A previous blog post spoke about the CAN-SPAM act that governs the use of electronic newsletters, but Erica Ridley’s July presentation covered so much more than the law, which she mentioned. Ms. Ridley is a historical romance author with more than 25,000 newsletter subscribers. One of the most frequently given advice to gathering sales for today’s author is to have a newsletter. Your subscribers are readers who already like your stories, so let them know when you have a new book out.
There are two schools of thought about how often a newsletter should be sent out. Some authors believe only when you have a book out, to avoid cluttering your fans’ inboxes; other authors believe a newsletter is another form of social media and therefore, only a portion of the newsletter distribution should be a “buy my book” message.
Ms. Ridley sends out a monthly newsletter, which covers something personal happening in her life (family visiting her in Costa Rica where she lives!), something interesting about Costa Rica (it’s unique to have a writer of English Regency historicals living there), and then something about her books (progress on the current manuscript, new book or box sets, etc.) With so many subscribers, her newsletter is apparently very successful.
How did she do it?
She is a big believer in reader magnets. In technical terms, a free item like a story or a book is called a reader magnet. Learning new vocabulary doesn’t stop just because you’re no longer in school. Everywhere she posts or advertises, she has a link front and center, asking if the reader wants free stories. That is the basic key to her success. What’s in it for the reader to be your subscriber? For authors, free books and stories are obvious reader magnets. They get something good to read in exchange for giving out their e-mail address.
I have five or six very short stories of between 800 and 2,000 words. These are flash fiction ideas that came to me, usually while I was on my morning walk. One does not refuse the gifts from the writing muse! I wrote these down and shared them with my critique group. They gave their suggestions for improvement but also asked what I planned to do with them? I couldn’t give an answer, they were too short to publish, and I didn’t have enough to bundle into a self-pubbed book. Still I kept the story files on my computer.
Unfortunately, these stories tend to be either set in the present day or outside my usual historical period. I asked Ms. Ridley, if these would be appropriate for a historical author to use. I worried about diluting my brand. She said it was more important to give something to the readers rather than just asking them to sign up for the newsletter.
I decided to use my short story Love Lies, which is set in the present day, as my free reader gift. At almost 2,000 words, it’s one of my longest short shorts. The story idea came from a writing prompt in an online class I took about short stories. The prompt gave the first sentence of the story: Her husband was lying to her.
Immediately, we have two characters, a husband and wife, with conflict—lying. What is he lying about? The answer came to me right away—and why he did so. After I wrote the beginning, I knew how his lack of truthfulness would affect their family and how they had to learn to forgive and love again. Hey, I’m a romance writer. I like the happy ending.
I formatted my story in Scrivener, which was also my first time doing that. Using what I learned from Ms. Ridley, I set up the newsletter subscription link on my web site. Since I am not a computer programmer, I wanted to use “plug-ins” for my web site to make the task easier. Plug-ins are inserted on your site, which contain the programming commands already written. You select which one to use based upon what task needs to be completed.
For instance, rather than cluttering up my web site or other electronic communication with long web site addresses that no one can remember, I signed up for a Smarturl account. This enables me to use the following easy-to-understand link where subscribers can register for my newsletter, also known as the Louise Bergin VIP List.
I also have a MailChimp account where the subscribers’ e-mails are gathered and my newsletter will eventually be created. I don’t have to keep a spreadsheet up-to-date. The account does all the work.
What work is that?
In addition to gathering the subscribers’ e-mails, MailChimp has plug-ins which my web site can use to create the sign-up and welcome e-mails. Many authors prefer to use a double opt-in approach for subscribers, so that people can really know what they are signing up for. No accidental registrations. Having a double system also helps prevent authors from running afoul of the CAN-SPAM Act. What are the steps of a double opt-in?
- The person clicks on the Join the VIP List link, thus making the first request to be a subscriber.
- Using MailChimp’s plug-in, I’ve designed a welcome to my list automatic e-mail response and a link, where my free giveaway story can be requested. This is the second opt-in request.
- If the subscriber wants the free story and clicks on the story link, another e-mail is generated with the download link and a welcome message. She has her free story, and I have a new subscriber.
All of these steps the subscriber goes through are automated through MailChimp. To create your own automatic system, log in to your MailChimp account and select the List tab at the top. If it’s your first time using MailChimp, name your newsletter and follow the create prompts. Then click on Signup Forms, followed by selecting General Forms. The gray rectangular box has a drop-down list of what kind of forms you can create. Have fun playing with the wording, the colors, and the font to display your brand of the welcome e-mail.
I hope you will give my newsletter with its double opt-in—and free story a try!