Author's Guide: What Are Reader Magnets?
Learn about reader magnets, the different forms they can take, and why they're useful for authors.
Getting someone to read your work is hard. You spend tons of time creating this amazing piece - a fascinating non-fiction book, thrillers with the best stories you could think of, a science fiction book series - and when you finally put it out there…nothing. Even the best marketing strategies can go ignored. It can be devastating! That’s where reader magnets come in.
Reader magnets do exactly what the name implies - they attract readers to your work by offering them something tempting and promising more where that came from. They can come in a variety of forms and can be delivered in many different ways, but they all have the same goal: get eyes on your book (and money in your pocket).
Still not sure what a reader magnet is, how to make one, or why you would even want to? Here’s what you need to know.
What are reader magnets?
In the world of general marketing and sales, a lead is a person who shows an active interest in a company’s product or service, and who may be convinced to buy from them. Leads are extremely important; if you don’t have buyers, you don’t have a business.
So, how do you get leads? You attract them to your company using promotional techniques. One of the most popular techniques is a lead magnet, or a free thing given away to get something in return. That “something” is contact details, and usually in the form of an email address to add new subscribers to an automatic email marketing list.
When it comes to the publishing world, especially the indie publishing world, the lead magnet has been redubbed - by Leadpages in 2012 - the reader magnet. It usually consists of a free book chapter, full book, or series of downloadable goodies designed to get potential readers interested in your work so that they keep coming back for more.
Why might you want a reader magnet?
If you read my other post about how to become an indie author, then you already know the importance of the email list to a budding author.
In case you missed it, though, here’s a recap: the most vital part of an author’s book marketing campaign is growing a dedicated list of email subscribers who follow their releases and are engaged with their content. Getting people engaged gets them invested, and being invested means being willing to invest in a book, AKA, buy a copy, which means that the author gets to, y’know, pay their bills.
But how do you get people to sign up for an email list when the world is already full of spam emails? You offer them something in return. You offer them a book, a free sample, or bonus content. You give them a reader magnet.
The different kinds of reader magnets
Reader magnets can come in a number of different forms. Here are some of the most popular.
I know, I know, it sounds counterintuitive to offer free books when you’re seeking book sales, but hear me out.
Some authors opt to create entire books - or, more often, shorter novellas, to draw their readers in. This is most successful for authors of a series, especially those who have set plans for the series from the beginning. Offering the first book for free allows readers to become invested and will make them more receptive to buying the next book.
Usually, the plan here is to write at least the first two books before offering the first one for free. This allows your readers to get instant gratification; the moment they finish the first book, they can move on to the second one. Alternatively, if you’ve written and released the first book in the series for a price before, offering it free during the pre-order period for the sequel can function as an excellent incentive.
There are multiple services available to achieve this, but the most popular is BookFunnel. BookFunnel is a tool indie authors can use to integrate a full-book download link into the body of their email marketing, rather than having to redirect readers. It’s useful for not only reader magnets, but also ARCs, direct sales, and bonus content.
Okay, so what if your book is standalone? You can’t just give the entire thing away for free, right? Right. So, instead, you offer a preview.
This reader magnet is great if you’re especially proud of your first chapter, or even the first few chapters. Offering a preview of your book for free is a great way to get readers interested and allow them to test the waters before committing fully to your book.
Unfortunately, most major online retailers (looking specifically at Amazon) already offer previews on their book listings. Unless your book isn’t listed on their website at all, you’re not going to generate many leads from offering a preview of an already published book.
So, this tactic is most effective when used as an incentive to preorder. Giving out samples before the book is available to sample on the listing means that you can pull preorders, which in turn means better ranking and visibility. It also helps you build trust and a good reputation with your readers.
Extra-timeline stories take place outside of the regular timeline of your main book. These come in two forms.
- Prequels, also called preludes or prologues, are stories that take place before the main plot of the book. These stories give additional context for the story, from building out the world to establishing character backstories that come into play later. They might show off a world pre-disaster or a deal that leads to the main characters’ struggles. Prequels are designed to make readers wonder what’s coming next.
- Post-credits scenes, or sequels (though not quite as detailed), are scenes that happen after the main plot of a book. These are named for their movie equivalent, which is an extra scene that is shown after the movie ends and the credits play (looking at you, Marvel). Post-credits scenes show a little bit of what the characters get up to after the main story wraps up. They might show the villain getting their just desserts, the hero going home to their family at last, or simply be a funny glimpse at a side character’s continued antics. They’re designed to give readers a little more closure on the main storyline.
The wonderful thing about extra-timeline stories is that they give you a chance to go back into the world of these characters you already love.
What about the stories that are happening at the same time as your main plot? These side stories can be great reader magnets; they offer your readers a chance to look behind the scenes and find out what’s going on from a different perspective. If you have a major battle, tell it from the enemy’s side. If your heroes are going to rescue someone, tell it from the captive’s perspective.
Side stories are a great way to put a spotlight on minor characters that your audience already loves. If you’re promoting a series, for example, you can review feedback on the first book’s characters and write a short story about the most popular minor character. This draws your readers back in. For new readers, you can tease the main action of the book in this self-contained story. They leave satisfied with this tale but curious about the larger plot.
The important thing about side stories is that they ought to be just as high-quality as the book itself. Invest just as much time into revision and polishing as you would with the full book to make sure that your teaser is as exciting and enthralling as possible.
Have you ever preordered a book because it came with something special? I know I have. Limited-edition pins, bookmarks, maps - you name it, there’s been book swag of it. Those are all versions of the next form of a reader magnet: bonus content.
Bonus content is, as you may have guessed, content that is separate from but related to your main work. This might include artwork, maps, and merchandise related to the story. While physical merchandise is great if you can afford it, most readers will be just as satisfied with a digital perk package. You might design a sticker pack to go with your book, or include registration for a live event that only those who subscribe can access.
This content should be exclusive - you can only get it by going to the landing page, subscribing to the email list, preordering, what have you. Additionally, you can release bonus content with services like BookFunnel.
Tips, Tricks, and Courses
For the non-fiction authors out there, a reader magnet is going to look a little different. You don’t exactly have characters to write short stories about or interesting world maps to deliver (most of the time). What you do have, though, is a wealth of knowledge about your subject that you can use to your advantage. Your reader magnet might look like:
- A tip sheet for some of your best advice on your topic.
- An educational course that teaches something about your topic.
- A series of reviews for locations and businesses related to your topic.
- Exclusive photographs, infographics, or interviews.
- Quizzes or games to accompany your main work.
Whatever you offer, you can tie it back to your main work by offering a “learn more” angle. These kinds of reader magnets work really well for historical and industry-specific works, as they hook the reader with an interesting bit of knowledge that makes them curious about the more in-depth discussion to be had.
Creating a reader magnet
I hope you can agree with me by now that reader magnets sound like a great idea. The hard part is making an effective one. Sure, anyone can slap together a couple of short stories and call it a day, but what if you want to be as gripping and effective as possible?
You have to put in quite a bit of effort to make a piece of content that actually engages readers and generates leads. Here are some tips for creating a reader magnet that sells.
The ACCESS method
ALLi director Orna Ross says that there are three kinds of marketing that authors can take advantage of, but the one we’re most interested in is ACCESS marketing. ACCESS marketing is a short way of addressing a six-step buyer’s journey for your reader. These steps are:
- Attract. You get the attention of your reader by appearing on their radar - on social media, blogs that are popular in your niche, traditional ads, etc.
- Captivate. Whatever is in front of them is eye-catching. It stands out from the rest of the crowd and gives them a glimpse of what they might gain from your product. That is, it gives them your elevator pitch.
- Connect. Okay, you’ve got eyes on you; now it’s time to say hello! Be easy to contact and give them a reason to, using forms and interactive elements to get them involved.
- Engage. You’ve got people talking, so now you talk back. Respond to comments, do Q&As, and ask for feedback - then implement that feedback!
- Subscribe. Get your “yes” by offering your readers a reason to subscribe to your email list. This is where your reader magnet shines.
- Satisfy. Once you’ve got people on your list, give them what they asked for and more. Deliver the reader magnet and follow it up regularly with goodies like early access, exclusive content, and frequent first-to-hear-it updates.
Following the ACCESS method breaks down marketing plans into an easy-to-follow process that can be repeated over and over again.
The key to ACCESS marketing is the Subscribe step. If your audience isn’t subscribing, then they’re much less likely to buy from you - you’re just another account they follow on social media. I know I personally only subscribe to mailing lists for things I really like, or for reader magnets that have significant value. If you’re going to hook them in, you need to offer a reader magnet that is more exclusive and intriguing than your usual feed content.
Luckily, designing a reader magnet that satisfies those requirements is a lot easier when you know exactly what your audience enjoys. By paying close attention in the Engage step, you can practically get them to tell you exactly what they want in terms of a reader magnet.
Using tools like polls to assess how well certain things are working can make narrowing down your reader magnet options a breeze - you can even directly ask, “what would you like to see from me?”
Reuse your darlings
An extremely common phrase in editing is “kill your darlings.” It comes from Arthur Quiller-Couch, who, in a lecture in 1914, said:
“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”
Basically what this means is that, if you have a really good piece of writing - from a few sentences to a whole scene or two - that doesn’t fit with the tone of your novel, you have to be willing to cut it in order to keep good pacing in your novel and stay on the plot without getting bogged down in filler and flowery language.
Now, before you get sad, I have good news: you don’t actually have to kill your darlings. You can just rehome them! If you have a scene that you absolutely adore that just isn’t fitting into your novel, cut it out and put it in its own document. You can reuse that scene as a reader magnet, offering it as a freebie side story or bonus material for your book to those who subscribe to your email list.
Not only does this make the process of coming up with a reader magnet significantly easier, but it also means that you still get to use that piece of writing you were so proud of. It’s a win-win situation.
Come at it like a book
As I mentioned, an incredibly important part of creating a reader magnet is making it as high-quality as your book. If the magnet isn’t of great quality, what can readers expect from a full-length piece from you – one that you’re actually charging money for? First impressions matter, so invest in getting your reader magnet ready for its debut. It’s time to write the sales copy.
The best way to do this is to treat it in much the same way that you’d treat your actual book, and make sure it’s a good read (especially if your reader magnet is itself a book!). Give it the full sending-out-for-query treatment, including:
- A compelling title. Whether it’s a novel, short story, or bundle of bonus content, you’ll want to give it a great name that clues your reader into what they’re about to see.
- An attractive graphic. Despite the warnings, we all judge books by their covers, so make sure your reader magnet has an awesome graphic to go along with it. Treat this like you would a book cover, and make sure that it’s relevant and intriguing without being a spoiler. Consider hiring a professional to design this for you.
- An interesting blurb. Get straight to the point here and give details about exactly what’s in the box. Who is the story about, and what do they do? How many stories are included? What kinds of maps or bookmarks are there, and how many?
Once you’ve got all of that, compose it into an attractive page you can reformat to match the marketing and you’re ready to move on to the next step.
Marketing with your reader magnet
Once you’ve got a reader magnet, you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to market it, and then how you’re going to deliver it.
Picking a format
The format in which you deliver your reader magnet is going to affect the audience it’s presented to, so keep that in mind. It might be a good idea to use multiple formats to reach your entire potential readership.
Your email list is your most compelling format for delivering your reader magnet. Not only can it be personalized and reach a huge number of people quickly, but it can also get back in touch with those people after the initial delivery of the magnet! Subscribing to an email list is a commitment, and, in terms of marketing theory, getting even a small commitment early on is a good way to start building a relationship with your audience.
You can use any number of services to deliver your emails, but here are some of my favorites.
- Most website builders, like Wix, Squarespace, Hubspot, and Shopify, have built-in email marketing tools. They’ll allow you to build multi-step campaigns with multiple emails spaced out over several days or even weeks, and offer customization tools like the ability to address your subscribers by name. Beyond that, they also offer easy sign-up by integrating forms seamlessly into your website without needing to redirect to a different landing page.
- Mailchimp is one of the most popular email marketing services. Their basic free plan allows you to send up to 2000 emails a day and 10,000 emails per month, which is great for those trying to build their lists from the ground up. You can create custom landing pages, forms, and even a very basic website if you need to. Mailchimp integrates well into most external website builders, too.
- Constant Contact is another popular email marketing service specifically designed for small businesses, which can be very helpful for indie authors - after all, your books are your business. They offer tons of customizable templates you can adjust to meet your needs, as well as automations and analytics that make it easy to see how well your email marketing campaigns are performing. Their plans start at $10 a month and go up depending on the number of contacts you have, meaning that the more you grow, the more expensive the platform gets. Still, it has a lot of features (like social cross-posting and contact organization) that can be worth the money.
Backmatter copy is the writing you put after a book. This includes things like special thanks, author’s notes, appendices, and, yes, reader magnets. Most of the time, a reader magnet in the back of a book is a preview chapter of an upcoming release followed by a recommendation to buy the upcoming book or subscribe to the author’s email list (the best of these do both).
Ebooks are great for backmatter reader magnets, as they can include direct links to either the author’s email list sign-up, the new book, or both, as well as social information so that readers have the option to follow you in multiple places. As a note, Draft2Digital lets you add automatically generated backmatter previews and “Read More” pages in their formatting software, which is extremely convenient.
Influencers are massively important in today’s social atmosphere. They can sway the opinions of hundreds, thousands, even millions of readers simply by voicing their own opinion. Spaces like podcasts, Book Twitter, Bookstagram, and Booktok are well known for being driving factors in the success or downfall of a book. So, if you can, it’s a great idea to offer your reader magnet via an influencer campaign.
Find influencers in your niche who have read and enjoyed similar works in the past. Introduce yourself to them and explain why you’ve chosen them; mention what you like about them and their work. Politely request a collaboration and offer their followers an exclusive discount or piece of content as an incentive. You may do this with a few influencers, or even create multiple magnets to use uniquely with each one’s audience.
You can also create a PR package. This would include a copy of your book, a personalized letter requesting their review, a business card with your contact information, and some marketing swag like bookmarks or pins for them to enjoy.
While the exact cost of a post or set of posts on an influencer’s pages will vary between individuals, you can expect to spend a good amount here. This approach works really well for authors who have a decent marketing budget available to them. It’s also a good way to build relationships with influencers so that you can contact them again for future releases.
Remember that, even if you send them a PR package or other gifts, unless you have a written contract, influencers are under no obligation to promote your work and may even post negatively about it if they don’t like it.
Of course, you can always add some traditional advertisements into the mix to get your reader magnet out there. Creating a solid ad with great graphics and sales copy can be a good way to passively bring in more readers from a wide variety of sources - most ad campaigns can basically run themselves once they’re set up.
Some of the best places to place traditional ads are:
- Facebook and Instagram. You can run ads fairly cheaply from the Meta Business Suite, for weeks on end. You can also reuse audience specifications or even whole campaigns.
- Twitter. Though Twitter ads are somewhat more expensive, they’re great if you’ve got a short, punchy bit of copy and an eye-catching ad. They’re not intrusive, meaning you’re more likely to get good organic traffic.
- Self-Publishing Services. If you publish through KDP or another self-publishing platform, you can use their advertising features to reach readers all over the world on their e-readers and the storefronts of online retailers.
- Bookbub. Bookbub is a popular email list and recommendation site which allows authors to advertise their books directly and offer discounts. Their community is huge and the cost of advertising there is minimal, with great exposure. They even offer simple templates for creating your ad.
Creating a funnel
Once you’ve decided how you’re going to deliver your reader magnet, you need to have a plan for actually making it effective. This is where creating a sales funnel becomes important. A sales funnel is a series of steps that draws the lead - in this case, the reader - in and encourages them to buy your product. It goes like this:
- Offer the goods. Create an interesting ad, work with an influencer, or simply include your reader magnet’s pitch on your website or social media.
- Deliver the magnet. Give the magnet to your lead and let them enjoy it!
- Follow up with more value. Add a “subscribe for more” link at the end of the magnet. Then, follow up with more, usually smaller, bits of related content (think previews, early reader reviews, blog posts, etc.) over time.
- Offer your product. Give them the link to buy the book!
Following this format, and adjusting it to match the format you chose for the initial delivery of the reader magnet, means you’re much more likely to get actual sales rather than one-off readers.
Creating a reader magnet may seem like something that takes a lot of time. You have to pour tons of time and energy into creating an entirely separate piece of work or set of goodies, which you then give away? For free?!
But the return on your investment for your author platform can be incredible. Instead of feeling like they’re being sold to, readers feel like they’re getting exclusive access to something exciting. They get value out of their email sign-up rather than having to wait for the next big release, making them more likely to sign up in the first place. More emails, more connections, and more sales for you.
Reader magnets are a great way to build a loyal and excited base of not just readers, but real fans of your work who will come back for more and help you build a successful career.