Ep 018: “Building Your Mailing List & Meta Data”

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Welcome to the 18th episode of The Author Hangout, a “Hangout on Air” designed to help authors, especially self-published and indie authors, with marketing their books and improving their author platform. Authors struggle with various aspects of marketing and we are here to help!

“You can build a fantastic community on your website, through your newsletter, and actually engage with readers and have these conversations, a lot of the same ways people use Facebook and Twitter. But with email, you get to control that.”– Nick Stephenson

Building Your Mailing List & Meta Data

We talk about one thing on this show and in our blog, more than anything else: mailing lists. Building a mailing list is really that important! It might now seem like much now, but in a couple of years, after building a list for that long, you’ll have a substantial list of people to promote to.

We were joined by bestselling author Nick Stephenson who chatted with us about how he grew his mailing list that was getting a couple of people subscribing a week, and the changes he made to get many more readers subscribing each day. We also asked him about his use of meta data and how that significantly increased his Amazon visibility and sales.

The Author Hangout – Episode 18: “Building Your Mailing List & Meta Data”

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Nick Stephenson shared with us a bit about how he got involved with self-publishing. It is a great story about about how he wanted to have control over what we was doing, and great inspiration for anyone who is considering publishing or has already published!

Be sure to listen to the interview or watch the video to learn more about Nick.

Why are authors so hesitant to build an email list?

At Book Marketing Tools, we have talked a lot about building mailing lists (here, here, and here), and authors still haven’t build their list. Here’s Nick’s take on why this may be:

“I think a lot of it is just not really realizing why you should have one, or realizing that it’s not actually that difficult to do. Email marketing is – a lot of authors view it as a bit sleazy, it can be a bit scammy. When you see these spam emails come into your inbox every day, it kind of turns people off. But what they don’t realize, I think, is that you can build a fantastic community on your website, through your newsletter, and actually engage with readers and have these conversations, a lot of the same ways people use Facebook and Twitter. Having conversations with people, building up that community. But with email, you get to control that.”

He also talked about how an email list doesn’t have to be spammy, not a hardcore selling tool.

Be sure to listen to the interview so you don’t miss out that on that fantastic advice from Nick.

Before you focused on the mailing list, how many signups were you getting?

“It was pretty bad. I think on a good week, maybe three. And that was with a promotion. But at the time, my main author website was just a basic free WordPress blog that I’d set up with a few bits and pieces about my books. Somewhere right at the bottom of the page, I’d have a “Sign up here if you want to hear about new releases,” buried right at the bottom, a little link. No images or anything like that.”

Listen to the show to learn what he did to start improving his number of signups right away.

What did you do to take your mailing list to the next level?

Nick had one major realization about why it was so important to build his mailing list:

“I think. I can blame BookBub entirely for it, because their promotions are so powerful that you can build a career on having a BookBub ad every couple of months. I mean, I’ve seen it happen. So I figured if a handful of people are signing up to my email list every week or every month, then surely more people would do that if they were just aware it existed. I can build myself up some kind of BookBub-esque marketing platform that I don’t have to sacrifice a goat to or jump through hoops of fire just to get a list. I can have control over this myself. So that’s what I did with it; I focused all my activity and marketing on how to get people into my email list.”

What specific steps did you take?

“One approach was the website home page itself. I ended up putting a big featured image right in the center of the page that had an image of a free book I was going to give away to people in exchange for them signing up to my email list. So the first thing people see when they come to my website is “Get your free book here. Just enter your email address and I’ll send you a copy.” Just that one thing took me from maybe a dozen email sign-ups every month to a hundred, hundred and fifty email sign-ups a month. Just that one little change. Offering something in return for signing up to my email list made a massive difference”

He also detailed what the other important step was after making those changes to his website and mailing list offer. Be sure to watch or listen to the interview to learn that next step!

What were the results?

“I went from a handful of subscribers a month to starting to see about 1,000 new subscribers coming through every month, and it was a massive, massive change.”

Awesome results Nick! Like he said, the key is funneling people to the mailing list and making that the main focus!

Why is getting quality traffic so important to building your list?

There is a difference between quality traffic and just getting any kind of traffic:

“You’ve got to focus on getting a lot of traffic through in the first place, but more importantly I think is converting that traffic into subscribers, making it a quality conversion. If you’re sending people from one of your own books, you know that they’re already interested in your work and they hopefully liked it enough to bother clicking on your link. So everyone who arrives at my page is already pre-vetted. I already know that these guys coming to my landing page hopefully like the book they’ve read and hopefully want to get some more from me. I’ve tried a couple of different sources, like Facebook, brought some traffic through from Facebook, through some free giveaway sites that weren’t typically book-related, and I found that I was either getting a really bad conversion rate, so people just weren’t interested in what I was offering, or – and probably worse than that, was they were signing up, getting the free book, and then unsubscribing straightaway or putting me in their junk folder.”

Why do you think authors are hesitant to give their book away for free?

Here’s Nick’s take on it, and we completely agree:

“I think it’s a natural response when you’ve spent months or possibly years working on something. You don’t want to give it away, and I think that’s a very strong emotional attachment to what is essentially a product at the end of the day. It’s an artistic product, but it’s not necessarily any different from music or paintings or drawings or anything like that. If you think about what successful musicians are doing on platforms like Spotify or offering free demo tracks on their website or playing free gigs to get recognition, I think we have to look at it as in what value is my entire portfolio of books? If I can make more revenue from offering one of my books for free, because I know that more people will then see me and buy other books, then I don’t think that is going to devalue the effort that I put into it.”

What is the free book, Paydown, that you give away?

“I wrote it specifically for this purpose because I wanted to be able to give people something as an incentive to sign up. I played with the idea of giving away advance chapters of upcoming books or offering discounts, and I figured the easiest, simplest thing to do is just to give them a free book. So I wrote a novella for it, put it up as a free book on my site, and people are downloading it. I’m getting hundreds of downloads a month; people seem to be enjoying it, and a lot of them are going on and buying other things.”

Aside from people buying the books, he also mentioned the key reason he gets people onto his mailing list:

“Opening up the communication is really important for me, so I’m giving people something in return for their email address. Because you don’t give away your email address lightly these days; otherwise you’re going to get bombarded with spam. So I want to offer value, good value, and then encourage people to get in touch if they’ve got questions or just want to ask me anything. I think it’s a great catalyst for opening those lines of communication, really.”

How often do you email your list?

“I try to send out maybe two emails a month, because my theory is if you leave it too long in between emails, people run the risk of forgetting who you are. Which is never a good thing, because if people see an email from an unrecognized sender, chances are it gets deleted or it gets put in the junk folder, and everybody’s worse off. So I try sending something once or twice a month.”

Nick also shared what types of emails he sends to his readers:

“If I don’t have a new release out, I might send a recommendation for a book that I’ve read in a similar genre to me that I’ve enjoyed and think people will enjoy as well, and that really helps get the communication going as well. So I try to send something of value a couple times a month without trying to sell anything. That’s the key thing, I think.”

Be sure to listen to the interview to get several other ideas for the types of emails that you can send to your readers mailing list as well, because Nick gave TONS of great examples.

Any final tips for building a mailing list?

“I think one of the things I try to bear in mind is, going back to BookBub again, those guys have like nearly 2 million subscribers now. But we don’t have to wait for that insane amount of subscribers to do well from this. If you’re growing a curated list of your own from people who are genuinely interested in your work, and if you’re sending enough traffic to your website and you’re converting that traffic into emails, email subscribers, by maybe offering something free in return, you can get 10 sign-ups a day. That’s perfectly doable. I’ve spoken to some authors who have tried the same approach as me, and they’re getting that ballpark number of sign-up every day. That level of sign-ups, in 3 years, maybe you’ll have 10,000 email addresses on your newsletter list. You can sell anywhere between 500 and 1,000 books based on that minimum when you release a new title. So if you spend a couple years building this up, and it’s free to get started, you can release a new book and sell 1,000 copies in the first week. You’ll be outperforming BookBub and you’ll have all the control, and it’s something that you built and that you get to keep. So you can build a career based on email subscribers. I think everyone should be doing this, getting started and trying to get people signing up, because it’s really, really powerful.”

What is meta data?

We switched gears and began talking with Nick about his use of meta data to drive more traffic to his books.

“This is all the backroom stuff that readers don’t see. When we talk about metadata, I think we mean keywords, like the words that you pick when you’re publishing your book. On your KDP Dashboard, Amazon asks you to pick seven keywords. And I’m guilty of this as well, but most authors will just pick seven random words vaguely related to their book, hope for the best, and click “Publish.” But what I started doing in the last 3 or 4 months was spending a lot more time understanding how readers are finding books on Amazon. One of the key ways they find it is using the search bar along the top of the screen. If they’re not sure what they’re looking or, they might type “crime thriller” or “romance,” “historical romance,” whatever it is into the search bar and see what comes up. And really, that function is looking at books metadata. It’s looking for keywords inside the book, inside the title, inside the product description, and it’s figuring out which one of these books is most likely to appeal to someone searching for historical romance, for example.”

He dives into a bit more of a specific example of finding good keywords for your genre.

What is your book on meta data?

Nick wrote a book on meta data called Supercharge Your Kindle Sales, and he tells us a bit about it:

“I think the key takeaway for me is realizing that Amazon doesn’t work like a bookstore; it works like a search engine. So when you’re selling a book, you need to think about what you’d be doing on Google if you were trying to get your webpage to the top of the results. It’s a similar sort of approach on Amazon. Use relevant keywords in your metadata, in your product descriptions; it’ll really help you get noticed in the crowd, and that’s just been a massive, massive thing for me. As an example, I swapped out all my keywords 3 months ago, and it literally quadrupled my sales. It was crazy. And this was almost overnight, so within a week, I was selling something like 150, 200 books a day on Amazon, going from a handful.”

He wrapped it up with this:

“I’ve put a book together that covers exactly how people can go about finding relevant keywords, how to make the most of it, and how it’s helped me and how it’s helped other authors. There’s some case studies in there that shows other authors that have done the exact same thing, along with some sales charts and some sales figures, that really hopefully help make the point that it’s something everyone can do and it really doesn’t cost you anything except the time to get started.”

Be sure to go check out Nick’s book about mailing lists and meta data, Supercharge Your Kindle Sales.

If you started over today, what would you do differently?

“I think for me, I started off by just writing whatever came into my head and hoping I’d find a market for it somewhere. If I was starting again – I think I’d probably give this advice to anyone who asked – if they’re starting their first book, pick a genre that you enjoy, but pick a market within that genre that you can actively sell to. If you like writing thrillers, don’t write a thriller; maybe write a political thriller or a spy thriller or an espionage thriller. Make it really specific. Find a market that’s selling and write to the market. And I think you’ll find that that will have the biggest impact when you first get started, because people are already looking for you. And you’re less likely to get lost in a sea of other titles.”

Listen to the rest of the interview for tons of great advice that didn’t make it into this blog post write up.

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