StoryOrigin Blog
Your guide to book marketing

3,000 subscribers in 3 months

Building a mailing list from scratch
Evan Gow, indie developer of StoryOrigin
Evan Gow
October 27, 2022

I recently had a great conversation with Joris van Leeuwen about his journey from traditional publishing into self-publishing.

He's got a lot of other great advice for authors in terms of how to build their mailing list. In this conversation, he covers how he:

  • Gained 3,000 subscribers in 3 months
  • Boosted his open rates from 12% to 30%+
  • Organizes group promos for greater effect

I've compiled some highlights from that conversation. So let's go ahead and jump right into it.

Publishing journey

I'm actually a traditionally published author here in the Netherlands.

I've written 15 suspense novels, and I was used to just writing a book and sending that to my publisher and they did the rest.

But, when I started to self-publish the translations of those books, I suddenly needed to do everything myself from the cover design and formatting to the marketing.

I didn't have a mailing list, because here in the Netherlands, it's not common for authors to have mailing lists.

We're a little bit behind in marketing and self-publishing in general.

So, I started from zero and I had no clue how email marketing worked.

I started out with setting up a MailChimp account.

Then, I heard aboutusing Reader Magnets to build your mailing list, so eventually I got that part down.

Finding an audience

You can have the most polished reader magnet, and a beautiful landing page, but if you're not sending traffic to it, it just doesn't work.

I was really frustrated.

I said to myself, “I just have 10 people on my list. How can I bring more people to my list?”

And eventually I stumbled upon StoryOrigin.

That really moved the needle.

By working with other authors (joining group promosor creating group promos), I went from about 50 people on my list to almost 2-or-3,000 in the first 3 months.

One of the best things to do is to actually create your own group promo. That really helped.

In the first few months, my mailing list really skyrocketed.

Mailing lists vs social media

There are so many different things that you can do in terms of marketing.

You have social media marketing or Facebook and TikTok, but I think email marketing is still the strongest and best way to market your book, because you can:

  • Own your relationship with your readers
  • Reach your audience directly
  • Find readers more invested in you than social media followers

Own your relationship with readers

You can focus on building your audience on Facebook or TikTok or whatever social media platform you choose, but if Facebook or TikTok or whatever platform decides to shut you down, you're left with nothing.

With email marketing, your list is always your list.

And, with social media, those platforms decide who your posts reach, even if they are subscribed to you and join your groups, etc.

Reach your audience directly

With email marketing, you are reaching out to your audience directly.

Especially, if you're planning to write multiple books, email marketing is the way to go.

When you hit publish on your second book or third book, then you can email your readers directly.

You have a big audience eager to buy your book, because they're actually fans.

Find readers more invested in you than social media followers

I run an author service company, so I talk to authors on a daily basis and a lot of them are so focused on getting followers on Facebook or TikTok, but a lot of those followers are not really there for you.

I prefer to have 1,000 people on my email list over 20,000 followers on Facebook or TikTok.

Those 1,000 people are actually true fans that are actually buying my books every single time.

I think quality over quantity is definitely important.

Mailing list dividends

There are many key aspects my mailing list provides.

  1. Finding reviewers
  2. Finding my tribe
  3. Increasing sales
  4. Getting feedback

First isbuilding the launch team for my next book. I can just send out an email saying, “Hey guys, my next book is coming out. Who would like to get an early review copy?”

Second, I'm a people person. I like to talk to people, and I really care about conversations. My list is like a group of family members even, especially in your core fans.

When you send an email out and get responses back from all over the globe and you get feedback that's very valuable.

Third, other than review teams and conversations, my mailing list has of course been valuable to my sales.

Fourth, I get answers to questions.

For example, I wrote about 50% of a book, and I wasn't really sure if I was on the right track.

SoI posted a few chapters, and emailed my list, “Hey guys, can you read this and tell me what you think? Should I continue with this, or change anything?”

Sending an email out to your fans can really help.

Building a mailing list

I first started out with Facebook.

I was very active on Facebook, so I tried to promote my reader magnet there, but I wasn't reaching enough people.

That got my first 50 people on my list, but that was basically it.

I was stuck in that place for at least two months.

I did some cross promotions with other authors via social media and that helped a bit, but it wasn't until I found StoryOrigin that I really moved the needle.

What worked for me the best on StoryOrigin wereNewsletter Swaps andGroup Promos.

I just started joining as many group promotions as I was allowed.

Then my book was on the group promo landing page and everybody was sending traffic to that page.

The trick that I would want to give everybody was actually creating those promos myself.

It's not actually not that hard.

It takes you maybe five minutes more than if you were joining someone else's group promo.

You just need to create a banner and complete a simple form on StoryOrigin.

The main benefit of being the organizer is that you decide you can decide which books get “premium spots” that appear on the top of the page

I normally use two, three, or sometimes four books, and my books were at the top of the group promo landing page.

I normally run group promos for 30 days and have 50, 60, 70 authors participating with everyone sending traffic to the group promo landing page where my books were at the top of the page.

Group promo banner images

You can use Canva.

The more professional it looks, the better, but the main focus is the books anyway.

So if you can whip something up with the name of the group promo there, it does the job.

It doesn't have to be incredibly polished. At least that's my experience.

Common mistakes with mailing lists

The mistake I see a lot of authors make is trying to push their books out as much as they can.

So when somebody joins their list, they immediately send them an email, saying “Hey, glad that you're here. Here's my book. Buy it now.”

That just doesn't work.

You're not building a relationship like that.

It's best to show you're interested in that person and building a relationship with them. Then, you can slowly start pitching your book.

Again, I have everything automated, so this is all part of my welcome sequence.

When I pitch one of my books, I use storytelling.

Let me give an example.

One of my books is a suspense novel, and it begins with a brother and sister who go shopping. The sister finds a dress, goes into the changing room, but she doesn't come out. From that moment on, nobody remembers her. There are no photos. It's like she's completely erased from existence. The only person who knows that she existed is her brother.

That story was inspired by an experience I had when I was younger when I lost my sister in a grocery store.

So I tell my audience about the time I lost my sister, and spread that out over two or three emails, and then afterwards tell them, “I actually wrote a book based on that memory.”

That works well, because they get engaged with the story. They want to know more.

I get emails from my subscribers after the first email (ended with a cliffhanger) saying, “Can I read part two? What happened?”

So just use storytelling.

Reader magnets

I use short stories, because I'm a fiction author.

I have two short stories exclusive for my mailing list subscribers.

One of them is too short in my opinion. It's it's little over 2000 words. The cover is amazing though, so a lot of people sign-up to my list to get it.

However, the feedback I got when I just used that solely was “Yeah, I loved it, but it was too short.”

Now, I use two short stories as a single book file.

The first one works well, but I wanted to add more value, because I think adding value is very important when people are giving you their email address.

Then, at the end of those short stories, I include the buy links, blurbs, and covers for my other books.

That works very well for new readers, because I'm reaching a bigger audience by cross-promoting it.

I always advise authors (especially if they're writing a fantasy series for instance) to write a prequel or at least a short story that is related to the same universe or the same world. I think that works best.

However, that doesn't work for me personally, because I write standalones. The short stories are in that same genre, but other than that, they are not related.

But again, if you have a series and can make your reader magnet related, do that because that works even better.

Engaging new subscribers

I started with one welcome email, and made the mistake of pushing my books immediately in the second email saying, “Hey, this is one of my books. It's about this, go buy it.”

That was the first four or five months of my mailing list.

And then I slowly started testing things, and eventually that grew.

When I started out, I just had one email per book. Now, I have like three or four emails per book.

My welcome sequence doesn't only talk about the books. I talk about my journey as an author and all the things related.

Welcome sequences

The first one is basically just telling them why they're there, who I am, and to give a free short story download.

Of course, if they come througha reader magnet on StoryOrigin, they will have gotten that download automatically, but for people signing up outside of StoryOrigin, I havea direct download linkfor them in that first email.

Then, two days later, I send them an email that says, “Did you like the free short stories I gave you?”

You don't want to put all the information about you and your stories in one email, because it will be too lengthy.

Then, I send a third email where I give away one of my books, to give them even more to get interested in.

That's the first three emails.

And then every week, they get an email from me. The main one I have here is, “have you ever lost your brother or sister?” That's the story about how I lost my sister in a great grocery store.

As weird as it may sound, I'm not using my emails to push my books. I try to just tell them stories related to my books.

Then, eventually I can say to them, “I've actually written a book related to that personal story. Feel free to check it out.”

That's what I do for calls-to-action.

Welcome sequence performance

In the beginning, I would have an open rate of something like 12%.

Now, it's around 30%.

The first welcome email I had was pretty lengthy.

I basically put everything in one email.

And then I just had one call-to-action at the bottom, but since the email was so long, readers just didn't get there.

If you have a lot of things that you want to tell them, just split it up in multiple emails.

Use storytelling so it's fun to read.

Eventually, I spread that mine out into three or four shorter emails, and I found people were actually clicking on the links more because they actually were getting to the links.

Engaging emails

The more you can have your email look like a regular email that you send to your friends or family, the better.

It will help your email avoid spam folders, and improve your click-through and open rates

What really worked for me is just don't think of all the people you're reaching out to.

Just think, “I'm going to write one email, and this email is for my best friend, and I'm just wanting to update him or her about what I've been up to and about my new book.”

About the author: Evan Gow is the indie developer of StoryOrigin