“Anyone Can Be a Writer” How This Campaign Killed Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. TikTok Is Next.
The first time I came across the “Anyone Can Be a Writer” campaign was through my sister-in-law. She forwarded me this cryptic email with a link I was kind of afraid to click on, to be honest. But since she usually calls me to comment on the things she sent me later (yes, she’s one of those), I had no choice.
Besides a link to submit my writing and a logo, the entire website was one shade of blue. The simplicity of it caught me by surprise. There were no photographs, no ten-minute explainer videos, no “buy one now” buttons either. The full strength of their campaign was on their message.
Anyone can be a writer.
It is so simple and, at the same time, so compelling I felt instantly hooked. As a freelance writer and part-time marketer, I had to find out more.
From 25 to 1,700 subscribers a day
The campaign, made by the Cabrera Brothers Company, was aimed to encourage first-time writers to send their work to their Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. Interestingly enough, they choose not to use Social Media to promote it.
What? No Google AdSense? No Facebook Ads? No promoted tweets? As crazy as that sounds, that is what they did. You can imagine my surprise when I learned the campaign brought 1,700 subscribers a day to their mailing list.
No, that’s not a typo. It does say 1,700 subscribers a day.
Apparently, the campaign increased its average of 25 subscribers a day to a steady 1,700, which lasted for weeks. If you are not impressed by now, wait until you hear how many subscribers the campaign brought them in total.
25,000 new subscribers.
I’m not even going to comment on that.
So how did this email campaign I never heard of before managed to grow this Science Fiction Magazine’s mailing list without even touching Social Media? My sister-in-law is a barista; by the way, she is not even close to being the campaign’s target.
I had to know how the heck their message reached her.
It all started with an email
Getting hold of one of the brothers wasn’t really that difficult as I thought it would be; it only took me about five weeks. Yeah. It turns out Javier was sort of “unavailable” at the moment. This is the automated reply I got:
Yes, that is a real message. Javier was out of the office on a failed trip to Antarctica. He would later tell me how they were trying to fly there to mix the audio for one of the Magazine’s podcast episodes. If I was curious before, now I was really curious.
When we finally got around speaking, he told me the campaign’s success had been as much of a surprise to them as it was to me since they never launched the campaign. A fluke? Not likely.
The brothers told me they only sent a few dozen emails as part of an A/B test. Before they could do anything else with the campaign, they had to move into something else; it was almost Halloween. They needed to finish a series of spooky promos for the Magazine and never actually got around emailing their entire mailing.
So how did their campaign email ended in my inbox? Apparently, that’s not the only place it ended. In the weeks that followed the A/B test, many of those original recipients began forwarding the email to friends and family.
There is no way for them to know how or where it really began to have traction. Still, the small campaign grew into a chain, a network of people reaching one another from all over the world. The brothers say they have learned about people sharing their campaign message in Greece, Brazil, Mexico, Finland, the UK, and even China.
Without Facebook. Without Twitter. Without Instagram. Without TikTok. Just by using a few dozen emails.
After going through what they did with them during an Interview, here’s what I learned:
They used text emails
The old saying “one image is worth a thousand words” doesn’t apply when you send an email campaign. For their “Anyone Can Be a Writer” campaign, the Cabrera Brothers decided it was best to keep things simple.
Between HTML and plain text emails, the latter has always been the best choice. They are reliable, don’t get sent into the “promotions” tab, rarely end up being marked as “Spam,” and have a higher opening rate. The only problem with using plain text emails is that they don’t allow tracking openings or HTML links.
The brothers’ solution? They used HTML emails with just text instead.
Update: after publishing this article, someone sent me the original email. It was unopened, so while HTML text-only emails do get through spam barriers, they are more effective when they come from someone you know personally.
They used one link
Instead of packing their email campaign with half a dozen links and social sharing buttons, the brothers only used one link, the link to their campaign’s landing page.
When everybody else uses colorful templates and even animated GIFs in their email campaigns, you know it is time to go back to the essentials. The brothers understood that, and the email they sent was short but made the point they wanted to get across stand out better.
Their landing page was meant to shock.
With so many articles written about what a landing page should be, I was surprised to see the approach the Cabrera Brothers took with theirs. As I mentioned before, their campaign’s landing page has only one logo, one title, a link for people to submit their work, and one short paragraph.
There are no videos, no stock images, no charts explaining their message. The page barely expands on the email, but it’s enough to make visitors curious and, like American novelist Ken Kesey said, “The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.”
By the end of the week, after they sent the A/B test, manuscripts began to pour in, and their list of subscribers went from 25 a day to a steady 1,700 with a total of 25,000 new subscribers.
Not bad for just a bunch of text.
Their message was simple but powerful
Indecision. Lack of confidence. Self-doubt. Contrary to what we like to think, we are our worst enemies (and critics). So when the Cabrera Brothers reached out to their readers, their message was “Anyone Can Be a Writer,” not “You Can Be a Writer.”
See the difference?
I asked Javier why they decided to use a longer message instead of a shorter one. He said, “Well, we would never tell people what they can or can’t be. Now, that would just be silly. All we wanted was for them to consider the possibility. That’s all. Some people think we writers have purple blood or something. Just because someone has twenty, forty books published, it doesn’t mean they are smarter than the rest. Luckier, perhaps, but not smarter. So we made sure our campaign told that story, you know. Anyone can be a writer. All you have to do is write. And if you want to stay being a writer, well, just keep writing.”
“Just because someone has twenty, forty books published, it doesn’t mean he or she is smarter than the rest. Luckier, perhaps, but not smarter.”
When we discussed what they thought made so many share their campaign through email and not social media, they told me they believe it had to do with the type of message. “It is very personal,” they said, “people don’t want to share personal stuff on social media. That’s why you see so many private accounts.”
In writing, one word can change the meaning of a whole sentence. In this case, it changed an entire marketing campaign. The brothers made sure not to tell people what they should be, but what they could be, instead.
Never put all your eggs in one basket
But having found one powerful message that fits your campaign doesn’t mean you have to stop there. The brothers created at least ten other messages under the same concept for their campaign, each one pointing to different landing pages.
Here are some examples:
The Hugo Awards are considered the most prestigious literary award in the science fiction community. Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, Connie Willis, Neil Gaiman, and George R. R. Martin have won Hugo awards.
Those are some big shoes to fill.
So when the Cabrera Brothers created their email campaign, they made sure people knew they weren’t looking for price winners. They only wanted writers.
“We want to read your stories.”
It makes sense: first-time writers usually feel insecure about sharing their work. Thick skin usually develops after years of rejections. The next landing page speaks for itself.
Cheeky. Very cheeky. But also extremely creative; the brothers’ use humor to help visitors relax. I don’t remember the last time I saw a landing page using a provocative message, do you? That’s the issue here; in the age of canceling, not many companies would consider sending out an email campaign this strong. At least not intentionally.
The harsh reality is that canceling is an internet phenomenon that only appears to affect us here, in the U.S. Sometimes we forget how big the world really is.
For their campaign, the brothers didn’t.
Growing your email list can be a painful process. Without investing any money on paid marketing, and without using Social Media, it can be even worse than slow; it can be tedious and time-consuming.
The awful truth here is that most people don’t want to subscribe to our newsletters. It is not something they rush home to google for, or at least that’s what I used to believe before learning about what the Cabrera Brothers did for their Sci-Fi Magazine.
Alessandra Horton is a freelance writer and editor. You can read her in places like Medium. She is currently taking an indefinite hiatus from Twitter.