How to build and grow an email list (my recommended email subscription service + free course on email marketing)

Whether you’re an author, artist or entrepreneur, you’ve probably heard “the money is in the list.” Building your email list gives you direct access to your clients, customers and fanbase. For the past several years I’ve used Mailchimp, and I continue to do so despite it’s problems (which I’ll discuss down below). I usually recommend it to authors because I think it’s easier and a good starting option. However I’m also aware that if you start out using Mailchimp you may continue using it even when your list is as big and clunky as mine.

I’ve known for about a year that I should probably switch to something better, but haven’t because I’m comfortable where I am. So this post is a brief breakdown on the choices I’m considering, so that you can make a smart decision for your own business.

I also get a little bit of credit if you do sign up to one of these services using the links I’ve provided on this page, so I’ve made a special bonus for you if you’re ready to take action now (either by setting up your first list, or switching to one of the more powerful platforms below). It’s a $197 course on email marketing I set up to help you reach your first 1000 subscribers in 10 days or less.


I already made a free video series on setting up mailchimp so I won’t go into all the details here. I usually recommend Mailchimp because it’s relatively easy to set up and free for the first 2000 subscribers. So you can set it up quickly, put some optin boxes on your website, and forget about it. At least it’s working. If you’re an author who cleans their list regularly, you could keep that 2000 reserved for active, engaged fans and stay on the free plan indefinitely.

With the free plan you can send out campaigns and a welcome email (for example with a link to a free book), but you can’t set up automation (a pre-written series of emails, usually used for “onboarding” or a sales funnel).

There are cheaper options that Mailchimp, but in my experience these are usually less powerful or less popular services (once they get more popular and robust, the price will go up…).

Mailchimp also lets you have multiple lists, for example I have lists for the castle-cowriting project, lists for fiction and non-fiction, lists for people who follow me on Creativindie, etc. However if people sign up for multiple lists you pay for them several times rather than just once; you can also set up groups and segments.

For example, now I put new fiction subscribers in a group under my main “fiction” list so I can keep track of how/where they signed up and send them an initial welcome email – or a separate email if I want to  – but can also just send out one email to everyone interested in my fiction.

Previously, I’d had multiple lists for publishing, book design, book marketing, and wasn’t sure exactly who was on which list, so I usually sent out the same email to several different lists at once, and some people were getting duplicate emails. However, you can only set up one autoresponder series for a unique list, so I wanted them to be kept separate so they would get the content/free email series they signed up for.

So basically, Mailchimp is easy and cheap to start out with, but can become messy and complex the more you grow your business. If you’re an author or artist and just need one simple list, Mailchimp is a good option. If you’re growing a business or trying to make money online, and want to maximize profits and conversions, or do more complex stuff like upsells, you may want to start out with a more powerful platform.

>You can sign up for MailChimp here<<



I don’t have a lot of experience with MailerLite – what I do know is that it’s about half the cost of Mailchimp which makes it more attractive for people building a big list but not making a lot of profit (like many authors). I don’t think it has as many features as Mailchimp but if you need something cheap and simple it might be a good option for you. You can sign up here.


I met Nathan Barry at some events last year but I was already aware of his platform because he’d been doing awesome pricing experiments for his books. Since then he’s sold over a million dollars in digital products and started ConvertKit, because he couldn’t find an email provider that did all the things he wanted it to.

I’ve been on the fence about joining ConvertKit for awhile, even though they sometimes offer to move your list for you, because I don’t want to screw up my messy-but-functioning system of lists and autoresponders… I know I should probably do it, and I may when I have more free time, but haven’t yet.

What I’ve heard about ConverKit is that it has a steeper learning curve and it’s not as good looking. Mailchimp lets you design your emails a bit more… however Nathan points out that those nice images probably decrease your open rates, and email marketing is more effective if you stick to clean, simple, text-only emails.

ConvertKit also has an easy function to resend an email to the unopens – something that isn’t very easy to do in Mailchimp (you need to create a new segment for them and send a new campaign). Just being able to resend an important email to unopens is a huge selling point for me and the main reason I want to switch, however I know there are other cool features too … for example you can get people on a list when they buy a product, or switch them to a new list when they purchase so you don’t keep sending them sales emails. If you’re looking for a cleaner, more powerful, more professional online presence that results in more conversions and sales, ConvertKit is a good choice and probably well-worth learning. It’s slightly more expensive than Mailchimp, but you’ll probably earn back the difference easily with the extra features.

However, it’s not for everyone and like I said, it may be overkill if you’re just looking to get started easily. You should defintely read this article, 5 reasons NOT to switch from Mailchimp to Convert kit.

And if you think ConvertKit is for you, you can sign up for here (don’t forget if you sign up with these links, you’ll earn my course on email marketing for free).


Drip is another email automation software that was recently bought up by LeadPages (which makes optin-boxes and landing pages). My impression of Drip is that it’s non-intuitive and frustrating to set up, especially if you’re a beginner… and also more expensive.

However I also have friends who rave about it. One interesting feature with Drip is you can give subscribers rewards for taking action – they can earn points by opening emails or clicking links, and you can reward them with a bonus or a prize. I think Drip is probably smart for an online business or store with lots of products, or a good move when you have a profitable business already and want to redo everything to make it more organized and boost earnings and conversions. I also gives you more optins and choices – they say it’s “artisanal” in that you can customize everything for a unique experience, but for most beginners it will be overwhelming.

There’s a free trial for up to 100 signups, so you can play around with it and see if you like it: or if you’re committed to growing a big and profitable business, it may be worth just starting out with Drip and learning how to use it so your business will run smoothly from the beginning.

You can sign up with this link.

Get my course on email marketing!

If you already have an email list campaign set up but are thinking of switching, don’t forget you can get my $197 course on email marketing by signing up to any of the above services using my links. Just sign up and then email me with your order confirmation #, a screenshot of your welcome email or something similar, and I’ll send you a link to get the course for 100% off.


  • Terry Marchion Posted

    Thanks for those links, Derek — I just signed up (with your link) to mailer lite — as I’m really just starting to grow my list — appreciate all that you do!

  • Steve Palfreyman Posted

    Yo! Cool site, love your angle, I actually just discovered this from a Google search and I’m sure your content is great, I just really can’t help but comment on this post, I think a lot of it is so based on assumption it’s actually not giving helpful advice.

    I don’t have any affiliations with any email marketing service, I’m just another passionate creative like you, but I’ve used all of these for at minimum a number of campaigns and at maximum for years. I’ve also spent 18 months on Infusionsoft, I’ve tried another 5 or 6 different platforms on top of this and so want to give some context to people who might see this.

    Mailer Lite is hands down the most feature packed for the price. It is far more powerful than Mailchimp (automations, segmentation, landing pages, great looking subscriber forms). All this stuff Mailchimp misses, Mailer Lite has. It’s only downside in my eyes is integrations (which Zapier can fix for the most part). Don’t be fooled by the cheap price tag.

    Convertkit is a little trickier to get used to than Mailchimp because of how powerful it is, but once again, better looking subscriber forms and forced simplicity when it comes to email design (that’s a big tick!) I also would say that creating basic drip emails i.e. sending a few emails to welcome a new subscriber is easier to do in Convertkit than Mailchimp, the process is so logical it hurts. This is a great option for people to start on, but Mailer Lite is honestly packing the same features for less cash.

    Drip is the easiest to use, not the most complex. For real. It’s more powerful in that there are some really deep automations you can do, but you don’t have to use them. It’s power is that it’s as potent with automation as Infusionsoft but anyone can use it. Drip’s support is also the best I’ve come across. Another +1 for Drip is that Facebook Lead ads will integrate directly (no downloading csv files) and they have amazing pop up forms for websites. For list building, they are amazing.

    Active Campaign is worth a mention as it’s cheaper than Mailchimp but packs the sort of automation that Infusionsoft has. It’s just a pain to do a lot of things. Feels quite clunky and outdated.

    Overall I think the go-to for almost everyone should be Mailer Lite. It does what a basic email service like Mailchimp should do, but better. And it’s as easy to use as Drip with enough of the powerful features of automation to suit most people.

    Starting out? Use Mailer Lite.
    Scaling a business that needs powerful automations and segmentations? Use Drip.

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