Building an Online Author Fanbase

How to Use and Grow a Mailing List of Buyers for Your Books and Novels

An author's name is often his or her most powerful asset. You'll have noticed that on books and paperbacks, the more successful an author becomes, the larger their name becomes compared to the title. This is no accident or design fluke. It's deliberate. Because, as an author, your name is your brand.

When you're starting out, it's important to attach a particular 'look' to your name, your book covers and your website. The easiest way to do this is to pick a particular font and/or color for your name and to use it on all platforms. We are visual animals and will often recognize a symbol or logo more readily than actual letters or the words.

A brand may often be a graphic. A shape or design unique to the brand, like the Nike tick, for instance. But the logo is not as important as the feeling evoked by the font and the graphic. This 'feeling' is a nebulous quality, individual to the people who experience it. Advertisers hope a company logo inspires confidence, quality and implies ongoing customer satisfaction.

As an author, you have to inspire consistent quality by using your 'logo' in your blogs, your book covers, and your website. Also when talking with your 'fans', including your posts, tweets, and even in your personal emails.

Back in 1999, I spent a lot of time and money designing a 'concept' for my author website. Alas, that website exists no longer. I was surprised how much interest the website created in my fiction… although interest did not quite equate to sales. The website never paid for itself. This was way back before most of us even thought of using Amazon to sell our books, novels, and ebooks.

But that was then. These days I don't recommend authors spend any money on their websites. At first.

It's not worth it until you have followers and/or some subscribers.


Because there's no point investing in a brand or a concept, even a product like an ebook or a novel - unless it sells WITHOUT help.

To modern online marketers this may sound counterintuitive, but here's how it works:

  • Recording companies only promote the music that is ALREADY selling.
  • Publishing companies only promote the books that are ALREADY selling.
  • Supermarkets only promote the food that is ALREADY selling.
  • Vehicle manufacturing companies only promote the cars that are ALREADY selling.

That's why we too, as independent authors and entrepreneurs, must do the same. Only UPSCALE and/or PROMOTE anything that is ALREADY working.

Never spend money promoting and marketing unproven books, novels, ebooks, or anything else like on-line courses or writing services. You must find out if there is any demand for your products BEFORE you push them in people's faces, and before you spend money on advertising. And the best way to find out if there's any kind of demand for your writing or whatever it is you want to sell, is to FIRST pick up followers to your blog posts and articles.

That's it.

Many so-called writing gurus suggest you spend money on Facebook ads or Google ads, or on making expensive sales videos. Then you hopscotch around looking for joint venture partners and other authors with big lists.

Maybe, though this approach will cost you money because authors often want paying for that now.

The best way is the free way: writing articles and sharing them on social media. People click through to your article and sign up to your mailing list. It's a simple and effective way of picking up followers, readers, and potential buyers.

And did I mention it's free?

But you've got to be smart and consistent in your approach.

  • You need to ask yourself, Who are you writing for?
  • What does your ideal reader look like?
  • How old is he or she?
  • What do they do for a living?
  • What sort of things do they like? (Apart from you and/or your books!)
  • Build a picture in your mind of your ideal fan. One.

Many would-be marketers make a simple mistake.

They believe they are selling to LOTS of people - and imagine huge crowds of clamoring punters. Then they ask, how can we appeal to all these people? This thinking often leads to errors of judgment and failed marketing efforts. Because you're not selling to people, you're not blogging to a crowd, you're not writing for the masses, you are writing for one person.

And each person is an individual who needs respect, to be cherished even, like your best friend ever.

That's the secret.

You're writing for an audience of ONE: your ideal fan.

Place the image of that ideal person in your mind whenever you write, whenever you think of a book idea and whenever you design a website, a blog post, even a tweet.

Writing Your Blog

Your blog is like an open-source diary. It's a public manifestation of your persona. But don't get nervous about it. Remember that you decide what you want to share - and what you don't want to share.

My subscribers often write me as though we're old friends. Which I love. But over the last two decades of perhaps a thousand posts and articles, I've made sure there are things about me my subscribers never know - because I choose not to share them. Not for any dark or sinister reason. Only because, well, perhaps there are things about me that aren't all that fascinating or relevant or - and this is crucial - they're not consistent with the person I want other people to know.

I speak with many new authors who are terrified of revealing themselves online.

I understand.

When I started out, certain sentences I wrote sent chills of apprehension, fear, and dread through my bones. I would often shake as I clicked 'PUBLISH'! I imagined all kinds of repercussions, scorn, hate-mail, criticism, and derision.

Which only rarely happens.

But yes, I understand that blogging can be nerve-wracking. But the hardest part is having something to say each time you blog. This is where your ideal fan comes to the fore. This person loves you and can't wait to get another message from you. Especially if it's about something you're passionate about.

We feel comfortable with someone who loves us because we can be ourselves and say what we want without fear. That's what your ideal fan is like. And so when you write a blog, imagine you're writing for him or her. Then, the process will begin to get a lot easier!

Building Your Mailing List

The money is in the list. You hear it all time. It’s what everyone says, right? Why?


But not any old mailing list. Use someone else’s list of perhaps a million subscribers and you won’t make a dime.


Use your own list of less than a thousand subscribers - and you can get rich!


Of course, you have to build the right people into your list: YOUR fans, YOUR readers, YOUR potential buyers.

And, I’m sorry to have to break this to you: the only way to build a decent list is the hard way. One PERSON at a time. But this is also the BEST way and the most gratifying and fun.

Building a mailing list slowly will also help you know what to do when it comes to promotion, what works and what doesn’t, without jeopardizing your success with rash experiments or ill-conceived plans.

You can build your experience at a comfortable, organic rate.

Over the years, I have built many mailing lists from scratch.

It used to be a lot easier to build enormous lists of online people because almost everybody used to sign up for free stuff. Nowadays people are more picky, and probably worried they’re simply signing up for more spam. These days, it’s often hard to build large lists but the fewer people who do stay are usually much more beneficial to your career. Especially if you treat them well and don’t abuse them.

But understand this: small lists are good for you, as long as they’re responsive and involved.

I purge people from my lists who do not respond to my emails. For one good reason:

Email host companies don’t like seeing emails going out to thousands of people and going unopened. They label the sender a spammer and will sometimes block all the emails that sender puts out before their other subscribers see them. Better I remove my non-responders and keep my email blasts looking active and wanted by my cherished recipients.

So, building a mailing list is the way to go but there’s a downside.

A good list hosting company will cost you money.

Nowadays, nothing any good on the Net is free.

Autoresponders, payment processors, and list-building software is expensive - but you have to remember why…

It’s because, TA DA, Internet marketing now works. Especially list building. A good list of responsive subscribers built over the course of a year can turn you into a bestselling author. It’s that powerful. So of course it costs money!

But you need to be careful with whom you spend your money.

My advice is to be sensible online - and don’t overstretch yourself.

Unless you have several thousand to spend before you expect to see any return, try to keep your outgoings to a minimum.

Whatever you do, DON’T go with a sophisticated outfit that offers every sales and marketing gizmo you could ever - and never - use. Many companies exist now that will, in theory, automate your marketing, many of whom are great but also complicated and expensive, especially if you’re not making any money, which you probably won’t be for a while. Like for a year or so.

Spend your precious money on a good autoresponder company. That's it. For the time being. That's all you need to build a good mailing list of followers, fans, and potential buyers.

There are three main ways to pick up subscribers for free.

  1. Write articles, post them on free blogs and then blast those articles onto Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, etc.
  2. At the end of your blog posts offer a freebie as an enticement to sign up for more articles and/or news about your writing. I usually offer PDF copies of my books and courses as an incentive.
  3. Have a link on your Amazon Author Page to your blog articles - and mention your freebie.

Now, it’s easy to create email capture boxes when you use a good autoresponder company. You create a list name, add a few follow up emails that might contain links to freebies and articles. Design an email capture box, which you place on your website or blog. Both Wordpress and Blogspot let you put your email capture box on your site - so you need not worry about having your own website.

Amazon doesn’t yet let you link to your own sites but they do allow you to say what your site name is, just not as an active URL. You can add links to your site and blog in the books you publish on Amazon and Kindle.

Your Mailing Sequence

At this stage you might wonder why are we focusing so much on software and marketing when surely we should be selling our books, novels, articles and short stories?

Simple answer, because you can’t have one thing without the other.

Before you send people to your sales pages or your books on Kindle or Amazon or CreateSpace - you will need your mailing list in place - all primed and ready to do your bidding. And ideally when you have between fifty and one hundred people, which might not take as long as you’d think to collect.

For instance, if you put out a strong social media blog EVERY DAY you might expect 2 to 10 new subscribers per post.

With hard work and automatic article posting with a company like Missing Lettr, you’d have a 100-strong mailing list within a couple weeks. A thousand within a couple months.

And remember it’s a widely held belief in online marketing circles you can give up your day job when you have a 1000-strong mailing list.

So don’t underestimate the power of doing things right. And in the right order!

The freebie you offer for people’s email addresses should be a no brainier. Your incentive should be irresistible to your target demographic. Offer something extravagant or outrageous and you’ll never fail to attract new subscribers. I usually offer a PDF previously sold for a high price. These days I offer courses at my Writing Academy.

You can offer a free novel or a short story or a collection of focused articles from your blog. And. if you’re not getting all the sign ups you want, experiment with different freebies until you find something that works well.

It has to be a good offer because it has to appeal to potential subscribers TWICE. ONCE when they first sign up and AGAIN when your autoresponder company sends out a CONFIRMATION email. This is called a “double opt-in” and it’s often compulsory. It’s designed to prevent people from feeling spammed. Basically the idea is that if you’ve asked people TWICE if they want to receive your emails, they can’t really complain when they get them.

Never hit people with offers to buy stuff as soon as you get their email addresses. This strategy is guaranteed to make people unsubscribe immediately. Remember that your audience are people like you who deserve respect and even love. You’ll find that if you bear this in mind when you compose your emails to them, you’ll naturally strike the right balance.

You have to care.

And caring about your readers means being nice to them, treating them with kindness and consideration and taking the blame if something goes wrong or if your customer isn’t happy.

Here’s a good email sequence to consider for your list:

  1. The welcome email detailing where the freebie is located - sent on sign up
  2. Email again welcoming the customer telling them a little more about yourself and your work. Sent one day later
  3. Email containing a link to perhaps an author interview. Sent two days later.
  4. Email offering another small freebie for being a loyal subscriber. Sent three days later.
  5. A weekly article that will be of interest to your subscribers - perhaps promise to make it a 5 or 10 part series.

You can also send out broadcast emails with links to your new blogs and articles as you write them, either daily, weekly or monthly.

The advantage of this approach is that you’re not trying to sell anything. Yet. You can rest easy in the knowledge these people stay subscribed to you because they like you - and they enjoy what you have to say.

Now, if you never needed money or never wanted to become a bestselling author, you’d have a growing band of followers. That’s how I thought, way back in 2002, when I was building a list for the first time. I enjoyed the process and didn’t worry too much about what I’d do with the list for the first year or so. And that’s cool - it’s nice to have followers - and it’s one reason that, years after I’ve needed to, I still write a weekly newsletter to my subscribers. Simply because I like it - and they seem to like it too.

Okay, one of the great advantages of autoresponder companies is that you can create more than one mailing list and depending on how your subscribers behave, you can move them around and service them differently.

To give you some idea, I have lists for new students, for regular buyers, and for Academy members. Even one for the many people who never buy a thing but who just like my newsletters. I find having different lists useful - and having segmented lists helps me focus my marketing efforts when necessary.

As I mentioned earlier, I purge subscribers who stop responding to my emails altogether. It helps me look good to the spam robots and gives me a better idea of what’s going on with my followers. Plus, it keeps everything neat and organized in the long run.

All this may sound a little anal. I understand because I too used not to bother with all the analytics. (Funny how that word has anal in it.) But since I’ve been working much more closely with the dynamics of how my subscribers interact with my Writing Academy, I’ve become a lot more successful - plus I enjoy it more. So much so, I’ve shut down my other sites altogether and now focus all of my energy on my Writing Academy.

So, if you're an author but you're not selling any books yet, try building your own mailing list - before you give up writing altogether.

Keep Writing!

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