I got into a discussion with a more successful author than myself once, about publicity and advertising. He insisted that giving books away had gotten him much of his success. There was some misunderstanding, because I was pointing out that I'd put Old Habits up for free online and told people about it. I moved over 200 copies in three days, but got zero reviews from it and in the end sales didn't move at all. Basically I'd blown 200 free sales for nothing.
However, he had a point about giving books away. He'd carry copies around and hand them to people (signed) if they seemed interested in his kind of writing. They'd loan it out or tell others, or sell to a used bookstore or something and someone else would get a copy. That helped spread the word.
If I had enough money to buy books, I'd do that kind of thing too. But there's another sort of giveaway I have found useful and I wanted to share my experiences and observations about the process.
So far I've done two giveaways on Goodreads. Each time its been the same: I offer two signed print copies of my novel, and run it for about a week. Both times, I've seen sales go up. On Goodreads, they handle everything regarding publicizing the giveaway, randomly selecting winners, and so on, so its pretty painless to set up.
The first time it was my fantasy novel Old Habits. By setting this up, I ended up with over 1000 people signing up to win the book, plus about 400 who added the book to their "want to read" lists. In the time period of the giveaway sales started to tick up, and following it I had more sales not just of Old Habits, but of all three of my novels.
The second giveaway was even more successful. I set up one for Life Unworthy, the historical supernatural horror novel, and it did really well. Exactly 1500 people signed up, and over 600 added the book to their "want to read" lists. Sales went up even more, with the best month of sales in my life following the giveaway.
The lessons I learned from this experience were:
- Its virtually free advertising (roughly 30 bucks for the first and around $50 for the second, since I had to ship one to England).
- You get lots of free eyeballs on your product by giving just a few copies away
- People will remember and buy your book even if they don't win
So in all, I really do suggest this as an option for cheap publicity and an easy way to reach out to readers.
So how do you do it? Well, as I said, Goodreads takes care of most of the tough stuff. They have a handy interface that you just fill in various blanks with the necessary info, so all you have to do is know your own information.
Now, Goodreads allows you to give away as many books as you choose, for as long as you want, but here are a few pointers that I studied on and have found worked well for me.
Since Goodreads puts your book on the "new giveaway" page for the first couple days, and the "about to end giveaway" page on the last couple days, that's your maximum publicity window. The time in between your book is pretty well buried by all the other dozens or even hundreds going on at the moment. Therefore, you're better off with a shorter giveaway than a long one, so you can maximize the time your book is seen in those high publicity times. A long giveaway doesn't really help you get any more notice.
Also, most people tend to have money available to spend and buy things with at the beginning and end of the month. That means if you want to increase visibility and possible sales of your other books, and to entice buyers who don't want to wait for a giveaway, target those time periods. I'm actually doing my next giveaway in the middle of the month to see if there's any difference, but its worth considering.
People will also, according to online studies, tend to shop more on the weekends than during the week day. So targeting the weekends for your start and finish will put your book in front of more eyeballs when they're more inclined to spend.
I recommend small numbers given away. It doesn't really even seem to matter how many you give away in terms of interest and publicity, but more books = more cost for you. Buying and shipping 2 or 3 books isn't too bad, but 10 is pretty expensive.
You can choose what countries are eligible, and the list is huge. I simply chose them all. I don't know exactly how the system works, but I suspect they won't show your books in giveaways to countries with separate languages and internet setups if you skip those. So why not? The last one I did, some woman from England won. Expensive to ship, but now someone in the UK has my book!
By giving away a few copies of your book, you basically are buying advertising on Goodreads for the cost of just a couple of them shipped out. People will specifically and deliberately go to that page to see what's out there, and sign up. Why not? It costs them nothing, and if they win, hey free book!
Plus, a giveaway is fresh activity from you as an author, which means you can tell people about it on your mailing list, social media, blog, etc. And that's another advantage, because if you have nothing new to say, nobody cares about your repeated old stuff or just saying hi. But news is interesting.
So... give it a shot. I have my third giveaway for Snowberry's Veil showing up tomorrow. Unfortunately, the new cover which it showed when I set it up and days after, now has reverted to the oldest cover, which is very frustrating. I'm working with Goodreads to fix that.