Yes, E-mail Still Works for Book Marketing

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After last Friday’s post, 4 Ways to Immediately Improve Your Book Marketing Efforts, I received a few responses questioning the effectiveness of e-mail.

Or, in other words, isn’t e-mail dead? Who reads e-mail any more?

Regardless of what the biased Mark Zuckerberg says, e-mail is alive and well. (Here’s a bit of research that compares e-mail usage versus other types of messaging.)

Why do some authors, like Barry Eisler, decide to strike deals with Amazon? Partly due to their e-mail marketing power. Read his full explanation here. When I was publisher of Writer’s Digest, our direct marketing relied predominantly on e-mail. Each e-mail sent could be tied to a specific amount of revenue it brought in, and each campaign was only as good as the open rate and click rate.

So, in Friday’s post, when I advised authors to brainstorm a list of people to e-mail, note the stipulation I used: People you can count on to read your e-mails. 

That is a fabulous rule of thumb when deciding who to contact. If you don’t know if your e-mail will be read, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t send, but consider yourself lucky if your message is acted upon.

But, you might say, won’t people see your calls to action via social media? Wouldn’t people who would read your e-mail also see your social media updates?

Maybe. Maybe not.

It may seem paradoxical, but the closer someone is to you, the more they may not respond to social media efforts because it’s not as personal, or it gets mixed in with a lot of other social media noise.

Gatekeepers especially may favor a more structured or formal approach when a favor is being asked. (Speaking for myself, I prefer being contacted directly via e-mail rather than via Facebook or Twitter. But I still respond across mediums—and ask people to e-mail me directly when needed!)

Here are a couple scenarios I experienced in the past month alone:

  • A former colleague was seeking monetary support for a charity run. I vaguely remember seeing his posts, but it didn’t tie into what I normally see him posting about, so it never registered. When I received an e-mail from him, explaining what he was doing and why my support mattered, I immediately gave a donation.
  • Jeanne Bowerman recently raised more than $15,000 via Kickstarter to support the production of a film she’s written. I’m sure I must’ve seen her posts about the film via Twitter, but I had never slowed down enough to understand what was going on. When I received an e-mail from her, with specifics on how I could help, I immediately did so.

Caveat: Everyone operates differently. Mileage may vary. Etc.

But if you have someone’s e-mail address, and you’ve corresponded before on a personal level, there’s an excellent chance you’ll get a [more] favorable response from a direct approach.

What has your experience been? If you’ve used personalized e-mails as a marketing tool, how successful were you?

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Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has more than 15 years of experience in the book and magazine publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. She speaks around the world at events such as BookExpo America, Frankfurt Book Fair, and Digital Book World, and has keynoted writing conferences such as The Muse & The Marketplace. She currently teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia. Find out more.
Posted in Marketing & Promotion.

27 Comments

  1. I contacted those who were interested in my writing about my blog and it gave me some  mild anonymous interest. Some will read though not necessarily comment, but they’ll talk directly about it to me later. I appreciate that of them just as much as I appreciate comments directly to the blog. It wasn’t email so to speak, but it was an inbox on facebook, which to me and my friends is much the same thing; private and direct, giving that little red notification over the little blue envelope which tells me friends READ ME! 

  2. One thing I can tell you for certain: Five to ten years ago I could send an email to all my students and 95% of them would read it THAT DAY. The last couple of years, email has become an undependable medium for communicating with my students. It’s disappointing, because the only medium I can get that 95% result from today is text message, which is cumbersome to use with students.

    • Thanks for your insight, Greg. As a university professor, I hear similar stories from my colleagues. But so far, I’m not experiencing the same phenomenon. I almost always receive a response if one is called for, and I can tell that students are reading the messages within hours of being sent.

      So I can’t account for the different experiences here, though I do agree that the younger the demographic, the more unreliable e-mail becomes as a communication medium. But I have never had to resort to texts. I think the students in my community would hate the idea of a professor having that kind of access to them.

      • I teach first-year writing. If you teach upper level, that could explain the difference. Most of my colleagues do not use cell phone text messaging because they don’t want their students to have that kind of access to them. 

  3. I think it speaks to social media’s “soft” connections, literally and as it relates to volume, plus (as in your first example), one of focus. On Twitter, ~80% of what I post is publishing-related, so the occasional personal tweet can seemingly come out of left field and likely be missed. A personal email to someone you have a relationship with is always going to be more effective, as long as it’s used selectively. And for marketing in general, Godin’s “permission marketing” is still one of the most relevant concepts people need to understand, and one of Amazon’s major strengths. Email is far from dead.

  4. Pingback: Yes, E-mail Still Works for Book Marketing | Jane Friedman | Publishing Digital Book Apps for Kids | Scoop.it

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  6. In my limited experience, the diversity of how people interact—or not—with social media makes e-mail one of the few generally consistent ways of communicating across workplaces, particularly where there’s an expectation that people will receive information that way. 

    Your examples make me curious, however. Do you think the earlier social media messages influenced your “readiness” to respond to an e-mail?

    • I think those social media updates did influence my readiness, yes! It’s like the old marketing mantra how people need to see or hear a message about 7 times before they remember it or act on it.

      However, with the two people who were contacting me, I didn’t really need to be prepared. It didn’t hurt, though—and I do think it’s important to have that readiness the looser the connection is.

  7. Totally agree, jane

    Email is the modern day letter. I suppose what actual letters were when email first came out (Social Media now taking over as the new email. if that makes sense :(

    Anyway, I always send an email when i can, especially if it’s asking for something. The key is to make it personal, and I feel it’s the calls to action, promo emails that are dying. Rehashed offers and adverts clog up our inbox, but a plain text email that means something, says something, and is somewhat engaging, well, they are quite rare these days

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

  8. I can’t comment on using mail for marketing, but I can say that it’s my preferred channel to receive things. There are a number of technical mailing lists I used to be on and when some of them converted to online forums, I stopped following them, because it required me to take action to go there and login and search for new posts, whereas an email just arrives on its own. For general news and such I prefer RSS, but otherwise email’s the best. But then I’m a bit old school in a lot of things.

  9. We send out bi-weekly emails and track them carefully. At the moment we average 40% opening rate and 12% click through. If it were much less than this I would be cynical about it – but that is enough proof to keep going. As you mention, it does take about 7 times of seeing the same message for people to act on something … so an email, Linkedin post, Twitter, Facebook, phone call … and you might start to see some results!

  10. I use LinkedIn to contact colleagues in my writing niche directly. I get a very high response rate because I make it personal. In the same manner, I use gmail to follow up after I have made initial contact. However, I always insert something personal about me or the recipient.

    This is not a marketing technique, it is just what I do. however, it does get read and responded to. I think of it more as a karmic paying forward than anything else, an act of friendship.

    I agree to some extent with Matt Turner regarding email being the modern posted letter. However, I save important letters in a box to re-read or use in my writing. I don’t have the same feeling about saved emails. I’ve been around – not the same. Jus’Sayin’

    Good post!
    Ronald D. Sieber

  11. The best proof that e-mail still works for marketing a book is Brendon Burchard’s campaign last week in which he got his new book “The  Charge” to appear briefly in the Number 1 position on Amazon.

    In the last year Brendon has also used email campaigns to sell over 50,000 copies of his book “The Millionaire Messenger” and get it on the “New York Times” bestseller list.

    In fact, people such as as Brendon  Burchard, Eben Pagan, John Reese, and Steve Pavlina who get amazing marketing results seldom use social media.
    Moreover, John Reese and Steve Pavlina (author of “Personal Develoment for Smart People”) both killed their Facebook accounts with 5,000 so-called friends saying that Facebook was a total waste of time compared to other marketing devices such as email or blogs.

    I occassionally use e-mail to market my books to corporations and it can still get results. I use social media mainly to test material in my new books that are still not released and will likely never use social media to market them. There are many more effective ways, some of which  I haven’t thought  of yet.

    Ernie J. Zelinski

    Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach

    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”

    (Over 150,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)

    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’

    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  12. Hi Jane,

    I like your site, you have some interesting posts. My site  compliments yours, consisting of interesting articles from a published author, and a free writers yearbook with over 1000 book publishers currently accepting submissions. Keep up the good work.

    Regards, Brian

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  14. One other thought to add is that social media may be used to deliver some value/benefit in exchange for email subscriptions. Social media is the outer rim of the marketing funnel, email down near the spout.

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  16. Pingback: Friedman: Email Marketing Still Works for Books | Digital Book World

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