email marketing

Marketing for Indie Authors 102

Thou shalt have and send a mailing list

Now that you love your book, we come to the “making lasting connections and being relentlessly helpful” bit. You need a way to communicate with the people who read your book. You need a mailing list.


you will say


You will, grasshopper. You will. I’ll tell you how to build your list. No worries. But first you must have one. Today we’re going to talk about general terms; tomorrow we will talk about the right way to build up your list. Friday we will discuss what to send out.


No, grasshopper. Social media doesn’t sell books. Well, it does, but not nearly as well as email. Think of it this way. You’re asking for a relationship with your reader. Social media is more casual. People can skip through your posts fairly quickly, if they even see them. Email, however? With email, they have given you permission to contact them. That is huge, and the sales rate is much higher. From Tim Grahl again:

According to a recent study, people value email 26x more than they do social media.

Tim Grahl

But don’t just take my word for it. Read this data.

Okay, so a mailing list is a basic funnel. Funnel is a special word in digital marketing. If you think of the top of a funnel, the invitation to join your list should go to as many people as possible. Your funnel will have a wide mouth. The invitation will be a link. The link will lead to a landing page or form where people give you their email address. After they fill out the form there should be some sort of thank you page. The people who sign up for your list should receive a welcome email. The welcome email is the end point of your funnel. When people get it, they have converted. A sign up is a landing page conversion. Whenever someone does what you want them to do, marketing people call that a conversion.

There are other conversions. When you think of email, you want people to open the email and to click the links in the email to things you want them to buy. Those opens and clicks are another metric. Your conversion rate is going to vary from mailing to mailing depending on how you craft your headlines and content. But these are the basic terms you need to understand. Anything above a 3–6% open rate is good. Here are a few of my stats from my last mailing. Emma actually scores our emails and then we have conversion rates next to them.

email marketing dashboard

I also have heat maps of every email so I can see EXACTLY where people clicked.

email marketing heat map

Now here are the magic things the marketing experts don’t want to tell you.

Wherever people click, it means they are interested in that thing.

So if they click on a link to your blog about poodles, they are interested in poodles. Your email system should have a way for your to save the group of people who clicked on poodles to a new segment. A segment is just a subgroup of your larger audience. But once, identified, you can send that segment more emails with different content. Maybe you have a book coming out about a super-poodle. So you’ll send the poodle email segment a special email featuring that book and inviting them to the snazzy special poodle area of your web site, AND you’ll offer them a limited edition poodle art piece related to the book, AND you’ll have a link to preorder the book.

You’ll send the regular readers a normal email with a preorder invite.

See how this works? Let me demonstrate. Our little user is blue because he’s cold traffic. Very cold. You don’t walk up to a perfect stranger and ask them to marry you. You don’t walk up to a perfect stranger and ask them to buy your book. Maybe they saw a link to your mailing list landing page with an offer of some type.

email engagement loop

Whatever people click on is what they are interested in. This is a very, very powerful idea. The link they click on is called a CTA or a Call to Action

Different Calls to Action will make different people click.

There’s a whole science dedicate to studying this. I’m not getting into all that. This is what you need to know.

engagement loop 2
email engagement loop 3

Combine this with a PIXEL and a freebie or group of freebies? It is even more powerful. Your freebie is called a Lead Magnet. It can be a printable high res version of your world’s map. It can be a chapter of your book. It can be a video interview you did, only available at THIS link. Whatever. The point is, there needs to be a pixel on the other end.

A pixel usually refers to a Facebook pixel, although all platforms have something like it. It tracks if a person has been to a specific page of your website and sends that information back to Facebook or Google or what have you.

You can set up ad audiences based on pixels.

You can set up a pixel for many different purposes. But using our poodle example? The person who clicked on the poodle link to go to the poodle page gets pixeled while they are there. Then you set up an ad campaign on Facebook to show to the people who have been to that page. Using Facebook partners (and Google) you can literally have your ad follow them around the internet. Think of the ad as a reminder to buy the poodle book.

Or not. You can do as much or as little as you want. You’re in control. You’re an indie. But at the very least, you could use a pixel on your email sign up page and offer the pixeled people a novella in a targeted ad. Give them another chance to join your list.

Most people, at minimum, set up a funnel that looks like this


You should go one step further and advertise, using the audience from your pixel. The pixel on your thank you page is worth its weight in gold. It is sometimes called a remarketing pixel or retargeting. It’s all the same thing. Read about them here.

Remember, you can email me with questions at You can also hit me up on Twitter at @redtoadmedia.


There is no such thing as a free lunch. This is a basic rule of economics. Email isn’t free. It takes hosting and bandwidth. Someone has to pay people to watch the computers and maintain them. All you lovely authors out there want freebies. I get it. But just remember, there will come a point where you need to pay for your email list. If you do what I tell you to do, you will be earning money, and it won’t hurt so much. Do what you have to do, but start on the best system you can afford.

Okay, so what email platform should you use?

Do not use yahoo, gmail, or one of the other myriad email providers that offer free email addresses. They do not have the tools you need, and all of your emails will go to spam. Just don’t do it. An email platform is something like Constant Contact or Mailchimp. We use MyEmma and have done so for years. We price according to volume, not a flat fee, so if you send email you pay. If you don’t you won’t. Most email campaigns cost .0225 per email. So 1000 emails = $2.25. 10,000 emails cost $20.25. We actually discount the more you send, so it is less than that. But you get the idea. The decimal system is fun. We offer a lot of bells and whistles at a lower price because we joined 18 years ago and got a fantastic deal. So we use it. (Shoot me an email at if you want to know more.) But most platforms will cost you $15–30 a month to start.

Mailchimp is where many people start, because it is free. It integrates with everything. I’m not a huge fan of Mailchimp because their interface isn’t super easy, but whatever floats your boat. You can look up “mailing list software” and decide what is right for you. My advice is to just make sure they can segment your email list, that’s the most important thing. ConvertKit is a good software package.

Whew! We covered a lot today! Tune in tomorrow for the “how to build your email list.” If you haven’t read it yet, check out yesterday’s post on marketing.

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Cheryl Murphy is Asian with brown hair in a single braid and a smirk.

ACES: the society for editing


Contact Ink Slinger

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or leave me a voicemail at (213) 293-8507



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