When you visit any indie author’s website, it’s not unusual to see that they’re giving away a book (or part of one) for free. It’s classic marketing: give your customers a taste and they’ll come back if they like it. But in the digital age, there’s more to it than just that.
For authors marketing their books, giveaways (which we shall refer to as ‘lead magnets,’ for reasons that will become clear) work on multiple levels. They will:
- Make readers more aware of your work and your ‘brand’;
- Operate on the psychological principle of reciprocity — people innately wish to “pay you back” when you give them something for free; and
- Give you access to their contact details.
The last part is perhaps the most important. Almost all successful indie authors will tell you that their most important marketing asset is their mailing list. And a good lead magnet will allow you to add more readers to your mailing list who are relevant — meaning that they’re likely to buy your books.
With this in mind, let’s look at a few tips for creating an irresistible lead magnet.
1. If you’re writing nonfiction, it should solve a problem.
Nonfiction authors generally find it easier to come up with ideas for lead magnets. Apart from memoirs, biographies, and academic texts, nonfiction authors are in the business of solving problems. If you’re writing a DIY book, you’re teaching people how to fix up their homes. If your book is on business, you’re helping readers sell more of their product or manage their team better. In both cases, your book solves a practical problem.
With that in mind, your lead magnet should also solve a specific problem — one that’s closely related to the one your book solves. Let’s follow the DIY example. Say that your book is about the DIY required to flip a house. You know that the kitchen is the most popular room to refurbish so you create a free ebook, How to Create a Luxury Kitchen on a Budget, that offers step-by-step instructions on replacing ovens, countertops, and whatnot.
It’s important that this giveaway book functions on its own. It might sound like a clever idea to include only the first few steps (and making the reader buy your full book to get the rest), but this can backfire terribly and make them resent you. The reader of this book should find it so useful (and be so grateful that it’s solved their problem) that they’ll be desperate to get your other book.
2. If you’re a fiction author, you should give away a complete story.
If you’re a first-time novelist, it can be a bit harder to come up with a lead magnet. Authors who are self-publishing a series will often give away their first book to get readers on to their mailing list. But if you don’t have a previous book, what are your options?
Some authors choose to give away an early preview of their book — the first few chapters perhaps. The trouble here is that previews aren’t exactly novel(!) anymore. Every online retailer has a “look inside” feature that lets you read the first chapter or so. Why should a reader give you their precious email address for something they can get elsewhere?
At this point, you might look at creating a new story just to use as a lead magnet. If you’re writing a sci-fi book set in a detailed universe, you could pen a standalone short story set in that universe — or a prequel novella, perhaps? The key, in our opinion, is to offer a complete story that will leave the reader feeling excited and not short-changed. Which brings us to our final point.
3. It has to be “of value”
For a lead magnet to truly be effective, the reader must believe that it is “of value.” This doesn’t mean that it needs to cost you, the author, a lot of money to produce. It just needs to be something that the reader could see themselves paying for. That’s why a free “how-to” ebook is such a great lead magnet.
In the introduction, we mentioned the idea of reciprocity — people are inclined to repay you when you give them something for free. This only works if they believe what you’ve given them has value. So if your lead magnet is an ebook, make sure it has professional production values. Give it a good-looking cover: it doesn’t have to be anything too flashy, just not amateurish. You should also make sure that it’s formatted to look and read like a professional book. If your giveaway book looks like hot garbage, then they’re less likely to pay for your main book.
So, with those three points in mind (solve a problem in nonfiction; tell a complete story in fiction; make sure it’s “of value”) what lead magnets will you look to create for your next book? To pinch a quote: if you make it, they will come. And if you make it really good, they’ll be your fans forever.