I was talking to a fellow writer earlier today about what a long journey it can be to publication, and how we have to keep going even when things get tough, and it feels like building an audience for your work is impossible. Especially for indies and small press authors who have very little to no publisher marketing support. This led to a discussion of our biggest writing regrets. I want to share my biggest writing regret with the writers out there who may be reading this because I would hate for you to make the same fatal mistake I did. It could mean the difference between fighting for each new reader and having a bright career with a solid fan base.
My biggest regret? Not starting a mailing list back in 2010. Like many writers, I thought having a website/blog, and a social media presence was enough. I didn’t stop to think that I didn’t control what my fans saw in my social media. I had no idea that it was the social media sites and their algorithms who controlled which readers saw my announcements. The thing is – you don’t know which novel(s) in your catalog are going to take off. It could be the book you least expect. And with other people in control of what your audience is seeing, you could end up inadvertently losing a fantastic opportunity.
My erotic romance novel, Training Amy, has sold over 50,000 copies. You’d think at this point I’d have a pretty sizeable mailing list as a result, right? Unfortunately, no. Had I had a mailing list in place back in 2010, that may have been the case. But it wasn’t. I didn’t actively start my mailing list until 2015. By then – all the hype over my erotic romance novels (including a rather popular paranormal erotic romance series) were dying down. But it didn’t have to be that way. Had I had a mailing list from the start, I’d easily have a list with over 10K in subscribers by now, and I’d probably be consistently hitting the bestseller lists with each new release. Why? Because then I could have controlled the distribution of new release announcements and readers would have been better informed about my latest books. likely resulting in me reaching more readers.
Of course, there’s no use lamenting over what I could have, should have, or would have done had I known better. What’s done is done. All I can do now is work to slowly build my audience mailing list and bring new people to it as I move forward – waiting for another book to take off.
Sure, all novelists start off writing for themselves and the love of the story. I’ve never heard a fiction writer claim they began writing for money (haha!) or fame. But on that same token, when you’re putting your writing out there for the world, you obviously WANT it to be read. So the more people you reach, the better.
Even if you’re just starting out and only have a few short stories or a single novel published – make sure you have a mailing list. I know so many writers who don’t and I think it’s a shame. You have no idea which of your books will sell thousands of copies and you certainly don’t want to realize after the fact that you squandered a great opportunity to build a direct link to your captive audience – people who love your work.
I recommend Mailchimp to start your newsletter, and Instafreebie (where you give away a novella, short story, excerpt, or full book free in exchange for newsletter sign-ups) to get things started. There’s also a great Newsletter plugin for WordPress simply called Newsletter, that is highly versatile and free. However, it does take a bit more know-how, and regular backups to use. If you’re not tech savvy, it may not be the best choice since, if your newsletter goes over 500 people, you really need an external SMTP server, like SendGrid, to manage mailings. Plus, you have to do all the maintenance on the list (i.e. removing bounced emails and people who mark your email SPAM) yourself.
For the writers reading this – what is your biggest writing career regret?