20 million members. 570 million books.
No doubt about it: Goodreads is the premier website for book-lovers, turning reading– a normally solitary action– into a community-based, social media experience. But Goodreads has also become an important destination for authors looking to promote their work and connect with readers. With the Goodreads author program, writers are given the (free) opportunity to create a unique author page, connect with fans, share their favorite books, and promote their work through paid advertising and book giveaways.
Book giveaways are a specifically popular option for authors, for several reasons.
1. The “To Read” Shelf
When Goodreads users add a title to their “To Read” shelf, it announces– to friends and any other connected users– their intention to read the book. As such, landing on readers’ To Read shelves quickly and easily increases a book’s visibility. As an example: within 24 hours of my giveaway for The Night Also Rises going live, 128 people had requested copies, and 53 people added it to their To Read shelf, without any other advertising or promotion whatsoever. Not a bad bit of exposure!
Now, seller beware: seeing readers who intend “To Read” your book can be exciting, but the turnover on this is far from 100%. Upon entering giveaways, a lot of users automatically add the book to their To Read shelf. If they don’t win that free copy, there’s no guarantee they’re going to buy it. And, hey, who am I to judge? The real-life To Read shelf in my house is heavy enough to crush diamonds. The point is, don’t be disappointed if Good-readers’ good intentions don’t immediately translate into good sales.
2. Sales (duh!)
Giving your book away is a good source of exposure. Exposure leads to interest, and interest– if you’re lucky– leads to sales.
It’s surprisingly easy to forget sometimes that the endgame of a marketing campaign is to sell your stuff. (What a novel idea– pun most certainly intended.)
For creative individuals, marketing can sometimes sound like a dirty word. Writers naturally want to get the word out about a book, but for some, the idea of promoting their own work seems shamelessly self-serving. (Overheard: “I won’t push it down anybody’s throat. It speaks for itself!”) If you’re one of these people, take a deep breath and repeat after me: “My work has value.”
3. The Prospect of Reviews
One of the big selling-points of the Goodreads giveaway program is the prospect of gaining reviews from the winning users. According to Goodreads, readers who receive a book for free are more likely to write a review, and– as we all know– new authors are just dying for reviews.
Now, I purposefully saved this one for last, as it is a widely-accepted theory among self-publishers that good reviews translate into sales. This is a notion about which I am more than a little skeptical…
Personally, when shopping for a book, I read the description, and then I read an excerpt. Very rarely do I read customer reviews. Maybe I’m just weird, but the personal preferences of others don’t play much of a role in my own.
Anybody with the ability to press “Send” can be a critic; not all of them are worth placing stock in– or even acknowledging. Customers who take it as a personal affront when authors neglect their every want and whim are more than happy to tell the world all about it. (Over 10% of Amazon customer reviews for The Catcher in the Rye– widely accepted by critics as one of the greatest books of the 20th century– are 1-star reviews.)
Many writers crave reviews, but it really isn’t much of an objective for me. As a reader, I rarely read reviews, and as a writer, I absolutely refuse to beg, plead or pay for them. (For God’s sake, please don’t pay for reviews. It’s just sad.) Great reviews may help you gain exposure, but great content is the only thing that really sells.
To Give… Or Not to Give?
In the end, Goodreads will randomly draw the giveaway winners. It is then the responsibility of the person running the giveaway to get books into the winners’ hands. Authors are allowed to give away as few as a single book, but Goodreads recommends you do at least 10. I’m currently giving away 10 free copies of The Night Also Rises, over the course of a 1-month contest. We’ll see how it goes!
As with any marketing campaign, the Goodreads giveaway program carries risks. Your quest for reviews might backfire, resulting in nauseating, single-star heartbreaks. And, of course, you run the risk of not gaining enough return on your investment (the cost of printing all those books you’re handing out). But if all goes well, mayhap it is truly better to give than to receive.