I’ve written before about mailing lists, which are simply group emails writers send out to their readers periodically. The idea behind them is that it cultivates a community around you as a writer, hopefully helping you find beta readers, distribute ARCs (advanced review copies), and sell books. One of the most popular techniques for building your mailing list is to use “Reader Magnets”.
But What *IS* A ‘Reader Magnet’
A reader magnet is something you offer people, for free, in exchange for agreeing to receive your mailing list. It’s a bribe. It could be anything but, us being writers, it’s usually a writing sample. It could be the first book in a series, a code to download an ebook or audiobook (either for free or at a discount), an excerpt from a longer work, a deleted chapter from a previously published work, a short story, or anything else you can imagine.
If you’ve spent any time at all on the internet, you’ve probably seen an offer where someone wants to give you something in exchange for your email address (and usually your first name). This is exactly what we’re doing (and what they’re doing, building a list of potential customers).
Does This Work?
I have no idea how well such an approach ultimately translates to selling books. I don’t have any sort of sophisticated tracking system to determine whether or not people who’ve signed up for my mailing list ever read my books, but offering people something for free does get them to sign up.
Adding tracking to any links you post to your mailing list, maybe with a discount, would give you some idea about how well your mailing list is selling books. It’s always possible that someone reads your mailing list for a while, likes what you’re writing about, goes to Amazon on their own, and buys your books. I have no idea how you could figure out that this has happened. From your sales page, they’d look like any other buyer.
But Why Give It Away For Free?
Offering a free sample of something you want to sell people is a no-brainer. It expresses to them your confidence in your product and makes it more likely that they’ll be happy with what they receive when and if they make a purchase. They’ll understand what they’re buying.
Ok, I Want To Offer A Reader Magnet. How Do I Set It Up?
You probably want to use an email marketing service like Mailchimp or Constant Contact to send emails to your mailing list. In theory, you could use your own email account, but mass mailing so many addresses makes it likely that you’ll be flagged as a spammer and could make it hard to send emails with that account (email services might ban you). Beyond their various quality of life features, email marking services are good at helping you avoid being flagged as a spammer (and protect your email account).
Each service will have its own way to set up a reader magnet.
First, you’ll need to set up a signup page on your email marketing service. This is a form where people provide their email addresses and agree to receive emails from you in the future. Mine is here.
Next, you need to set it up to send the free gift to new subscribers. I use “automations” to do this on Mailchimp. I can set up specific situations that will automatically email a subscriber. I set one up as a “welcome message”, which is sent immediately after they sign up. If you sign up above, you’ll see this message from me. If you don’t want to sign up to see it, it’s basically an e-mail thanking subscribers for signing up and providing a link to a short story ebook in my Google Drive account (in epub, mobi, and pdf formats).
How Do I Protect My Writing And Make Sure People Don’t Get The Book Without Signing Up?
Much as I don’t think it’s worth worrying about piracy, I think it’s a mistake to try to protect your reader magnet. If people spread it around or get the link without subscribing, who cares? They might like it and buy your books, so it’s still helpful as a free sample.
It’s very easy for people to unsubscribe from your mailing list. They can also not read your emails, write you angry e-mails when they forget they signed up for your mailing list, or report your emails as spam. Some people will sign up, get the free gift, and unsubscribe. You need to understand that these are possibilities and be okay with that if you try to find readers with a reader magnet.