Writers generally are not trained publicists. Once their books are published, they often wish they were.
It has been said that directing promotion at people who know us is 85% more effective than any other kind of advertising. Our publicists aren't in a position to build a list this personal. Our bookseller doesn't have access to that information. In most cases our publisher doesn't, either. Like writing the original manuscript, this is a job that only the author can do.
Here are some guidelines for building a knock-'em-dead mailing list that will be more effective than any you could buy and will make any promotion you choose to do more successful:
Get Information. Ask for it -- all of it. Use custom designed forms at your book signing or when you speak. Use a guest book at your launch . Use the names on checks when you sell directly (at book fairs, as an example), but only as a last resort. It is nicer to have a reader's tacit approval before using their personal information.
In addition to the basics, ask your readers for their preferences. Do they want to receive your newsletter? I ask those who purchase This is the Place if they would be interested in my new collection of short stories. This alerts them to the change they might expect -- novel to short story--but also lets them know another book is on its way
Ask contacts for their ideas. Do they know of an organization that would welcome you as a speaker? How can you improve your signing event?
Be Creative.That's what writers are. Apply it to your list-building craft. You already have a list for holiday cards. You have a Rolodex of handy helpers. Fellow co-workers at your day job should be added to this list. Ditto for those in your kids' school directory. Your country club (Ha!) has a list. Members of professional organizations you belong to will be interested. The members of the e-groups to which you contribute know you (but only if you contribute -- which is the whole idea!). People who write you fan letters love you. Your reviewers are candidates for your list as are your media contacts. Now add five more possibilities. I know you can do it!
Capture the Information Correctly. Your largest expense in promotion is likely to be postage. Set up a system that allows you to focus your marketing to please your reader and to save mailing costs.
Your will want a data base that allows you to filter, to sort and to capture marketing information. If yours doesn't do that, consider customizing it or setting up another system. You won't want to waste your most valuable commodity -- the name of your customer and the information that belongs to her alone.
A database is only as good as the accuracy of what is put into it. A properly designed form asks that customers print. A separate space is provided for each individual part of her address. When asking for preferences, a checklist is more effective than expecting her to recall detail (this is a tip borrowed from psychologists). Include an entry field for suggestions and one for the contact to recommend acquaintances who might be interested in your work. Ask for their e-mail. E-mail is a way to communicate with your customer instantly and free.
The automated system that is used to store the information you have gleaned should be set up in a form readily used by mail services. Call one to ask for parameters. Do this even if you plan to do your own mailing. When your list reaches 2,000 or more, it will be more cost-effective to out-source this task.
Know How to Ask. My ears curled when I was at a book signing where the author asked, "Do you want to be on my mailing list?'" Address customers in such a way that they know they are being offered a perk, not more junk in their mailboxes: "I would love to have you sign up to receive my annual Christmas memento." Or tailor what you say to the person's interests. If you're speaking to a genealogy society you might say, "May I have your name so I can invite you to my next seminar on turning a personal history into a novel?" Know how to politely accept the occasional refusal, too. Peruse the form to be sure it is complete and legible. I sometimes make a note like "Purchased TITP" or code it so that I know where I met that person so I can better personalize future contacts.
To promote list-building skills, give yourself a goal. Reward yourself (maybe dessert after your signing) if you have ten new names for your file. B.F. Skinner knew that learning occurs more quickly with immediate feedback.
Promote the Mailing List Itself. Millie Szerman, President of New Directions Public Relations and Marketing and author of A View from the Tub likes drawings to help overcome a customer's natural reluctance to sign forms. Your website should garner names. A greeter at your book launch or other events can also glean names; you'll find the information in a guest book more useful when it is supervised. Offer a memento to those who bring and sign up a friend.
Keep Revising Your Lists. Send out occasional postcards. The post office returns those that are not deliverable at no charge. Use them to purge or correct outdated entries.