Build Your Tribe
A Mail list building article written for the Scifi Roundtable

Are you sitting on a mail list consisting of friends, family, and critiquing partners? I was, until the beginning of the month. Then I invested about ten hours of time and nineteen days later, I’m talking to nearly four hundred (and still growing) people who volunteered their contact info in exchange for a short story that has been free on Smashwords for well over a year!

Will this work for anyone? Nearly anyone. There are prerequisites and some up front investments in time and your precious intellectual property, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Are you writing your first story now? Put promotional stuff on pause, tuck yourself into your rough drafting safe haven and write your story. Then show it to other writers in the Roundtable critiquing group. Personally, I didn’t want to begin marketing until I had written three novels and an anthology. However my critiquing pal, the person who taught me how to grow my own tribe, Guy Reissen, is using his short stories to grow an audience for his upcoming first novel!

Wow. I published my first novel after it had passed over less than a dozen sets of eyes. No one knew about me. Mom believed in me. Wifey knew I could do it. The world was none the wiser. Guy gets to spread the news about his first book to a bunch of people who already like his stuff! I couldn’t be more excited for him, or me. I’ve been dying to read it.

Before we pop under the hood, let’s actually see what it’s like to be a reader who encounters the mail list invitation. Give my pal a try and get one of his supernatural horror short stories in return! He is the philosophical granddad of YOUR new tribe of readers, after all! Click here, follow instructions:

Okay, I’m assuming you did one of three things here. One, skipped my suggestion, promising to double back. Two, you skipped it since this isn’t your first freebie rodeo and you are looking for new tips. Three, followed my suggestion, loved his story, became a true believer in the tribe building exercise, and came ready to work. Thanks one and all, let’s move on to prerequisites, domain and intellectual property.

First, you need a domain that provides email service. works but will not. Yahoo, gmail, and many of the other free email hosts identify automated emails like the ones Instafreebie uses to deliver your books and confirm subscriber interest in your mail list as spam since they know the message originated from a third party. If you don’t have a domain with email, Instafreebie does offer a workaround, and you’ll see the option when you set up your account.

Next, you need Intellectual property to give away. Hopefully if you are already looking to spread the good word that your stories rock, you’ve got some proof. Preferably more than one story. You need one to be your freebie, and it would be nice to have another to promote. Beyond that, you need a reason to take the most precious thing any potential reader can give, their time. Have something worthwhile or you will be unsubscribed. I do it. I’ve signed up for plenty of newsletters, got a free book, tried it, and didn’t like it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but as the author and person whose work is the focal point of the newsletter, that is an opportunity that died on the doorstep. This is not a child’s game, many talented professionals make a living being publish or self-publishing. They are also asking for this same reader’s attention. That free giveaway has to be so good that our new reader is excited about the next issue of the newsletter. This could be their pizza Friday, or you could use a crap story that the reader started, got distracted, and then failed to get hooked into. That giveaway is your first best chance to impress a new fan who suspects already that they’ll enjoy your stories. Make it count.

On top of freebies and sale items, what are you going to fill your newsletter with? Will gossip about your writing progress impress hundreds of strangers? Good for you, but mine tends to bore people in person, so I chose to share reviews of books I’ve read and liked. I also decided to write a sequel to my novel. Monkeyboy, a space fantasy, in serial form. Every month when my newsletter comes out, at the bottom, there will is an installment of Shugarra Corps! Eventually, when I’ve finished the Intro, I’ll publish it as a novelette to replace my current giveaway. Shugarra Corps will also be exclusive to the mail list, so my fans that already buy my books will have to follow along every month or fall behind!

I’m also planning on doing newsletter swaps with authors I’ve vetted personally. Perhaps you are reading this article because you are one of my subscribers who followed a link in my newsletter. Well played! I’ve read, reviewed, and drawn inspiration from a handful of Roundtable Knights and look forward to the works of plenty more. Anyhow, subscribe to my newsletter here:

Don’t skip that one. I wanted to run you through a process a bit longer than Guy’s because this is a way to set your links up to be permanently free. I’ve linked to my Mailchimp sign up form, which doesn’t offer a giveaway, but in the final newsletter sign up confirmation, there is a link to the Instafreebie sign in for the free ebook. It runs a bit clunky, because your new potential reader must enter two email addresses, but you do deliver what you’ve promised.

I recommend setting things up this way and testing it out on your spouse, uncle, critiquing buddy, and any of your facebook friends who haven’t muted you thanks to all the book promoting you’re always doing. Take time here. This is the stage where I discovered my yahoo account would not work. Iron out your problems. Go ahead, take action here! is the spot. Set up a giveaway, make it private unless you don’t mind people just browsing and downloading your work for free without you getting an email address in return. Then sign up for mailchimp, also free: Now plug your instafreebie giveaway link into the “thank you” automated response for mailchimp’s signup. Put this link everywhere. I’ve got this on all my social media, even plugged into my Anki Legacies and Shane’s book reviews facebook page. The link is my pinned tweet. It’s in my Goodreads profile. Every once in a while someone trickles into the list.

Instafreebie offers a one month free trial. You don’t have to give up a credit card number to do it. I recommend you give them a try. This is where it all pays off! When you start the trial, Instafreebie lets you plug mailchimp right into your giveaway! This is the moment when the five lion robots join to form Voltron. You are right about to totally slay it.

Now, head on over to the Instafreebie dashboard, click on “Group Giveaways”. Welcome to the flea market. This is a pile up of other ambitious writer types who have chosen to band together and cry out for fans together in a chorus of dragons, robots, and vampires. There are also genres you aren’t interested in, so make sure your book fits the bill! Scan the genre and date info, and join every relevant group that is running promotion during your free month. I found eight for September.

Go over to mailchimp and build your first newsletter. Better make it good. Send it off to your meager following. Yup, before all the hordes of undyingly local (your book title here) lovers know about you. Send it just to mom and Uncle Tom. Then use mailchimp’s segment feature to resend the newsletter to only new subscribers as the fans roll in. I’ve been sending my September newsletter twice a week, between every fifty to seventy-five new subscribers. This way a whole month doesn’t pass before the person who got your free book (and face it, probably eighty other free books) before our Dear Reader sees your name and series again and remembers their deal. I’ve been getting between 30 and 40 percent open rates. On top of that, ten percent of those who read the message click through into one of my links. I’m instantly seeing that lots of these people are skimming and potentially reading Shugarra Corps, and some of them are clicking into my book reviews and other titles up for sale. Proof that I have tribe engagement. A benchmark to measure and cultivate group interaction. That warm feeling of confirmation that you rock. You already know that or you would have quit writing by now, but now you and you can look at proof the statistics, yay!

Now do your best to promote. For my part, I’ve got a couple thousand twitter followers, so I set up a handful of automated tweets with, again using their free basic plan (seeing a common theme yet?) to tell the world about some free stuff.

Then sit back and relax.

Ha ha ha. Just kidding. You are about to be alarmingly popular, so get to work generating great mail list content! Do your month trial, start your tribe, read my and others’ freebies, then talk to those who you think share an audience. Work out a newsletter swap and start cross pollinating!