How to Build a Mailing List That Actually Buys Your Books

The most important piece of your book distribution network is a mailing list of people who will actually buy your books. Anyone can build a mailing list, and it’s not that hard once you apply yourself to the task. But how do you find people who will actually buy your book?

Start With Your Current Readers

The first place to start is with those people who have already bought one of your books. In every book, make an offer they can’t refuse. In the front and back of every book, make a simple offer. If they go to your website and sign up to your mailing list, give them as much of what they want and as little of what they don’t want.

What they want (if they liked your book) is more to read. Give them a book for free. If you write fiction, this can be a book of short stories or the backstory of the main character or whatever book you want to give away. If you write nonfiction, give them detailed information or even a seriously awesome checklist. Put yourself in the shoes of your reader and give them more of what they want.

What they don’t want is a constant stream of emails asking them to buy your books. When you do that, you’re not giving them anything—you're taking something. Try not to take anything, ever. When they sign up, let them know exactly what they'll receive and when, but otherwise don’t bother them. This is a fragile relationship, and you’re building trust. They’re trusting you not to harass them. But they’re also trusting you to give them real value. Make sure any email they receive is of value to them.

Generate New Readers (for Fiction Authors)

If you write fiction, consider writing two books that have the sole purpose of generating leads. This isn’t something most fiction authors think about, but business authors and marketers do this all the time. Here’s how it might work . . .

First, either use the best book you’ve written or write your best book ever. Pour your heart and soul into it, and make it amazing. It doesn’t have to be long, even 20,000 words are enough. Heck, even 15,000 words might be enough, just make it great. And end it with a compelling cliff-hanger. Don’t make the climax of the story the cliff-hanger, that’s way too annoying. But do end the story with a suspenseful scene that leaves the reader dying to know what happens.

Second, write the sequel. Bring resolution to the ending conflict of the last story, write another epic story, and leave this one with yet another cliff-hanger. This is the book you’re going to give away to people who sign up to your mailing list.

Third, go back to your first book and add two calls-to-action (CTA). The first CTA goes in the beginning and will be fairly generic. Give people your website address, and briefly ask them to sign up in exchange for the next book in the series. At this point, they don’t know there’s a suspenseful ending—and don’t let them know, either.

The second CTA comes at the very end. Don’t bother with an About the Author section or anything else, just end with a cliff-hanger and second CTA. This CTA will feel more urgent to the reader. If you’ve done your job right, they’ll want to know what happens next, and it won’t feel like an inconvenience to go to your website, enter an email address, and receive the next book.

Fourth, set up an autoresponder that goes out two days after they’ve signed up. Make it short, and make it real. Say you hope they enjoyed your books and let them know that you’ll only email them when there’s something new for them to read. Either they like your writing or they don’t. If they like your writing, they’ll be okay receiving your emails—after all, you’re giving them what they want. If they don’t like your writing, no problem; they weren’t your target audience after all.

You’re not done yet! Your first book needs to reach as many people as possible; after all, you wrote it to generate leads. You want to make it free, so don’t enroll this book in the KDP Select program because then you can only make it free for 5 days every 90-day period. My preferred technique is to use Smashwords and make it free there. In a few days (sometimes as quickly as one day), it will show up on Barnes & Noble for free. Write to Amazon (use the Contact Us link at the bottom of the page at kdp.amazon.com), tell them you have the book listed as free on B&N, and then ask them if they will change the price of your book to $0.00. I’ve done this several times, and they have always changed the price, usually within a few hours.

Your book is now free and you can start the work of promoting it. In most cases, you will start seeing more sales simply because it’s free, but you can help that process along. Author Marketing Club has a free service where you can submit your book to several sites that cater to people looking for free Kindle books. I had one client use this for a promotion, and she saw over 14,000 downloads in three days. That’s a big reach!

You can also use a paid service like BookBub and (if they accept you) reach even more people. There are plenty of other sites and possibilities out there, so be creative, and do your research. There are even bestseller services available, such as those provided by Denise Cassino, that get much more in-depth and use joint ventures and other advanced techniques.

Remember, you are trying to get as many people as possible to read your book, get hooked, and then sign up to your mailing list. You have set things up so only those people who actually enjoy your writing and are likely to buy a book from you will sign up.

Generate New Readers (for Nonfiction Authors)

Most of the system for fiction authors works the same for nonfiction authors. The big difference, of course, is that you won’t write a fiction book with a cliff-hanger and a sequel. But you can do something very similar, and this is what copywriters frequently do. Here goes . . .

First, write a very book that your target audience will consider very useful. (This, of course, means you need to know your target audience.) Again, this book does not have to be very long. In fact, I recommend a shorter book with a tightly focused niche topic. Just be sure the niche topic will be considered highly valuable to your target audience. The length can be as short as 10,000 words if your writing and your information are valuable. This book will also have a cliff-hanger, but of a different sort.

Second, write a second book to give away to everyone who signs up to your email list. At least one thing you talk about in your book can be explained in more depth. Actually, I’m sure there will be several things you can write about in more depth. (After all, your first book was fairly short and had only one focused topic.) This second book should be considered the perfect sequel or companion to your first book.

Your third and fourth steps are almost identical to the third and fourth steps for the fiction author. Insert the appropriate CTAs in the first book, and set up an autoresponder for two days later. You can also use the same methods for promoting your book; they work just as well for nonfiction as for fiction.

The big difference with nonfiction authors is that you can deliver more information on a regular basis to those people who signed up to your list. You’re in the business of giving valuable information or advice, and the people on your list probably won’t mind receiving a weekly tip. You can even make this a weekly blog post, and auto-deliver your blog posts to your email list.

And speaking of cliff-hangers, wouldn’t it be nice to have more in-depth information on some of the things I talked about here? If you’re reading this on the website, be sure to sign up below to keep learning more about how to set up your own book distribution network.