why list building works for best selling authors blog title image

Why list building works for best-selling authors



In the last post Indie Author’s guide to building a website , we looked at 3 tools using which you can build a beautiful author website.

What next once you have your website in place?

During my research I discovered that list building is mentioned as the most important element that needs to be in place for every author who is serious about selling their book.

Every best-selling Indie author swears by the power of their mailing list.

But I also read countless cases where email marketing and list building did not really produce expected results.

That makes me think. What makes list building work for some so successfully? What is it that they are doing that we can learn from and apply for our book marketing efforts?

The most important lesson I learnt is that list building is a process. An organized, consistent and repeatable process.

And there are 7 key elements included in the process that, when combined, make for a email list the author can be proud of.

Here are the 7 elements you MUST know and acquire, to make your list building exercise worth the effort.

1. They start early

For many new authors book marketing or specifically speaking list building gets attention at a later stage of their writing process.

On the contrary, best selling authors start list building early, way early. Tom Morkes, in his blog post The author’s guide to building an email list mentions that he set up his blog a few months before he published his first book, The Art of Instigating.

The point here is to understand that for your list building exercise to be a success, you need to give it time. Similar to the way you would to plant a sapling and see it grow into a tree.

Simple. Isn’t it?

2. They build a system

Tim Grahl in his best-selling book on email marketing for authors, Your First 1000 Copies (this is one book you got to have on your shelf) says that every best-seller out there requires a system to support it.

Why do authors need a system? We are selling creative work here not building an organization, right?

A system refers to a well-defined process of every activity leading to a desired goal. In this case, getting a reader to join your email list.

And there is a feedback loop and a performance metrics in place to measure the effectiveness of the process.

“A good system shortens the road to the goal.”, Orisson Swett Marden, American Author, 1850-1924

When you have a system in place, you have a marketing engine that is consistent, organized and scalable, whether you sell 100 copies or 1,000 copies a month.

3. They have a website

If there was one common element for building a sustainable marketing system that best-selling authors started with, it is a website.

In my research, I am yet to come across an author especially the successful independent ones, who did not have a website.

To build a list you need a way for your fans to signup. And to help them signup you need a web form. And you need a website to setup and publish the form which will help you turn a casual browser into a subscriber.

But a website does more than just help people join your mailing list. A website acts as the hub to which every marketing and sales channel connects.

For example, visitors may choose to follow you on facebook or twitter. This helps your marketing channel when the time comes to promote your book.

It also connects your sales channel by providing a link to buy your book on Amazon.

4. They automate

Gmail and Yahoo are good for personal email management. For less than 10-20 email IDs, these maybe okay. Not when you want your list to grow in the hundreds or thousands.

Those making a killing on Amazon invest in automation tools to manage their email marketing. And the reasons are obvious from the image below.

Email Marketing ROI
Source: neilpatel.com

Besides setting up web form and automating email send outs, successful authors know the real use of email marketing automation services – to track metrics on various parameters including open rates, click through and more.

The data is invaluable for analyzing promotional campaigns and other email communication and to fine tune the next one for better results.

There are many tools available to choose from. We use Mailerlite for readers of fabstori.com.

Here’s a comprehensive review of The Best Email Marketing Software of 2017 from PCMag to help you find the right one.

Protip: Start with a free plan that includes atleast 1000 subscribers and then starts at the lowest price point.

5. They understand funnels and conversions

Ignore the jargon for a minute. But here’s where best-selling authors stand apart. They have a system and they are strategic in their approach to list building.

What do I mean by a strategic approach? Well, here’s an example from Mark Dawson’s website home page.

Source: markjdawson.com

This screen is what you see when you land on Mark’s website. Notice how the ‘Get my Free Books’ stands out from the rest of the content. Now when the website visitor clicks the button he sees an opt-in form below.

Mark Dawson Website Optin Form Image

Once visitors provides an email ID, the email marketing automation software takes over.

The funnel here is the journey the buyer takes – learning about Mark’s website to willingly giving his email ID to receiving Mark’s free e-novels.

And with the use of automation and other tools such as Google Analytics, Mark knows how well he is converting curious visitors into confirmed leads on his list.

So he uses,

  1. A homepage with an offer on top
  2. A free giveaway
  3. And an opt-in form

in a simple and clear manner while giving a seamless user experience to website visitors.

The lesson here is that best-selling authors succeed because they take a planned and measurable approach to list building.

This in my view is strategic.

Also read: 5 reasons new authors should blog

6. They dig buyer psychology

If you’ve read Robert Cialdini’s national bestseller Influence you know what I am talking about.

Robert, a Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University wrote a book outlining 6 principles of human psychology marketers use to influence buyers and get them to say ‘YES.’

I’m not suggesting you wear the snake oil salesman suit. The idea here is these best-selling authors know the personas of their buyers better than others.

And it seems that the best-sellers know what, when and how to communicate with their website visitors to convert them from casual browsers –> subscribers –> buyers.

Here’s an example from Nick Stephenson’s website yourfirst10kreaders.com

Source: yourfirst10kreaders.com

He is applying the 1st principle among the 6 discussed in Influence – Reciprocity. In this case,  site visitors will be more than willing to share their email ID in return for receiving a free video training.

Again you maybe thinking there are tons of such training available on Youtube, for free with no email details needed. Why would anyone signup here?

The probability of a visitor signing up is higher here because there is the 5th principle already in place in the background – Authority.

The training is from Nick Stephenson who has been there, done that and has numbers to prove his claim.

Get the drift?

But this is non-fiction. What about fiction?

We just discussed Mark Dawson’s website above. He takes the same approach on the home page of his website.

If you are a new author like me, and working your way through your first manuscript, then yes this can be a tough one.

One way new authors could start with is a collection of short stories or an anthology. Basically create something that would take relatively less effort to produce than a 50,000 word thriller.

I’m sure you may have many more ideas and if any have worked for you, do share in the comments below.

Bottomline, know your target audience really well.

6. They engage with readers

I would think that if my readers have joined my list, they expect to hear from me.

But then the obvious question that crossed my mind is do authors need to focus on their writing or worry about keeping their readers engaged?

The best-sellers, it seems have found a sweet spot. They engage with an objective to remain fresh in the minds of their readers.

And its not very difficult now with social media channels available – facebook, twitter and instagram are the favorites here.

There is no need to plunder the mailboxes of your fans once you are on social media.

Email it seems is used mainly during an important event or an announcement together with social media feeds.

In case of non-fiction, emails are a bit more frequent since these authors are also prolific bloggers sharing interesting thoughts and content with their readers a bit more frequently than fiction writers.

7. The spend $$$

Yes, one of the most important elements of what makes the list grow for the now known as best-sellers.

I put it last as I thought moving it on top will put off readers, especially wannabes like me.

Even those with their email lists bulging at the seams, a budget and spend on promoting their work is always a priority. Those on the list convert to buyers and those not on the list, subscribe. No scope for any doubts here.

Facebook Ads is their favorite and we’ll be doing a detailed breakdown on how should go about doing it right in a future post.

Targeted paid ads can be great tools especially for new authors trying to break into a reader’s mindshare.

If you were hired by a publishing house they would too. So why don’t you?

As far as budgets, maximizing ROI and neat ideas on getting the best of digital ads, that will have to be a topic for another day.


Hope I’ve been able to put things in perspective for you. I’m sure you knew the importance of an email list but I guess now you know what makes list building a profitable exercise for the best-selling authors.

Remember the list happened way before these folks tasted success in their authoring careers and not the other way around.

So get going and start working on building your fan club today.



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