One List, Many Readers: When to Segment
Your mailing list represents your readership, and many authors treat it like the lifeblood it is. A list grants you the ability to connect with readers instantly with a single click--sharing news, promotions, and new releases as they come out. Many writers who start in self-publishing struggle to get a list started, but once you find a path to grow it, your subscriber count can grow significantly.
The real magic in many cases happens after an author gets several hundred subscribers. This isn’t just because more readers equal more sales. A bigger list means that you can split it up more effectively, giving readers what they want and maximizing what you can get out of your list.
Splitting a list like this is called segmenting, and most email providers have an easy option to split a list based on different criteria. If your list has grown big enough to consider splitting it up, how should you do it?
The answer varies from author to author, but in general, here are some of the more popular sub-lists to develop, and why so many writers like to keep them handy.
Someone who joined your list after finding you on Twitter might want a different approach to someone who joined your list for a giveaway. Tracking and segmenting readers based on where they signed up is a good way to keep a more personal relationship with them and know you’re sharing information they care to know.
After all, which of the two groups above would be more excited to hear about a Twitter-based cross-promotion? This level of personalizing content can get you a much better open and click-through rate and engage your readers by giving them content they actually crave.
If you run giveaways or hand out a free reader magnet to anyone who wants to join your list, you’ll pick up a lot of readers who aren’t prepared to buy anything. You still want these guys. Some of them wake up and realize they love your books or get excited about an upcoming release. But they haven’t bought… yet.
Other readers might be regular buyers, intent and excited to pick up your book as soon as you suggest it. These are the readers you really love. They are paying your bills, after all, and you want to give them premium treatment.
One popular way to split your list is to track who clicks your sales link (the buyers) over who merely reads or receives your emails (the potential buyers). If you move the buyers to a separate list, you can develop an exclusive fan club of people who will be extra excited about your sales without spamming casual readers.
Speaking of which…
Most of the readers on your list probably don’t open many of your emails. Don’t take that as an offense (unless almost no one does open your letters, in which case you might have a problem). Passive subscribers might have lost interest in your writing, or they might be busy with the rest of their lives, or they might follow dozens of similar authors and not take the time to read any of them.
Because an active, vibrant list with only a few subscribers supersedes an inactive, uninterested list with thousands, you’ll want to sort your list every so often and split it between active and inactive subscribers. For your inactive subscribers, send a note to ask if they still want to receive your notices. Otherwise, you can choose not to spam them with as many emails to keep their own inboxes better.
Don’t feel bad if you lose a few--the only people who will want to unsubscribe or leave your list are people who would not have bought your books anyway, and everyone who stays will have a renewed interest in your books.
Some writers cycle their lists like this frequently. Others wait until they reach a limit on their email service and need to cut back. You don’t need to revisit your list activity every month to monitor who’s active and who never reads your emails. Just know that if you want to cut the dead weight, this option works effectively.
One of the most popular list segments authors opt for is a street team--a group of excited readers who will read advance review copies (ARC’s) of your book before release in exchange for leaving a review on the store opening day. Reviews are vital to the success of your book, and what better way to snag opening day reviews than from readers who already love what you write?
Since you want to keep a degree of exclusivity on your list, don’t give your book out to anyone. Instead, create a new landing page, and ask your subscribers to sign up if they’re interested. Anyone who does you can add to your new street team list. Not only will you grant these readers exclusive early-release copies of your book, you can feel free to let them in on any other pre-release activities you have planned for extra buzz.
Your book won’t be complete unless you get someone else’s eyes on it before you release it. Showing your book to others is hard for many independent authors and the reason some choose not to publish traditionally, but discomfort is not an excuse for poorly made books!
Unlike street teams, beta readers don’t merely read a pre-released copy of your book. Instead, they read an earlier draft and offer feedback from a casual reader’s perspective. Usually, authors send beta readers a draft of the book with a series of questions they can answer later, including:
What was your favorite part of the book?
On a scale of 1-10, how fast-paced was this book?
Did any parts of the story confuse you?
And so on.
While some writers use family and friends to get that feedback from reliably, others broaden the circle and focus more on readers they want to sell to--most of which should be readers already on your list. The responses you get can be comparable to hiring an editor, so go big with this step and work to get a strong beta reading group started if you haven’t already.
What groups do you split your list into? Has segmenting your list helped readers get more engaged with your writing? Please share in the comments section below or join my Facebook group for self-publishing fiction writers for more discussion.