What is a reader magnet, AKA an ethical bribe, freebie, opt-in incentive, publication for prospects or sign-up offer? Why are they so important for book marketing? And how do you create one that works? These are the questions we will cover in today's post: The Alliance of Independent Authors Ultimate Guide to Reader Magnets for Indie Authors.
What is a Reader Magnet?
The term “lead magnet” was coined by Leadpages, a company that provides a landing page service for digital commerce, in 2012. Marketing experts in the author-publishing space like Nick Stephenson took the term over from general marketing and adapted for writers and publishers and soon everyone was talking about reader magnets.
It's one of those tech terms that catches on and makes sense if you understand it but creates confusion for everyone else. In essence, a reader magnet is something you give away to your readers in exchange for them doing something you want them to do–most commonly, signing up to your mailing list. Like a magnet to iron filings, your giveaway attracts your reader and draws them in close. Once there, you have a call to action inviting them to sign up.
Usually the magnet is a digital product, but it could also be a discount, a consultation or physical merchandise of some kind. The most common kinds of reader magnets are:
- e-books–chapters, whole books, in some cases whole libraries of e-books
- Discount coupons
- Audio Files
- Downloadable, printable resources e.g. infographics, checklists, cheatsheets, reports, quizzes
- Courses / training in text, audio or video
- Swipe files for social media posts or other communication templates
Why do You Need One?
It's one thing to sell a lot of books, but if you want to build a relationship with your readers, or if you want to nurture those readers in order to continue getting sales, then ensuring you have a method of contacting those readers is vital. One of the most effective ways of doing that is to have a reader magnet.
Without a reader magnet, there's no motivation for your readers to sign up to your mailing list. Our inboxes are all bulging as it is, who really wants yet another email in their inbox?
Reader Magnets and ACCESS Marketing
In Creative Self-Publishing, ALLi director Orna Ross explains that there are three kinds of marketing for authors: influencer marketing, algorithm marketing, and ACCESS marketing. ACCESS is an acronym for attracting, captivating, connecting with, engaging, subscribing and satisfying readers.
This process pulls the reader along the pathway of discovering you, your author platform, and your books. At its heart is the “attractor”, the reader magnet.
- Attract – Attract readers through one or more channels–social media, blog, advertising, or other method.
- Captivate – Be interesting. Even better, be remarkable. Craft your content and post regularly.
- Connect – Talk to your readers. Have a contact form. Invite email contact.
- Engage – Start and continue conversations. Ask questions. Invite input into your books–characters, plot turns (fiction), ideas and quandaries (nonfiction) word choices and formats (poetry).
- Subscribe – Invite your followers to subscribe with yes, a “reader magnet”.
- Satisfy – Now you have that precious email address, make your emails delightful and email regularly, on a promised schedule.
ACCESS marketing encourages authors to be creators, not hustlers, in our social and email marketing activities.
Once a potential reader has taken this journey with you, it makes selling books significantly easier. They're “warm” already, they've come to know, like and trust you, you're a fit for each other. Now there’s nothing salesy in showing them your new offering. They're going to be interested in hearing about your new work.
ACCESS marketing encourages authors to be creators, not hustlers, in our social and email marketing activities. For more on ACCESS marketing you can listen to our podcast episode on the topic here.
Reader Magnet Content
The most common type of reader magnet is a full book. But when you only have one or two books, that's not realistic. You can't give away the only book you have and still make money. So what can you offer?
How about a novella, a short stories, a collection of flash fiction?
You could create a short story using your protagonist, a side character. How about telling some scene in your novel from the point of view of the villain or antagonist. Could you write up background story or a scene mentioned in your book but not shown? An event from before the plot began?
If you're a poet, artist or other kind of creative, consider bundling up a small selection of your poems, designs or work into a themed digital chapbook that says something about your work.
Whether you're a nonfiction or fiction author, you can always give readers something to download–character art, a fantasy map, a crime file from a thriller story. Get creative!
If you write nonfiction, then you can easily turn your book, or a section of it, into a checklist, a cheat sheet, a resource guide, workbook or something downloadable that is helpful to your readers.
How Do You Deliver a Reader Magnet?
If you've not read our mailing list three-part series, we recommend checking it out.
The easiest way to deliver a reader magnet is to use a service like Bookfunnel that seamlessly integrates into your mailing list. You load your reader magnet into Bookfunnel in a variety of forms: PDF, epub, mobi etc and then you tell Bookfunnel where to send readers once they've signed up and downloaded the reader magnet.
You then set up an autoresponder sequence for each mailing list. Once your readers download the freebie, and are on your list, your autoresponder sequence will kick in. Your new subscriber will receive a series of pre-written emails, on a pre-planned sequence, delivered automatically. This keeps them engaged and satisfied, while you're busy writing your next book.
For a more detailed breakdown of the mechanics of the set up behind your reader magnet, see our previous AskALLi post on the topic by Rachel McCollin
Reader Magnets and Quality
The temptation when you're giving your reader magnet away for free, is to skimp on covers and editing. While you don't need to pour hundreds of pounds into creating a new cover for your reader magnet, ensure it is a professional and attractive cover. First impressions count hugely here. If you put in little effort, if your reader magnet has errors, or is poorly conceived or executed, then it's going to ward off readers instead of attracting them. Put as much effort into your reader magnet as you would into any book. In many ways, it's your most important production.
Marketing Methods for Your Reader Magnet
Back of Book
Always have a page dedicated to your reader magnet at the front or back (or both) of your book. When your reaer has just finished your book an thorougly enjoyed it is when they are most likely to sign up. Just before they read, and are full of anticipation, can also be a good moment.
Your sign-up request should be simple and clear. Something along the lines of the following works perfectly.
“If you enjoyed this book, you'll love the FREE bonus story / downoad / discounts which you can get here [insert link]”
Nonfiction authors can reference their reader magnet in the body of the book, near relevant content. If you're a fiction author, or poet you can't break up the flow of your novel or poetry to mention a free giveaway!
You can also drive traffic to your reader magnet through advertising and promotions. Some authors are reluctant to do this, feeling that if they're investing in advertising, they want to bring readers to a purchase page. But that can be shortsighted. Author ads guru Mark Dawson, has regularly said he'd rather have a sign-up than a sale. A sign-up, if actively engaged, can go on to buy many books.
If we're wavering about bringing paid traffic to our sign-up forms it probably means we're not confident enough about our reader magnets and autoresponder sequences.
Other ways to get sign ups include running a giveaway, “join my mailing list and be in with a chance to win XYZ”. You can use platforms like StoryOrigin and Booksweeps who run similar give-aways or facilitate the distribution of your freebie to interested readers.
Though a word of caution, subscribers may not stick around or buy any of your books, if they're there for the prize and not always for you.
Newsletter swaps are another way of getting sign ups. Another author (in the same genre as you) shares the link to your reader magnet and you return the favor.
Again, as with all promotional tactics, the same word of warning applies. The highest quality subscribers are those organically attracted to you or your books, who sign up from your website or book pages.
ALLi Member Experiences with Reader Magnets
Joanna Penn explains why thinking long term with your reader magnet is important:
“NON-FICTION: Since Dec 2008, I have had my Author Blueprint as my lead magnet on TheCreativePenn.com. I update it every 4-6 months so it is always the latest info, and it's not published as a book, so only available as a reader magnet.I have used content marketing (my own blog and podcast as well as interviews on other podcasts) to get traffic to it. I also include the link and sign-up in every book.
FICTION: Since about 2016, I have had my Day of the Vikings novella as a lead magnet. It is also for sale and I keep meaning to write something unique, but never get round to it!I have a sign-up at the back of all my books and I also mention it on my Books and Travel Podcast and link to it from my main site.
I have used 3 different email systems over the last 13 years, and currently use (and recommend) ConvertKit. My main tip is to bite the bullet and get your reader magnet written and set up and then just consistently drive people to it over the long term. It's a slow build but it's well worth it.”
“I have a prequel novella as my reader magnet. I have a pinned post in FB and twitter and it's the first thing in my back matter, but I don't run any paid ads to it. I also have a big banner image on the front page of my website encouraging people to download it.Approximately 5% of readers sign up (interestingly, almost exactly the same % of reviews I get, I have no idea if it's the same people). When I didn't have a reader magnet, I was getting about 1% signups. I know my signup rates aren't all that high but I prefer to have a smaller number of organic subscribers than run ads and have to spend a lot of time weeding out freebie seekers.”
“Writing a novelette (12k words), The Pride of Peacocks, in the same world as my main series transformed my mailing list growth. Although an addition to my Sophie Sayers series, it also introduces my second series.Joining my mailing list is the only way people can read this book – it's not for sale anywhere. It is in the sidebar on my website so appears on every page. I also have a paperback edition to offer as an occasional prize for my monthly Readers' Club draw, or to give to fans who send me an especially nice email! I have a business card with its beautiful cover (thank you Rachel Lawston) on one side and mailing list details on the other–which I always carry with me. And it also features in website pop-up.It is a standalone story so will still make sense if you have or haven't read all or any of the others. Works for me – and it was great fun to write!”
Kevin Partner gives top tips on how to maximize your reader magnet.
“My main tips are:1. Make it a complete story – length is not so important, but it must satisfy on its own. I have reader magnets from 5k to 20k and they all do their job.
2. Have the right attitude. Your reader magnet is your shop window – it should be an example of your best work. It needs to be well created and edited, and have a good cover. It mustn't be seen as an afterthought or a burden or an obligatory freebie – it's the opportunity to begin a long term relationship between author and reader.”
Louise Tondeur talks about how blogging can help growth.
“I’ve got a free writing prompts e-book and a free short story available at the moment. I’m finding that if I blog regularly and share, people join because they’ve visited my website and like the blog, and the freebie is an additional incentive. I have a few free writing courses too – on Thinkific and Udemy – it’s much harder to get people from Udemy onto my mailing list than the other way round.”
Anna Castle talks about the importance of keeping your voice consistent in your reader magnet.
“I have my first novel, an historical romance set in 1101. It's my only romance. I now write mystery. But it's consistent in voice and style, and it is historical. I've been using it for years. Probably something like a novella that aligns with one of my main series would be better, but I can't get around to writing such a thing. My list grows fairly steadily. I do give them short stories with my main series characters as part of the onboarding sequence. BookFunnel multi-author promotions are my main list-building tool these days.”
“For my new departure into Science Fiction, I have two short stories as magnets that are only available to sign ups, as well as a third short story and a book of short stories both of which are available for purchase. I started in September 2020 with a base email list of 1,100 and, by regular participation in group promos on BookFunnel, my list grew to over 2,000. I was disappointed to discover, recently, that about 1,200 of those on my list are not really interested in my SF, and just signed up for the free stuff. I've stopped participating, now.”
“I have a reader magnet novella for each series I write (mystery and thriller). Both are about 22-24,000 words. My usual editor and cover artist plied their trades. This is important. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Readers should come away from your magnet thinking it’s professionally done, and this should carry into your books.
I promote them in the front and back of each book. These “organic” sign-ups are from readers who just read and enjoyed one of my novels. I’ve also promoted my magnets by joining group promos on BookFunnel and StoryOrigin. I don’t run paid ads to them. They are available on my website. They're subscriber exclusives, so I don't sell them in any store.”
“I have a prequel novella (to my mystery series) as a reader magnet (only available through my website i.e., not on sale anywhere), delivered by Bookfunnel. The link to get it is the first thing you see when you land on my website’s Home page. I regularly put a link on the bottom of my weekly blog post (my novels are genealogy inspired and my blog is mostly about family history discoveries) and an invitation to get a copy in the end matter of my ebook novels. My best take-up was when it was mentioned in a genealogy newsletter and I had a burst of new subscribers. I did do some Facebook Ads when I first brought it out but don’t bother now and generally rely on “organic” traffic.”
“I gathered a collection of poetry and art collaborations I had shared on instagram and created a PDF chapbook of them. I deliver it via MailChimp to new sign ups via the welcome email.”
“I introduced a 32,000 word novella as a reader magnet earlier this year. It's a prequel to a spin-off series and can be read by people who already know the characters in the first series and by future readers of the new one. It's professionally edited, professional cover. I have increased my mailing list twentyfold since using it.I put the paperback up for sale at around the same time and once my list grew, I put the e-book on sale which has not reduced sign-ups. My list continues to grow and I've made my initial spend back ++. I will be publishing the audiobook version imminently. I have the sign-up in the back of every book, on my website.I participate in Story Origin giveaway groups. I list the freebie on Booksweeps. I run reader magnet ads on FB for a couple of weeks, pause when the price goes too high, and then run again a few weeks later. My list is growing every day, the freebie seekers quickly unsubscribe which is fine then I work on building a relationship with the newbies through my three email onboarding sequence. Some of the freebie seekers have become ARC readers which is also fine by me and a win, win.I feel I get the best of all worlds with this strategy. I don't feel comfortable not giving the people the option to buy if they don't want to subscribe, but that's just me. I also give secret extras when they join, with access to an audiobook and character sheets. I only wish I'd done this earlier!”
Connor Whiteley makes the most of his assets by reusing first editions of books.
“I always use exclusive stuff using Mailerlite and Bookfunnel. For all the brands I do links in the back of books and websites then for nonfiction I mention the sign up on the podcasts and include a link in the description.
Psychology: free and exclusive 8 book box-set of all my first editions. I'm on 3rd editions for most of them now.Fiction: I do an exclusive short story per series that explains something. In my Fireheart series, it's a short story that explains why a non POV character hates the nobility. That's major for the series.
Global Author: currently its an exclusive Author Guide like Joanna but I'll be making some exclusive Global Author training videos so it's more on brand and unique. And videos are perceived as higher value by readers.”