If you're an author--or even a small businessman--you may have heard of mailing lists. 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.
So, what is a mailing list? In simplest terms, it's where you convince folks to give you permission to SPAM them periodically, sending out notices about your latest book release, thereby letting them know they can purchase said new release.
These sales, all occurring at once then catapult 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.
A while back, I started my own experiment with mailing lists, to prove once and for all they're complete bullshit. I must admit, I have been remiss in reporting my results...
First off, setting up a mailing list is by no means easy. I define easy as one click--like those Staples ads. Once you have selected a service (Mailchimp is the odds-one favorite), you then have to spend time learning how the system works. It's not just a simple click or filling in a form. You have to draft your content and plea for signups--something comparable to designing a webpage through one of the many "easy" online services.
Before you can complete this process though, you need something: a physical mailing address. Apparently, to cut back on all the SPAM and Fraud, the law is that you can't b all secretive and what not. If you have a pen-name, or don't want people knowing where you live, that means you need a PO Box (Personally, I don't care--my domains aren't secret-registered). Getting a PO Box is by far easier than creating your mailing list online. The U.S. Postal service has a fairly easy process that entails filing out some stuff online, then printing and signing a form and going in person to the Post office of choice with your ID.
Having set up your mailing list, designing your first messages, etc. it's not just time to sit back with your hands out, waiting for money to pour in. People have to know your list exists. That means advertising...
Uh, wait... advertising is how you let people know your book exists. If I advertise my mailing list, aren't I competing against myself? Shouldn't I be sending that ad money to pitching my book to the public?
Church of Listers will say that people reading your book will see a post in the aftermatter: a word link, QR code, etc. Then they'll sign up and you'll cash royalty checks happily ever after as your sales skyrocket.
This is sheer stupidity. And a catch-22. The whole point of having a mailing list is to get readers, remember? But a mailing list isn't effective unless you already have readers. Remember, what a mailing list does is synchronize your readers to purchase on Day 1 of release, boosting your rankings so people randomly browsing Amazon will see you before other, non-Mailing List authors.
Now, I'll admit that a mailing list is a good way to keep your readers involved. You don't ant folks to drift away before you release that next book. Monthly updates to let them know the next book is coming--
Wait a minute. Monthly updates? Updating readers? If you're on Kindle, readers can already sign up for updates when you release something. And if you release something every month, your readers are going to stay with you.
Decide for yourself if you want, but three months in, I have not seen any out-of-the-ordinary boost in sales. But I do have a nifty PO Box. Yay, more money being spent.