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No doubt you will see plenty of them with Black Friday and the holiday shopping season underway. In recent years, businesses have begun offering deals and offers through promotional emails to connect with customers and get them spending more. And if you have ever signed up for a retailer’s emails in order to get a “20% off your first order” coupon or a restaurant’s mailing list to get a free soda, you have succumbed to a lead magnet as well. 

As an author, you can use this tactic to grow your email list too. The idea is simple: Offer something of value, such as a short story or even a full-length novel, for free in exchange for an email address. This free incentive is known as a reader magnet, and it’s a favorite method for many indie authors for growing a mailing list and appealing to new audiences.

In the early days of the internet it was often enough to invite people to sign up for news and updates, but with 300 billion emails now being sent every day, according to Radicati, our inboxes are overflowing, and that incentive doesn’t cut it anymore. We are all much more cautious about who we share our email address with, so the appeal of your reader magnet is vitally important. Here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind when creating yours.

Do get creative

There are many reasons you may not want to give away a full book—perhaps you’re still writing your first one or you feel strongly that you don’t want to give away your creative work for free. Although your reader magnet should ideally give readers a taste of your writing and/or story world, there are other options for reader magnets besides books if you’re willing to get creative.

Pro Tip: Bradley Charbonneau shares several ideas for alternative reader magnet formats in the June 2022 issue of Indie Author Magazine, and Smart Authors Lab offers a few more at https://smartauthorslab.com/reader-magnet-ideas

If you’re trying to attract brand new readers who are not familiar with your writing, it’s best to offer something standalone that doesn’t require readers to have any prior knowledge of your books. Keep those alternate endings, deleted chapters, or character backstories to include in the back of your books. Then, use these as separate reader magnets to attract existing fans of your work back to your mailing list.

Don’t give away a sample chapter

While you don’t need to give away a full book, a free chapter is not of great value to readers. If they know upfront they’re only getting one chapter, they may be less inclined to sign up because they know they will have to buy the book to read the rest. On the other hand, if they didn’t realize it was only a sample chapter, it may irritate them to find that they have to buy the full book at the end.

It’s okay to give away a free chapter as a placeholder while you come up with something else, but aim to replace it with something complete as soon as you can. The length of your reader magnet is less important than how well it engages your reader—give away a short novella or even a one-page story if you feel it “sells” your writing well. The value is not in how much you give away, but how well it satisfies your new subscriber and gets them excited about reading more of your work.

Do appeal to the right readers

You will also want to check that your reader magnet is going to attract the right readers. You may have a high quality short story that you’re happy to give away, but if it’s in a different genre to the books you have for sale, it may not be the best fit.

Many authors offer a prequel to a series as a reader magnet. This can work well to give subscribers a taste of what is to come and get them interested in the characters. This type of reader magnet is especially effective when at least the first book in the series is already available and your new subscribers can buy it as soon as they have finished the prequel.

Don’t give away sub-par work

Keep in mind that if new subscribers don’t enjoy your reader magnet, they are unlikely to a) engage with your emails or b) buy your books. Make sure your reader magnet is of high quality and a good representation of your writing. Treat your freebie as you would any other work you publish—invest in editing and/or proofreading, and invite feedback from beta readers before you share it with your audience.

Do make a good first impression

In short, try to make life easy for yourself. Your reader magnet is important, but it is also free, so don’t feel pressured to write a full-length novel just to give it away. Repurpose stories you already have, or offer something that isn’t a story at all if that’s easier. Consider recipes, audio playlists, or maps, for example. Just be wary of cutting corners and think about what’s in it for your readers. Your reader magnet is often your first impression, and first impressions count.

Pro Tip: Aim to do two things each week to promote your reader magnet, such as posting about it on social media, talking about it on a podcast, or swapping reader magnet mentions with an author friend in your newsletters. And always include your reader magnet link in your social media bios. 

Picture of Belinda Griffin

Belinda Griffin

Belinda K Griffin is a Book Marketing Coach and Author Publicity Expert at SmartAuthorsLab.com. She helps authors of all kinds launch and market their books with impact, so they can grow a thriving community of engaged readers and sell more books. Growing a loyal readership and securing publicity through authentic relationship building and outreach is at the heart of everything she teaches.

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