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Book Marketing: How to Run a Goodreads Giveaway and Why

Headshot of Debbie YoungLove it or hate it, the website Goodreads has one indisputably useful facility for authors: the opportunity to offer a “Goodreads Giveway” to attract new readers at next to no cost, provided that you go about it in the right way. Author Advice Centre editor Debbie Young provides a quick-fire introduction to Goodreads Giveways to help decide whether to use that route to promote your self-published books.

What is Goodreads anyway?

goodreadsGoodreads is a social media website set up to bring together avid readers to share book recommendations and reviews, and to provide a forum to discuss all things bookish from the perspective of readers. It was recently acquired by Amazon but still operates separately, though the jury is out on how closely the two sites will eventually be aligned.

What is a Goodreads Giveaway?

When you set up an author profile on Goodreads (as opposed to being simply a reader member), you gain access to certain facilities such as providing an author bio, weblinks, and so on. One of these facilities is to designate a set time period in which you will give away any number of your books for free. Your entry is added to a rolling list of live draws, and the winners are selected by Goodreads. Once Goodreads notify you of the winner(s), you mail out the prizes to the winners, and the promotion ends.

What’s the point of giving away free books – doesn’t it demean the value of my work as an author?

While many authors would prefer not to give away free books, unless as a loss leader on a series, or to get an enewsletter sign-up, (and then generally in ebook form rather than print), it’s more accurate to consider the Goodreads Giveaway not so much giving your work away but paying in kind for exposure. In order to enter the draw to win your book, a reader has to add it to their “to read” list on their Goodreads profile, which theoretically exposes your books to their friends. (As with other social medias sites, members network with each other, viewing each other’s information.) Thus you’re gaining free advertising before many readers for the cost of as little as a single print book plus the cost of posting it to the winner.

Can I make it a condition of running the Giveaway that they must review it?

No, and you’re not allowed to enter into correspondence with the winner to that effect either – though some authors say they sidestep the rules by messaging them later or including a note in their book. You do that at your own peril, though – Goodreads can evict you from their site if they think you’re abusing the rules.

How many books should I give away – do I boost my chances by offering more copies?

You can offer as few as a single book. Many authors who have offered more say afterwards that there was no appreciably greater benefit in giving away more books, and that next time they’d offer only one.

What about postage – can I choose to send it only to readers in my own country, to keep the cost down?

Yes, you have complete control over the countries offered and get to choose from a drop-down list when you set it up. This makes it a great tool for targetting specific countries, e.g. if you’re in the US having trouble breaking into the UK market, you could run it only before UK readers. Make sure you’re aware before you run the draw what the postage rates for your chosen territory will be, to avoid a nasty shock at the post office counter!

SIlhouette of a man reading a book

Goodreads Giveaways can be a low-cost way to reach new readers otherwise unknown to you

Will it lead to new book reviews?

The prize draw blurb encourages winners to review any books they win, but there is no obligation. Many ALLi members who have run Goodreads Giveaways report that they’ve received no reviews as a result, though others have been luckier, gaining not only reviews but being contacted by interested readers who may not even have won the book but have been intrigued and attracted by seeing it on a friend’s reading list – and we all know how valuable word-of-mouth recommendations are.

Will it lead to sales?

There is no obvious link to sales, and anecdotal evidence is that it doesn’t show an obvious connection with increeased sales. But it will raise your book’s profile and brand awareness of you as an author by being on so many readers’ to-read lists, which is thought to affect your potential ranking in Amazon too, at least a little bit (though no-one really knows the mysteries of the algorithms!)

What are the risks?

Goodreads reviewers have a reputation of being less lenient than Amazon readers, with some authors reporting that a book with a five star average on Amazon may average four stars on Goodreads – even though some of the reviewers may be exactly the same people!

It does also have a number of trolls who either go in Giveaways with the fixed intention of selling any books they win on eBay, or who will give low star ratings out of spite when they don’t win. It’s suspicious that many readers have thousands of books on their shelves – more than they could read in a lifetime – which suggests either an unrealistic sense of their own mortality or a predilection for entering Giveaways!

If I do decide to run a Giveaway, how long should I run it for?

You can choose when to run it, and how long for, and anecdotal evidence is that it’s better to make it short and sharp e.g. for a week or two. A sense of novelty when your book appears on the “recently listed” page, and a sense of urgency when it reaches the “ending soon” page, can be helpful – similar to the pattern of interest that lots get on eBay.

You’re allowed to repeat the Giveaway, if you wish to, so you might find it more effective to run a couple of two-week Giveaways a couple of months apart than one month-long one, for example.

Will it add interest if I offer a signed copy?

It may do – or there again it may mean that it becomes a more attractive book on the resale market! Before you commit to a signed copy, be aware that doing so will oblige you to post the copy yourself, at your country’s postal rates. On the other hand, if you send an unsigned copy via Amazon, you’ll be charged only the local postal rate in the winner’s country – and if you’re on Amazon Prime, you won’t be charged postage at all.

Does it only apply to newly-launched books?

In theory, it’s meant for relatively recently launched books, and at one point it specified that your book shouldn’t have been out more than six months, but I don’t think they enforce this rigidly, as I’ve certainly run a Giveaway on a book that had been out for longer. It must be in Goodreads’ interest to have as many Giveaways as possible, because they create a good reason for members to engage with their site more frequently. When you set up your Giveaway, you are asked to input the launch date of the book you want to give away. I suspect they are flexible on this rule. If in doubt, try it, and the worst that can happen is that your request is turned down.

Can I do a Giveaway for an ebook?

At present, only print books are eligible, so no, for technical reasons, though it’s always possible that it might change in future.

What are the alternatives?

Amazon has recently introduced a Giveaway promotional offer, but it’s less established than Goodreads’ one, isn’t book-specific, and requires more input from the author in terms of promotion. It’s also worth bearing in mind that Amazon Marketplace, unlike Goodreads, makes it temptingly easy for readers to resell secondhand books!

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What has your experience been of either Goodreads or Amazon Giveaways, as an author or a reader? Please feel free to share your story via the comments box.

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19 Responses to Book Marketing: How to Run a Goodreads Giveaway and Why

  1. Lisa W May 22, 2017 at 6:48 pm #

    My experience is mixed in regards to Goodreads giveaways. The first one I did, I got a nice review. The other review I got was a poor rating/review by a reader who did not read this particular genre. And the other 4 titles I gave away got no reviews.

    I had said I would never do a Goodreads giveaway again. But decided on my last release to do it. I don’t expect a review, but this will likely be my last giveaway with Goodreads. I do it more so for exposure and expect nothing else besides that.

    Now, I’ve just done my very first Amazon giveaway so I don’t know how it will work.

  2. Karl Drinkwater November 3, 2015 at 4:49 pm #

    I think the difference in ratings between sites like Goodreads and Amazon can be down to the way they define their stars – it varies from site to site. 4 stars on Goodreads = 5 stars on Amazon if you look at the wording. My old post at http://karldrinkwater.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-ratings-game.html covers this.

    Also LibraryThing would fit in the “alternatives” section – you can give away print or e-books there. Many thanks.

  3. Warren A. Shuman July 7, 2015 at 1:57 am #

    Hello Debbie: Thanks for your excellent thoughts re: the Giveaways on Goodreads.

    I have only one hard cover copy left of my non-fiction small-business book: “How to Market Your Business in te 90s”. (A Dealer is pegging a 1996 copy at $150.00) However, I offer a PDF Acrobat copy of the 2013 sequel: “Winning Success with Assertive Marketing”, if the reader contacts me with an e-mail, and a Review of my current digital e-novels. “Body Scavengers” will be released on 7/10 .with Amazon KDP Select.

    Stay well… Warren.

  4. Penny Hunt July 6, 2015 at 7:23 pm #

    Great blog post Debbie! Thank you.

    I have an “evergreen” book that when originally published was an Amazon.com bestseller in its category. I still have about six boxes of books of Little White Squirrel’s Secret – A Special Place To Practice sitting in my office longing for a home, eager to help me with final sales.

    The book is beautifully illustrated, hard cover with jacket and still listed on Amazon.com. It was self published in 2008 but is still generating sporadic sales.

    It is a book dedicated to my severely autistic granddaughter and has been a comfort and encouragement to countless parents of autistic children, social workers and special education professionals.

    Dare I try a Goodreads Give Away?

  5. Denise Barnes July 6, 2015 at 10:24 am #

    I was really interested in your post, Debbie, and also the replies, both positive and negative. I’ve just gone through the process, giving away 5 copies. That was before I read a couple of weeks ago in ‘Let’s Get Visible’ by David Gaughran. He said the same as you, Debbie, that it makes no noticeable difference to give away more than one, so that’s what I’ll do in future.

    I did hand write a note and slipped it into each copy saying how pleased I was that they’d won, and hope they would enjoy reading it. If so, I added, I’d be so grateful for a review, and simply thanked them. I also signed each book, not even thinking about the E-Bay angle. People are awful sometimes.

    I’ll await with interest if I get any GoodReads reviews from these five and let you know!

  6. David James July 6, 2015 at 8:51 am #

    Fair comment, Debbie, on Good Reads giveaway system. Entering a book is a gamble, like writing or blogging. You just never know who will pick up on your offer. Maybe you’ll be lucky or more usually, as with any sweepstake you’ll be disappointed. I’ve done a couple and had only one brief review on GR. >I’m sure that writers of genre fiction must feel a great uplift when they find hundreds of people are interested in their free book, but most of the punters are after free books in the first place and good reading follows a long way behind.

    I have followed some of the disenchanted givers’ comment on the system (in feeds on GR) and the number of complaints is legion. Presumably the rest either are happy with the system or just accept that life like writing is a gamble. If you’re not a gambler stay away!.

  7. Darlene Elizabeth Williams July 5, 2015 at 9:53 pm #

    Debbie –

    Do you have any advice regarding nonfiction books? Would it be worth it to try this?

    My book is written for aspiring freelance writers.

    Thanks!

    • Debbie Young July 5, 2015 at 10:52 pm #

      Hi Darlene. Yes, I’d definitely give it a try for non-fiction books – I’ve done it myself with good success, in terms of getting my book on hundreds of to-read lists. Not sure it resulted in reviews, but I was happy with the increased visibility in return for the price of a book and postage. One of the books was “Sell Your Books!”, so very much a book for writers, and the other was a self-help book about living with diabetes. Good luck!

  8. Iola July 5, 2015 at 9:36 pm #

    “Goodreads reviewers have a reputation of being less lenient than Amazon readers, with some authors reporting that a book with a five star average on Amazon may average four stars on Goodreads – even though some of the reviewers may be exactly the same people!”

    There is a simple reason for that: Amazon and Goodreads have different definitions for the star ratings, and “I love it” is 5* on Amazon and 4* on Goodreads.

    So you interpret the lower GR star rating as being “less lenient”. I interpret it as more honest, because it’s from someone who doesn’t just five-star every book they read.

    • Debbie Young July 5, 2015 at 10:43 pm #

      Thanks for pointing that out, Iola – that’s an important and legitimate reason, sorry I missed it!

      I long ago gave up reviewing on Goodreads myself, though I’m high up in the Amazon UK ranking of reviewers, because I don’t enjoy using the site – it’s far too cumbersome.

      Actually I wish both sites would dispense with the star system altogether, because it’s too reductive and simplistic. I write quite long reviews generally, and hope that my words express far more than a string of stars could ever do. It’s also too easy for people to hit the wrong number of stars (I’ve done it myself once or twice but mercifully realised my error before hitting the publish button) – I’ve seen quite a few glowing reviews that were clearly meant to have more than the 1* than the reviewer has allocated!

      Thanks very much for adding to the conversation, Iola.

  9. John Yeoman July 5, 2015 at 7:27 pm #

    To be candid, Debbie, I can see no reason whatsoever to run a Goodreads Giveaway. One is obliged to print a hard-copy version and mail it wherever in the world that the prize winner lives. Even if the winner doesn’t want the book. All told, that’s a minimum $50 investment, even using CreateSpace. There’s no guarantee that anyone who enters their name in the lottery wants the book or is remotely qualified to review or buy it. Some people will enter any contest if it’s free.

    What’s in it for the author? ‘It gets my name around.’ Ho! Will anyone ever remember ‘our name’? Vanity publishing. We’d be better advised to invest $50 in printing 100 flyers then scattering them at a pop festival. Don’t you think?

    Sorry for my acerbity but I’ve been in correspondence with several debut authors, members of my writing coaching program, who’ve gone the Goodreads Giveaway route and lost their shirt. Give Goodreads a miss, is my advice.

    • Debbie Young July 5, 2015 at 10:39 pm #

      Thanks very much, John, for sharing your less positive perspective.

      I’m not sure where your $50 is coming from – does that mean you’d be producing a print copy specifically to do a promotion, and usually offer ebooks only? Either that or your books must be pricey to buy!

      Also, as I’ve mentioned in the article, you don’t have to mail the book “wherever in the world that the prize winner lives” – you can limit the Giveaway to your home territory to keep the postage costs down, if you prefer.

      You are right when you say some people will enter any contest if it’s free. And a risk of them receiving, reading and reviewing a book that they’ve only got because it’s free rather than because they positively want it (and are prepared to pay for it), is that it may not be at all the sort of book they’d usually read, so they give it a bad review.

      I must admit I’m not a great fan of Goodreads myself, despite being an avid reader and book reviewer, because I find the site too clunky and unfriendly to use, but I will occasionally do a Giveaway there.

      I hope that reading the article in conjunction with others’ experience via the comments will help our blog readers make an informed decision and that any risk they take is calculated.

      Thanks again for contributing to the conversation.

      • John Yeoman July 6, 2015 at 8:45 pm #

        Thanks, Debbie. Please forgive, again, my acerbity. My $50 estimate, for running a Goodreads Giveaway, is based on an $30 average price for producing CreateSpace copies (including 1-2 author copies), plus $10 postage costs to receive the books (even within the UK), plus up to $10 to mail a copy overseas. Okay, we might trim that cost. (Yes, we can tweak CreateSpace to mail the copies direct.) The precise figures are not important. What’s relevant is: what’s the point of going this route, which will take several hours of our time, when our pay-off might be, at best, less than the cost of a cup of coffee?

  10. Grace Brannigan July 5, 2015 at 7:13 pm #

    I have been experimenting with Goodreads giveaway for the last year with my romance books. I have over 20 books (romance, YA, picture books and art series) so it’s fairly easy to do a different book each month.

    Some months I have also had two giveaways going at the same time, one for my children’s picture books and one for romance. I recently published a new series of Mandalas, so I will be uploading the information on those books and offering paperback giveaways for that series also.

    I usually run the giveaway for an entire month, though the picture books I am experimenting with running those for the maximum time Goodreads allows, which is about 2-2.5 months. There seems to be a boost in the very beginning and then at the very end as noted above. I generally get about 600 to 1100 entries per book.

    I tried doing only a two week giveaway and I didn’t get as much of a response for some reason, so for romance I usually stick with 1 month. In the beginning I only did the US, but of late I have tried including EVERYWHERE overseas. With new postal rates, it costs almost $12 to send a book from upstate NY to anywhere overseas. (My romance books are in the 50 to 80k range).

    In the beginning I also offered 5 books with no noticeable change in the amount of entries, so now I generally do 2 copies for a giveaway. I always have people contact me via Goodreads after the giveaway ends for free paperback copies to review. I don’t send paperbacks anymore, as my experience has been reviews don’t show up. In future I will probably stick mostly to US entries only because of postal expense.

    I like Goodreads in general, but as stated above I agree that reviews can dip lower than Amazon or other places. Some can be downright, oh my gosh! And there is the ability to leave just a rating with no explanation of a review. I do wish Goodreads would have reader’s attached to the review instead of being just a button to hit, but it is what it is.

    I have seen a bump in my Amazon paperback sales for some of my titles here and overseas, but I don’t know if it’s related to Goodreads or otherwise. So at this time I intend to continue with Goodreads giveaways.

    • Debbie Young July 5, 2015 at 10:31 pm #

      Thanks, Grace, for sharing your experience in such detail – you’ve obviously gained a lot of experience, and it’s useful to point out the difference between the genres. Thanks very much for adding such helpful examples.

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