Thursday, June 30, 2016

What is the Biggest Waste of Time in Marketing?

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
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?

If your answer was "Yes," God bless you. You're exactly the kind of fan I love having. But if you're anything like me, your answer was probably, "No." I despise mailing lists. And I'm not the only one. Let me tell you a story.

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"
The nice thing about being on a crummy, low-rated show is that you can do what you want and be yourself and basically bond with your audience through authenticity. I've always felt that was how Conan O'Brien generated such a cult following back when he was on at half past midnight, as well as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert in the early years. As an audience member, you always felt like Conan or Stewart was your friend, and so you tuned in slavishly.

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."  :)


Brenda St John Brown said...

I think one of the key elements in an email newsletter is how much of the info in the list is news. I receive a BookBub email newsletter every day and I read it every day because I know it's going to have info on book deals. I receive A LOT of author newsletters and some I read religiously and some I let languish in my inbox for weeks before deleting them unread. The key difference between the ones I read and the ones I don't is whether they feel like they're just checking the "send a monthly newsletter" box. I'd rather NOT get a monthly newsletter if there's no actual, you know, news.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Yeah, you're right on the money there, Brenda. Regarding the few newsletters I'm obliged to be subscribed to for marketing reasons, I dread the regular ping every week of their annoyance. My personal policy is to only send out an update when I have a new book out. So once, maybe twice a year and it's only when there's a newsworthy event.

Carrie Beckort said...

I agree about the abundance of newsletters. There is one I follow that I used to read with enthusiasm. Now it seems it sends two a day, mostly to promote something. It's making me not want to ready any of their newsletters anymore. I also took a long time to set up my newsletter, but I finally did. I try to send something out once a month, usually with a link to my blog posts as kind of a 'follow-up' for the month. Most of my readers use Facebook as their social media choice, and with Facebook limiting the people who see my posts, I figure a newsletter once a month is not overkill, yet it hopefully keeps me in the reader's minds.

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Yes! The mailing list is so important. I think all authors, indie or trad, should have one. Great post!
My newsletter is up to 175 subscribers. I find organic reach is better than massive sign ups. But I'm not an expert on this.

Unknown said...

My newsletter is literally gold to me. I am up to over 1600 subscribers with over 60 percent engagement... Being that they very much make my launch happen, I treat them how I want to be treated. I send them 2-3 times a month MAX and I always do some sort of giveaway; a signed paperback or an Amazon gift card. I try to keep it conversational in tone. I know they sign up to lots of different newsletters so I want to make sure I am one of the ones they don't get sick of hearing from. This is also why I build this list organically. All of my subscribers came from my back matter. I don't join mailing list promos to build a list with readers who are only signing up because they have to in order to qualify to win something. I made that mistake with a past pen name. The organic, slow build is best! (Sorry for the ramble. Great post)

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Yeah, once a month isn't overkill, I would think.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

175? I feel so inadequate. :(

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

1600? Dang, you're 16% there already!

Renee Conoulty said...

Great post! I started a monthly highlights newsletter last year in anticipation of maybe one day having a book I'd like to tell people about. I'm going the slow and steady route and actually have a couple of subscribers that I didn't already know 😊

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Hey Renee! That sounds great. Surprise subscribers are always a bonus. :)

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