Do Giveaways work?

Wishing you all a very Happy 2016!

In your book marketing journey, you cannot escape coming across advice about giveaways.

As the term suggests, giveaways are supposed to be a strategy to improve your discoverability and in the long run to increase your book sales. There are many ways to run a Giveaway but in this post I’ll be limiting myself to Goodreads and Library Thing.

You can give away either a paperback (e.g. on Goodreads) or an eBook (e.g. on LibraryThing) or both.

So what are the pros and cons of this strategy? Let us discuss one by one.

Goodreads

goodreads logo

Goodreads is arguably the biggest social networking site for both authors and readers. Now owned by Amazon, Goodreads is literally the Facebook for authors. The only difference from Facebook is that on Goodreads, readers specifically discuss and rate their favourite books.

As an Author, therefore, you must have a profile on Goodreads even if you don’t actively participate in its discussion forums. Remember your goal is to make you extremely searchable, discoverable and contactable. So if you haven’t opened a Goodreads account, please go and immediately open up a reader’s profile.

Once you do that, search for your book, and click on the button “This book is mine”. You can thereafter apply for an Author profile. Once the Goodreads team approves your account, you can then have your own Author profile.

If you feel overwhelmed, here is a fantastic video on You Tube that takes you on a tour of Goodreads:  

Goodreads Giveaway

One of the biggest promotional tools, that Goodreads offers, is the Goodreads Giveaway whereby you can choose to give away FREE copies of your books to participants who enter the contest for a limited time (say 15-30 days). Once the Giveaway ends, the Goodreads algorithm randomly chooses a winner and sends you her postal address.

After that, it is your responsibility to post the book to her. And if you don’t, you may be banned from running any giveaway in future.

And one more thing. You need to have a book in PRINT to be eligible for a giveaway. E-books currently are ineligible.

Goodreads Giveaways appear to be a fantastic way to get exposure and letting readers become familiar with your books and your name. Remember I didn’t mention sales anywhere.

It is just exposure. Goodreads claims 825 to be the average number of people entering a Giveaway contest, which appears to be a decent number from the point of view of any author.

In my experience, the average number of participants for my books was much, much higher. I ran around 10 giveaways in 2014, for a period of 1-3 months, and had anywhere from 900-2500 people entering the contest. The highest number was for my book ‘Healthy Cooking In A Jiffy: The Complete No Fad, No Diet Handbook’ where 2486 people joined in, and the lowest was for my book ‘Quiet Phoenix 2: From Failure to Fulfilment: A Memoir of an Introverted Child’ where I had only 899 participants.

I used to run the giveaways offering only one copy. I also used to select ‘all countries’ since I believe my books have a global audience. Mind you, doing this may increase the risk of incurring more expenditure on postage and that’s why some authors consider it prudent to run a giveaway for only countries like the US, UK or Canada.

In my experience, however, Goodreads is heavily dominated by readers from mature markets such as the UK, USA, Canada or Australia. So even if you select all countries, the chances are that the winners would be either from North America or Europe.

Giving away a single copy used to cost me around $10 from CreateSpace, including packing and shipping. So the more copies you giveaway, the higher will be your cost.

My decision was based on the feedback from other authors that whether you giveaway one copy or twenty, it has no impact on the number of people entering the contest. So if you have to run a giveaway, it may be prudent to do so with only one copy.

Let me now discuss what I exactly gained from these contests.

Goodreads Giveaways definitely give you exposure. Thousands of participants enter the giveaway contest and hundreds add your books to their reading shelves. Some even send you a friend request. However, your major concern should be whether Goodreads Giveaways really drive any sales or build up your fan base.

And this is where the problem begins. I didn’t see any uptick in my sales. Nor did I see any increase in my fan base even after running as many as 10 giveaways. I spent nearly $100 in 2014 (@$10 per giveaway) with no real positive rate of return. And this was when I was being extremely conservative about how many copies I should really give away.

So where the issue of sales or building your fan base is concerned, I will have to sheepishly admit that Goodreads Giveaways does neither. I have read many blog posts from other authors who too had a similar experience. So the problem is inherent in the Goodreads Giveaways scheme of things and I cannot blame my books or my writing style for this matter. Here is my analysis as to why this happens.

Over-saturated platform: As a Goodreads user, you can also enter a giveaway. Have fun and try to enter a few giveaways yourself. You will soon realise that there are lots of books that are listed on the giveaways page at any given time. Some participants, therefore, keep on moving from one giveaway to the other.

I have also noticed that some participants will add your book to their digital shelves in the hope that the Goodreads algorithm will favour them. Once they don’t win, they promptly remove your books from their shelves as they were never actually interested in you or the book!

Goodreads Giveaways are, therefore, like a lottery. They don’t attract genuine readers, only lottery participants. And while you may get some exposure, a Goodreads Giveaway hardly contributes to any sales or aids the growth of your fan base. If done incorrectly, they can in fact even blow a big hole in your author venture.

People don’t value freebies: You will expect that whosoever wins the contest will be thrilled to receive your book and will hopefully become your fan. Whenever the Goodreads team notified me of the winner, I made sure that I sent her a personal message on Goodreads congratulating her and notifying her of the time period in which she could expect to receive my book.

Whenever I did that, I noticed a strange behaviour, especially among American winners, in that I never received a reply from them. Not even a “thank you” or “I’m so excited” or “I’m looking forward to reading your book.” This, I thought, was the height of rudeness.

Some had even put anti-spam blocks for strangers sending personal messages; so there was no way I could contact such winners. All this peculiar behaviour did strike a very discordant note.

Winners from Eastern European countries like Romania or Cyprus, on the other hand, did have the decency to reply warmly and to follow me.

Expecting reviews: The biggest reason to run a Goodreads Giveaway is to get reviews. No winner is obliged to leave a review but this is what you, as an Author, will expect at the least.

In my case, except for one winner, who left a positive 5 star review for my book ‘The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Lentils the Indian Way’ on Goodreads and Amazon, all other winners didn’t bother to do anything.

You may say that I got a lower success rate in reviews because I ran my giveaways with only one copy. I thank myself, however, for the foresight to NOT spend a fortune running a giveaway each with 20 copies. It is just not worth it.

I ruthlessly eliminate any marketing strategy that does not convert into sales or increase my fan base. Goodreads Giveaways gets a thumb down from me on both counts.

However, if you are tempted to run a Giveaway, do so with only one copy and see what happens. You are the best judge!

LibraryThing Giveaways

LibraryThing is another site like Goodreads. The only difference is that it is more like an online library than a social networking site. On LibraryThing, you can also run a giveaway. However, LibraryThing allows you to run an e-book giveaway unlike Goodreads.

So you can choose to giveaway a PDF, Mobi or e-pub format. You can also giveaway up to 100 copies of your e-books. The best part is that a LibraryThing giveaway does not cost any money and after the contest is over, you simply need to e-mail your e-book to winners.

A giveaway for 100 copies is supposed to ensure maximum participation. It also means that there could be as many as 100 winners for your giveaway.

LibraryThing, however, has a horrible website, with difficult navigation and layout. It is definitely not aesthetically pleasing.

In my experience, a LibraryThing giveaway attracts a much lower rate of participants than a Goodreads Giveaway. So be happy if you get even 50 participants for your giveaway.

You will get a list of e-mail addresses of the winners but LibraryThing strictly forbids you to not add those e-mail addresses to your normal mailing list. So when you send your FREE e-book to the winners, you have to separately ask them to subscribe to your mailing list. Give them a link so that they can do that easily. This way, you may get some additional subscribers although in my experience I got none!

A LibraryThing giveaway does not cost any money alright BUT it can cost an awful lot of your time especially if you have to send your e-books to 50 participants. And on top of that the problem remains the same. Winners do not value freebies.

Whenever I sent a message to winners, I didn’t get even a single reply. Not even a “thank you.” After a few weeks, I only got a 2 star review from someone on LibraryThing and a few months later, a positive review.

In my opinion, LibraryThing giveaways can take up a lot of your time if you are running them regularly. There is also an increased danger of negative reviews as readers on both Goodreads and LibraryThing sites, like most book bloggers, tend to be overtly critical.

So if you have to run giveaways, do run a LibraryThing giveaway only occasionally. However, whenever you do find reviewers who rate your books positively, consider adding them to your reviewer’s list so that the next time your book comes out in that genre/series, you can contact them directly.

So what has been your experience with giveaways?

Do share your feedback for the benefit of other authors.

I’d love to hear from you in any case.

(The matter above has been excerpted from my forthcoming book “How to Market Your Books WITHOUT SPENDING A DIME” which is the third book in my “Self-Publishing WITHOUT A DIME” series of books.)

Dear Readers,

As I have been highlighting for some time, fleecing poor authors has unfortunately become a flourishing multi-million dollar business.

I started this blog to help newbie authors, to share my experiences so that you don’t waste time travelling old paths that lead nowhere. My motto has always been to use your time focusing on what you love doing, which is writing, than on doing those 1000 things that all those scam-artists bombard you with.

However, I am a professional writer myself and earn through my books and NOT through this blog, which incidentally doesn’t carry any advertisements. So if I am not able to sustain this blog, I’ll be forced to abandon it.

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