After tackling deliverability, we have to think about the purpose of your list. This is where you start differentiating your list from everyone else’s and getting your subscribers to stick to you like glue.
By building relationships (this lesson) and delivering value (next lesson).
Remember, the primary purpose of your list isn’t to sell books. You are creating a fanbase. Selling books is a happy side effect of that, but creating that fanbase must be your primary objective—because one will lead to the other, but only in one direction.
This is the thing you need to get your head around:
Not everyone who buys one of your books will become a lifelong fan, but your lifelong fans will buy all of your books.
Trying to get a group of mildly interested people to buy your new release is no way to sell books, and it’s not what your mailing list should be about. Build superfans and they will buy the book you have out today, and the one you have in two months, and all the ones after that! An engaged list of lifelong, rabid fans will respond to your release notices en masse, and that’s a hell of a lot easier—and more fun—then having to go out and find readers with every new book, hoping to get it to sell well.
The easiest answer to building relationships with your fanbase is to get to know your subscribers, and let them get to know you.
Getting to know your subscribers is a complete no-brainer. You do it by asking good questions that effectively solicit replies, and answering the emails you receive as a result. Good questions for some can be completely different for others, and what qualifies as a “good question” will vary by genre, subgenre, subscribers, onboarding sequence, etc etc. I could not list them all.
My advice is to split-test.
Send two versions of the same question, each to half the list, and see which gets the most responses. Use that information to formulate two questions you can split-test in your next campaign. If you continue on in this vein you’ll have a keen understanding of what sorts of things get your subscribers talking to you and each other.
That being said, let me list my general guidelines for ‘good questions’ to cover some ground rules. (If you’ve read Ninja, these will not surprise you. If you haven’t read Ninja, this part of the book is really worth reading, if only for the excellent Golden Girls joke.)
- are actually questions. No statements disguised as questions.
- are open-ended. “Who is the most handsome actor working right now?”
- don’t have a “right” answer. “What superhero movie do you love most?”
- are free of bias. “Are you able to find books you enjoy when shopping the Kindle Store?”
- are positive in tone. “What was the best book you read last year?” as opposed to “What book do you absolutely hate?”
- encourage longer and more specific answers. “What’s your favorite reality TV show, and what do you love about it?”
- are relevant to what you write about.
- address topics that people can get excited about.
Your reputation will improve even more if people reply to your emails—because when they do, they are having a conversationwith you, and there’s nothing email providers like more than conversations. Replies tell the email provider that this is a wanted email, that you are a trusted sender, that you are someone the receiver wants to hear from and communicate with.
Getting replies to your campaigns is one of the best techniques there is for staying out of the Spam folder or Promotions tab. Believe it, internalize it, use it mercilessly.
So by asking a good question that elicited a reply, you’ve:
- softened up the person you’re talking to
- established a connection with them
- asked them to tell you something about themselves, and
- increased your reputation with their email provider
You are looking for what I call “the trifecta”: Open, click, reply. Every time, from every subscriber. (Don’t worry; you won’t get it, haha.)
The beauty of this approach—asking open-ended, positive, relevant, interesting questions that engage readers and encourage dialogue—is the two-way street for dialogue which opens. Through this, you’ve earned:
- No more passive subscribers: They’ve replied to you. Their name is in your inbox. You know something about them from the answer to your question.
- A personal connection: They learned a little about you; this makes them more disposed to pick up your next book, more likely to recommend you to a friend.
This budding personal connection should come from sharing what personal information you’re comfortable sharing. You get to decide which things are for public consumption and which are not. Being yourself does not mean that you have to tell people sacred things. You are, one hopes, a well-rounded human being, with many and varied interests and habits, and any one of your many interesting facets is fodder for newsletter chatter.
There are plenty of things that are appropriate for social interaction without giving out your SSN and mother’s maiden name. No matter which one you are, there are many things that you can share, ask, or hold forth about that will respect whatever boundaries you’ve set around your personal life, no matter how strict or forgiving those boundaries are. “I love romantic comedies and tacos” is a personal detail. “I started writing fantasy because I wanted to write like Tolkien” is a personal detail.
You can reveal things to your readers that will get them to identify with you, without feeling like you’ve violated yourself.
Oh, and one more thing: Don’t use these techniques disingenuously because it will backfire on you. Most readers can tell a phony from a mile away!
Answer these questions:
- What things might you ask your subscribers that would engage them with you?
- What personal details are you comfortable revealing?
- What details would you never reveal?
- Have you been guilty of holding yourself back from your subscribers?