How to Build a Contact List to Grow a Relationship With Your Readers

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

If you build your website, will they come? Yes, if you provide valuable, free stuff.

If you build your website, will they come? Yes, if you provide valuable, free stuff.

The grand rule of marketing for authors is to build a relationship with your readers. But how can you build a relationship when you don’t know who’s buying your book? Amazon and Apple don’t disclose their customers’ contact information to authors, and neither do traditional bookstores. But authors can get to know their readers by shifting their websites from passive to active.

A passive web site describes your books, lists your bio, links to reviews, and even has a contact form. But an active site draws people in, gives them something to do, or offers free stuff—in exchange for their email address.

The rule on the Internet is not, as they said in Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” Oh no. The rule on the Internet is, “If you give them free stuff, they will give you their contact information, and then you can build a relationship.”

Provide valuable, free stuff

What kind of free stuff am I talking about? Free sample chapters. Free webinars or PDFs that delve deeper into your subject matter or, if you write novels, that explore the recurring themes of your work.

What you offer on your website must not only be free. It must also be valuable. Be generous with your knowledge and your talents. Here are some examples to get your mind going:

  • Jeff Kinney of the Wimpy Kid series has a “fortune reader” tool on his website. It’s a silly, simple button-click, but this fun tool gives kids something to do—and a reason to visit his site. This particular activity required a software expert to do the coding. Not everyone has the marketing budget of best-selling author Jeff Kinney. But as an author, you’re creative—use your imagination to come up with something that you can afford and that your audience will respond to.
  • Children’s book author Linda Ashman gives out free PDFs of the introduction and first chapter of her craft book, The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books: Tools and Tips for Writing, Polishing and Selling Your Manuscript.
  • The website of illustrator Jan Brett is filled with freebies of all kinds: customizable printable cards, calendars, coloring pages, games, contests. It’s a treasure trove of simple things that are useful to teachers and parents. And because it’s fully illustrated by Brett herself, it gives exposure to her illustration style.

Build a mailing list

If you set up your website so that a name and email address are required for the download, you will begin to build a mailing list. Indicate during this sign-up that you’ll be adding their names to a mailing list, just so they know, and allow them to “opt out” if they don’t want to hear from you.

Once you’ve built up a mailing list of fans, it’s time to grow your relationship with them. Don’t be shy—they like your writing, they like your free stuff, they’ll be happy to hear from you—if your emails are useful. What’s a useful email? An email that tells people when you’ll be in their area to do a talk or a reading. An email that offers sneak peeks at your next book. An email that provides discounts and specials.

Don’t spam. Communicate with respect.

All this requires some deep thinking about who your readers are and why they like your books. No one wants to be spammed with useless information. Please do not do this! Instead, do an honest assessment of what your readers are looking for. Then provide that information to them in a genuine, generous way.

You’re building a relationship. Interact with lots of respect and your audience will respect you back.

6 thoughts on “How to Build a Contact List to Grow a Relationship With Your Readers

  1. Cathy Fyock

    Great article! I’m now offering a free chapter of my new book, On Your Mark: From First Word to First Draft in Six Weeks, and I’m hoping folks will go to my book’s website to download the chapter, gain the value, and I can begin a better relationship with my readers (and aspiring authors)!

  2. Ron Martinez

    Yes, exactly right.

    Forgive the promotion, but Aerbook, which helps authors and publishers find readers and sell books on the social web, has built-in, customizable email capture. Write your call to action, set how many pages before it appears, and your book sample will automatically ask for (or optionally require) an email address. You can download the addresses in a .csv file and add them to MailChimp or whatever else you use for email campaigns.

    Here’s an example:

  3. Beth Barany

    I so agree! I’ve been cultivating my small list for about a year now. I offer readers to my site a free prequel of my YA fantasy novel, HENRIETTA THE DRAGON SLAYER, for signing up for my mailing list. They’ll also get other surprise goodies from time to time and advance notices of sales. Oh, and sneak peeks, ahead of everyone else.

  4. G.G. Silverman

    Thank you, Beth, for this great reminder that we have to give in order to receive. Looking forward to adding this to my site soon!

    Best regards,
    G.G. Silverman

  5. Rosie

    This is a great post. I’m happy that this topic is being discussed!

    I wonder if you had heard of BitLit? They’re a print and eBook bundling app. Publishers get the contact info from every reader who bundles her eBook with BitLit. It could be worth investigating!



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