The Secret to Sales Without Selling: Your Author Newsletter

by Joel D Canfield, @SomedayBox700

I once surveyed all the authors I knew about what they wanted most for their writing.

The universal response was “Someone to do my marketing for me.”

I considered setting up an affordable and effective marketing service and then trying to sell it to all those people, but that’d be like Henry Ford giving us faster horses.

What authors really want is a way to spend more time writing and less time marketing, but still sell books. And if possible, to do it without hating themselves in the morning. Or being hated by everyone around them.

I’ll state my premise up front: the way to do that is follow these two steps:

  1. Write more top-quality books, and
  2. have a great email/newsletter list.

Authors who write more good books sell more books.

Authors with a newsletter email list full of fans sell more books.

And they do it with less marketing, more writing.

Here’s how.

The Magic Formula

Everybody loves a step-by-step to get reliable repeatable results. A checklist for success.

The thinking is, if only we could find exactly the right time of day to tweet, the precise number of blog posts to write each week, the perfect balance of Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and Kobo and just the right book launch strategy, everything would fall into place.

There’s good news, and there’s bad news.

The Good News

Marketing is easy: tell people who love books like yours that you’ve written one.

The Bad News

I don’t know who those people are. Neither do you.

Back to the Good News

You can find out who those people are by watching them sign up for your newsletter. A newsletter list of people who signed up because they care is the Golden Ticket, the brass ring, the Holy Grail.

So here’s the one-step magical formula for marketing your books: tell your newsletter list about it.

If you wish you didn’t have to spend so much time marketing, you hate marketing, why do you have to sell yourself for pity’s sake what’s with all the marketing I just want to write, here’s some more good news: building your newsletter is the organic result of making personal connections with people.

It’s slow. It’s not guaranteed. It involves interacting with other human beings, something many authors are unaccustomed to.

But it’s relatively easy, it won’t interfere with your writing, or anything else in your life, and it doesn’t require skills beyond what you already have. You’re probably already spending more time on social media than it requires.

Here’s how it works (wherein we finally get that list you’ve been looking for.)

The Step-by-Step List

Everything you do to market yourself (yourself, not your books) leads folks to your newsletter. Here’s how it works:

  1. They sign up for your newsletter because
  2. they like what they read at your blog because
  3. you answered their question generously after
  4. they liked your Facebook page because
  5. they read your Twitter feed about
  6. your comment at someone else’s blog.

Swap in any social media platforms (Pinterest, LinkedIn, Ello) because mostly, it doesn’t matter. Go where your people are. Or, be where you already are, and connect with your people who are also there. 7 billion people on the planet. Finding people is not hard. Narrowing your focus is hard.

Go forth and be generous and patient. People will follow you home. Slowly. But they will.

And when they fall in love with your writing, the hard part is done and the marketing becomes dead simple: tell them you’ve written another book.

Should I Give Something Away?

Another ubiquitous question. For your author newsletter, I say yes, yes, a thousand times yes. The best way to let visitors become fans, to fall in love with your writing, is to give them some of it, like a sample in the grocery store will have you scrambling to the aisle where you can pick up some of that coconut cherry almond fudge you just sampled.

Generosity is your greatest marketing tool. Don’t use it sparingly; spread it around like manure (or, perhaps, coconut cherry almond fudge) and watch things grow.

Generosity and free aren’t the same thing. Generous can include over-delivering on what you were paid to do. I’ve had generous helpings of fish at our favorite chippy in St. Paul. Paid for, but still generous. When you hire me to help with your writing and publishing, generosity will be ladled over you like gravy. Good white gravy like we make in Texas for your sausage and biscuits; that kind of generous.

A newsletter is your inner circle, the folks who’ve said the blog and other social media isn’t enough; I want more.

What smart marketing person could miss the fact that these are the folks most likely to spend real live money on other things you offer?

It’s about context. A free sample doesn’t lead anyone to believe the product is free as well. If I give away my first mystery in a series to get folks hooked, they don’t believe they can have all the others free.

Quality Leads to Quantity

While this form of list-growing is slow, it’s oak-strong. Most of the folks on my list are people I interacted with personally before they signed up. I taught them something, and explicitly or not, let them know I had a newsletter.

My personal approach gives me open rates 3X more than the average. My small list engages.

We are not the Persians with an army of millions, coming to take Greece. We are the Spartans, defending the pass. Small, focused, changing the world so it won’t change us.

Want to spend your time writing instead of marketing?

It’s a one-item list:

Make good use of a newsletter.

Joel D Canfield teaches authors how to JoelDCanfield.sepiawrite and selfpublish without losing their mind — or their shirt.

Read more at and find out about his mystery-writing at .




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31 thoughts on “The Secret to Sales Without Selling: Your Author Newsletter

  1. I never got around to starting a newsletter. Is it worth the effort now when I don’t plan on writing any more books, just some short stories -maybe?
    What I really want is to create one for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. We intend to work on that next year, once we’ve gotten past the anthology contest.

    1. Alex, is it just that you don’t plan on writing more, or you also don’t plan on selling more?

      Your newsletter is the single most important marketing tool for your business. If you’re selling books, you need a newsletter. If you’re working with a group which you might treat as a business, even if it’s noncommercial, a newsletter lets folks announce that they’re insiders, solid supporters.

      I’d be hard pressed to think of any commercial or group activity that wouldn’t benefit from a newsletter.

  2. Elizabeth, thanks for hosting Joel.

    Joel, thanks for this useful information about doing a newsletter. I’ve often thought of creating one, and t he more I read about them, the more I see why people use them. Lots of good ‘food for thought’ here, for which thanks.

    1. Don’t put it off! It doesn’t have to be hard, honest. (See more in my comments to Meg.)

      This is the foundation of your marketing. Until you have a newsletter, everything else you do to market your writing will sort of be floating above the ground, waiting for someplace for fans to land.

  3. “Newsletter” is one of those things that strikes icy cold fear in me, either writing them or getting them, and it’s been like that since childhood, when seldom-seen family members sent them with their Christmas cards–lengthy missives full of their children’s superlative accomplishments and their own greatly-detailed medical curiosities. This was followed, years later, by having to come up with something engaging to say about one type of daisy over another for the local garden club. Or some such crap. Monthly.

    I find it difficult to know what to put into a newsletter that doesn’t come across as a sales pitch. In fact, it is the one and only instance in which I experience Writer’s Block, the capital-letter kind.

    Joel, I cannot fault your logic re the mailing list and reaching out via newsletters. I have a mailing list that keeps growing, in fact, and I feel so guilty about not interacting with every one of those precious signees. But I don’t know what to say in a newsletter!!!

    1. Ah, Meg, those old holiday newsletters are probably a hidden source of angst for many.

      What to say to your listees? Well, imagine one of them bumped into you at the coffee shop, and asked if they could sit with you for a moment.

      What’s one question they might ask about you, or your writing, or your books, or your plans?

      Write that answer, short and sweet, as if you were chatting with a good friend.

      I don’t want to add to your pain, but when people sign up for a newsletter, you’ve invited them for a meal. Not sending anything is the equivalent of hiding in the basement while they sit at an empty table. Eventually, their eager anticipation with turn to antipathy.

      It takes 5 minutes to create a MailChimp account. It takes 5 more to choose a simple template and get things set up. It takes 5 more to write a simple email about, oh, how about your current quandary about Charlotte’s ordinariness, or lack thereof? You don’t even need an answer, just the question.

      I’d be delighted to provide more detailed help, if you need it. And of course, someone who wants their newsletter emails to match their website (as both of mine do, ’cause I’m a web geek) will have a wee bit more work, but it’s doable (or, in a few cases, hire-able.)

      Your newsletter doesn’t have to be any longer than your comment here. How long did that take? How hard was it to pour out your feelings?

      Do that once a month and your fans will fall in love with you. All they want is to be noticed by the author they’re following.

      1. Well, now that you put it that way–invited them to dinner and then went and hid in the basement (actually did that for half an hour, once, as a young faculty wife, when I was told that my most-hated former professor was going to join us). Hmpf. Being a good hostess is a matter of pride for me–and my table is NEVER without food and drink in copious amounts.

        Surely I could at least put out a bowl of newsletter nibbles? (Banging head on desk at how dense I’ve been about this.)

        1. The average person’s training in marketing consists entirely of seeing how fast we can mute the commercials during our favorite television show. That, and spam emails and the offensive and annoying ads in website sidebars.

          We’re taught, from the time we become consumers at the age of, what, 2 or 3 nowadays, how marketing is obnoxious and annoying, and that’s all we experience. Because when it is otherwise, when it is kind, polite, unobtrusive, considerate, and helpful, we don’t think of it as marketing so we never learn to adjust our view.

          Here’s permission to adjust your view of your newsletter, and marketing in general. The whole point is to politely share news which will be of interest to people who’ve explicitly told you they find you interesting.

          Consider that: if a young woman approached a young man and said chase me, please; I won’t run very fast would he dither and wonder how best to go about this dance? I daresay he’d not delay in his pursuit.

          These people said, “Meg, I’m on board, I’m interested, I want to know what’s next. Please tell me.” Use your hosting urges to feed them well. You’ll love it, I promise.

  4. Joel, terrific post and very reassuring! I use the MailPoet plugin on my wordpress site. There’s a learning curve, but I’m starting to get the hang of it.

    I don’t have very many people signed up for it, though, even though I give away a free novelette on there. I suspect that a lot of my older cozy readers are less than comfortable with signing up for things on the internet. I’ve had several contact me via email and ask me to keep them posted on my latest releases with a personal email, so I do that as well. I tried to point out that it’s essentially the same thing, but they just won’t go there. At least they are interested, so I’m happy to cater to that.


    1. We’ll all ignore that errant question mark. Who needs punctuation anyway? What are we, writers? hee hee

      For your fans who don’t want to officially sign up for the newsletter, but who ask you explicitly to email them, it’s completely legal and ethical to add them to the list yourself. If the resulting email to them will be the same as if you sent it yourself (and a newsletter should always, to some extent, feel personal) then it’s fine to do it that way, and more efficient: you’re less likely to forget someone, right?

      One thing I neglected to mention about content: your newsletter should really be fresh, something separate, and not simply a link to your latest post. I believe MailPoet is mostly about emailing blog posts, yes? Better to include something unique and special in the newsletter so folks have a reason to take the extra step of sharing their email address.

      Even having a newsletter of any kind puts you ahead of the curve, Kathy, so please don’t think I’m finding fault. Just a suggestion for a way to give your dearest fans an even greater reward — it becomes a virtuous cycle when you do.

      Congratulations for recognizing the value of catering to your fans.

      1. Oh, Joel, I didn’t take it that way at all. And actually, MailPoet is both a blog post delivery platform and a newsletter-generating service. So what I do is provide both options that potential subscribers can customize by checking/unchecking. They can designate whether to subscribe to once-per-week blog posts, twice-per-year newsletters (that’s my average for announcements and giveaways), or both.

  5. Hi Elizabeth, great post from Joel today? I don’t see a “click to tweet” box with a pre-written tweet. I really like those. Off to spread the word the old-fashioned way! *wink*

  6. Excellent advice, Joel! My mistake was to offer a crime writing lure for my newsletter, so I ended up with a list of writers rather than readers. Yes, writers read too, but I needed to strategically target my audience. What I did (and it’s working) was to add a second newsletter for readers. My writers group only receives crime writing tips and my readers group receives a secret code that unlocks a Crime Lover’s Lounge, where we can chat about the books we love, and the occasional news of my releases, special offers, contests, etc.

    1. Good points, Sue. Marketing only to writers limits your reach severely.

      I also have two newsletters: my Someday Box newsletter for writers, and my JoelDCanfield newsletter for my readers.

      Another newsletter tip: I only give something away for my fiction newsletter.

      For my coaching/publishing newsletter, I don’t want to attract people who only want free stuff.

      For my fiction newsletter, nothing will convince people they’re a fan (or conversely, weed out the non-fans) like a free book. Since I have a handful written, giving one away doesn’t hurt as much as if it were my only book. (Even then, a writer’s first book should be spread far and wide, focusing far more on spread than on income.)

  7. Hi Joe – great post, which you’ve added to through the comment section and those queries. Also given and offered more … teaching by example … cheers to you and to Elizabeth for hosting you – Hilary

  8. Joel, awesome post. Great advice. There’s just SOO much great advice on Elizabeth’s website that I wonder when she has the time to sleep. <3 Thanks again!

  9. Joel! Glad to see guest posts of your “stuff” — it’s always great and you deserve it! (Even though Clint Eastwood says that deservin’s got nothin’ to do with it…)

  10. Just heard Brian Clark of Copyblogger say that email converts 40 times as well as any other social medium.

    Not 40% more.

    40 TIMES as much.

    Your newsletter is that email they’re talking about.

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