Author Email List: How to Sell Books Through Email

by Joslyn Chase and Sarah Gribble | 0 comments

If you're hoping to get your book into the hands of readers, one of the best ways to build an audience is through an author email list. Let's look at how to start a list and use it to connect with readers. 

How To Sell Books by Building Your Email List

Our favorite email newsletter service is Convertkit. You can check it out and create a free account here: sign up for Convertkit.

The #1 Way to Sell Books

Self-publishing is on the rise, but places like Amazon aren’t marketing platforms; they’re sales platforms. You can’t just upload your book and think it’ll sell. You have to do the heavy lifting to get the word out.

Email marketing is the number one way to connect with your audience, which means it’s the number one way to sell books.

With the constantly changing algorithms of social media, you can’t guarantee your mom will see a new release announcement from you, let alone someone you don’t personally know.

(You need to have a website set up before you can get moving on that email list. For tips on how to do that, check this out.)

Early on in my own writing career, I accepted the wisdom in this. I built my website, and plastered it with invitations to join my email list. I put my family, friends, and everyone I could think of, on my email list, and dutifully sent out my campaigns.

Not much happened. My email marketing efforts seemed in vain. What did I do wrong?

A Thousand True Fans

See, here's the thing: my family and friends were on my list because they care about me and want to support what I'm doing. But I write suspense fiction — thrillers, mysteries, psychological head trip stories — and the people I put on my list might read romance, literary fiction, sports stories, or nothing at all.

What I needed on my email list was readers who share my passion for suspense fiction.

Have you heard the concept of a thousand true fans? It goes something like this: cultivate a thousand readers — fans who love your work, eat up everything you put out, and clamor for more — and you can make a living supporting that fan base. What a win/win wonderful thing!

How do I get that?

Ah, there's the rub. Where do you find these people? Or better yet, how can they find you? I've got three steps to help you get off the ground with that.

Create an Incentive

If your questions are anything like those questions I was asking myself, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl and studying it like a textbook. His advice was invaluable to me as I learned how to actually grow my email list (and how to sell books!).

A key concept Tim puts forth is his definition of marketing, what it really is. It's not at all the shady, used-car salesman type of thing we often think of and avoid. Here's what he says:

Marketing is about . . .

  • creating lasting connections with people through
  • a focus on being relentlessly helpful.

So I asked myself, “How do I create lasting connections with people?”

The answer was clear. By building a rapport with the people on my email list. And I can focus on being relentlessly helpful by working to provide something of value for my readers, and showing them the benefits.

In order to establish a relationship with my readers, I had to offer them something, and that gift had to (1) have value, and (2) be freely offered.

Think about your own internet behavior. Are you cautious about handing out your email address? I sure am. People hesitate to sign up for many reasons — lack of trust, fear of the hard sell, too much email coming in, and more.

In order to overcome those objections, I made a commitment to treat my readers with respect, provide value, and be honest. When I invite people to sign up for my readers' group, I tell them it involves a simple, twice-monthly email giving them access to bonuses and updates. So they know, up front, what to expect from our relationship.

What can I offer?

I wondered what I could offer as an incentive to attract the kind of audience that reads in my genre. It would have to be worth something, yet offered for free in return for trusting me enough to begin our relationship.

For me, the answer was story. I write a blog on my website about the power and many benefits of story. So after I convince visitors of the importance of story, I offer them ways to get more story and valuable content in their life. For free.

This is where you have to get creative, really think about who you are, as a writer, and what you have to offer. Do not undervalue yourself.

If you're behaving like a professional, working to hone your craft, and finding courage to express your imagination and ideas, you have something of worth to offer the world. Or, at least a part of the world: your target audience.

Here are a few ideas to fire up your creativity:

  • Book or story
  • Audiobook or story
  • Podcast
  • Interview excerpt or transcript
  • Bonus material, like on a DVD, with deleted scenes, alternate endings, inside scoop on your characters, etc.
  • Virtual tour of the setting for your book: Take a video camera around the town and do a voiceover to go with it, pointing out places of import
  • Game or puzzle you create around your story world
  • Exclusive or advance material no one else gets (audiences love this!)
  • Chance to enter a contest
  • Resource list: For instance, a list of research resources you used for the book, full of fascinating material you had to leave out of the book, but worth reading
  • A suggested reading order list for your books
  • A “best of” list for your genre: For me, I might compile a list, with summaries, of the best suspense novels of the twentieth century
  • A quiz: About your settings, characters, trivia from the world you created
  • A time-saver cheat sheet: For instance, if you write cookbooks, a list of substitutes for missing ingredients
  • A template relative to your audience: If you write books about how to run a fundraiser, provide a template for a pledge letter or phone call
  • Case study, digital or audio, on a relevant subject for your audience
  • Create an infographic: If you haven't discoveredCanvayet, go check it out. Another option I recently came across isVisme. I haven't had a chance to use it yet, but it looks pretty promising.
  • Grant access to a webinar or special class
  • Offer a one-on-one coaching session or video course

It might sound strange that in order to figure out how to sell books, you first have to give away your writing for free. But this free content is really a long-term investment: give something away for free now, and you'll gather readers who will follow you, share your writing, and even buy your books.

Email Marketing Strategy: How to Sell Books Using Email

Now that you have your incentive, what emails should you send, and when should you send them to your author email list?

Here's an email marketing plan to get you started selling books (yes, even if you haven't written a book yet!).

Welcome email

Great, you have a handful of email subscribers. Now what?

First, there should be a welcome email when they confirm their subscription. You can set this up with your email serviceto automatically send as soon as someone signs up. No muss, no fuss.

There are a couple options for your welcome email. You could go with a standard introduction, where you describe what you’ll be sending them, or you could send them a free story, excerpt, etc. Or a combination of both.

After the welcome

You’ve sent the welcome email, but you can’t just leave your potential customers out in the cold after that. You have to keep up the line of communication. Here are a couple ways you can communicate with them:

1. Send scheduled emails

What you do here depends on what your goal is.

If you haven’t released a book yet, or you’re a short story writer with multiple releases a month, or you blog consistently, I recommend doing a “roundup” email. You can do this weekly or monthly. What this normally looks like is a list of posts and/or news releases that give a taste of what is in the article, then asks you to click to continue reading.

If you have released a book, or several, I recommend setting up a series of emails for new subscribers. This would be automatic after a certain time frame.

For example, say I signed up to your site. I first get the welcome email, then a second email maybe a week later announcing your book, and maybe a third in another week.

The benefit of this is all your subscribers get the same emails and no one misses what you really want them to see: your book!

Both of these options can be set up to be automatic and scheduled in advance. They allow you to build a steady relationship with your audience and allow them to get used to seeing your name in their inbox.

2. Send unscheduled emails

These are announcements and are sent whenever you need to speak straight to your fans. These are a great way to announce releases and events or offer freebies and giveaways.

Remember, new subscribers won’t get announcement emails you've sent in the past, as they go out simultaneously to the subscribers you have at that time.

If you feel like you don’t have enough announcements to send these emails on a regular basis, this may not be the way to go for you. Your subscribers are less likely to open your emails if they haven’t heard from you in months.

What to Write to Sell Books

The most important thing to remember when selling anything, especially books, is that your customers must feel invested in the product. It needs to feel personal to them.

With books, people become attached to characters. But you haven’t sold them any books yet, remember? So if they can’t be attached to your characters, who should they be attached to?


You need to build a rapport with your audience. You need to give them something and in return, you’ll sell books.

If you’re anything like me, you kind of loathe the idea of doing any of this emailing stuff. It takes time and what do you really have to say anyway?

But the thing is, if you want to sell books, you need to actually get out there and sell them.

Here are a few ideas for things to send that will help you to connect with your readers and get them to buy your books:

News about your writing

This would be the bulk of the email. Start a countdown to release day, announce new releases, give details about book signings or appearances, etc. Anything you want them to know, really.

Sneak peeks

You have a million notes on character development, side stories you’ve cut from the book, and other random scribblings that may be of interest to fans. Polish those things up and offer them for free in your emails.

This is like a teaser trailer (by the way, you can make one of those for your book and send it along, as well), not only getting your readers hooked, but allowing them to begin to form a connection with your characters.

Giveaways and incentives

Everyone loves a giveaway. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what’s being given away; if it’s free, people want it.

Some of the more obvious giveaways include a signed copy of your book, a free copy of your book or short story, access to exclusive content, an invitation to your next event, a chance to interview you for their blog … the list goes on. Get creative.

Giveaways are one of the best ways to not only nab your audience’s attention, but also to get them to interact and share your work.

Final Notes for Email Marketing Mastery

Make sure your emails are professional and edited. You’re supposed to be selling books and no one is going to buy them if you have typos in your emails.

You’ll also want to focus on staying “on brand” when you email. In other words, make sure the look and tone of every email matches what you’ve sent so far. If you want to get fancy with the design of your emails, I recommend designing an email header that will be used in each email, taking time to write a compelling signature, and making sure your colors, fonts, etc. always match. You want consistency so people will recognize you.

Finally, find some other writers and hop on their email lists! Not only does this open up a line of communication in the writing community, but you can also get ideas for your own emails from what others are putting out there. Remember, though: As with anything, turn old ideas into new ones.

Don't have an email list setup yet? Our favorite email newsletter service is Convertkit. Check it out and create a free account here: sign up for Convertkit.

Have any other ideas of what to email to your readers? Let me know in the comments!


For your fifteen-minute practice today, you're going to write an email to your subscriber list — yes, even if you don't have a subscriber list yet.

If you don't have a list yet, write a welcome email. What's the first thing you want to say to your potential readers when they sign up to hear from you? Do you have any stories you can send them for free?

If you do have an email list, and have been emailing for some time, write your next email. What announcements and updates will you share with your readers? How will you connect with them and stay “on brand”?

When you’re done, share your email in the Pro Practice Workshop. Don’t forget to give feedback!

How to Write Like Louise PennyWant to write like Louise Penny? Join our new class and learn how. Learn more and sign up here.

Join Class

Next LIVE lesson is coming up soon!

Any day where she can send readers to the edge of their seats, prickling with suspense and chewing their fingernails to the nub, is a good day for Joslyn. Pick up her latest thriller, Steadman's Blind, an explosive read that will keep you turning pages to the end. No Rest: 14 Tales of Chilling Suspense, Joslyn's latest collection of short suspense, is available for free at

Sarah Gribble is the author of dozens of short stories that explore uncomfortable situations, basic fears, and the general awe and fascination of the unknown. She just released Surviving Death, her first novel, and is currently working on her next book.

Follow her on Instagram or join her email list for free scares.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Say Yes to Practice

Join over 450,000 readers who are saying YES to practice. You’ll also get a free copy of our eBook 14 Prompts:

Popular Resources

Books By Our Writers

Vestige Rise of the Pureblood
- Antonio Roberts
Under the Harvest Moon
- Tracie Provost
Box of Shards
- K.M. Hotzel
Share to...