Back in 2017 I launched my first platform. I had websites prior to that, but a platform can be so much more. Basically a system of integrated tools that provide certain services to me and my audience, a platform is where I can highlight my creative / professional work and share it with the world in a way that makes that work look good. It’s my stage, my megaphone, my horde of code-slaves doing things for me 24/7; my platform.
The first problem was that I wasn’t ready for it.
Writing novels is hard and it takes a lot of time. If you’re new at it, like I was then, it can take a really extra super long time. Writing fast is one thing that comes with practice, but the multiple rounds of editing and proofreading required (not to mention delays like waiting for beta readers), all slow things down. I had built a platform that would let me get my work out there and in front of people, thousands of people, but I couldn’t make content fast ‘enough.’ Part of this also was that I was cooked! I was burned out, and at a certain point, I just couldn’t write anymore.
I needed a vacation, not the pressure I put on myself to create at a breakneck pace.
The second problem was the expense, and how that changed my perspective
Mailing list service providers are not cheap. I’ve spent more money on an email list I didn’t use than almost anything else. That cost, to me, an upstart independent author, was both terrifying and inspiring. I’d have to sell a ton of books a month to offset the cost, but I was doing everything right, I thought, so I thought I had a shot at actually succeeding. I had a very fancy setup, and I wanted my content to reflect that same quality and excellence.
Unfortunately, I started to feel like I couldn’t deliver the quality content that my mailing list or the people that signed up for all the things I hoped to deliver actually deserved. Along with the difficulty I was finding in creating content at the time, this tended to make me feel paralyzed. Once that set in, it was hard to dispel its power… It was at least enough to add fuel to the fire that kept me from sending to my list.
Basically, my platform was too big for my britches… Or it made me too big for my britches… Something along those lines, I’m sure you understand.
While those two reasons were factors, there was something else related to my audience that sealed my fate: fear over alienating them.
I wasn’t out as queer or non-monogamous, and that meant that there was a huge side of myself and my life that I was shutting off. I wasn’t exactly even sure what I wanted to be ‘out’ about, or what my author brand should be. Indecision added hesitation, and with a significantly more limited pool of what I could talk about or reference, my mailings to my list suffered.
If I couldn’t be myself, I wasn’t sure who to be, and my author persona didn’t give me a clear direction.
The second to last reason was that I had some of those “major life events,” and I had less time to invest.
Perhaps this was the biggest reason; the one that had it not been the case, I might have been able to still succeed in light of the others. I went to another country to help my long-distance girlfriend move back to the US, while I and my other partner bought a house together. Keep in mind, I had previously decided to not share much of my current private/love life, and while that might have been partly a marketing decision, it wasn’t a good one, at all.
But anyway, the house; that was a huge change. We didn’t just buy a ‘starter’ house, like my little brother had done years prior, we bought a big place that needed a lot of renovation. I had the skills to do much of the needed work myself (with help on some things), and I thought I had the flexibility in my schedule to see it happen. My books were out; I could spend some time away from them, I thought.
It turned out that things took longer to accomplish than I had hoped, and issues started to spring up–demanding my immediate attention. The deck fell off in a snowstorm, which revealed termites in the house where it had been attached without proper flashing. Other termites were found at the other end of the house, leaks sprung up along the sliding glass door, and the house shifted on its footings requiring 3 sets of reinforcing beams to be built and installed in the crawlspace. I instantly found myself with much less time to invest to my career, and a personal life that I didn’t feel comfortable with sharing.
While I was pulled away because life happened, writing to my mailing list didn’t happen.
And finally, the last reason that my mailing list failed is that I let myself get disappointed.
I followed the advice of book marketers I thought I could trust, and I amassed 10k subscribers by running promotions and giveaways on Facebook. I did my best to make sure that the people signing up fit my target audience, but when the buck stopped, most were there to try and win free sh*t. When I finally launched my books, I did so at $0.99 for a few days each, and I hoped that most of my mailing list would buy then.
They also didn’t buy after the books increased to their predetermined prices; $2.99, $3.99, and $4.99. I also lost subscribers like flies. I wasn’t giving anything away anymore, and who reading this wishes regularly that they could get MORE email? I don’t blame them.
As my subscribers dropped, the sales didn’t spike, and I felt like I messed up. I felt foolish for investing a few thousand dollars of advertising into Facebook, and I felt embarrassed that I actually thought I’d have better initial sales. I thought I was following all the rules but that my books/story/presentation was different enough to break through.
It’s okay that my books weren’t special enough to get everyone reading them at the same time, but it was a let down, none the less. And you know what often happens when someone feels disappointed in something? They don’t continue to invest in it, and I think that’s what I did too.
I wasn’t achieving what I had hoped for, and it didn’t feel good.
So, why did my mailing list fail?
- I put too much pressure on myself to create content at an unreasonable pace.
- I put too much pressure on myself to match the quality of my platform with great content.
- I didn’t have a clear view of the public / private life distinction.
- I didn’t have a backup plan for when things don’t go to plan.
- I let my non-stellar performance degrade my passion.
…Honestly, I feel a bit better after this reflective exercise. Maybe it’ll help you, too? 🙂 -M