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Creative Reader Magnets for Your Mailing List

Building an author platform that sustains the average lifestyle isn’t easy. It often requires a slick business plan, a marketing budget and great books. Note: that’s books – plural. Most authors can’t live off one title. Yes, it’s possible if your book is a business card for a more lucrative operation, or if your debut becomes a runaway bestseller, but those scenarios are rare. Many authors need multiple books to achieve their dream.

There are lots of reasons for this. For a start, the average reader doesn’t become a die-hard fan until they’ve read a few of an author’s books. Plus, there’s the compounding effect associated with having a long list of published titles all selling at once and promoting each other. Put simply, more books create more marketing opportunities, more potential entry points for readers, and a longer runway on which new readers can be converted into superfans.

One of the most notable advantages prolific authors have, though, is that they can offer a reader magnet – a free item they give to readers in exchange for their email address. This allows them to supercharge their platform growth. Commonly, an author’s reader magnet is a free book – either a first in series, a sequel, or a completely original story readers can’t get anywhere else.

The concept is simple; the tricky part is writing enough books to make this tactic feasible. For most newbies, giving away their debut means having nothing left to promote afterwards. Yes, you could write a whole new book for this purpose, but it takes time and effort, which is a recipe for frustration if you’re eager to launch your career. Thankfully, there are other routes. If you don’t have content to spare right now, read on to discover alternative reader magnet ideas you can use to lure fans onto your mailing list.

Your Next Book

This is primarily a strategy for debut authors who have nothing else to offer. It can be problematic if cashflow is an issue, but giving away your next book is an effective solution as long as you have a long-term vision for your career. If it’s not ready immediately, that’s fine. Readers prefer to have their freebie the moment they offer you their email address but the trade doesn’t have to be instant. As long as you make it clear on your sign-up page that your second book isn’t ready yet, most people won’t mind waiting.

Many authors argue that this strategy ruins the financial potential of the second release but that isn’t necessarily the case. For a start, readers who sign up after reading your debut will be engaged fans. Not only will many post reviews on retailer websites and help you spread the word if you ask them, but some will also pay for the book to support you, even if they have a free version. Inevitably, you will miss out on some short-term sales, but giving away that book as a reader magnet can help you to accelerate the growth of your audience and give you bigger launches in the future.

Side Stories

Some authors don’t want to give away a whole novel and that’s understandable. Writing a book takes a long time. Yet you can still give away shorter fiction as a reader magnet. Many authors do well by offering original novellas or short stories that feature side characters from their main series, drawing in fans who want to read shorter stories set in the same universe. Doing so requires a smaller time and editing investment, and can sometimes be just as effective as a novel, particularly if the story is only available for email subscribers.

As a pro tip, if you are going to produce short content then write a story that includes a character who has proven to be a favourite among your readers but who doesn’t have the legs for their own spinoff novel. Do you have a quirky character who has developed a cult following? Maybe run a poll to your fans on social media to find out. A short adventure featuring them as the hero could maximise your subscription rates, attracting readers who are hungry to know what they get up to when they’re not hanging out with your main series protagonist.

Auxiliary Content

You don’t have to write a whole story to create a reader magnet. For many authors, auxiliary content is enough. This could be a digital version of something that appears in the story. For example, if you write thrillers and one of your characters alludes to a hairy experience they had in prison, your auxiliary content could be a police report that maps out exactly what happened to them. Similarly, if you write romance, you could send your readers a series of love letters your heroine receives but never reads in your novel. For fantasy, you could create a series of monster profiles or a few pages from your hero’s spell book.

This tactic doesn’t require a lot of effort when you compare it to writing a whole new story. However, it does flesh out your fictional world and gives your readers the impression that they are somehow a part of it. If it’s done well, you can even repurpose this content as merchandise and sell high-quality physical versions on your website.

Concept Art

Fans love to look at concept art, whether it be for movies, games or books. If you are an artist then creating some for your readers – which you could send as a digital download – could be a fun side project and a pleasant palette cleanser after a few months of writing. If you draw like a caffeinated five-year-old, on the other hand, then you could commission a professional to create some artwork for you. In that case, it costs money but very little time and effort.

The beauty of giving out art is that it’s so versatile. You can distribute line art as a colouring sheet then give your readers a professionally coloured version that they can print out and stick on their wall. You must remember to get all of the necessary rights to do this if you’re working with an artist. Once that’s agreed, however, you can use the artwork as a reader magnet, merchandise, or even incorporate it into a limited-edition version of your book.

Photo Gallery

Some authors don’t have the talent nor money to create original artwork, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of the question. Remember, photos count as art too, and they’re considerably easier to produce than something requiring a pencil or paintbrush. As such, your reader magnet could be a secret photo album. Crime and romance writers have used this tactic to great effect, providing photos they have taken themselves of locations that inspired their books. Albums double as entertainment and travel guides that readers can use to visit the settings of some of their favourite scenes.

Of course, this won’t always be a plausible option for sci-fi, fantasy and horror writers who set their stories in fictional places. If you write in those genres, you might want to adapt the idea. For instance, you could share photos of objects you’ve seen in museums that inspired your magical weapons, or pictures of your IKEA furniture, which came with interesting Swedish names you repurposed as names for wizards.

Behind the Scenes Content

Readers often find their favourite authors just as interesting as the books they write. As a result, behind-the-scenes content can be a powerful reader magnet, especially if you write non-fiction or your novels are closely tied with your personal life. This idea covers a diverse range of areas so you can interpret it to create whatever type of content is relevant to your books.

You could record yourself being interviewed by a friend, family member or a colleague to give your readers a feel for your personality while also commenting on your books. Alternatively, if you don’t like the thought of being on camera, you could write a “meet the team” email series in which you showcase your editor, cover designer and proof reader, sharing their perspectives on your work. Or you could just offer a timeline of your writing process, running from initial ideas to launch day.

Interesting and savvy authors are always coming up with original ideas to improve the reader experience and grow their publishing business. So experiment. If an idea doesn’t work, you could even package your lessons learned as a reader magnet. The possibilities are endless.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.