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. 

But how?

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.

How? 

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.)

Good questions:  

  • 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: 

  1. 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. 
  2. 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?
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Jennifer Baylor
Jennifer Baylor
3 years ago

What things might you ask your subscribers that would engage them with you?

* What fantasy book hooked you on the genre? How old were you when you discovered it?
* What mythology are you the most familiar with? Which is your favorite?
* What is your favorite supernatural or mythological beast/god/goddess/being?
* Han Solo or Luke Skywalker?
* What’s your favorite fictional dragon: Smaug, Saphira, Drogon, Falkor, or Other?

What personal details are you comfortable revealing?

* Most things, really. My childhood. Experiences. Travel. Jobs. Education. Hobbies.

What details would you never reveal?

* I’m on the fence about sharing my political opinions, but I suspect readers will be able to guess based on what I write and what will be in my newsletters.
* No identifying details about my husband or children (family in general). In particular my husband due to his job.
*

Have you been guilty of holding yourself back from your subscribers?

No subscribers, yet

David
David
3 years ago

What things might you ask your subscribers that would engage them with you?

Questions such as in the first post. i think involving subscribers in the creation of the mext book is what I will aim for. As I write historical novels I can ask for views on interpretations of disputed histiorical evidence. or whether to use Anglo saxon place names (e.g. Wintanceastre) or the modern equivalent (Winchester).
What personal details are you comfortable revealing?

How/ where I write. Anything to do with the task of developing a book

What details would you never reveal?
Family stuff.

Have you been guilty of holding yourself back from your subscribers?
Absolutely

Teresa
Teresa
3 years ago

What things might you ask your subscribers that would engage them with you?
Like others have said this has been an eye opening set of lessons. I can ask them 1) if they (also) have to navigate working from home with family in the house during work hours. 2) What their plan b is if the power goes out at home, 3) Do they work in vacation? Why or why not. 3) Have they read any cool articles about remote work they think I should read? I’m getting the feeling here that I need to make a big list to pull from.

What personal details are you comfortable revealing?
My general family situation though I do ask my kids before posting about them. I don’t use my kids’ names. I talk about my run schedule, any injuries I’ve suffered (my kid has accidentally concussed me twice)—basically any details I’d share with friends I’m not that close to.

What details would you never reveal?
No marital strife, politics, religion, anything to do with my reproductive health. I also won’t badmouth the company I work for because I consider it déclassé.

Have you been guilty of holding yourself back from your subscribers?
Yep. Totally, 100% guilty of this one. But I can see now that there are things I’m comfortable sharing generally that I can share in a newsletter. My issue is that I worry that I’m not that interesting, but I guess I’ll let my subscribers decide that instead of automatically withholding all the details.

vitoz1511
vitoz1511
3 years ago

• 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?

. What things might you ask your subscribers that would engage them with you?
Hobbies besides reading.
Do they do much gardening? Flower pots for spring or fall, not grass cutting.
About their pets. What type of animals male or female? Their name and breed.
Would they object the answers being put on my website so everyone can view?

• What personal details are you comfortable revealing?
My first book was based on actual events of my life in the casino world. The struggle with my wife, kids, and personal demons while living the lifestyle of the rich and not so famous. So there is not much I have not said in a book that they can’t ask me.

• What details would you never reveal?
I don’t talk about religion, politics, or personal views on anything.

• Have you been guilty of holding yourself back from your subscribers?
This is a hard question. I’ve never been asked a question by a reader. It’s always about my books and characters. I don’t hold back.

Marisa D'Vari
Marisa D'Vari
3 years ago

Class: Thought of two more questions

I have a “packing guide” cookie for my travel website. I am thinking of adding pictures, but how much is too many?
Where are you all putting the sign up on your FB page

Jennifer Baylor
Jennifer Baylor
3 years ago
Reply to  Marisa D'Vari

I responded similarly elsewhere in the forum. I’ve noticed that the authors I follow fail to link to their newsletter anywhere on their FB page.

You can add a “Sign-up” button under your header. You can also add a tab on the left-hand side for your newsletter. I plan to do both. There may be other options.

I saw one marketing-guru-type put an arrow in their FB header graphic that pointed to the newsletter sign-up button below, calling attention to the button.

Jojo
Jojo
3 years ago

What things might you ask your subscribers that would engage them with you?

Some questions would be:
Who are your favourite authors?
What are your favourite three books from the past two years.?
What kinds of movies do you like watch?
What are your favourite TV shows?
What time of day or day of the week do you do most of your reading?
What are the qualities you admire most in a hero?
What are the qualities you admire most in a heroine? Which kind of hero do you prefer: Alpha or Beta? Why?
Do you read books that feature mostly younger heroines or would you be interested in books that feature older heroines?
Which kind of book do you prefer and why: Dark and Brooding or Light and Funny?

What personal details are you comfortable revealing?
I think my clients are fine with revealing aspects of their personal lives – i.e. travel, cooking, recipes, interesting events like museum installations or art gallery visits that could tie into their books or “world”. Shopping trips that could tie into a giveaway. Hobbies, home improvement projects, family holidays, vacations.

What details would you never reveal?
Personal issues/problems.

Have you been guilty of holding yourself back from your subscribers?
I think some of my clients tend to only want to focus on the books – and not on sharing their lives – I’ve told them they don’t have to talk about a personal relationship or health issue unless they want to – but talking about their love of gardening is fine 🙂

TaraSaunders
TaraSaunders
3 years ago

What things might you ask your subscribers that would engage them with you?
I ask a lot of questions now, but they’re mostly requesting input for where they want the next book to go. I can see the value of asking more general get-to-know-you questions, but that won’t come naturally to me at all. I’m really going to have to think about how to find some middle ground.

What personal details are you comfortable revealing?
I talk about my kids’ ages, the general area where I live, the fact that some of my kids have medical challenges, but not specifics about that, their names or any identifying details. I’ve discussed more sensitive issues (that my son is autistic, that another son died etc) in email exchanges, but nothing I wouldn’t talk about with a stranger on the train if the conversation swung that way.

What details would you never reveal?
Anything I wouldn’t tell a stranger on a train. I’m very open with the on-the-surface details and that allows me to chat openly without revealing anything too personal.

Have you been guilty of holding yourself back from your subscribers?
Yes, I suspect that I’ve been skating over the surface a bit, especially in recent months. It’s been a tough year for my family which means the on-the-surface details may have become a bit too generic.

Plenty to think about here, thanks Tammi!

David Penny
David Penny
3 years ago

Oh – and I have a question, having just noted down (stolen) another one myself (thanks Leigh Duncan for the maps)

Is it a good idea to create a post on my website with a link in the next Newsletter so everyone can see the best comments or replies to the question posed? Obviously this would be made clear before I get replies.

The other question is are these questions answered by replying to me, or should there be some central comment section for these to be posted?

Tom Sweeney
Tom Sweeney
3 years ago
Reply to  David Penny

Great questions, David. Looking forward to the answers myself.

Marina Finlayson
Marina Finlayson
3 years ago
Reply to  David Penny

I think a post on your website is a good idea, and it’s something a reader suggested to me. In my last newsletter I asked for recommendations for books about the fae, and several readers replied. One asked if I could collate the replies and let them know next time.

Usually the questions are answered by the reader replying directly to your email, so you need to either collate the answers in a post on your blog or include a summary in your next email for your readers to be able to see what each other said.

Jennifer Baylor
Jennifer Baylor
3 years ago

Oh, that’s a great idea. Especially as I am also struggling with what to post on my website blog. I’m wondering if seeing posts where you share the engagement on your newsletter might even get new subscribers?

David Penny
David Penny
3 years ago

What things might you ask your subscribers that would engage them with you?

I’ve started a list of questions ready for the next half-dozen Newsletters. These are things like who would play my main character in a movie, who are your favourite authors, and where should my characters visit next in Spain. I’m adding to the list every time something occurs to me.

What personal details are you comfortable revealing?

Depends. I’m happy to share just about anything not “directly” personal. Oh – and politics!

What details would you never reveal?

As above – how I voted. I also keep details of my kids private because they deserve their own privacy. And I never reveal things told me in confidence, regardless of how interesting or relevant they might be (I actually do get told a bunch of stuff like that).

Have you been guilty of holding yourself back from your subscribers?

Only in that I haven’t really told them anything yet 🙂

Marina Finlayson
Marina Finlayson
3 years ago

What things might you ask your subscribers that would engage them with you? Book-related things: werewolf or dragon? Romance or adventure? Best book you’ve read this year? Favourite childhood book? Favourite movie/TV adaptation of a book? What else do you read besides fantasy? And adding a “why?” to everything, as per Tameri’s example, to get more conversation out of them.

What personal details are you comfortable revealing? Only very general things about my family. My pet. Personal likes and dislikes re books. Stuff about the writing process.

What details would you never reveal? Most stuff about my personal life. No photos or identifying information about my kids, not even their names.

Have you been guilty of holding yourself back from your subscribers? All the time. I find writing newsletters an ordeal, and especially so when I’m not in a good headspace. Hence why I haven’t written in months. I just can’t find the energy for putting myself out there being all chipper when things aren’t going well.

crisgoode
crisgoode
3 years ago

What things might you ask your subscribers that would engage them with you?
I could ask about favorite recipes, childhood recipes, biggest challenge in the kitchen, etc.
What personal details are you comfortable revealing?
We are pretty open. We use our YouTube channel to connect more personally.
What details would you never reveal?
I’ll never tell 😉
Have you been guilty of holding yourself back from your subscribers?
Not really. Our sites started out of a personal blog and we have a YouTube channel that now serves that purpose.

Tom Sweeney
Tom Sweeney
3 years ago

What things might you ask your subscribers that would engage them with you?
Well, in my case, it will be travel related, actual traveling or armchair traveling. Or planning travel. Or the trappings of travel. One thing I will aim for are questions that will relate to my next book, both to stimulate interest in the subject and to get a feel for what people are looking for.

What personal details are you comfortable revealing?
Quite a bit. My books have been travel memoirs and I don’t always shine in the best light. The books started out as journals for myself, for later introspection, and so honesty was a necessity. When publishing, the hardest part was leaving in bits about me, thoughts and philosophies in which I no longer believed, but a memoir is about what happened at that time, what was said at the time, a bit raw because it isn’t smoothed out by reflection. I went through this writing fiction. I was embarrassed by what I wrote, sure that everyone would see me in a new light. No one said a word.

What details would you never reveal?
Sure. Hard to write down what passes and what doesn’t though. Guess, it’s like pornography: I know it when I come across it.

Have you been guilty of holding yourself back from your subscribers?
No subscribers yet, but in my books I haven’t intentionally held back details relevant to a discourse except once that comes to mind. Stuck on a train platform on the Austria-Italy border in pretty much nowhere, waiting for the Italian train to show up, i was having medical issues. I went into enough detail to get my emotional state across without going into too much detail. In this rather pleasant book, talking about peeing blood would have been a downer. In another book, or if I were in full panic mode, I would have included that detail to get the idea of my panicked mindset across.

annacastle
annacastle
3 years ago

What things might you ask your subscribers that would engage them with you?
Things I actually want to know are like, Do you listen to audiobooks? If so, from Audible? iTunes? Library?
I would love to know everything about their listening practices.

I could ask them about their travels and if there’s any connection between travels and reading.
I could ask them about maps. How would they rate book-related maps on a scale of Yay to meh. Discuss.
And there are always questions about historical tastes. Thick setting or thin? Must be thick or they wouldn’t like my books, though. How much reality is required? Is truth stranger than fiction? Discuss.

Stories about important libraries would be fun, perhaps.

What personal details are you comfortable revealing?
Virtually none. Or no, I could share pictures of my labrador and my garden. But we’re not talking about the old knees. I deeply do not want to hear medical stories from a bunch of strangers.

What details would you never reveal?
Anything that relates to my actual personal life. Or politics, post mid-seventeenth century.

Have you been guilty of holding yourself back from your subscribers?
Since I haven’t interacted with them much at all, I guess I have to say yes. But I don’t feel guilty about it. My life is none of their business.

Anna

LeighDuncan
LeighDuncan
3 years ago

What things might you ask your subscribers that would engage them with you?

This lesson has been a real eye-opener for me, as were Tameri’s responses! Thanks bunches! In the past, I’ve asked about vacation plans or asked people to reply to a specific question for a giveaway, but I think I need to take things deeper. For instance, in one of my newsletters this fall, I might talk about maps and how my MIL, who was a voracious reader, always bought a map of the city a book was set in and would trace the characters’ movements on her map. She said it gave her a better understanding and feel for the book. I’d go on to say that my spring release contains a map of the fictional town, Heart’s Landing. Then, based on those two things, I might pose the question of whether they appreciate it when an author includes a map in their book and how they use them.

Hallmark Publishing will celebrate their 2nd anniversary in October, so I might include a list of all the HP books to date and ask which one is their favorite.

In December, I could tell the story of my grandmother’s White Fruit Cake, give the recipe and ask whether they like fruit cake.

What personal details are you comfortable revealing?

I don’t mind sharing general things—married to the love of my life for 47 years (really???), two grown children, 5 grandchildren. Christian. One of my children doesn’t mind if I share her children’s milestones and celebrations and post pictures of the grands. My other child avoids posting pictures of his children on social media, so I don’t.
I don’t mind talking about my childhood and people/events that have influenced who I am today. I frequently mention writer friends. I don’t mind telling people I live on the East Coast of Florida and, if they’re smart, they can figure out the city by looking at the address on the bottom of each newsletter (at least, MailChimp includes an address; I don’t know about MailerLite yet).

What details would you never reveal?

I do my level best to stay away from topics that are guaranteed to alienate at least half my readership. My newsletter is not a soapbox where I share my political beliefs. My marriage (other than in glowing terms), troubles my children or their children face, finances, etc.— I tend to avoid those topics in conversations with people who aren’t my closest friends and, thus, I avoid them in my newsletters as well.

Have you been guilty of holding yourself back from your subscribers?

I try to deliver the same hopeful, light-hearted narrative in my newsletters as I put into my books. So, in that sense, yeah, I hold back. I don’t want them saying, “She writes such happy books. I never figured her for an Eeyore!” LOL

Tameri Etherton
Tameri Etherton
3 years ago
Reply to  LeighDuncan

I kind of love that about your mother in law! I wonder if my mom did that, too. I bet she did. She loved maps and learning about different regions.

Tameri Etherton
Tameri Etherton
3 years ago

What things might you ask your subscribers that would engage them with you?
I ask a ton of questions! I posted a few in the previous lesson. I try to stay away from super personal questions because I’ve learned, that invites them to tell you ALL about their crazy family and my heart breaks for them. Here are examples of what I’ll ask:
What are your favorite socks and why?
Which do you prefer, eastern or western dragons and why?
What’s your superpower?
Would you like to be like Spiderman, unknown, or like Tony Stark and shout it to the world you are Iron Man?
Did you love or hate Endgame and why?
Fantasy maps – love them or meh?
What’s the one book that started your love of fantasy?
If you could meet any person in history, who would it be and why?
Which would you choose: Magic, being able to fly, shapeshifting?
What’s a food you absolutely love that people think you’re super weird for loving?

As you can see, my questions are random, but not. They all have to do with something relating to my brand. I might have a character that always wears crazy socks, or eats something no one understands how they can eat it. 🙂
I try to make my questions fun, but at the same time, I like data. Getting information about their likes, dislikes, etc helps me make my perfect newsletter subscriber.
What personal details are you comfortable revealing?
I’m pretty comfortable sharing a lot of personal details, but don’t divulge anything I don’t want the world to know. Like, if my husband and I aren’t have a great day (fighting is such an ugly word), I don’t share that. Ever. I might say something like, “Men! They try your nerves, am I right?” because I don’t want people to think we’re perfect or fake (we’re neither), but at the same time, I am all about being positive. Part of my brand is to always have hope.
I also don’t talk about my kids unless I have their permission. They’re both adults and what I do online affects them. My son was targeted by bullies when he was 11 – they went to MY website and pulled pictures from my blog (that he approved to be posted) and used them as weapons. We both learned a huge lesson that day. I have since removed all pics of my sweet boy from social media. It’s just not worth it. He’s 21 now and sounds like a radio announcer, but I’m still protective of him!
I also don’t post personal, ah, female issues. No one needs to know what my vajay is doing. I will, however, post funny memes about farts because farts are funny. I’m such a dichotomy!

What details would you never reveal?
Family drama. If people really want to know what’s going on with my family, they can figure it out from my books. 😛 I stay clear of politics, too. I’ll talk about love is love is love because that’s part of my ethos and brand, but whomever is in the White House, whether I love or loathe them, that’s reserved for people I trust. I actually had a good, and I’m talking GOOD friend misquote me–from a private conversation–in her blog. I was horrified and angry. We’re no longer friends, not just from that, but other things she did. I’ve known her 15 years. So, trust is huge for me. If I confide something to friends, I expect it to stay confidential. And certainly not taken out of context, jumbled around and spat out in a blog post! Yeesh!
I want to say medical stuff, but you know what? I sent a newsletter last month chatting about a surgery I had on my hand and how that totally effed up my publishing schedule and I got the MOST responses I’ve ever had! I didn’t even ask a question. People were genuinely concerned for me and that made my heart smile.
So, I’ll caveat this one – personal (ie lady issues) medical stuff. Again, no one needs to know what’s going on with my nethers. 🙂

Have you been guilty of holding yourself back from your subscribers?
Yup. If I’m having an off day or off week (crazy families can be draining), I might not be feeling the love for subscribers. Which is dumb, because they’re the ones who show the love to me so that’s silly. I’m going to remember that.

Marina Finlayson
Marina Finlayson
3 years ago

Those are some great questions, Tameri!

Jojo
Jojo
3 years ago

love your answers!

Tameri Etherton
Tameri Etherton
3 years ago
Reply to  Jojo

Thank you! I’m a random kind of gal, but also like data – so I mix it up (like the socks question).

Jennifer Baylor
Jennifer Baylor
3 years ago

Love your questions. Hope you don’t mind I’ll be borrowing a few as we write similar stuff!

Thanks for sharing your experience about the cyber-bullying. It certainly cements my stand on not putting my kids on social media (even makes me rethink my locked-down personal profile which is already sparse when it comes to sharing about my kids. maybe I need to post nothing even there)