Novel Marketing through Goodreads Giveaways

Note: I originally published this as a two-part series, but wanted to join it together and update some of the info. Enjoy!

In previous posts, I’ve often taken a generally dismissive attitude toward social media marketing. In summary of those points, I would say that social media can be a minor aid in building your author/novel brand, or it can be a moderate help in staying connected to an existing fanbase. But that’s about as far as it goes.

I’ve also pointed out that, of the major social media platforms, Goodreads has the greatest general potential for reaching fans, both new and old. Of course, when used properly for certain genres, other platforms would potentially hold greater value (e.g. using Pinterest to highlight images from a graphic novel). But, for the purposes of this post, I’m only concerned with novel marketing.

And now that I’ve used Goodreads extensively for giveaways, I have some great data to share with you readers.

The Good

Giveaways always seem to provide a strong benefit. This would, of course, depend on the quality of your book, its cover, and its synopsis, as well as the traffic of the site offering the giveaway. Still, all things being equal, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that a giveaway will yield better results than other marketing methods. In fact, when compared to the effort and resources required, giveaways have been my greatest source of positive feedback and growth of fanbase for Things Grak Hates.

That being said, please keep in mind that my book has a quality design and that the giveaways were for hardcover copies. Also, my high quality, hardcover book sat among numerous paperback books with covers that lacked a professional touch. Additionally, many readers have related that the title and synopsis did an excellent job of grabbing their attention, so this helped in attracting participants. And most importantly, these giveaways were on a site devoted to a love of books that likely receives a staggering number of users each day.

Needless to say, my giveaways went extremely well. I ran twenty-five of them, mostly so I could test different days, seasons, and durations. My book was usually the most popular when adjusting for duration. In fact, it was the most popular on several occasions, even when compared to giveaways lasting months longer. So, I’m chalking that up as a resounding success.

And in all of this, I found several interesting details about giveaways on Goodreads. Please note that this would not necessarily translate to other giveaway sites, though simple logic could inform us as to which points actually do transfer well.

Positive points of interest:

  • Short giveaways proved the best. In nearly every situation, the shortest possible giveaway yielded the best results. Of course, by stretching some of my giveaways out over several days, it did keep my book on the giveaway list over a longer period overall, but I consider that relatively unimportant. Of greatest importance is that every time I stretched a giveaway out for more than the minimum two days, each additional day brought meager additions to the participant and to-read counts. Apply that information however you will.
  • Many top reviewers and librarians won. This was fantastic and seemed to spawn greater interest in my book. Perhaps the giveaway algorithm is weighted to help folks like that, or perhaps there are just so many librarians on Goodreads that it’s only a matter of time before one or a few of them win your book. Either way, this was great.
  • Things Grak Hates has spread throughout the world. I made each of my giveaways available to all countries, and I was thrilled with the results. Some of my best reviews have come from people outside of the US, and I’ve found a number of foreign sites talking about the book. I can only assume that most of my foreign buzz was spawned by these giveaways. One important element, however, is that shipping was very expensive. Take that into account however you will.
  • A lot of people added Things Grak Hates to their to-read shelf. The number peaked at over 3,500 at one point. Of course, there’s a bad side to this too, and I’ll mention that in my next post on the subject.
  • 50% of the winners left reviews. I managed to get around 50% of the winners to leave reviews. I did this by sending them a thank-you note for participating and adding another handwritten note to the book when I sent it out. Most of those reviews were positive, so that was fantastic.

The Bad and The Ugly

  • Compulsive entrants. The worst part of Goodreads giveaways are the compulsive entrants. As it turns out, many people show interest simply for the sake of winning a free book. I’ve found people online casually discussing how they entered a giveaway (and subsequently won) for a book that they had no intention of reading in a genre that they have no interest in. This is bad. Very bad. I brought up the topic with Goodreads, but they were dismissive, so it stands to reason that they don’t want to rock the boat on what’s working so-so for them. That’s a shame, but it’s to be expected of large companies (Goodreads was purchased by Amazon in 2013).
  • Plenty of half-hearted entrants. I’ve encountered a number of them in my own experiences and have heard tales from others. While the half-hearted entrants aren’t quite as bad as the compulsive ones, that isn’t saying much. These types will enter a giveaway because the colors on the cover piqued their interest. They’ll read the synopsis and understand it as something they don’t normally read, and yet they’ll still decide to enter the giveaway, thinking that it might be good for them to try something new. Of course, since they’re half-hearted about it, that new thing turns out to have the exact flavor one would expect: different. You’re tempted to think, “Well, at least they tried it,” but you’re wrong. If they hadn’t tried it, they wouldn’t have left a review. But since they did try it, they felt obligated to write something about your work. Now that I think about it, this lot might be more harmful than the compulsive entrants. At least the compulsive ones don’t bother reviewing your story.
  • To-reads drop drastically once giveaways have ended. As I’ve already mentioned, users that added Things Grak Hates to their to-read shelves topped out at over 3,500. This is great. But, since many people added it casually while entering the giveaway, and since many of those entrants were compulsive or half-hearted, that number has dropped drastically. In fact, the true number likely would have been over 5,000 by my estimate, but many people dropped out in between or during giveaways, so it’s difficult to gather hard data on the matter.
  • Accidental / troll ratings. I’ve encountered several confirmed accidental ratings and have heard of rampant troll ratings. This is possibly the worst part of doing a giveaway on a site with such high visibility as Goodreads. Accidental ratings can be either good or bad, and I suspect that I’ve received both. Since Goodreads makes it too easy to rate a book without also leaving a review, accidental ratings abound. Since I was doing a lot of giveaways that received a lot of attention, I likely encountered more accidental ratings than might normally occur. Once again, I brought up the matter with Goodreads, and they were dismissive, so it stands to reason that they don’t want to rock the boat on what’s working alright for them. That’s a shame, but it’s to be expected of large companies.
  • Goodreads’ rating system is silly. As much as I hate Amazon, they get ratings right. In a five-star rating system, a three should not mean that you liked the product. Unfortunately, that’s what it means on Goodreads. Since some people know this and others don’t, I’ve found that a four-star rating doesn’t necessarily mean four stars.

In summary, better targeting of winners would be appreciated. Also, making it slightly harder to leave accidental or troll reviews would be a splendid addition to their system. Unfortunately, Goodreads’ support is severely lacking, and they don’t seem to care one iota about author concerns.

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