I know, it doesn’t seem like we authors have much in common with actors, other than our big paychecks and dazzling good looks.
But, it turns out there is something movie stars do that we authors could adopt when it comes to getting people to read our books.
I was talking to my buddy Kevin Tumlinson, thriller author and Director of Marketing for Draft2Digital, on our weekly call.
I told Kevin I’d been struggling to come up with a good lead magnet for my upcoming urban fantasy series.
If you’re not sure what a lead magnet is, it’s a freebie you can use to tempt a potential reader to join your email list and buy your book.
Think of it like the samples at Costco — If you like the sample, you’ll buy a bag to take home.
Common lead magnet suggestions are to bundle up your first three chapters, write a free novella, or give away a short story featuring the main character.
In the case of the short story or novella, it’s usually a prequel, but sometimes it’s a side story. Neither of these will work for my books, though, because there’s a whole mystery of who the main character really is. In fact, she doesn’t even know.
This is actually pretty common with the first book in a series, where we’re finding out about our protagonist, and readers want to be surprised. Any story about your main character would either be a spoiler, misleading, or meaningless to the reader.
That’s not the only problem, though. A novella can not only take a long time for you to write, but for the reader to read. They might save it for later, forget about it, or simply not finish it, meaning they’re unlikely to buy and read your actual book.
Short stories can be better, but not all novel readers like short stories. Will your short story adequately tempt your reader to jump to your novel?
Finally, it needs to be your best work.
You can’t just whip this thing out because it’s going to be free. It needs to be worth paying for, which means you need to make this lead magnet some of your very best work, give it a good cover, and have it edited.
All of this makes the first three chapters feel like a good option, but…
The problem with giving away your first three chapters
A common recommendation for writers who don’t have time to write a free book or short story is to bundle up the first three or so chapters as the lead magnet. It’s not ideal, but it can work for some.
The problem there is that not all books have openings that feel satisfying enough to draw a reader in that quickly. That’s actually a whole other problem that needs to be addressed, but that’s a whole other post, too.
Also, being offered a few free chapters isn’t very tempting compared to a satisfying story with a beginning, middle, and end.
Many authors tell me it works, but when you compare their downloads and signups to those who give away a short story or novella, the ‘first three’ crowd usually comes in last, and often by a lot.
Still, since I couldn’t do a prequel or side story in this case, I told Kevin I was ready to give up and use my first three chapters, at least until I could come up with a better idea.
There was a long pause, and I ‘heard him thinking’ on the other end of the line.
“Why not pick a great scene, instead?”
I love this, but also “what?”
“Like a clip that a movie star brings to a late-night talk show.”
“I understand you brought a clip with you?” — every talk show host interviewing an actor
That’s when I realized it…
Movie stars and directors bring their best clip when they get a chance to get in front of their audience.
They don’t just bring the first three scenes or the first three minutes.
They don’t bring an impersonal movie trailer.
They don’t bring a prequel video short.
What they do is introduce a clip that they know will drop you into the action or emotion, and make you feel something about the character.
They bring a clip that gives you just enough to show whether the movie is for you.
And then they invite you to go see it while you’re still riding the high.
What better way to tempt your readers?
I don’t want to give Kevin a swelled head, so I won’t say he’s a genius, but I really love this idea.
What better way to tempt your ideal reader to go buy your book and start reading than a hand-picked and well-introduced scene that shows them exactly what they’re going to experience?
I’ve already picked out a scene from my own Book 1 that I can use.
What scene in YOUR book would perfectly show your new reader what’s in store for them?