Back in August 2014, I blogged about Goodreads giveaways and what I thought was best practice for authors interested in using them as a means of promoting their books [Goodreads Giveaways: Don’t Do What You’re Told]. Since then, Goodreads has made a number of significant changes to their giveaways and so it’s high time for an update…
Let’s get one thing out of the way first and fast. Every time I blog or tweet or talk about this – or any other book promotion idea – there is the inevitable, ‘But does it WORK? I haven’t seen any evidence and until I do, I’m not going to bother.’
That’s nice, but repeat after me: with very few exceptions, there are no guarantees when it comes to publicity. There. Are. No. Guarantees. Publicists, self-publishers and the sales and marketing departments of major publishing houses can execute identical PR campaigns for two different books, only for one to become a bestseller and one to disappear instantly without leaving a trace. This is just how it goes – and it’s not confined to the book world. Any time you have a consumer product and a buying public you’re trying to flog it to – movies, new flavors of Coke, apps – you are faced with this conundrum. With the exception of using things that come with a built-in traceable clicks-into-action component, asking ‘But does it work?’ is akin to demanding to know ‘How long is a piece of string?’ We can’t answer it. At best, we can say Books that did well did this, so possibly it works, but we don’t know if it was this specifically that was responsible for the book’s success.
Where to then for your book promotion plans, if we don’t know for sure what works and there are no guarantees? We must turn to common sense and evaluate if, on balance, it is worth doing a particular thing.
If I were to write three laws of book promotion, the first would be to not annoy anyone with your promotional efforts. The second would be to aim, above all else, to inform people that your book exists who didn’t know it existed before, and do it without breaking the first law. I’m still working on the third one, but it’ll probably involve cupcake-related bribery. I’ll let you know.
In recent years some big players in the publishing industry started to move away from putting ‘spend’ behind things like Tube station ads. The thinking was that although thousands of eyeballs would connect with these ads every day – thus satisfying both the first and second laws – there was no way to know who those eyeballs belonged to. Were the eyeball-owners part of the target demographic for the book? Were they even readers? There was no way to tell. And since Tube ads cost a small fortune, it seemed too big a risk to just throw them up there and hope for the best.
Compare this to running a Goodreads giveaway for your book. Potentially thousands of eyeballs will land on your book’s cover, but you know for a fact that these people are avid readers. Better yet, you know that the majority of them share what they read online – they’re members of a social network built around books, where users track what they read, share their recommendations with other users and leave reviews. How many of them you can reach is not dependent on how many Twitter followers or Facebook fans you have, and you have exactly the same opportunity to reach the site’s users as the major publishing houses who also use the site. The cost of this to you is some time, a few copies of your book and the cost of packaging them and shipping them to the winners’ addresses. What other deal in book promotion land is as good?
So, clearly, I think Goodreads giveaways are great and that you should do them. But I don’t think you should do them the way Goodreads suggest you should and, thanks to a raft of recent changes, you shouldn’t do them the way I said you should back in August 2014 either. Not entirely.
A Quick Recap
Back in 2014 I decided to take a good look at Goodreads giveaways to see if I was making the most of them for myself and for the books whose campaigns I was working on. I did something I’d never done before: I went and read what Goodreads told me I should do to make the most of their giveaway system. They advised that you should run your giveaway for a month and to give away as many copies as you could. But then, in their own slideshow, they included this graph…
…which clearly showed a significant spike in entries at the beginning and end of the giveaway, and nothing coming even close in between.
Remembering that our aim is to inform new people that our book exists, this graph gives us vital information. Yes, it’s nice that the people who follow us on Twitter, Instagram, etc. enter the giveaways and show interest in reading our book, but they knew about us and it already. What we really want our giveaway to do is to reach people who had never encountered us or the book before. This is why entries that come from the site itself – as opposed to, say, us tweeting a link – are so important.
And they seem to be mostly happening at the start and end of a giveaway, which makes sense when you visit the Giveaways page and see that they’re divided into ‘Just Listed’ and ‘Ending Soon’ charts. So doesn’t it also make sense that you’d want to have as many starts and ends as possible? One month-long giveaway only gives you one of each.
Then there was the idea that you should give away as many books as you could, presumably to (a) make your giveaway as attractive to users as possible – more books mean a greater chance of them winning one and (b) more users receiving a copy of your book meant more reviews of it eventually posted on the site. But here’s the thing: I don’t give a tiny rodent’s arse about the winners posting reviews.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s fantastic if they do. But Goodreads themselves say only 60% of winners – on average – post reviews of the books they receive and in my experience the number can be a lot lower than that. Regardless, it’s not something I can control. Winners are encouraged to review their prizes, but they’re not obligated to. (Totally fair.) What I’m interested in is, above all else, informing new people that my book exists. I’m interested in getting as many entries as I can. And scrolling through the giveaway charts back in August 2014, I saw no evidence that offering fewer prizes led to fewer entries. So why give away more books – read: spend more money – than I absolutely had to?
Ultimately, my takeaway was this: forget your single, month-long giveaway for as many books as you could offer. Instead, give away 1-3 books at a time in a number of shorter giveaways of varying length. That was the best way to maximize entries (eyeballs) I thought – and it was. It worked.
So what’s Changed?
The biggest change is that now you can only list a giveaway that starts 7 days or more in the future and that giveaway has to run for 7 days at least.
I’m guessing this change was to make things easier for the poor Goodreads team who had to manually approve every giveaway before it went live, and if I recall correctly only had 72 hours or something to do it in. You could also make a giveaway a day long if you liked, increasing their workload even more.
You could never set-up a giveaway when you were already running one for the same book, so in practice this means that now:
- Your giveaways must run for a week at least
- Your giveaways must have a week-long break in between.
[UPDATE: Please see the comments below re: setting up more than one giveaway for the same book at a time. Turns out there’s a way around it!]
Neither of these things change my advice. A week is still shorter than a month and I don’t see what difference having to have a week-long break in between them could possibly make. If anything, it improves your chances of reaching the maximum number of eyeballs, as you might have users who only check in once or twice a month.
Goodreads have also let go of the idea that their giveaways are just for books that are new or coming soon. Before, you only had two ‘year’ options under release date: this one or next. Now you can give away a book published twenty years ago, if you like, so long as it’s a brand new copy of it.
Another significant change is that while before you had 6-8 weeks to get your prizes in the post, now you only have 2-3 weeks to do it once you’ve received the winners’ addresses. (Goodreads pick the winners and then tell you where they live.) Plan accordingly.
Once upon a time I’d run a giveaway and then, once it had closed, send messages to the ‘losers’ offering them an e-book edition instead. (You can only give away print books on Goodreads.) This was very time-consuming but it did increase the number of reviews the book would end up with. But now I’m saying don’t even dream of doing this. It’s a big no-no. I’ve heard that sending unsolicited messages to users can get you kicked off the site. One woman apparently got in trouble just for sending messages to the winners to check they got their books. I find this strange considering users can opt out of receiving messages and there’s a limit (10, I think) on how many you can send in one day so it’d difficult to go totally crazy, but hey, them’s the rules.
snowballs of eyeballs (or something)
Let’s talk a little bit more about those eyeballs.
A Goodreads user logs in, navigates to the Giveaways page and is met with the ‘Ending Soon’ chart by default. They spy your book and – there it is! EYEBALL CONTACT ACHIEVED. Mission accomplished. So if 732 people enter your giveaway, that’s 732 new eyeballs in your book promotion bag. 732 people now know your book exists who, potentially, didn’t know it existed before. Right?
It’s at least 732 people.
Whenever you enter a giveaway on Goodreads, the action gets included in your ‘update feed’ which, depending on when they log in, your Goodreads friends will probably see. (It’s what they see by default when they log in – the ‘Home’ page.) This is a screenshot of mine when I logged in today:
So C.M. McCoy, author of Eerie, can count both Sherry and me as New Eyeballs reached today. I am a New Eyeball even though I may not have entered this particular giveaway.
(Will I take any action on this? Will I buy the book? Who knows. C.M. McCoy doesn’t know and – here’s the thing – they can’t know. And we’re not wasting our time trying to micro-manage down to the level of things we can’t control and can’t possibly determine, before or after the fact. We can control how far and wide we cast our net, so that’s all we’re focused on right now: MORE EYEBALLS.)
Here’s another thing: whenever you enter a giveaway on Goodreads, there’s an ‘Add to my To-Read shelf’ checkbox that’s checked by default.
And as soon as a giveaway is listed for a book that you’ve marked as ‘To Read’, you get an email like this:
(Yes, I did mark my own book as ‘Want To Read’. For research purposes, naturally! And that Hunger Games thing is totes adorbs, as the kids say that I started mocking them about and now find myself using in everyday speech non-ironically.)
So I log onto Goodreads and browse the giveaway lists to see if there’s anything I might be interested in. I spot Dead Secret by Ava McCarthy and it seems like my kind of thing, so I click ‘Enter Giveaway’ and I leave the ‘Add to my to-read shelf’ box checked, because I do want to read it. Me = an eyeball. But also = eyeballs are the Goodreads friends of mine who see this action pop up on their ‘news feed’ when they log into the site. And if I don’t win and Ava lists another giveaway, I will get an e-mail about it straight to my inbox, prompting me to enter the new one. (Why wouldn’t I? It’s just one click.) In this way, effectively, every giveaway after the first one comes with a mailing list of people who you know want to win a copy of that book. If you only run one giveaway, you fail to capitalize on this.
So What Now?
So while those 2,000 words of blog post were mildly interesting, your coffee’s gone cold now and you just wanna know: what should you actually do?
Well, I think you should:
- Let go of the idea that this is about getting reviews from the winners – this is about informing people that your book exists (*screams* EYEBALLS!)
- Definitely run at least 2 giveaways – I like 3-5 over a period of 2-3 months
- Give away no more than 1-3 books at a time
- Keep your giveaways short (I like 7-10 days), vary them in length and have them starting and ending on different days of the week (i.e. not always starting on a Monday and ending on a Wednesday. Mix it up.)
- Don’t bother promoting your giveaway at the beginning and end of it (e.g. on Twitter, Facebook, etc.). This is when Goodreads will do it for you, so why bother? It’s more important for you to do it in between
- Don’t contact Goodreads users directly for any reason at all
A disclaimer: the first Goodreads giveaway of Distress Signals is live right now and it’s three weeks long. But this is because of the new ‘2-3 weeks to get prizes out’ thing – we won’t have the prizes until February, so I either had to push the end date to the end of the month or not start a giveaway yet. I chose the former. Also it’s only open to the UK and Ireland despite what I said in the August 2014 post about self-publishers restricting the countries their giveaways were open to – they got Angry Dinosaur Face – but Distress Signals isn’t self-published and we have to play by the territory rules. We can only give this edition away in the countries in which it will be published.
But once this first giveaway closes, I’ll be running a few shorter ones with the goal of getting as many entries/eyeballs as possible. I might also try a Goodreads ad campaign because they claim this really amps up the number of entries a giveaway gets. LET’S SEE. I’ll be back once I’m done to let you know the numbers and we’ll see where we are with Goodreads giveaway advice then…
Have you run a Goodreads giveaway? Yay or nay? What would be your advice?