Back in May, I wrote a post about how I grew this blog’s email list from 100 to 1,000 subscribers in less than a year. The email list is now nearing 2,000 subscribers (!!). To celebrate, I’m expanding on that blog post and writing an in-depth step by step guide. It’s going to share all of my tips and strategies that will help you grow your online audience too. (Update: Get the book here!)
Since I’m terrible at keeping things under wraps, I couldn’t wait to share a sneak peek of the book with you. Today’s post is from an early draft of the book’s “getting started” section where I explain why an email list is important, and I narrow down the top three email marketing services for writers who are just starting out.
If you’re overwhelmed by all of the different email marketing options out there and aren’t sure which one to choose to get started, this is the post for you.
Why Every Writer Needs an Email List
Okay, you might be thinking, “I keep hearing all these bloggers talking about building an email list. But why are they so important?”
Here are four reasons why every writer needs an email list:
1. An email list is 100% owned by you. Your following on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram could disappear overnight if your account gets suspended or the social media site shuts down. This happened to my brother who had 18,000 followers on Vine. When Vine shut down, he lost most of that audience. I’ve also had friends who have had their Instagram accounts suspended. An email list is much more dependable than a social media following.
2. Email is one of the best ways to keep in touch with your readers and let them know when you publish a new post. Hundreds of updates clutter social media feeds, and your readers might miss yours. Facebook and Instagram often change their algorithms and might force you to pay to get your message in front of people. Email, however, lands directly in a reader’s inbox. This makes it feel like a private conversation and is thus a great way to build relationships with your readers.
3. If you ever want to promote a book or sell another product or service (like copywriting or editing services), emails have far higher conversion rates than promotional posts on social media or announcements published on your website.
4. Many book publishers will want to know how big your email list is before they give you a book deal. Often, they’ll give you a bigger advance the bigger your email list is. If you’re self-publishing, an email list is essential for marketing your book and organizing a book launch team.
Successful bloggers and online entrepreneurs often point to 1,000 email subscribers as the base number to start making substantial revenue when selling a book or other product to your email list.
Read New York Times bestselling author Kevin Kelly’s essay on why every creative needs 1,000 true fans.
How to Get Started: An Overview of the Top 3 Email Marketing Services for Writers
In order to start building an email list, you need an email marketing service. Here’s the reason why:
You can’t send bulk emails to hundreds or thousands of subscribers from a simple email client like Gmail.
An email marketing service, on the other hand, will let you send bulk emails, design beautiful newsletters, and create forms for your website that your readers can use to sign-up to your email list. (Check out my blog post here to learn how to build a powerful website for your writing.)
Each of these services is easy to use even if you aren’t tech savvy. Check out the pros and cons of each one and pick the one that is the best fit for you.
MailChimp is one of the most popular email marketing services. They’ve been around for years, and many successful writers and online entrepreneurs use their service. To name just a few: Gary Vaynerchuk, Austin Kleon, James Altucher, and Steven Pressfield.
MailChimp is free for up to 2,000 subscribers. The free account includes automations. That means you can create a series of emails and have MailChimp automatically send it to new subscribers. For example, I have a welcome email that automatically sends whenever someone subscribes.
You can also use automations to make a mini email course. Say you’re an editor. You could create a series of five emails that MailChimp automatically sends out over the course of five days and that share your top five editing tips with your subscribers. Pretty cool, right?
Because MailChimp has been around for such a long time, they also integrate with nearly every email marketing app or website plugin out there. And their drag-and-drop email editor and newsletter templates are pretty nifty.
Unfortunately, you can’t tag subscribers in MailChimp. (They do have a feature called segmentation, but it is not as easy to use as tagging.) That means, for example, that it is difficult to organize subscribers based on whether they’ve purchased a book from you or which form they used on your site to sign up for your email list.
The workaround is to create a new list: for example, one list for all of your subscribers, another list for your book launch team, another list for the subscribers that signed up for your editing course.
Unfortunately, if you have a subscriber who loves everything you do and is on all three lists, MailChimp counts them three times towards your total number of subscribers. It also means that every time you want to create a new free eBook or course that people can get by subscribing, you have to create a new list.
Additionally, MailChimp’s signup forms to embed on websites are rather plain. If you have a WordPress website, your theme might have alternative forms you can use or you can install a free plugin like Magic Action Box.
Here’s the deal:
I included MailChimp on this list because I’ve used them for many of my websites, have always had fantastic open rates on the emails I’ve sent, and have never run into any problems with deliverability. However, the features that they offer are quite limited compared to other email marketing services. With my experience as a web designer, I’ve been able to work around that by customizing my website.
However, now that my email list has grown, I’ve been testing out MailerLite and ConvertKit. They offer many more features, and I love that I won’t have to make a customization every time I want to try out a new email list building strategy.
Who should use MailChimp: If you’re on a tight budget and just want the simplest option, MailChimp might be a good choice for you. However, some of the list building strategies I’m going to share in my upcoming book will be difficult to implement with MailChimp if you don’t know how to customize your website. Check out MailChimp here.
MailerLite is a relatively new email marketing service, but it is quickly growing in popularity in blogging circles. It offers many more features than MailChimp though it is not quite as powerful as ConvertKit.
MailerLite is free up to 1,000 subscribers and all of their features are available on the free plan. Their premium plan starts at only $10 a month.
They offer a drag and drop email editor (similar to MailChimp’s), free automations (slightly more advanced than MailChimp’s), and landing pages.
What’s a landing page? Well, if you’re a sci-fi author, for example, you can set up a landing page that advertises the first chapter of your book, A Room with A View of Jupiter, in exchange for a reader’s email address. MailerLite hosts the landing page so you don’t even need to have your own website.
MailerLite also offers customizable unsubscribe pages. This means that if someone clicks to unsubscribe from your email list (though why on earth would they want to do that??), you can have a custom message appear on the unsubscribe page. For example, you can write, “Are you sure you really meant to unsubscribe? Was A Room with a View of Jupiter really that awful? Please don’t go!”
Their sign-up forms to embed on websites are much more customizable than MailChimp’s. And they even have a pop-up form.
Finally, MailerLite lets you organize subscribers into groups. Unlike MailChimp, they won’t count a subscriber twice if a subscriber is in two different groups. And you can assign subscribers to different groups based on which form they used to sign up or even based on which links they clicked on within an email.
This feature isn’t quite as advanced as ConvertKit’s tagging feature, but it’s much better than what MailChimp offers.
Because MailerLite is so new, their integrations are limited when it comes to third-party services and apps.
Let’s say for example that you wanted to offer an in-depth course on copywriting through Teachable. Teachable doesn’t automatically connect to your MailerLite account and let you collect your students’ email addresses. Instead, you have to use a service called Zapier to connect your MailerLite account to Teachable. Kind of confusing, right?
I have also heard that some people have had deliverability issues with MailerLite, but this doesn’t seem to be a common problem. The website does load slowly at times, and I have found their forms a little difficult to work with and customize.
Who should use MailerLite: If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford ConvertKit, MailerLite is a nice alternative. Check out MailerLite here.
ConvertKit advertises itself as email marketing for professional bloggers. It’s easy to use and powerful — a fantastic choice for anyone who is serious about growing their online audience and turning their blog into a business.
Like MailerLite, ConvertKit offers customizable signup forms and popup forms for your website as well as landing pages.
They also let you tag and segment your subscribers so you can target them with the right content. For example, one subscriber might want to hear every detail of your plotting process for the sequel to A Room With a View of Jupiter, another subscriber might not want to be bombarded with so many emails. With ConvertKit, it’s easy to target specific people rather than having to send an email to your whole email list. This feature is much more robust than anything MailChimp or MailerLite offers.
Their automations are also very advanced so you can set up sophisticated marketing campaigns. Further, ConvertKit integrates with most third-party apps. No headaches there.
I’ve personally spoken with Nathan Barry, the creator of ConvertKit, as well as other members of the staff. Their customer service is quite impressive. They also have a private online community for their users where you can ask and get answers about email marketing.
Barry created ConvertKit after struggling to find an email marketing service that catered to bloggers and would give him the functionality to tag and organize subscribers. ConvertKit stands out because it was made specifically with bloggers in mind.
The only con seems to be that ConvertKit does not have a free account. Their pricing starts at $29 per month. Their email templates are also not as fancy as MailerLite’s and MailChimp’s (however, fancier email templates can often end up being marked as spam). And they don’t offer a customizable unsubscribe page.
Who should use ConvertKit: If you’re willing to invest in the basic account, ConvertKit is the clear winner out of these three email marketing services. Check out ConvertKit here.
If you have any questions about any of the email marketing services, be sure to let me know in the comments. Meanwhile, I’m going to get back to working on my book. 🙂
Want to get notified when I release the book? Sign up in the box below to get my email newsletter, as well as a free PDF guide with email list building strategies along with access to my complete content library on how to grow your online audience.
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