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How to make an e-course (using MailChimp)

I just launched an e-course version of DIY Writing Retreat–Your DIY Writing Retreat–and it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve taught before and I’ve taken online ecourses before–both emailed and not–so I had a pretty good idea of what I should make it look like. But actually making this course took longer than expected.How to Make an Ecourse in Mailchimp - Alicia de los Reyes

I thought I’d share a quick guide to how to make an e-course using MailChimp, my automated email service of choice.

If you follow these steps and add your own content, you’ll have an e-course that works like this:

  • People sign up to take your e-course on a MailChimp sign-up form (in other words, by joining a MailChimp list).
  • They receive an email that starts the course. Emails = lessons.
  • By clicking or waiting a certain amount of time, they get another email lesson.
  • The course sends automatically whenever someone joins the list.

If you’ve ever signed up to get a free mini-course from someone’s website, this is likely what you got–automated emails in a sequence that makes sense.

Here’s how to do it:

Step 1. Outline your e-course by breaking up an idea or a lesson into roughly half-page-long chunks. If you’ve ever planned out a syllabus or a lesson plan unit, this is a lot like that. Think of each email as a lesson that gives the reader one thing to take away. For example, when I was working on Your DIY Writing Retreat, I made one day “Pick a date” and focused on how to find time to get away.

How to Make an Ecourse in Mailchimp - Alicia de los ReyesStep 2. Add assignments to each day. For each day of Your DIY Writing Retreat, I wanted there to be a clear takeaway. The best way to do this is make that takeaway into a concrete task. So, for example, on the “Go shopping” day of Your DIY Writing Retreat, I made a printable grocery shopping list and gave the reader the assignment of printing it out and buying the supplies on it.

Step 3. If you have a free MailChimp account, upgrade it. You only need to sign up for the cheapest level of service ($10/month) to get access to “Automation,” or the ability to make emails that send themselves.

Step 4. Make a MailChimp List for your e-course. You don’t want everyone on your regular email list (if you have one) How to Make an Ecourse in Mailchimp - Alicia de los Reyesto get your course–just the few who sign up (unless you’re making an intro-to-you course–then this list can be your newsletter list!). So, make a separate list for these folks and design a sign-up form.

Step 5. In MailChimp, go to “Automation” and click on the “Create Automation Workflow” button. Set it to send to the list you just created and choose the type of workflow that you want to send–I used “Educate Subscribers.” Your list should be empty, so this won’t actually send to anyone–yet.

Step 6. Design your first email, then click “Add new email” and design the next one. Repeat.

Step 7. Making any printables? Create them in the program of your choice and save them as PDFs. Then, upload to Dropbox (another free service–isn’t the Internet great?) and click on the “Share” button to get a link you can put in your emails/lessons.

Step 8. Decide on the trigger for each email. If you want the emails to send automatically (so that once someone signs up, they get one email per day or one email per week), then change the settings for each email so that it sends periodically after the last email has been sent (or opened). If you want the e-course to be self-paced (so that the reader controls when to get the next email), change the settings for each email so that it sends after the last email Capturehas been clicked. (You get to choose what they click–I made a button for each of mine that sent them to a page on my website that just says “Thanks for clicking! Your next lesson is on its way.”)

Step 9. Test the e-course! Add yourself to the list you made and make sure everything works: links, downloads, triggers. Look for typos. Have someone else try it out and ask them for feedback.

Step 10. Confirm! Add start sharing the sign-up form on your website. (Like this: Are you interested in running Your DIY Writing Retreat? Buy the course here!) If you want to offer it for sale, keep the link hidden and send the code to customers who buy it–if you buy my course, you’ll get the link in a spiffy PDF so you can sign up and take the course at your leisure.

Have you thought about making an e-course? Please share in the comments what’s stopping you if you have!


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Want to take your *own* writing retreat?

The days are finally longer than 4.5 hours and your cat has stopped permanently hibernating on the top of the couch. You have that itchy springtime feeling that makes you want to DO stuff: hike a mountain, take up kayaking, go for a bike ride.

Your DIY Writing Retreat - A Guide to Getting Away E-courseBack in the day, this time of year meant summer time! No more school, the chance to do something fun and/or money-earning. For me, it meant babysitting or trying something new: working in a bakery, taking a summer class, teaching math. Whatever I was doing, there was none of the pressure I felt during the school year to make important choices: all I had to do in the summer was earn enough to buy books for the next year, and perhaps add a line to my resume.

Now that school is over (sniff) and summer doesn’t mean the same thing, I still want some time to do things without the pressure to succeed. I want to finish a project that I care about without having anyone looking over my shoulder and asking how it’s going. I want to sneak away into a tent in the mountains and fill up a notebook with things no one will ever see. I want to write things I never write: poetry! textbooks! whatever!

I’ve been lucky enough to do this before: when I was between jobs, I camped out at a family friend’s farmhouse and spent my mornings writing and my afternoons walking on the beach. It was amazing. I got things done.

The key was making a plan and sticking to it. A few months later, it dawned on me that this isn’t easy–it wasn’t easy for me, and it would have been a lot easier if someone had given me a plan and told me to stick to it. So, I wrote DIY Writing Retreat.

But always in the back of my mind, I knew that an ebook wasn’t necessarily the best medium for this type of thing. I wanted to make something people could print and fill in–a way to plan a retreat that would be more tangible and, to my mind, fun. I wanted to add more to DIY Writing Retreat and make it something people would be more likely to actually use–instead of just read and think, “Oh, that sounds nice.”

And that is how Your DIY Writing Retreat, the DIY Writing Retreat e-course, was born. I broke down DIY Writing Retreat, added in printable worksheets for almost every chapter, and expanded the schedules to accommodate folks who only have time for an afternoon or a day-long writing retreat. I added in more concrete suggestions for how to make a writing retreat work for your life, whether you’re a mom, a just-graduated student who misses writing, a teacher, a self-employed person who can’t get a break (high five), or someone who’s always wanted to try writing something but never found the time.

For $39 (and maybe a train ticket), you can buy yourself a fun, no-pressure-to-succeed getaway experience that will (in my experience) make you more productive, more relaxed, and better able to write. You’ll enjoy trying something new. You’ll learn about your writing style: when and where you work best, what you write when you don’t have cat videos to distract you. You’ll probably put more words down on paper than you ever have before (I did).

Interested? Your DIY Writing Retreat e-course is on sale now–read more here.

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So I’m making an ecourse…

Your DIY Writing Retreat - A Guide to Getting Away E-courseI’m working on an e-course version of DIY Writing Retreat. Basically, I’m expanding the ebook and breaking it down into eight steps that you can work through at your own pace via email. It’s going to have fancy printable worksheets and fun quizzes.

Why am I doing this? A few reasons…

  1. I wanted to try out doing it. I like e-courses and I wanted to make my own.
  2. I wanted to try selling my writing in a different format.
  3. I wanted to try teaching via email.
  4. I like making stuff.

And, to be perfectly transparent, I wanted to see if this might be a more efficient way to make money from writing than an ebook. For one thing, Amazon won’t be taking out a chunk of my sales–and for another, prices on e-courses are generally higher, so I can charge a more reasonable price for the amount of work I put in.

I’m sure I’ll have fewer sales on Your DIY Writing Retreat (the name of this new endeavor)–for one thing, I don’t have the benefit of Amazon’s platform, or the numerous kind reviews that I already have on my other ebooks–but I figured I’d give it a shot with you, my dedicated readers.

So tell me in the comments: are you interested in e-courses? Are you interested in this one? You can sign up here to find out when it launches (and get a free guide to writing, if you haven’t already!).

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My KDP Amazon Experiment

Since 2013, I’ve published two writing guides. Both were edited/formatted/published by KMR Publishing (aka my pal Kelly). DIY Chick Lit has been on sale on Amazon and Smashwords (which distributes to Barnes & Noble’s Kobu and other ebook platforms) since November 2013. DIY Writing Retreat went on sale on Amazon 10 months later in September 2014.

The biggest reason we didn’t publish DIY Writing Retreat on Smashwords is that formatting for Smashwords takes for. ev. er. It was by far our biggest challenge. On Amazon, you can just upload a PDF.

In January of this year (2015), I took my exclusivity on Amazon a step further and enrolled both books in KDP Select. KDP Select is a program that lets readers who participate in Kindle Unlimited (a pay-per-month program) borrow books for free on their Kindles. It also lets writers put their ebooks on sale for a limited time, or offer them for free. All this in exchange for total loyalty to Amazon; your book (in ebook format) can’t be for sale anywhere else for 90 days.

I wanted to try KDP Select because I’d listened to a talk by Ingrid Ricks at PubCamp, a conference in Seattle. Ricks achieved awesome self-publishing success and her memoir, Hippie Boy, was eventually picked up by a traditional publisher. Ricks attributed some of her success to giving away her books for free online, which led to more readers and more sales of her other books. I’ve read about KDP Select success in other places, but seeing Ricks (and emailing with her–she is super nice!) convinced me to give it a shot.

Another reason I wanted to try KDP Select is that Andrew gave me a Kindle for Christmas this year, and it came with a trial membership to Kindle Unlimited. I ended up using it to read a fair number of books, and I noticed I was disappointed when I saw that some of my favorite authors didn’t participate in it.

Armed with an experimental mindset and few expectations–I sell a few copies of both books each month–I enrolled both books in KDP Select (and unpublished DIY Chick Lit from Smashwords).


Here’s what happened:

Borrows replaced sales. In KDP Select, writers are paid from a pool of money set aside for Kindle Unlimited borrows. So, every borrow earns me some cash, even though I don’t sell my book to Kindle Unlimited users. I noticed right away that many of my sales–more than half–were replaced with borrows. This might seem like it matters, but in terms of cash, I am right on track with my quarterly earnings compared to last year.

I gave away more than 800 copies of my books. I ran two promos: on Valentine’s Day weekend, I offered DIY Chick Lit free, and on the last weekend in March, I offered DIY Writing Retreat for free. Both times, I gave away 400+ copies of my book. I plan to write more about this in a separate post, but the short story is that I didn’t do much in the way of marketing or advertising for these promos: I tweeted about the sales, shared them with my newsletter list, and posted a link on the blog. 800 copies is not much in Bookland, but it is still many times my monthly sales, and it was fun to see my books make #1 in their respective categories.

My sales have not changed dramatically. The chart of my sales before and after the giveaways looks about the same: a few sales each month.


So what are my takeaways from all this?

KDP Select isn’t a magic bullet, but it does increase your readership. Even if only 10% of my free ebook downloads get read, that’s 80 more readers than I had last year. (I like to think my books have a better chance of getting read because they are short–but it’s hard to say.) More readers means potential for more reviews–though so far, I only have one new review for DIY Chick Lit–plus more visits to my website and more subscribers to my newsletter. I read all of those stats as more readers who are willing to read my writing elsewhere, and perhaps to buy another book down the road.

I’m not *sure* KDP Select is worth it, but so far, it hasn’t been doing any damage to my sales. Quarterly royalties are the same this year as they were last year, so if anything, KDP sales have increased slightly, since I’m no longer on Smashwords. This actually seems like pretty good reason to go back to Smashwords–I’m missing out on the royalties I earned from there last year (which made up about 15% of my total royalties, nothing to sneeze at).

free sales

I haven’t decided yet what to make my next book-selling experiment. I have a few ideas, including introducing an e-course companion to DIY Writing Retreat. But this has been more fruitful than I could have possibly expected; seeing a massive spike in “sales” came as encouragement I couldn’t have expected after a slow year of drips and drabs.