Mailing list fiasco recap

21 July 2016 11:00

Last Thursday I decided to add a lot of people to my mailing list, hoping to improve my book sales. Things got a bit interesting after that.

A short summary of what happened:

  • I sponsored a contest that required people to sign up to a mailing list, that would then be shared with sponsoring authors (so in effect they were signing up for 11 mailing lists).
  • I imported those that participated. All 5000 of them. And then e-mailed them something along the lines of Hi there! I got your e-mail address from a contest you entered. I’m a writer, and these are my books
  • Cue avalanche of unsubscribes, spam reports and warnings from MailChimp
  • MailChimp recommended reconfirming my list, which meant unsubscribe everyone and ask them to resubscribe
  • Which I did, while including an apology for subscribing them in the first place

This is the mail I sent out:

Dear ,

Last Friday you received an e-mail titled What fantasy books to read for the summer. This e-mail was sent to almost 5000 people, whose addresses were obtained through a contest run by, a contest for which I was one of the sponsors.

One of the terms for participating in that contest was to agree to be subscribed to a number of authors’ mailing lists, including my own. This contest was run a few months ago, and I received your e-mail addresses early in June.

I hesitated using your e-mail addresses. Before said contest my mailing list only had 83 subscribers, so a sudden growth of 6000% is no small thing. That said, the responses to Friday’s mail have been mixed. I’ve seen a surge in downloads, and I’ve also seen a surge in unsubscribes. I kind of expected that. Had I participated in a contest that required me to subscribe to mailing lists I would probably unsubscribe at the first received e-mail as well. What I had not expected was the number of people who filed complaints with MailChimp, or the response by MailChimp itself. In essence: they strongly urged me to reconsider my strategy for obtaining new subscribers.

I have given this some thought, and have, after some consideration, decided to automatically unsubscribe every single person that received Friday’s e-mail. As such, this e-mail is a confirmation that you are no longer subscribed to my book update mailing list, and will not receive any future mass-mailings from me unless you manually resubscribe through my signup page.

In addition, I would like to apologize for any inconvenience my mails have caused. I am not a fan of unsolicited mail myself, and each time I get a newsletter I don’t remember signing up for I have a tendency to complain rather loudly. I am sorry for having caused similar discomfort to others, and I hope you’ll all forgive me.


Jeroen Steenbeeke

Sending this e-mail (which I did through, which also powers the contact form on this site), took several hours, but responses started coming in shortly after the first ones went away. They all followed a similar theme:

  • People commended the fact that I was apologizing and appreciating just how much spam they received
  • Many thought it was unnecessary seeing as they agreed to be subscribed in the first place
  • A significant number of people actually got angry about the fact that people had filed abuse reports against me, again, since they agreed to be subscribed in the first place
  • Quite a few people resubscribed. I figured a handful might do this, but I guess underestimated my audience in this regard

Before this started, I had 83 subscribers. Half an hour ago, I had 342 subscribers. I’m not sure what would have happened if I had not gone through with the reconfirmation (there were about 4700 subscribers left before I removed the ones I added after the contest), but now I’m completely sure that those that subscribed actually want to be there.

All in all, I feel good about how this has turned out. I’ve increased the size of my mailing list fourfold, and managed to get below the threshold for paid MailChimp again. I can only downgrade back to free once, but unless something extraordinary happens I don’t expect to cross the 2000 subscriber limit anytime soon. If I do, I hope my writing income will reflect the interest in my updates.

Anyway, I’m going to focus on writing and outlining again. I have a Wiki to fill, and a book to edit.