An Author’s Guide to Email Marketing

Email marketing works. The stats prove that if you can get in someone’s inbox, you’re far more likely to get a purchase out of them.

Hubspot says it this way:

Companies using email to nurture leads generate 50% more sales-ready leads and at 33% lower cost. And nurtured leads, on average, produce a 20% increase in sales opportunities compared to non-nurtured leads.

That’s powerful stuff. For you authors out there, email marketing is key for selling books.

I always tell people to think about email marketing the way you think about dating. It’s a common analogy in the industry, most widely-heard by marketing thought leader Ryan Deiss.

We all know you can’t propose marriage on a first date, right? (I hope we all know that. Someone out there probably has a crazy story that refutes this… Just go with me here.) Asking to close the deal when you barely know someone will always result in a “no.” You have to get to know the person first, right? You go on lots of dates, nurture the relationship, develop trust and familiarity. And then, eventually, you can ask for her hand and get a “yes” in response.

Marketing is the same way. If you ask for a purchase the second you “meet” a prospective consumer, their answer will be “no.” Flat out. There’s no relational equity, no trust built.

That’s where the beauty of email marketing comes in.

When a consumer gives you their email address, they’re giving you permission to talk to them. You have the green light to initiate communication (to take them on a date, if we’re continuing this analogy). Once you’re in their inbox, they’re a warm lead. The relationship is established, and you can strategically nurture it toward the familiarity needed to then ask for a purchase and get a “yes” in response.

Strategic email marketing is an art that authors would be wise to learn. It’s essential to selling any product, especially books.

Strategic email marketing is an art that authors would be wise to learn. Click To Tweet

Here’s a tip-by-tip guide to email marketing for authors.

1- If you don’t already have an email list, start one.

It’s never too late. Go through your email and pull out the name of every friend and colleague who’s ever supported you. Go through your phone and jot down names of acquaintances. One name will jolt your mind to think of three others. Once you have a list, email them. Tell them what your brand is, what your aspirations are, and how their support is helpful. And also, give them an option to unsubscribe if they’d like to. (Come on, have a thick skin.) Don’t force their participation; the freedom to choose to be on your list will up engagement 10x.

2- Choose an email automation system.

Honestly, it’s too much work for one person (or even for a team of people) to do smart email marketing manually. You need a program. The best I’ve found out there is InfusionSoft, but it’s pretty pricey and not ideal for everyone. For a small team or a one-(wo)man show, I’d suggest ConvertKit, MailChimp, or AWeber. These programs allow you to set up campaigns that automatically send and withhold emails to different leads, as based on that individual’s specific behavior. It’s extremely powerful. Do your research, buy a program, and learn it. If it feels like it’s too much, contract with someone who can do it for you for 8-10 hours per week. It’s that worth it.

3- Grow your email list.

Once you have an initial list in place and an email automation program ready to kick butt, it’s time to grow your list. Each name on that list represents the possibility for a conversion (i.e., a book sale), so each name is valuable. Wonder what the secret to growth is? A lead magnet.

  • A lead magnet is a piece of value-packed content that you give away for free. It could be a video, a mini eBook, a PDF, anything. But it needs to hit the same felt needs and target audience as your book. Create the lead magnet and be sure it’s highly-designed and appealing.
  • Set up an opt-in location for the lead magnet. This could be a whole website, or just a pop-up box on your current blog. It’s the online space that you’re going send people to, where they’ll read all the benefits of the free lead magnet and input their email address in order to receive it.
  • Use social media to drive traffic to the opt-in page, especially Facebook ads. Investment in Facebook ads is essential and will be worth it. Drive your current social followers and new cold leads to the opt-in page. Note: Social media should be used to drive traffic, not to close a sale. “Email is nearly 40 times better than Facebook and Twitter at acquiring customers” (McKinsey & Company).
  • Once people opt in, deliver them the requested lead magnet via email. Send it as a downloadable item by clicking a link in an email. Doing so trains them; they will see emails from you as conduits of value.

4- Nurture your list.

When someone becomes a part of your email community, do not immediately send them sales emails. Saying, “Hey dude. I have a rockin’ new book, buy it today!” will never work. You’ll see people hitting the “unsubscribe” button faster than you can say “bananas.” Instead, nurture these new relationships. Their #1 email from you should be delivery of the lead magnet–value! Their second email should be a welcome email that communicates who you are and what they can expect from you. Be friendly, show personality, write like a friend.

5- Make it all about value.

People will only stay on your email list if it’s of value to them. The “unsubscribe” button is so easy to push that you have to give and give and give in order to keep them engaged. (Note: Always make that “unsubscribe” button easy to find. If it’s not right there, people will add you to their “spam” filter, and that’s terrible for your brand. The email gods will not treat you kindly if people are calling you a spammer.) So, give generously. Email your list every time you post a new blog. Email them special freebies and wisdom. Make it worth their while to be part of your email community.

6- Set up a sales campaign.

Once someone has been nurtured (Ryan Deiss calls the nurture emails your “indoctrination series”) and given great value, it’s time to prime them for a sale. You’ll want to write a series of 3-5 emails that introduce the idea that you have a book for sale and subtly name for them the benefits and value of the product. Marketing guru Jeff Walker calls this a “sideways sales letter.” One email in the sales series might be about the value of the book. The next email might be about the people who have endorsed it. Another email might be about the freebies they get for ordering today. Piece by piece, introduce the book and its value. Always provide purchase links.

7- Use key mental triggers to spur a purchase.

I’ve mentioned this before on the blog. There are magical purchase-drivers you can build into your email copy that will put that “I have to buy!” light bulb in a reader’s head. Based on Jeff Walker’s model, here are some examples of these triggers:

  • Urgency. Offer a limited-time freebie. “Buy today! This cool free poster is only available if you purchase the book by Friday. I’d hate for you to miss it!”
  • Social proof. Show that others are loving your book. The purchase risk is lessened when others have gone before you. “Check out these Amazon reviews. We’ve gotten a ton, and it’s humbling to see just how much readers are enjoying my book.”
  • Authority. State your credentials for being the expert–but do it humbly. “I’ve been so privileged to run campaigns for some of the biggest names in conservative politics…”
  • Scarcity. Let them know the value is not available for all. “It’s so fun to offer a free Google Hangout to people who buy 10 books or more, but I only have time for 25 Hangouts, so the first 25 bulk buyers are the lucky winners. Don’t wait.”
  • And more… the list of mental triggers goes on. There are so many tiny tricks you can bake into your email copy. I’ll write more on this another day.

8- Don’t forget the “thank you.”

A brand relationship must not end after a sale. Don’t go silent. Continue to nurture the lead in order to turn that one-time buyer into a lifetime advocate. When a reader purchases, send them a “thank you” email. Acknowledge the buy, just as you would in a face-to-face relationship.

Email marketing is gold, and the email automation systems popping up all over the web make it easier and smarter than ever before. I’ve found that many clients and authors tend to believe that email is out and social media is in, but really, you have to have both. Social media drives traffic to the opt-in page. Email takes those leads and makes them buyers. The two work in tandem, so it’s critical to continually hone your strategy with both.