How to Start an Email List (For Writers)

Here’s the thing about having an email list: it belongs to you.

It’s hard to imagine Facebook or Amazon going out of business — but just watch the news right now. The president is trying to curtail Amazon. Facebook is having confidence problems. You just never know. If your entire connection to your readers relies on one of those, then if they collapse, so does your access to your fan base.

But, if you have an email list? Then you can reach out, no matter what any other service is doing.

Here are some sobering facts though:

If 20 percent of your list opens any single email you send out, that’s on the good end of normal. Thirty percent or higher means you have a very active, engaged list. (Read: you are never going to write an email that everyone reads.)

If 2 to 5 percent of the people you sent your email to actually click on a link you’ve sent them, then you’re hitting industry standard. (Read: the vast majority of the people you send an email to will not act on it.)

People are going unsubscribe, pretty much every time you send an email. Industry standard is 3 percent. When I email this blog post to all of you (there are about 15,000 Ninja Writers on my email list), I expect about 15 to 20 people to unsubscribe. (Read: don’t take unsubscribes personally — sometimes people just aren’t in the place to hear what you have to say.)

Okay, now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how you can start building an email list. It all starts with an email service. You can use a free service like Mail Chimp when you’re getting started. The problem is that the free services are generally clunky to use. So, especially if you’re not very tech savvy, you might want to invest in your writing business (and yeah, it’s a business, even if you’re not making money yet) by signing up for a really good email service.

I use ConvertKit. There are lots of others, but since I’ve never used them, I can’t really speak to them. For your first 1000 subscribers, you’ll pay ConvertKit $29 a month. (After that, Mail Chimp and most of the free services are comparable in price with ConvertKit.) There aren’t too many products out there that I’m really, really evangelical about, but I truly love ConvertKit. You can click here before April 6 if you want to check them out for a month for free, just to at least see what a premium service is like compared to a free one.

Okay, so once you have your service set up, you need to get some folks on your list! My favorite place online to get ideas for email list building is Video Fruit. Here are some to get you started.

ASK. Seriously. You can easily build a landing page on ConvertKit (which is one reason why I love it over the free services, which pretty much require you to have a website to link to.) Post a link to it to your Facebook page, your Instagram, where ever you connect with your friends. Send a message to your mom, your best friend, your third-grade teacher — anyone you can think of — and say: “Hey, Bob! I’m starting a newsletter about my writing. Can I add you to it?” Easy peasy.

WRITE. Start a Medium blog and include a link to your email list landing page at the bottom of every post. You can use a free service like Upscribe to add a form right to your posts. It integrates easily with your email service. Voila.

OFFER SOMETHING. Come up with something that your readers might really like. It can be shockingly small. A checklist or a one-page printable is fine. Think of it like bubble gum at the check out counter. You want it to be something very small that doesn’t take a lot of thought. You want your reader to say, “well, yeah, of course, I want that.” Offer it in the form or on your email landing page in exchange for an email.

I think that’s enough for this week. Next week we’ll talk about actually writing your first newsletter.

Here’s your homework this weekend, Ninja!

Are you in this week? Leave a comment here and let me know.

Sign up for an email server — either a free service or a free month at ConvertKit. And ask your friends to sign up.

Come show work on Facebook. It can help to get feedback from other writers.

Come hang out with me during office hours. I’ll be online in our Facebook Group on Sunday 3/31/2018 to answer all of your writing questions. I’ll email Sunday morning and post on Facebook to let you know exactly what time office hours will be. Make sure you click the link below to join the mailing list so you get the email about the time of the office hours.1

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