The How & Why of Author Email Lists

Despite all the new social media platforms, one thing hasn’t changed: the permission to get into people’s inboxes is still one of the most powerful tools you can wield when it comes to marketing and communication. Facebook posts are getting seen less and less, Twitter feeds are getting more full, Pinterest is exploding in popularity and pin quantity—but everyone still checks their email.

In fact, for an author, an email list may be even more important than a blog. And it’s never too early to start building your email list. Chat with a stranger on the plane about your book? Hand them your card and send them to your website to sign up for your email list. Speak to a church group? Pass around a clipboard asking to collect their names and email addresses for your list.

As soon as your have a website (complete with an integrated blog, if you’ve decided blogging is for you), get your email list signup form front and center—above the fold, with a call to action button. Getting email signups from your website visitors should be one of your top priorities—but you need to make sure you do it professionally and legally.

Common Courtesy & The Law

  • Double opt-in signups require users to click a confirmation link that is sent to their email, to prevent spam signups.
  • U.S. anti-spam laws require a physical mailing address in the email footer—go together with other local authors to get a P.O. Box for your privacy’s sake.
  • Make sure the unsubscribe information is easy to find—it’s much better to have someone unsubscribe from your list than mark your email as spam (when one person marks your email as spam, that trains other spam filters to view your emails as potential spam as well).
  • Don’t spam the friends and family in your personal email address book (or on your personal Facebook account, for that matter)—send them a note telling them about your new email list (or author page on Facebook), inviting them to subscribe. If they don’t, resist the temptation to keep emailing them every single update from your book and blog.
  • Permission to get into people’s inboxes is still one of the most powerful marketing tools. (Click to Tweet)
  • Are you getting email signups professionally and legally? (Click to Tweet)
  • Have you read “The How & Why of Email Lists for Authors” over at #INWCW today? (Click to Tweet)


Your newsletter should be filled with exclusive content. It’s great to have a small section recapping your most popular blog posts of the month, but the rest of it should be exclusive content that they can’t find anywhere else—at least not worded in that way. Have a sale or special you’re sharing via multiple avenues? Don’t copy and paste the information—rewrite it in a fresh voice just for your newsletter.

  • Announce book signings or speaking events.
  • Let your readers know when your book is on sale at a reduced price or is available for free on Amazon Kindle.
  • Poll your readers about future projects, book cover ideas, character names, etc.
  • Give your readers a sneak peek into your life in a way you might not on your blog.
  • Offer a free download for your subscribers—a free chapter of your book, a short story you’ve written, your top ten writing tips, etc.
  • Send out a weekly or monthly round-up of your blog posts (highlight the most popular ones manually, or include the most recent ones automatically with RSS to email campaigns).

Resources to Read:


Choose a professional email marketing service like MailChimp or Mad Mimi to manage your email list. They take the headache out of address changes and bounce-backs. (Click here to find out how to choose and use your email list service.)

  • Keep your newsletter easy to read with simple but professional formatting, few columns (they will display very differently depending on the email program!), and colors that are easy on the eyes.
  • Pay attention to the plain text version of your email—that’s what many of your readers will see, especially if they are reading it on their phone. Make sure it doesn’t duplicate too many links, or leave too many things unsaid when images are not displayed.
  • Keep the “read this email online” link front and center in your newsletter, especially in the plain text version.

Authors to Follow:

There are some authors whose email newsletter’s arrival in my inbox demands I sit down and read it right this very minute. These are my favorites. Whose are yours?

Photo & Graphic Credit: Trina Holden

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  1. Great information Gretchen! So much there, but I now have a better glimpse into the author newsletter. It’s what “everyone” is saying these days to create…now more than last year. I appreciated your different ideas of what to give away for those of us who don’t have an e-book yet. This post is worth reading a few times over!

  2. If I’m planning to give something for free to subcribers to build my email list is there more of a benefit to collecting email addresses for a subscription to a newsletter versus giving it for free for just subcribing to my blog? If so, do I replace the blog subcription box with a subcribe to newsletter box? Or is there a benefit to having both?

    1. Hi Jacque! I’m a big fan of simplifying email lists by consolidating them all into one–one subscribe box, one list, multiple group options. I’ve written an entire post on it (https://gretchenlouise.com/simplify-email-lists/), but in summary, I recommend setting up one list with your chosen email service (i.e. MailChimp) and giving your subscribers multiple options (newsletter, daily blog posts, or weekly digest). Using this method, any email subscriber–newsletter or blog post–would get the free download, though if you were a paid member you could probably use MailChimp’s autoresponders to send a free download to one group but not the other. However, as I see it, if they are willing to get your blog posts in their inbox each day or week, then they are just as loyal a reader (if not more!) than those who only get your newsletter via email once every month or so. Does that make sense?