As an indie author, you can find a growing number of options for running book giveaways, but you’ll need to choose carefully to stay on the positive side of the ledger.
Give them away? Giving away books you’re trying to sell may seem counterintuitive, and it doesn’t work equally well for everyone. Some authors have reported sending books to people who enter every contest to win a free book, so in some cases they’re not connecting with actual interested readers. One book giveaway analysis said, “Anecdotal evidence suggests giveaways attract contest junkies: those who enter everything and do not discriminate. There was the one somewhat infamous example of an author whose Swedish-language book was won by someone who didn’t read Swedish.”
But many indie authors have used giveaways successfully to generate book reviews, especially on Amazon, and to prime buyer interest in the title. Marketing expert and BookWorks blogger Penny Sansevieri has described giveaways as one of the best ways to raise interest in a new book, and “in fact, I have done pre-publication giveaways that have really helped to spike success and reviews on the site, she says.”
You have at least three distinct widely used approaches to choose from.
One, the oldest, is based at Goodreads, the reader-author site that first tried book giveaways on a large scale.
The books you give away there have to be print books, not eBooks, so you’ll have printing and shipping costs. You can choose how many books to give away (interest tends to grow with the number of free books) and how long the contest runs, and arrange the shipping yourself. When it’s over, Goodreads picks at random and sends you a list of winners, and you send the books to them. You can contact these winners with a note (just once, when you send the book); many gently suggest the reader provide a review. Some do, some don’t. Goodreads has estimated review follow-through on about 60 percent of free giveaway books.
You have flexibility in timing and targeting the giveaway. It can start even before your book is released, or long afterward. You also can limit the giveaways to groups or geographical areas.
In July Amazon (which now owns Goodreads) announced it would offer its own giveaway program as well. The setup is similar to Goodreads, but more fully in-house. That means, for example, Amazon handles book shipping itself (though you’re billed for the book and the costs). It also designates the winners differently from Goodreads, either declaring the first respondents as winners, or winners being every 10th (or whatever number) person to respond. Like Goodreads, you determine the number of books given away, and at Amazon the contest ends when all of those books are won – which can be in a matter of minutes or hours, or much longer. Responsibility for publicizing or advertising the giveaway lies with the author.
Watch the costs and procedure closely. Since Goodreads lets you manage the shipping to winners, you can ship for the publishers’ print on demand book cost, while Amazon requires you to buy each of those books at regular retail price, which is much higher.
Goodreads also gives you more flexibility in how long the contest runs, and how much visibility it generates. Some authors have run contests there as long as several months to milk the exposure. You lose that control with Amazon.
Here’s the third option: If you were planning to use your own social media and other contacts to push the giveaway anyway, why not run it yourself? You can do that through a site called Rafflecopter, which many large companies producing all kinds of products also use for giveaways. (Its web site says it has run 325,681 giveaways in the last year.) It offers a free option, and more expansive services ($13 or $84 a month) for a fee. You get a widget that can be embedded on your website and integrated with Facebook and Twitter. When people respond, you can collect their email addresses, which is highly useful for marketing down the road. You can also require participants to sign up for your author newsletter or follow your social media to enter the contest. Rafflecopter picks the winner or winners, but it does so when you ask it to.
Unlike the other two options, you can give away eBooks or, for that matter, anything else you want. It’s the least expensive giveaway option.
The downside may be that your book giveaway isn’t associated with a more known brand like Amazon or Goodreads and some people may be a little more reluctant to participate. How much response you get depends entirely on you.
Think through your options carefully. But do consider giveaways as a way to drive up interest in your book. It was very successful when authors first started trying it a year or so ago, and it still works well for many self-publishers.