You already know that an email list is an important book marketing asset. And you may also know that you need to give away something for free to encourage people to sign up for your list. This is often called a reader magnet.
What you don't know is what that reader magnet should be.
In this post, I am going to give you some of my best reader magnet suggestions. You may have heard of one or two of them before, but I'm hoping to throw in a few unusual options as well. Let's get started!
Introducing reader magnets
If you're not familiar with the term ‘reader magnet', this is something that you give away for free in exchange for an email address. It's a great way to entice people to sign up for your list.
In other marketing circles, it's often called an opt-in incentive or a lead magnet. For authors, reader magnet makes a lot more sense and also sounds a lot less markety.
Your first impression
When I first started out in digital marketing, the first version of a reader magnet that I heard of was a First Impression Incentive. And this is another term that I love because it does what it says on the tin. This is something that you give away to make a great first impression. And it sounds a lot better than a lead magnet, which suggests that you've got to attract leads to sell to. That's a very ‘marketing' sort of term.
First Impression Incentive sounds like the start of a relationship where you are going to show off your best work. You're going to let people know why they should follow you, why they should subscribe to your list, and why they should buy your books. All by making a great first impression.
This is something important to remember when creating your reader magnet. You want it to make a good first impression, so you want to give away something excellent. Don't be afraid of giving away some of your best stuff because when you do, people will assume that everything you sell is of similar quality. They are more likely to buy because they already know they can trust you. They like your stuff, they know what you create, and they can trust that it is good quality and that they like it.
With that out of the way, let's dig into some of my favorite reader magnet ideas.
Idea 1: Fiction
For fiction authors, it makes sense to give away a novel or novella or a short story or a collection of short stories. And this is what you will often hear suggested as a reader magnet. People will often say, “Give away the first book in your series.” Or, “Give away a standalone novel that is really good and will encourage people to buy your other novels.”
Don't give away your book
The problem with giving away a complete book is you'd rather be making money from that. If you have a large body of work, it may make a lot of sense to give away a novel. If you don't, then this is the worst advice possible. You're giving away the only thing you've got for sale. Or if you haven't even written a book yet and someone's telling you to give one away, it doesn't make sense. And it's not fair on you and the fact that you've spent so much time creating something.
So what do I suggest instead? I suggest writing a prequel or a collection of short stories. If you've got something in an old drawer that you can dig out and put together to give that away, that could work well. If not, it depends on how fast you write. Saying, “Just write a prequel,” or, “Write a spin-off story,” that could take you a long time if you're a slow writer or if you're already busy writing other books. It could be a big ask – easy for me to say and not so easy for you to do.
So if that's you, if you're not someone that can whip up a whole new story, then read on for some of the other ideas. I've got more suggestions for you that may be a better fit.
Idea 2: Non-fiction
As is often the case, it is a little bit easier for non-fiction authors to create a reader magnet. It shouldn't be too much trouble for you to come up with some kind of guide, cheatsheet or workbook that relates to your topic. For example, I have my 7 step guide to building an author platform. You can download that as an example of what a nonfiction type guide should be. It should give people an insight into what you do and some information about how they can move forward.
There are lots of different options for non-fiction reader magnets. Any kind of guide, any kind of workbook is going to be useful. Try not to overthink it, you don't need to give away too much. People don't want so much information that they can't take action on what they're learning. You want to keep it simple and solve a problem fast.
Fiction authors can give away non-fiction!
But fiction authors, you can give away a non-fiction reader magnet too!
I heard from a subscriber recently who was asking, “As a romance author, what can I give away?” She didn't want to give away a book yet. She only had one fiction book available and didn't want to give that away to her list. And so she was asking what could she give away to her subscribers? Off the top of my head, I suggested, why didn't she do something like top 10 tips for a first date, or some kind of guide to speed dating or something like that.
The idea is not to position her as a dating and relationships expert. It could be a character in her book giving the advice. So it could be a little tongue-in-cheek. She's not trying to create a non-fiction blog or business, it is to promote her book, but it ties in. If you're writing romance, then tying in with some kind of non-fiction romance topic, that makes sense. As long as it aligns with your book and with your readers, and you can show the connection, go for it.
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Idea 3: Closed Facebook group
What better than to create a community for your readers? If you're writing non-fiction, people may want a safe space where they can talk to others in the same situation about the problem or issue. If you're writing fiction, your readers may want to talk about your characters and world.
A closed group is only for people that are passionate about your work. If you position that exclusivity in a way that makes it appealing to people, it can be a great opt-in incentive. Plus, you don't have to create anything new. And if you want to grow a Facebook group anyway, then this is a great reader magnet option.
Idea 4: A free course or series
For non-fiction, you could deliver an email course over a period of days or weeks. It makes sense to do it for non-fiction and to teach something for free related to your book. But, again, you can do this for fiction too.
You could base it on how you come up with ideas for your books or how you develop characters. It's about finding that sweet spot between what you're interested in, what your readers find interesting and how it relates to your book.
You might send a series of excerpts from your story or you could drip-feed a short story. If you can't create something now ready to deliver in one go, you could deliver a chapter or a scene each week.
The best thing about doing this is you can get feedback as you go. You could be creating something that you later publish and sell, and you've made it with the feedback as you've gone along. That is always a great way of creating something new.
Idea 5: Create a spin-off
Finally, you can create some kind of spin-off that aligns with your fiction and relates to it in some way. This could be a quiz. For example, you could have a quiz that reveals which character you are in a book. A quiz can be a great reader magnet because everybody loves a quiz and they have to sign up to be able to get the results.
Recipes & gardening tips
You could offer a recipe or a collection of recipes, and you don't have to have written a cookery book to do so. There's a fiction author that I love and food features heavily in all her books. But the books are not about food specifically. It just features quite heavily and there's always a few recipes at the back of the book. Similarly, you could offer gardening tips, even if you don't have a gardening book but like to mention plants in your stories.
You could give away instructions. If you talk about how to build something in your book then you could give away instructions on how to make it. One of my favorite examples for this, is from when I was a child. I loved the original Topsy and Tim books. There was one special edition where Topsy and Tim's dad made a bird table and their mum made a special seed cake for the birds. There was a recipe for the seed cake and instructions for making the bird table. These are great ideas for reader magnets that people can get excited about. They can get involved and also find it useful. And it doesn't require you to go and write a whole new novel to give away to your list.
Guides or maps
Another spin-off idea could be a travel guide or maps, or a guide to where to stay or eat in a particular location. It could be where your books are set or where you felt inspired to write the books. It could be where you've done research. You could share ideas for where people can take walks or where they can go fishing or anything like that related to a local area. And again, it's a bit of a spin-off, but it's relevant and it's useful.
Reader Magnet Top Tips
So my top tips for reader magnets are:
1. Give away something complete
People want to feel satisfied and eager to go and learn more about you. They don't want to be left hanging and feeling disappointed that they now need to go and buy something. They want to feel like they've received a gift. So give them a full story.
If you're giving away fiction, I encourage you to give away the whole book rather than the first one or two chapters. I know that's often recommended and it is worth doing as an interim measure if you have to.
I understand the theory that someone will read the first couple of chapters and be so hooked that they go and buy your complete book. But it can give a little bit of a bad taste in the mouth that they've been hooked in and now they have to go and spend money. They may not be warm enough yet to go and do that.
You also need to make sure that the first chapters are compelling enough that someone would go and immediately spend money on the full book.
I would encourage you to instead give away something complete that makes a great first impression. It should leave readers feeling satisfied, and grateful that you gave them a complete work.
2. Make it exclusive
My second tip is to make your reader magnet exclusive. Make it something people cannot get anywhere else. Although readers may appreciate that they can get a book free by joining your list, this can backfire. If someone buys your book on Amazon then finds they could have got it free on your website, that can be frustrating.
Also, readers may sometimes prefer to buy a book for a few dollars rather than join another mailing list to get it free. It's better to remove that option. We want them to sign up for your list so that you can maintain a connection with them long term.
3. Make it compelling
You also want to make sure that your reader magnet is compelling. Why does someone need this in their life? Why do they want to get this free thing that you're offering them? You need to make sure it's something really, really compelling.
Making your reader magnet exclusive is one way to make it more enticing.
This is another reason why the first chapter or two of a book is not a great reader magnet. Your potential new subscriber knows right from the start that it's not complete and that they're going to have to pay if they want to read the whole thing. It leaves it open to them saying, “Actually, I don't really want this.” It makes it less compelling.
You want to make it so there's no doubt in someone's mind that they need your reader magnet. Either it's going to help them solve a problem or do something, such as make a bird table, or it's going to entertain them.
Whatever it is, they need to know what it is and why they need it. And they've got to want it. They've got to think, “Yes, I definitely want to get that “and here's my email address.”
4. Make it good
Again, this is your first impression. If you're doing outreach and someone has come across you on a blog or podcast, they don't know you. They don't know if they'll enjoy your writing or not. Your reader magnet is your chance to make a great first impression, so that they stay on your email list and become a loyal fan of your work. So you don't want to cut corners with your reader magnet. You want to give new subscribers something brilliant.
So I hope that has given you some ideas for your reader magnet. Especially if you haven't published yet or you only have one book out and you don't want to give it away for free!
With your sparkly new reader magnet, you'll soon be attracting new subscribers. But how often should you be emailing them? That is coming up in my next post.
So what is your reader magnet? I would love to hear about it. Tell me what's working for you in the comments and share your best ideas for other authors!