Email Marketing and List Building for Authors with Philip Duncan, Part 2

List Building for Authors

List Building for Authors - How To Write the Future, episode 39

In “Email Marketing and List Building for Authors with Philip Duncan, Part 2,” host Beth Barany, creativity coach, and science fiction and fantasy novelist, chats with Philip where he shares 3 tips on how to connect with readers on a personal level and how sharing can resonate with them so they respond to your emails.

If you haven’t already, listen to Part 1 here.

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About Philip Duncan

Philip Duncan is an award-winning and Amazon bestselling fiction author. He’s the host of the Powerhouse Authoring Summit and has been a featured guest on several other authoring summits. He specializes in email marketing and list building for authors, where he now spends all his time helping authors start, grow, and scale their audience through email marketing.


Coaching services:


Free email marketing and list building checklist:

Free World Building Workbook for Fiction Writers:


The How To Write The Future podcast is for science fiction and fantasy writers who want to write positive futures and successfully bring those stories out into the marketplace. Hosted by Beth Barany, science fiction novelist and creativity coach for writers.

Tips for fiction writers! This podcast is for you if you have questions like:

  • How do I create a believable world for my science fiction story?
  • How do figure what’s not working if my story feels flat?
  • How do I make my story more interesting and alive?

This podcast is for readers too if you’re at all curious about the future of humanity.

TRANSCRIPT for Email Marketing and List Building for Authors with Philip Duncan, Part 2


Are you looking for a way to dig into your world building for your story?

Then I recommend that you check out my World Building Workbook for Fiction Writers. Now available.

It’s at How To Write The

Just head on over there. Click, sign up. Put your name and email, and there you go.

That workbook will be delivered to your inbox straight away.

What is How To Write the Future

Alright, Hi everyone. Beth Barany here with How to Write the Future Podcast. This is the future. The future is now. We are here together to explore how can we write optimistic stories so that we can have a positive impact on the world.

I believe that just as important as craft is learning how to market our work. So I’m doing a series of podcast episodes, talking to various experts about how we can improve as marketers for our own fiction.

So in that light, I’ve brought here Philip Duncan here with us today and to share with us his genius about one of the most powerful things you can do as a fiction writer, which is have your own email list.


This is part two of my conversation with Philip. Be sure to listen to part one from last week to get all caught up, and then join us back here for part two.

Also, be sure to download Philip’s checklist on email marketing. That link is in the show notes.


So, let’s. Let’s move into the writing.

Philip Duncan


Beth Barany

How do you write to your readers in a way that is relatable and we’ll get them to know you and like you and coming back for more?

Give us your top three tips, top five tips.

Philip Duncan

I’ll give you a hundred. I’m just kidding. I don’t think I have a hundred. I was just joking.

So, I’ll start out with the answer by telling you what not to do because this was a mistake I made early on. And for those of you who know who Derek Doepker is, I interviewed him for the same summit I interviewed you for last year.

And I was telling him, I was expressing my woes of, I’m like, dude, I feel so– people who see me on video where I’ve got a backwards white hat on and pink headphones, in a t-shirt. I’m not Mr. Formal. I’m the opposite. But when I wrote my emails, I felt like I had to be different.

My posture would change. I almost felt like I needed to put a suit jacket on to write my emails, and it just felt phony, and I felt like people weren’t getting who I really was. I dreaded writing an email every time I had to send one out.

And then I talked to Derek, and he’s like, dude you’re a fiction writer, right? I was like, yeah. He’s like, it’s just storytelling. Just tell a story. And he’s like, that’s it. And I was like, it’s kind of one of those light bulb moments.

It was simple enough, I don’t need to be doing anything out of the ordinary that I don’t typically do.

I teach this in my workshop. Hands down, one of the biggest things I can tell people is be yourself. Never try to act or talk like you don’t typically talk.

Hey, if I’m sitting down at a table to have a cup of coffee with Beth, this is how I dress, this is how I talk. I’m gonna just portray that in my emails because if I want somebody to be with me for the long haul, read my books, like me, share me with other people, right?

Then they need to know who I am as a real person behind the keyboard, which is hard to do.

I think that’s a big one.

Don’t ever complicate it. I’m big on sharing stories, personal stories. You don’t have to get crazy personal. I probably get more personal than most people are comfortable with, but that’s cuz I have no shame for some reason.

But hey, if you’re gonna take the time to open and read my emails and potentially buy my books, I want you to know who I am, for real.

And that’s actually been big and you’ll get some really cool responses and engagement back with people, which we know this, we’ve talked about it, but for the beginner, it’s really important. You have to build rapport with these people.

They need to feel a personal connection with that. Let’s say they’ve read your book and they love you and they feel like you’re like this celebrity, whether you are or not, and then you write these emails and then you actually respond back to an email.

These people light up and they’ll send back great – I’ve got life stories from people. I’ve got just the craziest stories from people just replying to an email from a simple question because I opened up first. So then they felt comfortable opening up. So, I think that’s really important too.

If I was gonna say two points, that would be two pretty direct points that I would have. Obviously, we could get more into the weeds of it, but that would be for like the beginner. That’s where I would tell people for sure.

Beth Barany

Yeah. And I would add also that something that helped me that I learned from someone’s email marketing class is put a picture, if you’re comfortable put a picture of yourself in the email, representing the energy of your book so I took a picture of me with this Bluetooth headset on that I have and in the background is my– I have a Wonder woman doll and a like a ray doll And these are my posse. They, they sit up against the wall and they’re there like supporting me when I write all these kick ass. 

And so there you are you see this engaging picture of me like as if I’m about to say hi to you and I’ve got my Bluetooth headset and I’ve got these kickass heroines in there.

And then I tell people these are two of my favorite things: High-tech toys and kickass heroines. And how about you? What’s your favorite high-tech toy? Who’s your favorite Kickass Heroine?

And people respond to that. And that’s part of my welcome sequence, and I get lovely responses, and I also tell people where I live to help them situate me within the planet. And I keep it at that. 

When my dad was ill and dying, I was open about that, and I was talking about it. And then how to handle grief has been a big part of my fiction.

So it would probably be a good idea for me to throw it in there every once in a while– throw in the memories throw in what it’s like because I’m open about it and it’s one of the themes of my work I noticed.

So I guess what I’m trying to illustrate for folks is — and maybe you have some things to say here too– is pick a few themes maybe one, two, and three –where you can write little stories.

Personally, as a novelist who writes a lot — I’m on my third series now– it can be overwhelming.

Where do I begin? Well, I’m trying to figure out where to begin. Just like you try and figure out where does the scene begin?

Right? So if you focus in on just a few things that connect you personally with your work and then share those, people respond I notice.

Philip Duncan

Yeah, I think that’s awesome. I think that’s a really cool point. I don’t know where you learned that. That’s pretty cool though. The picture thing — I’d be probably holding an office cup and I’d be wearing this.

You’re talking about themes with your emails that you are also intertwined with your writing. I think that’s awesome.

And I use that. I’m gonna tell a story and I’m gonna link that story back to my writing, but it’s gonna all make sense and it’s all gonna be connected. I share some dark things that have happened in my life and I’ll be like, Hey, this is why I write these things in my book because I have firsthand experience with it.

And when I write it, it feels real and raw. And I think that’s the writing that becomes the best.

You actually mentioned something there when you were talking. You ask a question.

I teach this in the workshop too.

I’ll make this point three of the “these are the three things you should do as a beginner.”

Always have a call to action in terms of, yeah, of course, if they need to click a link to go buy your book or get a reader magnet or something.

If you can just ask a simple question. If you don’t, people typically won’t respond. It can be as simple as, like you said, what’s your favorite high-tech toy?

Who’s your favorite kick-ass heroine?

Just anything really. And then you’ll just get these floods of responses.

And make sure you respond to these people cause it’s a bad feeling when you reach out to somebody that you quote unquote look up to or enjoy and they ghost you. That doesn’t feel great.

And it leaves a bad taste in their mouth and it’s just an easy thing to– and the engagement never goes on forever. It’s usually a couple of emails and that’s it. But it’s one of my favorite things to do is engage with my people. It’s so much fun. But that simple call to action is so easy to add and easy to forget. So typically, I would say 99% of my emails have some kind of call to action at the end unless one day I just forget or something. But I’m always looking for a reaction back, even if it’s just one person. If I can just make one connection, I think that’s a win, especially when you’re starting out.

I remember the very first lady who responded to one of my emails. I saved it. And she read my whole book and she broke down all these points of what she liked and then she had questions about it and she’s like, Hey, this happened. I’m curious, what’s your thought on like why you did it this way and like why you left it this way and all this stuff?

Coolest email I ever got, and I probably had like 20 people on my list when this happened. It was awesome and I still have it. I’ll go back and look at it sometimes, but it’s those feelings that are so cool and make it worth it to me.

Beth Barany

Yeah, I love that I love how you’re so appreciative of your readers and also how that reader interaction is something that really validates you. It really helps you And, and me. You know it doesn’t have to be a huge amount of people Even if one person says when’s your next book coming out? I mean that sustains me. That’s sustain that’s been sustaining me for last year. Someone is waiting for the next book.

Philip Duncan

Yeah, they like me.

Beth Barany

Oh, they like me! And they like her. They like my stories. They like the. They like what I’m doing and what I’m up to. And so, I, I love that.

So your three tips– let’s recap this section because I think it’s so powerful.

If you’re just starting out the three tips in your email what to write is be yourself.

Philip Duncan


Beth Barany

Tell a story and a call to action

Philip Duncan

Yep. I think those three are huge. 

Beth Barany

Yeah. And then in the story component, if you just pick one two, probably to keep it simple. You have a simple approach too.

I’ve read your, your emails and how you talk about yourself and how important your family is, and how that is connected to what you write. It instantly bonds us with you. And I know not everyone wants to write about their their family or maybe they don’t have a family.

So I coach one of my students to like well what do you like and she’s like well I love walking in nature I’m like ah yes, and so she’ll write about the animal sightings, the wild animals she sees, the nature she gets to walk through, and that is a very relatable experience that we all can.

So, do you have any more tips to help people brainstorm their top three topics that they can write their stories about?

Philip Duncan

Yeah, you could sit down with just like a pencil and paper or something. I’m pretty old school, even though I’m not that old.

What do you like to do?

For me, because I get more personal than a, most people usually feel comfortable with, but it’s what I feel is the best for my style and my personality.

I think, what areas of my life have I had, has something happened where it’s had the biggest impact or shift in the way my life, the trajectory of my life has changed?

And I can think of multiple things that have happened. And some are awesome, like having your first baby girl born, you’re a dad for the first time, getting married, and some are not so great, like losing your brother to suicide.

Parents going through divorce, like some other things that happened. I write these things and I do it to give people insight

I think what’s important about, if you can convey this in a story, it’s your personal story, but it’s probably gonna reach somebody else.

You’re not ever the only person that goes through something. And it’s pretty cool cause you were like, Hey, you like to walk in nature. It’s a great insight. Just write that cuz you know how many people that’s gonna connect with? It may seem so simple and so silly, but I love walking in nature. I would react to that email.

For me, it’s what’s happened in your life that’s helped make you who you are? Turned you a certain direction?

Whatever it is, it can be a million things. But then also think, okay, I should share this, or I shouldn’t?

I think you should because you’re not the only person that’s gonna connect with, and the whole point is to try to connect with these people. That might be the most confusing, roundabout answer that’s ever been given on this podcast or whatever. That’s the way my brain works.

Beth Barany

I get it, I get it. And you said something really beautiful there.

You’re talking about stories that we might in fiction call the Turning Point story.

I teach character development writing and it’s What is the most pivotal turning point in your character’s backstory that is haunting them or that made them who they are today that drives the present-day action of your character, so same for you, same for me, same for everybody.

I know some people are very private and that’s why I’m honing in on this. And I would encourage people to find the one or two pivotal stories that shaped who they are or three, and maybe there’s more.

There’s a lot of pivotal stories and figure out all the ones they feel comfortable sharing and, and go for it.

Because I know when I first started sharing personal stories even in my business emails, I got such an amazing response from people.

People are so grateful. And most people feel alone. And when we tell our stories readers respond people are like, I’m not the only one. Oh me too. I had a story like that.

So I don’t know if you attract students who are like but I’m a private person. I don’t wanna share. or I’m concerned with privacy.

I have. I teach in the workshop that exact question right there.

I make this a point when I tell this out loud, and I’ll say it more than once, I share more than most people usually feel comfortable doing.

Listen, whatever I say, whatever anybody says, there’s always more than one way to skin a cat. Like, this isn’t the you have to follow this method, this, there’s nothing else out there. I just share, like you probably do with your coaching and stuff like that.

You just share what works for you, what you’ve seen that not only helps you, but helps people that you’ve worked with, things you’ve learned from other people, that they’ve learned from other people.

If you are more private person and are worried for your safety and security for some reason, just don’t get super personal.

That’s it. And I don’t., I’ll give all my dirty laundry out, but I don’t share super personal stuff about my wife or my kids. I’ll share stories, but I won’t ever go onto something that they don’t feel comfortable saying themselves. But for me, here’s everything that’s happened to me. This is who I am. Love me or hate me, I don’t care.

But yeah, there’s other ways to do it. You don’t have to get super personal. You can just, like you said, share, I like to walk in nature. Here’s one, I like to go to the movies by myself. I love it. Like me as a person, I love gonna the movies by myself.

That’s something personal that I could share that’s not gonna put me in danger or feel like I got some breach of privacy because it is a big deal for a lot of people. It could just be a hundred different things. Don’t get crazy with it if you’re not comfortable.

Beth Barany

Exactly. You bring up a great point. Talk about your hobbies, if that’s relevant if your hobbies are relevant to your. Talk about your favorite books and movies if those are relevant. Talk about food.

A writer I know, tea is a big factor in her stories and and she loves tea. It’s totally appropriate that she would mention tea in her newsletters.

It can be like that. It doesn’t have to be a deep turning point story that still haunts you to this day. Or some internal truth. You don’t have to go that deep if that’s not relevant if it’s not comfortable. Yeah, I love that.

Philip Duncan

But I think if you do feel comfortable, I think it’s powerful. Cuz when I teach this workshop and I’ve taught it a few times, there’s a part in the training where I talk about this exactly. This is the topic, writing emails, and what to share. And the one I share is about losing my brother to suicide.

And without fail, every time I’m on screen with these people and I have to stop talking because I’m about to start crying. Every time afterwards people send me these lovely emails. They’re putting stuff in the chat like, oh, that’s so awesome. Of course, we’re sorry it happened, but like, this is so brave. I feel like I actually know you better.

You get these great responses cuz then I get to see you as a normal human, just like them. We’re no different, but people look at you differently if you’re teaching them something or if they’re reading your content.

But also too, you’ve mentioned this a couple times. For me, I guess it depends a lot of like how often you’re emailing people, your list. Not everything I share, I directly tie back into my writing. Like most of it, yes, cuz like I want them to be on par with me in this authoring journey, but that’s not a deal breaker.

There’s some emails I’ll send out that I won’t tie back to my writing and I don’t think it’s, that big of a deal, but you should do it most times if you can. But that also comes down to how frequent, like if you’re only gonna send six to 12 emails a year, then probably tie it back to your writing.

But if you email more frequently like I do, I can get away with some other in between stuff like that. And that might not make sense to the new person but you, you repeating that is a good point if you can. But for me it’s not a hundred percent deal breaker.

Beth Barany

Okay, So, why do you do that? Why do you write emails to your readers that aren’t related to your fiction?

Philip Duncan

Like I said, it’s not often and it’s usually not intentional. I don’t sit down with the purpose of, I will absolutely not mention anything about my writing in this email, but there are things where if I feel like something has come up or I wanna share it with my list that’s special or personal, and it just doesn’t happen to have anything to do with my writing. Now let’s say maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with my book, but maybe it’s shaped how I am as an author.

Maybe that’s an angle you can take. That’s typically what people are here for, right?

Get to know you and your writing and your authoring. That’s probably something I should weave into my workshop. I’m gonna have to update my PowerPoint slides. Thanks for that.

Beth Barany

Thank you so much, Philip, for speaking with us.

Everyone check out Philip’s website, Philip S Philip with one L, and be sure to check in our show notes or show description for the checklist on email marketing.

Stay tuned for part three, where I go into the final segment of more questions and answers with Philip about email marketing and list building for authors.


Thank you so much, everyone for listening to my podcast. Your interest and feedback is so inspiring to me and helps me know that I’m helping you in some small way.

So write long and prosper.

Are you stuck and overwhelmed by world building? Then check out my new World Building Workbook for Fiction Writers. Head over to and sign up for yours today.

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Image of Beth BaranyBeth Barany teaches science fiction and fantasy novelists how to write, edit, and publish their books as a coach, teacher, consultant, and developmental editor. She’s an award-winning fantasy and science fiction novelist and runs the podcast, “How To Write The Future.”

Learn more about Beth Barany at these sites: 


Author siteCoaching site / School of Fiction / Writer’s Fun Zone blog



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