Newsletter Builders: how & why they kickstart your author career

Newsletter Builders: how and why they kickstart your author career

Novels & Readers

At the core of your author career there are only two things that matter: the novels you write, and reaching readers who love them! Or put another way, production and marketing.

Your mailing list is the single greatest way to reach readers and ensure your marketing efforts go the furthest. But like all things, the hardest part is starting.

How do you get readers subscribed to your newsletter when they haven’t read your novel first? Enter, Newsletter Builders.

Newsletter Builders

Generally centered around a giveaway of reader swag where multiple authors go in together to collectively fund and market the giveaway. Alongside gaining new reader’s emails, they also function as an excellent way to network with authors within your genre.

Individual builders will vary, but at their core, they usually involve 15-30 authors funding a swag bag of reader merchandise centered around a theme that should appeal to your ideal audience.

These builders are the single most effective marketing you can do, both from a long-term success perspective, but also from an immediate cost-effective method.

Best Time to Start

The best time to start participating was the day you decided to publish a novel. The next best time to start is immediately after reading this! Cultivating your mailing list before you launch a book makes a night and day difference for the launch. Your email list is the single piece of reader data that is all yours. You get to funnel the content directly to them, and as time passes, they are the most likely candidates to become super fans. Social media platforms die, and algorithms will suppress posts, but you will always own the emails you collect throughout your author career.

Expected Costs

The average newsletter builders I’ve listed below range from $25-40 per author. It is likely with research you will discover builders at all price points and quality. But there is more to consider than the base cost of a builder. Before you decide a builder is too expensive for your budget, consider the value of the email addresses.

How to Make a Profit

I’m going to breakdown a hypothetical Return On Investment (ROI) for a brand new author with only one novel out, using my own numbers for expenses and sell-through.

Assuming the author sells a novel for $2.99 on Amazon ($2.05 royalty) and is in Kindle Unlimited ($1.80 expected royalty for a full read) with a ratio of one buyer to one full KU reader, we have an excepted Customer Value of $1.92. Hold onto that customer value, it’s how we determine ROI moving forward. (If you know your own average customer value, feel free to plug it in below.)

Let’s assume the Newsletter Builder will cost $35 and have a total of 20 authors participating.

If the author receives 350 new email addresses from the builder, that means the average email cost is $0.10. (Make sure to subtract duplicate email addresses—already subscribed to your list/unsubscribed previously/etc.—to find the true number of new email addresses.)

I average 7% of new emails will convert into a new reader within 90 days (almost 80% of which happens within the first 30 days), and 18-19% over the course of a full year, but that’s a long horizon and requires substantial effort from the author to build the trust between them and the reader. Part of which requires them to give away free sample short stories to prove their writing before the reader feels comfortable paying to read their books.

So now we have hard numbers. $0.10 per email, 350 emails, 7% conversion rate, and Avg. Cust. Value $1.92.

0.1 / 0.07 = $1.43 (Customer Acquisition Cost—CAC)

We divided the Cost Per Email (CPE) by the Conversion Rate to give us the total Customer Acquisition Cost (ACV).

Now to find our ROI we take our ACV minus CAC divided by CAC plus 1.

($1.92 – $1.43)/$1.43 + 1 = 1.34 or 134% Return on Investment.

Mind you this is a hypothetical for a brand-new author with only one novel out. For authors with more novels their Average Customer Value will be much higher, and thus their ROI will also be higher.

Now the $0.10 per email cost. This is the average we’ve spent at Aconite Cafe over the past two years. Our AVC is much higher so we’re also willing to spend more per email. However, it’s also highly possible to get new emails for way less.

The Newsletter Builders we personally run average $0.01-0.02 per email with the exact same average conversion rate as explored above.

Let’s rerun those numbers using the .02 email cost.

0.02 / 0.07 = $0.29 (Customer Acquisition Cost)

($1.92 – $0.29)/$0.29 + 1 = 6.62 or 662% ROI.

Meaning if the author spent $35, they could expect to make $165 over the next 90 days after the builder. (Assuming they send the right types of newsletters, and engage their list properly.)

Not a Get Rich Quick Scheme

For those of you who are number oriented, I suspect that you see these numbers and think, hey why don’t I just spend $500 and presto make an author career overnight.

The truth is newsletter builders are only the first step in building a valuable mailing list. While the author might receive a vetted list of reader emails, they still will require substantial effort from the author to convert them to buyers.

The CPE will also get more expensive as time goes on, due to oversaturation. For the brand-new author, they can find builders that will stay well under the $0.05 per email, but for established authors with lists well over 5,000, the cost per email will keep increasing over time.

I recommend tracking the builders and results to monitor when it’s time to reassess the builders you are using. The organizer is only one aspect of a successful newsletter builder. Each author that signs up has the ability to find new ways to help share builders they participate in with new readers to keep the CPE low.

Check out our Patreon for a copy of our NL Builder Tracking spreadsheet and your NL Builder Breakdown spreadsheet (to determine the ROI of each builder).

Mailing lists are not a get rich quick scheme, but they are the single most vital marketing component for authors. No matter the size of your mailing list, you can benefit from newsletter builders. The emails you receive will be vetted to your specific genre and will result in you finding new readers who are eager to read your novels.

How to Start​

Aconite Cafe

We run cozy mystery themed newsletter builders through the Cozy Mystery Tribe, and Fantasy builders through Caffeinated Fantasy.

Our builders feature ad targeted email collection, with the bonus to also grow your Bookbub or Amazon followers. When the builder is finished, we replace the giveaway with a list of reader magnets, so you are able to continue collecting email addresses long after the giveaway has ended.

Fiction-Atlas Author Builders

Fantasy indie author, CL Cannon, runs newsletter builders through her publishing company, Fiction-Atlas. Her builders focus mostly on various sub-genres of Fantasy while her sister, Amber, runs various sub-genres of Romance. Courtney will put together a builder for any genre you want if there is enough interest in the group and has a requests post for authors to give suggestions.


Red Flags to Watch Out For

You’ve tried the companies mentioned above and are eager to discover more? Vet the builder before you buy with these red flags.

  • Gift Card and eReader prizes. These types of prizes draw readers, and non-readers to your list. They won’t all be your target audience and will garner a higher rate of freebie seekers who have no intention of reading. While it seems like the perfect prize, it can lead your list astray as it will give you a higher unsubscribe / marked as spam rate compared to prizes that are cultivated for your ideal reader.
  • All Genre Builders. The more authors involved the more readers reached, right? Not necessarily. When looking for builders make sure they are targeting authors within your genre to join and marketing the builder to your target audience. You want a list with the highest rate of conversion not the largest list of emails possible.
  • Readers must jump through hoops to enter. Before you buy, check out a running giveaway. Is the reader required to fill out a lengthy survey, or do multiple steps before they get the first entry? These roadblocks will shrink the number of emails you get from the builder. It should be as simple as entering an email address and clicking the confirm link from their email to enter to win the prize. You want the least amount of friction between you and the reader possible.

Before you go bonus:

Did you know you can verify that a page is running a Facebook ad for a builder you signed up for? If a builder list that the organizer is running ads to it, you can go to their Facebook page on your computer and verify it.

Scroll to the bottom of the left-hand menu to find Page Transparency.

Select See All, and then scroll down to view current ads.

You can also look at the pages Ad Library. This should show you the ads currently being run by that Facebook page.

If none are listed during a current builder, it’s a red flag.

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