This is a constant debate with authors, once they realize the importance of an email list. How do I get started? What is the best provider for me? Which one has the best prices? Which software has the best features for authors? How hard is the software to learn?
And to be fair, something new is always coming out too. There is always a new provider, a new option, and someone will tell you this one is the best, or that one, or whatever. Well, instead of guessing, I’m going to give you a summary of the list providers I have tried, how each one works and rates, and what one I have chosen to use, at least for now.
TL;DR: Key Takeaways
- There are a lot of email management software options out there. Do your research before you sign up. Even trying the software during a free trial involves time and effort.
- There are some key integrations and features authors specifically should be looking for in an email management software.
- Some software may work for certain businesses, like MailChimp and Encharge, but are not a great fit for authors.
- Your budget and how tech savvy you are will play a role in what software will work best for you.
- Overall, Mailerlite gets my best rating. Read on to see why.
Read on to see why I recommend or don’t recommend each brand of email management software.
The Amazing Number of Providers Out There
First, there are many types of software to handle and house your email list and to send (and automate) email campaigns. Many also serve as a CRM, or customer relationship management software, that can be used for much more sophisticated things than most authors need, especially at first. They include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Constant Contact
- Active Campaign
- Send in Blue
And many more. For the sake of this article, I will be focusing on the four services I have personally tried.
Two of them I purchased from AppSumo (highly recommend you follow them for great software deals, at least if you are a nerd like me. I still own both and may use them, just not as my primary service, as you will find out when we get to the full reviews below. There is also a section in the article that talks about AppSumo in detail.
What am I looking for in email management?
As a new author just starting out, one of your first questions will be price. That is important, but so is another factor: scalability. As your list grows, you will need to be able to handle several tasks. You will also find that some providers start with a FREE plan to get you in the door, but as soon as your list grows in any significant way, the price skyrockets.
Also, more features are not always better. Some software is much better suited to eCommerce or enterprise-type websites, and they offer things like landing pages and even websites. However, if you have your own website (you do, right?) it is much better to keep people on your site, where they will learn more about you and perhaps purchase your products rather than sending them somewhere else.
But these are decisions you will have to make. The most important thing is that you are informed. You need to know what you are looking at.
The most important things are as follows:
- The ability to create forms and embed them on your website and use them in social media and other locations.
- The ability to integrate with common author software like BookFunnel, StoryOrigin, and others.
- The ability to segment your list or create more than one list. If you write in more than one genre, or you sometime offer advice for writers (like this article) that your readers may not be interested in, you need the ability to send that only certain people.
- The ability to test your emails and see where they are landing and how they perform.
- The ability to automate some processes, including an onboarding sequence (usually from a reader magnet or email signup) and processes to “nurture” your list and make sure you have a “good” list, not one filled with freebie seekers not really interested in the rest of your work.
- Something that meets you at your tech comfort level. Some services we review here require you to be pretty tech savvy to set them up and use them properly. Others are simpler and more intuitive.
- Branding. You want the ability to save templates (read save time) and customize emails to match your brand.
You also want to be able to do this at the right price, one you are comfortable with and can be comfortable with in the future.
So let’s dive right in: we’ll start with my least favorite, and work our way to the software I now recommend more than any other.
NO LONGER RECOMMENDED: MailChimp
MailChimp used to be my number one recommended email management software for authors, but then they did two things that pushed them off my list:
First, they added a whole host of features. That’s good, right? Not really. In this case, it was things like landing pages, websites, and other items that I actually recommend (after much study with expert email marketers) authors not use. But that was forgivable, right? I could just tell someone, “Yeah, that is there, but I don’t recommend you use it.”
However, at the same time, MailChimp prices soared. And I mean literally, soared. They went from affordable for most authors to extreme limits of needed features on the free plan and accelerated pricing on paid plans that included the features authors needed, to the point where many author email marketers I follow also stopped recommending it, and nearly all of us switched away.
To be fair, let’s take a look at features for a moment. Does MailChimp tick all the boxes?
- You can create dynamic and good-looking forms, and they integrate with almost every website platform out there (although I recommend a WordPress setup, but more on that in another article at another time). Their API is recognized anywhere. (an API key is how you get one software to talk to another if you are not familiar with the term).
- MailChimp does integrate with most author programs like BookFunnel and StoryOrigin.
- Automations are powerful and fairly easy to set up.
- Testing emails is simple, although you may need to use a third-party service to do so.
- Segmenting lists is also a simple matter, and easy to do and understand.
- The software is pretty intuitive. It’s easy to learn and because the company is so large and widely used by various businesses, there are a lot of tutorials out there.
- Branding is easy too, provided you are on one of the premium plans.
The takeaway? If money is no object for you, then sure, you can choose MailChimp. However, I don’t recommend it for the simple reason of costs. By the time you have a list of 5,000 readers, you will be paying nearly double what you would with other services, ones that still offer all the features you need.
Now, the next two services are ones I have used, and in this case, I have lifetime deals with them. So even though I still have access to them both, I have chosen to use a paid service instead. In both cases, the cost is not a factor at all.
A note on AppSumo
The net two pieces of software was an AppSumo deal, and before we go too far, let’s talk about what that means. AppSumo is a site that offers great deals on software, often from a startup or an up and coming software that is not yet mainstream, may still have some things to work out, but is offered to “Sumoings” at a great value. There are even some AppSumo originals that their team has created, inexpensive and pretty basic software that gets the job done, and are improving all the time.
With AppSumo, most of my purchases have been great, and I use them all the time. Three examples include:
- TidyCal: A calendar scheduling program like Calendy, but that I paid for a lifetime deal one time, rather than monthly. Integrations are constantly being added, and your calendar can be embedded in your website. If you do any kind of consulting, editing, etc., this is really valuable.
- SleekBio: While I use this only for certain cases, a SleekBio is one location for all your links, your calendar, and more. It’s slick, and I primarily use it for publishing and consulting applications, but authors may find it useful as well.
- EmailBadge: This one is fairly new, but for under $10 you can create email signatures you can install anywhere, in whatever program you use. It’s pretty cool, and the team is improving that all the time too.
The other program I still use we will cover in a few moments is SendFox, a simple email management program. AppSumo also has a lot of knowledge and courses available, many of them free, along with things like Google Sheets templates for various purposes that will help you run the writing side of your business. Definitely worth checking out.
The next software we will cover is an AppSumo deal too, but one I don’t recommend for authors, although it could be good for other things.
Not for Authors: Encharge
Let me preface this review by saying that I was super excited when I purchased this software. There are a couple of reasons: first, it was on an AppSumo deal and offered at a huge discount. The way the site works is that often you can purchase “codes” and stack them to get more features from the software. And in this case, I did: the maximum number I could, ensuring I could use this as my primary email software for years to come.
That was to the tune of almost $300—however, I justified the purchase with the fact that if I continued to pay monthly for another service, as this was a lifetime deal for access to the software, that would pay off within a few short months. So I installed the software, set up automation (which even copying and reinstalling from another software takes a good few hours), and imported my contacts.
There is an immediate issue that applies to our list of feature requirements: there are no form builders in Encharge. You have to use another service. A few integrate with it, things like Typeform, but for authors, this is another expense. Depending on the website builder you are using, you can use something called a Webhook to get the form information into Encharge. You can also integrate WooCommerce, but as most authors don’t use it on their websites (there are simpler ways for you to sell your books directly, and WooCommerce is a bit much), that isn’t really helpful.
However, as a tech guy, I was able to use a webhook for my website, www.troylambertwrites.com, but for the www.capitalcitymurders.com and my publisher site, www.mooneyandlambert.com, I had to set up what is called a Zap through Zapier. This allows you to define an action in one software, and Zapier serves as the bridge to get the information from one program to another. And yes, you guessed it: Zapier costs money too. It is a great tool to have if you are a software person and want to do something like this, but don’t want to create an app on your own to do it.
Still, problem one was getting contacts into the program. That one I solved, but the solution is a bit tech-heavy for many authors. Then I sent my first campaign, and that is when the problems started, and serious ones. Here’s what happened:
The campaign was sent. Of course, I am subscribed to my own emails, because I want to see how they go out. One ended up in my spam folder, the other (in my Gmail) showed up with a giant “This might be spam” warning across the top, something I’d never seen before. I chose “this is safe” from the options but wondered if others might be seeing the same thing.
A mere couple of hours later, I got an email from Encharge, with no introduction at all. “Your campaign had too many spam reports. We are not going to continue to serve you, and we’ll refund your money in AppSumo.” What? I’d never had this issue, with MailChimp or SendFox, which I was using at the time. And I was about to lose HOURS of work, making the changeover.
When I responded with a “What the hell?” type message, a huge red flag waved: “Troy, people just clearly are not interested in the type of email you are sending.” Knowing full well that too many spam reports can harm your URL reputation, I was devastated, at least at first. Did I do something wrong? After further email, the company suggested that I start over with a clean list, instead of the two lists I had spent years building. Sure.
So, I tried an experiment. Instead of emailing from my domain address, I used a Gmail address, which has its own issues, but I needed to see what was going on. And I got the same, “this might be spam” message again in Gmail. Since it is the largest domain people use for email, I figured others might see the same thing. And of course, another two spam reports came in.
In yet another case, the software sent one of my emails twice. You set up campaigns using what is called a Flow, and I double-checked my settings there, and it was only set to send the email once. I got at least four angry replies, something that had never happened to me up to that point.
The other thing that is challenging for authors: most email software, including MailChimp, integrates with commonly used list-building sites like BookFunnel and StoryOrigin. Encharge does not do that, and as far as I can see, does not have it on their roadmap of things to do. Setting that up requires either another Zap or some more cumbersome solutions I would not recommend. In short, this software is not designed to make things easier for writers.
I could not afford this SNAFU, so I went back to SendFox and sent a test campaign, from the same email address: no spam message, zero spam reports. I went through the process of changing everything over again, costing me even more hours and trouble.
The only thing I have left in Enchrge is my publisher emails. Essentially there is a single process activated through WooCommerce that I use Encharge for. Not at all worth the money I paid, and the aggravation I went through, but lesson learned (and bonus for you, as you don’t have to learn it for yourself)
- As to the other features:
- You must create forms in another program
- Automations are easy to create.
- Testing emails resulted in disastrous revelations that made me leave the software. In my current provider, I have never had an issue since Encharge)
- Segmenting list is straightforward and easy to do.
- The software is pretty tech heavy and challenging to learn.
- Branding is pretty simple too.
The final takeaway: until the spam issue (whatever that might be) is fixed, and you can create forms in Encharge, I don’t recommend it to authors, and really to very few other businesses. Besides the fact that the AppSumo deal I got is gone, and if you go to the Encharge website, you will pay a lot more now.
SendFox: A Simple Solution if you are just Starting Out
Now we come to my top two software choices: SendFox and Mailerlite. For email management, both are excellent choices, but there are some key differences. First, let’s look at SendFox.
This is an AppSumo original, much like the ones I mentioned above. This means it is a well-thought-out, and simple-to-use product. It is the simplest, by far of the software listed here. There is a small sacrifice. A couple actually, but we will get to those.
The first thing to talk about is cost, and one of the reasons I recommend this software to someone just starting out. It costs $49. One time. Forever, until you reach over 5K subscribers. However, at that point, you may want to make a change to another software. Or you may not. I do pay $10 a month for one of the SendFox add ons, and there are a few for you to consider, but more on that in a moment. You don’t NEED those things, is the point, especially when you are initially constructing your list.
Even when you reach subscriber limits, you simply pay another $49, and you get upped to another 5K subscribers. For life. When it comes to the best value overall, SendFox ticks all the boxes.
But what about features? Well, while you can add photos and buttons to your emails, it is not as simple as the “drag and drop” features in some other emails. However, for simple text, and simple emails, the program is great, and being less HTML-heavy is a bonus, as the email loads faster especially for those on mobile devices. In fact, I would argue that for the most part, simple is better when it comes to email creation.
But when it comes to key features, you have everything you need:
- Creating forms and embedding them in your website is easy, and there is a SendFox plugin for WordPress that makes integration even easier. There are also simple landing pages you can use for each form, and while I don’t recommend them for the most part, there are some instances when linking to them is not a bad idea.
- SendFox integrates well with StoryOrigin, BookFunnel, and other services as well, and is really gaining some traction in the writer world.
- You can build simple automations. More complex automations are not yet possible, one of the reasons I am using a more powerful, paid service at the moment, but when you are first getting started, those really are not necessary. As far as your onboarding process, SendFox will do everything you need it to.
- Testing emails: I use a secondary service for this, and you probably should too. It’s easy, and you can adjust your emails accordingly before you send them and make them better. There is an integration that “grades” your subject line as you create it, and that can be very helpful in avoiding the spam folder.
- You can create different lists that allow you to “segment” people by interest. While this is easier to do in other software, some of those automations are harder to do in SendFox, and if you actually want to delete people after they have unsubscribed, you will have to contact SendFox directly, but they are very responsive and helpful (as they are with all of the originals software)
- SendFox is easy to learn to a point. When it comes to creating columns and more complex emails, it is a little more challenging than other software, and it may take you a bit to figure out how to get things to look exactly how you want them to, but you can duplicate emails you have previously created, so once you have a pattern you like, you can just continue to use it.
- Branding is pretty simple, and uploading photos, logos, and other media is pretty straightforward too.
The key takeaway: when it comes to simplicity and a good way to start out, SendFox is a great option for many authors, and best of all the cost is cheap. Need to start a new email list? SendFox is a solid solution, and you can always export and transition to something more sophisticated when you need to.
Mailerlite: The Cream of the Crop for Authors
A number of marketers I respect a lot told me that Mailerlite was the solution. Since they (and I) moved from MailChimp due to price issues, more and more of them told me that this was the solution. There are even templates designed with authors in mind.
So while I was toying with other solutions, and getting frustrated with Encharge and others, they were sailing along. That is because Mailerlite has all the features you need, some truly powerful automation solutions, and all of it at a much more affordable price for authors. In fact, Mailerlite offers many of the features present in MailChimp, but at a much lower price.
Pricing is impacted by the size of your list, but the free plan has most of the features you need to get started. For some, starting in something like SendFox may not even be necessary, and you can scale into Mailerlite and the more advanced features as you need them. When it comes to templates, segmenting, email design, and everything else you might want, Mailerlite is the real deal.
In short, my friends were right. This is the ultimate in email list management software for authors.
- Forms can be created easily. Mailerlite has a form builder, integrates with most web platforms like WordPress, and there are simple HTML designs you can embed if you wish. Everything is GDPR compliant, and keeps you on the right side of privacy regulations. Segmenting from forms is also easy, and there are all kinds of things you can do with both groups and segments to interact with readers and subscribers in the way that works best for them.
- As you would expect from the best software for writers, Mailerlite integrates with BookFunnel, Story Origin, and other platforms.
- Automations are fantastic. You can target inactive subscribers, those who open emails but don’t click them, and your welcome sequence can be robust and engaging (if you need to learn how to do this, Nick Stephenson has a great course called Your First !0K Readers that covers this in detail. You can also read books like Email Ninja to learn more).
- You can test emails and even keep your list healthy through MailerCheck, made by Mailerlite, or other similar services. I highly recommend you use one of them. I use NeverBounce, and find it extremely valuable.
- Segmenting is very powerful. See the above comments, but you can make both groups and segments, giving you several options.
- Mailerlite is very intuitive and easy to learn and use. It may take you a bit to understand “conditions” but there are all kinds of tutorials that can help you explain and navigate the process. There are even sample templates out there you can swipe, personalize, and copy to make your own.
- Branding, as in most other software, is simple as well.
The final takeaway is that if you are an author, building your email list, starting with Mailerlite may very well be the solution you keep over time.
Does all this mean you shouldn’t try other software, or that new software that comes along might not be a better solution? Not at all. Companies are constantly in flux trying to find new solutions to age-old problems, and there are always new things (like Encharge) that come along and make some great promises.
Just keep in mind that switching takes a lot of time and effort, and that translates to money. You could be spending that time writing, marketing, or doing other writerly tasks. There can also admittedly be some aggravation involved. It is a pain to transfer everything over, reload graphics and lists, and more. I would not do so unless I was pretty sure the new solution would work for me. In that case, you will need to do your own research for sure.
Email management is simply one piece of the business of being an author. But it’s an important one. What has your experience been? What email provider do you use, and why do you love it? let me know in the comments below.