Anatomy of the Bonus: Checklists, Cheatsheets, Worksheets, and More

by | Jun 13, 2016

One of the constants in the internet marketing world is the awarding of “bonuses” with almost any kind of product, including books. In its most basic form, a bonus could be considered anything extra that has value.

By “extra” we mean that a bonus is something added to something else, perhaps a thing you weren’t expecting. And an extra has to please us, or add real value, to be considered a “bonus.”

These bonuses take many shapes, but in my experience they are primarily used by authors and marketers in some strategic ways:

Strategic Use of Bonuses

  • To make an offer more valuable, and therefore, more attractive. For instance, if I give you a free book in exchange for buying my new book within a specific time during the book launch, that free book is a bonus that might make the difference between someone buying and not buying. After all, instead of just selling you my new book, the bonus has made it a “2 for 1” offer.
  • To create a separate offer on the same product. In this use, an author or marketer might publish a book on pizza baking. Then, to create a separate offer, she might create a guide to buying the right flour for pizza; a video tutorial on how to slide the pizza on and off the pizza peel (the wood paddle used to move pizzas into and out of the oven); and a recipe book with even more kinds of pizzas. The book plus all these bonuses might be an “Enhanced” or “Pro” version, commanding a higher price.
  • To make sure that as many buyers as possible can get the book or product they want. Bonuses are used to create variations on an offer for different markets, and for different levels of engagement. The buyer who just wants the information in your book is different from the reader who not only wants the book, but wants an audio interview of you talking about the book, or the one that wants step-by-step instruction in some process that’s relevant to your subject, but which isn’t in your book.
    Another way to do this is put the core parts of whatever you are writing about in one book, then develop other smaller “bonus” titles that show how to use that core knowledge in different ways. A book on how to pack your house could be targeted to people in different areas of the country with tips and resources relevant to where they intend to move.
  • To create a less expensive version by removing content from a book or other information-based product, in order to expand the universe of folks who might be interested. The pizza author who may have included lengthy lists of tools and equipment in her book, as well as resources for acquiring them, might consider removing these sections from the book and putting them into a standalone “bonus” instead. This would allow her to sell the original book at a lower price, and the full version, including the “bonus” sections at a higher price.

I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last couple of years developing products that help authors produce and promote their books faster, more easily, and with greater impact.

There’s one crucial rule that I use in evaluating bonuses, and I think it’s the most important one by far:
The bonus you are offering must advance the underlying story, the training, the instruction, or the basic goals of the product they accompany.

The best bonuses extend the functionality of the book, training course, or product to which they are attached.

A great example of this is multimedia content, especially if you are selling printed products. In the example of the video demonstrating how to get your pizza into the oven is the perfect bonus for a book on making pizza.

Why? You can’t include it in the book very easily, and it vastly improves your instruction to be able to show someone actually flicking that disk of dough onto the pizza stone.

If the author had offered coupons for travel to Tuscany or something equally off-topic, it would not pass the relevance test.

The Varieties of the Bonus Experience

Let’s look at some of the bonuses you can develop to accomplish some of these marketing goals. Although these terms get thrown around pretty loosely, each seeks to accomplish something specific, and that’s what sets them apart.

  • Checklist—This is a list of tasks to be completed, conditions to look into, or an inventory of items relevant to a specific task. For instance, in creating a course on book publishing a few years ago, I developed a Cover Design Checklist. It simply lists all the elements you should consider when producing a book cover. Checklists can be incredibly helpful to establish good procedures and to eliminate the risks involved in relying on human memory.
    A checklist, in a way, is a method for distributing expertise from more-adept practitioners to less-adept one with the aim of eliminating errors that would arise from a lack of training. The iconic use of a checklist to me is the long list of checks that pilots make before rolling onto the runway.
    (An amazing read: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. Gawande’s work has lead to the widespread implementation of a surgery checklist that is reported to have reduced surgical errors by as much as 30%.)
  • Worksheet—Whenever readers need to record their own reactions, progress, or interaction, you have the opportunity to help them by producing a worksheet. The defining characteristic of a worksheet is that it contains lots of space for readers to use. For a book on blogging, the author might encourage readers to research keywords and phrases. Providing a worksheet with room for notes and a way to organize the keywords being researched would be a big help to readers.
  • Cheatsheet—Creating a summary or a list of steps that you will refer to later is surprisingly common. Have a look at this “cheatsheet” taped to a washing machine that has over 40 settings, leading to thousands of possible combinations:
    cheatsheet
    This is the essence of the Cheatsheet, and why it’s so powerful. Cutting through the confusion of many wrong paths, it gives us simple steps to get the outcome we wanted all along. Think of ways you can use this power to help your own readers, creating compelling bonuses at the same time.
  • Tutorial—Most books, even instructional ones, don’t include every single detail about their subjects. This creates the opportunity to create bonuses like tutorials or “backgrounders.” A tutorial will give important, entertaining, or useful instruction on some aspect of your subject. So our pizza author might create a tutorial on how to evaluate flours used in pizza baking that can be repurposed from a section in the book into a free-standing bonus.
  • Multimedia—There’s nothing more natural for authors than to craft bonuses and incentives in different media. After all, inside our books we’re limited to communicating in words with the occasional picture, photo, chart, or graph. That’s where video and audio come in. Just think of how you can enhance the experience for your readers with media. How about a video showing little-known spots for quick meals to accompany a travel book? Or an audio interview with an expert in your field who has valuable information for your readers?

Bonuses Can Be Incentives, Too

If a lot of this sounds familiar, it may be because these are the same kinds of products we create as incentives for people to join our email lists.

Because these kinds of incentives are so closely tied to the subject you write about—and to your book—they are excellent “little ambassadors” for you to give away.

Of course, whenever you create a bonus or incentive, remember that it gives you the opportunity to let people know about your other books, products, or services. And since you’re giving it away, people won’t mind a small amount of advertising.

When you consider all the different kinds of bonuses and incentives you can create, you can see why brainstorming to find topics or content for them can give you a powerful insight into your own readers.

In addition to the worksheets and checklists I’ve already mentioned, there’s literally no end to the bonuses and incentives you can create. Consider some random ideas:

  • Discount coupon for use in buying your other books
  • Private one-on-one consultation
  • Short video-based training course
  • Slide deck walking through a process
  • Templates for common types of content
  • Donation to a charitable cause on your behalf
  • Tickets to a live event on your subject
  • Case studies showing how people succeed
  • Interviews with other experts in your field

What you’re looking for is something that has real value to your audience, and which enhances their experience of your book or product.

Let It Flow

Once you start thinking about bonuses, you’ll be surprised at how many ideas you can come up with. And there’s no hard and fast rules here (except my “relevance” rule above) so have fun.

You can create variations on any of these ideas, or completely new ones. You can mash them together and make something doubly useful and completely unique.

In my book publishing course, I created a tutorial on book metadata and combined it with a Metadata Worksheet. This document allows authors to keep the instruction on metadata right next to a worksheet where they accumulate their own book metadata.

Bonuses have lots of uses in the internet marketing world, and there’s no reason authors can’t learn how to use them too, to create better and more complete experiences for their readers, while giving a boost to your profits at the same time.

What creative bonuses have you used or seen other people using? I’d love to know, so tell us in the comments.

journal
marketing

6 Comments

  1. Frances Caballo

    What a great post, Joel. Personally, I love giving away bonuses or surprising authors who email me — and are frustrated with some aspect of social media — with free PDFs of different books I’ve written. So glad you wrote this post.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      And your practice is a great way to be “memorable” to new subscribers and readers.

      Reply
  2. Patrice Williams Marks

    I have a novel that is based on a real person and real events. (The Abduction of Nelly Don). As an incentive for people to join my email list, I created a file with original newspaper articles of the event, actual redacted FBI files and criminal profiles from the 1931 kidnapping.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Patrice, I love that, very creative. Did you get feedback from readers? Did they like the bonus material?

      Reply
  3. Michael N. Marcus

    I’ve never offered book bonuses. However, recognizing my penchant for procrastination and disorganization, I have developed two types of lists that help me to publish:

    (1) It’s important to make and update a list of ISBNs with book titles and status. I twice was about to purchase ISBNs and discovered that I had ISBNs I assigned to future books and never used because I lost interest in the books.

    (2) At the front of each book in production I place a temporary page zero. The page, which I delete before the final version goes out to the world, is where I keep notes about the book such as style issues (e.g. PM or p.m., ten or 10) fonts used, distinctive spelling, items to check or correct, items to add or delete, desired final page count, etc. This page also provides proper verso-recto appearance while formatting pbooks.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Michael, your “page 0” is a terrific idea, thanks!

      Reply

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