Taming the Monkey: How to set up a MailChimp newsletter (and why you need one)

This is a guest post by Anne Chaconas

As an author, indie or otherwise, having a newsletter that you use to periodically communicate with your fans and followers is essential. Why?

  1. It allows you to keep in touch with your fanbase.
  2. It allows you to offer them special perks for being a fan.
  3. It gives you a list of people you can contact whom you know have a vested interest in you and your work.

That last point is the most important one. As authors, your main goal (aside from being read) should be to establish meaningful relationships with your readers. This doesn’t mean sending each of them a handwritten thank you card and roses, but it does mean making them aware that they are special to you, that you appreciate their endorsement of your work, and that you want to recognize this specialness and appreciation by keeping in touch with them and occasionally offering them a little sumthin-sumthin, be it in the form of a never-before-released chapter of your books, a prequel short story, a free-for-a-limited-time offer on one of your previous releases, a contest, or any other number of fan-only perks. Tending to the care and feeding of your fans is the best way to stoke the flames of their love.

The best way to do this is by having a newsletter—a newsletter lets you communicate directly with your fans in a way that other social media simply does not. A newsletter goes right into your fans’ inboxes (which increases the chances they’ll see it), is not available to those who have not signed up for the newsletter (which means it’s exclusive and special), and lets you really customize your content (which any savvy marketer will tell you is the best and most effective way to get a response from your base). All in all, a newsletter is one of the best and most effective ways to keep your fanbase happy.

So, how do you go about setting up a newsletter? First things first—you gotta choose a newsletter management system. There are many out there, but my preferred one is MailChimp. I could go into my reasons why, but I won’t (not in this post, anyway). Suffice it to say that I’ve tried other systems, and MailChimp has been the only one that hasn’t made me want to punch a wall at some point. Therefore, that makes it my preferred one.

Alright then—MailChimp. Let’s set up a newsletter!

To create a newsletter through the monkey, you’ll need three things:

  1. A MailChimp account.
  2. A list of contacts.
  3. A newsletter signup for your website.

Start by going to www.mailchimp.com. You’ll have to set up an account. Creating one is free, and you can do it right from the main page by clicking the “Sign Up Free” button. You’ll need an email address, a username, and a password. Easy-peasy.

Now that you’ve set up an account, you need to create a list. A list is where all of your fans’ contact info will end up, so it’s step one when it comes to creating a newsletter. Once you’ve logged in, click on “Lists” in the top navigation bar. You can watch the video on how to create a list, or you can dive right in. I recommend watching the video, since it can be moderately helpful. After watching the video, get started with your list, and fill in the fields in the “Set Up Your New List” screen. A few tips:

  1. Give your list a name that’s clear and tells people what they signed up for. Subscribers will be able to see this name, so make sure it’s not some internal gobbledygook that only you can understand.
  2. Make the reply-to email one you check often. This is where people can reply to the email if they so desire. Since your main goal is to keep in touch with your fanbase, make sure your email is a place where they can reach you and get a timely response.
  3. Keep the reminder of how they go on your list simple and short, such as “You are receiving this email because you opted in at [your website’s URL].” No need to get long-winded.

Now, save your list. Voilá! You’ve got a place your fans’ contact info can call home. Now you have to create a signup form you’ll add to your website, so that people can actually become a part of your list. You do this in the same place where you created your list—click “List” in the top navigation bar (or, if you just finished creating your list, you’ll be taken there automatically). Click on the “Design Signup Forms” green button on the left navigation bar.

You can get extremely fancy with your signup forms, but we’ll keep it basic for now. After all, your goal is to create a signup form that you can quickly add to your website, and not a newslettery masterpiece (for now, anyway). The signup form automatically created by MailChimp under the “Build It” tab should do just fine. A few tips:

  1. Make sure that the “Allow Users To Pick Which Email Format They Prefer (Plain-Text Or HTML).” box at the top of the form creator is checked. This lets your subscribers decide how they want to receive your newsletter. It’s nice to give people choices, and didn’t your mom always say it’s nice to be nice? So be nice.
  2. Don’t get greedy with the information you request from your subscribers. Keep it basic—email address, first name, and last name. The more information you ask for, the less likely people are to sign up. And you don’t need more than email and name, anyways, unless you’re the IRS. Which you’re not (although, if you are, please rest assured that I filed my taxes on time this year).
  3. Make both the email and first name fields required. That way, you can always refer to your subscribers by first name instead of the generic “Dear Newsletter Subscriber”—blech.

As I’ve mentioned, you can get extremely fancy with the forms, and one place to get fancy is the “Design It” tab, where you can change color schemes, backgrounds, headers, wrappers, text, link styles, ad infinitum. Leave all that alone for now—your goal is to get the newsletter up on your site. You can get fancy later.

No need to do anything with the “Translate” tab, unless you’re posting to a site written in a different language. In that case, go nuts! (Or, in Spanish, “Vuelte loco!”)

The place where you want to be now that you’ve created your signup form is the “Share It” tab. This is where you can get the HTML to embed the code on your site. There are a lot of ways this can be done, depending on where your site is hosted (Blogger, WordPress.com. WordPress.org, self-hosted, etc), so the best advice I can give you is to try out the different options, and use MailChimp’s support articles to help you figure out what the best way to embed your form is for you.

Congrats on having set up and added your newsletter to your website! In a future post, I’ll cover the nitty-gritty of the most important part of the whole newsletter process—getting people to sign up. Stay tuned!

 

About this post’s author:

Anne Chaconas was born in Central America and educated in the U.S. Northeast. She moved to the Deep South for love and currently lives on the East Coast (and misses winter terribly.) Her snarky husband, adorable daughter, three rambunctious cats, and two very adoring dogs keep her busy. Salve Regina, her debut novel, will be available this fall. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter,Pinterest, Google+GoodReads and Tumblr.


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