Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Chapbook Rookie: Email Marketing, Spam, and Dear God Please Spell Check

I'm back from a two week trip to the east coast, during which my chapbook's preorder status became "official" and I got my first presales update. It's been exciting to get the updates each week and I've learned more and more about which market strategies work and which don't. Today, I'd like to talk a bit about using email to market your chapbook.

Everyone I've spoken with about promoting a chap/book has said that email is the best way to market online. Finishing Line said that over 70% of sales come from email referrals. Since January I've been building a giant list in Gmail contacts of anyone who's ever emailed me. As of a few weeks ago, I had a list of over 500 addresses. Woot. Or so I thought.

The bad news about having a huge mailing list is that Gmail thinks you're spamming people. I had no idea I was setting myself to be a spammer, because I honestly *know* a lot of people through blogs and AWP and Weave and jobs and places of residence. It's easy to keep these relationships going via online connections. So I didn't think I was spamming. But once I told Sal my plan, he said Gmail would shut down my account for a few days if I sent an email to that many people.

If this was a movie, the following scenes would be played along to the Ghostbuster theme song, or some equally 80's retro song.

Sal tells Laura she can't use her big-ass Gmail list. Laura panics.

Laura frantically tries to fix the contact lists in Gmail by making them smaller.

Laura goes cross-eyed from hours in front of the laptop moving people to and from various lists. 

Laura bangs her head off the table, resigned to failure.

I was two weeks into my official preorders and had sent no email announcement. I was traveling during this time so it was difficult to find a solution. After returning home yesterday, Sal recommended a few bulk mailing list services. Enter MailChimp. From their website:

"MailChimp helps you design email newsletters, share them on social networks, integrate with services you already use, and track your results. It's like your own personal publishing platform."

Now, not every writer knows as many people as I do, so for many of you a service like MailChimp might not be necessary. Making contact lists in Gmail (or whatever email client you use) will be sufficient. However, even if you have a hundred people to email, I would recommend MailChimp. It's a little confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it you'll appreciate the flexibility and data you get. You can upload friends and family and acquaintances through many email clients' contact lists (so long as you carefully follow their guidelines regarding spamming).

I cleaned up my lists, removing people that I hadn't spoken to in over a year, and then organized the rest into groups based on how well I know the people in it. My first list, which is the largest, includes people who know me by name. They will see an email from me and know who I am. The second list included online literary friends. I also made a list of bookstores in my area to notify them of my availability to do readings and a list of AWP contacts.

What's great about MailChimp is the back end reports that show you the effectiveness of each campaign. A campaign is essentially just an email, but the content is tailored to the audience of each group. Here is the campaign email I sent to my largest list:

I wanted this to be a personal message, not an announcement from some random list that no one wanted to be on. This list includes family, friends, coworkers, former professors, and anyone else who would welcome this message in her inbox. This campaign been the most effective so far and I've received the most replies. This makes a lot of sense because these are the people who know me the best and perhaps care about my accomplishments. I've got solid rates in terms of the number of people who have opened the email (MailChimp can track this) and how many of them clicked on any link in the email. A number of people have also written back to tell me they purchased a copy. Yippee!

A word to the wise: proofread your emails. Then send them to five people to proofread. Apparently me sending this message to Sal three times and to myself five times didn't help either of us catch this headline: 

I do know how to spell available. See, I spelled it correctly just there. Oh well. Nothing to do about it now, but after spending most of the day yesterday staring at this message, I guess I blanked. So the best lesson you can learn from me is this: wait a day before you send your email. Come back to it after you've just had your coffee and showered and feel all fresh and alert. In theory, that should prevent you from embarrassing spelling and grammar errors. 

I'm interested to find out how successful these campaigns were in terms of sales. I'll get my update this Friday. So far, I've only sold 18 copies, which to be honest, is a little disappointing. But those are my pre-email marketing numbers. Also, I'm pretty sure most people wait until the last minute to buy do anything. Especially writers. We invented procrastination. 


KJWeyant said...

Presales are very tricky.  I did my first chapbook through Finishing Line Press and only sold about 30 copies (and it took me forever).  I think most poets want their orders now, and are impatient about waiting.  With that said, I still think presales are important, so I try to support FLP poets!

Laura E. Davis said...

Thanks for putting this into perspective Karen. I wonder if other FLP poets would be willing to share their presale numbers. It might be a good idea to figure out what methods of marketing were most effective. Oooh I have an idea for a Google Form! Exciting! Thanks, as always, for your support. 

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