Saturday, February 06, 2016

The Great Mailing List Experiment

If you're an author--or even a small businessman--you probably know what a mailing list is. If you're a self-published author, you've probably been told, maybe a million times, that you need a mailing list. They are, after all, the secret to success. Everyone knows that.

Beginning today, I am going to conduct a little experiment regarding mailing lists. I am going to prove they in fact don't work and are a waste of time for just-starting-out authors. I mean, I've been doing this for four years. If I can't make them work, a newbie has no chance.

First up, some ground rules...

This is an experiment for ebooks. Nothing against print--dead trees are wonderful. But ebooks are the wave of the future and far easier to produce on one's own.

Secondly, this experiment is closed to smut. That is, romance novels. Folks who write romance are operating in a completely different ballpark. Quite frankly, all you need to do to sell romance is to self-publish it. There is such a huge demand for it, and the vast majority of ebooks sold are in the romance field.While there are marketing strategies for romance, they aren't as crucial as they are for non-romance. Plus, I don't write romance, so it would be presumptuous of me to apply these results to all genres. For the purposes of this experiment, we're going to focus on Speculative Fiction.

Finally, a disclaimer. Your mileage may vary. Even if by some insane twist of fate I'm proven wrong, and mailing lists do  work, don't assume they will for you. I'm not making any claim this will work for you. Actually, quite the opposite. I'm trying to prove mailing lists don't work. And that leads us into...


Writing isn't all that hard. There are rules, examples, and plenty of folks ready to tell you how to write. But once you have a masterpiece finished, you want to sell it. And that's where the problems bergin.

1. Distribution. In the old days, you'd vanity print hundreds of copies and sell thm from your trunk like a black marketeer. Today, Amazon, iTunes, Kobo and many more online sellers offer the way to distribute your written words to millions. Maybe.

2. Reaching Customers. Amazon has millions of books on their website for sale right now. They're broken into categories, sub-categories, and sub-sub-categories. But, customers aren't going to browse for hours and hours--they're going to buy what they find, that piques their interest, and start reading. You need a way to make sure your book is on of the first customers see, or find a way to let your niche audience know your book exists...

3. Marketing. This is where marketing comes into play. Rather than cross your fingers and stroke your lucky rabbit's foot in hopes your book is discovered like sunken treasure. Or... you can reach out to your target audience--the folks who would enjoy what you've written. Hopefully, you know who that is.

It's this third obstacles that is the big one. Tens of millions of Kindles have been sold, so it's not that much of a stretch to think you could sell a few thousand copies of your work. IF you can find your customers. And that's what brings us to mailing lists...

The general idea here, being so zealously preached, is that by painting blood on the floor in the shape of a book and burning Haagen Daaz ice cream--no wait... the idea is that you have people agree to receive emails from you, and then you send them emails, telling them about your new releases. Inspired by this information, they flock to Amazon, all buying your books on the day they're released. Their combined, simultaneous purchases then catapault your book from the lower end of the ranked sub-sub-category it's parked in, to the tippy-top of the overall Kindle rankings. Which means undecided folks who've never heard of you and are impatiently browsing for something to read, greedily One-Click you right into stardom. Once done with your book, these new converts to the heavenly prose you have published also sign up for your mailing list, and the cycle repeats with your next release and emailed fan notification.

At least, that's the theory.

There's a few logical problems with this way of thinking... First, how are people going to know your mailing list exists?

Well... those preaching from the Church of List claim that the Good Word of your list will draw folks in. Word of mouth. Oh, and free stuff. You see, you need to entice folks--who are probably reluctant to sign up for any more SPAM--by giving them things. Like free books.

Yes, you read right. To get people to buy your book, you need to create a mailing list, that you get people to sign up for by giving them a second, free book, so that when you write a third book, they'll possibly buy it.


NEXT TIME:  What it takes to actually make a mailing list. What you need, what it'll cost, and how much time it's going to take.

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