QR codes have been around for decades, but most people didn’t know how to use them until recently. During the pandemic, restaurants started using QR codes instead of hard copies of menus. Restaurant patrons could scan the QR code and immediately have the menu displayed on their phones.

Now that most readers know how to scan a QR code, you can use them to promote your book or grow your email list. 

What are QR Codes?

QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes. Adding a dimension allows the code to convey a lot more information. 

Here is the QR code version of the opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. 

book QR code for Charles Dickens opening paragraph

This QR code is not a link to the book. This is the text of the first paragraph in QR code form. 

Scanning this screen with your phone will convert the image into a paragraph starting with “It was the best of times.” 

You can put any text into a QR code. More text adds more dots to the code. Here is the QR code for the phrase, “it was the best of times.” 

Notice the shorter phrase requires fewer dots. 

You can put up to 4,296 characters into a QR code, which means you could put a couple of paragraphs of text into a QR code. 

QR codes don’t usually hold a paragraph. The most common use of a QR code is holding a URL. When your phone scans a QR code with a URL, your phone will display the web address and ask you if you want to go there. QR codes make it possible for phone users to go directly to long URLs like www.example.com/menues/fall/breakfastspecials.pdf. 

Restaurants love to use QR codes because they can send guests directly to the menu rather than a link buried in a drop-down menu on their website. Plus, since the code is just a URL, restaurants can update their website’s menu without changing the QR code. The old QR code will work for the new “inflation-adjusted” menu prices if the URL remains the same. 

How to Scan a QR Code

When I was a kid, I had to download a special QR code scanning app. Then I had to run the app while walking uphill in the snow! And, if you held your iPhone 4 incorrectly, the code wouldn’t scan! You kids these days have it so easy! 

Modern smartphones can scan QR codes without using a special app. 

The steps are the same for both iPhone and Android. 

Android & iPhone  

  1. Open your phone’s camera.
  2. Point the camera at the QR code. Don’t take a picture! The phone will focus, detect the QR code, and popup a banner will appear. 
  3. Tap the banner. Voila! You’ve arrived!

That’s it! 

How to Open iPhone’s Special QR Code Scanner

There is an alternate way to scan QR codes on iPhone. They are as follows: 

  1. Put your finger in the top right of the screen and swipe down and to the left. 
  2. Tap the “Scan QR Code” icon.
  3. Put the QR code inside the camera’s target. 
  4. Tap the banner. 

How to Make a QR Code

Chances are you already know how to scan QR codes, but how do you make them?

First, realize the dots in a QR code will be situated in the same place regardless of what tool you use to create the QR code. If you create a QR code for the phrase “it was the best of times,” your QR code will have the same arrangement of dots as my example above. That said, you do have some control over the color and shape of the dots.

Here are my three recommendations for QR code generators: 

Kindlepreneur

Dave Chesson has a handy QR code generator over at Kindlepreneur.com. 

Pros: 

  • It’s free 
  • No Account Require
  • Very Simple 

Cons: 

  • You have little control over how the QR code looks. 
  • It produced ugly grey codes rather than high-contrast black.
  • The low-contrast grey makes the codes harder to scan. 

Bottom Line: 

iQR Codes (Mac Only)

Pros:

  • You have full control over the look and design of the QR code you create.
  • It’s a powerful tool with many options to choose from.
  • It’s available for a one-time purchase.

Cons:

  • It isn’t free, but the one-time-purchase cost is only $15.
  • Again, it’s powerful with many options, but the options may also be overwhelming.
  • It is only available on Mac.

Bottom Line:

Qr-code-generator.com

This website is run by bit.ly and offers a powerful QR code creator.

Pros:

  • Most of the features are available for free. 
  • This QR code generator is also powerful and has many options. 
  • It integrates with bit.ly, which makes it easy to track clicks.

Cons:

  • It will try to convince you to sign up for an expensive monthly subscription you don’t need. 
  • It is unnecessarily complicated in some regards.
  • It is unclear which features you have to pay for and which are free. Unfortunately, that’s by design. They want to trick you into paying for something you don’t need. I prefer the upfront payment model of iQR mentioned above.

Bottom Line:

  • If you Google “QR Code generator,” this is the app you will likely end up using. 

How to Make a QR Code Trackable

The key to effective marketing is measurement. So, can you track how many times a QR code has been scanned? 

Yes and no. 

The QR code itself is just an arrangement of dots interpreted by a computer. You don’t have to be online to scan a code. You only need a phone that knows how to interpret the dots. 

But if the QR code is a unique URL, you can track how many visitors went to that URL. In summary, you can’t track how many people scanned a QR code, but you can track how many clicked the banner to go to the code’s URL. 

If the QR code is for your landing page URL, you won’t be able to distinguish clicks from the QR code from clicks that came from your landing page link at the back of your ebook. 

If you want to know exactly how many people arrived on your landing page from your QR code scans, send people to a unique forwarding address that redirects them to the landing page. There are two popular ways to do this. 

Method #1: Bit.ly

If you create a free Bit.ly account before you shorten a URL, bit.ly will give you a dashboard that will track how many people visited your bit.ly link. Bit.ly links are short and make for simpler QR codes. 

I don’t love this method because it relies on a third party (bit/;y) to redirect users to your website. If Bit.ly were to go down or cancel you, all your URLs would break. The QR codes would still work, but they would lead people to URLs you don’t control. 

Also, people feel unsettled if they don’t know where a bit.ly link will take them. They might be hesitant to tap a banner that says “bit.ly.”

But you can diminish that hesitancy by sending people to your website at www.YourAuthorName.com with a redirection plugin.

Method #2: WordPress Redirection Plugin

I love the Redirection plugin for WordPress. More than 2,000,000 websites use WordPress’s free Redirection plugin. It allows you to create redirection URLs and tracks how many times they have been accessed.  

We use the Redirection plugin to make our episode number URLs. You are reading the blog post for episode 345, and if you type the URL “AuthorMedia.com/345,” it will redirect you to a longer keyword-rich URL (You can see it up there in your browser right now). 

We could also make a QR code version of https://AuthorMedia.com/345. That QR code would look like this:

If you scan this QR code, it will redirect you to authormedia.com/345, which will redirect you back to the page you are reading right now. 

I like this method because every step takes place on your website. This is the cancel-proof method. Even if you switched from the Redirection plugin to the PrettyLinks plugin, the QR codes would still work! 

There used to be dozens of URL shortening services, most of which went out of business when Twitter launched its URL shortening service. That shift caused many shortened URLs to break. Broken URLs weren’t a big deal when they led to an ephemeral tweet, but broken URLs are a big problem if the code is printed in a book people might read 50 years from now. 

How can authors use QR codes?

Method #1: Promote Your Reader Magnet Offline

As we have discussed many times at Novel Marketing, reader magnets are a great way to grow your email list and connect with readers. If your email list is small, it is most likely because you don’t have a good reader magnet. 

But creating a great reader magnet is not the end goal. You must also tell people about it, which is where QR codes help. When you start building your email list, your most effective promotion will often come from in-person hustling. 

You can tell a friend about your reader magnet, but it’s far more effective to tell her about it and then hand her a business card or bookmark with a QR code for your reader magnet. Your friend can easily scan the code and get your reader magnet in a matter of seconds. She doesn’t have to remember your web address and type it in later. 

A QR code handed to her will dramatically increase the chances that she will join your list and buy your book. 

Tools like QR codes allow you to get better results from your marketing efforts. You’re already telling friends about your book, so hand them a QR code and make it easy for them to get your reader magnet right then!

If marketing exhausts you, perhaps you are doing things the hard way. Make life easy for your readers and yourself with QR codes. 

QR Codes on Business Cards

Instead of sending potential readers on a scavenger hunt to track down your reader magnet, just give them a QR for the webpage where they can download your short story or guide. 

Have you used a QR code on your business cards? Share a photo in the comments of this episode’s post on AuthorMedia.social.

QR Codes on Bookmarks

Bookmarks give you a bit more space to feature the cover, the QR code, and information about your book. Some bookstores and libraries have a place for authors to leave a stack of free bookmarks. 

Have you used a QR code on your bookmarks? Share a photo in the comments of this episode’s post on AuthorMedia.social.

Method #2: Promote Your Website in Your Book

Just because someone has purchased and read your book doesn’t mean they’ve been to your website, followed your podcast, or subscribed to your email list. Use QR codes to make it easy for paper book readers to find you online. 

Reader Magnet

In the backmatter of your book, feature a reader magnet for readers who want more after “The End.” 

If the book is the first in a series, promote the second book in the back matter. If your book is the last in a series, a standalone, or the next book is not yet ready, promote a reader magnet. 

Maps

Do you have a map of the medieval village your character visits in chapter three? Include a QR code that takes the reader to a full-color PDF version of that map. Make sure the PDF is hosted on your website so the QR code will continue working decades from now. 

Discussion Guide

Many authors include a discussion guide in the book itself. But readers often appreciate having a printed version of the discussion guide that they can reference while reading or share with friends. You can include a QR code for a printable version of your discussion guide. 

Companion Workbook

If you have a printable workbook companion for your book, include a QR code so readers can get it right away.

Quiz

Does your nonfiction book have a quiz attached that you use for promotion? Include a QR code in your paper book so readers can access and take that quiz.

Method #3: Sell Books Offline

QR codes can point people anywhere on the internet. I typically recommend sending readers to your website, but you could send them directly to Amazon. You could even turn your Amazon affiliate link into a QR code. When readers scan that code and buy your book, you will earn an additional 4% affiliate commission on top of your regular royalty. 

QR codes are especially helpful if you want to sell ebooks at your book table when you’re attending or speaking at an in-person event. You can take cash and sign paper books at your book table, but you can also have a giant QR code for folks to scan if they want the ebook instead. 

Method #4: Track the Effectiveness of Offline Advertising

I talk a lot about digital marketing on this podcast, but I also believe in offline marketing. QR codes make offline promotion more effective and measurable. 

While QR codes won’t work on a highway billboard, they do work in the following places:

Magazine Ads

Next time you flip through a paper magazine, pay attention to how many QR codes you see. Advertisers often include QR codes in ads so readers can easily take direct action. Plus, QR codes help advertisers measure their marketing to determine how effective an ad or publication is. 

Fliers

You’ll often see QR codes on fliers and posters for the same reasons you see them in magazines. Readers and customers find them easy to scan, and marketers use them to measure results.

Posters

Do you have a poster for your book? Make sure it has a QR code. 

Method #5 Promote Your Podcast

Subscribing to a podcast can be a bit of a hassle. But you can make it easy! Create a QR code that links to a page on your website with links to all the podcast players you use.

To see an example, scan the QR code in the photo above.

Pilgrim’s Progress Reloaded is a fiction podcast. Notice how the QR code on the back of the card takes people directly to a Buzzsprout page with subscription buttons for Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and others. If you want to make a card like this, I recommend including the website (www.DavidUmstattd.com) under the QR code. You could also include the phrase “scan to subscribe.”

Method #6: Turn Public Speaking Audiences into Email Subscribers

In my episode How to Get Better at Public Speaking with Jane Jenkins Herlong, Jane recommended making a slide for your speaking presentation with a huge QR code that people can scan from their seats. That QR code leads people to a page on her website where they can sign up for her newsletter. 

5 QR Code Mistakes to Avoid

Putting the QR Code on a Webpage

If you are writing a blog post, it is better to use a hyperlink than a QR code. If someone is reading your post on a phone, they can’t scan their own screen. 

The one exception would be if you had a web page for web visitors using computers that included some element to enjoy on a phone. For example, you could include a QR code with instructions to “scan this code to subscribe to the podcast.”

Actually, that’s a great idea! Here is the code to subscribe to Novel Marketing on your phone:

Scan this code to subscribe to the Novel Marketing Podcast in your phone’s podcast app.

Making the QR Code Too Small

If the code is too small, phones will have difficulty focusing on the dots and won’t be able to scan it. Phones can’t always focus when the code is too close to the phone. The more complex the code, the bigger it needs to be.

Having the QR Code Point to Uncertainty 

Paper can live forever. If you have a QR code printed in your paper book, it must point to a web page you can control for the next 20 years. People need to be reassured that they are being led to a safe website. 

Pointing QR Codes to Your Homepage

QR codes failed to catch on in the 2000s because they often pointed to a general homepage. QR codes took off in the 2020s because they pointed to specific restaurant menu URLs. 

If you want people to scan your QR code, promise them something worth having. Take them somewhere specific. Instead of dumping them on your homepage, send them directly to a landing page where they can get something for free. 

No Context

We live in a world full of QR codes. People need some context to know where the QR code is pointing and why that place is worth visiting. 

Some Crazy QR Code Ideas

Since you can hide whole paragraphs inside a QR code, you could use them to do some wacky things like 

Hide the ending.

You could put the final paragraph of your mystery in a QR code so that people can’t read it by accident.

Hide a spoiler.

You could put a spoiler sentence behind a QR code in a paper product.

You tell me!

What other wacky things could you do with a QR code?  

Add them in the comments at AuthorMedia.social.

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Personal Update

My wife and kids have been sick for the last three weeks. Our two-year-old had a terrible fever and chills, and I had him bundled into a blanket and was rocking him on the rocking chair. Then, without warning, he threw up all over me. I was soaked through with vomit. It was the dad version of the college experience I never had. 

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