Starting and maintaining a mailing list is some of the first advice new authors receive, after “paying for a nice cover” and “hiring editing services”. What a mailing list actually entails usually isn’t detailed and I found the specifics somewhat confusing, so I wanted to write up what I’ve figured out so far.
The general idea of a mailing list is a big collection of email addresses that you send messages to periodically about your writing. This is advertising that your readers consent to and it will be the most targeted advertising you ever do. All of the subscribers like your writing and are very interested in content you produce.
You *COULD* use your personal email address and create a mailing list in your mail client, which is just a collection of addresses that you can send one email to all of them. The problem with this is that many mail services flag this sort of thing as spam and you could get the email address you’re using blacklisted.
Additionally, if you did things this way you’d have to maintain the mailing list yourself, which isn’t a big deal with 17 subscribers but will become time consuming when you’re up to 3,473. Maintaining it involves adding new subscribers, removing subscribers who no long want to be on the list, sending welcome messages to new subscribers and things like this.
You’ll want to make sure that every message you send makes it clear and easy how to stop receiving future messages (unsubscribe). The last thing you want to do is bother and antagonize your most loyal readers.
A number of services have started that fit exactly this niche – google “author mailing list” for suggestions and reviews. I’m cheap, so I went with a service that’s free until you grow to a specific size. Often times there will be limits to your number of subscribers or emails sent per months unless you’re willing to pay more.
At the service you’ll set up a sign up page. This provides some text detailing what your mailing list is all about and a field for them to enter their email address (and possibly their first and last name). You can then use the URL for this sign up page as a place to direct readers who want to sign up for your mailing list. This could be a message at the footer of any forum posts your make – “Sign up for my mailing list”, with mailing list being a link to this sign up page.
You can setup a “welcome message”, an email that is automatically sent to new subscribers immediately after they’ve subscribed. Many authors promise a free gift for signing up to their mailing list when they direct readers to it. This welcome message is a good way to get people this gift, which could be a link to a short story or a free chapter of one of your books. I give my signups a short story, which is in my Google Drive as pdf, epub and mobi format files and include links to all three in this welcome message.
Using the mailing list service you’ve signed up to, whenever you have something you want to communicate to readers, send out a message to all the subscribers. Communications might be a newly released book, a back catalog sale, or some award you’ve won. This should always be done with great care, these are the last people you want to antagonize.