Do you have a newsletter on your author website? No? Well here’s your chance to learn about Mailchimp from our resident expert Pat Haggerty – he’ll steer you in the right direction!
Staying connected with potential readers when you’re an author is an age old problem. One popular technique is to periodically create and send electronic newsletters: release announcements, links to articles you write, special interests, general updates, etc. Unfortunately, creating a manual email and sending it out to a list of possible readers isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. A lot of email carriers actively block the sending of messages to more than a handful of ‘scribers at a time (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc.). Enter MailChimp.
MailChimp is a bulk mailing organization. They aren’t spammers and your account will be terminated if you break their rules. They are a legitimate company that specializes in emailing lists of people. If you’d like more information, see:
MailChimp allows you to take a list of email recipients which they call Subscribers, and to send that list an email, which they call a Campaign.
Creating a MailChimp Account
Signing up with MailChimp is very easy. Ask yourself how many subscribers you have at the moment and how much can you see your list of subscribers growing to in the near future. Also, ask yourself how many total emails you’ll need to send in a month. Once you have a decent idea, head over to the MailChimp pricing page:
Slide the slider at the top of the page to the number of subscribers you’ll be starting with and note how MailChimp recommends a plan. If you’re looking at below 2000 subscribers and below 12,000 total emails sent per month, then you can start with the free plan (yes, it will be missing some of the more complex features but as they say, the price is right).
Loading and Building Subscribers
Each campaign you create will have a target audience, a list of Subscribers. It’s important to build your subscriber list over time but it’s also important to have each list specific to what you’ll be using it for. You might have one list for announcing new books and a different list for people who are interested in blogs you write for websites.
To create a list, log into your MailChimp account and press Create List. You will need a name for the list, the default name and return address you’d like the recipient to see, a reminder of how people first subscribed, and how you’d like to receive summaries on list activity (new subscribers, people who read a message you send, etc.). I do a lot of training so perhaps I want a list for people who request information on my future classes. I’m also a writer so perhaps I want a list of subscribers for my book announcements. And of course, I might create one big list and then segment it different ways. That makes it easy to send announcements to all my subscribers.
Once the list is created it will appear in your MailChimp account under Lists. By clicking on the list you can manually add new recipients, import them from a number of formats (comma delimited, spreadsheet, some integrated apps), or you can create a signup page and let people add themselves to your list.
Creating Signup Forms
One of the best ways to get people on your email recipient list it to get them to add themselves. Log into your account, click into your Lists, select the list you want to build or edit a form for, and click Signup Forms.
Signup forms fall into two categories. General forms are best when you are going to be sending out a link people can use to subscribe, perhaps in the back of a book or on a business card. A really cool option is to create a QR code (one of those square barcode things) so people can simply scan the code with their phone or tablet and then add themselves right to your list.
The second signup form type is embedded. Embedded forms can be inserted into other, already existing, websites. This option makes the form appear as part of your own site which is great, because even while they are subscribing to your newsletter they are doing it from your own site.
While building your form, you will be able to chose the information you are collecting from the subscriber so remember to gather the details which will be most useful to your future email campaigns. Perhaps in my training example I might want to know if they’ve taken one of my classes before, or I might like to know which core topic I teach they would be most interested in, or which of my book series is their favorite, anything that will be useful later when creating targeted campaigns. At the same time, if people feel like they are taking a test just to sign up for the newsletter, then it could be a real turnoff.
If you have a website built in WordPress and you’d like to give people the ability to subscribe directly through your website, rather than using the embed form approach (which will work) make sure to checkout the MailChimp WordPress plugin:
For complete details on building your signup forms and the various form and field options, please see here:
Building and Sending the Newsletter
Finally, it’s time to create the actual Campaign. Log into your account and click Campaign. If this is a new campaign, then click Create Campaign. Your campaign can be a regular HTML formatted message, which tends to offer the most options, a simple text email, or a A/B option campaign which would allow you to test several different versions of your newsletter so you could see which option users react best to. For now, let’s say I went with general.
A general campaign would need to know the list or list segment which was receiving the newsletter, subject and other basic campaign settings, the layout for the message, and when the campaign needed to be sent. This is the part which most commonly confuses people about MailChimp and why a simple text message seems appealing. In the long run through, people tend to react most positively to a nicely designed, HTML formatted, news letter.
When creating a campaign, the theme is the overall layout style (think newsletter appearance art wise), and the template is more the direct layout of the content of this message (think 1 column vs 2, etc.).
Where to go for More Information
If this sounds like something you might be interested in, then make sure to check out the very detailed starters guide the MailChimp people have created here:
They have a huge knowledge base:
And a whole collection of tutorial videos:
If you’re integrating MailChimp with your WordPress site, check out their tutorial here:
All in all, the MailChimp people do a good job of pointing you in the right direction. If you have any questions for me though, please feel free to post them as comments to this post.
Join us on Wednesday for Rayne Hall!
Bio: After four years in the USMC, Patrick Haggerty studied Actuarial Science and Computers at Georgia State University. He has spent the past 15+ years developing and delivering technical training courses for Learning Tree International. On the side he has a successful consulting practice doing web application development for clients ranging from the United State Marines to Delta Airlines.
Seven years ago, stuck reading a mediocre book in yet another hotel, Patrick decided to try his hand at fiction. He may not be published, but these days you are much more likely to find him spending his evenings writing romance, than code. Patrick is an active member of RWA, RWAustralia, RW New Zealand, and is VP of Membership for Gulf Coast Romance Writers of America, and VP of OIRWA.
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