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What Is a Reader Magnet for Book Marketing?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

What are reader magnets? How do they work for book marketing? Do they work?

What are reader magnets? How do they work for book marketing? Do they work?

What Is a Reader Magnet?

Reader magnets are usually freebie eBooks that self-published authors give away in exchange for collecting a reader’s email address and/or contact information. In years past, it was common for self-published authors to give away a free chapter of their books to encourage email opt-ins and, ultimately, a sale of the full book. Or an author would give away an entire, often shorter, book to lure readers into purchasing additional books or future editions of a book series.

But do they really work to build fans and book sales?

Benefits and Risks of Using Reader Magnets

A reader magnet can be a great book marketing tool if it helps to build your author platform or fan base. Readers who opt-in to receive your freebie have given you permission to connect with them personally through their email inbox. That helps you build a continuing relationship with your fans. And that relationship is not subject to the constantly changing social media algorithms that affect your visibility.

However, your visibility in readers’ inboxes can be impacted by the spam and promotion filters of email services such as Gmail. For example, Gmail will often put promotional emails and newsletters under an often-ignored Promotions tab. Other services may just jettison your broadcast emails to a spam, junk, or bulk mail folder.

Freebie Seekers

As you can imagine, dealing with freebie seekers is a common downside of doing a reader magnet. Many people will sign up to get the freebie but not take future action. Some may unsubscribe from your email list as soon as they’ve received the freebie. That’s been my experience with past reader magnets I’ve done in which I gave away a sample version of one of my books or a free report.

Readers Can Already Get a Book Sample Without Subscribing

Reader magnets may have worked better in years past, prior to the Amazon era. Now, potential readers can go to Amazon and view your book with the Look Inside feature. They aren't able to read a lot of the book, but probably just enough to see if it’s for them. No sharing of an email address is required.

Self-Service Book Marketing Sites Can Facilitate Reader Magnet Programs

Your reader magnet may be the greatest showcase of your writing. But offering a reader magnet does not, by itself, attract readers. You have to market and manage that offer.

Some websites provide services to authors to help them manage their reader magnet programs, including integration with email list services such as MailChimp. BookFunnel, StoryOrigin, and Prolific Works (used to be Instafreebie) are examples of these services. I’m not sure exactly what to call them. So I’ve just called them self-service book marketing sites.

What Self-Service Book Marketing Sites Don’t Provide

While these sites offer tools for marketing your book and reader magnet programs, they don’t offer personalized marketing services. Customer support will be limited to issues you’re having with using the site, not help with your marketing.

I think the following sums up what these sites are all about. When I visited BookFunnel’s home page, they clearly said that you find your readers and that they handle the delivery of your digital books or freebies to readers. These services are “last mile” channels, not “top of the sales funnel.” That means they will not be driving traffic to your landing page, whether that’s your profile and listings on their sites or your own website. Driving traffic to your offer and getting visitors to act on that offer is the hardest part of reader magnet marketing.

How Much Do Self-Service Book Marketing Sites Cost?

All of the self-service book marketing sites will cost money in some form or at some time. They may have a monthly or annual fee. Others may have a “forever free” or entry-level program, but that level may not include email list integration; you’d have to upgrade for that. Others may have a free trial. As of this original post date, StoryOrigin is free for all levels and includes email integration for all because it’s in beta mode. So that free service won’t likely last forever.

As an alternative to these sites, even the services offered through an email service like Mailchimp may be enough for some authors. Mailchimp can store your reader magnet eBook file, and you can include the link to it in your welcome email to subscribed readers. I’ve done this even with MailChimp’s forever free program.

It's Really Just Email Marketing

A reader magnet sounds like something that should automatically (magnetically?) attract readers to your freebie offer and your books. That’s not the case. Actually, reader magnet is just an author-palatable term for email marketing.

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The Hard Part: Getting Visitors to See Your Reader Magnet Offer

According to Sumo, the average email opt in rate is 1.95% of visitors. For the top 10% of marketers (and that isn’t most self-published authors), it’s as high as 4.77%. I’d be more inclined to go with the 1.95% estimate for self-published authors, and that may even be high.

Let’s do the math. Say you want 1,000 readers to opt in to your email list through your reader magnet offer. Using that average email opt-in rate (sometimes called conversion rate) of 1.95%, you might need up to about 51,300 visitors to actually see your offer. Even getting 5,000 visitors could be a challenge for many authors.

Getting web traffic to your reader magnet offer is primarily done through methods such as organic and paid social media posts. But that’s not easy. As the Hootsuite blog notes, only about 1 in 19 users actually see non-ad organic content posted on a liked Facebook business page (your author page). And that’s just impressions (the number who see your post). That’s not people who actually take action.

As a side note, remember you should not be using your personal Facebook profile for your book marketing since that violates Facebook’s terms of service. Set up a Facebook business page for your author business.

Think paid social media ads to push your content work? According to Wordstream benchmarks, the overall average CTR (click-through rate) is 0.90% for Facebook ads. So you may need to pay for a pretty high number of impressions to get people to click and see your reader magnet offer.

And it gets worse. If that 1.95% of visitors opt-in, the majority of them won’t open the emails you send. MailChimp publishes benchmarks for email open rates. (This is a really helpful report that’s regularly updated.) For Media & Publishing, as of this original post date, it’s 22.15%. If you use MailChimp or a similar email service, you can find your own actual email open and click rates in your reports.

Again, do the math. Multiply the number of people on your email list by either the industry standard (if you’re doing a projection) or your own actual open rate percentage. That’s a realistic number of readers you have the power to influence or engage via your email marketing campaigns.

Today, there’s too much competition in people’s email inboxes and from everywhere on the web.

So Is a Reader Magnet Worth Doing?

Well, it doesn’t hurt to do a reader magnet if you can offer and manage it and get results for minimal dollars and effort.

The problem is that you need to get readers to join your email list before they can even see how great your work is in the reader magnet freebie. So it’s not the magnet that does the work. It’s your email and social media marketing that does the initial heavy lifting.

I’m less of a fan of email marketing now, even though I understand and appreciate its value in theory. It’s just not what it used to be when I started doing it back in 2005. I personally think there is so much good free content on the internet now that just offering a freebie book sample isn’t as much of a lever to spur reader action. That’s why I rarely offer reader magnets these days.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 03, 2020:

Thanks, Linda! Aren't those stats surprising? I don't think many authors are aware of them. So they just keep struggling and wonder why. It's all in the numbers.

Appreciate you reading and commenting, as always! Have a beautiful day!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 02, 2020:

The statistics that you've shared are interesting, Heidi. Your articles contain very helpful information for writers.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 02, 2020:

Mary, glad you found this helpful. Sometimes when I see these glowing descriptions and testimonials of these platforms, I have to dig in to see what they're all about.

Some of them, like those discussed in the article, do provide great services. I just worry that authors might not understand exactly what they do, and then be disappointed.

Thanks so much, as always, for reading and commenting. Have a beautiful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 02, 2020:

Peggy, sometimes I wish I wasn't having to market my books either! :) I also wish all the wonderful authors pursuing the self publishing game the best, even though I know many of them will struggle in spite of their efforts.

Actually, I'm pursing a near zero email inbox policy. I say near zero because I do use it for essential communications. But for newsletters and such, I've limited it to those that are of most value to me. Others I've added to an RSS feed reader so that I can quickly scan to see what's of interest without having to open an email. I'm positive that I'm not alone in this.

Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comments! Have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 02, 2020:

Marie, I'm happy to share what I've learned, sometimes from the school of hard knocks. And don't worry if you don't understand everything. That happens to me regularly when I see posts from all kinds of authors on social media and in author forums. It's almost impossible to keep up with it all.

Don't worry if you don't have a handle on the marketing or self publishing game. It's always changing and getting more complicated over time.

Glad you find these posts helpful. Maybe one day, right?

I appreciate you reading and thoughtfully commenting. Have a beautiful day!

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on September 02, 2020:

You are so generous in sharing your experiences, Heidi. I read your insights but don't always understand everything (to the point that I don't know what to ask).

I"m absolutely terrible at marketing. I don't have much to show for my writing, either.

I do appreciate reading these writers' marketing self-helps. Eventually, some of the information may just click, and I'll have the inspiration to do something it.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 02, 2020:

Your articles point out the flaws in giving away "freebies" to attract an audience. I think that most people's email lists are so long already that they hesitate to sign up for more. Or, as you wrote, they unsubscribe soon after receiving the free offer. I am glad that I am not in the business to market books! Good luck to those who are trying to do so.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 02, 2020:

I am glad about this information as hosting platforms try to sell you email marketing. You have given me a better understanding of its benefits.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 02, 2020:

Flourish, though email can still be effective, it's not what it used to be. I used to get around 50% open rates back in the day. Now it's in the 20-30% range.

You're right. If you want to attract people now, especially younger folks, it's social and video. This is very unsettling for marketers because they don't "own" the audience by not having their email addresses. Sorry, that's just the way it is now.

Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts, as always! Have a wonderful day!

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 01, 2020:

The way you’ve explained it, I think it’s a lot of effort for little return. Email is so “yesterday” to the younger crowd although not everyone feels that way. It may have been a more successful strategy 15 years ago, but now I think it’s social media, pod casting, web offerings, vlogs, etc.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 01, 2020:

Adrienne, I had seen the term quite a while back and was reminded of it recently. But you're right, it's the same thing as all those "sign up for this freebie" offers.

The catch is that some of these folks won't leave you alone! :) You'll get emails forever until you unsubscribe, which a lot of people do now just to reduce their email burden.

Thanks for chiming in and have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 01, 2020:

Bill, I was reminded about the term in some comments here on HP. But it's just another name for email marketing incentives that have been around forever.

Yeah, I think you're doing okay by enjoying your writing. You're magnetic enough. ;)

Happy September to you, too!

Adrienne Farricelli on September 01, 2020:

The term reader magnet is new to me, but I think I have seen it offered to me many times when I get those message to signup for free ebooks or newsletters. There seem to always be a catch these days for freebies.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 01, 2020:

I had never heard of it until now. Interesting! Not terribly appealing to me, but interesting nonetheless. i'm afraid I'm just a strange duck, Heidi. I just write for the enjoyment of writing. I spent far too many years doing the marketing thing for my businesses. Now I just don't give a rat's patootie. lol

Happy September, my friend!

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