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.
- 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?