A Newsletter Takeaway from NINC

Newsletter Ninja by Tammi LaBrecqueAt the beginning of this month, I attended the Novelists Inc annual conference. It was held at St. Pete’s Beach, as usual – I shared some impressions when I got home, right here – and as usual, I had a huge To Do list as a result of the many excellent workshops.

I also had a couple of new books to read. The first (and the one I’m going to talk about today) is Newsletter Ninja by Tammi LaBrecque.

I really like this book. Not only do her strategies make sense, but implementing the suggested strategies shows quick results. What’s not to like about almost-instant gratification?

Here’s one thing I changed after reading this book and the difference it made. My newsletter list was already divided into three groups, separating readers by the sub-genre they prefer to read: Heroes & Bad Boys is for my Deborah Cooke contemporary romances; Dragons & Angels is for my Deborah Cooke paranormal romances; and Knights & Rogues is for my Claire Delacroix historical romances. There’s a sign-up form in each ebook, guiding readers to the appropriate group, and offering a free read in that sub-genre. There are also sign-ups on my various websites, guiding readers to the appropriate newsletter, and also on my Facebook pages. Before reading this book, my welcome message to my newsletter list was a single message. That all seemed very straightforward, but I’ve been mystified by one detail for a while.

Only 67-70% of new subscribers opened that welcome email message, which meant that roughly 30% of them never got the free book. Since this was supposedly the reason they signed up, I thought that was weird. Also, you can see that a lot of people who opened the message didn’t click to take the free book:

Deborah Cooke's newsletter onboarding open rates before Newsletter Ninja

So, there are two obvious questions here:
1. Why sign up for the newsletter to get a free book and not open the welcome message?
2. Why open the welcome message and not click on the link for the free book?

The answer to the first question might simply be that the email was in the spam folder and the recipient didn’t see it. I already had a note asking the subscriber to add my domain email to their email address book, which should white-list it. (That’s the email that sends the newsletter and white-listing it should keep messages from that address out of the recipient’s spam or Promotions folder.) But it still looked as if a significant percentage of people either weren’t receiving or weren’t finding that first message. I followed the advice of Newsletter Ninja and added steps to the welcome message, which should add verification to my email address and validate my sending to each recipient. I also asked two more times for them to white-list the address. It felt like nagging to me, but you’ll see that it worked.

All or Nothing, book #4 of the Coxwell series of contemporary romances by Deborah CookeThe answer to the second book is more interesting to me. What if the reader didn’t want the free book? For Heroes & Bad Boys, I offer another contemporary romance, All or Nothing, as a free read. But after reading Newsletter Ninja, it occurred to me that a subscriber who had read one of the Flatiron Five books might not be interested in reading one of the Coxwell books. That’s two different series and while I think there are similarities, I’m definitely asking readers to invest in another world of characters with this offering – and if they’re subscribing to the newsletter after reading Simply Irresistible, book one in the series and a free read, then they want more F5, not something else.

Clearly, I should be tracking which book or series each new subscriber was reading when he or she clicked the newsletter link, and I should be offering bonus content that the reader will already find interesting.

This is a HUGE takeaway for me.

I implemented a whole bunch of changes simultaneously. In fact, in the screenshot above, I’d already made one – below, I’ll talk about the new sequence I created for readers of Simply Irresistible, but in the screenshot above, I’d already tagged the readers signing up everywhere else as “Organic”. Right now, I don’t have any other promotions running to build my contemporary romance subscriber list. All subscribers are organic i.e. they’re following newsletter sign-up links in my ebooks, on my websites or from my Facebook pages. Having them tagged that way is a great suggestion, as organic subscribers tend to be the most enthusiastic – I’ll be able to sort subscribers based on source in future.

Simply Irresistible, a contemporary romance by Deborah Cooke and first in the Flatiron Five series.Now, on to my experiment. As my test, I created a new onboarding sequence that was only for Simply Irresistible, my free first-in-series title and the funnel for new readers to find my books.

The sign-up link exists only in the book interior of Simply Irresistible. It offers a different free read, chosen specifically for the readers of that book. (In that story, the heroine, Amy, writes a book. There are excerpts from “her” book in the story, but they’re taken from an actual book, written by another author. We had this brilliant joint promotion plan, which didn’t work. :-/ She has since left publishing, so has graciously agreed to let me offer her book to my readers as a bonus read.) This sign-up feeds into a different group and a different (longer) onboarding sequence, as suggested in Newsletter Ninja.

Fear not – if you’re already signed up for my Heroes & Bad Boys newsletter, you’ll have the chance to download this content free in November. Existing subscribers won’t be missing a thing!

I was very excited to see immediate results – these are from the new onboarding sequence on its first day in action:

Deborah Cooke's newsletter open rate on new onboarding sequence, thanks to Newsletter NinjaReaders opened! They clicked! There is nothing to click on in the first email, so that 0% is to be expected. The link for the free read is in the second email, and we can see that everyone opened, then most people clicked. I used BookFunnel to deliver the free read – I created a unique link for people on this onboarding sequence – and saw there that 8 people had downloaded the book file when this screenshot was taken.

Triumph! There aren’t very many people in this stream yet, but I’m very encouraged by results from the first day of these changes being in place. Who doesn’t like instant gratification?

I’m going to create more new onboarding sequences, keyed to my free reads and funnel books first, then divide my lists again into smaller groups to offer something custom to readers of each series. This strategy probably means creating new bonus content, but I’ll offer it to my existing readers, too.

And then, there are changes to be made to the newsletters themselves…I have a lot of work to do, but am excited about it. With the results coming this quickly, I know that doing the work will vastly improve my open rates and my interaction with my readers over the next year.

I’ll post an update on using these strategies in six months. April 25. Be here.

I think Newsletter Ninja is a terrific book. If you run a newsletter and haven’t read it, maybe you should. 🙂


Author Newsletters

I go around about this all the time, so I thought I’d ask for your thoughts.

My monthly newsletter is a huge document. It includes announcements of new releases and upcoming releases, the month’s sale title (when there is one), cover reveals, a list of posts from my blog, upcoming reader events and signings, etc. It’s long and it takes a ton of time to compile each month.

I don’t mind doing this if it’s useful to you. but the newsletter’s open rates are dropping. Undoubtedly, the larger my list gets, the more messages end up in spam folders instead of being read by subscribers. That seems to be inevitable. There is some question as to the accuracy of open rates, too, since the newsletter won’t be reported as having been opened if you look at it in preview or without the images. Even given all of this, I still wonder whether the current format is the best.

So, I thought I’d ask you. 🙂

Remember that I have a New Release alert for those of you who only want to hear about new releases on their on-sale dates.

Remember that you can Choose Your News for the newsletter, and hear ALL of my news, or just Contemporary, Medieval or Paranormal news. (You do that by choosing Preferences from the footer in the newsletter email.)

Remember also that I have series-specific newsletters for the current series Dragons of Incendium and Flatiron Five.

Below is a little poll about author newsletters in general and my newsletter in particular. I’m asking for your help while I’m at Romancing the Capital. 🙂


Author Newsletters

There’s something about the end of the calendar year that makes me want to review and revise every detail in the hope of making the end result better. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is my monthly newsletter. I’ve been trying some new ideas and have some more in the works, but today, I’m asking you for some feedback.

What do you like to read in author newsletters?

Or, maybe more accurately, what compels you to open author newsletters?

The Crusader's Handfast, #5 in the Champions of Saint Euphemia series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixIn my newsletter right now, you’ll find new releases, with their description, cover and buy links. You’ll find upcoming releases, either in cover reveals or when there’s a pre-order available. I’ve noticed that you like free downloadable samples from my online store, so I’ll be doing those for every book in future. I give you a heads-up on book sales and promotions, as well as giveaways and contests. I also offer discounts in my newsletter for my online store on print and digital books. I’ve added a monthly print book giveaway here on the blog, and that will be in the newsletter each month. (This month’s giveaway is a signed copy of The Crusader’s Handfast. Here’s the post where you can comment to enter.) You have the option as a newsletter subscriber to choose to receive all my news, news on my paranormal romances, news on my contemporary romances or news on my medieval romances. (If you haven’t done this, you can change your preferences.)

If you haven’t subscribed to Knights, Dragons and Heroes, you can do that right here.

What else would you like to see? I’ve created a poll today to gather up your answers and plot my course. These polls only allow you to choose one answer, so please pick the most compelling one. If you have another suggestion – or if there’s another serious contender – please add it in the comments. The whole point of the newsletter is that it should be interesting to readers, so I’d really appreciate your input.

Thank you in advance!