I remember the first time I sent an email to my mailing list.
It was after my Kickstarter campaign for Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter, once all the campaign rewards were fulfilled. The campaign ended in October of 2014, but I didn’t fulfill the campaign until May 2015, so I sent my first real email in May of 2015. There is a whole different story about why it took almost a year to fulfill the campaign, but I won’t digress and tell it here. This story will be long enough without adding a B story.
At the time, I thought that mailing lists were stupid. I read the same articles that other people read about mailing lists being a waste of time, and I was convinced mailing lists were antiquated. After all, I never opened them, and everybody is like me, right?
In fact, those same articles are written to this day, vomited up again and again by a new wave of internet marketers and creators. They are still just as wrong, but at the time I was young, naive, and willing to believe anything, no matter how wrong
Back then, I was focused on building my Facebook page, and Twitter account, and oh god, how that backfired. Still, social media was the future, and it was easier than sending emails every week to people who didn’t want them, right?
Oh, young Russell, the things I would tell you.
But still, I had Mailchimp, and 150 emails were free to house on their servers.
So, I sent an email…and nothing happened. Well, not nothing, I had 30 opens and no replies, or anything. So, pretty much a failure, right?
That’s what I thought…I thought that it was is stupid. I thought everybody was right. I was done with mailing lists. However, a funny thing happened the next month.
I left my job.
It wasn’t planned, but it happened. I had very little in the way of a safety net, but I left anyway…for reasons. All I had to my name were 1,000 copies of Ichabod Jones and a table at SDCC.
After that, I had to learn how to run a business. I was already a very good…no, a great…salesperson, but up until that point, all four businesses that I started had failed.
I couldn’t let the fifth company flame out as well.
So, I started to study…like really study, not just stuff I read in blogs, but I read tons of books and listened to hundreds of podcasts. I voraciously absorbed information from the best people in entrepreneurship…
… and a weird pattern started to emerge.
They all said that their mailing list was their #1 revenue source.
Remember, at this point, I was having NO LUCK with my mailing list, but I do know that if somebody more successful than you tells you to do something, you should do it. If for no other reason than you can rub it in their face if they are wrong. People love that, right?
So, I kept sending emails, and I did a couple shows and got more emails there. Over the next couple of months, my mailing list grew to a couple hundred people. Then, I launched my second Kickstarter, for my book Katrina Hates the Dead, and it “blew up”.
Well, for me it blew up. My first campaign was $5,400, and this one was over $8,000!
I didn’t know how much of that was because of my mailing list, but I saw people open my emails and click on the link. For the first time, I could actually say I made money from my mailing list. There was nothing else I had ever done that could predictably net me consistent revenue. It was like unlocking a secret door.
Well, as you can imagine, I became obsessed with mailing lists after that. It wasn’t because I really loved mailing lists…it was because they made me money, even if it was only one time.
Real. tangible. money.
I wish I could tell you it was a fairy tale after that, but it wasn’t.
Over the next year, I built my mailing list up to 2,000 people, and yet, whenever I launched a new book, I actually made less and less money from it than the previous book.
In January of 2016, I launched a book which made $3,400.
In May of 2016, I launched a book which made just over $2,000.
In August of 2016, I launched a book that made $1,800.
I was going in the wrong direction with my list, and I knew that. I could have abandoned my list, but I kept it going because too many people I respected told me that a mailing list was the most important key to success.
I was flummoxed about how to make money with my books, so I started asking my mailing list what they wanted, and they told me…comics and monsters.
None of the books I launched in 2016 were comics, nor were they really spec fiction. I made them all in 2012-2014, before I started releasing comics, and was just burning through my back catalog without asking my audience what they wanted.
That all changed in 2016. My audience said they wanted monsters, and comics, so I went out and made a 224-page anthology called Monsters and Other Scary Shit, with 50 of my best comics friends.
When it launched, I went back to my mailing list and said, “remember that thing you told me you wanted? Well, here it is.”
I didn’t expect that much from my subscribers. After all, throughout 2016, my mailing list wasn’t really helping me. However, I kept emailing, checking in, and asking questions. I asked them what they wanted, and the told me. Then, I gave it to them…and it BLEW UP.
Not just blew up for me but blew up by any metric.
We made over $27,000 on that campaign. More than I made on my previous 5 campaigns…combined. And that all came from talking with my mailing list, developing something for them, and making sure I was serving them.
That moment changed my life because in it I unlocked the secret to how to make a mailing list profitable, like insanely profitable. I’ve been riding that ever since, and with every launch, I do better and better, because I build things for the people who love my work already. That has been the key. It’s not that mailing lists don’t work, it’s that most people use them the wrong way. If you use them the right way, they are literally life-changing.
I know, because I am proof.
I write cool things, filled with monsters, humor, action, adventure, and generally awesomeness. Then, I sell those things to humans. I am pretty good at it.