Here’s why every writer needs an email list: An email list is the most powerful way for a writer to connect with her audience.

email list

You might be skeptical about that.

You might be thinking: I connect with potential readers all the time. I post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I write blog posts and pitch my work to publications and get published. Or you might think instead: I’m a writer, not a businessperson. I write because I love writing.  I’m not interested in “marketing,” email or otherwise. 

Here’s the thing though. Even if getting paid for your writing is not something you care about, an email list can be a powerful tool for you. (If you care about getting published, selling any services or books, or finding an agent, then an email list is even more important.)

Here’s why every writer should have an email list:

  1. Email is not going away. You own your list of subscribers, forever. Social media is a great thing for writers. You can connect with people in a way that was unimaginable just several years ago. The problem is that you don’t own your social media account. You don’t really control it. Algorithms and the popularity of any social media platform change from month to month, year to year. For example, an average Facebook post is only shown to a tiny fraction of our followers.
  2. Email is personal. You can write an email as if you’re writing a letter to a friend, and it is sent directly to their inbox. It’s a direct connection to a person, rather than a message mediated through a social media algorithm. When someone signs up to get email messages from you, they are making a bigger commitment than if they had liked their page. They are showing that they want to hear from you and connect with you more directly.
  3. Emails gets more engagement than social media posts. A greater percentage of readers see an email and read it.
  4. Email is more effective (higher conversion rates) than any other tool in selling books, products, classes, or services. According to Tim Grahl, a top marketing expert for writers, email is 100 times more effective than social media for authors. (He did his own informal experiment and helps hundreds of writers with book launches.)
  5. If you hope to be published or get an agent, a strong, engaged email list can be a powerful asset. And even if you choose to self-publish a book, your email list is vital to marketing your book.

It all boils to this: You want more of your writing and your message to your audience to be seen. Email is the most effective way to do that.

How to Get Started With an Email List

You should not send mass emails from a free service such as Gmail or Hotmail. To comply with anti-SPAM laws, in order to send out marketing emails, you need to: a) get permission before emailing people b) have a clear way for subscribers to unsubscribe. This is where email subscribers (Mailchimp, Mad Mimi, ConvertKit, etc) come in. At the very least, these providers offer ways for people to subscribe and to unsubscribe to your list.

1. Choose an email service provider.

There are so many options. It’s overwhelming. Here are the three that I have used and can recommend: Mailerlite, ConvertKit, and Mailchimp. All three of these services will allow you to send bulk emails, design forms for your website, and create newsletters. In a future blog post, I’ll review these three options in more detail and describe the type of writer each of these services is best for. For right now, I would recommend Mailchimp for those just getting started, for those who want a very simple provider, and for those who don’t see their lists as ever getting any larger than 2,000 subscribers (the point at which Mailchimp is no longer free.) I would recommend Mailerlite for you if you think you might someday want more advanced features (tagging, landing pages, and automations). It’s free up to 1,000 subscribers. ConvertKit — what we use — is by far the most comprehensive, user-friendly, and powerful option. It’s also more expensive. 

2. Figure out who your ideal reader is and what your goals are for building an email list.

Your ideal reader should not be “everyone who likes good writing.” Figure out who your target audience is (historical fiction lovers, people looking for help with social media, short story fans). And determine your goals for your email list. Do you want to build a base of fans for your next book? Get blog post readers? Increase your website traffic? Impress a future literary agent? These questions will help you connect with your future email readers.

3. Make a signup form for your website.

After you’ve designed it, embed the code on any website page that allows you to put in HTML. Place it on your website and invite readers to sign up. Some good places to put your signup forms: your sidebar (using a widget, the footers of blog posts, and at the top of your homepage.

4. Give your future subscribers a reason to sign up.

One possibility is to create an opt-in freebie (a chapter of your book, a series of essays, a list of resources, a checklist). It could be almost anything that feels valuable to your intended audience.

5. Email your subscribers regularly.

Try to be predictable without drowning your readers in constant emails. Be entertaining, useful, friendly, helpful — whatever you think your audience is looking for.

6. Experiment.

It may take a while to figure what works for your audience and what connects with them. Start out small so you — and your audience — don’t get overwhelmed. Try out different “welcome” emails for subscribers when they first join your list. Promote your list on social media platforms.

Conclusion: Email lists for writers are more useful than social media.

An email list is not just for businesses or for bloggers who are promoting their stuff. An email list can be a useful tool for any writer who wants to be read, create a community, and connect with readers on a more personal level.

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