One thing you need to internalize before you start funneling people into your mailing list is this: Your newsletter is a contract between you and a subscriber. On the signup page, ad, or call to action, you made promises to the potential subscriber and you need to keep those promises.
Promises you might have made to your subscribers:
- They’d get something for signing up, if you do that.
- You’d never share or sell their email address. Don’t. It’s illegal.
- How often you’d email them.
- What those emails will include.
There’s also an implicit promise, and that is that your newsletter will entertain or inform them—do not send unnecessary or boring emails!—but we’ll get to that in Week 4.
Whatever it was you told them they’d get for signing up, you have to stick to it. You’re obligated to make sure that you get that free story to them in a timely and convenient manner. (Not that I would ever turn off my automations for months to “update them” and forget that I promised a cookie, and get a bunch of angry emails. No way.)
Or, if you’re going to change a promise you’ve made, you have to give your subscribers a chance to refuse and opt out. You have to email them and tell them what the changes are going to be, and give them a chance to unsubscribe if that’s not what they want. And you’ll lose folks, every time. So, again, it’s a good idea to begin as you mean to go on. But if you’ve been neglecting them, or only emailing with releases, or anything that you can now see isn’t really best practice, better to lose some subscribers in the service of bonding more closely with the others.
I can hear you getting nervous, so I’ll touch upon unsubscribers. You don’t want ALL the people; you want the right people. Which leads us into encouraging unsubscribes, the most important part of your onboarding sequence.
You will actively encourage people who do not enjoy your emails to unsubscribe. Why? Not every person who enjoys a book you wrote belongs on your list. This can be hard for certain people to wrap their head around. We tend to have a mentality that the person with the biggest mailing list wins (hat tip to David Gaughran, who was very wrong when he said that, but saw the error of his ways), but in fact the one with the most engaged mailing list wins.
(For example, let’s say you want to do a newsletter swap. Someone says to you, “I only swap with people who have ten thousand or more subs.” I don’t have ten thousand subs, but I can tell you what, if someone swaps with me in contemporary steamy romance, I can guarantee them 400 clicks with my list. Many authors with bigger lists can’t promise that.)
In list-building, you will necessarily cast a pretty wide net. That means you’ll get subs that won’t stick. That’s great! There are plenty more subscribers where those came from, and you will gradually pull in more and more of them, letting the disinterested ones fall by the wayside. They’ll show themselves out, and the ones who make it through the gauntlet of your onboarding will be poised to become real fans.
I do try to catch people as they unsubscribe, suggesting that they follow me on Amazon or Bookbub. But I don’t concern myself with them overmuch. I’ve got a mailing list to focus on. Those people—the ones who love my emails, reply to my questions, and click to buy my books—that’s where I want to build my list.
Now, a few things on the sign-up forms themselves. The forms have to have an email address field, obviously. Most services allow you to ask for a wide array of standard information—first and/or last names, dates of birth, gender, age, birthday, phone number—and, if you use custom fields, virtually anything else you might want to ask. None of it is strictly necessary, and much of it is off-putting to a new subscriber.
Rule of thumb: Every item of personal information you ask for at signup will lose you a certain percentage of potential subscribers.Once they’ve turned over their email address, many subscribers will begin to eye with suspicion any further questions from you. Wait until they’ve been through your onboarding, and then give them the option to update their information to include their birthday if they want to participate.
One final thing you can do with signup forms is use them to tag or segment subscribers as they join—either behind the scenes or right out in the open. Some authors like to have visible checkboxes or some other way for subscribers to segment or tag themselves as they join. Some providers allow for forms that do this; some don’t. If yours doesn’t, I wouldn’t sweat it. I don’t really like to let new people self-segment anyway, because they always screw it up, LOL. We can talk about that in one-on-ones if you wanted to do it and want to know more about why you shouldn’t.
You may want to do some behind-the-scenes tagging of your own, however. When someone uses the form on my website to join my list, my EMS tags them as “organic.” That’s a segment I want to keep my eye on, always. They are almost without exception the first to open, the most likely to click, and the most responsive to questions.
As far as what tagging or segmenting options you should build into a signup form, that’s another one of those “it depends” situations. We can pin them down specifically in our calls. One word of advice I will give, as it’s pretty universal, is this: tag/segment way more than you think you’ll need to. Far better that you have some tags or segments you never use, than to wonder 6 months later “I wonder how many people have clicked on this book since it came out?” and have to go back and chase those numbers around!
Answer these questions:
- How many different points of entry will there be to your mailing list?
- What landing page(s) do you need to make that happen?
- What tags or groups, if your provider can do that?