Email Marketing and List Building for Authors with Philip Duncan, Part 1

How To Write the Future episode 38, Email Marketing and List Building for Authors with Philip Duncan, Part 1

Quote from How To Write the Future episode 38, Email Marketing and List Building for Authors with Philip Duncan, Part 1

In “Email Marketing and List Building for Authors with Philip Duncan, Part 1,” host Beth Barany, creativity coach, and science fiction and fantasy novelist, chats with Philip where they discuss the creative benefits of having a newsletter, including the importance it has in connecting with readers, and they share examples in how it can help boost book sales.

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About Philip Duncan

Philip Duncan is an award-winning and Amazon bestselling fiction author. He’s the host of the Powerhouse Authoring Summit and has been a featured guest on several other authoring summits. He specializes in email marketing and list building for authors, where he now spends all his time helping authors start, grow, and scale their audience through email marketing.


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The How To Write The Future podcast is for science fiction and fantasy writers who want to write positive futures and successfully bring those stories out into the marketplace. Hosted by Beth Barany, science fiction novelist and creativity coach for writers.

Tips for fiction writers! This podcast is for you if you have questions like:

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  • How do figure what’s not working if my story feels flat?
  • How do I make my story more interesting and alive?

This podcast is for readers too if you’re at all curious about the future of humanity.

Episode 38 – Email Marketing and List Building for Authors with Philip Duncan, Part 1


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Let’s Get Started: Intro

All right.

Hi everyone. Beth Barany here with How to Write the Future Podcast. This is the future. The future is now. We are here together to explore how can we write optimistic stories so that we can have a positive impact on the world.

I believe that just as important as craft is learning how to market our work. So I’m doing a series of podcast episodes, talking to various experts about how we can improve as marketers for our own fiction.

So in that light, I’ve brought here Philip Duncan here with us today and to share with us his genius about one of the most powerful things you can do as a fiction writer, which is have your own email list.

I myself have had my own email list as a professional, as a small business owner for almost 20 years. I knew from the beginning how important it was and it’s so amazing to see how it has not gone away. But it is a different beast learning how to market your own fiction. So I’m hoping Philip, that we can dive into that, give us some context around email marketing, and I have some other questions for you, but let’s just bear bones it for a complete beginner, a writer, fiction writer.

There he is. There she is. There they are– working away in their creative, over there, away from the world. And then we come in and we’re like, you need to do email marketing. You need to have a newsletter. And they’re like, what? Totally freaked out, right?

Let’s talk to that person to start off with because I see them. They’re like bunny rabbits in the middle of the road, you know?

Totally frozen with fear. Then they’re like, get me outta here. Right? I gotta go back into my little cave. Gotta go write my stories. That’s all that matters. And yes, that is so important, but here we are today to talk about email marketing.

How do we introduce this topic to complete beginner or someone who even has heard how important it is and just feels like, What? I haven’t, don’t even have a book out. Why are you asking me or telling me or shoving me into this world of email marketing newsletters?

Welcome Philip. 

Philip Duncan

Yeah. Thank you for having me on, by the way, I always love talking to you, as you know, so I’m excited to be here. Especially for the beginner, the beginner in the sense of like, email marketing and getting a list doesn’t mean you have to be a beginner author, but a lot of times what I’ve seen with people, and you’ve probably experienced this too, is people want to have kind of the footing under ’em when they’re writing before they even think about all this other stuff, and then when you mention this stuff to ’em, they’re like, why do I need an email list? What does it even mean? I thought email was dead. I’m not a business like this doesn’t make any sense.

The bare bones, just as basic as I can say it is every single author doesn’t matter where you are, especially when you’re starting out, or as big as you, doesn’t matter how big you are or whatever like you have to have an email list because it’s something you own.

It’s how you connect with people on a more intimate and personal level, you get to control what you say. Nobody gets to take your list away, it’s not like social media where they can come and shut your account down. You actually own the whole thing, and you get to be who you are, which I think is so important, especially for us fiction writers.

When we’re storytelling, we write fiction, so we’re always telling, we might pull elements from real life and stuff like that, but we’re always in this like fiction storytelling mode. And then we switch to email marketing. The writing can be a little different, but it’s not always different.

But it’s a great place for the people that wanna read your books and do read your books, get to actually get to know you and love you, and then stay with you for the long run, which is extremely important if we’re talking about long-term success as an author, which hopefully is most people’s goal, right?

Beth Barany

Yeah. At least the people that you and I work with, so that’s great. Yeah. I am so with you, I saw the social media rise. I saw the internet come to me, so I knew that things would come and go, and I remember the crashes and the bubbles, and I’ve seen things pop and fade, and so it just totally made sense to me that email was the way to go.

I love what you’re saying. I just heard the other day from a very hustle-oriented fiction writer who’s great at sales. His Facebook got frozen completely. He got kicked into like, give us your confirmation code hell. There was no way.

And he’s, thank goodness I have a powerful email list.

Philip Duncan 

Oh, good

Beth Barany

Oh yeah, no, this guy, he’s totally smart and savvy. And I was like, oh my gosh. You know? Yet another example. I’ve heard countless examples like this.

So Phillip, what makes you so passionate about email marketing? I know you’ve been teaching this for a year or so, and I’ve just seen you do such a great job helping people, and your classes are so nuts and bolts, hands-on practical.

What is your personal story? How did you come to email marketing as a fiction writer?

Philip Duncan 

Yeah. I think for me it was one of those things I was in the same boat of like I wanted to write my first book and get the book out and then worry about everything after, which was, I think is how most people do it. But it’s after I’ve learned and seen the way things could be done, I think it’s counterproductive. I think things can be started earlier, but I was the same way. I was like, I don’t know how to get an email list. I don’t know what mailer, like Convert kit, MailChimp, like what any of this stuff is. It doesn’t make any sense to me. And then once I figured the things out, I was like, well then who is gonna be on my list?

I remember texting my friends, I was like, guys, I’ve got 10 people on my list. Like, this is wild. Like, I can’t, I know where these people are coming from. Like, this is, this is so crazy, and then really just some trial and error and working, teaching like the workshops and stuff and teach, talking, like when I ran my summit, I talked to several people.

We had conversations about email marketing and stuff like that. And I started to you know, pique my interest more and more, this is the route I wanted to focus not only for myself but like on the business side of my stuff with authoring and writing. I’m like, I would love to focus just on email marketing for people in list building.

Like if I can figure out a system that works for me, and I’m the biggest idiot I know. If I can figure it out, everybody else can figure it out and I can just teach it or lay it out as simply as possible, because it didn’t have to be complicated. It was just, it was that it curiosity and I just ran with it.

And for some reason, it’s something that I really enjoyed and I’ve just get deeper and deeper into it every day apparently.

Beth Barany

That’s so great. Your joy about it really shines and your enthusiasm and your curiosity. I love that you’re really leading with curiosity. I saw in your email class that you’ve got some great stats in there that even brought it home for me about oh yeah, reinforcing why email marketing is so important and one of the biggest things that surprised me is across different industries people are selling through email and the percentages are pretty high, and I’m not great with numbers in terms of remembering them, but can throw out a few numbers for those folks who, for whom numbers are very powerful language and contrast that with everyone thinks social media is the way to go.

And then but contrast the percentage of sales that happened there. So there was actually two big numbers. I think, there was open rates, like how many or click rates maybe is the better equivalent, like how many people times are people clicking on that link, whether it’s a post in social media or in your email.

And then actual sales can, can you go into that a little bit for folks for whom that, that will be very useful?

Philip Duncan

Yeah, all this is on my PowerPoint slides, like when I teach the presentation. So the stuff’s in front of me and I’m reading it. It’s not something I’ve memorized. So, people can send me hate mail afterwards for not knowing the stuff.

The cool thing was it was like across industry. I wasn’t just looking at authors like that’s what we focus on, but I’m, I was trying to show the larger scope of things like, hey, we’re. real estate. We’re talking retail, we’re talking restaurant, this wide spectrum of businesses.

And their number one go-to for getting new customers and making sales and driving business is email hands down, not even second isn’t even close, and in terms of like open rates, I think, the from what I’ve seen, this can change, I’m sure, and there might be more updated stats, but at the time that I put my presentation together, the range was anywhere from 18% up to 26 or 27 maybe at the high end.

Beth Barany

Let me interject about open rates. Open rates is the percentage of people who open your email.

Philip Duncan


Beth Barany

I’ve followed people who said it’s not a hundred percent accurate, but it’s a good enough marker.

Philip Duncan

It gives you a general idea. So if you have a thousand people on your list and let’s say 20% open it, that tells you should have 200 people that have opened your email at one point or another. And then of course you mentioned the next big thing is, is there anything in there that they need to be clicking on?

And do you get those people to click through? And that’s important. If we’re talking book sales, like you could write the greatest email in the world if it doesn’t get opened, doesn’t matter. If it gets opened, it doesn’t get read, doesn’t matter if it gets opened and read and nobody clicks. Doesn’t matter.

It follows this line of things that have to happen. You’re right. Click rates really important, for sure. Email compared to social media was like, a fraction of a percent for social media.

And the thing about social media too is like even if you have followers or a group like Facebook, I’m just, I’ll say Facebook cuz one, I don’t use social media much, but like Facebook’s the one I’ve used the most, I guess, is it only shows it to a percentage of people. There’s not everybody, of course, not a hundred percent of people are gonna open your emails, but if you have a good email list that you’re engaged with that love to read your emails and know you’re gonna be emailing, that response rate should be much higher compared to social media.

Unless you’re like some social media guru, I mean, it’s like, okay, maybe.

Beth Barany

Totally, email marketing versus social media.

Philip Duncan

Hey, that’s pretty close.

Beth Barany

Yeah, what really struck me was, was this conversion rate 6% with email, 1.9% with social media. This click-through rate open slash click-through slash engagement.

It’s not entirely equivalent between email and social media, but just the fact that 22.86% open rate, is that right?

Philip Duncan

Yes, that’s right.

Beth Barany

And then 3.71% click-through rate and that’s for email. But with social media, it’s 0.58% engagement. That’s such a tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of engagement versus just sending out an email.

Philip Duncan

And you can see you would need a much smaller email list for a greater impact versus a much larger social media following for that 0.58% to really make a difference. Then it becomes a numbers game, which all this is.

Beth Barany

It all is. I would like to jump into the writing of the emails because this is, I don’t know about you, but it, it is a bit of a brain twister to recognize that our skillset as fiction writers actually really well places us to write emails to our readers. But as a writer, we’re so, I dunno about you, but I have been deeply embedded in the craft.

I teach it. I’ve been an editor, I am parsing words and meaning and story and structure and, characterization, like all these things that go into the internal aspects of writing fiction. Then when it comes time to writing an email, I was like, oh, oh, I feel like, like drool is coming down the side of my mouth because I have to completely reorient myself. And I’ve learned to really go, oh, oh, hi reader. And then start to key into who they are, who they might be, and then it’s like, oh my gosh, what do I say to this person? You know, this, this ideal reader or this reader who’s come to me. maybe they haven’t even read my book yet, but they just saw something and they’re like, Ooh, that looks interesting.

Right? And they sign up because they wanna stay connected and they wanna be reminded.

What do we say? And really before that is how do we even know who our reader is? And I get this all the time from my students. I just had a conversation with one of my students today about this, and that was the topic of our conversation to try and figure that out.

Because we need to know that before we can sit down and write an email or a welcome sequence campaign or all the things, the newsletter. So how do you start writers off with this?

Philip Duncan

Yeah, that’s a great question. And I don’t even know if I’ve thought about it in such a deep level until that question was asked. For me, and you might know this as well because you’ve been doing it long enough, for somebody who’s just starting out is a little trickier, I have a pretty good idea of who my audience is just because of the interactions I’ve had with people, through email, doing classes or stuff like that.

I have a pretty good idea- my clients. I know my readers and stuff pretty well in terms of who they are, demographic, and stuff like that. But, I almost wonder, cuz you’re right, you can’t just be like, Hey, are you a guy, girl, how old are you? Like that. so it’s like, who is your reader?

I write thrillers, so I know they enjoy the type of, fast-paced, high-energy twist and turns. You can use that to try to figure out who that person might be. But again, it could be a 25 year, old guy. For me, it’s honestly mostly middle-aged to older women.

I don’t know why that’s just case.

Beth Barany

Yeah. Well, I would say all readers are predominantly in that demographic because we’re, yeah, we’re the biggest book buyers. I don’t reach for thrillers per-se unless they’re X, y, z. Like I’ll reach for a Michael Connelly or a Lee Child Book, but I’m not really going outside of that.

But if you give me a sci-fi adventure that has thriller and suspense elements, I’m all over that. So when you were starting out, back before you even met your readers, what was your process of figuring out who they were? Were they coming to you spontaneously? Were you at reader events, reader-oriented events?

And I’m purely thinking of you as a fiction writer, because I was curious, how did that evolve for you?

Philip Duncan

Yeah. I’ve never done an in-person event or anything. I’d like to, I think that’d be fun. But, I have literally found all my readers online, either through something, like story origin, book Funnel, prolific works. I’ve ran some Facebook ads real cheap before. Those don’t always turn out to be the greatest subscribers.

It’s literally been all online. I find them in places that are designed to find you the right readers. So I feel like they do the hard work for me.

So let’s use Story Origin for example, is one I really use, especially for the new person. You can sign up as a reader, so then you go and pick the books that you like to read, and then you get notifications from those people.

And then when a book comes out or you’re in a cross-promotion with another author, which is how I do most of my stuff, then you’re just stealing their people. They obviously still have ’em on their list, you’re just cross-pollinating lists.

So I’m getting their people, they’re getting mine, but I’ve never really had to dig deep. If this was the business side of things, we have to get more focused on our customer avatar in my opinion. If you’re gonna sell somebody like a high-end product or something. But when I’m thinking of readers, and maybe this is wrong, I just find them in these places that are designed to get me the right people and then I just figure out the rest through my engagement with them through email.

That’s literally it. I have no fancy survey or secret, ninja way to figure it out. I’m not knocking on your window at night to see who you are or anything like that.

Beth Barany

That’s great. So you mentioned Story Origin, Prolific Works, and there was one more.

Philip Duncan

Yeah. Book funnels probably the most well known I would say.

Beth Barany

I use Book Funnel all the time.

Philip Duncan

I do too. Book funnel’s big.

Beth Barany

I really love what you’re saying. You could call it stealing an audience, but we’re really not. We’re actually, it’s like if you liked-.

Gosh, pick your favorite. If you like the Avengers, you’re gonna love, Firefly or vice versa, if you love Firefly and Serenity, you’re probably gonna like Avengers.

Philip Duncan

It’s like how the big like Netflix and stuff will say also likes. Yeah. Like here’s a show you’ve watched. Here’s some other shows. You probably, it’s the same thing. Here’s an author you like, and then there some other things go into it. But yeah, you’re right. It is that exactly. It’s cross pollinating.

Beth Barany

Cross-pollinating. And I was just peeking in on a sci-fi fantasy reader group in Facebook and someone was like, oh, I just finished this guy’s long, amazing fantasy series. I’m very sad. I’m having a book hangover. What do you recommend? Now what? Please give me something like that.

But not like that.

And also I was listening in on another group of writers and they were referencing another reader group where writers were saying, well, I want this kind of heroine and this kind of story world and this kind of love interest cuz it was a romance group and they had a broad parameter of those things.

And they’re like, make the romance really smart and not stupid.

I think this is a great way for beginners to start is use tools that will match you up.

Get Philip’s checklist and stay in touch with him

Philip Duncan

I have a little quick free checklist I put together for people. If you have no idea where to start, here’s a checklist of exactly what I do for people and this is what I teach in the workshop, just on a deeper level obviously cause I’m on screen for a couple of hours. Like at the very least, this is gonna give you exactly what me and you have been talking about here, but it’s gonna be laid out in like actual words and steps so you can see what we’re talking about. And it’s not all a myth, right? floating out there in the air.

Beth Barany

Great. We’ll put that into the show notes, into the description of this podcast so people can grab that fabulous checklist. And if they wanna know more about your fiction, they can go…?

Philip Duncan

Oh my God. I never go to my own website, so I don’t know. I think it’s Philip S, I believe. And it’s Philip with one l.

Beth Barany

Thank you so much, Philip, for speaking with us.

Everyone check out Phillip’s website, Philip. S Philip with one L, and be sure to check in our show notes or show description for the checklist on email marketing.

Stay tuned for Part Two where I go into more questions and answers with Phillip about email marketing and list building for authors.

Thanks, everyone for listening. And, until next time.


Thank you so much, everyone, for listening to my podcast. Your interest and feedback is so inspiring to me and helps me know that I’m helping you in some small way.

So write long and prosper.


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image of Beth BaranyBeth Barany teaches science fiction and fantasy novelists how to write, edit, and publish their books as a coach, teacher, consultant, and developmental editor. She’s an award-winning fantasy and science fiction novelist and runs the podcast, “How To Write The Future.”


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