This is (Still) How You Connect With Your Readers

The case for email lists.

Shaunta Grimes
Mar 30 · 5 min read
Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

I’ve had a couple of people ask me recently about how to build an email list. I thought I’d write a couple of posts with my ideas on that.

Starting here, with the why — and a few preliminary steps.

Why do you need an email list?

Imagine that you’re standing on a stage, ready to speak. When you look out, you see faces. People who showed up to hear what you have to say.

Some of those people are fans. They always show up to hear you speak. They send you love letters and let you know how your work is affecting them. They tell their friends about how amazing you are.

Some of them are curious. You offered them something and they were intrigued enough to bite. Maybe they’ll turn into fans. Maybe they’ll just listen to this one talk and move on. Maybe they’ll spend the next forty-five minutes playing Candy Crush on their cell phones and ignoring you completely.

You don’t get to give talks everyday. Or maybe ever. But your email list gives you an audience anyway. Where ever you show up — here on Medium, on your own blog, in a book, on a website, or even just in an email — having an email list lets you bring your audience with you.

Writers need two things.

These are the two absolutes.

If you want to be a writer you need to finish your work — whether that’s a book or a blog post or anything in between.

And you need someone to read your work.

(I suppose technically, you can be a writer who doesn’t want readers. I think that makes you pretty much a diarist. You’re probably not on Medium reading about how to build an email list if the extent of your writing goal is to really, truly only write for yourself.)

Ten years ago Kevin Kelly wrote about a concept called 1000 True Fans. He theorized that any creator needs 1000 true fans to make a living.

A true fan is defined as a fan that will buy anything you produce. These diehard fans will drive 200 miles to see you sing; they will buy the hardback and paperback and audible versions of your book; they will purchase your next figurine sight unseen; they will pay for the “best-of” DVD version of your free youtube channel; they will come to your chef’s table once a month. If you have roughly a thousand of true fans like this (also known as super fans), you can make a living — if you are content to make a living but not a fortune.

It’s a relief to know that you don’t need everyone on earth to love you. You just have to find your people and then give yourself a way to connect with them.

Some really cool things about your email list.

Your email list is where your true fans live.

When you have an email list, you have a way to reach out to those people. A pathway to communication.

Your email list belongs to you. Your Medium followers list doesn’t. The list of people who follow your blog via an RSS feed doesn’t. Your social media followers list doesn’t. All of those lists belong to someone else. Your email list is yours.

If you have an email list, you can bring your audience with you. You can let your readers know where you’re posting, about a book you’ve written, where you’ll be at a live event.

It isn’t always (I get cold, impersonal emails every day), but email can be very personal. When I write to my list (and I do. A lot.) I really feel like I’m reaching out to every person on it individually. Like I’m having a conversation with them. It’s the coolest thing.

An email list can be the difference between obscurity and being seen.

When I post here on Medium, I know that I will have a baseline of readers. My own true fans read what I write.

I write a lot and there probably aren’t many people who actually read everything. I’m okay with that. But I know that if I email out a link to a story, I’ll have a solid little core of readers who will show up.

If I write a post here on Medium and I don’t email the link — the results are sporadic. Maybe 20 people will read it. Maybe 100 will. Occasionally it will catch and a few hundred, or even a couple of thousand, will read it.

In other words, it’s all over the place.

If I email out my link, it’s still kind of all over the place, but instead of the bottom being maybe 20 people, it’s more like 200. I can count on 200 people reading this post and any post that I share with my email list. Usually more, but at the very least 200.

But isn’t email dead?

I’m very aware that everyone and their brother’s dog says that email is on its way out. It probably is. Who knows?

I have no clue what the next thing will be. I can tell you that email open rates are very low. My own has about 13,000 people on it and on a good day, 20 percent of those people open any one email. Only 2 to 5 percent of those people click on a link.

That’s standard.

A lot of people sign up for some free thing I’ve offered and use a special email just for free things, they never even see my emails. Sometimes people have just moved on from me and they’ve directed my emails to their promotions file and never see them. Sometimes people sign up and then just ignore me.

But mixed in with all those people are my true fans.

I have my ears and eyes open for the next thing. But as I write this, an email list is still a powerful tool for writers and readers to connect with each other.

Okay, so it’s established. Writers need email lists.

If you’ve read this far, I’m going to assume that you’re on board. I’ve convinced you that writers need a way to gather their readers — and that an email list is the most effective way.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to write some practical posts about setting up an email server, best practices for encouraging your fans to sign up to hear from you, and how to use your list.

If you want to make sure you get those posts, you can sign up for my email list here. (See what I did there?)

Here’s my secret weapon for sticking with whatever your thing is.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.

The Write Brain

Posts about productivity, business, and systems for right-brained creatives. Ideas aren’t enough. We actually have to do the things!

Shaunta Grimes

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The Write Brain

Posts about productivity, business, and systems for right-brained creatives. Ideas aren’t enough. We actually have to do the things!