4 ways to jump start a new email list with a small budget

I’m a member of a small Google group that likes to talk about marketing, and recently one of the members, James, posed an interesting question.

One of his clients is a novelist who is trying to build an email list to help market a novel.

And James has no idea where to start:

Assuming I know next to nothing about list-building strategies and tactics, is there anything you’d be willing to share with me? Any books or other courses I ought to check out?

I have a bit of a marketing budget to play with for something like this, but nothing massive. Probably three figures. I know there are no true quick fixes or magic bullets in this game, but as my contract on this project only runs through mid-August I’m trying to focus on shorter-term results rather than, say, a year-long growth strategy.

I haven’t tried to market a novel before, but I have learned a few things about list building from marketing my own non-fiction books, so I think it’s useful to share what I told James.

Here’s my reply:

Any idea what kind of revenue you can expect per subscriber?

Also, what’s the goal for the email list? Are you hoping to make money with it directly, or build a small army of ambassadors to help spread the word?

Books are tough to market with paid advertising, at least from my personal experience. You don’t have a lot of money to play with, even for a self-published ebook, so you have to nail down an entire funnel. I’m still working on it. 🙂

I agree with the L’s recommendation to give Facebook ads a shot, although it seems like it would be hard to make money at the $3 a subscriber he mentioned. (That’s my break-even point for my non-fiction ebook, which I have priced at $22.) Perry Marshall does recommend starting with Facebook for entertainment products.

Twitter is another possible avenue. I’ve been able to pretty consistently get email subscribers with paid Twitter ads for $1 to $1.50 in my niche (I sell a couple of how-to books for software developers). I’ve experimented with running ads to send traffic to a squeeze page, which works pretty well. I’ve had even better luck with Twitter’s new lead gen cards—one click and they’re subscribed. No dropoff between clicks and opt-ins, and super easy for mobile users.

Email newsletters are a great place to run ads to build your email list. Are there any email newsletters that serve your audience? I’ve been able to get leads for less than $1 each this way, by advertising my giveaway/bribe. LeadPages has a feature called LeadLinks, which lets you embed a one-click signup link in other people’s newsletters.

Another avenue worth exploring, and probably a better one, is reaching out to bloggers and other authors in the same genre and trying to get some cross promotion going. If they have lists, see if they’re interested in publishing an interview, or doing some kind of live hangout type event. Meet the author stuff. Fans of many genres love hearing about how authors work—it’s like black magic to them.

One more option—run some contests.

NOW, before you go buy the iPad/Kindle Fire that just popped into your head, STOP.

The contest has to be for something that would only appeal to your best potential customers. So give away a set of books in a related genre, or some piece of merchandise related to a well known series in your genre.

Here’s how you do it all at once. Pick a big name or three, buy a bunch of their books as giveaways, then reach out and ask if they’re willing to help you promote the contest to their fans. Run ads on Facebook/Twitter and in several email newsletters.


Also, let it be known that you’ll announce the winner on your email list only. 🙂