You’ve heard this mantra in various forms echoing from every corner of the publishing industry. 

  • Build your email list. 
  • Grow your email list. 
  • Leverage your email list.
  • Sell more books by increasing your email list.

The size of your email list is the biggest driver in hitting a bestseller list. But how do you convince people to sign up for your email list? 

You offer them a reader magnet, also called a lead magnet. 

What is a lead magnet?

A lead magnet is a prize you offer your readers in exchange for their email address. Having a lead magnet can dramatically improve how fast your email list grows. 

For novelists, your lead magnet is usually a short story you’ve written. 

Nonfiction writers can offer a variety of free digital resources.

  • Ebook
  • Tipsheet
  • Top-ten List 
  • Whitepaper
  • How-to Guide 

How do I create a lead magnet?

Step 1: Figure Out What Your People Want

Figuring out what readers want is the most important step of creating a lead magnet. If you get this wrong, none of the other steps will be right. It’s like buttoning a shirt. If you get the first button in the wrong hole, the rest of the buttons will be wrong.

Warning! If you create something people do not want, bad things will happen.

  • None of the following steps will work.
  • No one will sign up for your email list.
  • Your email list will not grow.
  • No one will buy your book, because no one knows about it.

How do I find out what readers want? 

Ask them. 
Ask your readers what they find interesting. What can you offer them that satisfies their curosity?

Nonfiction writers can ask about problems.

  • What’s your biggest struggling with [the topic you write about]?
  • Where are you stuck?

Check your analytics.
Have you written a blog post that generated a lot of clicks, shares, or feedback? This may reveal the interests of your readers.

If you’ve written a series of well-received posts, package them digitally and offer them as a lead magnet. 

Listen to your reader’s questions. 
If readers ask what happened to your minor characters Joe and Sally, from Book One, write a short story about their subsequent adventures and use it as a lead magnet that you know will resonate with your audience.

If you consistently get the same questions on your nonfiction topic, gather a list of the questions people ask you most frequently, offer a FAQ sheet with answers based on your expertise.

Step 2: Write a Compelling Pitch for Your Lead Magnet

The pitch is the reason why someone would want to download your lead magnet. We are constantly bombarded with new information, so you must hook your reader in an instant and give them a reason to stop and pay attention.

Title
Your title has to grab a reader’s attention and incite them to want to learn more. Your title must promise to answer a question or solve a problem your reader has. If it does, they’ll be curious enough to find out what comes next.

Blurb
If you hook them with your title, they’ll give you a few more seconds and read your blurb to find out how they’ll benefit from your offer.

  • Will it really help solve their problem?
  • Will it get them through their struggle?
  • Will it satisfy their longing to know what happened to those characters?

Full Page Pitch
If the reader is convinced, they’ll read the rest of the details in your pitch. Here, you can further explain how or why your lead magnet will help . List the benefits, transformation, or relief they will experience after downloading your offer.

A short story might provide an escape to another time or world.

Only an utterly convincing pitch will cause people to sign up for your email list.

Step 3: Create a Compelling Graphic

Your lead magnet needs a graphic to represent the content inside. It should visually communicate the value you’re offering.

For a short story, you’ll want to create a book cover image just like you would for an ebook. It doesn’t have to be an expensive design. Fiverr (Affiliate Link) has graphic designers who will design a cover for $20. They’re not usually good enough for the novel you’ve spent a year writing, but they’re usually superior to graphics you create yourself, especially if you’re not well versed in graphic desigh.

For a nonfiction lead magnet, you’ll also need a cover, but these will vary depending on what you offer. If you’re offering a single-page tip sheet, make sure the design is visually pleasing, clear, and easy to read.

Step 4: Choose the Delivery System

Once you’ve promised your readers something they want and they sign up, you must deliver your lead magnet to them. There are several ways to deliver the digital prize.

Link to a page on your website.
Most email service providers allow you to customize the first automated “thank you” or “confirmation” email your new subscriber receives.

In that first email, you can include the image you created in Step 3, and a link to a page on your website where you lead magnet lives. They can click the link in the email and will immediately be taken to the page where they can view and read your lead magnet.

Link to a PDF/MP3 on your website.
If you’re giving a PDF or MP3, you have the option of linking directly to those files, and they will download immediately. In that scenario, you can cut the step of sending your new subscriber to a page on your website.

Create a drip sequence.
Through a drip sequence (also called an onboarding campaign), you can deliver your prize in the first email, but you can also deliver a second reward or an unexpected bonus in your subsequent emails. Thrill your readers by going above and beyond what you promised. 

If your nonfiction lead magnet is a tip-sheet, you might follow up by sending a link to a bonus video of your teaching on the topic. If video isn’t your cup of tea, consider sending a series of emails that cover each tip in detail.

Use an ebook delivery service.
If you’re delivering a short story, readers will want to know how to get it on their Kindle. Most people have no idea how to load a PDF onto their Kindle. If they do, it’s not necessarily an ideal reading experience, depending on how the PDF was created and how they uploaded it.

To deliver a Kindle file, use one of the following services. Each of these services handles all the technical aspects of delivering ebooks, no matter what kind of device your reader uses. If your new subscriber has trouble getting your short story on their device, these services will provide the support to help. But, they offer their services at different price points.

Each service has its own steps for uploading your short story, but I’d recommend starting with StoryOrigin. Their free version has no limits on the number of downloads, and it’s powerful. If you find you need the advanced features of BookFunnel or InstaFreebie, you can explore those services as you grow. 

Step 5: Create the Lead Magnet

Most lead magnets start off as Word Docs. But you never want to give away a Word Doc. Savvy people can look at the metadata of your Word Doc and see previous versions, as well as your personal information that Microsoft includes.

As Word Docs are sent between devices, the formatting often changes, and they become difficult to read. Word Documents should not be shared with strangers. 

At the very least, you should create a PDF for your short story, and you can do that in Microsoft Word. But you will give your readers the best impression and easiest reading experience if you create ebook files.

Vellum
Vellum is an amazing tool for creating ebook files, and users rave about it. You could pay someone hundreds of dollars to create the files for you, or you can create them yourself in minutes with Vellum.  

The downside is that Vellum only runs on Mac and it’s pricy. If you only need it for one ebook, it’s probably not worth the cost. 

For PC users, there is a workaround to run Vellum on PC in a cloud-based virtual machine.

Draft2Digital
If you’re on a PC, you can create ebook files for free with Draft2Digital

Calibre
Calibre is a free, open-source tool for creating ebook files. However, it’s clunky and hard to use. If you’re not up for the challenge of Calibre, the fast and easy way is to hire someone on Fiverr (affiliate link) to run your short story through Vellum and send you the files. 

Step 6: Add a Signup Form to Your Website

Popup Form
Most people don’t want to hear this, but the most effective way of collecting subscribers on your website is to use a popup. When we added a popup to AuthorMedia, our subscription rate increased ten-fold. That’s a 1000% increase.

Create a popup that won’t annoy your visitors by using a professional popup tool. With these tools, you can change the settings on your popup so they don’t pop right away, and they don’t pop all the time. 

You want to create a delay before the popup appears. If the visitor hides the popup, you can change the settings, so it won’t pop again for that visitor. Some tools allow the form to pop upon “exit intent” when the user is about to leave your website.

Even a popup that slides up in the lower right-hand corner of your web page after 30 seconds will drastically increase the number of subscribers you get.

Landing Page
A landing page is a web page where people “land” when they type or click the landing page URL. Landing pages are specifically designed to get visitors to take a specific action, and in this case, you want them to enter their email address.

Landing pages have the capacity to present more information than a popup.

Squeeze Page
A squeeze page is the extreme version of a landing page. On a squeeze page, there is only one action the reader can take. Typically, that single action is to fill out the form with your email address.

On most webpages, there are many tabs, images, and icons you can click. If you click the logo on a webpage and it doesn’t take you anywhere, you’re being squeezed to give your email to the website you’re visiting.

(See James L. Rubart’s squeeze page for the lead magnet offered at the end of his novel.)

Blog Post
When you release a new lead magnet, take the opportunity to blog about the benefits your lead magnet provides. Use your post to identify with the needs and wants of your reader. Explain how their problem can be solved, and offer your lead magnet as the tool to help them solve it.

Within your post, you can link to a landing page or an embed a form where they can sign up to download it.

Bloom (Affiliate Link)
The WordPress plugin Bloom is my favorite tool to add forms to my websites. With Bloom, you can create popups, landing pages, and embedded forms.

Bloom offers excellent options so you can set the criteria to pop only on certain pages, at specific times, in certain places on the page, and for certain users. Sadly, due to patent issues, Bloom doesn’t offer “exit intent” as a trigger to pop.

Bloom comes bundled with an Elegant Themes Subscription (affiliate link), so if you’re using Divi, you already have Bloom. 

If you don’t use Divi, use your email service provider or a WordPress.org plugin to create forms that won’t irritate visitors.

Step 7: Promote the Lead Magnet

Once you create the lead magnet, you must let people know about it. 

Buy Ads
You might consider buying ads on Facebook or another platform where new readers will see your ad and click to learn more about your free offer. 

Let me reiterate, this will only work if you’ve done the work from Step 1 to find out what your ideal readers want or need, and you’ve created the compelling pitch mentioned in Step 2.

Offer your lead magnet in the back matter of your book.
After a reader has finished your novel, they may want to read more of your work or see an illustration or map from your story. Include an image and link in the back matter of your book where a reader can immediately find it. 

James L. Rubart leveraged his hobby, his protagonist, and his back matter to offer a unique lead magnet. Jim plays the guitar, and so did his protagonist. Jim wrote and recorded the type of song his character would play. Then he offered the MP3 as a lead magnet in the back of his book. Readers could click the link for his landing page to download and listen in exchange for their email address.

Brainstorm creative ways to incorporate elements from your book and your personal interests into a lead magnet. Perhaps your favorite traditional holiday recipe is all the rage for your characters. In the back matter of your book, offer that recipe to your readers in exchange for their email address. 

Step 8: Measure 

Measuring your results is the fun part. As you watch your analytics and see your subscriber numbers increase, you’ll be able to determine which forms convert best.

Bloom allows you to see how many signups came from your popup versus the form embedded in your blog post. 

Your analytics will also reveal which lead magnet is most popular with your readers.

If you follow these steps, readers will be thrilled with the gift you offer, and you’ll be thrilled with the growth of your email list.  

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