Are you struggling to get new people to sign up for your email newsletter?
Your friends and family might be willing to sign up, but how do you convince a stranger to give you her email address?
Strangers don’t care about you. They don’t even know you. There are millions of author newsletters, so what would make a stranger sign up for yours?
Offering a tantalizing reader magnet is one technique that makes readers want to sign up for your newsletter, and it has worked for thousands of authors.
To learn the secrets of creating delicious reader magnets, I interviewed Tammi Labrecque. She writes under pen names across several genres and is the author of the popular book on email newsletters called Newsletter Ninja (Affiliate Link).
What is a reader magnet?
Tammi: A reader magnet is a free thing you give away in exchange for someone joining your mailing list. Generally, your reader magnet will be a story related to your genre or books you’ve already written.
Thomas: A reader magnet is a little taste of your fiction. It works best if your reader magnet story takes place in the same fantasy world or features characters from your novel. The more similar it is to your current book, the better it will work as a promotional tool.
For example, maybe your readers want to learn more about the tavern your hero visits before he goes on his great adventure. Your whole short story could take place in that tavern.
Tammi: Your reader magnet should be a no-brainer for somebody who just finished reading your book. They want to keep reading in your story world, so they sign up for your newsletter and download your reader magnet.
Thomas: For fiction, the reader magnet will be a short story, a prequel, or a Christmas vignette between your two love interests.
For nonfiction, your options for creating reader magnets are endless.
What lead magnets work best for nonfiction writers?
Thomas: Give us some examples of nonfiction lead magnets that work well.
Tammi: Reference items like a checklist, planner, or cheat sheet can present the author’s message in a way that is concise and practical. That type of lead magnet may lead the reader to a book or a course the author is offering.
Make sure your nonfiction reader magnet is packed with helpful information instead of fluff. Don’t use three pages of a seven-page document to introduce yourself to the reader or try to sell something. Offer something highly valuable to your reader.
Thomas: The reader must have a good experience reading your lead magnet or short story.
Some novelists make the mistake of offering the first short story they’ve ever written in their entire lives as their reader magnet, and because they haven’t learned the craft of short story writing, it leaves a bad impression on the reader.
If you develop the skill of writing short stories, your readers will have a better experience, and they’ll fall in love with you, your writing, and your characters. You need to inspire them to want more.
Tammi: A novelist would never throw together a homemade book cover or skip the editing process. But when they create a reader manet, they sometimes think those steps aren’t important. They’ll throw something together in Microsoft Paint.
Your reader magnet is your first impression, so it’s vitally important to put your best foot forward. Your reader magnet draws strangers to your writing, and you want their first experience to be top-notch.
What makes a great reader magnet?
Thomas: Let’s talk about how to make your reader magnet more magnetic.
A Good Cover
If your reader magnet shares characters or a story world with your novel, the cover should share the branding of your book covers. Sometimes cover designers will give you a bargain if you’re buying multiple covers together. When they already have the files, it’s less work to create a similar cover for your reader magnet.
Tammi: It’s best to use the same cover designer for your reader magnet that you used for your book series. If you explain that you need a cover for a reader magnet, they might give you a discount.
Pre-made covers are another option. Try to find a pre-made cover that has the same tone as your other book covers. Give it to your cover designer and have them modify and personalize it to match the other books in your series.
It’s important to have similar branding across all your books.
Thomas: If you Google “pre-made book covers,” you will find libraries of covers to choose from. It’s an inexpensive way to get professionally made book covers.
Don’t worry about someone else having the same book cover because your reader magnet lives on your website. It will never appear on Amazon. The only way someone can get your amazing short story is to visit your website and sign up for it.
If someone else does have a similar cover, it’s highly unlikely that the same reader will visit both of your websites and see the cover.
Available Exclusively at Your Website
Tammi: The exclusivity of your website is important. I’ve tested it.
My friend Chris Fox was starting to write military science fiction. He had a prequel novella he used as a reader magnet.
After he had been distributing the prequel on his website as a reader magnet, he put it on Amazon for $0.99. Immediately his email signups declined.
Make your reader magnet exclusive to your website. If the day comes that you want to sell it on Amazon, write a new short story for your readers. They’ll be happy you did.
Thomas: We sometimes use the term “cookie” to describe a reader magnet. It’s a gift that you’re giving to your readers. It’s like somebody is coming over to visit, and you welcome them into your house with a plate of cookies. It’s a reward for taking a risk with you.
It can be scary to give someone your email address—even scarier than giving Amazon $0.99. I trust Amazon. I’ve given Amazon thousands of dollars, but I don’t know you. You’re some new author. How do I know you’re not going to spam me?
A Good Title
Tammi: The title matters. Don’t slap on the first clunky title you come up with. Be creative. Be punny. Do the best you can with the title.
Thomas: One good hack for writing better titles is to write multiple titles and pick the best one. I use this strategy for every podcast episode.
For example, the first title I wrote for this episode was “Reader Magnets for Authors.” That was okay, but not great. Next, I tried “How to Grow Your List with Reader Magnets.” But then I came up with “How to Get More Email Subscribers with Delicious Reader Magnets.”
The title is especially important for nonfiction reader magnets.
Your story should deliver a full story experience. I’m not a fan of sample chapters or cliffhangers. Make sure your story is as error-free as you can make it. Put your best foot forward because you do not get a second chance to make a first impression.
Tammi: You don’t necessarily need a developmental editor, but you’ll want some alpha or beta readers to make sure your story is solid. You’ll definitely need a line editor or copy editor to proofread your story.
Thomas: I would recommend getting a developmental edit, especially if you are currently unpublished. Working with a developmental editor on your reader magnet is a great opportunity to get solid feedback. It’s cheaper to get a developmental edit on a 5,000-word short story than on your 100,000-word epic novel.
Most first-time authors make the same writing mistakes over and over. Why pay an editor to find those mistakes in 100,000 words when they could do it in 5,000 words?
A developmental edit will make your reader magnet better, and you’ll become a better author in the process.
How do I get readers to sign up for my reader magnet?
Thomas: Readers need a way to sign up for your reader magnet. How do you put a reader magnet on your website?
Use Your Website to Invite Readers to Sign Up
Tammi: When somebody visits your website, they should see an invitation to get your reader magnet. You need a call to action at the top of your home page that visitors will see right away. Something like, “Sign up here and get a free story set in my epic world of fantasy.”
Visitors see that invitation and enter their email addresses into a signup form. That form needs to be connected to a third-party email service that will collect their email address and deliver your reader magnet.
Create a Landing Page Where Readers Sign Up
Readers might find your reader magnet when they click a link at the end of your ebook or on a site where you’re running a cross-promotion.
If someone finds your reader magnet at the end of your book or on another site, you’re going to send them directly to a landing page where the only option is to sign up for your short story.
Direct Readers to Check Their Email
Regardless of where they sign up, your next step is to instruct them to check their email.
Do not send an email with a PDF attached. Do not send them your reader magnet through email.
Back in the early days, circa 2011, we would make a file available for people to download from our websites, and then a frighteningly large percentage of those people would email us, wondering how to get the book onto their Kindle. Authors wasted a lot of time doing customer service and trying to help people load the ebook onto a device.
We now have better options.
How should I deliver my reader magnet?
When people get the email from you that says, “Thanks for signing up. Here’s your cookie,” it will give them a link to a third-party website where they will download your story.
Personally, I use BookFunnel. It’s easy to use. Readers click on the link, and it takes them to BookFunnel, where they can see the book cover and a short blurb about the book. They can choose which format they would like to download.
In a perfect world, it automatically appears on their Kindle or Nook or whatever they’re using. However, when it doesn’t work, readers can click the “help” button on BookFunnel and get everything sorted out. No need for you to be the troubleshooter.
Thomas: That’s key for fiction. No one wants to read a PDF of your short story on their laptop. It’s not a good experience. They’ll have a much better experience on the couch with their Kindle.
For nonfiction, if it’s a printable checklist, then a Word document or PDF is great.
I’ll often use Word to create worksheets to go with a podcast episode. Even if somebody doesn’t have Microsoft Word, all the other word processors can open a Word document.
The Convert Kit file delivery system works well in this case, but not if you need to deliver a .mobi file. Not everyone can open a .mobi file. Services like BookFunnel and StoryOrigin solve that problem.
Many rabid readers have already used BookFunnel or StoryOrigin. They know how to download a book. But if you send readers a .mobi file, they will struggle to load it onto their Kindle.
What is a landing page, and what should it include?
Thomas: A landing page is a page on your website (or created through your mail service) that has a single purpose. You want people to take one action when they land on your page. You want them to sign up to receive your reader magnet.
The landing page doesn’t have to be complicated. Plan to include the following:
- A large image of the professionally designed reader magnet cover.
- A blurb or pitch explaining what your story is about and why someone would want to read it.
A signup form, where visitors enter their email address. It can be linked to your mail service (like Mailerlite or Convert Kit). Your mail service will send readers a link to BookFunnel or StoryOrigin, where they can download the book.
You could also include trust badges, which lend credibility to you as a writer.
How do you get people to your landing page?
Backmatter of Your Book
Thomas: Once you have your landing page set up, you must go into the world and direct people to it.
Use the back matter of your book to direct people to your landing page. If you’ve done a great job with your book, readers will love an additional story with the same characters that takes place after your original story ends. You’ll send them to “www.YourWebsite.com/MyStory,” which will redirect them to the landing page.
Tammi: I often see authors make the mistake of sending readers to a link that is NOT their website.
Never, ever include a link in the back of your book to somewhere that is not your own website. The danger in this is that when someone downloads your book onto their Kindle, even if they borrow and return it in Kindle Unlimited, Amazon will “freeze” the version of the book that they read. If they download the book again, they will always get the same static copy.
At some point, if you decide to switch from BookFunnel to StoryOrigin, all the books that had a link to BookFunnel will have a dead link. So, it’s important to always send readers directly to your website.
Even if you don’t want to build landing pages on your site, you can create a redirect from your web address to the third-party site. If the day comes when you’re no longer using that third party, you can at least change where the redirect points.
Thomas: And not only that, but if you’re using the free Redirection Plugin, it will track how many people use that redirect link.
If you decide to switch from BookFunnel to StoryOrigin, you can point the redirect to StoryOrigin, and your readers won’t know the difference.
I also recommend this strategy for social networks. Never send readers to Facebook.com/YourName. It’s better to create a redirect from your website. Send people to YourWebsite.com/facebook, which redirects to your Facebook page. That if way Facebook ever cancels you, you can have that redirect go to a blog post that tells your side of the story.
Tammi: There are several ways to send people to your landing page.
The back of the book is preferable because that means somebody finished your book and wants to read more from you. We love this kind of reader!
But you can also network with other authors who will direct people to your landing page through a newsletter swap.
What’s a newsletter swap?
Thomas: A newsletter swap does not mean giving your email subscriber list to another author. That is bad practice, and it’s illegal.
Tammi: A newsletter swap is like having a guest on your podcast.
One author offers your reader magnet to their readers in an email. They introduce you and your story to their audience, and then you do the same for them.
Thomas: Everybody likes to get free things. It’s a great idea to occasionally work with another author in this way, especially if they’re in a similar genre. But don’t overdo it. Don’t spam your readers with free stuff every week.
When you introduce your readers to another author in your same genre, you are solving their problem of what to read next. You can’t write enough books for your most voracious readers. Why not be the source they come to when they’re looking for their next read?
Tammi: If you approach other authors who write to a similar audience, you are sharing readers. Stores like Amazon are driven by algorithms that notice when a lot of people who bought books from “Author A” also bought books from “Author B.” Your books might start showing up on the other author’s Amazon page as recommendations for their readers and vice versa.
Thomas: That’s why you shouldn’t team up with anyone you don’t want on your book pages as “also boughts.”
Tammi: Good point. Make sure that you’re promoting with people that you want to share a readership with.
Thomas: You can also offer your reader magnet on podcast interviews. At the end of your interview, send readers to your landing page, where they can download a free gift. This strategy works best for nonfiction, but it can work for fiction as well.
We actually have an example in today’s episode. Tammi, you have a reader magnet for this episode. Tell us about your gift for Novel Marketing readers.
Tammi: I offer a cheat sheet called Ten Tips for Writing Emails That People Want to Read. When you click that link, you’ll have the option of signing up for my newsletter.
I am actually trying something new where the signup for my newsletter is totally optional.
I’ve been surprised by the large conversion numbers. People do want to sign up. It’s a great way to increase the quality of subscribers on your mailing list. This strategy works well for nonfiction, but I suspect it would not work as well for fiction.
Third-Party Book Promotion Sites
Many authors use their reader magnets as the book they are promoting on these promotion sites. For an unpublished author, this is one of the fastest ways to go from zero subscribers to 500 subscribers.
If you haven’t written a book yet, write a short story you can give away in a group promotion. Feature the characters you’ll use in your novel, and use the promotion to build your email list so when you launch your novel, you’ll launch to a list of super fans.
BookSweeps users love to download all the books in your genre, and they’re looking for the next new thing. They’re willing to take a risk on a new author.
Tammi: One of my clients was starting a new pen name and wanted to build an email list before her book came out. She decided to write a story about the high school days of one of the characters in her book. She wrote her story and submitted it as part of two different promotions on BookFunnel.
The way these promotions work is that a group of authors each contribute a book, and all the book links are placed on one landing page. Each author sends that link to his or her own followers. The readers look at the covers and blurbs and decide which books they would like to read.
Having a professional book cover and blurb can make a big difference when someone is deciding which of these ten or twenty books they want to read. They peruse the list and download the ones they like, and end up on your mailing list.
My client ended up launching her first book with about 600 people on her list.
The more subscribers you can add to your mailing list before you release your first book, the better. When you start a new series, bake your “cookie” into the process of writing that next series. You can have your lead magnet ready before the books are even published. It helps to get your readers excited about your next book series.
Thomas: I found that each one of these promotion websites has its own community of readers. Your ROI will diminish with each subsequent promotion on the same site because, for example, the BookFunnel readers interested in your books have already joined your list.
You will need to invest a bit of money to join BookFunnel or do a BookSweeps promotion, but it’s totally worth it. It’s the cheapest way to add more email subscribers to your list.
Research which promotional site would be the best fit for your genre:
Again, each one of these organizations has its own community. Some are stronger in certain genres than others. But we’re talking like $50-$100 for a promo.
If you’re interested in learning more about how promotional sites work, listen to my interviews with the founders of each company:
- How to Promote Your Book With AuthorsXP
- An Author’s Guide to StoryOrigin
- How to Grow Your Email List with BookSweeps
Tammi: I occasionally teach a course on advanced automation, and we analyze how much money you have spent per list subscriber.
Let’s say you paid $100 for your BookFunnel subscription for the year.
- How many people did you add to your list last year?
- How many people did you retain past the six-month mark?
I have analyzed my own data and my client’s data. There’s not a cheaper way to gain subscribers than using platforms like Story Origin, Books Sweeps, and BookFunnel. They’re much cheaper than a BookBub promotion.
There seems to be a prejudice in the community against non-organic subscribers. But I have found that if you have onboarded people properly, the “non-organic” subscribers who are still around after six months do not behave any differently than subscribers who clicked a link in the back of one of your books.
The open rates are not demonstrably different. The click-through rates are similar. People who make it through the onboarding sequence and stick around behave the same way as the gold-standard organic people.
Don’t be afraid to use these promotion sites to grow your mailing list. They are cheap, they are super effective, and they work.
Books and Courses to Help Grow Your Email List
Thomas: If you want to know what an organic subscriber or an onboarding sequence is, I encourage you to buy Tammi’s books:
I highly recommend Newsletter Ninja. It’s practical, and I agree with 95% of the content, which is high for a book on marketing. Newsletter Ninja has the “Thomas Umstattd Stamp of Approval.” Reading books on marketing has a great return on investment.
If you want more help, Tammi offers several courses.
Tammi: I run my courses pretty infrequently, but I do maintain a waitlist. If you sign up for notifications, I’ll let you know when a course is available.
Some people want and need more guided direction after reading the book. They want to know how to implement the material in their personal brand.
Advanced Automations covers my proprietary onboarding design that provides great results. This course is for clients with big lists or big catalogs.
The Cookie Challenge is in its beginning stages. In this course, I take a cohort of people through a six-week program to write their reader magnets. They start with nothing and finish with an edited, covered reader magnet.
Throughout the course, my clients discover that the craft of writing short stories is different than the craft of writing a novel. If you want to use a short story for your reader magnet, you need to study the craft of short story writing.
Thomas: We have several episodes on short story writing.
To learn more about Tammi Labrecque, her books, and courses, visit her website and sign up to receive 10 Tips for Writing Emails People Want to Read.
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