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

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:

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:

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?

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: 

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)

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:

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. 

 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.