Your reader magnet (which I call a “cookie” because I need to grow up, I think) is no more and no less than a good old-fashioned bribe to get people onto your list. It’s a loss leader — just like the cheap ground beef that gets you into the supermarket, where you end up buying a bunch of other stuff that’s not on sale at all. 

There are good reader magnets and there are bad reader magnets. 

A bad reader magnet, like a Kindle Fire or an Amazon gift card, will get you poor subscribers because everyone wants those things — not necessarily readers, and certainly not just your specific readers. 

Something like a genre-specific book promotion (Booksweeps giveaways or Bookfunnel bundles are good examples) is much better, and something specific to your books is best of all — an extended epilogue, a side story in the same world, a prequel that tells the villain’s story (I mean, they got three Star Wars movies out of that), stuff like that.

Aside: Some folks ask if they should use swag (branded physical items like bookmarks, tote bags, wine charms) for list-building, but I think that’s not likely to be terribly effective. Swag holds limited appeal for anyone who isn’t already a fan of yours, in which case they are likely to already be subscribed.

Aside #2: There’s also a small, genre-dependent demand for book-adjacent items like maps of your fantasy world, family trees for your Regencies, that sort of thing — but, again, those are only going to appeal to people who are already your fans. They make great gifts for your existing list (and, as time permits, you should definitely create them where you can), but they’re not so great as list-builders. 

Generally speaking, when we talk about reader magnets, we are almost always talking about a piece of writing —anything from a short story to a novel — because when you’re list-building, what you want first and foremost are readers. You want the people who subscribe to your newsletters to be (in ascending order of desirability) people who like to read, people who like to read in your genre, people who like to read books like yours, and people who like your books, specifically.  

I posit two types of book/story cookies:

  • Cookies for people who know you (we’ll call these people your readers), and
  • Cookies for people who don’t (we’ll call these people cold leads).

And there is a third type of cookie, let’s call it a “dual cookie,” that will work for both your readers and cold leads. If you are very short on time, or for some other reason don’t want to write two (or more!) cookies, it’s worth some time to think about how you can write one cookie that will serves both audiences.

When it comes to dual cookies, the example I usually give (I’m pretty sure I mentioned it in half of our one-on-one calls already, actually) is a romance writer I know who had three books in a series, with each heroine working in the same school, so that they all knew each other. (For those of you who don’t write romance: there are very few series in the sense of more than one book following the same couple, so this type of series is standard. Basically what Holly Lisle calls “linked standalones.”) Each of the three books also mentioned, just in passing, that two side characters seemed to be making eyes at each other. The cookie was a novella-length story of those two characters finally going on a date, and resolving to start a relationship (what we call Happy For Now, as opposed to Happily Ever After). Because the characters were ones that readers had come to know and be curious about during each of the series books, it was a great cookie for that series. But because it was a story that didn’t require that you have read any of the series books, it was also a great cookie for cold leads.

That said, though, if there were time to write more than one cookie, I might have advised this instead:

  • Write an extended epilogue for Book 1 (or an extended epilogue for each of the three books!), because those are particularly catnip-y to romance readers, and are more of a no-brainer for readers to want to join a list for, and 
  • Write a slightly longer story, maybe 20-25, for a reader magnet, which would allow all the beats of a solid contemporary romance to have made it into the story, including the HEA that romance readers want so badly. (No, I don’t know why. I myself love a HFN, but here we are.) That way the cookie for cold leads would be a clear example of the author’s ability to deliver a fully fleshed-out romance, and will lead the reader to want more of that author’s work (one hopes).

But if you’ve only got the time or inclination for one cookie, make it do both jobs. 

Worth noting: Don’t use a sample. Give readers a complete experience. Give them an entire story—a short story, novella, or entire novel—so they know you can not only write an intriguing beginning or sample, but that you can stick the landing, and actually wrap up a story in a satisfying fashion.

Be mindful of whether a cookie is appropriate for certain places in the reader journey; for example, If your cookie would spoil a book, put the offer for that cookie at the back of that book.  If reading it out of order will be confusing, make sure the offer comes at a point that won’t deliver a confusing experience. When deciding where and when to offer any specific cookie, ask yourself:

  • How does this lead into my catalog?
  • Will it entice people to read more?
  • Does it make sense out of context, or does it need to come after something else?
  • Will people be at risk of reading out of order something that should be read in order?

And, of course, if you write a new cookie send it to your existing list! They’ll love you for it, and be incentivized to stick around because every once in a while they just get a cool freebie from you for no reason at all. 

Never forget, while you do want to attract new people to your list, your first priority should be treating well the subscribers who are already there. They’ve stuck with you; reward them whenever you can.


Discussion questions:

  • Given the questions above, how many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?
  • Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?
  • What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you?
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GracieMiranda
GracieMiranda
3 years ago

Given the questions above, how many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?
I think I can write up a short story about a grandfather who has passed away, but he’s the one who pushed one of the main characters to figure out what happened to missing children.

Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?
I’m not offering it, but I just thought of the idea of writing a short story of the grandpa.

What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you?
I wouldn’t know of any, but I used to use a sample of my book, and on the landing page it said it was a sample, and I received a lot of subscribers through that, and so far only one has complained that it was only a sample.

Jennifer Baylor
Jennifer Baylor
3 years ago

*Given the questions above, how many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?

I have a collection of short stories that will come out around the same time as my first novel. The short stories are in the same genre as the novel and all involve dragons – and my novel also has a dragon theme. So, I was thinking of offering a short story from the collection as a cookie. It doesn’t spoil anything to come, it gives a relevant sample of my work, and it would make sense as a stand-alone. This is probably my best bet for a magnet at this stage??

I have three planned series that take place in the same world. I’m intrigued by your HFN short story example. I have been mulling over the idea of having a secondary character appear in each series & have a story or novel around that character as a cookie. This would be a future cookie, though.

I write origin stories for my MCs – and often their mothers, lol. It’s the way my brain works. Anyway. I’ve thought about using the mothers’ origin stories as cookies. Or, compile them into a collection as a cookie. This would have to be a future cookie, too.

*Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?

This whole thing is new to me.

*What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you?

I mostly see free novels. Which won’t work for me because I’m still working on my first.

Marina Finlayson
Marina Finlayson
3 years ago

Given the questions above, how many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog? At the moment I have four series, but only one has a short story which I could use as a cookie, but haven’t done anything with up to now. Does that mean I have to write a cookie for each series, and deliver the appropriate one when they sign up? How will I know which book they’re signing up from so I can deliver the right cookie? (All my sign-up links point to the same sign-up page on my website.) Do I just offer everyone the same cookie regardless of whether it relates to the book they’ve just read? Or do I have four distinct cookies, but package them all together somehow, so everyone gets each one? (I think CN Crawford does this.) This option seems easiest, if less elegant.

Or, hey! Lightbulb moment! I could send each cookie with the onboarding email that discusses that series. That could work, couldn’t it? And then I wouldn’t have to try to track which books the sign-ups came from. And people would feel like it was Christmas because they kept getting presents from me.

So all I have to do is write three more cookies. Aaaarrrggh!

Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up? Will have to write three more cookies. Or do you think it’s not worth it for the older series that aren’t selling much anymore?

What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you? I like the maps idea, though it tends to work better for epic fantasy than urban. Deleted scenes are cool in theory, but all my deleted scenes get deleted for good reason, so I probably wouldn’t want to show them to anyone!

My big trouble in coming up with ideas for cookies is not spoiling anything in the books.

David Penny
David Penny
3 years ago

Given the questions above, how many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?

I currently have no lead-magnet but had over half finished a prequel to my series which features my main character at the age of 13 and tells the story of both a murder (because I write Historical Mystery) and of how he comes to leave England and travel to France. This is a roughly 40-50K novella (but I know would be a novel length in some genres).

I intend to complete this before Christmas and send it out to every subscriber, but NOT as a cookie. I’ve discussed this with Tammi and have a different approach. People won’t sign up expecting a free book, but will get it as part of their onboarding sequence. The theory is that final email will also ask them to tell others to sign up and that’s how word will spread.

I also have two other prequels planned of around the same length, the second pretty much plotted, the third almost there. Each will become a lead magnet in one form or another.

Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?

As said above – no lead magnet as yet. However, I am currently experimenting with using a small FB advert which targets my existing followers (2,000+) and that has already resulted in 28 new sign-ups over the weekend. (28 may not sound so many, but when my list was only 108 before I’m happy with that result – and it’s also getting good social proof on my FB page as well)

What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you?

A lot of wrong things. One author has a branded canvas bag of the kind you often get handed out at conferences, with her book cover on it. These cost her over $50 each and she gives them away.

Samples, as Tammi has said. I’ve just come back from a Crime Conference where publishers hand out three chapter teasers of a forthcoming book. I toss them in the trash immediately.

SusanJag
SusanJag
3 years ago

Given the questions above, how many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?
Perhaps checklists or prep jounals for hiking or planning a hike.
Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?
No. will need to write
What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you?
Short stories

Jojo
Jojo
3 years ago

Given the questions above, how many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?

Wow! a lot to think about. I’ve been after my clients to get their “cookies’ together for a long time – I’ve had authors use “sneak peeks” to books that are out so an “excerpt” but that wasn’t my ideal choice – and another author did a deleted scene that was from the first chapter of the first book in a series that she has revised and re-released – that one was better. Ideally, I have begun to ask them for a short story – that can be a general lead magnet and then I like . your idea about more “in deep” cookies for the true fans – like extended epilogues and a novella or short story featuring a secondary character from the series.

Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?
I need to get my authors to get baking cookies! 🙂

What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you?

A lot of authors use the first book in the series for free – I have mixed feelings about that because books are already undervalued in the indie world – and there are so many .99 cent sales that offering a perma-free book I think undermines the industry in general – but I know of a few authors who can now say they’ve “sold” a million books because the first book in their series is free.

Marisa D'Vari
Marisa D'Vari
3 years ago

Tammi hi.

I’m hoping for a discussion of the different newsletter companies out there, and the pros and cons of each. It doesn’t seem like this needs to be an individual call topic.

Also very curious to know if the cookies should be in a simple .doc format or they need to be a .pdf.

Do you have any feeling about picture in the cookies, or also in the newsletter.

Really hoping to get a bit more out of the class and especially the class discussion.

David
David
3 years ago

• Given the questions above, how many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?
I have been using a free sample of the first six chapters. Oops! Maybe that is why I have had so few takers? I need an engaging prequel/sequel or maybe side story that illustrates what I am trying to do with historical fiction.
• Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?
I definitely need to write something – and fast. I could use a manuscript I have already written but I am not sure it is good enough. I don’t want to give away something that is not representative of how I write now.
• What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you?
I haven’t seen any so I will investigate!

Melissa Lummis
Melissa Lummis
3 years ago

How many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?
at least 2 right now: a short story/novella for readers who don’t know me. And one for my current readers to entice them to sign up for my newsletter.

Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?
Currently, I am only offering something for readers who already know me. A coloring book for Little Flame fans. BUT I have a good novella I can offer as an incentive to people who don’t know me yet.

What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you?
I’ve seen other author’s offer the first book in the series for free, but I doesn’t that adversely affecting ranking on Amazon et al? If they’re getting the book from the newsletter, they don’t need to download it off the retailer site.

Marisa D'Vari
Marisa D'Vari
3 years ago
Reply to  Melissa Lummis

@MelissaLummis how long is you short story or novella? Have you had the experience of someone downloading them and then unsubscribing?

Also do you feel it is important to send as a doc or a .pdf? Right now, my cookie is a food and wine pairing guide but it is a boring word document. I am thinking of making it a pdf with vivid pictures and a magazine feel

Tameri Etherton
Tameri Etherton
3 years ago

Given the questions above, how many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?
I think a prequel that tells the hero and/or villain’s origin story.
A novella in the world, but telling a different story that has ties to the series.
Side story with a couple who aren’t the MC’s.
Hmmm, now I’m wondering if a short story or novella told from a wolf’s point of view would be interesting… I’ll have to noodle this.
Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?
I just finished a novella (actually, it’s 43k, so a full book) that I’m going to use as my reader magnet. It ties into both series’ so can be used for all sign ups right now. I’m also writing a second cookie that’s the villain’s origin story that will more solidly be used for sign ups for the epic fantasy series and the villain’s series when it comes out next year.
Other ideas I think are cool that might work for me:
Coloring book pages
Bookmarks that are a coloring page
Bookmarks that are a complete design (no coloring necessary)
Recipes
What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you?
Hmm… I think pretty much anything would work for me. Except mailing full sized novels to new subscribers. I have a friend who does that and I cringe at the amount of work and postage it takes!

Marisa D'Vari
Marisa D'Vari
3 years ago

Question for Tammi (or anyone who wants to jump in)

LOL no idea when my paranormal YA will be finished, let alone actually published … and if it’s true what Tammi said about writing a “complete” work and not a teaser I’m not sure what a magnet will be to keep new subscribers happy.

I suppose I could write a (what word count?) Novella featuring the character solving a paranormal Nancy Drew like crime, outside of the main plot of the book. Thoughts????

2) For my Luxury Travel blog – not fiction – I am thinking about the “cookie” being a nicely laid out mini e-book or document about how to pack for luxury travel in a very small, Barbie doll sized suitcase. This is quite an art, well proven over the years and very possible (at least, for women).

That said Tammi, do you have thoughts about .pdfs vs. word documents and calling this information an “ebook” rather than another name?

Tameri Etherton
Tameri Etherton
3 years ago
Reply to  Marisa D'Vari

Marisa,
I love, LOVE the how to pack idea!

For your YA, how did your character get into solving paranormal crimes? Could an ‘interview’ with that character work? Or, a short story about how he/she discovered paranormal crimes?

Marisa D'Vari
Marisa D'Vari
3 years ago

@TameriEtherton thank you so much for your enthusiasm! If you are game would love to send you the packing ebook for your thoughts.

Before I create it I am curious if you think this ebook should have pictures, a video, or both?

As for your ideas for the YA magnent they too are brilliant. I will think about that

    Tameri Etherton
    Tameri Etherton
    3 years ago
    Reply to  Marisa D'Vari

    Marisa, I’m definitely game! I travel all the time and learning how to pack better is a game changer. Send it to ttetherton@gmail.com
    I’ll let you if I think it needs anything else. Thanks!

    Guinevere
    Guinevere
    3 years ago

    Given the questions above, how many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?
    I realized that I actually created several things I could use as reader magnets:
    -Ugly Magic (standalone story, has a HFN ending), 40k
    -Their Shifter Academy novella (free in mid-Sept, currently in a boxed set), 25k
    -TSA novella is an extended epilogue to TSP series, but also
    -prequel to spin-off TSA series
    -For my Wild Angels, I have two cookies that I’ve released in the past:
    –male POV prequel story (10k), titled Dreamstalker
    –Extended epiloque scene as they conduct a museum heist to deal with a troublesome supernatural entity affixed to an object (5k), called Strange Angels

    Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?
    I’m currently only offering one reader magnet, Dreamstalker. I’ve been meaning to fix that for many, many months now. It’s finally time!

    I am debating whether I should write a cookie specific to my True & Crown series or just use Ugly Magic.

    What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you? First in series. I’m in KU so it wouldn’t work for me, but I saw one author that had their own storefront who offered your choice of any of their first-in-series when you signed up for their NL–I thought that was a cool incentive.

    Teresa
    Teresa
    3 years ago

    • Given the questions above, how many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?

    I think a three article ebook bundle might be in order. These can be articles I write and can’t be found anywhere else, or maybe articles that are behind a paywall somewhere else.

    • Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?

    I have no cookies yet. How sad!

    • What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you?

    I don’t have a second book yet, and I can’t offer my first as a loss leader without permission from my publisher. A prequel or side story doesn’t work because I write non fiction.

    TaraSaunders
    TaraSaunders
    3 years ago

    Given the questions above, how many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?
    Currently, a prequel for readers who know me and a free first in series for those who don’t. I try to switch it up with the prequels in each book in series — I have a lot of characters!

    Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?
    This is what I currently offer my epic fantasy readers. For my SF romance pen-name I think I’ll write a prequel novella that will satisfy both camps.

    What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you?
    Extended epilogues wouldn’t work for my epic fantasy people. There’s always more story to tell, but if it sparks my creativity enough to make it onto the page I’d prefer to fold it into the next novel.

    LeighDuncan
    LeighDuncan
    3 years ago

    • Given the questions above, how many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?

    I think prequels would work really well for my Hometown Heroes series and Orange Blossom series. However, finding the time to write them is another matter entirely.

    • Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?

    I am going to make a change, based on the advice given here. Up until now, I’ve been offering new sign-ups 2 reader magnets. The first is a 22K romance novella, one of my favorite stories. The second is Part 1 of a 85K women’s fiction novel. I’d hoped to drive sales for the “rest of the story” by offering Part 1 as a reader magnet, but it really doesn’t work well. And, after reading this lesson, I think it’s because offering them Part 1 and expecting them to buy the rest of the story turns readers off. So, as I shift over to MailerLite, I’m going to just offer 1 reader magnet.

    • What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you?

    I’d love to offer to hear ideas for a reader magnet related to a new series that releases next April, Heart’s Landing. Since this series is trad published, offering a prequel or related story is not an option.

    Tom Sweeney
    Tom Sweeney
    3 years ago

    Given the questions above, how many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?
    Currently I only have memoir-journals, but shortly I’ll have several guidebooks online. These two are very different with different readers. I think:
    – For people who have read a journal (organic) then labeled photos of the trip would work. I will place the offer at the back of each book.
    – To entice readers to buy a memoir journal, it can only be a complete journal. I have nothing right now.
    – To entice people to buy guide books, only a guidebook will suffice.
    – For a one-cookie-fits-all, I think the right guide ~might~ work. 101 Tips for a stress free vacation is mostly done. I think that one would appeal to all readers.
    I’ll think more about this.

    Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?
    I have no offer right now because I have no system in place, so I will have to write something.

    What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you?
    Mostly I see book one of a series being offered. Sometimes book 1 is permafree and book 2 is the reader magnet. Too rich for my blood. I only have a three book series and the rest are one-offs.

    annacastle
    annacastle
    3 years ago

    How many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?
    After reading this, I realize I could have more than one magnet… I haven’t done much evaluating, so I don’t know if what I’m doing is good or bad. I like it and it’s set up, so there’s an advantage. My main magnet everywhere is a historical romance novel. It’s my first book, but I revised it and proofed it before offering it. I won’t ever publish it, because I’m not going to write any more romances, but I still like the story and the characters. It’s related to my other books because it’s written by me and I have my style & my sense of humor. People seem to like it…

    Then in my onboarding sequence I give them a Francis Bacon mystery short and a Prof. Moriarty mystery short. And I fling out other shorts over time as I write them. I do publish all of those, but newsletter peeps get them first and for free.

    Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?
    Oops, think I answered this.

    What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you?
    Maps are just too hard. I am graphically challenged and I don’t want to pay for a pro map. There are lots of maps out there, mostly proprietary. So I compromised by making a page on my website with links to a bunch of them and putting that link on my little half-copyright page at the front and at the top of my Historical Notes at the end.

    I’m never going to give out character sheets and stuff like that. I write tons of that stuff, but it’s strictly for me.

    RMKerns
    RMKerns
    3 years ago

    –Given the questions above, how many and what sort of reader magnets do you think are best for your catalog?
    Until I took my books into Kindle Unlimited, I used Book 1 of each series as reader magnets through BookFunnel and StoryOrigin list-builder promotions. I need to write a couple new “cookies,” now that my books are now KU.

    –Is this what you’re currently offering, or do you need to write something and/or switch things up?
    Yes, I need to switch things up.

    –What other reader magnets ideas have you seen other people use that you thought were good but maybe wouldn’t work for you?
    I haven’t really paid much attention to other author’s reader magnets.