I surfed onto author Sara Connell’s mailing list through a Facebook post shared by a high school classmate who was one of Sara’s coaching clients. Thanks to Facebook stalking, I knew that this classmate had left a career in law to pursue writing, and I was curious about how she got there. (I forgot to even be resentful that my fifth grade crush had liked this girl instead of me.) When I saw that Sara was offering a free email course on writing and publishing, I decided to sign up.

Welcome Email

The welcome email had an engaging, if somewhat generic subject line:

Email subject line: Welcome to Bestselling Author Secrets Jennifer [details inside]

And the opening line was enthusiastic but a little confusing:

You are officially registered to be a featured expert in the “Bestselling Author Secrets” Summit!

When I read this I did a bit of a double take, and thought frantically, “Wait, did I sign up to present something by accident?!” But as I kept reading I figured it was just some kind of pep rally talk, or maybe a typo. It happens, no big.

That first email promised lots of great information.

We’ve brought together 22 influential bestselling authors and publishing experts who will share their wisdom and expertise to inspire, empower and motivate you to write and successfully publish your book, build an audience of raving fans and help transform your reader’s lives.

Sara ended with a list of ways to get the most out of my summit experience:

6 things to do to get the most out of the summit experience: check email every day, listen to every interview, join us for Facebook Live q&a sessions, create a special folder to save all the emails, download the free gifts, and take your time.

Two days later, I got a reminder email that the summit would be starting the next day. There was a nice 3-minute video from Sara and an invitation to the Bestselling Authors Facebook group, which I joined.

As far as introductory emails go, these were pretty good! All the best practices I would have recommended for a warm welcome email were already in place.

Course Content: If some is good, more must be better, right?

As promised, there were 22 different expert videos and 22 Facebook Live sessions. So I can’t say that this free email course didn’t deliver what was promised. I never made it to any of the Lives, but the videos I saw were informative.

The real issue? Having too much of a good thing.

When I taught high school science, I noticed that every student has a fall-off-the-train point. This point occurs when a student doesn’t understand something, or misses an assignment, or doesn’t do so great on a test. When motivated students reach this point, they accelerate their efforts until they learn the concept, make up the assignment, or do better on the next exam. These students run faster until they can pull themselves back on the train.

For other students, this inflection point is when they decide to stop trying because they believe they’ll never catch up to the speeding train. (Some of them try to jump back on the train at report card time, some don’t.) The trick for teachers is to notice when students have fallen off the train, and either slow the train down or toss them a rope.

I fell off the Bestselling Author Secrets train around here:

Yup, day 1 was the only video I actually watched, and I didn’t even finish it.

To be fair, I am one of the few weirdos who would prefer to read something than listen to it. My auditory processing is probably weaker than most people’s, so audiobooks and video lessons have always been a challenge. It’s also astonishingly difficult to carve out even 20 minutes to listen to something besides Baby Shark or my toddler’s rendition of “Wrecking Ball.” So that’s the handicap I’m bringing to the game.

All the same, I wish someone had noticed when I started teetering off the edge of the speeding boxcar. As the unread summit emails piled up, the encouraging and inspirational headlines began to sound more and more pushy. Don’t you want to be a bestselling author? Look how easy it is to get featured on TV and podcasts…why aren’t you on TV yet? This woman was a waitress with $200 in her bank account and now she’s a bestselling author and coach…what’s your excuse?

To be clear, the pushiness was not from Sara’s content at all. The pressure came from the pacing.

Now, I don’t have exact data about the audience for Bestselling Author Secrets, but I’d guess that most of them are people like me: aspiring writers who haven’t published yet. (Presumably authors who already have agents and publishers don’t need a free email course on writing and publishing.) Which means that, for her audience, writing isn’t their full-time gig.

22 videos in 22 days AND 22 Facebook Lives to attend, on top of a day job, maybe parenting, possibly a creative side gig? That’s a lot. And it quickly got overwhelming for me.

Eventually, I stopped opening her emails, just like the student who stops turning in homework or even showing up to class because they feel like they’re in such a big hole grade-wise. I guiltily stuffed all of that helpful content, totally unread, in a folder to clear my inbox conscience. If I hadn’t come back to write this crib sheet, I would never have known she was offering an all-access replay pass until the end of the month, then selling ongoing access after that. Revenue opportunity lost!

Are you talking to me?

Another reason I fell off the train within the first few days was lack of focus and personalization. The first video I (partially) watched was an interview with Zander Fryer, an author, speaker, and coach in the entrepreneurial space. There was a downloadable goodie called “The Proven 7-step Blueprint to Building A 6-Figure Coaching Business.” Which is very generous and helpful but…I have no interest in building a 6-figure coaching business. I want to write novels, maybe a memoir someday.

Subsequent interviews with a “foodie author” and “producer and media executive” similarly failed to spark my interest. I’m sure these would have been neat people to meet in real life, but I can’t waste time learning about stuff I didn’t need. I really wanted to hear from novelists, particularly anyone writing contemporary multicultural fiction like I want to do.

The content in each interview was sort of a grab-bag too. From the teasers I read in each email (remember, I stopped watching the videos after the first few days), every author seemed to share parts of their life story, some creative inspiration, and maybe one or two specific tactics for writing, marketing, or publishing. Again, I wouldn’t have minded having these conversations in real life, but not for twenty minutes a day twenty-two days in a row!

Here’s what I would have done instead.

  1. Interest-based segmenting and personalization
  2. Behavior-based segmenting and pacing
  3. Personalized lead nurturing

Interest-based segmenting and personalization: tell me what you want, what you really, really want!

Instead of sending the same twenty-two videos to everyone, I would group them into a few tracks. Those could either be genre-based tracks, like nonfiction, fiction, young adult literature, and children’s literature, or process-based tracks, like writing, marketing, and publishing. When people registered for the free email course, they could have the opportunity to pick which tracks to receive.

I would then use liquid text to personalize the welcome email. Liquid text goes way beyond merge tags (which are those things that insert your subscriber’s name into the body of the email), and can swap out entire paragraphs based on who’s reading your message.

So maybe the welcome email for an aspiring novelist might start like this:

Are you ready to get your story out of your head and into the world? Learn from bestselling authors about character and plot development, world-building, finding an agent, and landing that coveted book deal.

While a nonfiction writer or subject matter expert might read this instead:

It’s time to share your knowledge with your audience! Hear from bestselling coaches and consultants about downloading your expertise into written form and using that to book more clients.

Now I know all that video content takes a long time to produce. We wouldn’t want that to go to waste! Don’t worry…It would be easy to cross-promote videos in different tracks that are relevant to the track that subscriber is already in. The most effective way to do this would be through behavior-based segmenting.

Behavior-based segmenting and pacing: actions speak louder than words

Dividing the content into smaller tracks should help mitigate some of the subscriber overwhelm. I would also put a day or two between emails to give readers a chance to catch up. I check my email several times a day and I still don’t get around to opening everything, much less clicking on and watching a twenty minute video.

Another way to keep people on the train longer is by changing the pacing or content based on their behavior on previous emails.

When my students fell off the learning train, I couldn’t just keep driving faster. I had to stop and go back and see what they needed to understand the material. When a student starts missing school a lot, teachers and administrators need to figure out where that student is and what’s going on. Same deal with online courses.

For Bestselling Author Secrets, I would set up an email reminder to trigger when a subscriber hasn’t opened several video emails in a row. And that email wouldn’t nag them to watch the videos or promise even more stuff. It would simply remind them of the benefits of learning this content, whether that’s overcoming writer’s block, pushing back on impostor syndrome, or dealing with rejection from agents and publishers. That reminder email would also be a good place to ask why they’re not opening the videos and offer options to overcome those objections, like a link to another, more relevant track, or an early-bird discount on the all-time all-access pass.

Another way to segment based on behavior would be to alter the pacing based on previous campaign behavior. In some ESPs, like MailerLite, you can do this automatically by delaying the next email if someone didn’t open the last one. If your ESP doesn’t have this functionality, you could include segmenting links in the introductory email and give people options for how often they want to receive new lessons. You wouldn’t have to write any new content, just set sequences at different paces.

Personalized lead nurturing: giving people what they ask for

A free email course like Bestselling Author Secrets is a popular method for generating coaching, consulting, and professional service leads. I don’t know for sure if that was Sara Connell’s MO, but if it was, there are a few changes I would make to the course’s close-out to make it a more effective lead generator (and probably increase sales of the all-access replay).

There were several calls to action in the half dozen emails at the end of the course:

  • Join the after party on Facebook Live for a final interview and prize giveaway
  • Watch episodes I missed on the all-access replay (free until a certain day)
  • Watch a coaching exercise video
  • Invite a friend to the all-access replay vault
  • Take a short survey about the email course
  • Buy ongoing access to the replay…by sending her an email asking for the link?

Even reading these after the fact left me feeling crowded and confused. The human brain is evolved/designed to tune out repetitive stimuli. That’s why you stop feeling your shirt a minute or two after you put it on. After several days of seeing the same red All Access Replay button, not to mention 25 days of the same call to share this free email course with my friends, I scrolled right past.

This is another instance where behavior-based segmenting and liquid text could really make an impact.

Subscribers who opened and clicked a lot are prime targets for a personalized coaching offer.

Hey Jill, you were a star student of Bestselling Author Secrets. Looks like you might be ready to take your book to the next level. Would you be interested in one-on-one coaching? Here are the benefits of personalized coaching with me…

Subscribers who opened but didn’t click much could really benefit from the forever access pass.

Hey Jane, did you miss some of these tips for finishing your YA novel? Don’t worry, you can buy the all-access pass here and catch up when you have time.

Instead of this:

(From an email strategy perspective, there are several major problems with this final sales email, but not having a 1-click buyable product is the biggest one. You have to make it easy for people to buy from you!)

Subscribers like me who fell off the train really early could get a link to the all-access pass, or maybe just a link to a simple coaching exercise that feels less daunting and encourages us to stay on board.

Final thoughts: get up close and personal.

The Bestselling Author Secrets email course had great content…there was just too much of it. Attention spans are short and schedules are packed. Segmentation and personalization based on subscriber and interest would go a long way toward creating a more relevant and engaging experience, which should ultimately lead to more conversions.

One of my mentors always says that email marketing is not a “tactic.” Email marketing is about people, because without people you have no sales. Email is personal, so it’s the perfect tool for growing relationships those eventually lead to revenue. The first email in my welcome series for Asian American freelancers has a 41% response rate (give or take). Not opens, not clicks. Forty one percent of new subscribers take the time to actually talk to me, an almost total stranger. And it’s because I ask about them.

Want to take your new subscribers on a great first date? Sign up for my free email course below.

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