How to Grow a Reader Email List for Publishers and Authors, Step-By-Step

Why is building an email subscriber list so important?

Having an email list creates a direct path for you to stay in contact with interested readers. Email lists can act as a tool to build a community with readers and create brand loyalty. These are only a few reasons building an email list is an essential part of book marketing.

  • Email subscriber lists are still one of the most effective ways to drive traffic for book sales.
  • On average email lists generate 10 times higher conversions than social media campaigns.
  • Emails go directly to subscribers and don’t rely on social media algorithms to reach interested customers.
  • Subscribers who sign up for your mailing list are people who are already interested in what you’re selling.
  • Subscriber lists allow for personalized one-on-one contact.
  • Subscribers want to know about and buy your books, but they get busy and don’t always remember to check back to see if you have a new release or sale going on.
  • A subscriber list makes it possible to can stay in contact with your readers and keep them updated on new releases and sales.
  • You don’t have to pay for conversions when customers click through from emails, making email lists very cost effective.
  • Email lists can be segmented, making it easier to target groups interested in a particular product, which usually increases conversions.
  • Email lists allow you to control the information and links readers receive.
  • The best way to stay in contact with readers is through direct email.

Many authors and publisher wish they had started building a subscriber list earlier. Don’t wait! Keep reading to find out how to start building your list today.

Step 1: Set up an email marketing list

Choose a list building software that will meet your needs. Do this by first, determining what your needs are.

  • What is your budget?
  • How many emails do you plan to send?
  • Which advanced features do you need?

Let’s take a quick look at three of the most popular options and how they can help you build your email list. All three are easy to use and have a wide variety of templates to make campaign creation easy. Choosing between services may come down to cost, integrations, and advanced features.

If you’re just starting out with list building and have a small budget, we recommend beginning with MailChimp, but we will discuss the top three options in case you outgrow the free MailChimp account or need more advanced features and options.


MailChimp is popular with many authors because it allows you to get started for free and is very user-friendly. Once your list grows, however, it can be more expensive than other options.   

  • Allows social media integration
  • Free plan and paid plans (Prices are based on subscriber numbers and range in price from $10-$199/month)
  • Advanced features like automation are available with paid plans

Constant Contact

One of the features that makes Constant Contact stand out is the availability of Live Support and third-party integrations. Its biggest drawback is the lack of automation tools.

  • Paid plans range from $20-$95/month and are based on subscriber numbers
  • A wide variety of advanced features, but has NO automation tools
  • 3rd party integrations
  • Live support


Two of the reasons ConvertKit is a popular option is because of its wide variety of advanced subscriber management tools and the fact that you don’t have to have a website to get started.

  • Paid plans range from $29-$79/month with custom pricing for lists over 5k
  • Built-in landing page editor (no website needed)
  • In-depth subscriber management tools

Keep in mind that if you build a list in one software and decide it isn’t working for you, it’s easy to export a list and transfer it to another software. Many authors and publishers start out with free software and then transfer to a paid account that has more advanced features and subscriber management tools.

Step 2: Start collecting subscribers

Now that you have your list building software set up, it’s time to start collecting subscribers. To do that, you need to get your list out to the public. Readers need to be able to find your list if they’re going to subscribe. All the popular list building services have the option to create a signup form that can then be shared, embedded, or integrated with another service.

#1 - Set up your signup form to collect the most pertinent information from your subscribers.

  • Name (at least the first name so you can personalize emails)
  • Email address
  • Genre/series they are interested in (if applicable to your book list/publishing house)

I strongly recommend using single opt-in (where users don't have to confirm the sign-up) as we are looking to get those numbers up! We can focus on the quality a little later.

#2 - Share your signup form by taking these steps

1. Create a dedicated page on your website
    • Embed the form on the dedicated page by following the directions from your list building software
    • Grab readers attention even more by using:
      1. Featured boxes
      2. Lightbox popups
      3. Floating headers/footers
    • Sidebar or static header/footer signup forms are also an option but tend not to convert as well as having a dedicated or popup page
    2. Create a Landing Page
    • A landing page doesn’t require you to have a website
    • Create a landing page using:
      1. Advanced features in your list building software
      2. A third party like Instapage or Leadpages
    3. Add your signup form to your Facebook Page
    • Integrate your signup form through the Settings>Templates and Tabs section
    • Use your third-party/social media integration tool through your list building software
    4. Change your page’s Facebook Call-to-Action Button
    • Change the call-to-action button by hovering over the default button and choosing “Edit Button.”
    • Change the button to “Sign Up” and add the link to your signup form
    5. Create a Pinned Tweet
    • Compose a tweet with the link to your signup form
    • Pin the tweet to the top of your Twitter feed
      6. Add your signup form to your Social Media Profiles
      • Most social media profiles allow you to add at least one link to your profile or bio.
      • This is a great place to encourage readers to stay in contact and learn more!
      7. Add your link to the eBook Back Matter of your books
      • Add the signup link to the backmatter of all your ebooks.
      • There’s no better time to tell readers about your email list than when they just finished reading your awesome book!

        #3 – Give readers a reason to sign up for your list

        Now that you have your signup form out there for people to find and join, how do you convince them to sign up? Provide a great incentive!

        1. Offer a Free gift
          • One of the most effective incentives to get people to sign up is with a free gift.
          • Offer a free book, novella, short story, prequel chapter, or deleted/bonus chapters. This is often called a lead magnet and is meant to entice readers to not only sign up for your list but to become interested in your other works.
          • A free sample of your writing introduces readers to your books at no cost/risk to them.
          • Offering a free gift works best if you have a list building service that provides automation and can send the free gift as soon as the reader signs up.
          2. How to host that freebie/Giveaway
          • Asking readers to sign up for your mailing list as a giveaway entry is another very effective technique for list building.
          • Choose a prize that is worth readers giving up their email address, such as signed paperbacks, gift cards, book swag (bookmarks, themed jewelry, etc.), or a prize specific to your book or genre.
          • Set up a giveaway using Rafflecopter
              1. Rafflecopter is a popular app for setting up giveaways because it’s easy to use and can be integrated into a Facebook page or blog post.
              2. Some features (such as automated email signups) do require a paid account, but you can also “create your own entry” and ask for email signups that way as well.
            • Set up a giveaway using ProlificWorks (formerly InstaFreebie)
              1. ProflificWorks is another great option to set up a giveaway and collect email addresses because it’s easy to use and has a convenient phone app.
              2. Adding subscribers to a mailing list does require a paid “Plus” account, which costs $20/month.
            3. Offer a Discount or Coupon
            • Offering a discount or coupon code for one of your books can also encourage readers to sign up for a mailing list.
            • Not all retailers allow coupons, but they can be set up through Smashwords or your own website store.
            • Make sure the coupon is attractive enough to catch readers’ attention – 50% off will be more enticing than 10% off! We may make a little less now, but by collecting the person's information, we can potentially increase their lifetime value by selling many other books down the line.
            4. Ask readers to sign up
            • Another simple, yet effective, method of getting newsletter signups is to simply ask for them!
            • Share the link to your signup form on social media regularly.
            • Mention whatever incentive you’ve chosen, and ask readers to sign up.
            • Use genre or book/reading appropriate hashtags to increase your reach and discoverability.
              1. #freebook
              2. #50percentoff
              3. #giveaway
              4. #win
              5. #signup

            4. Don’t feel stuck to choosing only one of these options. Rotated through different options when appropriate.

            • Holidays are a great time to offer discounts or coupons.
            • Free gifts are effective for every day promotions.
            • Giveaways are great for new releases, special events, or milestones.
            • Asking readers to sign up through social media posts should be part of your regular posting schedule.

            Step 3: Build your list by running promotions

            Individual or multi-author promotions are a great way to build your list and expand beyond your current group of readers. Group promotions help you extend your reach and work best when you participate with authors of similar genres or topics. Here are three popular group promotion platforms and what they offer.

            #1 – Set up an individual or group promotion using ProlificWorks (Instafreebie)

            One of the biggest reasons to use ProlificWorks is that the app helps to share your giveaway by directing readers to giveaways that suit their interests.

              • Set up a Plus Plan account ($20/month)
              • Set up your custom giveaway and select the to collect entrants’ email addresses
              • Integrate the giveaway into your email subscriber campaign if available
              • Track the giveaway’s success using the app’s analytics features
              • Group promotions: Team up with other authors to offer a bigger prize and share the email subscriber list at the end of the giveaway.
              Make sure it’s clear that readers are signing up for multiple lists.

              #2 – Set up a promotion using BookFunnel

              BookFunnel has a convenient phone app and allows readers to download the gift book directly to their phones. One drawback is that only digital books can be offered as prizes.

                • Set up a $10/month Mid-List Author plan.
                • Create an ebook giveaway and select the option to collect email addresses directly through BookFunnel.
                • This works well for multi-author promos if you’re giving away an anthology, box set, or book of sample chapters from all the authors.
                Make sure it’s clear that readers are signing up for multiple lists.

                #3 – Set up a promotion using My Book Cave

                My Book Cave offers new promotions, both free and paid every month. You can set up your own promotion or join a promotion set up by someone else. All participants share the email subscriber list after the promotion ends.

                • Set up your own promotion through the author dashboard.
                • Join someone else’s promotion by following the instructions provided by the organizer – sign up for MBC’s author newsletter to get notified of new groups.
                • Share the promotion in your newsletter and on social media once it goes live.

                At the end of these promotions, download the list of new subscribers from the author dashboard and import them into your own list through your list building software.

                Step 4: Build Your List with Paid Advertising

                Paid advertising is one of the most effective ways to build an email subscriber list. All major social media platforms now have the option to create paid advertising campaigns. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are popular places to advertise for authors and publishers. We’ll discuss different types of ad requirements on these four social media platforms in a moment, but there are some tactics to consider across all platforms.

                #1 – Learn the Basics of Social Media Advertising

                • List signup ads should be geared toward clicks and conversions.
                • Ad copy should be concise, engaging, and provide a clear incentive.
                  • Pay attention to character limits on different platforms and when text gets truncated on mobile devices.
                • Ad copy should use 2-3 subtle keywords.
                • Use hashtags sparingly and use common hashtags instead of ones that are unique to your brand/book.
                • Ads should contain a great graphic that is high resolution and sized up for the specific platform you’re using. This is something we can assist with ;)
                • Ads with videos typically have the highest number of clicks. This is a great use for a book trailer or animated graphics.
                • Target your audience specifically to those who are interested in your genre/book. Targeting that is too broad wastes money and has poor conversion rates. Targeting that is too limited has poor reach and limited success. Custom and lookalike audiences will provide the best targeting.
                • When evaluating ad performance, know what constitutes a successful ad. A good Click Through Rate (CTR) is considered to be in the range of 2%. Average Cost Per Click should be $0.70 or lower. Ads that aren’t performing at or close to these metrics should be reevaluated.  

                #2 – Run ads or boost posts on Facebook (and if integrated, Instagram as well)

                Ads are set up through your ads manager account, while boosted posts can be done right from your author/publisher page. Ads have more targeting options, allow you to use custom and lookalike audiences, and gives you more placement options. Boosting a post is quick and easy, but tends to be less effective, so let’s focus on creating a great ad to maximize your email signups.

                1. Set up your Facebook ads manager account.
                  • If your website allows it, set up a Facebook Pixel to create custom audiences you can duplicate on Facebook ads.
                  2. Create an ad campaign
                  3. Choose your marketing objective
                  • Conversion ads are designed to encourage readers to interact or purchase/signup, so these work well for email advertising signups
                    4. Set up ad targeting
                    • Choose the age, location, gender, and interests that fit your book list and readership.
                    • Targeting should be detailed so the audience in large but targeted to those who are actually interested. Too broad of an audience results in poor click - through rates and wasted money. Set up a custom audience or lookalike audience for best targeting.
                      5. Choose placements (desktop, mobile, Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
                      • Only choose mobile if your signup form is mobile friendly.
                      • Consider that more placements increase costs.
                      • Your Instagram must already be integrated with your page to add it to the campaign. Instagram has a thriving book community, so take the time to set this up prior to launching your ad.
                        6. Set your budget
                        • Facebook will spend your entire budget, so start small.
                          7. Write ad copy that is concise and has a clear Call To Action (CTA).
                          • Ad copy should be limited to about 90 characters to avoid being cut off. If you need longer ad copy, make sure the most important aspects are within the first 90 characters.
                            8. Include a high-quality image that grabs readers attention.
                            • Recommended image size is 1,200 x 630.
                            • Text cannot take up more than 25% of the image and should not contain a CTA.
                            • Add the link to your email signup form or landing page in the appropriate box.
                              9. Schedule your ads to run continuously, but monitor them for effectiveness and turn off and reevaluate those that aren’t performing well.

                              #3 – Run Ads on Twitter

                              Many of the same advice from running Facebook ads applies to Twitter as well, but there are a few differences to consider and implement.

                              • Use conversions ads to promote your email signup. You will only pay for clicks, not impressions. These ads are optimized for clicks and have a specific/set bid. Trust the suggested bid for the best results.
                              • Ad copy is limited to 280 characters. Links or images/videos no longer count against the character limit, so links/images should absolutely be included.
                              • Limit your ad copy to 2-3 hashtags and emphasize the email signup incentive.

                              #4 – Run Ads on Instagram

                              On average, Instagram ads have 120 times more engagement than Twitter and has an active reader community. Follow the same recommendations for setting up Facebook ads, but consider these additional pieces of advice when running ads specifically for Instagram.

                              • Change your Instagram account to a business profile to gain access to ads.
                              • Focus on conversion ads for promoting your email signup.
                              • Mobile only ads are more effective than PC/Mac platforms.
                              • High quality, square images are most effective.
                              • The character limit for Instagram is high (2,200), but the text is truncated after only 125 characters, so open with a short, attention-grabbing pitch.
                              • Include hashtags at the end of the ad copy and limit it to 2-3 unless you have more than 10k followers.

                              #5 Run Ads on Pinterest

                              Pinterest has an active reader community and is primed with users who are interested in learning more and making purchases.

                              • Use acquisition ads to encourage clicks and signups.
                              • Craft ad copy that is concise and has a soft CTA.
                                • DO NOT include prices or promotional material (i.e., 10% off) in the description
                              • Limit ad copy to 2-3 hashtags that are relevant.
                              • Use relevant targeting. Overreaching with irrelevant targeting can cause your ad to be declined.
                              • Use keywords related to your genre/books to improve SEO.
                              • Include images and videos in all ads
                                • Use high quality, mobile-friendly, vertical images that are 600 x 900 pixels.
                                • If using video, stick with short (15-30 second) videos in a 1:1 or 9:16 ratio for best results.
                                • Include a logo on your image to increase brand awareness when it’s repinned.
                                • DO NOT include any commercial or function CTAs or Buttons (i.e., “Buy Now”)

                              Step 5: Avoid these List building tactics

                              There are two tactics you should absolutely not use to build your subscriber list.

                              • Buying lists
                              • Adding people without their permission

                              Buying lists are considered unethical, and usually leaves you with a lot of unsubscribes and having your emails tagged as spam, which could lead to your account being terminated. Adding people to your list without their permission is also unethical and makes readers upset. Stay on your readers’ good side and practice ethical list building techniques!

                              Growing Your List to Grow Your Sales

                              Even though list building can take a lot of work, remember that direct email campaigns are still one of the most effective sales generation routes. You’re not just building an email list, you’re building a fanbase for your books. The time and effort you put in will definitely be worth it!

                              Now, are looking to have your next book ghostwritten and facilitate scale? You’ve landed one of the top ghostwriting services that focuses on helping you create your books and stories and allow you to focus on growing your brands and sales. We can assist you with everything from outline development, to cover design, formatting, and more! Learn more here. You may also reach out to us by clicking on the Facebook chat icon at the bottom right of your screen!

                              Happy Publishing!

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