Friday, 2 November 2018

"But I don't want to bother anyone..." (A word about mailing lists) by Lucy Rycroft

When chatting with a fellow ACW friend recently, I discovered that we both carried the same concern about our newly-created mailing lists:

We were slightly embarrassed about them.

Let's back-track a few steps. Like it or not, in order to build and maintain a readership these days, mailing lists are pretty much a necessity. Unlike the various social media platforms, which change their algorithms like underwear, your mailing list is the one platform owned and managed by you.

control what you send out and when - and you can be confident that it's going out to 100% of the people who have signed up. Straight into their inbox. No worries that people might have missed it.

Of course, if you have built up your readership over the last few decades, and have no trouble selling books, you may be able to survive quite happily without a list. But for us newbies, it's an important part of not only selling our books, but convincing a publisher that we'll be able to sell our books.

So what's the problem?

Do you remember the competition between the sun and the wind? Both of them thought they could get the man to remove his coat. The wind blew and blew, but the man simply wrapped his coat tighter around himself. The sun shone his brightest, and of course the man removed his coat immediately!

I think a similar thought can be helpful for our mailing lists. No one likes to feel the object of a gimmick, or marketing trick. No one wants to feel like they're being forced to buy something.

So what we do is we promise a million times not to bug people. We try to send only very occasional updates. Our emails are brief and to the point.

Because we really don't want to bother anyone.

This is exactly how I set up my list in April. I wanted people to join it, so I promised them I wouldn't be too annoying. I thought that if I only sent occasional emails, people would forget they were on my list, and therefore wouldn't unsubscribe.

My emails were sent monthly, on average, and contained a huge long list of links to everything I'd written that month.

The problem with this approach is that it will end up like the wind blowing to take off the man's coat: when the time comes to sell books, we'll find it really, really hard, because we just haven't built up a relationship with our subscribers. We'll end up doing the hard sell - and no one will enjoy it.

In September, I decided to change tack. I would write a short(-er) weekly email and send it out each Friday at 7pm, in the hope that the weekend would offer the most time for people to read. (I love MailChimp's scheduling tool, which enables me to do this!)

I changed style too. Now that I was writing weekly, I only usually had a couple of articles to share with my subscribers. So I had space to write about something I'd been thinking about that week, or something we'd done - perhaps something they could relate to about our family life.

In other words, I was allowing the sun to shine on my audience: attempting to bring some warmth and light into their week, to build a good relationship.

Instead of seeing it as a hard, cold audience of people I had to desperately entice to stay on my list, I now see them as a warm and supportive group of friends who are on my side, even people I've never met.

This makes me want to share 'insider' info with them - not only the freebie they get when they sign up, but more details about me and my life than they might get from the blog, the first look at my new website or photos - and, of course, this list will be the first to hear about any new books too.

I treat my subscribers as friends, and I hope that on some level they see me as a friend as well.

My new approach has meant making a decision to consciously let go of the 'unsubscribes'. In other words - I can't let it worry me every time someone chooses to leave my list. It's their choice. My job is to curate my 'fold' full of like-minded people who want to read what I write. It's not everyone's cup of tea, and that has to be fine with me.

Stats-wise, I'm doing marginally better than before in terms of new subscribes v. unsubscribes, and although the percentage of people opening emails has reduced a little, it's still remained healthily above 50%. (I think that this percentage probably does tend to reduce as the overall number of email addresses on the list increases, so I put the variance down to this.)

But, actually, what means more to me is that I'm writing authentically to my list. I actually look forward to scribing the Friday emails, and the chance to connect with my 'tribe' again.

I'm having a lot of fun - which is what it should be about, right?

Lucy Rycroft has a mailing list which you can join here, to see if she's telling the truth. She blogs at Desertmum, writes for Home for Good and Xceptional, but mainly spends her time caring for her kids and responding (poorly) to their very many questions about how everything works. Lucy and her tribe live in York.

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