The Ubiquitous Mailing List

Mailing list

Authors are told their most precious marketing asset is their mailing list. This advice has become so common it’s now accepted as gospel. I have my doubts.

Over the past few weeks, admittedly a little late in my writing career, I’ve been attempting to set up this promotional tool. I’d love to report it as fun, rewarding, easy and worthwhile. It was none of these. In fact, I’m now regrowing the hair I pulled out in the process.

First, like all good students of the new and unfamiliar, I researched alternatives on offer. These ranged from the free and mostly worthless to those so expensive only already financially secure authors could afford them. In between were a couple worth further exploration and I finally settled on a service that’s free until the list reaches a specific number, when charges start to accumulate. Once the list has reached this dizzy height, the argument goes, the author will be making more than enough cash to cover monthly costs. Maybe I’m sceptical, but that seems an inflated claim.

No matter, I set off along the road to full discovery and implementation. It was rocky and involved a steep learning curve. I won’t bore you with details; you’ve better things to do with your time. So have I.

The initial step involves forming a list. Now, forgive me, but isn’t the whole purpose of this process that of forming a list? So be it. I did the obvious and asked a few friends and family members to allow me the use of their email address so a list could be started. That launched me over the first hurdle.

Next, which perhaps I should’ve done first – but I was eager to get on – I began to read the full instructions for the process. Pages and pages of dense advice took me from one part of the process to another, via links. I never got far enough to uncover the entire system but my guess is I’d have had a printed manual the size of an average encyclopaedia.

I took what I could find as ‘essential’ and began to design my ‘sign-up’ form. There were no instructions; the process apparently so intuitive a child of six could perform it. I’m no techie, but I’ve some understanding of the modern world of computing, as evidenced by my website, which I built. Clearly, however, my intuition doesn’t match that of the programmers of the system. Nevertheless, with patience and experimentation, I worked out more or less how it operated. And I designed a neat little form giving potential readers the option of 5 rewards for subscribing to my list.


Next, I used the detailed instructions to place the form on my website, in the sidebar where it could be seen by all visitors. Great idea. Unfortunately, after several attempts, using multiple variations on the instructions, I failed completely. It must be me! Help was required. I emailed the helpdesk (there’s a misnomer!). Three days later, the reply told me the code used to design the sign-up form conflicts with the code used to construct the website. But this applies only to my type of website. I deliberately selected as my website host as they’re the most popular one for writers. The mailing provider, however, not only can’t design non-conflicting code, but fails to warn users of this important matter during the obvious opportunity of form-building! I suggested this might be a good idea and would save other users a deal of wasted time.

There was an alternative. I could use the URL link to the form and place it in my sidebar. Simple, though not what I was hoping for as it would take people away from my site to fill in the form. But a worthwhile alternative. Oh no it wasn’t! Perhaps it’s my chosen website theme, but the offered URL appeared not as a link but simply as a non-active URL in text form!

Not to be beaten after umpteen frustrating hours on this process, I tried a different ploy. I inserted a paragraph, with built-in link, into my Welcome page. Wonderful. Except, how many people visit the Welcome page when specifically directed to a post by that post’s link? Very few. I could, of course, place text in the sidebar directing visitors to the link in the Welcome page but…How many would bother with a process that takes more than two clicks to reach an uncertain destination? We live in a ‘one-click’ world.

I looked again at my site. I already have a system for people to follow by email. provide this and the list is growing daily. It’s not a true mailing list, as it delivers an email every time I produce a new blog post, but it’s better than nothing. I make the titles of my posts clear to readers so they can filter out the stuff in which they have no interest. And I can reward readers and followers of my website by including the offered sign-up incentives in the body of the website.

So, that’s what I’m doing. From the date of this post, I offer you the option of joining those who already follow my website via email. It’s supremely simple and you’ll find the necessary device at the top of the sidebar. It involves providing your email address. I know some people are wary of such activity in these days of increasing scams and overwhelming spam, but is specifically designed to use the email only to let subscribers know when a new piece is posted and what that post contains. The email addresses are never shared with anyone and are used only for this specified purpose. I know: I use their system for other blogs and websites and it works very well indeed, giving me notice of subjects of interest and allowing me to swiftly delete those messages that are of no interest.

So, a final word on this issue before I get back to actually writing again: Please, pop up to the top of this page and enter your email address in the box provided. You’ll receive an email every time I produce a new post. I’ll make a point of entering a short post each time I update the Writing Contest table so those who want this information are able to enter their efforts. And I’ll let everybody know when I’ve found time to enter on the site those rewards I initially offered as an incentive to signing up to my ‘mailing list’.

Thank you for reading this far. You’re clearly more patient than I am!

12 thoughts on “The Ubiquitous Mailing List

  1. Mailing lists are wonderful things, Stuart. I don’t have a WordPress site (in retrospect, I wish I had). But every high traffic page on my site has a sign-up form and I get around ten signups per day, just from Google searches. Of course, most folk are tyrekickers (let’s make it 90%) but my list has driven my business close to a six-figure turnover across six years. And there are very, very clever (ethical) things you can do with a big list. They’re fun! (I’m playing with them now. What else is there to do across Christmas?) Stay with it…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, but John, your business and website are not entirely to do with books. You’re a gifted writing tutor, running a school, so your needs are different from those of the standard author. I’ve found that my time and energy are disproportionately occupied with marketing and promotion matters. Yes, I want people to read my books, but I’m far from convinced that the mailing list or any of the much-lauded promotional tools on offer out there (usually for large sums of cash) actually do a great deal to encourage more readers. There’s a fairly persuasive theory that readers arrive mostly via word of mouth for the vast majority of authors. Of course, those who had a reputation long before the digital age have a sound basis of followers, and those who gain the attention and support of a big publisher, have the advantage of very widespread promotion, which does sell their books. The vast bulk of us, however, earn insufficient from our scribblings to employ such costly support.
      By instinct I’ve always been deeply suspicious of ‘selling’. I spent a year as a salesman and it simply confirmed my opinion that it is not for me. So, I’ll devote my time and effort to writing, which includes blogging and commenting, of course, and hope that my work will speak for itself. I have a fear, verging on a phobia, that the qualities needed to promote and market are subtly antipathetic to those qualities needed to produce first class works of creation. I know there are exceptions to this. But I’m clearly not one of those individuals who can split into two separate identities to excel at both activities. I therefore choose to write.
      I never saw writing as a way to earn a living: that was always a secondary aspect of the activity. It’s the process of creating that grips and inspires me, and without it, I’m both unhappy and unfit. There’s a clear difference in my physical self when I’m not engaged in creating new work and when I am. So. I’ll take my chances and continue to hope that readers will spread the word about my books. I’ll continue to do a little, of course, to introduce new readers to my work. But I won’t spend more time than I’m comfortable with on that activity.
      As for you, John, your activity in both writing and tutoring deserves the wide readership it creates, and the process obviously works for you. You offer a damned good product at very reasonable cost. An unusual combination. Keep up the good work!


    1. So much of the technology that is advertised as ‘user-friendly’, ‘simple to use’, ‘one-click’, etc, turns out to be far more complex than necessary for us. And automation is often more trouble than it’s worth. I recently had a very frustrating time on eBay when trying to return an unwanted item and found myself in an automated loop with no apparent escape. In the end, I contacted them by telephone as was faced with a pleasant young woman for whom English was most certainly her first language. My explanation received her polite attention and she then replied with what was clearly a scripted response. I’m still awaiting some action from someone to resolve this issue, but I won’t be holding my breath!


  2. Your experiences made me laugh out loud, Stuart! So sorry, but thanks for sharing!

    I found out about a year ago some of what you just discovered. I had already started my own spreadsheet list of people because of my talk show, so I just extended it and “viola,” a list of names, email and twitter handles, website URLs, and other notes, FREE and formatted to my own preferences. I have to manually “collect” email addresses as people like, comment, subscribe or visit my blog/website or ask to be on my show or review my books, but I now have almost 3000 listings (not all have provided email addresses, yet), which, if I’m not mis-remembering, approaches the limit for those “free” services, anyway. Right? And, I am NOT making sufficient income from my books to pay for ANY service, so I’m so glad I started this so long ago.

    Because it’s already all set up, all I have to do when someone “friends” me on Goodreads, Facebook, G+, LinkedIn, my own email or connections via my own website is add each person’s info (whatever I can gather) in a new row.

    I sort by whatever field I want, and can re-sort any time.

    Mostly, I have all the reviewers grouped, all my *CHANGES* actual , then potential guests grouped, then everyone else alphabetically grouped below those.

    The main problem with NOT using an email service is that I can’t send out emails (or newsletters, if I had any) to large groups of people when I have an announcement, like a new release, unless I spread them out, fewer than 50 per email, and send them out over more than a week’s time, not using the same subject line each time. If I don’t do it that way, the spam bots won’t deliver (shut down from my own provider, like Gmail or Yahoo, or refused delivery on their end).

    I use an Excel-type spread sheet. If anyone wants help to set that up, let me know: sallyember AT yahoo DOT com

    So, YES, if you email me, like or comment on my posts, follow or friend me, you join my list. However, I almost never use it (I release about one book every 6 – 12 months and that is the only thing I use it for, unless a person has specifically requested to be a reviewer or guest on my show).

    Best to you all,


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glad it made you laugh, Sally; that was the intention. You’ve already exceeded the usual limit of email contacts at 3,000, as it falls at 2,000 for most services. You don’t mention it, but I assume you’ve considered the ‘permission to use’ aspect of your email collection: otherwise you can be accused of spamming!
      I’ve decided that my email following here on the blog, taken together with my habit of posting blog links to FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and StumbleUpon, probably reaches more people than any other method I might use, so I’m not going to move any further on this matter. I’d rather be writing! Part of which includes posting to the blog, of course.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Stuart, when I was on before moving to self-hosted I hot-linked an image widget for my email list. This is easy and your readers will be able to sign up for your email list from every post. If you want help, let me know. I’m happy to walk you through it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sue. I’ve decided against further attempts on the mailing list. However, I’d be interested in your technique for hot-linking images, if you wouldn’t mind sharing that?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sure. Add an image widget from your list of widgets. Inside the widget (click to expand) where it says “link to url” paste the link where you want people to go once they click. Then you’ll see a small box below that, that says “open in new window.” Click the box so people can easily return to your post. Save. And that’s it. This works especially well for book covers. The url link would be, say, Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any problems. Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season.

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