An email list is an excellent marketing tool that should not be overlooked. But, it can take some time to figure out effective ways to establish and grow your email list. Don’t waste time scouring the internet to learn what you need to do to get started. In this post, I’ll cover how to grow and maintain an effective mailing list and the website tools to use to make your doing so much easier. 

What you’ll learn in this post

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • How to grow your email list with an irresistible freebie
  • How to create an effective website with an email marketing funnel
  • How to set-up a self-hosted WordPress website
  • Which is better: premium theme vs. plugin
  • How to grow your email list using lead pages
  • What scarcity marketing experiments with services to use
  • What is my most recommended email marketing service provider
  • What is a notification ribbon
  • How can you use SEO in growing your mailing list


So how do you get people to sign up for your email list? First, create an irresistible freebie. This may be a short anthology or novella or a “perma-free” ebook (perhaps the first in your series) or, for non-fiction authors, a tip sheet, cheat sheet, how-to guide… whatever you think your readers will feel compelled to “pay for” with their email address.

For example, I give away a 90-page ebook with reviews of writing and publishing tools and services. See it here. On my travel writing site, I give away a story about motorcycling solo in China. See it here.


Creating an effective website with a marketing “funnel” and growing your email list should be your first priority as soon as you start writing… long before and not after your book is finished. 

Start with your email marketing service, create a freebie, and build a landing page. Don’t worry if you don’t have any tech skills. You can hire someone from a service like Fiverr to do this for you. 

But how do you get this email marketing stuff going? Here are the basic steps to create (or improve) your website so it grows your email list:

  1. Create a free giveaway (lead magnet) that makes it irresistible for visitors to give you their email addresses
  2. Get a reliable web hosting service (I like GoDaddy)
  3. Build or improve your website (I recommend WordPress)
  4. Sign up for an email marketing service like MailChimp or MailerLite
  5. Create a landing page (I like Thrive Themes)
  6. Use a timer to create a sense of urgency for the Call To Action (CTA) 
  7. Build your list faster with a notification bar (I like Thrive Leads or HelloBar)


I use WordPress website hosting and WordPress themes. WordPress is the most popular web software used to create websites and blogs. You need a WordPress website by a trusted web hosting company like GoDaddy. That way you own your website that’s backed up daily, and offers 24/7 support. Free hosting does not have backups or support. 

All the email list marketing services make it easy to add a widget or connect your email list to your web pages. More on that further down the page.

WordPress software uses themes as templates and they’re easy to figure out. If you get stuck though, there are thousands and thousands of consultants available to help at all levels and who charge reasonable and even next-to-nothing prices (via sites like Fiverr).

The web hosting service I recommend the most

My WordPress blogs and websites are hosted with GoDaddy, which is where I also buy my domain names.

With 1 year of hosting and 5 years domain name registration, your cost is $35.88. Add $39.95 domain name privacy so that personal information like your address is not available to the public. (I don’t pay for privacy because I use a mailing service and not my home address.) The total for one year, with privacy, will cost $75.83.

After one year the hosting will renew at $9.99/mo and the privacy renews at $9.99/yr. So to get the best deal, pay for 120 months (the maximum) up front to lock in the hosting at $1/mo. The final price will be $535.40. That’s $53.54 per year for your website hosting, domain registration, and privacy. It’s a super great deal.

About WordPress themes and how to choose one

When you sign up with GoDaddy or another web hosting service you can choose a free, basic theme for your website. A theme is simply a customizable template for your website design that helps you create your web pages and posts. It makes sure that your images, text, columns, sidebars and header and footer content are in the right place. There are lots and lots of free themes and you can start with one of those. It doesn’t matter which you choose because you can change it later, so don’t stress. Choose one and get started.

“A WordPress Theme is a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog. These files are called template files. A Theme modifies the way the site is displayed, without modifying the underlying software.” –

How to set up your website

When you sign up for hosting (on GoDaddy and many other hosting services) you’ll be funneled through a user-friendly flow that helps you choose a domain name, choose a theme, and get started with your content development. Once the theme is installed, you’ll get instructions on how to log in and you plug in text and images.

An electronic assistant will show you what to do every step of the way. Be patient and have fun. You’re not going to break the internet! It’s a great way to start designing your own WordPress website. Click to open a new window to watch a short video demo

Click here for the $1/mo plan


You are probably already using a WordPress site and theme. Or maybe you’re using a free or paid version of Wix or another easy-to-use website tool. I want to encourage you to drop the free stuff and start paying for hosting. Again, through my affiliate link, it’s only $2.99/mo for a website that includes the security features, backups, and 24/7 support you need.

I’d also like to suggest that you start using a premium theme or family of themes. There are reputable theme companies and no-so reputable companies. Reputable companies I like to include are Studio Press, Elegant Themes, and my new favorite, Thrive Themes. (They are a recent affiliate, I liked them so much!)

Some theme companies charge a onetime fee with an annual membership for support and others are by subscription. Thrive Themes is around $25/mo paid annually at this time, which is $299/annually. They’re growing quickly and prices will go up so the earlier you can lock in your annual fee the better.

My recommendation for a premium theme

Thrive Themes is my new choice for a premium theme and I’ll tell you why. It started with my search for effective lead pages and conversion tools that focus on growing your email list. Most themes don’t include lead pages and so you need to buy plug-ins and software which comes at an extra cost and adds just another separate tool to complicate your site building.

I am really thrilled with Thrive because it makes building your pages so much easier and gives you the ability to create CTAs (Calls To Action). The system was built by a marketer and not a designer. Start with their content builder and you’ll see what I mean.

You can certainly cobble together a free website (with paid hosting) using free and freemium tools and some WordPress theme manipulation to create lead pages. The problem is that they’re not designed to be high converting so it’s hard work. I have the skills to cobble together a cheaper system but, even so, I was spending way too much time on it.

When I added it all up I found Thrive Themes the most effective and the most economical solution for themes, plug-ins, and services.

I’ll tell you more about Thrive Themes after I explain lead pages, sales funnels, and scarcity marketing because the service includes all of those and they’re valuable.

First, let’s dive into the benefits of lead pages.

Lead pages are awesome for growing your email list

Lead pages are pages that do one thing: lead your readers into a sales funnel without distracting headers, footers, or menus. You can create lead pages for freebies, books, trainings, products, services, anything. I’d recommend creating a quality giveaway and a lead page that compels readers to sign up for your email list.

Okay, I introduced a new term: Sales Funnel. This is an essential element of marketing and you need to know about it. Here’s more about a sales funnel, courtesy of the folks at MailMunch, a MailChimp and MailerLite competitor. The sales funnel is essential to your book marketing and any marketing of any kind for any product.

Lead pages are awkward and difficult to make with most themes which is why so many companies provide software solutions. Leadpages, UnBounce, Instapage, Clickfunnels, and other solutions cost from about $25 to $97 per month. Not per year but per month. Sticker shock!

So again, that’s why I was super happy to discover Thrive Themes which are “conversion focused” WordPress themes and an all-in-one online business toolbox with lead pages included.

Remember that your publishing business is a business and you need sales funnels and conversion tools to grow your email list and “talk” with your subscribers through the awareness to the action phases. It’s all about the conversation as you know from social media so make your emails a jumping off point for conversations and relationships, too.

So you can see why that at $19/mo for a complete solution with themes, plugins, and lead pages alone was worth the cost of purchasing a Thrive membership. With it, I made the lead page below for my Self-Pub Boot Camp freebie in about an hour. 

For a report on 100 ways to grow your email list, go here

Get your free self-publisher’s toolkit here

You’ll get my Consumer’s Guide for writers, a metadata cheatsheet, and a book launch checklist to make your own in your writing, marketing, and publishing journey.

This is an extremely high-converting page and has been growing my email list faster than any other method. It would grow even faster if I created a Facebook Ad (which will be the topic of a future post).

Click the video for more info and a demo.

If you’re a nonfiction author you can imagine the kind of page you might create from my example but if you’re a fiction author my freebie is not such an inspiring model for you. So I wanted to show you my friend Derek Murphy’s lead page that promotes his young adult science fiction and fantasy novels. 

Derek is a prolific author and he gives his email list subscribers ten thrilling samples. If you read sci-fi and fantasy novels this is a pretty strong offer, don’t you think? But do you have to offer ten novels? No. Offer the first ebook in your series (a permafree book) or you may want to put together an anthology of your writing for your email subscriber giveaway. Only you know what your readers want. If you don’t know, ask them!

You can use a lead page template if it’s included in your WordPress theme but it’s a lot easier to use the software you already use for everything, and Thrive Architect is a great solution.


You may have noticed countdown timers are popular lately. That’s because they create a sense of urgency with a time-limited offer. Marketers know that this strategy works well to get people to sign up for your email list.

You can use free, freemium, or paid countdown timers for your scarcity marketing experiments with services like TickCounter, MotionMail, and Deadline Funnel, or you can use the Thrive Themes all-in-one site builder and conversion software which comes with a countdown timer built-in.

I am experimenting with a countdown timer at the bottom of one of my blog posts. It was super-easy to drag-and-drop the timer into the page. 

Here’s how easy it is to configure. You just drag-and-drop the counter into your page and customize the colors and time to count down. Watch this video for more information. 


I use MailChimp as my email list service provider but you can choose from many companies that offer the same thing such as MailerLite, MailMunch, Constant Contact, Vertical Response, AWeber, and Sendy.

Your goal is to collect email addresses from interested website visitors. Your service will collect those email addresses and keep them current, cleaning out the bounced emails, tracking links clicked, active subscribers, and much more.

Many email marketing companies have started to provide landing pages for you, which makes sense because the whole reason for landing pages is to get people into your email list.

I experimented with the Mailchimp Landing Page capability to grow my email list of people who are interested in joining a motorcycle tour to Cuba I’m leading in 2019. It’s not a book but it could be (after the trip).

Everybody who signs up will get added to a segment or group on my email list. They’ll receive an immediate response via an auto-responder to thank them for their interest and sends them to a page with more information.

Later, I can email them about developments in the tour, the current political situation, and any webinars with me and the other tour leader are doing. Anything to keep the trip at the top of their mind and generate so much interest that they’ll sign up.

If signups are flagging we may want to incentivize interested subscribers with bonuses. This is the same strategy you can use to sell your books.


Have you ever seen those email opt-in bars at the top of a website? They’re called notification bars or ribbons and studies show they’re especially good at helping you grow your email list, especially when paired with a freebie.

Google penalizes websites with intrusive pop ups on mobile, a notification ribbon is a great alternative.

There are free, freemium, and paid versions of opt-in ribbons include HelloBar, WordPress Notification Bar, and Mail Optin Notification Bar, which provides popups, too.

These are good tools but I use the Thrive Leads plugin which not only offers ribbons but pop-up signup forms with various triggers (immediate, 50% down the page, or on leave). This is included with a Thrive Themes membership or $67 for a single-site license.

Thrive Themes offers A/B testing, too. What is A/B testing? It’s a valuable tool for measuring effectiveness, showing you which versions of the pages or marketing apps perform better. See this explanation from an advanced website tool called Optimizely. (Dive deeper and get their freebie on online experiments, here.)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) helps you get your pages ranked higher on the search engines by allowing you to include specific metadata about you and your book. Yoast SEO is the number one SEO plugin for WordPress with over a million installations and a 4.9 rating from over 15,000 reviews. 

With its real-time content analysis, you can see right away if your blog post and page titles are on target, your image tags and titles, meta descriptions, and more. It’s magic! There’s a free and premium version and it is a $99 annual fee well-spent in my opinion.

Metadata helps readers discover your book and SEO relies on metadata. Metadata is your very best passive marketing tool. It works tirelessly all day and all night to attract readers via the search engines. After all, the more readers who can find your pages, the better, because you are going to have an irresistible freebie and so they’re going to join your email list. Right?


So, in summary, the process to make a lead magnet of your website is easy with the tech tools at your fingertips. Here’s what you need to do, with my recommendations stated.

1) Create Your Giveaway: Create a quality freebie, giveaway, ethical bribe in PDF (or MOBI or EPUB) format.

2) Purchase an Email Marketing Service: The most important thing you want your site visitors to do is to get on your email list. Make it central and make them an offer they can’t refuse. I like MailChimp but have also been recommending MailerLite a lot.

3) Create a marketing funnel to collect email addresses in trade for the giveaway using the email service’s autoresponder.

4) Get great web hosting using GoDaddy’s Managed WordPress Hosting ($2.99/mo) and a domain name ($8.99/year). (10 years hosting, privacy, domain name registration is a one time fee of $535.40.)

5) Choose a Premium Theme: Use a premium theme like Thrive Themes ($299 annually at this time) to eliminate the need for lead page and other conversion software. Besides, it cuts down on a ton of time and learning process with its click-to-insert content blocks. 

6) Design Lead Pages: Lead pages help you get subscribers because you’re not distracting them with stories, blog posts, sidebars, and menus. The only thing they can do on a lead page is to sign up for your mailing list. Focus! Pay $20/mo and up for a subscription or get Thrive Themes at $99/quarter which includes lead pages.

7) Use Scarcity Marketing (Timers): Use FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and use a timer to create excitement and scarcity with special offers they won’t be able to resist.

8) Add a Notification Bar: Those little email signup forms on lots of websites you see lately are notification bars. Use them as constant gentle reminders to sign up for your list to get that special freebie. I use Thrive Theme’s Lead plugin but there are lots of free ones to play with. Try HelloBar, as a start.

9) Install an SEO Plugin (Yoast): Use Yoast to make sure you are using the metadata to make sure Google and the other search engines can direct your readers to your site. ($99/year)

10) Keep experimenting! As an independent author, you have choices. Self-publish now or attract a hybrid publishing deal. Maybe you want to get an agent and a traditional publishing deal. It doesn’t matter what path you pursue; the strength of your platform is key to your success and your website is its cornerstone. So have fun, experiment, communicate, and shine. It only gets easier.

For more information on growing your email list with lead magnets, read this post

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