Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How to Build Your Newsletter Using List Bait

Hi Folks,

Today I'm going to talk about the Heartstriker short, Mother of the Year. I'm going to go over what it is, why we made it, and why it's available as it is. I'm sure ya'll will find this educational as there's a lot going on here. So far this experiment has been a rousing success, so read on and we'll get into,

What We Did With Mother of the Year and Why

This post started when Tom Sweeney asked,
"My only question (you didn't think i was going to politely leave without a question, did you?) concerns the Mother of the Year gambit.
I know you are not selling it, just making it available for those on your list, and this likely resulted in a LOT of people signing up. I'm just wondering how effective it was for the end game goal, not building a list per se but selling books. I understand your data probably doesn't have enough granularity to determine how many of the new signups went ahead and bought one or more of the Heartstriker series books. You could have each sold lot of MotY copies at $.99, so do you think you came out ahead with enough Heartstriker books sold to cover the loss of revenue had you sold MotY?"

@Tom Thanks! Also, I love questions! Please feel free to ask away.

My reply was a wall of text and I realized that it'd be better as a blog post. So let's talk all about Mother of the Year.

First off, what is Mother of the Year?

MOTY, the short story you can download, is an interview with Besthesda, The Heartstriker about her 5th autobiography titled Mother of Year. It's about 4000 words long and is less of a story and more of a TV show transcript. The work is supplemental to the main series, meaning that you don't need to read it to appreciate Heartstrikers. So while it might make some parts cooler, it's not essential.

It is only available for people who sign up for the new release mailing list. This last bit is the most important part. You cannot buy MOTY. It is list exclusive content.

Why is it list exclusive and not [also] for sale?

To properly answer Tom's question - we needed list bait, wanted list bait, and so MOTY was made specifically to be that. It's exclusivity is a crucial part of its functionality so we're not going to try to sell it. If folks can just buy it, then we've undermined the enticement to sign up.
Besides, we're not in the short story business, so I don't think trying to sell it would be a wise idea. People might think it was a full book if we did that.
That said, it's likely worth more as list bait than as a 99c sale item anyway. The new release mailing list has a very high conversion rate (30% to 40%). MOTY has increased signups from 50-80 per month up to 150-250 per month. It's been, so far, phenomenally successful beyond what I'd hoped for.

Now, I'm sure that some people are only signing up to get MOTY and the list's conversion rate will go down a little because of that. When HS4 comes out, we will send out the release announcement to the list. This is when we'll see the rubber hit the road as concerns the new conversion rate.

Ya'll had better believe that I'll be waiting with analytics. There will definitely be a post about how it all shook out. This won't be until 2017 though as Feb-March is likely the next big release date around here.

The point I want to make is that, I'm pretty sure that this is going to be a very effective means of building the list and it's much better than some other tactics out there. I've seen many authors do things like free kindle raffles where the kindle is also loaded with their books. These giveaways usually require social media follows and list signups for entry. TBH, I've never seen the point of doing this.

I have to wonder about the quality of signups people who do it this way are getting. How many people followed or joined just to get an entry in the raffle? Probably a lot. The whole method has very poor targeting and vetting. Heck, there's an entire culture of free-stuff hunters out there who just scour the web for raffles like these to enter into. Most unfollow or unsubscribe as soon as they get or don't get what they came for.

I've talked about the need to properly qualify your customers before. This philosophy has nothing to do with elitism and everything to do with not wasting people's time or money. The best purchase is by a person who goes on to enjoy reading the book. Anything less is detrimental all around I feel. It's also about building your brand.

Are the people signing up for MOTY also buying Rachel's books?

Hard to say. I'm going to guess that they are almost all people who've already bought and read her books. While this might sound like failure, it's actually fantastic IMO. We want legit fans on the list, not random people who don't know or care about Rachel's books.

MOTY was carefully chosen. It's a piece of fiction that mostly only interests people who've already read NDFL and beyond, since it relies on the reader having some series knowledge. In terms of vetting sign ups, it's very strong. Yet, it's still giving that crucial incentive for people to make the effort to sign up. We all cringe a little when we add ourselves to yet another email newsletter. So it takes push and pull to get folks over that hump.

But, about selling books. The premise of Tom's question is spot on. Why not sell it? How does MOTY earn money? Let's be straight, if it wasn't going to earn money, it might not have been written. Again, we're not in the short story business. 99% of Rachel's fiction goes into novel form for a reason.

That's all OK though, because it absolutely will sell books and it's probably going to sell a lot more than it looks.

Let's go back to the numbers

Old sign up rate for the list was about 50-80 per month. We had roughly 800 actual sign ups from May 2015 to June 2016. By comparison, we've had 700 in the last 75 days.

Now, I'll admit that we're riding high. It's launch summer. There was an Audible Daily Deal. Nice Dragons and One Good Dragon were both in the Amazon Big Deal for August. We've been running huge amounts of advertising. Really, we could not be driving more traffic right now without a truly outlier event occurring. It's been an amazing summer!

Still, I'm watching the click events and conversions in relation to sales. What I see gives me confidence that we're going to enjoy a permanent increase in monthly sign ups to the newsletter.  This paints a pretty rosy picture.

estimated newsletter sign ups

Here's my guess at what the list will look like next spring (2017). This makes me super excited! The list is really good at sales. See, about 30% of the people on the list will go buy the next book when it's release time. This percentage is based on the sales spike that always occurs the day the list email goes out. So I'm both under counting (people opening the email or acting on it later) and over counting (people who were going to buy anyway). This is very empirical, but it's been working so far.

So, just looking at how many books MOTY's extra sign ups might buy, we should get around 168 to 285 additional sales of Heartstrikers #4. Which, I might add, are going to be for a $4.99 book. That's the equivalent of 1700 to 3000 unit sales of a $0.99 MOTY release.

That's perhaps not the most compelling comparison though. I mean, do we think that MOTY might sell more than 1700 to 3000 copies on its own if put up on Amazon? Yeah, I'd say so. It could do that in its first year out for sure.

To put this in perspective, we're roughly 'paying' (in lost revenue) about $2-$4 per customer. Which is incredible. AMS is about $20/customer, Bookbub is about $4, and Google is, well, don't ask... We don't use Google Ad Words anymore ~_~

But what about when we get to the final Heartstrikers Book? The list might look like this then,

30% sales on nearly 2000 additional signups comes to 336 to 571 additional copies. Which is equivalent to 3500 to 6000 unit sales at 99c. Which I'm not so sure we'd achieve on something as small and not-a-novel as MOTY.

But then there's book 1 of the next Rachel Aaron series. Then book 2 and 3 and ... of that series. The overall contribution to list growth isn't just +sales on HS4 and +sales on HS5, it's also +sales to each of the books in the next series and the next...

I hope you can see how this really really adds up long-term. This return is very much like an investment. A bunch of 99c sales can't hope to match this, especially since they likely won't be bringing in new readers.
This is why every author needs to have a newsletter. 
Now, MOTY will lose effectiveness as a growth tool over time of course. This will be especially true during the next series when new fans haven't yet read Heartstrikers and don't care about MOTY yet. The list also suffers from general attrition over time as well, so these numbers are not as perfectly rosy as I'm making out. This is a decent enough picture though I feel as Rachel's list's attrition is so far very slight.

Depreciation is a fact of life, but that's OK. We're already in agreement that Rachel will make another list bait when the time comes. One that's based on the next series. That way new fans will have continued and relevant incentive to sign up and we can maintain the higher monthly growth.

If we stay devoted to making the list valuable to readers, not wasting their time with it, and courting people who would legit enjoy being on such a list.. I hope to keep that high conversion rate. Also, I can live with myself haha. We don't want any shameful marketing around here.

Two Birds With One Stone

Lastly, MOTY was released at a time when it could also help wet people's appetites for the release of No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. We did this by dropping it during the No Good Dragon 70-day pre-order window. It was yet another way of creating buzz for the book release in a way that was interesting for readers. Something more than, "hey guys, book coming out! Pre-Order!"

We did a lot more promotion than just MOTY this summer and, once September is over and I have full data, I'll be making a post all about what we tried, what worked, how well it worked, and what didn't work. It's going to be awesomely informative so stay tuned.

but that's enough about Mother of the Year...

What Makes Good List Bait

To push this metaphor completely to its end, you need to bait your hook for the fish you want to catch. 

Confession: I know nothing about actual fishing
Rachel's new release newsletter is only sent out a few times per year. This is because it's defined by new content, which means she only mails out when there's something new for fans to read (or a new format). 

Some authors have a regular newsletter instead. I've even heard of weekly ones even. The newsletter is basically a blog at that frequency. Both ways and all the ways in between are fine, depending on what you want to achieve.

I feel that good list bait is exclusive. If you are going to the trouble of creating it, don't dilute its potential by making it available somewhere else too. People who really want it are going to have to sign up.

Don't make people sad if they can't get it. Some folks have strong opinions about newsletter signups and simply will not go no matter what you offer. Others will simply miss that there is a list entirely. I mean, NDFL has 40k+ sales and Rachel's list is not 40k people despite the fact that every reader is asked to join at the end of every one of her Heartstrikers books. 

From my personal experience, I cannot tell you how pissed off I am (still) that Blizzard put essential world events for World of Warcraft inside books, not the game, and I missed them. Stuff happened in the game based on these novels and I was so confused. Then I found out there were books that had setup these hugely important events. So angry! (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ (I haven't read the Warcraft novels out of spiteful anger to this day)

We made sure that MOTY was non-essential for the enjoyment of the series because the vast majority of fans will never know about it and shouldn't have to know about it. We're not forcing people to join the list.

It needs to add value to list membership. This is in line with the "don't waste people's time" rule and it's two-fold. Will people who join via the list bait derive value from being on your list as well as from the list bait? You need to get these two angles to line up as that's how you keep people on the list long term.

This is why, "Join the list for a chance to win a $50 gift card" is a bad idea. One person will get value from the list bait (the winner) and everyone else will just be on some list they probably don't care that much about (0 value). A list that's just adding one more regular email into their packed inboxes (negative value). Only a small percentage of people from raffles will stay around after the giveaway is over and those who do stay probably just forgot to unsubscribe (0 value to you). It's a waste of time all around. Well, all except the person who won the prize.

As I mentioned above, MOTY is most appealing to existing readers. Folks who probably would also love to be reminded when the next Rachel Aaron book comes out. Value in and value onward.

Wrapping Up

Thanks again Tom for the great question!

Anyway, next Wednesday's post will be Rachel on writing. We're going to be stick to alternating who does the Wednesday post. It really is better for us. A lot more work is getting done now! ^_^

If there's any topics you'd like me or Rachel to talk about here on the blog, please feel free to leave them below. We're always working hard to find information that is useful to you. You can also just hit me up on Twitter, that works too! (@TravBach) Rachel's social media links are here as well if you want to get live updates! (Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Google+)

Thanks again for reading, and I'll see you all next week!



Danielle Annett said...

Who do you use for sharing your freebie Mother of the Year, do you offer the book for download via instafreebie or another outlet?

Travis Bach said...

@Danielle It's just a file hosted by the webserver. We use to track downloads and such. The link was sent out to the existing list when we announced it.

New sign ups get a "welcome to the list" email automatically after they join. The welcome email contains the links to download MOTY.

At some point the links will get tossed around the net and we'll have lots of people just downloading it without signing up. That's ok to an extent (free advertising!), but when it gets out of hand I'll just change all the links to 'reset' things at bit.

Kessie said...

The table flip emoji over the Warcraft novels is classic. I haven't read them, either, and for the same reason. Show me the dwarf dude get turned into a crystal statue IN A CUTSCENE. Don't make me read a BOOK.

Also I signed up for the newsletter the instant I finished Heartstrikers book 1 so I could be sure to know when book 2 launched. No listbait needed here. :-)

Travis Bach said...

I know right? The King of Iron Forge was turned to crystal prior to Warcraft 1 I think. So they had double the burden of telling us. I mean, who remembers shit they found in the bottom of Iron Forge during WoW vanilla?

Anonymous said...

This is a topic for a future post: What happens with the review data that Amazon collects?

When I write a review on Amazon, I click on whatever number of Stars, then it pops up some questions about the book. These are:

How would you describe the plot of this book? [Predictable] [some twists] [full of surprises]
Which of these words best describes the mood? [Dark][Thoughtful][Suspenseful] etc...
How would you describe the pace?[slow][steady][fast]
How would you describe the characters?[one-dimensional][developed][complex]

I don't ever see this information included in reviews themselves the way the star rating is, so do authors get these? Is is just for Amazon itself? What's the deal?

Travis Bach said...

Hi Anonymous,

While I'd love to do a post about that, I have no info I'm afraid. The answers to those questions all vanish into the Amazon black hole. Authors aren't given any of it and see the same review information everyone else does.

Though I'm very sure that these questions all factor into Amazons famous recommendation engine. Beyond that though, your guess is as good as mine.

Selene said...

Very interesting! A question--do you only e-mail the "new release list" the day a new book is up for sale, or do you also send out an e-mail when it's available for pre-order?

Travis Bach said...

Usually the list gets an email for pre-orders, launch, and any really big new format (like Audio). Otherwise, that's it. So 2 to 3 emails per book. It's 4 to 9 emails a year depending on Rachel's release schedule usually.

Tom Sweeney said...

Another great post! This one is deceptively simple. Every time I looked at it, another thought was provoked. In the past week, I've finally figured out what my blog should look like. I dithered about on that for a year (or more) now, but think I have a handle on it, thanks to this and a couple of articles I've read.

I know you only had the one giveaway. Are you planning on another? One between each book?

Interesting about the reviews. One of the questions is what person is it written in. I would have thought that would be a good thing for readers to know, as some people prefer one or the other. Maybe they use the info to predict the most popular POV so they can make an algorithm on which books they'll publish. That would be short-sighted, IMO, a books-as-widgets approach, but....

Did you ever do a post of the tactics and strategy of acquiring reviews?

Travis Bach said...

Thanks Tom. I think we are only going to do one list bait per series, not per book.

I have not done any posts on reviews because we don't do a lot there. The back of Rachel's books all ask for readers to leave a review. She has enough sales volume where that alone is enough to get the reviews needed to look pro.

Tom Sweeney said...

I understand. Sigh. If I could write like Rachel I wouldn't worry about reviews, either. The scene where Eli charms the door is about the best opening I've ever read.

Travis Bach said...

What I've heard is that, starting out, you have to ask ask ask for reviews. The first 50 to 100 reviews on a book are super important. You may have to earn every single one individually if that's what it takes.

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