An email list chock-full of eager readers is your most valuable marketing asset. It takes effort to build a list like this, but this effort is repaid every time you launch a new book or run a promotion on your existing back catalogue. If you hang around the author community for any period of time, you’ll hear indies complaining about how email doesn’t work any more (indeed, replace “email” with any other marketing channel and you’ll hear the same thing) but it’s stuff and nonsense. Blaming a marketing channel for lack of success is like claiming that your book is full of spelling errors because your word processor didn’t find them all. Marketing only works if the product (in this case the book) is good (and, by that, I don’t mean just ‘typo free’) and then it requires concerted effort.
The same is true of email marketing and the first step is to build that list. In the halcyon days when email was young and the world was fresh and spring-like, it was enough to simply invite people to give you their email address with the promise of keeping them up to date on your latest news, but the veritable flood of emails most people receive these days means readers are less inclined to simply hand out their email address without getting something in return. That something is the reader magnet (no, I don’t like that term either.)
The top five reader magnet types
As well as bringing new readers onto your list, a reader magnet should also showcase your talent – there’s no point simply increasing the size of your mailing list (and, therefore, its cost) and not beginning the process of turning those subscribers into fans. So, as an author, your reader magnet should be a good example of your work.
1: A complete book
The very best reader magnet is a complete book. For a fiction writer this could be the first book in a series (it might also be published on Amazon as long as it’s not in KDP Select). With a complete book, you not only give the reader a better opportunity to find out whether he or she likes what you write, but you’re also giving them something of significant value. This increases the conversion rate (the percentage of people exposed to the offer who actually go on to sign up) and gives you the best chance to find a new fan.
2: A Shorter Story
The shorter the story is, the less value it has and therefore the lower the conversion rate, all things being equal. However, a short, but complete, story is a better choice than an extract or sample because the reader gets the satisfaction of having the story resolved and gets to experience your skill as an author (finishing stories in a satisfying way is a key skill).
The reader magnets for my two series are both novelettes of around 10k words each. For me, this is the sweet spot between the amount of time it takes to write the story and its value as a reader magnet. I wouldn’t go below that sort of a word count for this purpose, personally.
3: An extract
If your book is enrolled in KDP Select, then you’re permitted to have a sample of up to 10% available elsewhere as a reader magnet. In my tests, extracts perform much less well as magnets than either complete books or shorter stories. The exception for this is non-fiction “how to” books – if you can give value up-front in a free sample then that will often be enough for a potential reader.
Background notes, maps and character profiles can work – but I don’t think they’re effective unless the prospective reader already knows you. If, for example, someone buys your series starter then it makes sense for their magnet to be, say, a map (for a fantasy novel) or similar. On the other hand, someone who comes across you on, say, Instafreebie, doesn’t know anything about you, your stories or your worlds, so background information is irrelevant.
How to deliver your Reader Magnet
In most cases, then, your reader magnet will be in book form so you can use your preferred method to convert it into .mobi and .epub formats. In most cases, your magnet will be delivered by, say, Bookfunnel or Instafreebie, but you also need a way to send subscribers your book when they sign up on your website. To do this, you set up an automation in your mailing list service (eg Mailerlite) that sends a welcome email containing a link to your reader magnet.
For the sake of your sanity, and that of your readers, please use Bookfunnel to store and deliver your reader magnets. It’s only $20 a year on their most basic plan and they will provide a link you can give to new subscribers (eg in your welcome email). When the subscriber clicks the link, Bookfunnel will guide them through the process of downloading and getting access to the book. I’m a bootstrapper by nature, but not paying $20 to Bookfunnel is, in my view, the worst sort of false economy that leads to the double whammy of the author having to support disgruntled readers and a big reduction in the percenage of new signups who get the opportunity to read the book.