The Uses and Abuses of Mailing Lists

The Uses and Abuses of Mailing Lists

How to Promote Yourself on Mailing Lists 
without Turning Fans into Enemies

By Anne M. Marble
Romance Moderator

©2001, Anne M. Marble

Imagine that you've become a published romance author. Your first book, Reforming Lord Ruthven, a vampire romance set during the Regency period, is due out soon. You know that most authors must depend on themselves to publicize their books. You've learned that mailing lists can be a powerful tool for self-promotion. However, to the unwary author, mailing lists can be a potential trap. 

Joining Mailing Lists 

Once you become a published author, you will probably want to join all the romance mailing lists and trumpet your success. The world must know about Reforming Lord Ruthven! Whoa. Put the brakes on. Joining the lists can be great, but not if you use those lists merely to promote yourself.

From the start, you will face some obstacles. First, many other writers are doing the same thing, so your posts have to stand out. Second, readers have gotten tired of getting constant ads thrown at them by authors who are only interested in promoting themselves and not interested in discussing topics. You have to prove yourself to them. If you join a list, don't just join it -- belong to it. Become a contributing member instead of simply using the list as a source of free advertising. The list's members (and moderators) will thank you.  

When you join a list, you'll see many other authors promoting themselves and never contributing. That doesn't mean you should do the same. Readers are savvy. They notice which authors overdo the promos, particularly those authors who publicize themselves but never pipe in on any discussions except to find a way to insinuate the titles of their books into the conversation. 

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't post promos. When you do make a promotional post, read the list's guidelines and follow the rules carefully. (If you're unsure of the rules, contact the moderator.) If the list doesn't allow promos, then don't post an announcement of your latest book. Make sure that the subject line of your promo is correct -- many lists require a label such as PROMO or WEBPR. Also, make sure that your post matches the purpose of the list. The people on a Regency romance mailing list might be interested in learning about your Regency vampire novel, but fans on a list dedicated to humorous contemporary romances won't care. If you make a mistake, apologize. Readers will take note and decide you're a class act. 

Be innovative. Don't just tell readers that your book is great. Try something different. Tell readers why you wrote that book, run a contest from your web site, a link to a review, or include a short excerpt. Even better, why not use your new book as a jumping off point for discussion? For example, let's say you wrote Reforming Lord Ruthven because you read John Polidori's The Vampyre (the first vampire story in English) and thought you could make the villainous Lord Ruthven into a romance hero. Why not get readers interested in your story by asking them which famous villains would make good romance heroes? 

When you become an author, your online behavior is very important. When you join a large and busy list, chances are that not everybody will be a fan. Some readers might even post negative opinions about your novel. Poor Ruthven! Don't worry, Ruthven's a vampire, he's dealt with loss before. And you're a writer, so you've dealt with critiques before. If a reader says something bad about your novel, don't call her names, don't tell her she made you cry, and don't tell her she obviously has no taste. Be a good sport. She might become a huge fan of your next book -- unless you call her a scrofulous dunderhead on-line. Readers are entitled to their opinions, even negative ones. Keep that in mind and keep your cool. 

Avoid the temptation to recommend your book every time you see a chance. Let's say a fan on a list asks for suggestions of romance novels with sexually experienced heroines. While the heroine of Reforming Lord Ruthven is not a virgin, she is far from experienced. Should you recommend your book to her anyway just to get that sale? Of course not. You might make that sale, but you could end up losing a fan. Perhaps more than one -- word gets around. 

Does it seem like too much to keep in mind all that once? Don't despair. Remember, even when you're not talking about your novel, you can keep its name in front of readers by inserting the title and relevant links in your sig line. The sig line is text automatically added to the bottom of each message you send. Many writers keep their name, the URL for their web site, and the title of their latest book in the sig line. Make sure the sig line doesn't get too long, however. If you've ever seen a writer who started listing multiple titles in her sig line, you know that it can get look mighty silly. 

Some popular lists for romance readers include... 

RRA-L (Romance Readers Anonymous)  





Creating Mailing Lists 

Now, aren't you just dying for a place where you can talk about your book all you want? Believe it or not, such a place can exist, but you have to create it yourself.  

Don't worry, it's easy, and it's free if you use free services such as Yahoo Groups (, Topica (, or SmartGroups (  You can create everything from a monthly newsletter to an irregular announcement list to a discussion group where you can talk about Lord Ruthven with your fans. 

How can you make your newsletter stand out from the crowd? Give readers something they won't get anywhere else. For example, fantasy and SF author Vera Nazarian has a great newsletter called VeraWorld. Her newsletter includes everything from articles about why she wrote a certain story to writing tips and inside information on the publishing industry. 

(If you want to sign up, the URL is 

Even with your own mailing list, you must follow the common sense rules of the Internet. First of all, don't subscribe people to the list without their permission. Most mailing list providers allow you to send out invitations, but they consider subscribing someone without their permission a form of spamming. If it's an announcement list, don't send out announcements every few days unless something new is really happening. (Most likely, your readers already get too much e-mail.)  Also, never ever hire a company that offers to send your newsletter to "targeted" lists. One romance author did that, and the company she hired sent her newsletter to dozens and dozens of people who weren't remotely interested in it. Unfortunately, her e-mail address was in the message, so guess who got the complaints? 

More Self-Promotion Resources 

There are plenty of resources on-line with tips on how to promote your novel. Here are a few of them: 

Pernille's Promo Tips  

The Literary Times  

Self-Promotion for e-Authors  

"The Top 10 Self-Promotion Mistakes" by Cynthia Sterling: