7 smart tricks for authors/bloggers starting a mailing list // since we're all jumping on the hype train

Hello bookish fiends! Today we have a super detailed guide for authors or bloggers trying to wrap their minds around this "mailing list" phenomenon! You will want to know these tricks so you don't smush yourselves into a mud puddle infested with spiky urchins. Like bb!Alyssa did 2 years ago.

(but Alyssa spiky urchins don't live in mud puddles--SHHH I'm a fantasy author I do what I want.)
If you don't want to miss out on future tips, be sure to sign up here.

Why do you need a mailing list?

Under our capitalist overlords, we've got to earn money for books and food! (Yes, I put books first.) If you want to monetise your book blog or sell your own books, a mailing list is an incredibly helpful direct line of contact to the people who are interested in what you're offering.

So let's get to the TRICKZ that will get you ahead of the curve.

1. Don't ask people if you should start a newsletter.

Say, "I'm thinking of doing a newsletter! Sign up if you'd read it!"

If you can't be bothered to set anything up, that's manageable -- just ask people to message you their email address.

People vote yes on your Twitter poll, then forget about it. Action is the best way to confirm interest! This isn't a major tip, but I see y'all doing it on Twitter and it's a pet peeve. 

2. Mailchimp is not the only option. Really.

Okay, MailChimp isn't bad! I started on this and still use it for a few things I'm too lazy to switch over. Quick thoughts:
  • A great free plan with 2k subscribers
  • Satisfactory deliverability
  • Really user-friendly
  • Subpar tracking and automations
  • Can't easily "tag" subscribers, which means you'll be double counting subscribers for multiple lists
I've also given Mailerlite a spin:
  • 1k free subscribers with great tagging system
  • Fantastic, user-friendly automation — I can follow up on certain people who've clicked a certain link and go up to them like "heLLO I think you'd like a glass of lemonade"
  • Send rich text emails like you're just chatting with friends. WHICH I LOVE.
  • Many features removed from the free plan earlier this year
  • I had deliverability issues in the three months or so that I used it.
Eventually the spam mushrooms started creeping back onto me and my list grew too big for their free plan. So I switched to last week:
  • 2.5k free subscribers
  • Good tagging and automation
  • Because I'm super picky with templates, I wrote all my own emails with HTML, so if you're completely new to coding, make sure you're comfy with their templates.
  • (Coding is something I talk about in a future post! sign up for updates here)
  • I did encounter some technical issues here and there but their live chat support is really excellent.
  • Basically 83% the features I need? For free?? For more subscribers???
Another option is sendinblue, which has unlimited subscribers, but only lets you send 300 emails a day on the free plan.

Explore options before leaping on the generic train, okay? Okay, teacups!

3. Don't use embedded sign-ups.

Use a page on your own website. Don't embed in your blog posts. Don't use a landing page by your email provider. Don't use a third-party form.

Because you might want to tweak your signup, and the changes might not translate to your embedded form. Because you might want to change providers, and now all your forms in old blog posts are wrong. Because the third-party form provider might vanish, and your links are now dead. Yes, I learned these the HARD way.

Plus, I hate those Captchas! Maybe I'm secretly a robot, but I always get them wrong and it's torture to sign up for anything, which makes me not sign up. Using your own landing pages gives you the option to avoid them. (I've never noticed a particular uptick in bot signups when they're removed.)

If you don't know how to set up landing pages, I will teach you that in a future post (stay updated here). But for now, set up a redirect from a page on your own website to a landing page of your email provider, or embed the sign-up in a static page and send people there.

When you level up and want to make changes, it will be much easier to tweak your own page!

... and yes ... I am pointing you to mailchimp's signup form for tutorial updates ... because if I changed it now, I'd have way too many dead links to fix. DO AS I SAY not as I do.

4. Reconsider using tips or tutorials to make people sign up.

—uh, Alyssa, YOU ARE DOING THIS.

You see, these rules are like writing rules, where if you know why they exist, you're free to break them. I'm not the boss of you. You're your own boss. Or you're an underemployed millennial who wants to dismantle capitalism?? Sign me up for THAT mailing list.

Anyways, my email list for future blogging/website tips? It's the first list I started, and the one with the worst engagement. I don't expect to sell anything from it. I just want to make sure the few people who are still reading get to see my new content. I'm so benevolent. *hides Slytherin scarf*

Authors: The reason you shouldn't use "how-to" posts to entice people to join your list is that you're likely giving advice on how to write to other writers, when the people you actually want on your list are people who think your book idea sounds cool and will want a copy 30000 years later, when revisions are finally done. I won't lie, tutorials can create amazing sign-up numbers, but think about who are the right subscribers for your newsletter! Tutorial posts are a common suggestion for mailing list beginners, so I just wanted to say my piece against them for fiction writers building their platform.

Book bloggers: Tutorial posts are an AMAZING way to connect with other bloggers and I do love to do that!! I'll shake all the hands like an octopus! But if you want your audience to be comprised of a wider audience of non-blogging readers, then you might want to think of other content ideas.

5. Don't act like a company sending me discount codes I'll never use.

I personally love author newsletters because they're an intimate way to talk with my closest supporters. I say hello teacups I need your help to choose a title because I'm a silly indecisive goose. I say they say dystopian is dead, my book is going to prove them wrong.

So I don't get it when author newsletters have weird block formats and speak in the third person and paste their blurb in wholesale! I mean, nothing against these authors, it's just not my style. That's up to you!

(On the other hand, I'm personally not a fan of lifestyle-ish author newsletters. I like to talk books more! But that might be because I'm still a book blogger at heart, so eat your chocolate however you want. YMMV.)

6. Don't do it just because they all say you should.

Mailing lists actually can take a lot of time, and mistakes, and effort. It's definitely not "build it and they will come" or "passive income". If someone's mailing list reached 10K in 2 days, it's probably because they were already influential.

Start a mailing list if you have the time wouldn't mind modest results. It's great, but I don't feel like it's a must.

So if you find all this confusing, it's fine to ... not. 

Alyssa, of course I find this confusing! You keep telling me what NOT to do, and it's turning me into a porcupine in headlights! Tell me something TO DO.

7. Convert your social media followers to email friends.

You know what? I'll be real. Social media is still going to reach more people. Emails aren't going to go viral!

So find a way to turn your social media reach into an email list. Here's why — social media is owned by corporations who like algorithms. Ugh. You can't control them, or their decisions when they decide to wipe you off the map but keep the racists around.
PSA. A misconception about mailing lists: A lot of people just shout "no algorithm!" six times as though this is a ritual to ward off the demons of social media.

Well, first of all, there is an algorithm: email spam filters, your service providers' terms of service, and also your readers' minds. On a good day my email list may get 50%-70% open rates. My smol Instagram account's posts might be seen by 50% of my followers and it might also get seen by four times as many non-followers. Don't leap on the hype train just for the demon rituals!

But you won't lose the subscribers because of a social network's say-so ... take your list with you unless they unsubscribe.
I've tried several modes of tweets / social media posts to convert followers to email friends, and here's my experience:

does NOT work: "Want to find out 10 reasons romance is dead? get the deets here: [SIGNUP LINK]"

This is the classic "lead magnet" style that lots of other email list tutorials will suggest, to entice them with some sort of secret or benefit or incantation. My personal results are dismal. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I'm not doing it anymore!

sometimes works: "I just started a newsletter, please join here! [SIGNUP LINK]"

This isn't fancy, but it will get your closest followers to join you. I've literally signed up because an author I liked said "I will feel bad if this doesn't work". The guilt trip annoyed me, but it worked!

If nothing else, here's your takeaway from this post: a mailing list is not going to inherently net you new fans like an ad. For me, I use it to continue to engage with people who already like what I'm doing! That's why giving a blunt invitation is better than writing up clickbaity ~content upgrades~ to lure people in.

best for me: "Friends, my latest newsletter drops Saturday. I'm talking about [TWO TO THREE SPECIFIC THINGS]. Join here! [SIGNUP LINK]"

I'm upfront about what my intentions are, I show them I'm super cool and they should do as I say, and I give them a gentle time limit. It's like the Inigo Montoya method of networking ...

maybe works?? "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to join my murder newsletter."

and that's a wrap! If you'd like to see how I do my authorly newsletters after learning from 2 years of mistakes, here's the link. ... I will feel bad if this doesn't work? Ha!

Any questions about mailing lists? Comment below! Oh, and leave a link to your newsletter + join up with other people's too — there's no better way to learn about newsletters than observing how others do it!

.S. My next post is about how to start a stylish book blog or author website for FREEEEEE. If you want to stay updated on that, head here.

Looking to promote to book lovers? My giveaways are promoted to around 1.5K dedicated newsletter readers, may reach over 30K impressions on Twitter and a potential audience of over 50K on Instagram. Email me to sponsor one now or find out more!


GIVEAWAY: Spin The Dawn by Elizabeth Lim // mulan adventure and celestial dresses

Welcome, book fiends! Gather round our bubbling cauldron of sakura potion -- it's time for a brand new giveaway!

Today, we're giving away a signed copy of SPIN THE DAWN by Elizabeth Lim, pitched as Project Runway x Mulan. yES PLEASE. In order to become the imperial tailor, Maia Tamarin embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Aren't you enchanted just by that summary? This is a super hyped book and I'm very lucky to have read an ARC, so huge thank you to Elizabeth for giving away a signed copy. If you enjoy magical adventures and slow burn romance, be sure to join this giveaway!

To enter the giveaway, simply type your email address below! This means joining my takeout army for our little regular giveaways, so I will send you emails about bonus entries, who won, and more giveaway information. reload the page if this form isn't visible.
Look at this gorgeous aesthetic, illustrated by Tran Nguyen — can't you just feel the exciting adventure that Maia embarks on!

Once you've entered, you'll receive an email with details on how to redeem bonus entries—so go and check it now! Because you entered, right? riiiiiight?

Blurb (buy links here):
Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she'll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There's just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia's task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor's reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.
Full review by moi to come.

This giveaway will run until June 10th, at which point I shall select a winner and have a new giveaway for everyone else. Yay!

This prize will be shipped internationally.

help i'm a smol marshmallow with no legal knowledge but here goes:

Official details regarding this giveaway: No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Entrants must be 18 or above or have parental/guardian permission. Giveaway, bot, or other suspicious accounts will be removed at organiser's discretion. In holding this giveaway, the organiser does not endorse this book or this publisher. The prize will be a signed copy of Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim, or another substitute prize at organiser's discretion. Winner drawn on June 10th. Entrants' email addresses are collected for the purposes of entry confirmation, notifying winners, providing information regarding bonus entries, and further updates on new giveaways. These details are subject to change.


GIVEAWAY: Descendant of the Crane by Joan He // chinese game of thrones

Welcome back, booklings! Gather round our fairy ring of maitake mushrooms -- it's time for a brand new giveaway!

Today, we're giving away a preorder of DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan He, a Chinese-inspired fantasy about the young princess Hesina who must navigate the Imperial Court and commit treason to seek justice for her murdered father.

Plus, the winner will receive a set of exclusive character cards! ngl I'm super jealous of whoever wins.

I'm so lucky that I've already read this book and I can tell you it absolutely lives up to the Game of Thrones comp! If you're looking for a princess/emperor who has real power, a thrilling new take on court politics, a truly unique YA fantasy -- you do NOT want to miss out on this giveaway!

This giveaway is now closed. However, great news — join my latest giveaway here, for another fantastic prize!

Once you've entered, you'll receive an email with details on how to redeem bonus entries—so go and check it now! Because you entered, right? riiiiiight?

Psst, while the winner will get some extremely pretty character cards, I've made some wallpapers to share with EVERYONE.
Download Hesina's wallpaper: Desktop / phone

Lilian's wallpaper: Desktop / phone 
Sanjing's wallpaper: Desktop / phone
Love these wallpapers? Please retweet / like on Instagram, and if you use them, show the world and link your friends back to this post.

Please don't repost these images elsewhere! Especially because credits go to Joan He for the original character art and the quotes, and other art elements were used from Creative Market — Watercolor Dusty Plants by Spasibenko Art and Gold Dust Glitter Effects by Studio Denmark.

Blurb (buy links here):
Princess Hesina of Yan has never embraced the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she suddenly inherits an unstable kingdom. Determined to find the killer, Hesina seeks the wisdom of a soothsayer—a treason punishable by death ever since Yan outlawed magic centuries ago.

Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant, alluring investigator...and a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

A Chinese fantasy perfect for fans of Game of Thrones.
Please note that Joan is sponsoring this preorder, but I reached out to her after already deciding to feature DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE because I'm just that excited for this book!

This giveaway will run until March 23rd, at which point I shall select a winner and have a new giveaway for everyone else. Yay!

This prize will be shipped by The Book Depository or Wordery. If a substitute shipping method cannot be found, we may send you another substitute prize instead.


GIVEAWAY: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C Dao // a bewitching villain protagonist + court intrigue

Welcome back, booklings! Gather round our fairy ring of maitake mushrooms -- it's time for a brand new giveaway!

Today, we're giving away a copy of Forest of A Thousand Lanterns by Julie C Dao, about a young girl Xifeng who will stop at nothing to win the emperor's favour and become the empress ... this budding sorceress will even eat her enemies' hearts. What a chilling villain origin story!

The paperback of FOTL was released in September, and the sequel Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix will be released on November 6! So this is a great time to join the giveaway.

This giveaway is now closed. However, great news — join my latest giveaway here, for another fantastic prize!

Once you've entered, you'll receive an email with details on how to redeem bonus entries—so go and check it now! Because you entered, right? riiiiiight?

This giveaway is kindly sponsored by Rae @ A New Look on Books:

Need help with your book manuscript? Look no further! Freelance editor, Raven Eckman, offers affordable beta-reading and developmental editing packages, and is open for business. Email for her resume, package details, and editing samples. Check out for client testimonies and more. It's time to get that manuscript ready to query or publish.

Full blurb (buy links here):
Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her.

Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high? Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins — sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

Set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world filled with both breathtaking pain and beauty, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns possesses all the hallmarks of masterful fantasy: dazzling magic, heartbreaking romance, and a world that hangs in the balance.
This prize will be shipped by The Book Depository. If you live somewhere TBD doesn't ship and win this giveaway, I will find a substitute shipping method or a substitute prize.

This giveaway will run until December 10th, at which point I shall select a winner and have a new giveaway for everyone else. Yay!