An e-mail list, as the title implies, is simply a collection of e-mail addresses a user may utilise to send information/material to multiple recipients.
Note 1: As usual, the topic will be considered from the perspective of an independent (indie) author though much would also apply to other online entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Note 2: The majority of authors will understand the topic of e-mail lists to be primarily related to the matter of newsletters.
Note 3: This is the second, subsequent, article referred to in Newsletters.
Undoubtedly readers of this article will be very interested in knowing how to go about building an e-mail list (a challenge for most authors) nevertheless, there are some important matters to be considered first.
Why have a list?
In the past authors were not really required to have direct contact with their readers (publishers did all the publicity work) however, modern society demands a different approach. Many now want more personal contact and prefer to receive news and information direct rather than through third party sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. Though, to some extent, famous, popular authors can afford to ignore the trend, indie authors really cannot. E-mail is the obvious means by which to fulfil this desire for direct contact. Naturally, before being able to comply, it is necessary to build a list of interested party e-mail addresses. ‘Interested’ is an important, essential, concept, as will be explained shortly.
Prior to considering the building of an e-mail list the important matter of legislation must be taken into account.
Legislation prohibits marketing type material being sent through normal e-mail channels such as Gmail; Yahoo; Hotmail; etc. without permission (sending news and information about books and products is generally identified as being a part of marketing). Consequently, to enable the e-mailing of such information (usually in the format of a newsletter), authors need to obtain specific permission from their readers, fans and followers. To that end these people must be asked to subscribe to the service by voluntarily providing their e-mail address (subscribing is seen as granting permission for e-mails/newsletters to be sent to their e-mail inboxes). It is important authors note they must NOT add e-mail addresses without the person having specifically subscribed.
Legislation also requires there be an easy unsubscribe option. The subscriber must not be trapped into a ‘forever’ scenario.
In addition, legislation requires the sender’s physical address be included in each and every communication. Further information about this will be found under the section on ‘Privacy’ below.
As already explained under ‘Legislation’ above, standard e-mail channels may not be used to send marketing type material without permission. How such permission is obtained is the focus for this section.
Authors may simple ask readers etc. to forward permission to add their e-mail address to a list and for their agreement to news etc. (marketing material) to be sent to them accordingly. However, there are problems with such an approach:
- No readily available collective evidence of subscription. (In this scenario permission will most likely have been in an individual e-mail filed away (hopefully) in an appropriate folder/file.)
- Incorporating legislative requirement for an easy unsubscribe option. (Would require author to have a self-hosted website with appropriate programming ability and availability.)
- Automatic clear inclusion of sender’s physical address. (Though may be drafted into a signature block the sender does not have to select that signature block – could be accidentally missed.)
- Ability to produce clear, legally acceptable, evidence in the case of any dispute. (Disputes can and do arise.)
- Time consuming. (Drafting individual e-mails, even if the bulk is copied from another, takes time.)
The simplest and most effective way for authors to send news and information is by a newsletter that has the ability to be sent to multiple recipients in one go. To facilitate this many e-mail newsletter service providers have been established. Most require the payment of a fee (usually assessed by the number of recipients and the number of e-mails to be sent in a designated period). One or two also provide a limited free option for the individual user (e.g. not an incorporated business) such as an indie author. These free options tend to limit the number of recipients and e-mails to be sent but are a good place for most to commence. Upgrades may be obtained as and when necessary.
Authors are advised to use an e-mail newsletter service provider rather than attempt to go it alone because these:
- Offer simple, clear, subscription/signup forms (more about them in a moment);
- Automatically create a verified list;
- Automatically include an unsubscribe option;
- Automatically insert the sender’s address;
- Provide readymade easy use templates;
- Have the systems for unhindered bulk sending;
- Provide some analytics/reports.
An internet search of ‘email newsletter service providers’ will present a list of companies. User’s should be able to find one that suits their purpose and budget. Some are notably very popular and appear to meet most authors requirements. None are specifically recommended here though authors may ask colleagues/fellow authors which they use and why.
Bearing in mind, as mentioned above, the creating of an e-mail list is, in reality for most authors the setting up of a newsletter system, they will require to already have an author website or at least a blog. They must also ensure they meet all legislative requirements as detailed above. And, of course, to get started it would help if they already have an identifiable group of readers, fans and followers no matter how small it may be.
Recipients: Authors etc. are responsible for maintaining recipients privacy, including their e-mail address. This is a serious matter that must be treated accordingly.
Senders: Legislation requires the actual, physical, address of a newsletter originator be included in each and every newsletter sent. It is usually printed in the footer section. This naturally poses some privacy issues, especially for the individual who works from home, as many do.
To reiterate: legislation requires an actual physical postal address to which physical mail may be delivered to be utilised. As already implied, there will be those who will feel vulnerable should they provide their own home address. For them there are suggested legislatively acceptable alternatives:
- Use a business address (e.g. if they or someone they know has a small business and are willing, the business address may be used instead of the person’s own.)
- Rent a PO box from the official post office or from a company that provides them (e.g. UPS (United Parcel Service) to name but one). Naturally there will be a fee payable but more importantly users should note some legislations require the PO Box holders actual address to be provided if a request for it is submitted to the post office or company. (The PO Box service usually requires the holder to provide their address for record and fee collection purposes.)
People are more likely to subscribe to a newsletter service if the process is quick, easy and clear. The sign-up/subscription form is therefore crucial. Whatever else, it should be immediately evident what the subscriber is signing up for and what they can expect and possibly also when (frequency).
Readymade forms are usually made available to users by newsletter service providers. As a rule these may either be used ‘as is’ or may be amended to suit the users own preferences. The mix of available forms means there is usually one that will suit requirements without adjustment but the ability to amend does provide for them being made more personal.
In addition, should the author wish, they may also add a few questions to obtain a greater understanding of what the subscriber is looking for in/expecting from the newsletter. Though this may be helpful, it should be born in mind subscribing should be a quick and easy process.
Within a website/blog the positioning of subscriber forms can play a vital part. Most systems enable forms to be placed in a variety places.
Pop-Up: This is the most common type that usually appears in the centre of a screen. (Systems allow users (authors) to chose frequency e.g. 5, 10, 15, etc. seconds. Frequency is important because authors will not want the pop-up to become irritating but at the same time do not wish it to be too long before it appears as the reader/visitor may have moved on prior to its appearance.)
Hover Bars: Users may choose whether the bar hovers at top or bottom of the screen as readers/visitors scroll through the site.
Box: A box just below the header with a sign-up form.
Side Column: Usually a static form. (Caveat: Apparently there is a common condition known as ‘side column blindness’. Suggested one of the other options is always employed even when a side column option is provided.)
RECOMMENDATION is for authors to intermix and change the position and style every few months so that it remains fresh and will continue to catch attention.
Note: It is believed the pop-up option is normally included with all packages however, it may be necessary to engage other companies/providers for the hover bar and box options (obviously at a fee).
Collecting e-mail addresses
This, for the majority is probably the most difficult aspect. Naturally, people are cautious about giving their personal e-mail addresses to a stranger. This is especially true now, when there is so much on-line abuse and cyber crime.
The simplest manner in which to collect subscribers is to ask friends, relatives, on-line contacts/friends, fans, followers, etc. to sign-up. It must however be accepted many authors shy away from such direct action. It must also be acknowledged some of these friends, etc. may not be interested in what the author has to share (everyone is different and must be allowed to be so). Nevertheless, provided not done in an aggressive manner, it may still be worth asking.
The most usual method employed by authors is to utilise their existing activity, in these days mostly on-line, to highlight the availability of the newsletter and to provide/insert links to sign-up forms:
- Social Media. (Posts; Tweets; etc.)
- Book Metadata. (With author information at back.)
- E-mail signature blocks. (Along with website/blog url below name.)
- Other forms of written communication. (Website/Blog articles/posts; Guest posts; Magazine articles; Letters; Publicity material; etc.)
- With profile and biographical information. (Wherever it may appear.)
Most will understand to simply add information/sign-up forms as indicated above will not necessarily result in subscribers and that sometimes it is necessary to include an incentive such as:
- Showing the subscriber that in each newsletter they will receive valuable information.
- Once subscription has been confirmed, they may download something useful e.g. an infographic on a topic that may interest them (e.g. ‘How to publish a book.’ ‘How to use a social media site.’ ‘A book marketing guide.’ Etc.)
- A free gift for subscribing (e.g. Copy of one of the author’s books. A unique gift (e.g. a pen set or something similar.)
The positioning and timing of sign-up forms can also play an important role in attracting subscribers. See ‘Sign-Up/Subscription Forms’ above.
Regrettably there have always been those who will take advantage of others. A trend that, sadly, appears to be on the increase.
Offering an incentive to encourage people to subscribe has its positives but there is also a negative aspect. Authors, and others, sometimes mention and complain about people who sign-up but who, as soon as they have received the offered gift, will unsubscribe, some almost immediately. A truly frustrating and upsetting feature but one that has been and is common to the majority of marketers who utilise the gifting idea. Authors should not feel alone as this is part of marketing no matter whether an individual or a corporation.
Apologies again for the length of this article. Not ideal but having already separated the topics of newsletters and e-mail lists it was considered inappropriate to stretch the subject into a third article though of course it would have helped shorten each. Nonetheless, the desire was to do full justice to each subject consequently leading to the longer length.
Many state e-mail lists are an essential for authors and of course, it must be acknowledged, they are very useful. Particularly so when it comes to sending newsletters. Nevertheless, it is not for everyone. The time commitments and privacy issues will be seen as a problem to some.
If an author does decide to build an e-mail list they must take into account the matter of legislation and privacy and should bare in mind the need for clear, friendly, easily accessible sign-up forms. They also need to be prepared for the time commitment and for peoples characters by not taking matters too personally e.g. un-subscribers.