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Book Funnel Optimization: Essential Tips to Convert Leads into Paying Readers

Last updated: October 5, 2022

E-book authors tend to think of their books as their final products and believe the sales funnel ends when the book is purchased.

But for a marketing-savvy author, the book itself is simply an acquisition channel. It’s a way to capture readers’ attention, form a relationship with them, and develop an audience that consistently purchases content.

“Every book I write isn’t random,” says Lise Cartwright, author of 32 books, including Better Book Funnels: How to Engage With Your Readers and Sell More Books. “I create a book with a clear end goal in mind for the reader, but I also want to make sure that I’m funnelling them into an area of my business that is like a next step up for the reader following the book.”

How do Cartwright and countless other successful authors do this? By designing and implementing book funnels. Read on to learn how you can do the same and transform your books into a business.

What Is a Book Funnel?

A book funnel is a marketing strategy for authors that generates leads, or potential customers, for your business, even if you’re just in the business of writing books.

Book funnels are all about conversion. Conversion could mean a reader subscribing to your mailing list, purchasing your full series of books, or signing up for a consultation.

“It can be as simple as someone grabbing the free gift from the front of my book, or a little more complex by someone joining a webinar or training at the end of my book,” Cartwright says. “Either way, the funnels are designed to get people into my email list.”

The way you achieve that conversion is by funnelling readers through a series of steps.

Your book – which is often given away for free (more on that later) — is the reader magnet that attracts your potential customer. As they read your book and consume other content you offer, they’re taken through the steps of your book funnel. Along the way, they’ll encounter valuable offerings and invitations to engage with you further, transforming a one-time reader into a long-term customer.

What Does a Book Funnel Look Like?

What your book funnel looks like depends on your product, business, and goals. Fiction writers may sell books as their only product, while nonfiction writers may offer books, courses, consultations, case studies, and webinars.

A book funnel looks a lot like a customer funnel if you’ve ever seen one in marketing. It still follows the steps from awareness to interest to decision to action. However, the steps are specific to books, as illustrated below.

customer funnel example

Author Melissa Raimondi, for example, sells raw vegan recipes and meal plans on Payhip and offers coaching sessions. For her, a conversion could mean one of multiple actions – a signup, a book purchase, or a consulting session — but let’s say her ultimate goal is to convert readers into coaching clients.

A customer may initially discover one of Raimondi’s cookbooks because they follow her on YouTube, which fulfills the awareness stage. Now the customer wants to learn more, so they sign up for Raimondi’s newsletter, which is the interest stage. After consuming this newsletter content, the customer makes a decision to purchase a cookbook, then encounters a call to action within the book inviting them to consult directly with Raimondi to help them transition to a raw vegan lifestyle. When they purchase that session, they’ve taken action. Raimondi has achieved her conversion, and she has an ongoing relationship with a deeply engaged customer who’s likely to make future purchases.

However, this is just one example of how a customer may move through an author’s book funnel. Here’s a diagram of another.

book funnel example

Cartwright, who’s also a business coach, has designed marketing strategies for each of her books that ultimately funnel customers toward her courses and personal consulting sessions. Her book funnel often begins by creating awareness about her book via a blog post.

book funnel example

From there, she offers a book for free in return for the reader’s email address. This enables her to continue her relationship with the customer on a regular basis — first, by beginning her email drip campaign, a series of emails automatically sent to the subscriber, which we’ll explore in more detail later.

How to Design Your Book Funnel

Now that you understand the basics of a book funnel, let’s explore each part of it, so you can design one that will convert your readers into repeat customers.

1. Craft Your Book Funnel Entry

To start your customers down the journey of your book funnel, you first need to create awareness of your book.

This can happen organically; a customer could stumble across your book on Amazon or have it recommended to them by a friend. But typically, you need to take steps to help readers discover your book.

Authors may do this by promoting their creations on social media, like Payhip user Lynn Seddon does in the community she’s developed on Instagram. Or they may craft a blog post about the book, plug the book on their YouTube channel, run ads for it on Facebook, or one of countless other promotions.

While there are a variety of potential entries into the funnel, the goal is always the same: to capture a reader’s attention, so they’ll engage with you and your content further.

2. Create an Effective Opt-In

Now that the reader is aware of your book, it’s time to capture their interest. Why? So you can get their email address and begin a relationship with them.

To do this, you’ll need an opt-in, such as a landing page, squeeze page setup, subscriber form, or popup, like Raimondi has done below.

Raimondi popup funnel

Payhip users can also utilize the platform’s checkout redirect feature, which enables them to send a customer to a different page after checkout. Upon purchase, the buyer will automatically be sent to a custom page where you can thank them and invite them to sign up for your email list.

You can even customize the redirect to occur only when a customer purchases a specific item.

However, a customer isn’t going to hand over their email address just because you ask nicely. You need what’s known as a reader magnet to entice them.

3. Provide an incentive

Now you need to give readers a reason to invite you into their inboxes. But to get them to make a decision to engage with you further, you must give them something in return.

This incentive, or reader magnet, is often a free book. You’ve likely encountered this before when an author invites you to “Get the next book free when you sign up for my mailing list.”

While you don’t have to give away a book for free, Cartwright says a permanently free book is undeniably effective. Entrepreneur Russell Brunson’s success giving away a free book makes a solid case for the freebie. He says he generates $238 in income for every book he gives away.

Why does offering something for free get so many people to convert?

For one, it reduces the barrier to entry. In other words, a customer is more likely to download your book if it’s free because there’s no risk for them.

A reader magnet like this also taps into the psychological principle of reciprocity. We see this in action when we feel inclined to give a present to someone who’s gifted something to us. Another example is a brand that offers a free product or trial before suggesting the consumer make a purchase.

And giving away something for free demonstrates value. The reader thinks, “If the author is giving away this great content for free, imagine what the paid content must be like.”

What should authors use as their reader magnet?

Fiction writers can give away their best-selling book, the first book in a series, a prequel, a novella, or an audiobook.

But the incentive doesn’t have to be a free book, especially for nonfiction writers. While an author can give away the first book in their nonfiction series, they could also entice readers with any number of items, including case studies, workbooks, checklists, recipes, charts, and webinars, just to name a few.

Joanna Penn mini course example

Writer Joanna Penn gives away an email course titled “Author 2.0 Blueprint” in return for an email address, as illustrated above. And Payhip user Lynn Seddon offers seasonal free downloads on her website, such as calendars and scavenger hunts.

4. Convert the reader

So, you’ve given your customer an offer they can’t refuse. They’ll take action to acquire the content you’re offering, and you must deliver it. Depending on your setup, the item may automatically download, but you can also send the user to another page to complete their transaction, or you can deliver it via email.

Regardless, you’ve captured their email and they have officially become a lead, or prospective client, for you. And even if they don’t follow through with the download, that’s okay. You have their email address for future marketing efforts, so there’s still an opportunity to get them to convert.

Now that you have their contact information, though, you need to start communicating.

“Once someone joins your email list, you need to treat them like a new friend,” says Cartwright, who estimates that she gets 5-10 new subscribers from each of her books. “Talk to them, give them stuff, ask questions. This is an ongoing conversation, so making sure that you have sequences set up allows you to continue to nurture on autopilot.”

For Cartwright, this communication begins immediately with a drip campaign she sets up, which we’ll explore more below.


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5. Decide where to send readers next

As we’ve said, there’s no one way a book funnel is supposed to look. Depending on your products and business, you may choose to do any of the following to spur your reader to take further action.

Create an autoresponder email series or drip campaign. As soon as Cartwright receives a signup, the reader goes through a carefully crafted five-day welcome sequence. Then the reader begins to receive Cartwright’s weekly newsletter.

It’s imperative that once a reader opts-in to your list, you kickstart the conversation and keep it going.

“Make sure you’re continuing to speak to those readers via email,” Cartwright says. “Thirty days is all it takes for your email list to go cold and then no-one’s opening your emails. If no-one’s opening your emails, then no-one’s seeing your content, free or otherwise.”

Craft enticing in-text calls to action. Your books don’t have to feature CTAs, but they’re undoubtedly effective tools for getting your readers to engage with you further.

Cartwright’s books feature such CTAs, and Raimondi is currently updating her books to add them as well. Author and personal finance adviser Ramit Sethi also utilizes this technique throughout his publications.

Get creative with Payhip features. Not every author has a website or email list, but you can still invite customers to engage with your content further by utilizing Payhip’s upgrade discount and cross-selling features.

With the upgrade discount feature, you can offer customers a deal on another product after they’ve made a purchase, as demonstrated below.


And cross-selling enables you to promote additional products to buyers with the added incentive of a discount.

Book Funnels Are About Relationships

A book funnel’s purpose is to get readers to take a specific action that enables you to continue your relationship with them even after they’ve read your book.

“Books are one of the best ways to get in front of your target audience,” Cartwright says. “Just make sure you have clear calls to actions to join your email list and then make sure you’re continuing to speak to those readers via email.”

While book funnels may sound like just another marketing tactic, successful ones are so much more because they empower authors to truly connect with their readers. And this consistent engagement fosters community that both the author and the reader can benefit from.

“I make it my priority to show up regularly and engage with my readers,” Seddon says. “We have a real community, particularly on Instagram, where we talk about the joy of raising our children to have a love for the natural world around them.”


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