Welcome! This post is primarily for other authors who are interested in giving away free copies of their books. The goal of a giveaway (or at least my hope) is that you give away a few copies, maybe get a few ratings and reviews, or at least get a bunch of people to see your book (and hopefully become interested in purchasing a copy). I’ll confess I’m not the best marketer on the planet. I’m more interested in creating a great product and don’t like spending hours or days trying to get people as excited as I am about it. Running a giveaway at Goodreads is easy, but it does cost money. The question any marketer would ask is: what kind of return do you get for the money invested? I’m going to try to answer that. At the very least, maybe someone can take the raw numbers below and provide the answers I can’t figure out. Like I said above, this post is primarily intended to inform other indie authors about these giveaways, but anyone who is curious about the financial breakdown of doing a Goodreads giveaway should read on.
I did not keep very good records of what it cost to run last year’s giveaway for Scribings, Vol 4: Miscreations, but this year I was pretty meticulous every step of the way. Part of this is because I’m trying to figure out the best approach, and part is because I like breaking things down into numbers. My hope is that this helps other authors with their giveaways. Maybe we can all figure out better ways to promote our books.
As I just mailed out the winning copies today, I have all sorts of numbers to share… For starters, this post is over 2,500 words long. Sorry.
About Goodreads Giveaways
Simply put, when you create a giveaway, you announce your intention to give a certain number of copies of your book to people, free of charge. You select the start and end date of the giveaway, and when it completes, Goodreads provides you with a list of winners. The book has to be a physical copy—no ebooks allowed.
There are some special rules with all this. You aren’t allowed to contact the winners. You aren’t supposed to put extra marketing materials in the package you send. You aren’t supposed to keep their names and addresses, or put them on a mailing list, or anything else like that. Honestly, those are all things that would make me feel… well, dirty. So I was attracted to the idea just based on those rules. If it’s the kind of contest I’d be comfortable entering, then it’s the kind of contest I’d be comfortable running. I get the list of winners, write their addresses on the envelopes, and put the book inside. Pop it in the mail and I’m done.
People who enter giveaways are getting an equal chance at one of the prizes. You can give away as many copies as you want. In fact, Goodreads recommends you give away as many as you can afford to. Last year, we gave away six copies of Scribings 4 (one per author). This year, we started to give away eight copies of Scribings 5. Then I decided to try an international giveaway. I know there are many people all over the world who speak and read English, so why exclude them? I wrote about this about a week ago. I created a second giveaway that ran for one week, to give an additional two copies to winners anywhere in the world except the United States. I knew it would not be cheap, but I feel it was worth the cost to see exactly what would happen.
The number of entrants is interesting. Some giveaways attract thousands of entries; some only a few. We appear to be somewhere in the mid-range. Last year’s Scribings 4 giveaway had 425 entries (later adjusted to 413 by Goodreads). This year, Scribings 5 had a total of 794 entries between the two contests.
Domestic vs International
This year’s giveaway from Scribings 5 had 433 entries. It ran from July 24th until August 24th. What I found interesting was that the international giveaway, which started about three weeks later on August 17th, shot up to 361 entries very quickly. In fact, the international giveaway shot past the domestic one in about ten hours! I did not follow the domestic one very closely at first, but once I started the international giveaway, I checked the numbers every day.
So is there a big difference in catering to this international audience? That’s tough to say. Yes, our international giveaway only received 361 entries, which is fewer than both the domestic giveaway and last year’s giveaway. But in the case of domestic giveaways, those international readers would never even see the contest at all. They may not have seen the book, or my profile, or my company at all. There’s no way for me to know if any of those people will ever purchase one of my books, but at least now there’s a chance.
The international giveaway ended on August 23rd, and the domestic one ended the 24th. From the beginning, the international giveaway got a lot more attention and entries. Then, in the final hours of the domestic giveaway, it gained another 200 entries and ended up winning. Why does this happen? In short, that’s the way Goodreads promotes your giveaway. There are a few tabs on the giveaway screen. They go out of their way to promote two types of giveaways: new ones, and soon-to-finish ones.
So why does Goodreads recommend running a giveaway for an entire month?
Just look at the chart and you can see that following that advice is not to your advantage. You get initial entries, then the whole thing just sort of sits there. The most activity is at the beginning and end of the contest. Their advice is to give away as many copies as possible and run the contest for at least a month. My recommendation is to ignore their advice. Give away no more than 1-2 copies at a time, and set up several giveaways that are no more than 5-7 days long each.
First and foremost, is the book itself. But not just the book, you also have to pay to have the book shipped. In my case, I ordered a box of books that would be used in this giveaway, but also had other copies for the authors to purchase, and copies I supplied to a local bookstore for tomorrow’s launch party. The more copies you order, the lower the cost of shipping per-unit. From what I’ve seen there’s a sweet spot around 30 books. One book costs about $3.60 to ship. 30 books cost $18 (60 cents per). 60 books costs $27 (45 cents per).
Note that this means I’m essentially paying to ship the book twice. I know that. But when I fill out the Goodreads giveaway, I specifically note that the books will be autographed by all the authors. I really don’t know if that’s important to the winners. I just know it’s important to me, so I do it.
The next piece of the cost equation is the envelope. I purchased a package of 25 padded envelopes at Sam’s Club for $7.98 (these ones). With tax, that comes to about 34 cents per envelope. I chose the 8.5″x11″ envelopes to make sure there was enough room inside for a 6×9 paperback. Even the slightly larger Scribings 4 fit with room to spare. You could probably put a 6×9 paperback of up to 350 pages in this envelope. Perhaps bigger. There’s certainly room for a second smaller paperback. I assumed the 6×9 bubble mailer would be too small to fit the book. Either way, for 34 cents I figure it’s not worth trying to save a few pennies with a smaller envelope.
Domestic shipping cost was identical regardless of destination. We live and work in Maine, and had winners in Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Louisiana, Ohio, Alabama, and Minnesota. For Scribings 4, we had winners in Maine, Indiana, New York, Michigan, Texas, and Tennessee. It doesn’t matter. Sending an 11 ounce book in the above padded envelope to any destination in the continental US costs $2.72. Yes, even sending it to the Maine address that is only about 84 miles away. Granted, I do pay a little extra to get a tracking number, but that’s because I want to ensure people get their prizes. I can’t send them a message requesting they let me know when it arrives, and can’t include a special instruction like that in the package, since doing either violates Goodreads’ terms of service. So I get a tracking number.
International shipping was more expensive, of course. Not only that, but even sending to the winner in Canada required filling out a customs form. What surprised me was the cost. Shipping to Ontario Canada from Maine cost $10.30. The other winner was in Poland. I expected that to cost about $15, and it ended up costing $16. Certainly not cheap… it’s actually more in shipping cost than the book’s list price! The customs form number works as a tracking number for the package I sent to Canada… as for the one sent to Poland, I have no way to know if it makes it, unless the winner sends me a message or writes a review.
In a way, I was sort of lucky to have winners in Canada and Poland. The winners could have been even further away. I imagine shipping to some countries would be over $20 per book.
Now, it should be possible for me to purchase my own book in another country and have it shipped directly to the winner. I could, for instance, buy the book at Amazon in Australia, or Europe, or the UK. It would not be a signed copy, but shipping should be less expensive. Obviously, you can’t say in the giveaway that the book will be autographed if you intend to do this. But it is something to consider.
So the total cost? Giving away 10 copies in this giveaway, including the cost of the padded envelopes, cost us $51.46. Note that that doesn’t include the cost of the books themselves. Authors should know the printing cost of their books. Shipping prices can fluctuate depending on how many copies you buy at a time. So that’s something you can calculate on your own. I don’t know how much the weight of the book will affect the shipping cost. Scribings 5 weighs about 11 ounces. I imagine an ounce more or less won’t affect shipping cost that much.
One thing I gather from reading the Goodreads giveaway terms page, advice, and user forums is that you tend to get about a 10% review rate. Most of the people who get free books simply don’t write reviews. I’m not knocking anyone who doesn’t leave a review; I know sometimes I don’t have the time to write them, and sometimes I have nothing nice to say and decide to say nothing instead. As an author, I certainly would prefer silence in lieu of a bad review. Books, like all art, are subjective. One person’s 5-star instant-classic is another’s severe disappointment. I have no control over that.
So I was pleasantly surprised when last year’s Scribings 4 giveaway had a 50% review rate. We gave away six copies and got three very nice reviews. We were all quite pleased with that. It’s too early to see any reviews from these giveaway copies yet, but I’m hoping for at least a couple very nice reviews. As an author, I’m always interested to hear what people think of my writing.
But the fact remains that what I see on the forums is that very few people who receive free copies write reviews. So don’t expect it. And certainly don’t request it since that’s against the Goodreads giveaway rules. Just be pleasantly surprised when someone writes a review.
I’ll add a quick note here about the “to-read” list. When people enter a giveaway, Goodreads by default adds the book to their “to-read” list. There’s a checkbox you can uncheck to prevent this from happening. From what I’ve seen, roughly half the people who enter the giveaway will add the book to this list. It’s exciting, as an author, but from what I’ve seen it doesn’t mean all that much. Some people have thousands of books on their to-read lists.
I would never claim to be an expert at running giveaways, contests, promotions, or anything of the sort. But given what I’ve seen with the three giveaways I’ve run, here’s what I plan to do next time:
Instead of running one massive month-long giveaway, I plan to take advantage of the New and Ending Soon promotions. I will list 4 to 5 giveaways and run each for 5 to 7 days.
One of the powerful things about being an indie publisher is that I can target every country on the planet. I have worldwide rights to every story I publish. So instead of segregating domestic and international giveaways, I plan to run some of the giveaways world-wide. For instance, if I choose to run five giveaways for two copies each, the second and fourth will be open to the entire world. Considering the cost of mailing to Canada ($10) versus Poland ($16), it does not make sense to do a North American giveaway. Why bother? Just open it up to everyone since it really isn’t that much more expensive once you’re already shipping internationally.
International Giveaways Will Include USA
I can cut down on potential shipping costs by having a few US-only contests. However, if I include the USA in the International giveaway, I’m essentially just posting a giveaway for anyone in the world. There’s a chance to get a lot more entries, and a chance that at least one of the winners would be from the USA, which would cut down on shipping costs tremendously.
What concerns me is that attempting to do this will introduce the chance for people to enter every giveaway. It’s possible that some people will enter all of the giveaways. What happens then? Will Goodreads prevent them from entering? Can one person conceivably win in multiple giveaways for the same book?
In the end, running a giveaway is fun. It costs money, sure. I think with the cost of the books it was about $130 total. Is it worth the expense? Almost 800 people entered this year’s giveaways, and 340 have added the book to their to-read lists. There’s no way to know if any of them will purchase and read the book, but I hope at least some do. As an author, I write with the hope that people will read my stories and enjoy them.
I don’t believe there’s a way to translate 800 entries or 10 free copies into x sales or y reviews. All it means is that 800 people are now aware of our book, and our company, and at least 10 of those people will read our latest book. Beyond that, all I as an author can do is sit back and watch, and wait, and then get back to work on my next book.