A Beginner’s Guide to Creating an Email List for Free

email listSo what’s an email list?

You know email, right? You know lists, yes? Well an email list, in its most basic terms, is a list of email addresses and possibly names of people that have given you permission to send them updates and information about you and your products. Email marketing, if you want a name for it.

For an author, an email list is crucial if you want to sell your work. Your email list is an opportunity to talk about your books, upcoming projects, interviews and appearances, in fact, anything that you think your potential audience may be interested in. So if you’ve ever wondered how to make that happen, read on to discover how to create and grow your email list for FREE!

But why email, and do I need one?

There are several key factors that make email the king when it comes to selling your books:

Email is personal – You will be able to talk to potential readers directly, with your email dropping in their inbox every time you send an update. It’s a casual form of communication, allowing your personality to shine through.

Email is targeted – People that get on your email list will have had to take the time to write their own email address and name. They must be interested in what you do / offer to have taken this time, so you already know they are interested in what you are selling. You can send them highly relevant content, leading to better interaction and click rates (how many times someone clicks a link).

Email is one-to-one – When you send an email to someone, it will drop into their personal inbox. It’s not a public posting, where everyone can see it. It gives that person the ability to get in touch with you directly, in confidence, which is a key factor in building trust with a reader.

But what about some hard facts?

How much more successful is email marketing vs social media? As it turns out, quite a lot. Research carried out by Optinmonster  gives us these telling facts:email marketing

That’s research on a global scale. Much larger than I could hope to achieve. But what does it mean to you as an author struggling to find his / her way in the world of selling books? Take a look at my own email stats for my last newsletter:

Whilst my email list is not huge (only been building it since January, give me a break!), below you can see the efficiency of email marketing. I have compared that with the industry average (according to Mailchimp) for Media and Publishing.

Open rate is how many people actually open the email. CTR or Click through rate, shows of all the people that opened the email, how many clicked a link.

Admittedly a small sample size, but the results are telling:

Open Rate Click Through Rate (CTR)
Media and Publishing industry 22.14% 4.7%
Twitter 0.03%
Facebook 0.07%
Little old me 72% 48% (or 35% of EVERY email sent)

So, have I convinced anyone of the value of an email list when it comes to marketing and selling your books? I hope so.

I would like to finish this section by saying that in no way does this information mean you are wasting your time on social media. I think it absolutely has a place, for example, cultivating relationships, building you as a ‘brand’. It’s just not for selling books.

How do I set up an email list?

When it comes to setting up your own email list, the process is reasonably straightforward.

You first need to find a provider, of which there are many. Each has its strengths, and for the purposes of what I am trying to achieve here, I will only be looking at FREE email list providers. As a relatively new author, keeping costs down were important for me in the early days, so if you’re in that position, read on.

emails/mnth no. of contacts
mailchimp 12000 2000
wix shoutouts 5000 unlimited
sendinblue 9000 unlimited
Sparkpost 100,000 unclear
Mailgun 10,000 unlimited
Benchmark Email 10000 unlimited
VerticalResponse 4000 1000

As you can see, there are a number of providers that offer a FREE option, which can be expanded at any point (with associated costs).

A word of caution here: don’t get blinded by the numbers. I would suggest looking at what each of these (or any other) providers has to offer. For example, Mailchimp now offers FREE marketing automation. If you are thinking of running courses, this is a must. I would also look at the costs once you move beyond their free offer, as you could find yourself with a lot more subscribers in the future, requiring a move to the paid services.

Most of the services offer a similar functionality (broadly speaking):

  • Create a list
  • Create signup forms to capture people’s email addresses (if needed)
  • Create plain or themed newsletters
  • Record stats of list(s) – open rate, click rate etc.

mail chimp email listI’ve used Mailchimp for a while, so let’s dive into the features there:

Once you’re all signed up, jump straight over to the ‘Lists’ option, and click create list. This will present you with a number of standard options:

  • List name – something your subscribers will recognise.
  • Default from email / name – when subscribers receive your updates, they will come from this email address and name, and that’s where any replies will go.

Create a campaign

Next, click the ‘Campaign’ option, and you will be on your way to creating your first newsletter! The options here are huge; a large variety of themes (think WordPress-style), styles, drag and drop interface:

Create your newsletter!

The final step is to customise your template, by adding images, text boxes, hyperlinks, using the intuitive WYSIWYG editor.

Finally, click that ‘Send’ button. I don’t know about you, but this image always makes me nervous…

send email list

Create signup forms

I’ll talk more about signup forms later, but Mailchimp offers you the ability to create several different types of forms, from pop-ups, to static forms, with the opportunity to embed the code for your newly designed form on your website. You simply need to copy the HTML code that is given and place it on your website.

signup forms mailchimp

As I mentioned, Mailchimp now offers free email automation, and a lot of it. These are just some of the options to choose from:

  • Abandoned cart series – encourage customers to complete purchase
  • First purchase – a welcome to new customers
  • Product follow-ups – invite customers to leave a review
  • Best customers – reward with vouchers, codes, etc.
  • Category follow-ups – promote related items
  • Membership renewal – send reminders
  • Course series – send a series of lessons, assignments, or projects
  • Welcome series – say hello!
  • Leave list – say goodbye or ask for feedback if a customer leaves

You can find a more complete guide here: The Beginner’s Guide to using Mailchimp

shoutout six steve boseleyMy website is with WIX (have a look HERE), so along with Mailchimp, I also use the FREE Wix Shoutout option that comes with my plan, to send my newsletters. The end result is the same, in that I can create newsletters using a simple drag-and-drop interface, or some of the pre-formatted templates it offers.

Click the image to see my most recent Shoutout.

How do I get people on my list?

This is the part that requires some thought, but there are ways to boost your list size, for FREE. Pop over to Nicholas Rossis’ blog and read Give your Readership a Massive Boost with Instafreebie.

The first thing you’ll need to get in place is somewhere to capture those names and email addresses. For most people, that will be a website, and for many others that will include a blog of some description.

Where do I get a website or a blog?

There are many places to get a FREE website up and running, and I’m not intending to get into that here, but I will just say that the king of blogs is, arguably, WordPress. Most of the blogs you will read are likely to be WordPress, who offer a FREE variety.

Personally, for my website, I wanted something that was a bit more straightforward, and Wix gave me that, offering a drag and drop-type interface that even I could understand!

There are many other excellent choices for both blogs and websites, and I recommend spending some time with Google (other search engines are also available), and looking at your options.

What next?

Once you have settled on a website, the next thing you’ll need is a sign-up form to gather those all important email addresses.

Depending on who you decided to go with for your list provider, they will offer templates for a variety of sign-up forms, or you can simply create your own. As I mentioned, I have previously used Mailchimp, which offers you a huge variety of options for your sign-up forms, giving you creative control over colour, font, placement, any text. Mailchimp will also create some HTML code for your completed form that you can copy and paste into you website or blog. Very helpful.

I currently use Wix’s Add Subscribers function to capture emails for my email list. It works in the same way – customise colour, content, and layout. It looks like this:

get subscribers Wix steve boseley

With these forms linked to your email list, you’re all ready to put together your newsletter or updates to send out to your followers. Both sites I mention offer you a number of templates to make your newsletter as fancy or as plain as you like. Mailchimp offers you the ability to insert a subscriber’s name into the email, personalising it.

As with everything else, this customization is very intuitive, and you will be dragging and dropping your way to a finished product in no time. Here is the Wix interface:

Wix template steve boseley

Click HERE to see my most recent newsletter.

So how do I get people to sign up to my list?

If you leave a form on your website, you might get one or two people to sign up. Maybe. In my experience, you need to offer an incentive to your visitors to sign up.

What form that incentive takes, is up to you, but you just need to look at some of the bloggers and authors around the web to see what they offer. Put yourself in the shoes of a potential subscriber. What would it take for you to give up your email address? Here are a few examples of FREE incentives:

  • A short story
  • A prequel to your book
  • The first book in a series
  • Added value – A favourite of mine. (See below for more info)
  • A help book that is actionable and focused on a topic that may be so complex the average blogger isn’t tackling it. A great example of this would be Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks
  • An email course (e.g. a series on marketing, interviews with various authors)
  • Checklists or cheat sheets such as WordTracker’s Technical checklist
  • A webinar series. Using automation to deliver a series that offers readers the ability to sit back and relax while you do the hard work. What topic? Try Quora to find ideas of what people are looking for.

For a much larger selection of ideas for signup freebies, check out this article on lead magnets from ninehacks.com 33 Irresistible Lead Magnet Ideas To Grow Your Email List Fast

Added Value (see also Content Upgrades below)

Added value is providing your readers with something more than the original product, or some additional information that could enhance their reading enjoyment. Create PDFs to offer your readers. Some of the things you could consider are:

  • Maps – Perhaps your fantasy epic has large realms. Readers could get fully loaded maps
  • Character bios – If you created these as part of your preparation for your novel, your readers may be interested in learning more about their favourite characters
  • Behind the scenes – What research went into the book? Where did you get your inspiration for a particular character or setting?
  • Timelines – Where does the action in your book fit into a timeline? For example, Post apocalyptic – when did it all go wrong?
  • Alternative covers – Did you consider several covers before you selected the finished product?
  • Deleted scenes – Were there any sections of your book that didn’t make the final cut? Why did you leave them out?

That leads me onto :


Smartbribe is an amazing piece of software that could potentially double your signups (at least). It works by offering subscribers to your list an added extra, by getting them to share your content (that’s the bribe part).

And the best part? It’s FREE.

How does it work?

Once you have your list set up, you will have created a number of forms that subscribers will see when they sign up. Your normal ‘thank you’ page will look something along the lines of:

Mailchimp signup form

With Smartbribe, you can add another layer, offering this bonus content to subscribers if they choose to share your content. You can set it up to share by Facebook, where you can populate the Facebook post with your desired content, by Twitter where you can write your desired Tweet, or you can share by email, again by writing your chosen email content. This way, all your subscriber has to do to get the additional bonus content is click to share. The rest is done for them!

It looks similar to this:

smart bribe screen shot

You can even add further bonus content and ask for a Tweet, email and Facebook share. Imagine how many people you could reach like that!

As an example, you could have an initial opt-in offer of the first book in a series, which your readers would receive from signing up, but once they have done that, you could offer any (or all) of the above ‘added value’ content, but your new subscriber would need to share information about you / your books on their social media channels.

What if my blog gets no traffic?

As a new author, it’s possible that your website / blog receives little or no traffic. If that’s you, then you may be asking yourself if it is possible to add people to your email list with no traffic? Luckily, the answer is YES.

There are several ways you can increase your list without having traffic to your site or blog:

Guest posts

If your website / blog receives a low amount of traffic, you should consider blogging somewhere that gets a lot!

If you are active around the blogging community (and I recommend that you are), you will come in contact with MANY helpful bloggers, some of whom I have mentioned elsewhere in this post. Look at the sort of content they publish on their blog, and consider writing something that will be of interest to their readers. Get in touch with that blogger and respectfully ask if they would be interested in using your post.

Guest posting on more popular sites will put more eyes on what you have to offer with the aim of driving them to your website, where you can entice them to sign up to your list with your awesome offer!

Check out a recent guest post I wrote on Lucy’s BlondeWriteMore blog: ‘Do you have author potential? Take the test today.’  Lucy writes a blog with a lot of humour (which I suggest you read through), and I thought I could write something that her readers may like. It turned into one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written (at the time) –  Thanks Lucy!

Guest posting also offers you the opportunity to receive sign ups by offering ‘Content Upgrades.’

Content Upgrades

Similar to additional content, a Content Upgrade offers your readers something additional, usually to accompany a blog post.

Here’s how it works

Find an appropriate guest posting opportunity and submit your blog post. At the end of that post, you should try to include a Call To Action (some desired action you would like the reader to take). That call to action can be anything, from going to your website, to buying one of your books (although it probably shouldn’t be!). However, as the purpose of your guest post is to add people to your email list, I would suggest using that as the Call To Action.

You could direct them back to your email signup page, and wow them with your opt in offer, or you could offer readers of your guest post a Content Upgrade, which could act as your opt in offer. Take this post you are reading as an example. Imagine it was a guest post. At the end of this post, I could offer readers something extra:

  • Templates for email newsletters
  • 50 ‘fill in the blanks’ headlines
  • A checklist for setting up your email list
  • A worksheet to assist with writing an effective email newsletter
  • Or
  • If the post were about my latest book, I could offer you any of the Added Value content from above.
  • Or
  • Offer the information in an additional format, such as audio or video (some readers may prefer to listen to this information, or watch me present it).
  • You could offer the information as an infographic, using FREE services like Canva  or Easel.ly
  • How about a Slideshare-type presentation? (See below) Share your topic as a slide presentation, requiring a signup of course!

This example of an infographic is from www.onlinekickstart.com (some great info in there as well):

using infographics for authors


Slideshare is very simple, and if you have ever created a presentation using software like Microsoft Powerpoint, you will find creating your own slideshare display as simple as a few clicks of your mouse button. Have a look at a slide presentation I made from my Instafreebie guest post I mentioned earlier:


Slideshare and similar can be found here:

If I offered this as a download at the end of that blog post, it would be a way of driving people to my website (and my signup offer), or it could actually be the signup offer.

Wow! That’s a lot to concentrate on if you’re a relative newbie and there are more elements to this post that I haven’t included here:

  • Signup forms that convert – Get people fill out their info (have a look at this pinterest board on signups)
  • Landing pages – The places your website visitors see first
  • Pop-ups – A gentle nudge to remind you of your free offer
  • Call to action – what you would like the reader to do

These topics will follow in future posts, but hopefully you have a good base to start building an email list of your own – and all for FREE!

To be the first to hear about these and other similar topics, hit the follow button (that’s a call to action!).

I’d be really keen to hear your own experiences of list-building: Do you have an email list? What one piece of advice have you found most helpful? Leave a comment below and let me know!

14 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Creating an Email List for Free

  1. Wow Steve, that’s a lot of info, i definitely need to go through this all again and again. Thanks – off to do some home work now. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ps Gimp is also great imaging freeware as good as Photoshop, have you tried it? And Facebook has a little app called picmonkey which is a cheats very easy to use fun infographic generator. I’m not sure about the value of landing pages TBH, a bit of an extra click time waster. So far I’ve found that a brilliant traffic building medium is getting involved in ‘lnky’s’ as well as FB blogging groups of like-minded bloggers.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s