For the last decade, email has proven to be one of the most effective marketing tools for authors. But before you can sell books to your email subscribers, they need to know you, like you, and trust you.
Readers who sign up for your newsletter after reading one of your books already know, like, and trust you. But what about someone who signed up for your email newsletter to receive your reader magnet? What if you haven’t published a book yet? How will your readers get to know you if they haven’t read your book?
As your platform grows, subscribers will sign up for your email newsletter even though they don’t really know you. And if they don’t get to know you quickly, they will unsubscribe.
But if you introduce yourself in every email you send, that will irritate your existing subscribers.
So what should you do?
The solution is to write a series of emails to introduce yourself and your book to your new subscriber.
After a subscriber has been subscribed for a day, they receive your first email where you’ll introduce yourself. A few days later, they’ll get your second email where you introduce your book. And so on.
After a few emails, your new email subscriber has a good idea of who you are, what you write, and, most importantly, whether they’re interested in what you write.
If they’re not interested in your book, you don’t want them on your list. You want uninterested subscribers to unsubscribe, so you don’t have to pay your email service provider to keep their address on your list.
You might have heard this tactic called a “drip sequence,” an “onboarding campaign,” or a “nurture sequence.” In any case, it’s a series of emails that help your new subscribers find out who you are, see whether they like you, and learn to trust you.
In email marketing, the drip sequence is the ultimate marketing tactic, and sadly many authors don’t know how to use it.
Well, not today, not for you.
In this episode, you’ll learn exactly how to create an onboarding sequence. If you’re not sure what to say in your emails, help is on the way!
I have created an example drip sequence that you can download and customize. It’s a free companion that you download here.
You can build an onboarding sequence in six easy steps.
Step 1: Stop Using MailChimp
The main reason many authors don’t have an onboarding campaign is that they are using MailChimp. If you are using the free version of MailChimp, you can’t create an onboarding sequence. They don’t even give you the option.
If you are using the paid version of MailChimp, it’s technically possible to create an onboarding campaign. However, I don’t know many authors who have done it without having to hire professional help.
As I mentioned in the episode about choosing an email provider, if you are paying for MailChimp, you can save money and have an easier experience by switching to ConvertKit (Affiliate Link) or MailerLite (Affiliate Link).
In short, if you have 1,000 subscribers or less, I recommend MailerLite. If you are on MailChimp and have more than 2,000 subscribers, I recommend switching to ConvertKit.
Step 2: Write the Email Sequence in Your Word Processor
The second reason authors don’t create an onboarding sequence is because they don’t know what to say. Well, let’s fix that right now.
I recommend writing these emails in your word processor so you can separate the work of writing the emails from the work of figuring out how to get them to drip out to new subscribers. Those are very different tasks, and trying to solve both puzzles at the same time makes things harder.
So for now, don’t worry about the technical steps. We will keep those puzzle pieces in the box for the next step. For now, just focus on the writing. Since you are a writer, this is the fun part!
What should I say in my onboarding sequence?
These emails should feel like they are coming from you personally. Don’t use an email template with your face in the banner. Ideally, your email will start with the subscriber’s name “Dear Bob,” and end with “Sincerely, Jill,” or whatever your name is.
The emails should come from an email address that you check regularly (email@example.com is best), and each email should include a question. When your subscribers answer questions in reply to your emails, your emails are less likely to land in their promotions and junk folders.
As readers email you back, you can respond personally. If you do this correctly, you will start building relationships, and they will become true fans. The better you get to know your readers, the easier it will be to write for them in the future.
I read every email reply to my newsletters, and I try to respond to as many as possible.
Now, let’s talk about what you should say in each email. I will give you a big-picture idea of what to write in each email, but I also have an example document to go along with this episode that you can download.
I used two long-dead authors in the email sequence document as examples. One was a novelist, and the other was a famous nonfiction writer. I imagined what an onboarding sequence from them would have sounded like.
This sequence is meant to be a generic starting point. I want you to feel free to customize it as you develop your brand and platform. Your guiding light should be whatever interests your readers.
Over time, you will see stats on these emails. If you notice that one of the emails has a lower open rate than the others, you can make tweaks or changes to that email.
Email #0 The Reader Magnet
- When: Immediately
- Goal: Deliver the reader magnet
- Subject: Your Free Download
This email should send as soon as they sign up for your email newsletter. The free gift is also called a reader magnet, and you can learn all about reader magnets in episode 145 – How to Create a Reader (Lead) Magnet.
I call this email “0” because, depending on which platform you use and how you set it up, this email may be attached to the form they subscribed to rather than part of your email sequence. MailerLite can do it both ways just to keep things complicated.
Your subject line should be familiar to the subscriber. If your reader magnet is “7 Ways to Have More Joy,” then your subject line should say, “7 Ways to Have More Joy ebook download,” or something along those lines.
There is not much information in this email. It only needs to say, “Thank you for subscribing. Here is the download link for the thing you signed up for.”
That’s it! You don’t want people to spend a lot of time reading this email. You want them to read your reader magnet.
Email #1 The Introduction
- When: 1 day after the last email
- Goal: To help subscribers understand who you are.
- Subject: Why I Write
In the first email, you will introduce yourself to the subscriber. Don’t send your resume. That’s boring. Instead, talk about why you write. Why are you enthusiastic about the kind of writing you do?
You could tell the story of how you got you into writing in the first place. But if you tell a story, make it interesting. Follow the storytelling rules, and don’t give away the ending.
You may also want to give them an idea of the kind of benefits they will receive for staying subscribed to your email list.
In this email, you want to start asking questions. You might say, “Now that you know a bit about me tell me about you. How did you get started reading books in this genre?”
Some authors even include a survey for their readers.
Email #2 The Book
- When: 2 weekdays after the last email.
- Goal: To help subscribers like what you write.
- Subject: Starship Troopers (Or whatever your book title is)
The second email is where you’ll talk about what you’re writing and why the subscriber will find it interesting. The focus of this email is either about your most recently published book or the book you are working on next.
To introduce the book, you can share the working version of your back cover copy. (See Book Marketing Commandment #2 for more on why this is so important.)
Once you have a book cover designed, include it in this email. I normally don’t recommend including images in emails, but this one of the few emails where including an image is a good idea.
Close your email with a question for the subscriber like, “What have you been reading lately?” The goal is to trigger a conversation about the kinds of books your readers like to read. You want to be reading these books too!
Read what your readers like to read, so you’ll know how to write what your readers want to read. Click to Tweet
Your book reviews for the books your readers are reading make excellent blog content.
Email #3 The Reviews
- When: 3 weekdays after the last email
- Fiction Goal: To establish yourself as someone with good taste.
- Nonfiction Goal: To establish yourself as a well-read expert on your topic.
- Subject: Must-Read Books
In this email, you’ll talk about the books you’ve been reading. You want to choose books that are similar to the book you’re writing next.
If you’re writing a parenting book, review parenting books. If you’re writing a children’s book, don’t review a parenting book. Review books similar to yours.
Give your reader some good suggestions while they wait for your next book to release. You can also use this email to make friends with other authors. Every author loves being featured in another author’s onboarding sequence.
Hopefully, you have already been reviewing books similar to yours on your blog. If so, you can include a sentence or two from your blog review along with the link where your new subscriber can read the full-length review. It’s a great way to introduce readers to these books, as well as your blog.
You can also share movie or TV reviews if they’re similar to your book, but this is a riskier strategy.
As you close, ask another question like, “Speaking of reviews, what did you think of my Reader Magnet?” The more you correspond with your readers, the better your connection will be.
Email #4 The Connection
- When: 3 weekdays after the last email
- Goal: To grow your connection with your subscriber
- Subject: Let’s Connect!
Your fourth email will reveal where you hang out with your readers online. Don’t list every social network you have ever signed up for. Just list the places where you are active and where you want to interact with readers.
You could mention your blog, podcast, YouTube channel, or any other place where you create content online.
If you don’t use social media and don’t have anywhere to send people, that’s ok! You can skip this email. You can also update your email sequence down the road to feature your podcast or blog once it’s up and running.
If you are keeping your head down, cranking out novels, writing books, and not doing social media, that is a totally valid strategy.
But if you are active on social media, you must explain why someone would want to follow you elsewhere.
For example, a sci-fi author might say, “I post mini-reviews of the science fiction TV shows and movies I watch on Twitter.” A children’s author might say, “My podcast on parenting will help you teach your children the values featured in my children’s books.”
Your email subscribers won’t follow you somewhere else without a compelling reason. They are all asking, “What’s in it for me?” If you don’t have a good answer for that question, skip this email for now.
As for the closing question, ask something along the lines of “Where do you like to talk about books online? “If all your readers are talking about books on Reddit, you should probably join them.
Email #5 The Ask
- When: 3 weekdays after the last email
- Goal: To get your subscriber to take action
- Subject: Can I ask for a favor?
This is where you ask your subscriber to do something.
- Leave a book review
- Tell a friend about your reader magnet
- Become a patron on Patreon.
The key here is to ask for only one thing. Don’t ask for an Amazon review and a GoodReads review.
This email will have a higher-than-normal unsubscribe rate, and that’s ok. Many people only want your free reader magnet. If your subscribers don’t take action, you don’t want them on your list.
This is the final email in your sequence. After these five emails, your subscriber will have a good idea of who you are, what you write, and whether they want to keep receiving your emails.
Once your emails are written and edited, send the Word doc to an editor or another author for editing, so your emails are polished.
Step 3: Create Your Automation
Now that you have your sequence of emails written and edited, it is time to set up your automation.
These steps differ depending on whether you use ConvertKit or MailerLite. Creating your automation is best done via video tutorials, so I have links to both services’ video tutorials.
Here are links to the guides for each service:
- How to Create a Sequence In ConvertKit (2m Video & Article)
- How to Create an Onboarding Sequence in MailerLite (25m Video & Article)
No matter which service you use, keep the following general steps in mind.
Pick a Trigger
A trigger is an event that starts the automation. For an onboarding sequence, the trigger is the reader signing up for your email newsletter. Sometimes it’s called a form completion. Someone fills in your form and clicks “submit” or “download. The reader takes the action that triggers the sequence.
Many email service providers offer multiple trigger options, but you can ignore those. Keep it simple. Subscribers trigger the email sequence when they sign up.
Paste Your Sequence
Copy and paste your emails (from step 2) from your Word doc into your email service provider’s email builder.
Set the Timing
Schedule when your emails to be delivered at certain intervals. You can decide how to space them out. I recommend waiting several days between each email, but be sure to check out my example document for specific recommendations for each of the five emails you’ll write.
ConvertKit and MailerLite handle timing differently, but both ways make sense after you watch their respective tutorial videos.
Activate the Automation
Once you set the trigger, sequence, and timing, all you need to do is click “Activate,” “Unpause,” or “Launch.”
The wording varies from service to service, but it is always something along the lines of “Make it So Number One,” from Star Trek.
Step 4: Test!
Now that the automation is active, you need to test it. Sign up for your own email newsletter through your website to make sure the automation works correctly.
There are a few common things that can go wrong.
Trigger Not Setup
The sign up form on your website needs to actually trigger the automation. Sometimes, this can mean tweaking your website’s settings, depending on how your signup form is connected to your email program.
Sequence Emails Left as Drafts
I have made this mistake before. In ConvertKit, each email in a sequence is a “draft” until you click publish. It’s only one click, but I have forgotten to click it in the past. Drafts do not send. So if you don’t receive your emails, be sure each email in the sequence is “published.”
Timing Left Off
It’s easy to overlook the timing settings, especially in MailerLite. But it’s also easy to catch the mistake. If you get the whole sequence of emails all at once, you’ll know you didn’t set the timing.
All of these are easy to fix, but they can be embarrassing if you don’t know they’re happening.
Step 5: Share
Once everything is set up, post a link to the signup form for your email newsletter in the comments section of this blog post or as a comment to the official discussion thread in the Novel Marketing Facebook Group. This way, we can see and experience each other’s drip sequences. If you do a good job with the drip sequence, some of your writing colleagues may stick around!
If you need help creating a landing page to sign up for your email newsletter, listen to Episode 202 – How to Create a Landing Page.
If you follow the sequence closely and give me permission, I might even add your drip sequence to the example document.
Don’t post a free-floating link in the Facebook group! If the group is flooded with links, it gets messy and hard to navigate. Find the official discussion thread for episode 255, and leave your link as a comment to that post.
Step 6: Tweak
From time to time, you will want to update and improve your drip sequence.
Update your sequence every time you launch a new book. You’ll want to update your book email (email #2) Check your bio and make sure everything is up to date. You want your drip sequence to focus on your most recent books.
As you write more books, your onboarding campaigns will change. They may become more specific or tailored to a specific series. As you observe the open rates, you’ll know what kind of emails your readers like best. Over time, you will connect with your readers and build a readership. They will grow to know, like, and trust you. As you continue to serve them and write what they love, they will morph into a tribe of raving fans.
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My daughter Mercy is learning to talk. She is starting to put two words together into proto-sentences. Usually, the word “no” is followed by a word for whatever she doesn’t want or the word “more,” followed by what she does want.
One of her favorites is “more book,” which she chants over and over and over. All I can say is thank God for grandmothers who have endless patience in reading children’s books to toddlers.
Mercy talks all the time. But beyond the sentences we do understand, most of what she is saying is unintelligible. She even talks when no one is around to listen. She babbles because she enjoys babbling. And slowly and surely, additional words (or at least the first parts of words) emerge from the babble.
Some things can only be learned by doing them. The only way to learn to pronounce a word correctly is to pronounce them poorly at first, and then practice until you can say them better.
What is true for talking is also true for writing. The only way to get better at writing is to write. The more you embrace your inner toddler and write, even when it sounds bad, the faster you will improve. Video gamers call this kind of deliberate practice “getting good.”
If you wait to get good before you write, you will never write enough to get good. Click to Tweet