Thursday, December 11, 2008

Saundra: Building Your Mailing List- Data Mining for Authors

While authors may enjoy the art half of our industry, the business half can be confusing and overwhelming. For example, we could use a great mailing list- but where do you get the list? The free way is called data mining, and anyone with some time and an Internet connection can do it.

The most important part of data mining is figuring out what you need to know. You need to look at your book and determine who wants to read this, and who will help those people read it.

We'd all like to think the answer to those questions is everybody, but unless you have the funds for 30 million postcards, you might want to focus your efforts.

To start, let me show you how to break down your book into targeted audiences, using my book as an example:

YA novel = I want to target independent booksellers who specialize in YA or children's books.

YA novel = I want to target middle and high schoolers. Best way to get to them? Middle school and high school librarians.

YA novel about ghosts = I want to target independent booksellers who specialize in horror or genre novels.

YA novel set in Louisiana = I want to target independent booksellers in Louisiana.

Author lives in Indiana = I want to target independent booksellers and YA librarians in Indiana.

These are your basic categories- type of book (can be more than one category,) demographic of book, setting of book, author region. Now that you've narrowed your data requirements down from "every single person in the world" to, say, librarians in (your state), it's time to fire up Google.

Here's the beauty of the Internet- chances are, somebody more fastidious than you has already collected the information you need in ONE place. You just have to find it. Some of the best Google tools are simple searches. Start macro, and go micro- choose the broadest possible search terms first, then refine. For example:

indiana libraries returns LibCat, which just so happens to have lists of EVERY SINGLE PUBLIC LIBRARY in the United States, arranged by state, with links to each library website.


Bookmark your state page, open a word processor, and get to work data mining. Start at the top of the page, and go to the first library website. Copy and paste the name and address of the library into your open word processor. Then, click around the site to see if you can find the name of the director, or the specific librarian you need. Try


Because these two sections are where you're most likely to find a staff list with titles. And yes- this will take a long time. I like to do batches of 50, then switch off to another task so I don't start making errors.

For each targeted area, you're going to repeat that process, and you have to refine your search terms each time.

Sometimes, you have to go micro to macro- more specific to less specific. For example, "indiana independent booksellers" gives lots of great information returns, but you'll discover that the IndieBound website is hard to use for this because it wants you to search booksellers by zip code. That's great if you want to find one store, but not if you want to find all of them in a given region.

So if I go macro with just "independent booksellers", not only do I find great resources like the Southern Independent Booksellers, Great Lakes Independent Booksellers = regional bookseller groups that often have their own awards, and other resources- but I also find American Booksellers Association- and their search page lets you search by state. Get to pasting!

This works for any major groupings of information you need. Try "school districts indianapolis" (replacing Indy with your town, of course!) to get a list of all the school districts in your region. Then go micro by searching for "[name of school district]".

You'll usually find a centralized page for the entire district, which then gives you links to each school in the district. Target appropriately- again, you'll often want to use ABOUT US or CONTACT US to find out who runs the media center.

Tips and Tricks

Can't Find Staff Information for Schools or Libraries?

1) See if they have a blog. Most people use a variation on their name when they're making blog entries- is the YA librarian posting as Saundra? Then check her e-mail address to get her last name. In the US, school and library e-mail addresses are packed with information:
S. Mitchell at Akron Public Library, Indiana, United States
S. Mitchell at Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township, K-12 Schools, Indiana, US

2) Check the activity calendar- sometimes they'll have contact information there that isn't elsewhere on the site.

3) Check out the gallery- sometimes, there will be pictures of library events, nicely labeled with people's names!

Further Refining Your Search Results

If getting more specific with your search terms isn't helping, try using modifiers. Did you know you can use quotation marks, and plus and minus signs in Google to refine your search terms?

shadowed summer = A regular search, this returns information about my book, but also poetry with those words in it, anything about summer, anything about shadows- it's kind of a mess. So I can refine my search like this:

"Shadowed Summer" = using quotes tells Google to search for that phrase exactly. Now all my search terms are either about my book, or they're probably poetry that features the words "shadowed summer" in the lines.

"Shadowed Summer" -poem = Using the minus sign tells Google to EXCLUDE anything that includes the following term in the search. Now I'm finding anything that has "Shadowed Summer" in exactly that order, plus Google is now removing any searches that are specifically about poetry.

"Shadowed Summer" +"Saundra Mitchell" = Using the plus sign tells Google that you want search results for your initial search term that ALSO include the additional search term. Now I will only get results for "Shadowed Summer" that also include my name on the page.

You can use multiple + and -, but Google, like anything else, works best when you refine, rather than overspecify.

Weigh Your Sources

Sure, there's all kinds of information on the web, but some sites are more accurate than others. Weigh your sources when you search for information- a dated government website listing all the libraries in your region is probably more accurate than an undated Geocities website made by an unknown author.

If a website seems sketchy, or incomplete, check the information there against other sources. It's especially important to have accurate contact information- you want to send your postcards to the librarian in charge of youth services now, not the one who retired in 1998!

Accept Limitations

Sometimes, you just cannot find the name of the librarian in charge at a particular institution. Sometimes, you can only manage a last name. Or an initial. Or nothing at all. And that's okay.

You can still contact an organization by phone or by e-mail to request specific information. And, some pages have Instant Chat help- just type your question, and get an answer in real time.

Don't waste a lot of time searching when you could resolve your question with one phone call, IM or e-mail. Take a quick look at CONTACT US, ABOUT US, the blog, the pictures, and if you can't find the info you need, send an e-mail and move on.

Stay Organized

You will end up with multiple files but fewer headaches if you organize like information with like information. One file for regional booksellers. One file for school libraries. Etc., etc., etc..

I like to keep my lists in Word. It doesn't do a better job than notepad, but when it comes time to use that information, I can change the color of each address after I use it- that way I don't multiple-mail people- harassing them, and wasting my postage and time!

Another way you can organize your mailings is to print your labels on a sheet of plain paper, then on the sheet of labels. Staple these together, so when you remove a label, you can see the address through the backing paper. When the whole page is empty, you can see which addresses have already been mailed.

And... those are the basics of data mining: tighten your focus, macro to micro, refine, refine, refine. That's all there is to it- now all you need is time and patience. And cocola. Cocola makes everything better. ^_^


  1. Awesome post, Saundra! Thanks so much for sharing this info!

  2. THIS, I can use. Thanks, Saundra!

  3. This is GREAT info, Saundra! And even though I'm not an author (my expertise is more on the business side of things), I completely agree that need to work on the business side of their industry but that it can be hard to know what to do or where to start!

  4. I would also add that most states have a state library (government agency) and that agency has a list of all of the public libraries in the state. Often you can find the file online in a downloadable format that allows you to create mailing labels if you want to send postcards or something. It's public information and is almost always free.

  5. I'm just beginning to make a database for an 09 release, so this post is timely and VERY helpful. Thank you!

  6. Very helpful, Saundra. I'm definitely in good company with all you smarties under Sara's wing.

  7. Your contents are a lot more than adequate for me. european watch company


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