Why authors need an email list (and the one webpage you need to start building yours)

This is the second post in a four-part miniseries covering what content authors need to start building a large following of readers hungry for their book; whether it's their first book, or their seventeenth.

Last week, in Part 1, we looked at how to write a book description that sells and helps your book get found by new readers. Today, we’ll cover why authors need an email list, the one page you should absolutely have on your website to build your email list (but probably don’t have), and then we’ll look at example of those pages from fiction and nonfiction authors.

Why authors need an email list (and not just social media)

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Email is 40x more effective than Facebook or Twitter when it comes to getting new customers. Even a big name author like Gary Vaynerchuck who has millions of fans isn't selling that many books through his social media. Check out the sobering truth in this book launch expert's analysis (Myth #3).

Many authors of both fiction and nonfiction (along with most business owners) think that “marketing” means “posting updates on social media.”

This is not true. At least, not if you care about making money.

I used to work for a tech startup that provided social media managers at big brands with reports on the performance of their updates on the major social networks - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube. If you look at the number of followers needed and the amount of time it takes to acquire those followers, the return on investment for posting regular updates to social is dismal. You can expect to generate a few pennies to a few dollars for every hour you spend on social.  

Social media does have a purpose: to help you make new one-on-one connections and stay in touch with the connections you already have. And paid social media ads (e.g. Facebook ads, LinkedIn ads, etc.) can be a cost-effective way to reach new customers. But you really want to building your email list.

Ok, so how do you start building the damn list?

Firstly, you should have a website and an account on an email list service like Mailchimp before the rest of this post will be helpful to you. If you haven’t done that yet, go read this post, then come back.

The next thing we need is a webpage specifically designed to get readers to sign up for our email list. It’s called a landing page. What is a landing page? Well, imagine this. You run an ad on Facebook. Or you write a guest post on some big-name blog. When readers click on the link in your ad, or a link from your author bio, where do those readers go? Where they go is to your landing page. In other words, it’s where a visitor would land on your website if they heard about you from an ad or a guest post.

What a landing page is

What makes a landing page different from every other page on your website is that there is only one smack-you-in-the-face obvious thing that a visitor can do on it. From an author’s perspective, landing pages are used to get visitors to take one specific step called a call-to-action or CTA. The call-to-action might be to register for an event, pre-order a book, or sign up for an email list.  

From a reader’s perspective, a landing page is a way to get something that she wants. For an email list signup page, if a reader types in her info, she could get a free ebook, a video, a cool poster, or a promo code for a purchase. We’re going to call the giveaway item a reader magnet. Next week, we’ll talk about what makes a great reader magnet.

A landing page encourages readers to type in their information by doing two things. First, by offering a reader magnet that fans can’t resist. Second, by cutting out distractions. A reader can either enter her information into the form, or she can leave. There is no navigation. There are no other links. There is only one call-to-action. For a dedicated email signup landing page, we want it to be short enough so that there is no scrolling.

What makes a landing page so important?

Because landing pages are dedicated to a single purpose, they make it easy for us to measure if what we’re doing is “working.” If only 1% of the people who visit a landing page are entering their information, we know that we’ve got a problem and we can start testing out solutions.

Is our image unappealing? We can try a different image and see if that increases the percentage of readers who sign up.

Is our headline failing to grab readers' attention? We can change it and see how that impacts the percentage of readers who sign up.

Have we just described our reader magnet poorly? We can try changing the body copy and see if that increases the percentage of signups.

Because there are no distractions on the landing page, we know that if we change one element on the page that an increase (or decrease) in the number of signups is due to our changes. This helps us figure out what text and images our readers respond to, which is information that becomes very valuable when we start to run ads.
 

Example email list signup pages from indie authors

Let’s look at some examples of how a fiction and a nonfiction author are using landing pages to get email list subscribers, along with some analysis of what makes the page good.

Here’s an example of a landing page for a free series novel from Sterling & Stone.

 
Hmmm…. I wonder what Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant want me to do….

Hmmm…. I wonder what Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant want me to do….

 

You’ll notice that there is no navigation at the top. But there is an appealing header image and a clear description of what this page is for. There’s an emotional hook: “Find the missing. Fear the found.” that begins the main copy.  And it’s followed by the book description that ends with a call-to-action (CTA) - a direct instruction for what a visitor should do: “Find out what happens. Get YOUR COPY TODAY!”

Notice that the buttons on the page are in a highly contrasting color so your gaze is drawn to them. The headline, button text, and last line of the description are consistent and all direct you to take one action – get your free book already!

 

Here’s an example for a nonfiction book from Joanna Penn:

 
I’m not sure, maybe I should get my free Author Blueprint???

I’m not sure, maybe I should get my free Author Blueprint???

 

Again, there’s no navigation at the top and there are no links other than the button, which is enormous, in a contrasting color, and above the fold (i.e. it’s in the top half of the page and you’ll see it before you have to scroll). There’s an image of the book and the author at the top, so we can see that we’re getting a book even though the word “book” doesn’t appear in the text until three quarters of the way down. There’s also a headshot of the author as well as all the book reviewers, so that the page feels more personal.. The text above the button concisely describes the book and ends with a benefit that all writers want - making a living from writing!

Plus, the book reviewers are authors and prominent people in the indie book world, so even if we don’t know Joanna, we know she’s legit.

What’d we learn today?

We learned that authors need an email list because email is more effective than social media. We learned how landing pages help us keep readers focused on entering their information into our forms by cutting out distractions. We also looked at example landing pages from other authors and analyzed what made the goal of the page clear to us as readers.

Next time, we’ll cover how to turn a new subscriber into an instant fan with a reader magnet.