Edit: This article is from 2020, with some updates from 2021. Recently I've found that authors have been having difficulties to be approved for Amazon SES, so please keep that in mind.
I recently switched my mailing list to Sendy, and here I explain how I did it and my impressions so far and give you my review of the service. (Spoiler alert: I love it) This article also has some tips if you want to make the switch. Please note that most links are affiliate, but that doesn’t influence my opinions.
Like many authors, I have a mailing list. I love it, it's such a wonderful way to connect with readers, but the cost isn’t always that great. I prune my list constantly, and I still have 3000 subscribers. (Edit: this was 2 or 3 years ago. Now I have almost 10k subs and I think it's thanks to having a service that allows me to grow my list).
I used to be with MailerLite, and their price increases after 2500 subscribers, then again after 5000 subs, then again after 10000 subs. And to be frank, their pricing is one of the best around, but still. (Edit: As of April 2022 Mailerlite's pricing is no longer competitive)
I was considering cutting my list to keep it within the lower number. That’s not good. I realized that, in a way, I didn’t want my newsletter to grow too much, and it’s a horrible thought.
After some research, I found Sendy. Right now it costs $59, then you need to install it on your server, and you only pay for hosting and for emails sent, but it’s super cheap. Using Amazon SES (the service Sendy integrates with), the cost is $0 for up to 62,000 emails per month, then 0.10 for every 1000 emails after that. For me that means it’s pretty much free. You also need to use your own domain name, but that’s a must with most reputable email marketing services.
Edit: instead of doing all the steps I did below, an easier solution is to use Sendybay
Still, I found Sendy a bit complicated. I’m good with WordPress but I wasn’t that confident in installing Sendy on my server. Something else that I didn’t like was that their sign-up forms, while decent looking, were not pretty, and I like keeping things pretty. Plus, their email builder is pretty basic, and, again, I wanted pretty emails.
That said, I didn’t want to pay $30/month or $250/year with MailerLite. (These prices have since increased a lot)
So I had a dilemma.
After some thought, I took the plunge and got Sendy.
So what did I do next? I solved the issues I had with it. So let's go!
Why suffer? I got a developer from Fiverr to do the installation for me. It’s safe. You can change the password once they’ve finished their work.
He installed it on Amazon’s EC2 (web hosting platform). It works well. You’ll need an account with Amazon’s SES https://aws.amazon.com/ses/ (Amazon Simple Email Service), but the developer will set it all up for you. You don't need to do anything. Once it’s all installed, you’ll have a login page for Sendy, just like any newsletter provider, and won’t need to touch the server.
Edit: I've heard of some authors who had issues getting authorization to use Amazon SES, so check that. If you find that you're having trouble, I advise using author.email For Sendy, you can now use other providers, such as Elasticmail, but they will cost a little more.
If you want a more trustworthy developer, the people at Sendy can also help you with the installation and it costs $79. It's another option if you find installing it difficult.
I wasn't happy with Sendy's form. The sign-up page is OK, but the embedded forms are just plain html, and I wanted something that looked better.
What I did was ask a Fiverr developer to style the form, and now it looks good. You can see it in my sign-up page: dayleitao.com/sign-up/
The service I used was this: https://www.fiverr.com/black21s/help-you-edit-or-fix-any-html-and-css-issues
There are many plugins that integrate with Sendy but now I find that styling the html form is the best choice to make sure there are no issues. I paid only the basic gig ( $5 US) to have the form styled.
There’s no reason to worry here. There are quite a few email builders out there, all of them with free options. These were the ones I liked the most:
I chose Stripo, and now I have the most badass-looking emails! I chose them because I can have a free account and keep an archive of my sent newsletters, so that all I need to do is duplicate them when writing a new one and adjust the details. I can save a template, too. It’s free for up to four exports a month, which is enough for me.
More than 4 exports a month costs $12.50/month with Stripo. Then you might be thinking that it’s not a good deal, right? ? But frankly, their email builder is so much more advanced and so much better than what you usually get with your email marketing providers. It’s still cheaper than paying a newsletter service just so you have access to a pretty builder, and Stripo gets much better results.
Still, a possible $12.50 if you create more than 4 emails per month is something to be taken into consideration.
Another option for pretty emails is to use a free account from a regular newsletter provider, such as Mailchimp or even Mailerlite, then export the code.
Again, it’s a bit of extra work, and you need to consider if it's worth it.
Finally, another solution is to use Sendy’s native email builder. It looks like a regular html form, like what you would see on a blog, for example. Some people like it. It’s up to you!
Well, well, when I first considered Sendy, this wasn't the case, but now Bookfunnel and Storyorigin integrate with Sendy. Hurray!
Sendy also integrates with a lot of stuff! When I say a lot, I mean it! So there are tons of tools depending on what you want to do with it. Frankly, I don’t even know what most of them are. (And if you aren't an author or reader you might be wondering what Bookfunnel is). But there’s probably an integration for you there.
Sendy has a pretty solid auto-responder and you can send a welcome sequence. That said, if you want to segment your list based on “people who clicked this link”, it’s some extra work. You’d need to export the users who clicked on a link to a different list. Groups are called lists on Sendy. So if you automate a lot, Sendy might not be for you. That said, MailerLite missed some automations for me, so I wouldn’t trust them for that either. I have some segmentation with lists and I'm happy with it.
With any email service, make sure you download a backup for your contacts from time to time. Sendy is no exception. If something happens to your server, you could lose your information, so backup. If you’re are reading this and use a different service, it applies to you, too. Download your subscribers list every month. Sometimes it happens that things go wrong.
What has my experience been so far
I found that I have a much higher open and click rate. The reports are clear and informative.
I love how my campaigns look. True that I could use Stripo with any newsletter service, but perhaps I wouldn’t. And then, that was one “disadvantage” of Sendy that ended up being an advantage. Personalizing the campaigns is super easy and I enjoy addressing emails to each subscriber.
Above all, I’m not afraid that my newsletter will grow too much!
One tiny, tiny hiccup. Recently I had to update Sendy. I didn’t want to go to the installation myself, so I paid the Fiverr guy again. Done in 5 minutes!
Oh, if you’re curious, the developer that did the installation for me is fiverr.com/bineeshoc , but I’m confident that any developer who has experience and positive reviews can do it. You could find someone from other freelance websites, too.
How much did I spend to have Sendy?
Prices in US dollars
- $59 for Sendy
- So far $0 for Amazon’s SES, the email service that integrates with Sendy.
- So far $0 for EC2, where I host it. UPDATE: After one year free it costs $10.37 a month. This is something to be taken into consideration unless you install it together with your website.
- $20 for using a Fiverr developer twice (I’m counting their extra fees in this calculation and it might not be exact, since I paid in Canadian dollars)
- $39 for a plugin, but I no longer use it. My suggestion now is to pay a Fiverr developer to style the form, which is $7 ($5 plus yada yada)
That’s $86 in total, but those expenses won’t be repeated. After one year, I pay about $10/month with hosting, so it's not free, but it's pretty cheap for a list that can keep growing, and you could find cheaper hosting.
With Mailerlite, and a list of more than 2500 subscribers, it would be $252 for just one year if I kept within 5,000 subscribers (Edit: much, much more in 2022).
I think moving to Sendy is worth it especially for people who had problems with their email marketing service providers or who are tired of spending too much for large lists. Authors are different from big businesses that can make hundreds or thousands of dollars with a few sales. We work with high volume and low margin, and that’s the reason I think it’s important to seek cost-effective email marketing solutions.
Finally, a word here. For new authors just getting started, I think investing in self-hosted email software is overkill. I would actually advise them to start with Email Octopus or Author Email. Email Octopus has a free option for few subscribers. (Edit: I used to recommmend MeilerLite but it's too expensive now)
My suggestions is Email Octopus because it integrates with Bookfunnel and StoryOrigin and it's affordable.
Another affordable and easy option is Author Email, and it integrates with Bookfunnel.
With these two options, you won't have to scramble for hosting and you'll have form builders.