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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Clemmer

Reader Magnets vs. Paid Ads

Earlier I discussed ways to get readers through fixing up your reader magnet appeal—but reader magnets, while being arguably the best way to get readers, are not the only ways to get readers.

Sometimes you’ll want a faster and more direct approach.

Reader Magnets vs. Paid Ads

Reader magnets, when done well, can be a lot of work. So can mailing lists (which are necessary for a reader magnet strategy). If you’re just trying to get your first book out there, you might not feel ready to dive into the commitment of sending regular emails and pitching to readers on a frequent basis.

Back in January 2024, Self-publishing guru Nick Stephenson posted some statistics about authors and revealed that 20.9% of self-published authors don’t have mailing lists at all. These are people who already have at least one book on the market and haven’t bothered to collect a single email.

It’s worth noting that not having a mailing list is not the same as not marketing, but some people say that paid ads on Amazon and other booksellers is the best way to leap ahead of your competition.

But let’s face the facts: growing your mailing list takes time, money, and effort. Running successful ad campaigns also takes time, money and effort. Either way, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves.

If you have limited resources and want to choose between the two, where do you start?

Paid Ads: Pros And Cons


  • More money typically means more results. Paid ads have a strong pay-to-win element, and if you have some funding to spend up front, you can buy your way in even if this is your first book. This takes a lot of pressure off of finding reviewers and building a street team (even though it’s a good idea to have both).

  • Fast or overnight success. A good reader magnet can bring in a lot of readers, but not overnight. A good advertising campaign will pay for itself, and your initial sales records will speak very highly of your abilities as a writer.

  • Do it when you want—not when you don’t. One of the most frustrating angles of running a mailing list is finding new things to share with readers, even if you don’t have a new book on the horizon. With a focus on paid ads, you can promote your book only when you want to, and not waste your energy while you’re focusing on your next one.


  • Paid ads are expensive. People regularly spend thousands (and even tens of thousands) of dollars on ad campaigns, and when you’re starting out, there’s no guarantee that your ads will work. If you’re reluctant to spend the money, it might be best to focus on other promotional techniques.

  • Expertise matters. Designing ads is a skill, and if you don’t understand the right pitches and formulas, there’s a good chance that your ad will fail. You have only a few seconds to win readers to your books, so don’t expect you can get it all in one go. Many authors have to try a series of ads before they land on one that works.

  • Ads come with less control. You own your mailing list. You decide how often you want to email your readers and how often you want to hold back. With paid ads, you remain subject to the platform and all of its whims. That means you might not be able to promote the books you want, and the ads that work on one campaign might not for another.

Reader Magnets: Pros and Cons


  • Email subscribers are loyal. Your ads will be shown to strangers and devoted readers alike, but your emails will reach only people who are already actively interested in your writing. That’s as targeted as it gets, and a well-constructed reader magnet will drive people to respond when they hear about your book.

  • Reader magnets bring consistent growth. Paid ads will make your book grow in quick spurts, but will do nothing if you’re not running a campaign. A single reader magnet will lure readers to your books for years to come.

  • You have control. You want to take a month off? Fine. You want to email readers three times a week to drive hype? Fine. You want to focus on your latest book or revisit an old forgotten release? You can do what you want on your list, and the possibilities are more flexible.


  • It’s a slow build. Your reader magnets might be great, but you can’t expect thousands of signups overnight. Your new readers will trickle in, and some will leave and unsubscribe as soon as they get the free book. While growth is reliable, reader magnets won’t give you a big platform overnight.

  • Mailing lists require maintenance. Between setting up an email template, sending emails, and paying for a professional email service, you’ll have to revisit your mailing list on a regular basis. In addition, reader magnet services like StoryOrigin or Book Funnel expect you to promote other books regularly to your own list, meaning additional upkeep on behalf of your reader magnets.

  • Reader magnets are more effective with consistent publishing schedules. Your first few books might take a while to write and publish—but as you learn more about yourself and your process, future books tend to take less time. If you're new to self-publishing, your irregular publishing gaps might be frustrating for readers to keep up with.

Bottom Line

Widely successful authors use many different tactics to advertise their books, and for the best guarantee of success, you should use both of the above methods. Paid ads will give your books a boom in visibility, and reader magnets will keep them coming back for more.

But if you’re still working out which to prioritize, or if you’re too overwhelmed to attempt both, here’s a run down of what you should consider.

Paid ads are likely your best bet if:

  • You want fast sales.

  • You only have one book on the horizon and don’t want to commit to a list.

  • You’re willing to spend.

Writing a reader magnet and focusing on your mailing list is a better bet if:

  • You have a consistent publishing schedule.

  • You want consistent growth.

  • You want audience loyalty.

If this post helped you, please consider donating a coffee at the button below so I can share more self-publishing tips.


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