If I asked you to pop your e-mail address into this box and sign up for my mailing list right now, would you do it?
Most of you will probably know Olivia Munn as the actress who played Psylocke in the recent "X-Men: Apocalypse" movie. Olivia is one of my favorite media personalities, but not for any of her recent acting roles. No, I still have a great deal of affection for her from the time she spent hosting "Attack of the Show," an extremely low-rent daily geek news tabloid on the now defunct G4 network.
Olivia Munn in her most recent role as Psylocke in "X-Men: Apocalypse"
I always felt like Olivia was my friend. You could tell there wasn't (really) a corporate hack telling her what to say. When she and her co-host Kevin Pereira were being goofy, it was clearly them being goofy, and not two plastic television personalities trying to fake chemistry.
One of my favorite moments from "AOTS," one which I can still remember to this day (though sadly I couldn't find a clip of it online) arose out of an otherwise uninteresting and standard network plug. You see, every day Kevin would say something along the lines of, "Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and subscribe to our newsletter" - you know, the standard sort of thing people say about social media.
One day, for some reason, they had Olivia reading the social media plug. At the end she started busting up laughing because she couldn't even read the teleprompter with a straight face. Then she said, "Yeah, definitely sign up for our newsletter. There's nothing people love more than getting newsletters in their inboxes. All the kids love newsletters."
I practically fell off the couch howling after that, because I knew that even at a lax, low-rent place like G4, she was probably going to catch hell for saying what we all were thinking every day when we heard that stupid social media plug.
Now, I don't know exactly what happened behind the scenes at G4 (if anybody actually knows Olivia, please tell her I'm dying to know) but I can say this: they never, ever, ever once after that ever plugged their newsletter on the air. In fact, I'd guess they discontinued it. It may have been that as a television personality, Olivia was more important than the network hacks pushing the newsletter. It may have been that once someone had pointed out the emperor had no clothes, no one could unring that bell. I don't know.
I'll tell you one thing, though: I despise newsletters, too. This was one of those reasons why I felt like, even though we'd never met, Olivia was my buddy. We both found weekly or monthly or whatever blasts in our inboxes completely pointless and aggravating. So, for a long time I refused to create a mailing list. They're the biggest waste of time in marketing, aren't they? Everybody hates them. Even Olivia Munn agrees with me on that. Well...
Yes and no. On the one hand, a lot of people (myself included) do find newsletters aggravating. On the other hand, they work.
Kim and I have both hinted at this before on the blog, but there is actually no better tool for an independent author than a mailing list. Let me break down why.
Experts suggest that you need ten thousand fans to make a living as a writer. Ten thousand people who will essentially buy everything you put out. For someone like me, that number sounds pie-in-the-sky. For someone like Stephen King, it's just a fraction of his actual fans.
In the middle, though, the Goldilocks place where you're a working writer, ten thousand fans means if you release a novel a year priced at about $6, you'll make about $3 per book to add up to a modest living wage of $30,000 dollars a year. (I'm fudging the numbers, but you get the gist.)
Well, now, that's all well and good, and certainly an aspirational goal for all of us, but here's the problem: suppose you actually do have ten thousand fans. How are you going to notify them of each new release so they know to buy it?
Right now you're probably responding, "Social media, dummy! I'll just tweet at my fans. They're following me, right?"
Well, social media is a lovely thing, but it's also a fickle thing. Suppose I had spent all my time in 2006 getting my ten thousand fans to follow me on MySpace. That would've been great for me in 2006. Now, though, how many people am I reaching if I post something on MySpace?
And a social media outlet going defunct isn't the only reason you won't be able to reach your fans there. What if I had spent all my time in 2011 getting my ten thousand fans to follow me on Facebook? Facebook's still a going concern, with billions of users, right? But in 2011 we didn't know about algorithms. We didn't know Facebook was going to start deciding which of my friends and followers were going to see which posts based on some abstruse system.
Have you ever complained that Facebook shows you junk you don't want to see and doesn't show you the junk you do? Now imagine if your livelihood was riding on who got to see what.
So, as authors we find ourselves, unenviably, in the position of having to rely on a mailing list. The advantages of a mailing list are manifold. First, a mailing list will be as valuable to you ten, fifteen, twenty years from now as it is today. E-mail addresses are evergreen. People don't tend to abandon old e-mail addresses. They tend to forward them. You can still reach me today at the e-mail address you could have reached me at in 1994.
Second, no one can squeeze or tease your e-mail list. There's no third party jumping in between you and your fans. If you need your fans to know about a new release, they'll know about it. It doesn't matter if Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest all go defunct in the next five years. You'll still be able to reach your fans.
So, now having heard my charming story about why I hate mailing lists but have to maintain one anyway, what happens if I pose to you the same question I did at the beginning of this post? If I asked you to pop your e-mail address into this box and sign up for my mailing list right now, would you do it? I hope the answer's now a hearty, "Yes." :)