For many years, an email list has been considered an indispensable part of selling books. Read any advice column on publishing and it’s likely that before long you’ll be commanded to build an email list a mile long or face the wrath of zero book sales.
Now buckle up, because I’m about to tell you that this is a load of bologna.
Yes yes, it’s a highly controversial opinion and it’s why I’m not going to call this post ‘advice for writers’; you’re free to disagree, but hear me out.
It should come as no surprise that ‘rules of thumb’ often outlive their practical use. In the military, we noted wryly that we were always perfecting how to fight the previous war just as a new type of war unfolded on us.
And that’s what I think is happening with email lists. Let’s be honest: email use today is boring at best, and often annoying. We use emails to sign up for social media and enter giveaways, and that’s about it. When was the last time you sent a personal correspondence by email that wasn’t work related? When was the last time you received a long-expected and happily-received email?
Email was once exciting, and signing up for an email list was a big deal. You sat by the glowing screen just waiting on that expected message. But in the age of social media, that time has long gone. Be honest with yourself, and you’ll admit that you immediately delete any email from a list that doesn’t excite you in the first two words. Hell, If it even looks like a mass email, you delete it unless you see the word “FREE” in the Subject. I know I do.
You must also consider the context of when this advice first became gospel. Back in the 90’s and even into the early 2000’s, the internet was still young and a bit jumbled. Finding exactly what you were looking for took time, and in the days of dial-up, there was no such thing as mindlessly browsing because it took half an hour just to load a page!
Email lists made sense back then, because it was the only way to reliable and efficiently reach readers with news of your books. With high-speed internet available in our pockets, those days are long gone. If readers want what you’re selling and you’re putting in the leg work, they’ll find you.
And that’s why I treat the “you must have an email list” line the same as any other outdated opinion: with an eye roll and a prayer that this is the last time I hear those words. In the year and a half since first publishing His Name Was Zach, my books have been downloaded or physically ordered hundreds of times, all without an email list. Not bad for a first time indie author who didn’t think to start a social media presence until after I published (oopsie).
Now I’m not saying NOT to build an email list. Some authors find success with them, for sure. I’m merely suggesting that it’s not quite as pivotal for an indie author as it may have been 10-15 years ago. So don’t kill yourself trying to build email lists, feeling like a failure if you can’t. Write a good story and keep telling people about it on social media, and you’ll get your sales.
I mean, with all the downloads and orders my writing must be pretty decent, right? Find out for yourself here, my novels are only $2.99 on Kindle and my short story prequel is just a buck-fifty!