Goodreads Giveaways: Don’t Do What You’re Told

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READ AN UPDATED GOODREADS POST HERE

(UPDATE: This post was originally published in August 2014. Since then – I’m adding this in August 2015 – I’ve heard anecdotal evidence from other authors that Goodreads has committed to a complete crackdown on the sending of private messages to Goodreads users you are not “friends” with on the site. Therefore while my advice regarding the length and frequency of giveaways still stands, I cannot recommend that you ever send private messages to other Goodreads users – even to the winners to check they received their prize. From what I’ve been hearing, it could get you banned from using the site. )

(UPDATE #2: Thanks to Jennifer for pointing out in the comments that Goodreads have now enforced a ‘minimum 1 week’ rule on their giveaways, and won’t let you list one that’s less than 7 days in the future. Hmm… *suspicious face* On top of that, the suggestion text in the “description” box actually mentions signed copies. Perhaps we’d all started doing what we weren’t told, and the site didn’t like it. Whatever the reason, you can still apply this advice in principle. No month-long giveaways for 25 books at a time, basically!)

Any self-published or self-publishing author who’s done even the tiniest smidgen of research into how to use internet thingys to help sell their books will already be familiar with Goodreads. It’s Facebook for book lovers, a place where you can share what you’ve read, divide your reads up into lists and recommend books you’ve loved to others.

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As an author you can have a Goodreads Author Profile, a jazzed-up version of the standard one to which you can add videos and blog posts, and you can run giveaways where you offer Goodreads users a chance to win a copy of your book.

Why Run A Giveaway?

The beauty of the Goodreads giveaway system is that you don’t have to do much except tell Goodreads how many copies you want to give away, where you’re prepared to post them to and how long you’d like the giveaway to run for. They take care of the rest. They run it, pick the winners and send you their addresses, freeing up time for you to develop an obsessive habit of checking your Amazon sales ranks. Fantastico.

Then the winners receive their copies, drop everything to read them and post gushing reviews on the site. Hundreds of other Goodreads users see these reviews and drop everything to go buy a copy. Then they read it and post gushing reviews on the site, and the cycle continues until you’re a bestselling author who can pay for life’s big purchases in cold, hard cash.

Or, you know, your Amazon sales ranks don’t ruin your day.

But is that always what happens when you run a Goodreads giveaway?

Um, no.

Usually what happens is you run the giveaway, send out the books and then… Nothing. Silence. Deafening silence. Your book doesn’t take off. The ratings don’t change. If you’re lucky, one new review might appear on the site in three months’ time. But essentially, your Goodreads giveaway disappeared without trace like a raindrop falling into the ocean.

Now, up until recently I put running a Goodreads giveaway into the ‘sure, you might as well!’ category of Things To Do When Promoting Your Book. (For maximum authenticity, you need to say ‘sure, you might as well!’ in a Tom Cruise in Far and Away Irish Accent, pronouncing the first word ‘shurr’ and the second word ‘yee’.) It was easy, it would only cost you a few books and some postage and it gave you something to say on Twitter, Facebook and your blog, i.e. ‘I’m giving away copies of my book. Come get ’em!’ The winners might also leave a review on your book’s Goodreads listing, which may help too.

But everyone is self-publishing now and the Big Boys have copped onto the fact that if you sell an e-book for sofa change, it will sell more copies. Therefore when it comes to promoting your book online, don’t we need something better than, ‘Sure, you might as well!’? I think we do. We need something that will actually work, that will achieve successful results that we can measure.

So like Carrie Bradshaw, I got to thinking (a phrase that always made me wonder what she’d been doing up until now): is there a way to do Goodreads giveaways better?

Beginnings and Ends

Goodreads have a lot of really interesting and helpful guides for authors on their website, including a guide to giveaways. In it they say that a month is the perfect length of time to run a giveaway for and that, ideally, you should run two giveaways: one before publication and one after.

I completely disagree and the thing that got me started on disagreeing is a graph that Goodreads included in their own Guide to Giveaways:

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It’s showing us how giveaways get results by charting the number of times a user added Beautiful Ruins (my favourite book of 2012, by the way) to their Goodreads shelves, including during a giveaway period that ran from March 31st to May 12th and offered 25 copies as prizes.

But what’s wrong with this picture? When I look at it I see something painfully obvious: that the real benefit of running a giveaway only comes at the start and the end.

Why is that? Well, let’s think about how Goodreads users discover giveaways. They can either navigate to the book’s listing on the site and see the ‘Enter to Win’ button, or they can browse the lists of current giveaways. Scrap the first one, because in order for that to happen we have to somehow send a user to our book’s listing in the first place, and that’s not what this is about. This is about getting new people to discover for the first time that our book exists independently of any other social media activity we might be engaged in.

So, let’s look at the lists.

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Goodreads giveaways are listed in four different charts: Recently Listed, Popular Authors, Most Requested and Ending Soon. Presuming that you’re starting from scratch, you won’t have a hope of elbowing your way into Popular Authors or Most Requested, so that just leaves Recently Listed and Ending Soon. Clearly, being in these charts has an effect on entries, because of the Beautiful Ruins chart above – that title saw the most activity it would ever experience on the site at the beginning and at the end of the giveaway. In short, beginnings and endings are good.

So why in the name of fudge would you minimize the beginnings and endings you have by running one long giveaway? That’s just one opportunity to get into Recently Listed and one opportunity to get into Ending Soon – when we know that appearing in these charts is your giveaway’s best chance of winning entries. Wouldn’t the intelligent thing to do be to construct your giveaway schedule so that you have as many starts and stops as you possibly can?

(Spoiler alert: the answer is yes.)

Think Bigger Than The Winners…

But Catherine, you might be squealing now, who cares about how many entries you get? We’re just trying to get a couple of reviews here, right? So what does it matter if 100 or 10,000 people enter my giveaway? I just want the 10 who win copies to read them and write a review.

This is not about getting reviews. Would we really go to the trouble of running a giveaway, publicizing it and then spending our first royalty payment sending copies of our books to far flung places just to get reviews? I hope not, because there are easier ways. No, this is about informing Goodreads users that our book exists in the hope that some of them will think it looks interesting, add it to their ‘To Read’ list and then, on a date in the future, purchase it for themselves. That is our goal here: sales. That is always our goal. So, the more entries we get = the more people know our book exists.

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When you enter a giveaway, Goodreads even clicks by default a box that adds the book to your ‘To Read’ shelf, placing a permanent reminder of it on your Goodreads profile whether you end up winning a copy or not.

It’s just as well people-knowing-we-exist is what we’re really after, because Goodreads say that on average only 60% of winners of giveaways go on to read and review the book they win on the site. I think that’s a tad optimistic, if I’m honest. I know in the giveaways I’ve run in the past, the figure was well below 50% as far as I could tell. And we’re self-published authors, remember. Our budgets are not bottomless. We have to pay for the books themselves and the postage, so we just can’t afford to give away the 20 or 25 copies we see traditional publishers offering on the site. We’re lucky if we can stretch to 5 or 10. And what’s 60% of 5 or 10?

The answer is no feckin’ point at all. (Again, best read aloud in a Tom Cruise in Far and Away Irish Accent.)

…And Don’t Think About Geography At All

I cannot adequately express in words how much it annoys me when I see self-published authors restrict their Goodreads giveaways to specific countries… SO SUPERFLUOUS USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS WILL JUST HAVE TO DO INSTEAD.

IT *REALLY* **REALLY** ***REALLY*** ANNOYS ME. LIKE, INCREDIBLY SO. LIKE, IF I THINK ABOUT IT FOR MUCH LONGER I MAY EXPLODE. OR MAKE THIS FACE:

trex

Publishing houses have a genuine reason for restricting giveaways geographically: they only have the rights to publish the book in certain territories. You only have one reason, and it’s stoopid: you don’t want to stretch for international postage.

Give. Me. A. Feckin’. BREAK.

Have you ever posted a book internationally? Unless you’ve written a doorstopper, it’s not going to break the bank. You don’t have to FedEx the damn thing; Goodreads tells winners to wait for up to 8 weeks for their books after the giveaway closes. Don’t think of the shipping costs as something separate, which is a mistake I think a lot of people make. They say to themselves, oh, I’ll giveaway 20 copies because that’s (my unit cost + cost of shipping books to me) x 20, and then when the postage bill kicks in it seems like a fortune. I say create a budget, e.g. $75, and then work out how many books you can giveaway and post, potentially internationally, for that price.

Also, you don’t have to send your winners books you ordered in from CreateSpace. That’s actually kind of a silly idea, when you think about it. Why would you pay to send the books to yourself, and then pay again to send them to the winners? Send them directly from CreateSpace instead. For example if I have a person in the US who needs to receive a complimentary copy of my book, the cost of the book plus domestic postage (because CreateSpace is in the US) is half the price my book is to buy. If you live in the US and your winner is in, say, Ireland or the UK, why not get Amazon.co.uk to send them the book? The shipping will be minimal and you’ll get some of the price you paid back in a royalty payment. The Book Depository will even ship one book anywhere in the world for FREE.

The bottom line here is that if our goal is to inform as many Goodreads users as possible that our book exists, you have no choice but to set your giveaway open to all countries.

And personally I think it’s rude not to, especially when, as a self-published author, you have world rights. More importantly, when I log into the site, by default I can only see the giveaways that are open to Ireland. So if you exclude me, I can’t just not enter your giveaway – I won’t even know you’re running it. Therefore, cross me off your list of people who’ll discover that your book exists.

Backlists and E-book Only Titles

The official title for the Goodreads giveaway system is ‘First Reads’, the idea being that the prizes are proof copies or shiny new ones that still aren’t for sale on any shelves, virtual or otherwise. I used to think the prize book had to published in the last six months, although I can’t find any evidence that this was ever strictly the case. Anyway, the case now is that you can giveaway a book that was published at any stage as long as the copy you’re giving away is a brand new one.

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It actually says on the ‘List Giveaway’ page that giveaways can be used to ‘build awareness’ for a previously published book. You can only enter this year and next year as a publication date, but all you need do is make a note in the ‘Description’ box that the book was previously published, .e.g. This title was first published in 2012. I would then set the publication date to the day the giveaway ends. Great for building a bit of a buzz if, say, the final installment of your trilogy is coming out soon. I’d run giveaways for the previous two and then have a series of giveaways for the new book.

You can’t give away e-books and I’m glad about that. E-books are just not worth running a giveaway for. We want a physical prize, something we’re excited to open in the mail. But what do you do if you’ve only published in e-book? Does that mean you can’t use Goodreads giveaways at all? I’d suggest making a print edition with CreateSpace or Lulu just to serve as prizes. They can look like proof copies – they don’t have to be the real deal. Use CreateSpace’s template that lets you put a full bleed picture on the front, slot your e-book cover in there and, hey presto, you have a paperback.

So, You’re Thinking of Running a Giveaway

Once upon a time, I would’ve recommended you giveaway 10 copies of your book in a single Goodreads giveaway that lasts a month.

But now I’m saying:

  • Give away as few books as you like, because this isn’t about the winners. It can even be 1.
  • Instead of one long giveaway, run 3-5 shorter giveaways (5-10 days) of varying length to maximize your appearances in the Recently Listed and Ending Soon charts.
  • Open your giveaways to all countries OR ELSE THE T-REX WILL COME FOR YOU WHILE YOU SLEEP.
  • Don’t think about giveaways just for new books. You can give away new copies of some old ones too.
  • If you’ve only published in e-book, consider making a physical proof-like copy to give away instead.
  • Definitely do it, because it’s a great way to spread the word about your book.

Does this work though? Going back to Goodreads own Guide to Giveaways, they tell us we should give away at least 10 books and run our giveaways for a month.

They also tell us the average number of entries is 825.

GOODREADS

(Apologies to Goodreads for desecrating one of their slides in the name of blog graphics. Remember I really love you and I think you’re brilliant. SMILES.)

Now in the last few months I’ve been trying it my way with one of my social media clients, a major UK/IRL publisher, and the results are clear. Before this, standard practice was to do what Goodreads told us to do: a month-long giveaway for 20-25 copies.

I took one title and split those 25 copies into 5 shorter giveaways of varying length for just 5 copies at a time. These ranged from 5 days in length up to 2 weeks.

The average number of entries was 1,726.

In a six-week period, we won over 8,000 entries over all.

For exactly the same number of books: 25 copies in total.

So I would say yes, yes it does.

Have you run a Goodreads giveaway? Any against-the-grain strategies you’re willing to share? What do you think of my dastardly plan?

Let me know in the comments below…