Indie authors were early pioneers in building marketing platforms at Facebook to reach readers. But after authors collectively invested millions of dollars and years of effort to build their followings on Facebook, Facebook pulled a bait and switch. It took the authors’ followers hostage, locked them behind a paywall, and held them for ransom. Now, authors must pay Facebook to ensure that fans who already requested the authors’ messages in their newsfeeds can, in fact, see those messages.

The hostage taking didn’t stop with Facebook. Amazon has adopted a pay-to-play approach with Amazon Advertising’s sponsored ads.

At Amazon, authors bid by the click to have their ads inserted into the search results of customers who are generally searching for different authors. The company is diluting and polluting customer search results, selling an author’s fan base to the highest bidder.

Reclaiming Marketing Independence

It’s not too late for indie authors to take back their marketing independence. One of the most important elements of an author’s marketing platform is the private mailing list. Here are seven list-building tips for authors seeking to attract and retain subscribers:

1. Practice ethical email marketing. A mailing list should be 100% opt-in, meaning that readers are only added to the list if they explicitly request to be added. You should never sell, rent, share, or trade readers’ email addresses.

2. Give readers a reason to sign up. Readers appreciate incentives in exchange for sharing their contact information. Make a promise, then deliver. You can market your newsletters with an elevator pitch such as, “Subscribers gain exclusive access to discount codes, sneak peeks of upcoming releases, and the latest updates on my works in progress.”

3. Be strategic with giveaways. A common list-building tactic is to offer readers free e-books in exchange for signing up. Series starters are good giveaways because once readers are invested in the continuing story, they’re more inclined to purchase the follow-on titles.

4. Delight the reader. When you send emails to your lists, do so with the understanding that you’re imposing upon readers’ precious time and attention. Every email should offer something to enhance fans’ appreciation of your writing.

5. Use a mail list management tool. A good mail list management tool helps you manage your subscriber database, design and send personalized and professional-looking bulk emails, and track email open rates and clicks, and it allows readers to perform one-click unsubscribes.

6. Personalize in bulk. It’s easy for bulk emails to come across as cold and impersonal. To avoid this, the emails should be written in your voice, by you, and the tone should aim for a blend of friendly, business casual, and upbeat. Address readers by their first names.

7. Drive subscriptions in back matter. The best time to motivate readers to sign up for a mailing list is when they’re feeling peak love for you, and that’s usually the moment they read the last word of one of your books.

Special thanks to authors Donna Wilson and Eva Pohler for sharing list-building tips that contributed to the development of this column.