Three Ways to Start Building Your Email List

Two super easy, one mostly easy. You can do this!

Shaunta Grimes
Apr 19 · 5 min read

Writers need email lists.

I can’t state that any more plainly.

If you are a writer, you need a way to connect with your readers. You need to start thinking about that now. Today.

I mean, it would be nice if you thought about it ten years ago.

But if you didn’t, then today is next best.

I wrote about why you need an email list and also the two things you need to get started. In case you missed those posts, here they are:

Once you’re convinced you need an email list and you’re set up to start building one, the next question is how to find readers who want to give you permission to connect with them.

Because what we’re talking about is permission marketing. It’s showing up in front of people who have asked you to be there. Not spamming unsuspecting folks who probably will never open one of your emails anyway.

Email marketing has changed in the last few years. A lot. Remember when people used to eagerly open their emails? That doesn’t happen so much anymore. So even a well curated email list full of people who asked to be there and actually want the information will have what feels like a dismally low open rate.

If half of the people on your list actually open your email, you’re absolutely killing it. Average is closer to 20 or 25 percent.

But as you work on your email list, as you connect with your readers, you’ll notice something happen. You’ll have a subset of readers who always open. Who always click your links. Whose names you see come up again and again in comments on your posts.

Those are your true fans. And when that starts to happen, it’s so exciting.

But you have to get started with your list building if you want to connect with them.

Today, I’m going to share a few relatively easy, obvious ways to start adding folks to your email list.

Ask people who already like you.

Obviously, right? Start with the low hanging fruit.

Text your friends. Let them know that you’ve started writing about (your topic) and you thought they might be interested. Ask if they’d like to join your list.

If they say yes, send them a link to a sign up form. (This post shows you how to do that.)

Post on your social media feeds. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — where ever you already connect with people.

Add a simple call to action to your posts.

Write a short bio to add to the bottom of all of your posts — here on Medium, on your own blog, or where ever you write. Add a line that asks folks to follow you to stay in touch.

I mean, eventually you want something more effective than “let’s stay in touch,” and in a minute I’m going to show you how to do that. But for now, even that simple line will get your ball rolling.

Shannon Ashley uses something very similar and has built her email list to 600 in just a couple of months.

Don’t be afraid to ask people to do what you’d like them to do. In this case, join your email list so that you can stay in touch with them.

Come up with one high-value, easy-to-digest thing to send in exchange for an email.

When you’re ready for something a little more sophisticated (and effective) than “let’s stay in touch,” it’s time to create something to give your new followers.

Your thing should be something that your readers can use right away. Something that’s a no-brainer — like getting ketchup with your fries. Something that won’t make readers feel like they’re committing to a huge amount of time or effort.

When I first started doing this, I tried to use an eight-week novel-plotting course as my give away. It didn’t work. It was too big of an undertaking for people who don’t know me.

So I pulled out the very first exercise. It’s my favorite anyway. Thousands — tens of thousands — of people have joined my email list in order to get that exercise.

In my bio at the bottom of my email posts, I give away a secret weapon.

That’s it. One simple exercise. One tool. I’ve used the two of them for three years and they are still effective.

Occasionally, I’ll come up with something that ties directly into a specific post. For instance, maybe you’d be interested in signing up for a free seven-lesson anti-blogging for creatives class — since you’re clearly interested in connecting with readers.

Or I might have a printable or some other sort of tool that I think some readers might find interesting.


It’s so tempting, as a fiction writer, to offer a free short story or a chapter of your novel as your opt-in.

Unless you already have a following, that’s unlikely to work very well.

Ask yourself when the last time was that you gave up your email address in exchange for a short story from a writer you don’t already love. (Or even one you already love. Be honest!)

You should be writing (blogging) about something other than your own fiction writing. No one wants to hear all about your process. I know that’s harsh, but it’s true. Your opt-in needs to tie into that.

A short story is a good opt-in to put at the back of a novel. It’s not a great idea for the bottom of a blog post. You’d do better with “let’s stay in touch” because at least that promises more of the kind of post your reader just read — and doesn’t obligate them to read your short story.

If you remember that your reader is the most important part of this whole equation, you’ll do fine.

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

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, 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!

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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!