Giving books away is still one of the best promotional tools available to authors (see my post Give It Away for strategies and a list of sites where you can list your free ebooks). The difference with Goodreads, however, is that they don’t officially support ebook giveaways, only print copies. Librarything does both, which makes it a great tool for the budding self-promoter, but Goodreads almost certainly has the edge in readership, so smart cookies will obviously try to do both (see my experiences with Librarything giveaways: Part I and Part II).
(Unofficially, there is a Goodreads Ebook Giveaway group (URL), which is handy but—since it’s not supported by the site—isn’t really a mechanism for picking winners and drumming up support; it’s more of a vehicle for announcing giveaways on other sites.)
There are some beginning steps you’ll have to take before you can make the most out of the Goodreads Giveaway program.
- You have to become a Goodreads Author. This is not difficult and you don’t have to be in print to do so; having an ebook on Amazon or B&N entitles you to join the GR Author program. However, it is a review process and may take a few days for both your books to go through the GR system and your subsequent request to become a GR Author to be approved. If you have an ebook out, do this step as soon as you can to get the wheels turning. See http://www.goodreads.com/author/program for more information.
- As I mentioned above, only printed books can be offered in the GR Giveaway. If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know I recently succeeded in getting my crime fiction short story collection one bad twelve printed through Amazon’s CreateSpace program (I document it here: Part I, Part II, Part III). The process is easy, quick, and frankly pretty fun when you get the final product in your hands. And, of course, it’s a necessary step before you enter the GR Giveaway.
- You’ll have to manually enter your print book in Goodreads; even if you have an ebook of the same title in their system, the two are separate entities (the print requires/uses an ISBN as its identifier; your ebook can use its ASIN or do without). You won’t be able to do the Giveaway without adding the print version to the GR database, so don’t overlook this step.
There are some strategies you’re going to want to develop before you jump into the deep end of the Goodreads pool.
- Check out this great article by Emlyn Chand of Novel Publicity: How to Run a Goodreads Giveaway With Maximal Results. There are some must-know tips in this post. For instance, some writers run their giveaways for 2 weeks, 2 months, even a year. But Emlyn suggests experimenting with running it for just a few days. Why? Because GR organizes the Giveaways in four categories: Ending Soon, Most Requested, Popular Authors, and Recently Listed. You won’t make Most Requested or Popular Authors; the first is simply by the numbers and dominated by writers who have listed their Giveaway for a year; the second is topped by trad pub authors (George R.R. Martin, Nicholas Sparks, etc.) and you don’t stand a chance. But with a 2 or 3 day Giveaway, you’ll automatically be the other two filters for the duration of your promotion.
- Another tip from the article: If you do the two- or three-day Giveaway, however, but don’t know that GR doesn’t run giveaways on the weekend–just when you might (intuitively) think it would be a good idea to run one—you’ll be sabotaging your own promotion. Read the article!
- Plan ahead. Since the dates of the Giveaway are up to you, combine it or overlap with any other promotion you’ve got: interviews, other giveaways, blog posts, polls or surveys, etc.
- You’ll want your social media in place and ready to go before your Giveaway gets going: Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Stumbleupon, Reddit, etc. are all good ways of getting the word out. Change your email and forum signatures temporarily to promote the dates of your Giveaway. (I say forum signatures because one sneaky tip is that many forums make use of dynamic signatures that link back to a current signature file to matter what the date of the post. That means that if you change your signature file today, all forum posts you’ve made in the past as well as ones you make right now will reflect the new signature file. If you belong to a busy forum with lots of users checking past posts, this is free, up-to-date advertising…if you’re active enough on that forum.)
- Cultivate your presence on Goodreads. Since you can make Friends and join interest Groups on GR, it pays to expand your network there in general and, obviously, when you want your Giveaway to make a big splash. I’m still working on this one myself, but I know most of my 25 or so GR friends signed up for my Giveaway. If I’d just had 500 friends… Robin Sullivan of the blog Write2Publish has a great series on cultivating Goodreads relationships. Start the series here.
- Goodreads shows you the profiles of everyone who has entered your Giveaway as the promotion proceeds. The thumbnail of each person shows the number of books they’ve put on their shelf (semi-important) but, even better, how many friends they have (very important). While GR frowns upon friend-spamming, there’s nothing wrong with sending a “thanks” message to the better-connected people, sending a few friend requests, and generally being chummy.
I set my Giveaway to run for 3 days, from April 11 – 13. Unlike an Amazon KDP Select “sale”, the exact times are not under your control; they begin and end as GR gets to approving your Giveaway. I offered just one AUTHOR AUTOGRAPHED copy.
In this short time, I was near the top of both lists for most of the time and attracted a whopping 528 people to the promotion, which I thought was great. Promotions that have been running for an entire year are in the 5,000 range, which means my ratios are better. And I can run my promotion several more times (Emlyn Chand suggests GR doesn’t want to see titles older than 6 months in the Giveaway list, but there are no limits to the promotion that I’ve seen, though I imagine GR will clamp down on you if you daisy-chain dozens of 3-day Giveaways together).
My lucky winner has yet to be picked by GR (they take up to 24 hours to pick the winner). I’ll be autographing the copy (with a personalized message, of course), including a letter gently requesting a review on Amazon and Goodreads, and wrapping the whole thing in the nicest paper I can find. Depending on the cost, I plan to ship it using the fastest option possible; there’s no reason to stint on cost for a single copy and the extra “customer service” should make a good impression, or at least a better one than if I dumped in a padded envelope and sent it 3rd class mail.
While there will only be one winner and 527 disappointed souls, the name of the game is exposure. Hopefully the Giveaway has introduced me to half-a-thousand people who had never heard of me or my book before. Subsequent Giveaways should reinforce this exposure. I may get residual likes, GR Friend requests, put on “to be read” lists, and sales. The lucky winner will hopefully write a stunning review of the book and I can probably safely put them on my Friends list.
That’s it for this time around. I hope my experience has helped. I’ll make updates to this post as/if it evolves into something good. Please share your own thoughts and experiences in the Comments!