When I first released Critical Failures four summers ago, I spent a lot of time looking at blogs, forums, and websites aimed at teaching people how to market their self-published books. Just about every one of them said that the most important thing you can do is to build up your mailing list so that you can hit the ground running when you release your next book.
I wasn't worried about my next book. I was looking for advice on how to sell the book I'd already written. Years passed. More books got published. And I still didn't have a mailing list. Instead, I relied mostly on my Facebook page to get the word out to people about new releases and other book-related news.
Facebook was easy. I was already using it for my personal shit. Maintaining an author page on there wasn't too big a leap. But setting up and figuring out how to use a Mailchimp account was something new I'd have to learn. I eventually set one up, but I found it a bit of a pain in the ass to actually use. And even if I was able to figure it out, not a lot of people were flocking to subscribe to it. So I added a subscription form to the right column of this blog, figuring maybe it would come in handy some day down the road, and left it at that.
Last year I wrote Guts and Volts to submit to Amygdala Magazine. The editors liked it, but didn't feel it matched the issue's theme well enough, so it was ultimately rejected. The submission guidelines limited the story to 4,000 words, so I found myself sitting on a story that not even I dared entertain listing on Amazon for $2.99. But I'd read about people giving away free stories to build up their mailing lists, so I thought that might be worth giving a try.
Not knowing what I was doing, I announced the offer for this free short story on my Facebook page in exchange for people signing up for my mailing list. I've forgotten all of the details, but I think I set a time limit or something. When it was done, I sent the mail out to all of my subscribers with a link to a PDF file of the story. I got a few subscribers, but a lot of people wrote me that they were having trouble reading the story on whatever devices they were using. I judged the experiment a failure for three different reasons.
1. It was more trouble than it was worth.
2. Most (perhaps all) of my subscribers came from my Facebook page, and so I didn't really gain anyone new.
3. It was finite. Once I sent out that email, that motivation for people to sign up for my list had vanished.
So I went back to my old strategy of "Fuck mailing lists."
My subscription rate immediately slowed back down to a trickle, and I rarely remembered to use the list even when I had something worth announcing.
But recently I've started listening to a few different self-publishing podcasts while I go through my daily routine of spamming my shit on Twitter. They help ease the drudgery, and hopefully keep that time from being completely useless.
On one of these podcasts, I heard an interview with a guy named Nick Stephenson, who was energetically ranting about the importance of building up mailing lists, and talking about his free ebook, Reader Magnets, which purports to teach the reader how to do exactly that.
What he was saying struck a cord with me, so I picked up the book. It was a short read and made a lot of sense to me, so I thought I'd give his method a try.
I won't give all the details here. You can go download the book for that. But I'll go so far as to say that it involved me getting Guts and Volts price-matched to free on Amazon (which still hasn't happened yet), and me writing another story, Multiple Orc Chasms, which you can also read for free simply by (you guessed it) signing up for my mailing list.
There are two main reasons I believe every author, self-published or otherwise, should focus on growing their mailing lists.
1. You have control over it. Facebook limits the amount of people who see the shit you post. I've posted mentions of books that have been out for months, and had people leaving comments about that being the first time they knew about it. With your mailing list, everyone on there will get whatever shit you've got to send at the same time. That could give you a very nice rankings spike for a new release.
2. It's kind of a pain in the ass to figure out. This doesn't sound like much of a benefit on the surface, but I personally believe it's arguably a bigger deal than the first reason listed above. I'm going to share with you something I've come to believe so deeply that I was inspired to make an inspirational graphic about it.
I'm in the process of formatting a paperback edition of the recently released 4d6 on a Korean version of Microsoft Word. Do you know how much that sucks? A lot. Followup question: Do you know what sucks more? The thought of having to go look for a real job instead of writing fart jokes for a living.
In closing, I'd like to add that while it's good to take a look at what methods successful writers are using and to try to figure out how you might apply those methods to your own marketing efforts, it's even better to utilize your own ideas and unique talents to enhance those methods, and integrate them into a larger strategy.
I've got such a strategy in the works, but I'll save that for a future blog post.