How to turn readers into fans

This is the third post in a four-part miniseries covering what content authors need to start building a large following of readers hungry for their book; whether it's their first book, or their seventeenth.

Last time, in Part 2, we looked at why authors need an email list and the one page you should absolutely have on your website to build your email list (but probably don’t have)-- the landing page. Today, we’ll cover how to turn readers into fans with a reader magnet, examples of reader magnets for fiction and nonfiction, and how a reader magnet helps you build a fan base for your long-term career.

What a reader magnet is and why you need one

A reader magnet is an incentive that you give to readers who sign up to your email list for free. It’s not a new idea. The practice of giving away a small, valuable thank you gift in exchange for a commitment of support has been around at least as long as public radio pledge drives. Reader magnets are also called lead magnets, opt-in freebies, content upgrades, and bribes.

The most common reader magnet that authors use is a free book, but there are many other options. Fiction fans love extras that go beyond your main narrative and give backstory on a character or a window into the everyday life in your fictional world. Nonfiction lovers adore practical advice that helps them implement what they’ve learned from your book or that give a deeper view into your research.

There are two reasons to have a reader magnet. First, it helps you attract more readers to your mailing list. For example, Nick Stephenson describes how he used a reader magnet to increase the number of signups to his list from five or six to 80-90 signups a month without any increase in website traffic. Second, a reader magnet helps you turn your new subscriber into a fan. Subscribers who open up your email message containing the reader magnet are more likely to open your future emails.

Fiction reader magnets that are easier to create than a whole book

With fiction books, the best reader magnets help us dive deeper into the characters or the imaginary world that you’ve created. Here’s a list of different possibilities to help you brainstorm ideas that don’t require giving books away for free:

  • Official documents such as wills, obituaries, birth announcements, marriage and engagement announcements, census records, police reports, job performance reviews, dossiers, medical record excerpts, legal documents, school transcripts, letters of recommendation

  • Personal documents such as journal entries, captain’s logs, photos (especially for true stories), to-do lists, calendars, resumés, job applications, portfolios, dating profiles, birthday cards, quizzes

  • Conversation records such as texts, email exchanges, letters, transcribed voicemails, media interviews, thank you notes

  • Setting or world-based documents such as public notices, newspaper articles, media interviews, advertisements

  • Short stories, deleted scenes, or fan fiction

Nonfiction reader magnets that are easier to create than a whole book

With how-to or big idea books, nonfiction books focused on teaching, effective reader magnets are going to be teaching aides that help readers put what they’ve learned from a book into action in their lives. For biographies and history books, your in-depth research is a good source of possible reader magnets.

  • Practical tips and tools to help readers implement what they’ve learned such as worksheets, cheat sheets, free guides, email courses

  • Research notes, records, and documents such as interviews, journal entries, photos, official documents, reporter’s notebook.

How a reader magnet helps you build a fan base for your long-term career

Your number one goal as an author who wants to make a living writing is to get readers on to your email list. People who sign up to get your reader magnet are very likely to want your future books. The faster you collect readers who want your books onto your list, the faster you become a bestselling author.

Your reader magnet is something that should make readers excited to join your email list right now. Once you've created a magnet that readers want, the next step is to make sure that interested readers know what they need to do to get it.

You should mention it everywhere, including:

  • Frontmatter and backmatter for your published books

  • Anywhere on your website that has a signup button for your email list

  • Dedicated email list signup page (aka landing page or squeeze page)

  • Amazon author page bio

  • Any author bios that you use for interviews, articles, short stories, or guest blog posts

  • At the end of your talk or speech to a book club or large audience

Once you’ve got a reader on your list, you’ve got a direct way to communicate with them when your next book comes out. This is important, because, as I say every week, people on your email list are much more likely to buy your book than a social media follower is.

What’d we learn today?

First, a reader magnet is something that you give away for free to entice people to join your email list. The reason we want readers on our email list is because email subscribers are more likely to buy our book than social media followers are.  

Second, contrary to what you might think, a reader magnet doesn’t have to be an entire book. It just has to be something that a reader wants. We looked at alternative reader magnets for fiction and nonfiction. Finally, we went over all the places you should be mentioning your reader magnet to attract more readers to your email list.

Next time, we’ll go over how to deliver your reader magnet to your new subscribers. We’ll walk through how to set up Mailchimp so that your reader magnet gets automatically shared with your new subscribers moments after they sign up for your list.