Start building your author list now

Plus ponderings on IF, authentic dialogue and, er, Spider-Man

Coming up in a moment are some thoughts on why building a mailing list is essential for any author, regardless of how you go about being published. Before any of that, though, a newsletter recommendation:

Interactive fiction has fascinated me since I was a child back in the 80s. It was Choose Your Own Adventure books back then, which were really quite impractical but nevertheless captivated me with the notion of an authored story that remained malleable to some extent. In the 90s it was all about interactive fiction on computers, especially around 1993 and Graham Nelson’s Inform work. Which leads me to today’s newsletter recommendation:

It’s a treasure trove of detailed essays on the history of the medium, from the very beginning up to the modern day. There are writers today who are only now discovering the potential of interactive fiction, so it’s a healthy reminder that it’s been around for decades. I will be diving into the archives.

On building a mailing list

There are two types of writer: the one who already is building a newsletter list, and the one who is not.

Slightly facetious, but also with a kernel of truth. Email newsletters are as old as the internet and are still one of the most effective and reliable ways to reach people. This is true whether you’re trying to share information (such as a serialised story!) or sell something. The rumours of email’s demise have long been exaggerated.

As a writer, a mailing list for your readers gives you power and freedom, regardless of how you choose to publish your work. Every other form of communications with your readers is controlled be someone else: your publisher, social media companies, self-publishing platforms. A traditional publisher will have lots of data about customers, and will have their own mailing lists, but they’re not going to share them with you - they legally cannot, due to privacy laws (this is a good thing). You can see who your followers are on Twitter, but you can’t contact them without using Twitter and you can’t take them with you if Twitter goes away one day. Your Wattpad readers are shown to you in a nice big list, but you can’t extract that data or move them elsewhere.

This is why having your own mailing list, which you own and control, is critical. It gives you a solid foundation on which to build your author platform, which will survive unexpected changes in the publishing landscape around you. There are many services which provide mailing list and newsletter functionality, for free or via paid plans. You might have heard of Mailchimp, for one. Most of these services focus on corporate users, providing detailed and powerful templates, custom design features and tools aimed at helping companies sell stuff.

More recently a slightly different group has appeared which focuses more precisely on newsletters: written material sent to inboxes and meant to be enjoyed, rather than image-heavy advertisements. Substack is the most prominent of these, with Buttondown being a rather lovely one-man-band indie alternative. The focus is on providing simple tools to create elegant written newsletters, while still giving you full control over the list itself. Crucially, you can switch between providers and take your list with you. I used to use Mailchimp, then switched to Buttondown for a while, then to Substack. Each time I was able to take a simple CSV file with me and securely transfer my mailing list. The companies providing the service don’t own those contacts.

Set up your own newsletter as soon as you can and stick the subscribe link everywhere that is relevant. People who choose to follow you will be people who are most enthusiastic about your work. Each time you release something new, you can tell them about it. It’s a directly line to your biggest fans. This is useful regardless of how you publish your work.

It’s even more critical for anyone trying serialised fiction, because the newsletter itself becomes a potential platform for the work. A newsletter on Substack or Buttondown can be free or require payment, or a bit of both. You can offer exclusive content, or early access, while still making the material available for free on other platforms, perhaps at a later date.

If you don’t yet have a mailing list, it’s never too early to start. They’re very easy to set up and you don’t need to commit to sending stuff out on the newsletter straight away. You want everything in place and up and running before you start publishing your actual serial.


Meanwhile, my son has been catching up on old Spider-Man movies in preparation for No Way Home, which has meant watching Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Mans for the first time. They are decidedly peculiar films, with a wildly fluctuating tone and a style of dialogue delivery that shifts between weird and bad. I think they were going for a more naturalistic style that Raimi’s originals, but the result is a really bizarre mix.

Which made me think about dialogue and how striving to create ‘realistic’ speech on the page can often backfire. Whether it’s being overly schticky, or wading into murky dialect and accent territory, or introducing vocal tics, instead of bringing a character to life it’s all too easy to pull the reader out of the story and have them notice the hand of the writer.

Less is more, I suppose.


There are a couple of nifty science fiction and fantasy giveaway promos running at the moment which I’m taking part in with the ebook of my novel No Adults Allowed. If you’re looking to add yet more ebooks to your no doubt already massive digital library, then do check them out:

Sci-Fi Fantastic

Free Sci-Fi

They both wrap up at the end of the month, so head over sooner rather than later to nab yourself some books. As usual with these things, the exchange is that you have to sign up to the author’s mailing list (oh, hey, relevant to today’s newsletter!) to download the book, but you can always unsubscribe afterwards. Or, you never know, perhaps some of those lists will be interesting!

Talking of fiction, my current project Tales from the Triverse continues every Friday right here on this newsletter for early access subscribers. You can still get 20% off a subscription until the end of the month.

Get 20% off for 1 year

Until next time, stay safe.

Simon K Jones

Photo by Bank Phrom on Unsplash