5 nonfiction lead magnet ideas

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A nonfiction lead magnet is the digital, downloadable incentive you offer your target readers in exchange for providing their address so they add themselves to your email list.

Whether you call it a lead magnet, reader magnet, freebie, or ethical bribe, it’s what people get when they “opt-in” – choose to add themselves – to your email list.

And you need one.

Nonfiction lead magnets and email list-building

Years ago, author email marketing was novel enough that all you needed was a newsletter sign-up form on your website to begin building your essential email list. Now that email marketing is the norm, things are more complicated.

Today, people expect a gift in exchange for their address, and why shouldn’t they? When they opt-in to your list, they’re giving you permission to contact them regularly. Thank them with a small, useful, and relevant gift.

“Useful” and “relevant” are key. Your nonfiction lead magnet has to be something your readers, fans, or audience need or want. (Do you write fiction? Read “3 fiction lead magnet ideas.”)

Make sure it solves a promise, is short and easily digestible, and offers high value.

Lead magnet examples

My primary lead magnet is a one-page PDF file with my “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources.” Authors receive it when they complete the form on the right side of this screen or on a page I’ve created specifically for that purpose — a “landing page.” (I use ThriveArchitect, a WordPress plug-in, or my email service provider, ConvertKit, to create most of my landing pages.)

nonfiction lead magnets 2I have several others, too. I offer each on its own landing page. They include:

What can you offer as a lead magnet? What does your target audience want that you can provide? Here are five ideas.

Nonfiction lead magnet idea #1: The Template

A template is a fill-in-the-blanks form.

What can you pull from your book that you can turn into a form? If your book teaches a system, you might have a worksheet that you can pull out of the manuscript and turn into a downloadable PDF file.

A fitness book author might offer an exercise tracking Excel file; the author of a book on small business website design can offer a form that lets people outline site content.

Example: Momentum Planners by Productive Flourishing

Nonfiction lead magnet idea #2: The Cheat Sheet

I’m a sucker for a cheat sheet, which is probably why I like to create them. A cheat sheet offers best practices or your best advice on a specific reader problem or challenge.

I created my author Guest Blogging Cheat Sheet after volunteering as the editor of an association blog with a monthly member column. Many member-written posts and headshots arrived in my inbox with issues I had to fix before the next step. I used them to create a short list of best practices for authors using guest blogging as a book marketing tool.

Any nonfiction author writing how-to or instructional content can easily pull a list of tips on a specific topic out of their book. Memoir writers can distill their lessons learned about the key problem or turning point in their lives into a cheat sheet, too.

Example: Guest Blogging Cheat Sheet

Nonfiction lead magnet idea #3: The Plan

A plan is a form of calendar where you’ve mapped out what someone needs to do on a schedule – it might be daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly.

Are you a cookbook author? Create a menu plan based on your book. Is yours a career book for new college graduates? Provide a simple “do this, then do that” plan for landing that first job.

Example: 100 Days of Real Food (when you move your mouse to leave the page, you’ll get a pop-up with a free meal plan offer)

Nonfiction lead magnet idea #4: The Resource List

People love resource lists because they save them time.

What are your favorite resources that are related to your topic? What tools, products, or sites do you use that will help others who are interested in what you write about? Drop them into a one-page resource list.

Are you a social media guru? List your favorite content creation and scheduling tools. Do you write travel books? Give us a list of what you won’t leave home without.

Example: The Content Hacker™ Educational Resource List for Today’s Marketers-in-Training

Nonfiction lead magnet idea #5: The Checklist

Who doesn’t love a checklist that will keep them on track and prevent mistakes?

Do you offer dating advice? List the elements of a dating app profile that gets results. Is your book about how to make soap? Give us an ingredients shopping list.

Example: The Ultimate Optin Form Checklist

Designing your lead magnet

Before you can create a compelling lead magnet, you need to know what goes into one and what it looks like. For that reason, I recommend downloading the examples listed above.

Add yourself to lots of other email lists, too, and study their lead magnets to see how others are doing it.

Once you’ve selected a format and written text to go with it, you’ll decide whether you’re going to design it yourself or outsource the work.

You can also create an attractive, effective lead magnet with low- or no-cost resources. I’ve used each of the following. The first is for out-sourcing; the second two are do-it-yourself options.


Fiverr is an online marketplace for freelance services. For tasks like this, I think it’s an easier way to find a graphic artist than alternatives that include ask friends for recommendations or using a job site such as Upwork.

fiction lead magnet 3On the site, search for “lead magnet design” until you find one or two designers that you like.

When placing an order, attach to your order a lead magnet that represents what you’re looking for. It will help your designer better understand what you need in a finished product.

If you don’t have a lead magnet to offer as a sample, scroll through the design samples offered by Fiverr designers to find something that resonates with you and your book’s personality.

In general, I find that I get the best results on Fiverr when I can give the designer an example of the type of look I’d like to have.


Designrr is one of my favorite book marketing resources. It’s a web-based tool that lets me take content I’ve already created on my blog, in a Word file, or on a web page and turn it into a range of end products. I pay $27 for it annually and use it specifically for lead magnets.

nonfiction lead magnet 3Just last week, I used it to turn my 2021 Literary Calendar blog post into a downloadable PDF. Now, authors reading that article can also download and save the calendar when they provide their email address.

It was as simple as selecting the template I wanted to use (this one was my first time using a two-column design), pasting my URL into the form for the text import, and  playing around with the result.

Every time I use it, I get a little more brave . . . and a little more creative.


Canva is an online design tool with both free and premium levels.

Creating a lead magnet is easier, of course, if you already know how to use Canva. If you aren’t taking advantage of it yet, it will probably take longer to create an end product than other options. Reviewing templates and learning how to customize or replace elements isn’t hard, but it takes time.

fiction lead magnet 5If you know what you want  – say, an e-book or a checklist   – simply type that term into the search box. You can also search for “lead magnet” to get some fun ideas and templates.

As an alternative, on the home page, review the options under the Canva header image. These categories are your best bets:

  • Documents
  • Education
  • Marketing
  • Events

Click around each collection to find something that speaks to you.

Set aside time to browse your options, as there are plenty of them. To get started, in the “documents” collection, try the “A4 document” options. Or, in the “events” group, select “announcement” in the “events” collection.

There are many more lead magnet options available to you, so spend some time Googling the topic to see what else you might discover. Once you’ve got your lead magnet (or magnets!) in place, remember that it won’t help if people don’t know about it.

Your goal with email list-building is to constantly send ideal readers to your landing page so your list — and your reach — grows steadily.

If you have a lead magnet, please tell us what it is in a comment and explain why you selected that format and topic. 

Subscribe to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter and get the free special report, “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources,” immediately!

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  1. For someone new to marketing her books, you are such a wonderful resource. You keep the information well-organized and easy to digest. You are an encouragement to new (and I am sure, well-seasoned) authors. Thank you, Carroll

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