“ToFu” is marketing slang for “top of funnel.”
And what is a “funnel?” That’s a standard marketing term that refers to your system for attracting potential new readers, engaging with them, and ultimately converting them to paying customers.
It’s called a funnel because it’s wider at the top and narrower at the bottom—you attract more people than you engage, and you engage more people than you convert.
Every novelist needs some way to bring people into the top of their funnel. A very common way to do that is by giving away a sample of your wares. If people read your free stuff and like it, then there’s a decent chance they’ll buy your not-free stuff.
Your Reader Magnet
Authors call that free sample of their writing a “Reader Magnet.” Reader Magnets vary widely. Some examples that authors use are:
- A full-length novel.
- A novella.
- A collection of short stories.
- A single short story.
- Scene outtakes from your novel.
- An extra scene “after the end of your novel.”
- Backstory on your characters.
- Backstory on your story world.
- Maps for your story world.
That’s not a complete list, but it gives you some idea of possible Reader Magnets you could create.
My thinking is that a good Reader Magnet is closely aligned with what you’re selling. So if you write cozy science fiction mysteries, don’t give away a steamy werewolf romance as your Reader Magnet. Nothing wrong with werewolves or romance or steam, but your Reader Magnet is a promise of what your novels will deliver.
Delivering Your Reader Magnet
Generally, authors use a Reader Magnet as an incentive for potential fans to sign up for their email newsletter. Then the Reader Magnet promotes books you’ve already written, and your email newsletter promotes all the books you’ll write in the future.
So the Reader Magnet is very much a quid pro quo, and your email signup form should make that clear—you’re giving away a free gift to people who sign up for your email newsletter. But you should also make clear that it’s not a forever contract—they can unsubscribe from your newsletter at any time.
Virtually all email software makes it easy to deliver a Reader Magnet automatically to anyone who subscribes to your email list. See my page, Marketing Tools for Writers, for much more info on email software.
In case you’re delivering an actual e-book as your Reader Magnet, there is a technical problem to solve. A lot of people who read e-books don’t know how to load an e-book onto their e-reader device, because they usually buy from a retailer (like Amazon) that automates that process for them.
The solution is to use a service that helps your fans through the techie problems of loading your Reader Magnet into their e-reader. The service I use is called BookFunnel, and again, the details are on my page, Marketing Tools for Writers.
Producing Your Reader Magnet
Do you already have a Reader Magnet? Is it working well for you?
If not, here’s a short checklist of questions for deciding what Reader Magnet you could create:
- Which book or series of books are you most interested in marketing?
- If it’s a single book, could you give away another book like it?
- If it’s a series, could you give away the first book in the series? (Many authors do this, and it can work very well, if it sells all the other books in the series.)
- Can you write a novella or short story or collection of short stories using the same characters from your book or series?
- Is there any other material you could write that would align well with the book or series that you want to promote?
It might take you weeks to create your Reader Magnet. Is it really worth spending all that time making something you’re just going to give away for free?
Most successful authors will tell you yes, it is. Most successful authors are successful precisely because they took that time to create something their potential readers would love.
You might be wondering how you use your Reader Magnet. How do you put it in the hands of lots of potential readers? That’s a big subject, worthy of its own blog post. My plan is to cover that subject in my next blog post, so stay tuned.
For the moment, get rolling on your Reader Magnet. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just make the best Reader Magnet you can with the skills you have now. Next year, when you’re earned some money and developed your craft, you’ll be able to make a better one. Every time you create a new one, you’ll get better. Each one is the necessary step on the road to the next one.
Matthias Wiemeyer says
I have benefited a lot from your advice and I trust that you won’t mind me pointing out one example of the notoriously stupid use of language often heard from marketers.
What marketers use when they start with many maybe-prospects in the hope to end up with much fewer real clients is not a funnel. The purpose of the funnel is to make sure nothing is spilled. But you want to get down to the real prospects which are only a fraction of the people you started out with. For this selection process a funnel is no use. A sieve might work or a magnet or a membrane or decanting or a centrifuge or a bunch of doves that eat the non-clients.
Please don’t get mad at me for saying this.
Randy Ingermanson says
Hey Matthias, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that I agree with you. I’ve privately complained to my friends that the word “funnel” is absurd. But it’s so broadly used that there’s just no fighting it. Have fun, Randy
Jennifer Zink says
How do I unsubscribe from your emails?
Randy Ingermanson says
If you’re really getting my emails, then they will always have an unsubscribe link at the bottom. My email service provider adds this link automatically, so it’s always there. Click that link, and the elves remove you from my system.