It’s hard to overstate the importance and effectiveness of email for book sales and marketing. Unfortunately, now that the secret is largely out about email, it’s becoming the most increasingly abused sales tool. That’s mainly because authors (and publishers, too) don’t take time to customize and target their messages appropriately.

First, as part of each marketing plan, authors need to determine which emails will be sent to their large-scale newsletter lists versus which will be sent one-on-one or to more select and targeted lists.

One-on-One Outreach Emails

Prior to book launch (ideally), each author should make a list of two types of people who should receive personalized emails about the book launch:

1. Influencers (people in positions to spread the word about the book) with whom they have existing relationships

2. Influencers with whom they do not have relationships

Develop an email template that smartly summarizes the book and then personalize the opening for each person. You want to identify the one thing that this influencer could do in connection with your book launch. It’s critical that you outline an action step that is specific to what this person does. If a person is big on Twitter, then you may ask them to tweet a link to the book on the day of launch or during a preorder period. There’s no harm in giving him or her exact language to use; this respects the person’s time. Whatever you do, don’t be open-ended about your request. Make it as easy as possible for the influencer to say yes or no—don’t make it a prolonged discussion.

For the influencers you don’t know, make the email as brief as possible, and make the pitch as relevant to their interests and audience as possible. Again, this respects their time; don’t make them play a guessing game as to why they care.

The above work is actually publicity rather than email marketing, but too many authors send identical emails to hundreds or thousands of people asking for things that are really publicity requests. You should distinguish between the two when outlining what emails you’ll be sending, and to whom. Publicity requests always get better response rates when personalized.

Large-Scale Email Newsletters

Mass emails—particularly those sent through services such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, and similar providers—are best reserved for your existing fans or readership, even if that readership consists only of family and friends.

There are many types of campaigns you can run, but here are three common appeals:

1. The prelaunch appeal: If you do preorders, be sure to send an announcement that includes key details about where the book is available. Also, it’s common for authors to offer bonuses for people who buy the book on a particular day or under particular conditions. If this is part of your plan, then you’ll likely be sending multiple messages as part of the appeal as the deadline to buy approaches.

2. The launch-day announcement: On the day of your book’s release, send an announcement that the book is on sale. Usually by launch day you have some blurbs, reviews, or other coverage to use to make the book sound irresistible.

3. The postlaunch appeal: Follow up with readers by discussing media coverage or interesting interviews that have appeared about the book, any discounts or sales that are running (be sure to include links to buy), and any upcoming events, signings, or readings you’re doing.

I do not recommend sending the above appeals to your list of influencers—those people should have a free copy of your book anyway. Don’t barrage them with marketing sends; do send a personalized thank you if they follow up on what they promised to do for your book.

If you have a large email newsletter list, and/or you’ve collected a lot of data about the people on your list and what they like or don’t like, then it’s worth the time to do more targeted newsletter sends. For example, you can limit sends to people who have opened specific earlier messages or who you know have purchased your books. Also, you may want to cultivate a separate list for beta readers and superfans who receive early free copies of your work. The requests you make of this loyal audience may be different from the average reader on your marketing list.

Publishers use very sophisticated targeting for every email campaign they send, often using customer relationship management systems to send emails only to the people who are likely buyers. As your career grows, you can do the same through services such as MailChimp. That’s the point at which email marketing becomes among the most valuable and profitable marketing tools, where you can tie specific sales goals to each email you send out.