Love 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?
Goodreads 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!
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!
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