Are you feeling bloated? Seven Steps to a Lean Mailing List

No, not you, your email list.

It may be time for a cleanse.

The most common signs are notification from your email service provider about a fee increase tied to subscriber count.

If you find yourself with one of those in your inbox, what follows is the seven S’s to a smaller and more active mailing list.

Before you trigger a massive purge, let’s take this opportunity to get your mailing list optimized. You’ve invested time and money into building your email subscribers. You don’t want this to end in a face-slapping moment where you end up hurting, not helping email deliverability.


Systems Thinking is a method to design a complex process, so it works harmoniously towards the results you want. Your mailing list is part of your brand and community engagement. An email newsletter performs some specific functions, but how does it add or support your brand and community?

What is the purpose of your newsletter?

Aligning its purpose to customer delight will change how you maintain and use your mailing list.

You might say the purpose is to sell more books. OK.

I would be cautious when you focus on the transactional rather than your brand’s communal properties.

Yes, we want to sell more books, but the act of book purchase should be a behavior that starts not from a call to action but a need to belong and fulfill the desire to be part of what your brand offers.

How is your overall newsletter designed? Is it a slice of your brand and story world that shows up in my inbox to anticipation and delight, or is it seen as just another billboard looking to separate me from my money?

When content compels, your audience will congregate. They will anticipate your emails. Are you creating value for your readers?

As you go through the other S’s, keep the system goal top of mind.


Over time, your mindset for subscribers will change. Each phase is natural for authors to go through. It’s unrealistic to think that you can bypass them. Look to see where you’re at and make the shift when appropriate.


When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

1 Corinthians 13:11

Phase One: email floozy

You’ll take anyone willing to sign up. This is natural when you’re getting started. We’ve all been there, and I advocate “getting around” in the beginning.

Targeted newsletter swaps are a cost-effective way to build an audience. The issue is that they aren’t necessarily the right audience (AKA paying). They are interested in free or discount books and because they don’t regularly buy books, can’t leave reviews.

In advantage and Treat Your Writing Like a Business, I promote the use of list building tools and strategies while you’re getting ready for your first launch. For those bootstrapping an author business, this is the most efficient way to get readers to help with early launches.

Tools like Story Origin and BookFunnel are great ways to build your audience while you’re in the early stages of launching your career. They also become a considerable source of puppy fat authors need to work off in later stages.

Phase Two: eating organic

Once you have a few books out, you now have the absolute best lead source there is – your back-matter. Even the book’s front matter can result if freebie seekers that scour look insides for ways to get free books. The back matter delivers far fewer subscriptions, but they are qualified. These are folks that have read one of your books after paying for it.

If you choose to continue with sign-ups for free books, adjust what it takes for that person to get on to your mailing list. Don’t just throw them on your general list. Ask permission and make them opt-in again. The reality is that just because someone downloads a free book doesn’t mean they read it. So why do you want them on your list?

This phase isn’t about shedding pounds, but stop putting more on.

As soon as you have a few books, focus your attention on how you nurture those that sign up organically. Give them value.


Readers love to read. If you want to increase engagement, tell some stories. The question is, should the stories be about your author life or your story world. I suggest a focus on your story world. Your reader has spent time there and likes the environment. This gives you a layer of privacy that the author’s stories lack.

Over two or three emails tell a story. Use side stories to fill in blanks or transition from book to book. What if you had an episodic tale that built over weeks or months before a launch?

While this doesn’t reduce the bloat, it gets you fit. Readers will have a reason to open and read.


Before any cleanse, I highly recommend a “Godfather Sale.” Make them a direct offer they can’t refuse and sell it in your newsletter.

Box up some ebooks on BookFunnel and use the sales tool to make a PayPal sale.

If you have BookBrush, you can make a nice box set mockup.

Create a PayPal buy link and connect it to the BookFunnel sales action

Run the deal in your newsletter as a newsletter-only promo. Now your newsletter has exclusive deals

The idea is to identify those readers willing to buy direct. You never want to kick them off your list.


Start different lists or tags in your email service provider (ESP) so that you know who should get various offers. I already identified one segment above being the subscribers willing to buy from you direct. I have several clients that run book sales in the newsletter before dropping a book into KU. This gets sales of those not interested in buying from Amazon or paying for a subscription.

Front matter, Freebies, and promotions can be on a single list, but I suggest you segregate them from your primary list until you see behavior that suggests they are a reader. One way is to have a second opt to this mailing list or fall back on your other book’s back-matter. Since your lead magnet is the free sample that gets them to buy, don’t consider them a buyer until they show a purchase by getting an offer in the back matter.

In a perfect world, you segment each of these so that you know where you’re getting subscribers.

Sales notifications and your customer journey.

If you have a long series email sequences separate from your newsletter can serve as a guide


Embrace the unsubscribe

Don’t think of lack of opt-ins or unsubscribes as a rejection, rather they are filters to get the best of the best.

You want to command attention, not beg for it or get half hearted attention. It’s not a bad thing for someone to unsubscribe. You would rather that then an email going to a promo or spam folder; each send slowly deteriorating your reputation with spam filters.

If your list has become bloated, I suggest using a tool like neverbounce to validate and check address reputation. These tools can help to shed names that are dead or poor reputation. The tools can be integrated with most mail services to check any sign ups.

Mine has an integrated mail checker that will block poor addresses. This has kept my mail landing in mailboxes.


A good deal of email service providers allow for scoring. You can attribute opens and clicks with a value and create an engagement score. Make it a game and reward those showing engagement by rewarding engaged readers with secret stories or special swag.

Applying all the S’s will result in a leaner, meaner mailing list. The flab will be removed, and the audience that remains will have a higher engagement. You’ll find that newsletters focused on story and community and less on selling sell more.