GoodReads changed their Kindle giveaway system at the end of 2017 to a new, paid system that replaced the older free system. This created some new opportunities, but also invalidated much of the information online about what authors can expect from running a giveaway.
The following article describes my experiences with the service in early 2018, in the hope it will be of use to anyone who is “on the fence” about running a giveaway.
At the start of 2018, I was already well on my way to the publishing of my second book (out soon folks!), and I wanted to do a bit more work to promote the first in the series. I weighed up a few options, such as some paid advertising and posting in various places, but in the end, I thought I might try something via GoodReads…
So a bit of background. I originally published The Scissors and the Sword in late 2015, and back then, while authors could create GoodReads pages and an “author” status existed for profiles on the service, it was very hostile to self-published authors. People were fine with the idea of you being there, having a profile, listing your books – but people did not take kindly to authors marketing their books via the service.
This is fair, really, as if they weren’t careful about this, the service could be ruined by authors “badgering” the userbase and creating spam.
However, it seems like in the intervening years, this attitude has softened. The service is now more welcoming as long as you abide with the rules and generally follow Wheaton’s law (“don’t be a dick”).
Changes to the system
GoodReads changed their giveaway system at the end of 2017.
Previously, it was free for authors to run Kindle giveaways, and there seemed to be fewer restrictions. On the one hand, being free saves on your marketing budget.
On the other hand, though, it meant that there were an enormous number of “free” books available at any one time via the service, which is actually a bad thing. Having too many books makes it difficult for readers to sift through the material (“paralysis of choice” comes into this).
Additionally, and I’ll be diplomatic here, having a charge will prevent some authors from listing stuff that could be sub-par – if you have to pay, you’re probably only going to list things in which you have some degree of faith. This of course doesn’t mean that a payment guarantees quality, but I at least think it’ll give people pause for thought.
Some may baulk at the idea of paying to give your book away for free, but you have to consider a few things:
- The recipients are 100 GoodReads readers. These are people who are active readers, with a strong genre preference. They’re also likely to leave reviews.
- How much would it cost you to find 100 readers via advertising? Probably more than the cost of the giveaway service.
With this system having just changed like this and with the self-publishing blogosphere divided over it, it seemed a good time to “jump in” and give it a try.
How the new system works
The giveaway system has two tiers; a cheaper one (approx 120$) and a more expensive one (approx 400$).
The cheaper one only allows you to give away up to 100 copies (you can choose fewer if you wish).
The expensive one allows for more options in terms of duration/number of copies, and it also lists your book prominently on the GoodReads “featured giveaway” pages (the cheaper one does not do this).
Once the giveaway is active, you can link people to it via practically any means, so Twitter, your blog…
There’s no limit to the number of people that can sign up. If more sign up than there are copies, GoodReads picks the winners at random (it is believed that this is weighted slightly towards people who have expressed a like of your book’s genre, rather than truly random).
However a side-benefit of this is that when people enter, the book gets added to their “to-read” shelf. This is important as their friends on the service will see this, and even if they don’t win, they might come back to buy the book later if they see others giving it good reviews.
One more thing: right now, the giveaways are only open to USA residents. This also means all of your entrants must be part of the Venn diagram that overlaps “US resident”, “Kindle customer” and “GoodReads member”, which narrows things down somewhat.
My giveaway for The Scissors and the Sword ran from January 28th to February 11th 2018, so 2 weeks. 100 copies were to be given away upon completion.
As always with promotion, it’s important to have an aim, otherwise you’re firing blind. I had three aims:
- Get one of my books onto as many people’s GoodReads shelves as possible, as I had done very little before this point with the service
- Gain some readers of book 1 in the hope that would improve sales of book 2
- Gain USA market readers, as this can be quite difficult for UK authors
This last one was quite important, as my readers have historically been UK-focused. This is mainly because I have performed much better while selling paperbacks at live events than in selling Kindle versions online.
Getting the word out
I used the following methods:
- A number of tweets over 2 days which would later be used for Twitter ads
- A Facebook post on my page, which would later be used as an ad
- A post on Tumblr timed to maximise visibility for the American market (so 2am my time)
- A post on the ShamelessPlug subreddit
- A post on this blog
- A mailshot to my mailing list
Unfortunately GoodReads does not give me a breakdown of how people navigated to the site, so I have no way of breaking down the effectiveness of these methods. That being said, I believe that the Twitter and Tumblr posts were the most useful unpaid, and the Facebook ad was the most useful paid due to prior trends in their use.
The giveaway itself cost 59$ (as GoodReads was running a special introductory offer), which was using the cheaper tier – normally that would be $119.
During the giveaway, I ran ads both on Twitter and Facebook. The ads used variants of this asset:
In total, the ads cost £15 on Facebook and £20 on Twitter (approx $47). Collectively this resulted in around 600 clicks to the giveaway page, and when I stopped the ads, I had just reached over 100 giveaway entrants after several days.
Note that this is a click-through-rate of around 6p per click. This was quite good. Using Twitter and FB’s targeting, I was able to target users who were both Kindle users and expressed a like for Urban Fantasy or one of the more prolific uf authors, books or series. Experiment to get this right as it’ll make a huge difference.
It is impossible for me to know quite how effective these were (as I don’t know how many people would’ve visited regardless) but I believe they were significant, as they boosted the rate at which I received entrants at the start of the campaign.
So in terms of costs, we’re talking around $106 or £77.
The giveaway hit 100 entrants after about 3 days, which was my target. After that, I disabled my ads.
Despite the lack of ads, the giveaway hit ~170 entrants as we went into the last 24 hours. Bear in mind what I said above about how when entering giveaway, entrants would place the book on their “to read” shelf, meaning that some users will have found the page organically.
The charts GoodReads gives aren’t the best, but you can see here the initial spike over several days to get the 100 entrants that I believe was fuelled by the online ads. Then there are a few entrants afterwards, once the ads were disabled, which I put down to organic discovery. Finally there’s a huge spike near the end (see below).
Then, things changed. Apparently GoodReads has an “ending soon” boxout which appears for giveaways, meaning many of them spike near their end. In the last day, the giveaway went from those ~170 entrants to ~320 entrants.
I was very pleased with this result.
It has now been over 2 weeks since the end of the giveaway, and here’s a quick update.
Unfortunately the results are not good. The book has been added to the “to-read” list of around 3 additional people since the end of the giveaway (though this happens occasionally anyway, so isn’t really attributable).
However, there have been no additional reviews or ratings on GoodReads or Amazon, and no additional sales (again, the book sells occasional copies on Amazon with zero promo work, so what I mean is that there has been no meaningful change).
Of course, it has only been just over 2 weeks, so it’s reasonable to think that many of the 100 winners just may not have gotten around to reading the book yet. Still, perhaps I was naive but I had hoped for 1 or 2 keen people out of that 100 who might get to it right away.
It’s now May 2019, so over a year since the giveaway, and ultimately, while the book has garnered some reviews and sales in the intervening 12 months, it’s difficult to attribute any of this to the giveaway.
Of course, it would be wrong to attribute this entirely to the giveaway system; it may be, for example, that if you write a book which benefits heavily from a giveaway approach, you might still do quite well.
However, it hasn’t really moved the needle all that much with my readers or sales.
Remember first-off that this experience cost me around $107.
Revisiting my aims, it’s at least true that the book found its way onto the GoodReads shelves of approximately 300 potential readers. This at least was a reasonable success.
However, the other aims were about trying to get some engaged readers from the promotion, and in this regard, so far, this has not been successful (in fact it has been a complete waste). There is no evidence at this point that any of the winners actually read the book, which feeds into one of the reasons that I rarely give my books away for free – that many people would take a book for free but not actually read it.
I will not be using the system again in isolation; however, I may still use it as part of an ad-stack, alongside many other approaches, to try and blitz PR for my next book. It certainly isn’t a magic bullet (not that I thought it would be; my expectations were realistic).
It comes down to it being approx 100$, and thinking about the other ways I could spend that. It’s not a lot in advertising terms, but could buy a decent chunk of Amazon ads, and I suspect that’s where I’ll funnel my cash the next time around.
Thanks for reading this! If you liked this post or found it useful, please follow me or join my mailing list!