August 5th, 2020

Giving Back To Your Readers

by Eldred "Bob" Bird

In my last two posts here on WITS I talked in general terms about building your author platform, both online and offline. Today I’m going to dig a little deeper into building a long-term relationship with your readers. This is an important part of succeeding as a writer, but how do we accomplish the task? Like any other relationship it involves a little give and take.

How Does This Give and Take Work?

One key piece of information we ask potential readers to give is an email address. This allows us to keep them up to date on new releases, share our creative process with them via newsletters, and send the occasional promotional mailings. But what can we give them in return for this valuable piece of information?

Like many authors, I’ve been giving readers a free story download in exchange for signing up for my newsletter (I admit I stole this idea from the great James Scott Bell). You might think managing all those download requests will eat up most of your writing time, but the good news is the process can be automated.

I've included the steps below. This small bit of initial setup work will save you a lot time in the long run.

What You Need to Automate the Process

Before we get too deep in the process, you’re going to need to have a few things handy.

A Reader Reward

The first thing you need is something to give your readers. What would make them squeal with joy?  Okay, maybe not squeal but you get the idea. Do you have the first chapter of an upcoming book you want to promote?  How about a worksheet or tool you can share from a resource?  Do you have bios of your characters or an extra scene that may have been cut from your novel? 

I usually use stand-alone short stories for my giveaways. It’s a great way to give readers a taste of my voice as a writer. I also suggest saving the file in PDF format rather than EPUB or MOBI. PDF files are more universal and can be viewed on any device the reader may have handy.

A Place to Host Your File

Now that you have something to give to the readers, you’re going to need somewhere in the cloud to store it where it can be easily accessed and distributed. There are many cloud storage providers out there, but Google Docs is probably the simplest solution. I have a specific folder where I upload and store giveaway files. This helps keep things neat and tidy and makes getting the download links a snap.

A Way to Collect Addresses

You’re also going to need a way to collect and manage the email addresses you receive. You’ll also be using this same application to automate the delivery of your file. Two of the most popular solutions are Mailchimp and MailerLite. Both are free up to a certain number of subscribers, and both offer delivery automation. I’ve found MailerLite to be the most flexible and robust at the free level, and a good fit for most authors, but do your research and decide what works best for you as you scale up and move toward achieving you ultimate goal as a writer.

Putting it All Together

Okay, you’ve got your giveaway file uploaded to cloud storage and your mail management account is setup and ready to go. What next?

Create a Signup Form

The first thing you will need to do in your mail management account is create a signup form. Most sites have a wizard to accomplish this or predesigned templates you can customize. You need to decide what information you want from the subscriber and add fields for each piece. At a minimum, I would suggest first name, last name, and email address. You can add fields for a mailing address, but I would make those fields optional as they may scare some people off. What we really want is that email address.

Create a Confirmation Letter

Next, you need to create an email confirmation letter that will be sent to the subscriber when they enter their information and hit the button. Again, most services will provide a template, but take the time to customize the letter to your specific brand. By this time, you’ve probably developed a style you’ve applied to your website, social media headers, and communications. Make sure to carry that look over to your confirmation letter as well.

Create a Thank You Letter

Your Subscriber has confirmed their address, so now it’s time to deliver the goods! The thank you letter is where you’re going to give them the link to get their prize. Choose a template to customize and again, be consistent with you branding. Get a share link to the file from you cloud service—if you’re using Google Docs, right-click the file and copy the link—and create a button for the link. If you’ve created a cover image for the giveaway file, the thumbnail image makes a nice action button.

Putting Your Signup Button to Work

Now that we have all the pieces in place, it’s time to put them to work and that means asking for those email subscriptions. So, where do we do that?

Your Website

The most common place to put a signup button is on your website. MailChimp and MailerLite both provide plug-ins and copy-and-paste code for websites. These plug-ins allow you to imbed your forms right on your site, as well as customize how your it appears and acts. You can choose to have a static form or a pop-up, and where the form will appear, if you want a delay on the pop-up, etc…

Your Social Media

Don’t have a website? Don’t worry, you mail management provider will also give you a URL that links directly to you signup form hosted on their site. You can add this link to your social media profile pages, as well as your posts.

Your eBooks

Add a signup link to your “About the Author” page at the back of you eBooks. Put a button below your bio with your email and social media links. Don’t have an “About the Author” page in your books? You really should. It’s great opportunity to further connect with your readers. They’ve just finished you book and are probably looking for the next one to devour.

Some Final Thoughts

The fine details on how to accomplish the tasks above will vary depending on what service you elect to use, but the general idea is the same. For specifics on your chosen platforms, I suggest hitting YouTube and looking for the latest tutorials. Be sure to check the dates on the videos. Software interfaces and functions are always being updated (anyone who uses WordPress can attest to this), so you want the latest information you can get your hands on.

Setting these automations up can feel a little technical, so take your time, be patient with yourself, and break it down into bite sized tasks. If I can do it, I know you can. The good new is that once you have it working, changing your giveaway file in the future is a snap.

What other methods have you used to get email signups? What worked for you? What didn’t work? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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About Eldred

Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing KarmaCatching Karma, and Cold Karma (available for pre-order on Amazon), reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking RoomTreble in Paradise: A Tale of Sax and Violins, and The Smell of Fear.

When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21-inch knives). His passion for photography allows him to record his travels. He can be found on Twitter or Facebook, or at his website.

13 responses to “Giving Back To Your Readers”

  1. If I hadn't already done this work, Eldred, I'd be completely intimidated. But I'll second your comment that if I can do it, anyone can do it. My husband doesn't even look at me anymore and say, "Who are you and what have you done with my tech-challenged wife?"

    • Eldred Bird says:

      I agree it's easy to get intimidated by the tech stuff, but if you break it down into small tasks, it's totally doable. It also helps to have YouTube. Watch the right videos and you can move the world! Well, one piece at a time anyway...

  2. Terry Odell says:

    I've been using Vertical Response for my newsletter and all those options are there, too. In addition to your suggestions, my email signature line includes a link to my newsletter signup form. I also try to change out my 'gift' to readers every so often, although I suppose that's not really necessary, since they only get that freebie when they sign up for the first time.
    When I send out my newsletter (only when I have something new), I also provide a link to that page for anyone who might have been added through the list via any other means, such as a a contest or a book giveaway someplace like BookFunnel. Caveat: Don't EVER add anyone to your list without permission.

    • Eldred Bird says:

      Great suggestion on the signature line. I'll be borrowing that. I do change out my giveaway file from time to time just to keep things fresh.
      I completely agree with you about NOT adding people to your mailing list without permission. That's a big no no!

  3. ecellenb says:

    About that big no no. I once joined in with a group who put together a nice prize as reward for email addresses. I used a WIX site for this instead of putting all the address in MailChimp. I am so glad I did. What a hot mess! Many of them declined. For the few I kept, I sent separate email making sure they actually wanted to stick with me. Those have been my most loyal followers.

    I like your idea of sending a PDF as it seems most versatile.

    Automation is something I still need to use more.

    Great suggestions. Bob!

    • Eldred Bird says:

      Yeah, that can turn into a big mess. In that case, I like Terry's idea of putting the link in you signature line. When you reply to emails like that people will automatically get the option to signup for future mailing.
      The PDF thing came to me when I was setting up my first giveaway. I was worried some people might not have the ability to read the file if I chose the wrong format. PDF solved that.

  4. Jenny Hansen says:

    This is definitely a lot of initial work. It is so so helpful to see it laid out like this!

  5. dholcomb1 says:

    I have an email under my author name. I haven't used it for anything other than my domain registration.

    denise

  6. C.D. Watson says:

    I'm a little confused. Why would you not funnel your reader magnet (the proper term for that freebie) through your list manager (MailChimp, etc.) or a site like Book Funnel? That's what those sites are there for, to automatically manage downloads so you don't have to spend time sending files one by one. This is exactly how most authors I know manage their reader magnets. I most certainly do!

    Also, I suggest Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque for a deeper look at how to set up and manage your mailing list/newsletter.

    • Eldred Bird says:

      Thanks for the information. I'm by no means an expert, just sharing my own experience and what has worked for me up to this point. That's why I ask for people to share their experiences in the comments. I'm always open to learning new things!

  7. As a reader, I'm always disappointed when an author provides a freebie as a PDF because i can't read it very easily on my phone. I prefer an actual ebook format, like epub or mobi, because i can load those to my ereading app.

    Most readers aren't that tech savvy, though. If you want to avoid wasting valuable writing time by acting as your readers' technical support person, use BookFunnel to automate the process. It puts the power in your readers' hands, and gives readers the choice of what device and what file type to download. And it's got even more features these days. I personally love it for all my pen names.

    • Eldred Bird says:

      Thanks for the input. I haven't tried Book Funnel yet. When I first started I was looking for a purely free solution (I had no real budget to work with) and feeling my way through the process.I used to offer the downloads in PDF, EPUB, and DOC formats. The only ones that got downloaded were PDF so I stopped including the other formats. Maybe it's time I added those back in the mix!

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