10 excellent optin offers fiction writers can use to build their emails lists.

Hands down, the best book marketing – virtually the only book marketing that is still effective – is growing your email list. To do that, you need a powerful optin offer.

Optin offers have to be concrete, specific and give free value that your target readers desire.

Recently I made a small change on mine: at first I said “4 free books” show the book covers. Then I changed it to just “4 free books” and some testimonials. This week I changed it to focus on the specific benefits, “Learn the exact strategies I use to launch books to #1 bestsellers” and that’s so far doubled sign ups with the same amount of traffic.

Your offer doesn’t have to be so big. Sometimes a 3page PDF works better than 20 hours of video. It’s not about how much effort you put in, but how much the reader wants it (or feels like he would be missing out without it).

“But what about fiction authors?”

I’ve been at a lot of book marketing conferences, where somebody will ask this question, and the speaker will stumble and say, “Uh, well, I don’t really know, but I’m sure you can think of something to offer your readers.”

Can you? 

Just in case you can’t, here’s a list of 10 powerful email optin offers FICTION authors can make quickly and start offering. Use one and witness an instant and profound boost in optins!

1. Free book

The obvious one – you can offer a free book, either a prequel to your series, or the next book in your series, or the start of another series. However, this offer will only matter for readers who have already read and liked your fiction. So it won’t work as well on your sidebar, but is perfect for the back of your book.

2. Free books for life

I choose not to make my followers pay for books. I feel lucky to have people who want to read my books at all; and giving them my books for free gives me betareaders, early feedback, and reviews – those are more valuable than the money I could earn making them buy. I may not offer all my books for free, but I will always offer much more value than I take.

3. Postcards or bookmarks

This one only works if you have fantastic book cover art, that is beautiful on its own – or if you have diehard fans. It’s kind of a pain to get them printed and mailed, on the other hand – especially in the beginning – you need to work hard to build loyalty. Can you send your readers a personalized note on a postcard, even if you have hundreds of them? Yes, and what a great way to build the relationship!

If you have several thousand, you might need help, or you could switch to a digital version.

4. Bonus material

There are probably a bunch of cut scenes or background information that didn’t fit into your book, you could offer them as a bonus to subscribers. Again, this only works for people who have read your fans, and isn’t going to convert luke-warm readers, so it’s risky.

5. A PDF list

The ones I’ve mentioned so far aren’t actually that powerful, if you assume that normal people (who aren’t fans) are visiting your page. You need something that appeals to them even if they haven’t read your books… although, perhaps, it might be smarter to give them a free excerpt to read, followed by a signup form to read the rest of the book – to make them fans first and THEN get them on your list. Otherwise, you have dead weight on your list that isn’t engaged.

However, if you want to get a lot of people on your list first and THEN try and build a relationship and ultimately sell more books (harder to do…) you need a stronger offer that appeals to anybody.

Things I’ve recommended to people:

1. A list of top female heroes of X genre of all time

2. The great passages about (time/life/topic) from 25 bestselling (genre) books

3. 25 amazing (genre) books you’ve probably never heard of

4. 15 sci fi super powers that are starting to become possible

5. My top 10 favorite passages from (Harry Potter/Steven King/ The Hunger Games)

Those lists are great for attracting the right kind of reader (readers who like a certain genre or author). They also make amazing blog content or guest posts, so you should really be writing a dozen of them, and posting some on BuzzFeed or BoredPanda. That’s content marketing at its best.

6. A personalized letter from a character

Some of these are not so easy to scale, but you could offer a contest or drawing so you don’t have to do them for every subscriber. Or you can offer these as bonuses for people who leave reviews.

If you have a popular character (like Edward from Twilight) you can send love notes in his handwriting. Or just write the same note, photocopy it and add their name on the top. To make it easier, keep a file and just edit and email them the PDF so they can print it.

7. A quiz

Readers love to be engaged so make sure it’s about them and not you. Maybe you can make a quiz, like “find out which Hogwarts house you belong in” or which Maze Runner character are you? They have to subscribe to see the results.

8. A collaborative package

Here’s a new idea: Building one email list for your own readers is very difficult, because you probably don’t finish books too often and it’s harder to keep them engaged. It would be much more effective for you to get in touch with 25 other indie authors in your genre and build a community list. You could all submit a short story and the free download would be a “collection” – after each story would be a short bio and link to the author’s website. It would be really easy to pitch this to other authors, since you’d be giving them a chance to promote their work, and you could also let them use the list whenever they have something going on. A community list like this, full of targeted readers who enjoy the genre, probably tied together with a community blog (which you should also start) and Facebook page will be very powerful for book launches.

9. A big prize

Another way to do things is to offer a bigger prize, but be careful as you don’t want it to appeal to everybody. You can give away a Kindle Fire, for example, but you’ll get a whole bunch of people on your list who may not be interested in your writing. But you could offer a dedication to one of your readers; or a lunch date; or a box set of the print books.

Think outside the box; they’d probably love a poster with an inspirational message from the book; or a mug/tshirt with the same message. Focus on something from your books that you can brand. Harry Potter had the Deathly Hallows symbol, that became so popular fans can recognize it by itself (a lot of people even made it a tattoo!) You don’t have to give these big prizes to everyone, but you should be thinking of ways to reward and interact with your readers.

Taylor Swift recently delivered custom Christmas gifts to a few of her fans. Even though she has millions of fans and only gave gifts to a small handful, it increased the loyalty of her entire fanbase.

10. give yourself

If you’re becoming somewhat of a celebrity, you can make yourself the prize. You could offer 5-minute Skype interviews, pictures of yourself working on your books or writing, updates about your life (that’s why people follow you – they want to get closer to you. But that only works if they love your writing).

In the beginning you need to focus on them; as your platform grows you can focus more on you.

What to do right now

The nice thing about optin offers is you don’t have to have them finished before you offer them.
It’s fine to say “Sign up for a free short story” and when they sign up, send them an email saying you’re still working on it but will send it to them later.

So first of all, pick your optin. For fiction authors, a short story, prequel or sequel is probably best.

Change your website so you have an excerpts page with some free writing so they can get into a story right away. Don’t make signing up or buying a book necessary before they start reading, let them read first, for free, without any barriers. And give them enough to really get into. (You could name this page “Excerpt” or even “Read for free”.

Then offer “continue reading” or “get the rest of this book for free” from the bottom of the page.

For your sidebar optin, personally I would say, “Get book one for free” with the book cover and some social proof – reviews for example. A summary of the book doesn’t work as well because people won’t trust you (unless it’s really well written and they have to read the book after reading your summary). It’s better to use 1 or 2 reader reviews – right there on the sidebar – as proof that your book is decent. And if your cover is good enough, and it’s free… that’s probably a good enough offer.

Then in the back of that first, free book, you can link directly to the 2nd book so they can buy it easily and continue reading. If you’ve already finished your book and only have one, I would strongly suggest breaking it up. Give away the first 20,000 words for free everywhere (your site, KDP, smashwords)… make it free everywhere, and sell your 2nd book (which is really just the remainder of your one book) for $3.99. This strategy will be unbelievably more powerful than just trying to market you one book; it will be even more powerful than leaving your book at .99 cents, and you’ll make much more money.


I wrote this post years ago… now I use book giveaways and targeted Facebook ads to build a big list of readers who like my genre; then I try to get them to download a free book. At that point they’re already on my list… but I also make content that gets traffic and have an offer on my sidebar for a free starter library.

Other ideas?

What else have you offered for optin signups? Leave your comments below!


  • Alexia Stevens Posted

    I was thinking of a contest idea. Have readers submit a review for a drawing, offer book for free to 3 winners and you can post the reviews on website and social media.

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      yes, but that only works if they’re already fans of your books (and if they’ve already read your books, they may not need or want another one….) But contests for reviews can be a good idea, if you’re careful (it can’t be an incentive/trade in exchange for the reviews.)

  • Dave Ives Posted

    Great ideas! Thanks for the concrete suggestions.

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