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The emails you send new subscribers in the first weeks after they subscribe are critical. Those first emails help your new subscriber decide whether to stay on your list or unsubscribe.
If you send a new subscriber the same email you’re sending to your long-time subscribers, list your new subscriber may feel like they’ve been thrust into a conversation without any introductions. Imagine stepping into a conversation at a party without knowing the people who are talking. It’s awkward at a dinner party, and it leads to unsubscribes online.
So how do you introduce yourself to new subscribers and make them feel comfortable with the conversation and eager to stick around? With an onboarding sequence.
An onboarding drip sequence allows you to introduce yourself, get to know your readers, and grow your list.
But what do you write in your emails that makes people want to stay?
Caleb Breaky is a marketing consultant who has helped hundreds of authors create great onboarding drip sequences, write books, build platforms, win contracts, and transform the world through the written word. He’s also an award-winning author and the publisher at Renowned Publishing.
What is a drip sequence?
Caleb: A typical email newsletter tells subscribers what has happened since the last newsletter.
A drip sequence acts like a front door readers can walk through to meet you. It’s a series of strategically planned and written emails that allow readers to find out about you, your passion, and your mission. Your emails tell a story in a way that readers can see themselves in your story.
If you’re planning a dinner party, you’ve thought about where your guests will park, where your dogs will be when the doorbell rings, and how you’ll introduce yourself and your other guests.
A great email marketing sequence does the same thing. It feels incredibly personal, but it’s all automated. If you tried to do it all personally and manually, it would be impossibly overwhelming.
Thomas: A drip sequence differs from a regular email in Outlook or Gmail because you use an email service provider that can automate your sequence.
A drip sequence is a timed series of emails you’ve pre-written that “drip” out over time. Each email is delivered at intervals, just as water drips at intervals, based on when the person subscribes.
If you get one new subscriber today, your drip sequence will automatically send one email to your new subscriber the next day. They’ll receive the second email in your sequence two days after they subscribe. Three or four days later, they’ll get the third email. You can determine how much time should pass between emails, but each one sends automatically at the predetermined interval to each new subscriber.
There are different types of drip sequences, but almost everyone starts with an onboarding sequence.
Why is an onboarding sequence important?
Caleb: When bring people on board, I want them to see my passion. My onboarding sequence is very story driven because I want to connect with people as a human. Connecting with humans as a human works better than any tactic or strategy.
In my first onboarding email, I send a GIF of myself waving (using BombBomb), and I link it to a quick one-minute video of myself talking about the email or the takeaway.
That video helps break through the screens that divide us and helps us connect. It communicates, “I’m here for this relationship. I’ll introduce myself, and hopefully, my content will bring you value.”
Thomas: Your introduction emails are important. Readers won’t care about your regular newsletter if they don’t know who you are and what you offer.
If they signed up to receive your lead magnet but don’t necessarily know who you are, your first emails can explain what you do, how you help people, and what you write about.
Many authors are surprised to learn that a good drip sequence leads to some unsubscribes. If your introduction tells readers that you write military science fiction and they prefer space opera, they will unsubscribe.
If they’re never going to buy your book or read your emails, why pay your email service provider to keep them on your list?
It’s better to have 1,000 subscribers who will all buy your book than 10,000 subscribers with only 1,000 who will buy your book. Those 9,000 inactive subscribers aren’t reading your emails or clicking links, so your ISP may think your emails are spam.
If subscribers open your emails, click the links, and reply, the email services notice. They’ll consider your email a “high engagement email,” and they’ll be more likely to deliver it to your subscribers’ inboxes.
Readers who aren’t a good fit for your books dilute your list and decrease the deliverability of your emails, which may keep your greatest fans from receiving your emails at all.
Caleb: Unsubscribes can be a gift because you want to serve the people you were meant to serve. Let them know you’re inviting them on a journey and you’re excited to serve them. You’ll also want to let them know that they’re free to unsubscribe if they’re not interested. Clear communication helps you both.
What should I write in my onboarding sequence emails?
Thomas: In your first email, you can introduce yourself, explain what you write, and talk about your genre and the kinds of stories you like.
Why I Write
In your second email, explain why you write. Tell about loving to play in the woods as a child and imagining stories about elves and fairies. Then you can say, “Now that I’m writing those stories, I love to share them with you.”
Every author starts writing for a different reason, and the more interesting and unique your story is, the more authentic it will be.
If the story of how you started writing sounds like it could be somebody else’s story, you’re not being specific enough. What’s the why behind why you write?
It doesn’t have to be long, but if it’s an interesting and well-told story, people will stick around and enjoy the email. Don’t give away the ending at the beginning, though. Follow the storytelling rules even when telling a true story.
Caleb: My story is that I was sitting in a coffee shop in 2012 with a man named Thomas, and he told me that readers read for education, entertainment, and escape. I still remember that.
My favorite email sequence is one I wrote in the voice of the villain in my thriller series. Every email in that sequence came from him. The villain would talk about me, which made it easy to be self-deprecating and funny.
Just don’t be boring. Seek a relationship. Have fun. Don’t be boring.
Thomas: Your email sequence can be as long as you want. One author I know created a 365-day sequence of daily devotional readings. That’s a massive sequence, but yours can range from two emails to 365.
Books You Will Love
Most authors can’t write as fast as their readers plow through books. You can serve your readers by recommending books they’ll love in your genre. If you’re writing fantasies like Brandon Sanderson, recommend your favorite Sanderson books.
You might also recommend the order in which to read his books because readers are always wondering where to start.
Promoting other books is good for your readers, and you don’t even have to get permission from other authors. The most important thing is to make sure your readers will love the books you recommend. The book recommendation email is your opportunity to demonstrate that you have good taste and can help people find a good read.
Once you become a trusted source for book recommendations, readers will be more likely to buy and read your book when you recommend it.
Caleb: I love the idea of authors helping authors. You’d be surprised what little acts of kindness lead to. Don’t be afraid to recommend another author’s book. Relationships may form between you and other authors. When you share each other’s books, you become integral to one another’s marketing plans.
Questions for the Reader
Thomas: One of my favorite emails in my onboarding sequence has questions for the reader. I like to ask, “What is your biggest pet peeve with marketing?” or “Tell me about your book.”
When readers respond, I get to learn about my listeners. Their answers help me craft more helpful episodes.
If you write fiction, you can ask, “What is your favorite thriller?” If everyone keeps mentioning a Jim Butcher book, then you should make sure you’ve read his books.
Emails that ask for a response from readers are helpful in several ways:
- Asking questions can educate you about who your subscribers are.
- Email correspondence will help readers remember you.
- Readers you’ve replied to will be more likely to open and read your emails in the future.
- It develops the relationship.
- After about three emails and responses, their email service provider will always send your emails to their inbox rather than their spam box.
Remember that your email correspondence is a dialogue that requires talking and listening. If you only talk, readers get irritated and unsubscribe. But if they’re part of the conversation, they’ll be ready to listen to you. They know you’ll have something interesting to say. Plus, their responses will inform your future newsletters.
Caleb: If I had it to do over, I would focus more on starting those little conversations.
Automation helps get things started, but if you correspond with people individually, you will develop raving fans. It happens organically.
When people would email me asking when my next book was coming out, I would respond in the voice of my villain. It was a blast.
Once you start these relationships, you suddenly have fans who follow you because you interact. They’re a part of the story. Your reader ceases to be some nebulous Amazon purchase that you never see. They become people who are being impacted by the entertainment, education, or escape you provide. It becomes so much fun.
Questions About the Genre
Caleb: If you write in a genre with a handsome hero, ask your readers, “Who are the three most handsome heroes in fiction today?”
Or you might ask, “What character did the most sacrificial thing in the fiction you’ve read?”
Smash Hit Newsletter
Thomas: If you get a lot of responses from a newsletter, you can use that same newsletter as part of your email sequence. Reusing a hit newsletter is a great way to get more than one use from a good piece of content. Your newsletter subscribers probably won’t reread your email in six months. But you can add it to your sequence, and every new subscriber will read that email.
WIIFM (What’s in it for me?)
Caleb: When your readers see an email coming in, they wonder, “What’s in it for me?” When you set up your sequence, make sure you know what’s in it for your reader. If you answer that question first, you’ll be on a natural trajectory to start a relational dialogue.
Start with what’s important to your reader, and eventually, the topic will turn toward your books or characters.
Thomas: If you’ve been writing for a few years, you probably have multiple reader magnets. In one of your drip sequence emails, you can say, “Here are other short stories that are my gift to you.” People will want to keep that email and click those links because there’s value for them.
Notice that we haven’t talked about selling your book yet.
You can pitch the books you’ve written at some point, but that shouldn’t be the first email. Let the relationship grow first.
You might mention your most recent book in the first email because some people may wonder which book is your most recent. But don’t dump all 30 titles in your first email.
Since this is an onboarding sequence, you might consider writing one email per book. Instead of providing a bullet list of your titles, pitch one of your books at a time. Briefly explain why the book would be interesting to your new reader. You could even use your back cover copy.
That kind of email is helpful, especially if you provide guidance on which book to read first.
I enjoyed Ender’s Game and wanted to read them in the right order, but I had to go through this stupid time chart to find out which book to read next. It was so confusing. The authors missed an opportunity to just tell me which book I should read next.
Create emails that help your reader and get them excited about stepping into the story.
As you interact with your subscribers, you’ll get more ideas about what they find helpful. Come up with ideas that are unique to your book and readers.
Be weird in all the right ways, and you’ll write great emails.
What are some other types of email drip sequences?
Thomas: You wrote emails from your villain, which is fun but may not be a great option for an onboarding sequence. When readers first join your email list, they may not be familiar with your characters.
However, if people are familiar with your characters, they will love to get a series of emails from the evil villain. Suddenly, they’ll be anticipating the next email!
What are some other email sequences an author could put together?
Book Launch or Launch Team Sequence
You might want to create a book launch or launch team email sequence to gear up for your book launch. Begin with an email that says, “Click here if you want to be the first to receive this and get the word out about this epic tale.” When they click, they’ll be added to a “launch team” list and receive exclusive content, videos, and updates that will help them share about your book.
Thomas: Since those emails are pre-written, they’re also adaptable. You can use your launch sequence as a template for your next book launch so that you don’t have to start from scratch.
Caleb: A drip sequence can be written to solicit different kinds of responses from readers. Start the conversation, warm up the relationship, and then ask the person to respond.
At that point, you have assembled a group of readers who are comfortable engaging back and forth with you.
You might create a sequence that ends with a call to action or an ask. You might ask readers to
- Buy your book
- Give one, get one
- Take a photo of the book and share it on social media.
As they respond, you can sort readers into categories, such as “social media user” or “give one get one.” When you create a list made up of the “social media user,” you’re segmenting your list. Segmenting allows you to send more targeted emails in the future, which leads to more sales.
Thomas: Segmenting your list can be relatively easy, depending on which platform you’re using. ConvertKit (Affiliate Link) is my favorite and makes segmenting very easy. You can create multiple tags, and different subscribers can have multiple tags attached to their profiles.
For example, if you write fiction and nonfiction, you can tag them as such accordingly. That way, you can send emails based on their interests.
ConvertKit has a feature called a link trigger. If you add a trigger to a link, anyone who clicks that link in your email essentially tags themselves. You can even set it up so the newly tagged subscriber starts receiving a sequence right after they are tagged.
You could send an email saying, “Hey, would you like to get the Diary of the Evil Villain emails?” To answer the question, they must click “yes” or “no.” Both answers would have a link trigger. For example, if the subscriber clicks “Yes,” ConvertKit will tag them and start sending the sequence you set up.
It’s all automated, and you don’t have to do anything on a per-person basis. It’s really scalable.
Caleb: Right now, some authors are intrigued by the technical aspects, and some are groaning. It isn’t very hard to set up, but you do have to take the time to do it. Once you do, the software makes it easy.
Thomas: My biggest technical tip is to get away from MailChimp. MailChimp is terrible for automation. I have yet to meet an author who has successfully used automation with MailChimp and still likes MailChimp at the end of that process.
If you’re unsure which email service provider to use, check out our episode comparing MailChimp, ConvertKit, and MailerLite.
MailerLite is popular with authors on a small budget because automated sequences are included in the free plan. ConvertKit only allows them with a paid plan. I encourage you to be the customer. Pay for what you use. Taking freebies can get you into trouble if you’re not careful. With that said, MailerLite is a perfectly good company, and their free plan is the most powerful in terms of automations.
Some authors create a list-cleaning or offboarding sequence, but opinions differ on whether those sequences are a good or bad idea.
Caleb: I think offboarding sequences are it’s great. Literary agents will look at the engagement rates of your email list. You might have 15,000 subscribers, but if none of them open your emails, you just have a number and not an audience.
One of the best ways to increase your engagement is to clean your list of subscribers who haven’t opened an email in six months or so. Without those unengaged readers diluting your list, your open and click rates will increase. Agents will see that you have an engaged list.
I’m a firm believer in offboarding.
Thomas: I’m starting to change my view on offboarding sequences. I used to agree with the case you made, and I still do in extreme situations. But I now see offboarding sequences as a traumatic event. It’s like chemotherapy; sometimes it’s the only thing you can do, but it’s very traumatic.
Some authors are very aggressive and offboard unengaged people every three months. They’re demanding a level of attention from their subscribers. But if someone only opens one email per year because they only want to buy your book when it comes out, you still want that person on your list!
You don’t want to unsubscribe them through your offboarding sequence just because they haven’t opened an email in six months.
Sometimes you purge thousands of people from your list, and your open rate doesn’t change.
On the other hand, if you’ve been gathering emails for 20 years, it might be a good idea to purge inactive subscribers. It will save you money and improve your open rates.
But I’ve noticed a kind of poverty mindset in some authors where they’re terrified to have anybody on their list who’s not a raving fan. I think that ends up hurting your sales in the long run.
I’ve taken subscribers through an offboarding sequence. I’ve also had those readers email me saying, “What do you want from me? I read your emails. I just don’t click every link.”
Some readers have felt hurt by an offboarding email saying, “You’re about to be unsubscribed.” They write to me and say, “Why are you kicking me off the list? I’ve just been sick.” Then they tell me a long, apologetic story about why they haven’t opened emails.
That’s not the kind of relationship I want to foster. I now think of offboarding and list cleaning as a last resort.
If you’re sending emails weekly or monthly, your list will be relatively clean simply because you’re keeping it active.
Caleb: That’s hard to argue with.
I tend to clean my list annually. I say, “I want to make sure I am providing you the best value and not clogging up your inbox. If you want book launch announcements (or whatever you provide), click here so you continue to receive them.”
But I agree with you. I wouldn’t want to send emails that sounded like, “Hey, you didn’t come to my birthday party, and you didn’t wish me a happy half-birthday.”
Thomas: Plus, some people have images disabled for their email or have set up stringent privacy settings. They may be opening your emails, but the software can’t track them.
If you create an offboarding sequence, be gentle, especially with those initial emails.
What are some mistakes authors make with their onboarding sequences?
Asking for a Sale Too Soon
As we’ve already mentioned, you need to facilitate a relationship before you ask for a sale.
Creating Content that Becomes Stagnant
In one of my launch sequences, I embedded my book cover image at the top of the email. Every email had that image at the top, and after about three emails, people weren’t even seeing it anymore.
Don’t Assume the Sale
Write emails that provide a reason for someone to buy. If your book is on sale, tell your readers, “The book is currently on sale until Friday!” Don’t assume they’ll click on your linked book cover and make a purchase just because you’ve provided a lot of free content. That’s not how our brains work.
Thomas: Treat your readers the way you want authors to treat you.
If you get emails that annoy you, don’t send emails like that. Whether you’re writing newsletters, onboarding emails, or offboarding emails, send the kind of emails you would be excited to receive.
If you’re writing fiction, talk about books, movies, and TV shows in your genre. Don’t just talk about your own books all the time. Talk about what your readers are reading and answer the questions they care about.
If you talk about what they care about, they’ll want to talk to you because you care about the same things.
Do you have any final advice or encouragement?
- Make your sequences about people.
- Evaluate what causes you to stay subscribed to certain emails.
- Be honest with yourself and do more of that.
- Commit to learning and commit yourself to do for your readers what you want other authors to do for you.
Thomas: To connect with Caleb and see his onboarding sequence for his book, visit GetTheString.com.
Caleb: It’s been a while since I’ve updated that onboarding sequence since I’ve been running a business for the past ten years.
Thomas: You bring up a good point. Authors need to revisit their onboarding sequences occasionally, especially if they’ve released several books since you first wrote your sequences emails.
You can also subscribe to your own onboarding sequence so you’ll get your own emails. Since my emails include a question for the reader, I receive responses that remind me of what my emails say. Often, I can see my original email below their response. If I see a typo, I can go correct it.
Over time, your sequence just gets better.
Kamuela Kaneshiro, author of Legends from the Pacific: Book 1
Have you ever been curious about Asian and Pacific Folklore? Like what the brothers Grim did with Germanic folklore, Kamuela Kaneshiro has spent years doing with folktales from all around the Pacific. Join Hawaii’s Goddess of Fire, Pele, in her search for sanctuary. Confront the Philippine’s shape-shifting vampire. Battle the dreaded Wendigo. And more!
If you want to write an epic fantasy but need some fresh folklore ideas to pull from, then grab your copy on Amazon or LegendsFromThePacific.com now. Legends From The Pacific is also a podcast! You can listen at LegendsFromThePacific.com.
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