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Website of author and professional editor Rachelle M. N. Shaw. Find information about her books, her editing services, and her blog, From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing.


From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing

From Mind to Paper is a blog for writers, editors, and those interested in the English language. It covers a multitude of writing topics, from punctuation and grammar to plot development, character development, and world building. In addition to in-depth articles about various writing topics, this blog also has a number of series posts, which are currently being transformed into a nonfiction series on writing.

Filtering by Category: Audience

Top 5 Reasons Authors Need a Mailing List

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably read other marketing articles about the topic of building mailing lists. Maybe you’ve agreed with those articles, and maybe you haven’t. Or maybe you’re on the fence, perhaps even wondering why it matters for those who don’t have anything published yet.

In my guest blog on the 10 Minute Novelist site, I talked about how important it is to build an author platform and what you can do to tackle the daunting amount of social media involved in doing so. This time I’d like to cover why you should spend your time tackling the potentially more daunting task of building a mailing list. That advice is slung around in a vast number of areas in the publishing world. So it’s no surprise that when many new authors follow that advice, they get discouraged after struggling to achieve high numbers early on. I’ve been there myself, and it can be incredibly disheartening at times. But if you are a new author who’s just starting a newsletter, don’t give up! Even if you have only three subscribers on your list (and believe me, I’ve been there), that list will prove to be a critical foundation to reaching readers, and here’s why.

1. You control the content.

This advice is similar to the that of posting blogs on your own website rather than posting it on a social media site: having a mailing list allows you to have ultimate control around the content, design, and who it reaches. That last element is key to focus on. Think about it: if you post your beautiful words, be it an article, a tweet, a status update, or even an excerpt of your work, to any social media site on the planet, what happens? If you’re lucky, you’ll get some views. If you’re really fortunate, you’ll get some responses and start building a relationship with those followers. So why the fuss about an email list? Well, for starters, the people on that list have signed up for it, so they already expect and want to hear what you have to say, saving you from having to hunt them down. Yes, building a list takes time. Yes, sending out regular newsletters takes a lot of work. But bestselling authors many times over have recommended this approach, and it’s no secret why. When you dictate what content goes out to your readers and when, you gain a strong connection with those readers, and you have access to them in a way that social media can’t provide.

2. It encourages personal interaction.

Though social media is a great way to converse with potential readers and to build relationships, there is something much more personal about newsletters. Though they’re being sent out to multiple people, each email reaches someone who willingly signed up for it and wants to know more about your writing. In other words, it’s not only reaching your target audience, it’s reaching your loyal fans, those who are the most interested in reading what you write. The key here is to share content that gives back to your readers. Trust is a two-way street, and if all your readers hear is “buy my book!” they aren’t going to stick around to hear what you have to offer. Give them content that is genuinely you—high-quality material that proves you will deliver on what you say, something that represents your brand and you as an author. Doing so will ensure subscribers that they’ll enjoy your future work, making them more likely to listen to you when you have a pitch to make for your next book.

3. Having a mailing list is like having a giant group of marketing professionals at your disposal.

Now, before you go throwing any tomatoes at me, hear me out. Not everybody on your mailing list will have experience in marketing. In fact, a lot of them probably will have no clue about it. But by sharing personal content with your audience and getting genuine feedback from them, you’re automatically gaining insight into how to cater to you readers and deliver exactly the type of content they want from you. You’ll see what’s working and what isn’t just by the stats delivered from each campaign. And if you have readers respond to your emails, that result is even better. To me, that’s worth way more than a whole group of marketing professionals put together. Bottom line, if you focus on your readers and engage with them, they’ll engage with you.

4. You don’t need to be published to have one.

Whether you traditionally publish or self-publishing, being an author is a LOT of work, and it comes with an insurmountable pile of challenges. But there is one area where we get a break, a free pass into the world of publishing, and that’s with a newsletter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard writers say that they haven’t started a newsletter because they don’t have anything published—maybe you’re one of those writers. But think about it this way. Have you ever seen a trailer for a movie that you’ve never heard of yet you still thought, “I have to see that!” Chances are you have, and for one very good reason: the content of that trailer was compelling, and it forged a connection with you. Books work very similarly. It doesn’t matter if they’re at the top of the bestselling charts or if you have an agent managing them. It doesn’t even matter if your book has been officially published yet. If you have stories to share and are willing to take the time to build personal connections with readers, YOU HAVE AN AUDIENCE. And if you can get their attention, they’ll listen!

5. It doesn’t cost a penny.

If ever there was an effective way to advertise without spending a fortune, it’s through a mailing list. There are loads of services out there that allow you to send professional-quality emails to a mass number of subscribers, but my personal favorite is Mailchimp. You can see each of your subscribers, categorize them by group and subgroup, and you can see how they’re interacting with each of your campaigns, letting you know which items were of the most value to your readers. That will help you fine-tune your emails to reach even more subscribers in the future. A huge perk with their service is that it’s totally free until you reach 2,000 subscribers, which is really awesome for those of us starting out.

If you’re on the fence about starting a newsletter, don’t be afraid to make that jump. Though it can be a slow-going process at first, it’s definitely a worthwhile one and can help you reach more readers out there just dying to get their hands on what you have to write.

Speaking of mailing lists…if you enjoyed this article, feel free to venture onto the signup page for my FMTP newsletter: It’s full of posts like this one, plus it has extra tips and updates for my nonfiction projects geared toward helping writers in all stages of the craft.

Know Your Audience

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

Though I generally try to branch off and give advice about writing that not everybody has heard, occasionally I'll throw in a common one. Why? Well, if it is a truly good piece of advice, it deserves to be reiterated. So here's my "common knowledge" piece of advice for today: know your audience. Yes, it really is that important.

When I first started writing my novel 12+ years ago, I had no idea who my audience was. I had a vague idea that it would probably be young adults, but I wasn't sure about that. And I definitely wasn't sure about the genre that the book would end up being. The result? Apart from the fact that I was only 14 years old at the time and had little to no experience writing an actual book that I planned to publish, I made one of the worst mistakes you can make when planning to writing a book. I had no audience picked out. I had no idea what my goal was when I started writing my book. Each time I would hammer out a few pages, I'd end up with broken scenes, random snippets, or just plain garbage that wasn't even worth saving. Needless to say, I ended up going around in circles, throwing out what I had written, starting all over, saving and few paragraphs that I particularly liked, then repeating the cycle. It was a completely waste of time and very inefficient looking back on it.

Since then, I've gained considerable experience writing various pieces, taking courses, earning a degree, and getting advice from trusted friends, family members, professors, editors, and other writers. I now know exactly where the same novel is headed, I know that my audience is young adults, specifically those who like to read fantasy/supernatural novels, and I know I will be producing a series of books, likely a trilogy. I know who all of my main characters are and their personalities, I know several secondary characters, I have the overall story arc planned, and I have a rough outline and several maps drawn already (See my first post for more information on maps.). How far am I in my writing? I'm only in the second chapter. About 16 pages in. Yes, that's it.

See, books take a lot of planning. Far more than I ever realized in my naive 14-year-old outlook on writing. I always knew I wanted to be a writer of some sort, but I also never realized just how much goes into making a good book. I just figured if you had the talent and the passion for writing, it'd all come to you as you wrote. Not the case. In the least. Good writing takes a lot of planning and preparing before you even get to the writing stage. And it all starts with knowing your audience. If you don't know your audience, I guarantee you will find yourself in my shoes, spinning in circles, eventually leading you to give up on the book that you've been trying to write for ages, or, you'll produce a piece of drivel like Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey (more on those at another time), then come to grips with what actually needs to be done and start planning. Don't believe me? Give it a whirl, then come back and re-read this post when you've reached the point I've just mentioned. You'll have a better understanding what I mean then.

In the meantime, check out this page that the University of Maryland has published on planning your audience.

It's a quick read, and it's very helpful in explaining why some pre-writing is necessary, like I stated, and how to go about determining the correct audience for your particular piece of work.

Happy planning!