Monday, November 9, 2015

How to Set Up a Mailing List

Learn from my trials, fellow geeks.

Any writer who has seriously looked into launching a career as an author has stumbled across the pinnacle of writerly career advice that is platform building. Taken one step further, us article-devouring aspirees have seen the advice, "build a mailing list", more times than one. Or five. Or five hundred.

And that's because mailing lists are awesome. They're a direct lifeline from you to your willing audience; a crowd (and in this case, three sometimes really is a crowd) of people who have voluntarily, willingly asked you for news and updates. Nurturing a spam-free, informative, fun newsletter is a great way to gather fans and get information directly to them.

Step 1: Decide on a Service Provider

If you're building a list, it should be through a reputable provider, and if you've read many of the aforementioned platform building articles on the web, you've probably heard about MailChimp, AWeber, or even GetResponse. There are other companies out there, but these three are the most reputable.

There are a number of comparative articles on these, but here are two of the best I've found that led to my decision:

  1. AWeber vs MailChimp: Which is Better Suited for Building Your List?
  2. How to Pick an Email Provider: MailChimp vs. AWeber vs. GetResponse
I picked MailChimp for a few reasons, mainly the easy-to-understand payment model and the usability of their campaign design system. What's important is that you pick whatever looks best to you, and that's going to vary by person. Some people may want the extra customer service of AWeber's paid subscription model, others may want something free and easy to use. Familiarize yourself with the options, pick one that works best for you, and don't be afraid to take advantage of free trials. You can always change later if you need to.

Step 2: Setting up the Business

Due to strict EU Anti-Spam laws (which most email list providers - like MailChimp - adhere to), anyone who subscribes to your list is able to see your business address. 

And yep, that's right; if you happen to be an individual author, making a business out of the internet, a book or two, and hope, your business address probably isn't some megastructure in downtown San Francisco. Nope, your business address is your personal address.

If you're anything like me, and the idea of having a bunch of internet strangers see where you live is horrifically unbearable, then you're going to want to set up a PO Box before proceeding.

If you're in the US, you can find PO Box Application information through the USPS website. Essentially, you want the smallest box, and to get it, you're going to have to provide a photographic ID, a non-photographic ID (I used a current lease), and a payment either quarterly, biannually, or annually.

If all that goes smoothly, you'll have a PO Box to use as your business address instead of your home, and even with all the super duper nice people on the internet out there, this bit of extra safety is at the very least a sound idea.

Step 3: Making and Maintaining that List

Now that you're all set up, it's time to build your list! While every provider will allow you to do the following in different ways, these are the steps I went through, and what I would recommend for any author just starting their list:
  • Automated Welcome. I created a list using MailChimp's automated workflow (paid service), so that every time someone subscribes, they get a message from me. It's better than signing up for something, getting nothing in return, and then forgetting about it later.
  • Signup Form. You want people to signup for that list you worked so hard to setup, right? All services have an embedding option so you can put a form on your blog or website (like mine in the sidebar!).
  • A Schedule. While there's no need to share a newsletter release schedule with your subscribers, having one for yourself isn't a bad idea. When are you going to release info? What info will it be? Be aware that lists without frequent (at least three months) send-outs run the risk of going stale, which can create sending errors down the line.
And that's all there is to it. Well, at a high level, but the minutia of creating individual campaigns is over half the fun, so get out there, set up a list, and get to it! Oh, and if you like Story Geek or any of the stories I've written, consider signing up for my mailing list. I've got some big news coming, and subscribers will get some awesome freebies in just under a month!

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