There's a lot of talk about marketing yourself as an author online; reaching your audience, pushing your books, etc. If you're a self-published author this might be one of your primary pursuits every day and even if you're with a traditional publisher, you're probably still worried about what you can do to push your books. Publishers are spread thin these days and rarely do anyone but the bestsellers (or expected bestsellers) get a big marketing budget.
So what does an author like me, who loves the business side of things and wants to do everything in my own small amount of power to further my career, do to get my books in front of more people? Well, there's a ton of little stuff, with varying success rates (all depending on who you ask), but today I'm going to talk about newsletters.
First I'm going to make a caveat: there are authors out there who are wizards with newsletters. They've got dozens of lists and track every report and go absolutely crazy. I'm not one of those guys. I've got a free MailChimp account with 1281 subscribers and I take a middling interest in the reports. It's not huge, but it's mine. I'll also say that these are all my own experiences and theories and mileage may vary.
Second, I'm going to walk things back a bit. In my experience, a newsletter isn't going to get your name out there to new readers. Aww, but that's what you said you were talking about today! Yeah, well newsletters accomplish the second most important part of selling books: they get your stuff back in front of readers.
I use a newsletter to keep my readers informed about what's going on with my writing. I announce new projects, send them coupons for my store, send them info on pre-orders, and buy links when a project hits the shelves. Remember, these are people who already want know about me and want to learn more so the chances of them clicking the buy links are WAY higher than when I post these things on social media. It's also sitting in their in-box rather than just scrolling by on Twitter.
Reader retention is a huge part of the industry and doesn't get talked about very much. I sold the Powder Mage Trilogy to Orbit. Not just one book, but a trilogy. That means I need people to pick up Promise of Blood, but I also need them to pick up Crimson Campaign and then Autumn Republic, too. A lot of that comes down to taste: if they didn't like the first book they won't buy the second. But a huge amount comes down to knowledge. If they don't know the second or third books are out, they can't buy them! The same theory applies to the novellas I write in the Powder Mage Universe. Getting a sequel (or novella) in front of an existing reader is more important than getting it in front of a new reader.
So, back to the newsletter. You might not have a huge audience. It might be 20,000 people, might be 1281, might only be 100. But that's 100 people who want to know that your latest book has come out. To get a better idea of how significant this is, let's take a look at the numbers. Warning: this might get boring.
My latest powder mage novella, Ghosts of the Tristan Basin, came out on Tuesday. I'd already tweeted and sent out a newsletter about pre-orders, so my engagement on Tuesday wasn't it's highest but we're still going to compare it via tweet versus newsletter (on the day of release).
I tweeted an Amazon buy link. It had 2562 impressions (people that saw it). 12 people clicked on the link. That day my Amazon Associates account had an 8% click-to-buy ratio. That means (maybe) one person bought the novella from that tweet. That's .03% of the people who saw it.
I sent out an Amazon buy link via newsletter. 670 people opened the email. 48 people clicked buy links. At 8% that's four sales. That's .6% of the people who saw it. Significantly higher number and I sold five Tristan Basin hardcovers from 29 clicks on a different link in that same email. You can see the information that MailChimp provided me with right here:
Awesome. Great. You can see how a newsletter is much more effective than shouting into the void that is social media. Except wow, look at those numbers. They are not great. I have no idea how they compare to the rest of the industry as a whole, but as a lay person that's super discouraging. So why bother with a newsletter (or Twitter) at all?
Because the above data isn't actually complete. It only contains the minimum number of people who bought my novella directly at that time and place. An indeterminate number probably saw the tweet, or newsletter, then went back later on to buy the item in question, or had already bought it because of previous marketing I'd done. It's commonly understood that most people need to have seen an item in multiple places before they'll actually buy it. Marketing is all about walking this line of saturation (enough to buy, not enough they hate your guts and wish a pox upon your family).
And even if you ignore the intangible sales and benefits, I can do easy math. At this point, because I'm using a free MailChimp account and not advertising via Twitter, the cost of all the marketing I described above was just my time. Let's say twenty minutes all told, and I sold five novella ebooks for a $10 profit, $8 of which came from sending out my newsletter. I'm not going to scoff at a Chipotle bowl and that's not even including the profit of getting people over to my website store.
Newsletters are a hugely useful tool for authors, even those like me that just take advantage of the basics. They can be intimidating, but once you learn how to use them require maybe half an hour every month. And remember as a reader, you can always sign up for the newsletter of your favorite authors to hear about the stuff they have coming out. You know. Like mine.