How to Pre-Sell Your Art: A Complete Guide to Email Marketing

{Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Laura George, and while she writes on pre-selling art pieces specifically, I thought these methods could be adapted and used universally throughout the creative industry.}

There’s a big obstacle that artists face when they want to offer reproductions of their original work: having to buy an expensive print one-by-one or buy in bulk and have stock sitting around un-purchased. This is such a problem that many artists forgo the idea entirely, opting to not offer prints at all. Other artists decide to use a print-on-demand company, whose quality might not match their standards, and suck up the fees and loss of control associated with having a portfolio on a POD site.

But there’s a better way! (Bet you saw that coming.)

You can deliver a high-quality, luxury print without spending cash you don’t have or charging your customer twice as much because they only need one. The answer is in pre-selling.

Pre-sell Your Art-A complete guide to email marketing

This is a practice used in a lot of industries to generate buzz, excitement, and actual money prior to delivering whatever product or service or event people are purchasing. So if you’re not a 2D visual artist, this process can still be adapted fairly easily to work for you. The principle is that you have a limited amount of stock on a product or you are only allowing so many people to purchase the service due to your limitations in time or other resources. This can be a manufactured limit as well – meaning that you don’t actually have to have a reason for limiting the number of purchasers, though it usually works best if you do.

The concept is actually similar to the crowdfunding arena of Kickstarter: people pay before the product is finished. The difference of course is that everyone pays a flat amount and everyone receives the finished product. Kickstarter is a great resource if you’re looking to adapt this to an industry other than art.

The basic idea of pre-selling is pretty simple, but the key is in the marketing. There’s a right way to do this one. A way that will work. And the only pre-requisite is that you’ve got an email list with a few people on it who are genuinely interested in your art.

How to Market Your Unfinished Art

What we’re going to be doing is setting up a series of emails that will gently sell your prints over about a month leading up to you actually having them printed at your favorite local printer. To prepare, your first step is to decide:

  • which piece you’ll print
  • what size(s) you’ll offer
  • which paper you’ll use
  • and how much you’re going to charge

You might need to pop over to your printer for paper samples or a quote. To get a proper quote, you should assume that somewhere around 1% of your email list will end up purchasing. So if you have 100 people, you’ll make one sale. This sounds abysmal, but it’s not. This strategy involves little to no upfront costs for you, putting more profit in your pocket. I’ve seen this 1% skyrocket to even something like 30%, which could happen to you if you have a particularly captivating email series (or a particularly captivated list). So don’t dismay! You can also supplement your email list size by publicizing on social media where people are less-likely to be ready to buy from you but there’s so gosh-darn many of them that you may catch a few customers right away, or at least a few more interested people on your email list.

You’ll use this estimate of how many sales you’ll make to decide what quote to get from the printer: if you have 500 people on your email list, you’re thinking you’ll make 5 sales, so you want to ask the printer how much they would charge for a run of 5 prints (with your chosen paper and size).

Ok, now you’re ready for the selling!

How to Pre-Sell Your Art via Email

I promise this can actually be fun because you’re not so much convincing someone to buy from you as you are showing them the intricacies of how the piece came to be. This is a pretty soulful type of sales that I think you’ll really enjoy.

Here are the emails you should be sending out and the specifics of each one. You should start the emails about a month prior to the date you’ll send out the prints, which should be a couple of days after you expect to pick them up from the printer so you have time to wrap them up and address the packages.

1. Are you interested?

Send: Day 1

To: Entire List

Length: 1-2 paragraphs

Ask if they’d like to hear about an “exclusive release of a limited edition print”. Show an image of the original piece. Explain that it’s a luxury print on high-quality paper with archival inks. Give them the link to a smaller email list that will be just the people who sign up to hear more about the print (we’ll call this the “Interested List”). You could also include the number of prints you expect to run if you’re pretty sure about the number. Do not give them a price until the fourth email!

2. Thanks!

Send: Immediately after someone signs up

To: Interested List subscriber

Length: 1-2 paragraphs

This is easiest as an autoresponder or drip campaign so that it goes out automatically to just the new person signed up. This email should thank them for their interest and let them know what they’re going to be getting from you in these emails. Don’t tell them the whole shebang, but explain that you’ll be giving them a behind-the-scenes of how the piece was made and what goes into printing it.

3. Story Behind the Art.

Send: Day 5

To: Entire List

Length: 3-8 paragraphs

This email explains what inspired the art, the story behind it, the concepts in the piece, etc. Whatever type of story you can create about the piece to help them connect with it and you. Not all art has a deep, emotional background. So it’s ok to be honest if you were simply inspired by something you saw on a whim, a daydream, or you actually created by allowing the reckless freedom of your intuition to take over. Just try to draw it out into a few paragraphs or tie it into a philosophy around art or a story about you. Making it relatable or just human is key here. And this is probably the most important email of the entire series, so spend some time editing. This email should also link them to your Interested List and ask them to join it to stay in the loop.

4. The “Before”

Send: Day 7

To: Interested List

Length: 3-6 paragraphs

This email shows them a work-in-progress photo from the piece they’ll be receiving a print of. If you didn’t take one (shame on you! Do it next time.) you can instead send a snapshot of your studio, preferably with you in it.

This email should also have a subtle sell of your Early Bird offer. That means a slightly less-expensive price than people will pay later. If the price you wanted to sell the print for doesn’t give you much room to lower it, instead use that as the Early Bird price and raise the real price up a couple notches.

You can give them a deadline (day 22) for the Early Bird if you like. But the real key is making the purchase process ridiculously easy. A button or a link that will send them straight to a checkout page is ideal. Any other fluff and you could lose them. At this point, they should know whether they want the print.

When you’re writing this email, remember I call it a “subtle sell”. You just want to casually mention that you’re opening the cart and people can buy at an Early Bird price. Simple, no pressure.

5. How to Frame a Limited Edition Print

Send: Day 10

To: Interested List

Length: 3-4 paragraphs

This email just explains the best way (or your preferred way) to frame a print. Actually, YOUR print. You can talk about frame color, frame size, matting color, etc. with your piece as the example. If you’re signing the prints, you can explain how best to keep the signature visible in the frame. And you can even touch on things like preserving the colors with UV-protected glass and keeping the piece out of direct sunlight.

6. Prepping the Art

Send: Day 14

To: Entire List

Length: 2 paragraphs

This is a pretty short email saying that you’re sending the piece to the printer in a couple days and that you thought they might be interested in seeing what you do to prep the work to be printed. Whether you take photos yourself, hire someone to do it, the printer takes the photos for you, you might have to prep the canvas, or protect the piece for it’s short journey, etc. Anything that you have to do between finishing the original and getting the piece in the printer’s hands. Include a link for people to join your Interested List.

7. At the Printer

Send: Day 17

To: Interested List

Length: 1 paragraph, plus photos

Take a snapshot of you at the printer and include it in this email. People love behind-the-scenes photos. If you get carried away, it’s also totally fun for them to see more photos of what a printer’s workspace looks like or of you checking out paper samples. You can include specifics about the print here again, mentioning the size and type of paper and letting them know if you’ll be signing it and if it will have edition information on the back. Again, include a really subtle sell for your Early Bird offer – just one line with the link to purchase.

8. Last Day for Early Bird

Send: Day 22

To: Interested List

Length: 1 paragraph

This email needs to be super short – just two sentences. Let them know that the Early Bird is closing at midnight and then the price will go up. Give them both prices, if your high price is considerably higher, and give them a link to purchase.

9. It’s Coming

Send: Day 24

To: Interested List

Length: Long, maybe 10 paragraphs

This is your hard sell. This is where you want to pull out all your copywriting prowess and get completely captivating with your words. You want to hit home to your subscribers that if they love the piece, this is their only opportunity to get it because you won’t be offering it again (this is especially effective if the original has sold). Remind them of how many you’ll be printing and let them know the deadline for orders. Don’t forget to mention that you’ll close the cart if they sell out, which gives them a reason to purchase before your deadline. And, of course, give them a link to purchase!

10. Print Release Day

Send: Day 28 at 7am

To: Interested List

Length: 2-5 paragraphs

On Day 25, you’ll want to tell the printer exactly how many to run, assuming he can run them by Day 27. If you originally told people there would only be 10 prints and now you’ve got 15 orders – congratulations on selling more than you expected! But to keep things honest, you’ll want to go ahead and get 15 printed, but own up to it in this email.

Let your Interested List know that you didn’t anticipate the interest and you’ve upped your print run to accommodate it. Then you have a choice. Either tell them the prints have sold out and thank them for their interest or decide to print more if you think more people will purchase. Weigh your options wisely. If you really don’t want extra stock, just run how many have already been ordered and send out a “they’re all gone” email to your Interested List. If you would rather make more sales and have the potential of a couple prints left over, you can order a few more. If you’ve got under 50 orders so far, I highly suggest only adding 3-5 more prints to your order.

No matter what you decide, now is the time to tell your Interested List. The first sentence should be very friendly and un-business-like: The prints are finished and ready to be signed and shipped out! I’ll be working hard on getting them out to you over the next few days.

Then, let them know if you raised the print quantity to accommodate the unexpected orders. You don’t necessarily have to let them know how many more you’re printing, but do tell them that today is the last day to purchase, the cart closes at midnight, and there are X number of prints still available. Provide a link to purchase.

11. What to Expect

Send: Day 28 at 9am

To: People who purchased

Length: 1 paragraph

Just send a quick email to everyone who has purchased letting them know that the printing went off without a hitch and that you’ll be sending their prints out on X day. Invite them to respond to your email with any questions they have.

12. 12 Hours Left

Send: Day 28 at 12pm

To: Entire List

Length: 1 paragraph

Don’t be a pain about this, since these aren’t people who have already shown interest in the print. But it’s a good time to let everyone know that this is really their last chance. I prefer a couple quick sentences to the gist of, “There are 12 hours left and only X prints still available. I won’t be printing this piece again. If you love it, now is the only time to bring it into your life.” And provide a link to purchase!

13. 1 Hour Left

Send: Day 28 at 11pm

To: Interested List

Length: 2-5 paragraphs

Now this is the real, end-all-be-all, last chance to purchase. Make that apparent. Tell them how many prints are still available. Emphasize that if any stock is left over it will be available on your website at double the price (and follow through with that!).

14. Followup

Send: Day 35-ish

To: Entire List

This really can be part of your next newsletter if you like. It’s simply an email thanking everyone for bearing with the extra emails while you were releasing the limited edition print. You want to sound cheery about how the whole thing went, even if it didn’t go well. Include a photo of you signing prints or packing them up. I’ve seen some great photos of stacks of padded mailers ready to be shipped or a car full of packing tubes heading to the store. People love seeing your success and sharing in it just a little bit. So this is a nice followup to wrap the process up in their heads and let them know that everything’s returning to normal with your emails.

So 14 emails is all it takes to make twice as much money from your prints and even, if you like, not have any stock left over. But I know you’re skeptical.

Let me explain why this works:

You’re building, slowly and gently, a connection with you and your piece as well as an excitement about an event. People who don’t even like the piece you’re printing will feel a strange compulsion to read about the release – they want to participate in the excitement.

A shorter email series might not result in as many sales because people need time to digest such connection and meaning. A longer email series might burn people out and make them tired of hearing from you. You’re giving just the right amount in a way that will allow your customers to appreciate their purchase much more than if they popped onto your POD site and bought a cheaply made 10×14.

And people buy not just because they connect to the art (though they won’t buy if they don’t) but because you’re making the art mean more than just a pretty decoration on the wall. You’re telling a story behind the art, giving behind-the-scenes peeks, showing them all the work and love that goes into the print they’ll receive. You’re giving that print an excessive, generous, delicious meaning that humans crave from objects in our lives.

Laura GeorgeIf you can see yourself using this email series to pre-sell a limited edition print, then you might be interested in other fantastic insight Laura has about selling your art. Laura C George liberates and energizes artists who feel stuck, arming them with the knowledge they need to create a career that supports them emotionally and financially. Laura loves hanging out in the dog park with her pup and really good food, when she’s not knee-deep in art-related awesomeness. You can grab up Laura’s free The Art of Pricing Art video or follow along on her blog.

{Image credit: I’m loving the free-for-blogs stock photos from Lime Lane Photography}

Loved this read? Get regular updates!

Share this post!

4 comments

Leave a Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *