If you’re an independent author, you fall into one of two categories:
- You have a mailing list you use to keep in touch with your readers and let them know about your upcoming releases.
- You don’t, and you’re sick of so-called “experts” online yapping on and on about how important it is to maintain a mailing list.
If you’re in the second group, of if you’re not interested in independent publishing, I recommend that you navigate to your search engine of choice and search for funny cats. This article will not make you happy.
But if you do use a mailing list—specifically one in MailChimp—let’s take a moment to talk about segmenting your list by interests.
It’s easy to think about people on you list as one monolithic block; a giant group of readers who joined your online circle of friends. But that’s inaccurate; the only thing you can count on the members of your mailing list having in common is that they’re on your mailing list. Your subscribers had different reasons for joining your list: some wanted the freebie you offered, while others burned with a need to get your news as soon as possible, while others still were other indie authors scoping out your format. Likewise, they have different reasons for not unsubscribing: some like your content, others don’t mind it as long as it’s sparse, and a regrettable plurality have set up a filter to tuck you away in a folder they’ve honestly forgotten about.
If you treat the readers on your list as identical copies of one another, you’ll miss the mark with at least some subscribers. If you want to get better responses, you need to get the right message to the right people.
Case in point: when I set up my mailing list, the prevailing wisdom was that you should offer a free book for joining. I did just that (you can get “The Cabal of Thotash” free when you sign up.) And under that prevailing wisdom, I set up a series of auto-responder messages, first delivering the free book, then introducing myself, and finally telling subscribers about my other book, Orconomics.
It’s not a bad approach in theory. In practice, over 3/4 of readers joining my mailing list did so because they had read Orconomics and wanted news about the sequel. My messages talking up the novel got a steady stream of replies that said—with varying degrees of politeness—that they had read the book and I was welcome to stop cluttering their inboxes about it, thank you.
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with telling potential readers about my book. The issue was trying to get my readers to re-purchase the book they just read. My messages weren’t the problem. My targeting was.
Targeting in MailChimp
MailChimp knows targeting readers is key to email marketing success. They offer all kinds of great tools for segmenting readers;Dividing readers up by the campaigns they clicked, how engaged they are, whether they’ve visited your website, and more. You can use all of this data from MailChimp to group subscribers together into smart, dynamic segments. These tools are really, really powerful.
On the other hand, no matter how many times a subscriber opens an email or clicks on my website, there’s no good way to really know whether she has read a particular book, or who her favorite character is. You can’t always infer the information you need from tracking data. Sometimes, it’s better to just ask.
Enter interest groups.
Interest groups are a poorly named, infinitely useful feature of MailChimp. On their surface, they sound like a way for readers join little clubs in your mailing list. In reality, let you track almost any information about your readers, assuming they provide it.
To create an interest group, go to your list in MailChimp. From the “Manage Users” menu, choose “Groups.” You’ll see all of the interest groups you’ve created, and a “Create Groups button. Clicking it opens an interface to create an interest group.
You choose how to display the Interest Group on your subscriber profile forms (or not), then name the group category and different groups within the category. An easier way to think of it is that the group category is the question you’re asking subscribers, and the group names are the possible answers. For example, I’ve set up a group category called “Books I’ve Read,” and then names a group for each of my book titles. I also ask readers if they’ve ever written or published a book, and allow them a few answers like “I’m published,” “I self-publish,” “I hope to publish,” and “No, I just like to read.” But those are because those answers might affect how I talk to someone. You can set up an interest group for just about anything that would affect your message.
Once your created your interest groups, they become part of your options in creating a segment. When you’re setting up a segment in MailChimp, each interest group category will be listed among the possible criteria. If you choose one, you’ll be able to select which answers you want to include in your segment.
So I could, for example, make a segment consisting only of people who have read all of my fiction, or of people who haven’t read Orconomics yet. Actually, that’s exactly what I do.
When I send out a campaign now, I do at least two sends. One goes to readers who have read Orconomics, and contains updates on book progress and other relevant topics. Subscribers who haven’t read Orconomics get the same newsletter—plus a blurb from a recent review of the book or another gentle reminder that the book exists and is awesome. When I want to run a sale on Orconomics, I can skip bugging all of the folks who already read it. And when I want to get in touch with my most dedicated readers, that’s easy too. There are all kinds of great uses for this data.
The trick is getting the data.
Need the Info
MailChimp provides a few ways you can get readers to share their data with you. (And generally, you do want them to share that data, not trick them into getting it. Automated or not, a mailing list is the most direct relationship you have with many of your readers. Don’t abuse it.)
First of all, you can add Interest Categories as questions to your sign up forms. I actually don’t recommend this, as it may actually discourage some people form filling out your form if it looks long or complicated. (Never overestimate the attention span of someone browsing the web.) But it’s an option, and if the answer is really that critical, this may work for you.
Secondly, you can encourage people to visit their subscriber preferences page and fill out the questions. Even without my encouragement, I find that somewhere between 3% and 5% of my readers will do this. I surmise that they check the page out to see what preferences are available and answer the questions while they’re poking around.
Finally, you can set up an email in an automation workflow to add a subscriber to an interest group after they receive that email. That means that anything you can use to trigger an automation workflow, such as hitting a page with MailChimp Goals set up, can add a user to an interest group—provided you’re willing to send them an email first.
There’s a lot of options here, but there’s a lot of limitations as well. Some people have switched mail clients to get more ways to collect data from users, but I love using MailChimp and its powerful templates. I’ve come up with a better way to let subscribers share their data with you, and I’ll share it with you soon.
Timing Is Everything
Sending the right message can be all about knowing where you stand with a reader at a given point in time. Using interest groups and segments in MailChimp, you can get the right message out at the right moment. That can be all the difference.