from Kim and Nakia, a $25 value
How many newsletters did you delete from your inbox this morning? No judgement. We all do it. You subscribe to someone’s newsletter and then…eh.
It’s a vital part of marketing in almost any industry, and it’s a massive sales driver for most authors.
But did you know that there are writers out there who are making an actual living from writing newsletters, separate from any book revenue?
It got even more popular during the pandemic, when a lot of writers felt pressured to hustle and the publishing industry slowed. I’ve heard from a lot of you over the last year or so: what about Substack?
So let’s get into it! What about Substack for authors?
What’s Substack anyway?
Substack is simply an email list platform, but it’s built specifically as a monetized subscription model. It has all the traditional things a decent email platform has – analytics, list management tools. And yes, you can have a free newsletter on Substack. But the model is built to make taking payment easier.
Writers set the price, but most subscriptions run about $5 per month, or $50 per year if you pay at once. But there’s also quite a few niche topics (investment advice, etc.) that command higher subscription costs. It’s not a huge amount of money on its face, but the most successful people on the platform – most of whom aren’t exactly Kardashian-level famous, but more cultural figures, academics, authors and journalists – have thousands of subscribers, so it does add up, even after Substack takes about 10% of the revenue for their fees.
There are other services that do similar things like Ghost (an open-source, nonprofit version that’s very interesting to me), Patreon, Campaignzee (part of MailChimp’s products) and Buy Me a Coffee. But right now, Substack has a lot of momentum with authors.
I polled my team to see if they were Substack subscribers.
Nancy: I have been reading Roxanne Gay’s newsletter for a long time, and I get it on Substack. She’s amazing, and it’s one of my very favorite emails to open. I also subscribe to Book Post, which is a really smart book review account.
Sarah: I’m a longtime subscriber to author/The Toast co-founder Daniel Lavery’s content, and he recently moved from Patreon (another subscription service that isn’t specifically for writers) to Substack. I also get Agents and Books, which is about publishing and working with agents.
Why are writers using it?
The idea here is that monetizing a newsletter is an attractive option for folks who want to produce content that is wholly independent.
For journalists, it’s become a refuge from the corporatized newsrooms with low salaries and overwhelming workloads. A newsperson can do longform reporting in an environment that isn’t worried about appealing to broad audiences or offending advertisers…and they can also write with a strong point of view.
For authors, it’s a place to share work that’s personal, outside your usual genre, bonus scenes you’ve worked on, character sketches. It could even be a place to try out serialized writing. In a team chat about the serialized opportunities presented by Amazon Vella (read our blog post about that here), Nancy pointed out that author Katie Conrad has been using Substack to write a cozy story about a witch and her cat, Saffron and Bear.
Plus, you’ve probably noticed that social media has gotten a whole lot noisier lately. People are tuning out, and passive reach has been declining for years. You have to pay to get people to look at your content, and when you spend the money on an ad, you want to know that ad is going to a place that’s going to contribute to your bottom line. So why not send your ad to a paid product like Substack?
What does it take to do well on Substack?
The biggest challenge for anyone who’s interested in making Substack a true revenue stream is that it requires a huge amount of list building, just like any other email marketing you’d do.
Sure, the reward is more direct here – getting subscribers is going to immediately pay off, you don’t need to wait for them to buy your book! – but if you’re not known to your audience, they’re not going to pay $5 a month to get to know you.
Even if you already have a good email list with engaged readers, stats suggest that about 10% of them will convert to paying subscribers. And Substack doesn’t really help you find new subscribers through the platform unless you are already a top performer.
So my advice to anyone looking to try Substack out is:
Keep offering your free newsletter because it remains one of your best marketing tools; these folks already love you. Consistently messaging the fun you’re having on Substack with your subscribers, but also continuing to provide value to your free subscribers is a great way to convert more and more to your paid model. You can do both on the Substack platform.
Develop a strategy to promote your Substack on social media. This model doesn’t let you step away from social media, friends – in fact, it's one of the best ways to grow your audience. Think of social media as being a customer funnel bringing folks into your subscription.
Make this work your best. When you ask people to pay for your newsletter, it needs to be as good as a newsletter as your book is as a book.
Even though your work needs to be “worth it,” one of the main things people like about paid content like this is that it’s giving them access to something special. Being personal or casual is something many subscribers enjoy and look forward to seeing in their Substack subscriptions.
Make sure you’re publishing regularly. Weekly is ideal, but some writers do a few short pieces a week.
So should I start a Substack?
If you already have a big email list OR if you’re willing to spend the time, effort and money (especially ad spend) towards growing your email list, go for it!
If you’re looking to Substack to be a supplemental income at most, and you’d like to connect with your readers in a new way or with new material, go for it!
There’s really no downside…unless it takes you away from your other writing goal of publishing your books, of course!
But times have changed since the times of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife living in the Ritz on an author’s salary. Millions of books are added to the marketplace each year. But I think we can all agree that it’s good to dream about what can happen.
And, even with the publishing industry changes, let me assure you that there are plenty of authors making big dollars in royalties each month.
How do you make money as an author?
But selling books is HARD WORK. I don’t want to be a Negative Nelly – but I look at stats every day. And I can tell you this: social media can help you grow your audience, but if you’re relying on your social media to get it done for you in terms of book sales, it’s a road that takes time and lots of energy to build. Social media is one tool in the toolbox, but it can’t be your only tool.
That’s where ads come in. (Register now for our upcoming Ads for Authors workshop – it’s on Monday July 12th!)
I wrote my first book in 2013. I know I often say that earning money as an indie author is a marathon not a sprint, but most authors would be forgiven for not expecting a book published nearly 10 years ago to still be bringing in much money every month.
But a few years ago, after learning more about Amazon ads, I decided to make this long-languishing, but deeply personal book my guinea pig for testing my new knowledge. I tweaked and adjusted, and over time I built a pretty decent Amazon ad. It was so good that I’ve kept running it for 4 years. I’ve not promoted or marketed this book in any other way since this ad started running.
And because this book is getting in front of not just readers but the RIGHT readers in the place where they’re already ready to make a purchase (Amazon), it’s selling. Consistently.
Every month, I get a check from Amazon for about $250 for this book alone. WITH NO OTHER MARKETING. I’m not blogging, Instagramming, podcasting, or promoting this book in any other way except Amazon ads.
And even when I deduct my ad expenses, I’m clearing about $150 a month from one book that I don’t do a single other thing to promote. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s $1800 a year that I didn’t have to work for.
(And, more importantly, this book about coping with child and infant loss is reaching the grieving families who need it. Making a lot of money was never my goal, to be clear, but I do want it to show up in the search results when someone needs it.)
No, it won’t pay my mortgage or for braces. But it goes towards family vacations and dinners out and creating memorable times together. Having that income helps me create something special in my life that wouldn’t be possible without it.
Ads for Authors: A Live Workshop
If you are ready to do the same for your book – whether it’s a book you’re still writing, or a book you launched a while ago – join me and bestselling indie author Kirsten Oliphant for my brand new premium workshop on Ads for Authors on July 12 at 12:30 pm EDT. (Click here to register.)
We’ll spend 90 minutes talking about…
How to run ads on Facebook and Amazon
Whether ads on either platform are right for your book (or not)
The timing and strategy for running effective ads that get results
I’ll tell you up front that Kirsten is not from a marketing company – she’s an indie author who is literally supporting her family with 5 figures in Amazon royalties every month. And that’s just her Amazon revenue.
And she did it by building smart Amazon and Facebook ads.
Kirsten has grown her career by writing great books and pairing them with great ads. If you’re ready to do the same, I recommend you join us. (The workshop will be recorded to make sure it’s accessible to everyone who’s ready to take this step!)
As a special bonus, everyone who registers will get a recording of the fantastic webinar Kirsten did about writing to market. If you want to take your author earning to the next level, writing books that speak to what the audience is seeking is vital!
It can be a challenge to spread the news about your book, especially once the thrill of the launch is done. It takes a bit of recalibration for authors to figure out how to develop a long term strategy to ensure continued success.
Our friend Mardine Perrins published Expiration Date, her dystopian medical thriller,this winter. Now, she is taking charge of her book’s post-launch marketing strategy by kicking off her very first book blog tour on June 21! If you love to read, or if you just want to find out more about how it’s done, check it out here.
What’s a book blog tour?
A blog tour is a set period of time where authors strategically partner with book bloggers to post about their work. The bloggers write about their real experience with the book, they’re not just using author swipe copy. The author provides a review copy (an ebook is okay!), and any images that they think might help.
The actual content is easy since you’re relying on expert book lovers to create it! So finding book bloggers can be the biggest challenge. You can research reviewers who work in your genre and who love books similar to yours. Spend time building a relationship with these folks. Comment on their posts. Share their work on socials and follow them. Sign up for their newsletter. This takes time, so start this research early.
Alternatively, you can employ a company that will organize your blog tour and connect to the right folks, if it’s not something you have the bandwidth to do.
What will you need for your tour?
You’ll need a few things in place before you begin your book blog tour.
A ready-to-go, formatted, well edited ebook or advance review copy – this can be as simple as a PDF, or you can provide a .mobi or .epub file, if you have one, to make it easier for your reviewers. If you want to have reviewers provide their own flat lay photos for social media and their page, you can also provide a physical copy of your book, if it’s in your budget. It’s good to splurge on a few physical copies for when a blogger is a big name or has a community that’s perfect for reaching your target reader.
It’s also best practice to offer bloggers a giveaway of your book. It helps them grow their own audience, which helps you, too, and offers you the chance to organically grow the profile of your blog tour. Mardine’s blog tour is using Rafflecopter for her giveaway – check it out here.
A clear email with all the info a blogger will need to be part of your blog tour. Include all your links – socials, website, places to buy – as well as information about you. A short bio, author photo and a cover image.
Clear goals: what do you want to ask the blogger to do? Be very clear on your ask, expectations and timetable. You can encourage content like an interview, a review, a guest blog post you provide, or even a link to your lead magnet!
Once your book blog tour is launched, be sure to promote it as the bloggers make their posts. Share links on social media and let your own newsletter readers know about all this great new content about your work happening. You’ll also want to send thank yous via email to everyone who took the time to promote your book – and express the hope that you’ll be able to work together again!