Goodreads Book Giveaways — Should Self-Published Authors Offer a Goodreads Giveaway?

Let’s face reality: book marketing is difficult.

I’ve spent over 20 years in marketing, and fiction book marketing is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Especially if you’re a self-published author or publishing through an indy publisher.

What makes it hard?

  • Competition for attention is fierce.
  • Dozens (if not hundreds) of options exist.
  • Fictional book profit margins are very low.
  • Costs can soar before you see a return.

I’m trying new fiction book marketing options all the time. And when I try them, my goal is to report back what I learned. I recently tried a new tactic in my self-published book marketing journey, the Goodreads Book Giveaway.

In this article, I’ll share the details associated with our campaign and what the results were. I’ll also share the variables that must be considered for your campaign. Before we get there, let me share the set up for our test with this giveaway campaign.

“…you would hope that a Goodreads Book Giveaway would increase sales or even get you more book reviews… but that’s a downstream goal that could require some extra work.”

Here are some things you should know:

  1. Our (Small) Team: We use a book marketing freelancer to help us out with our marketing campaigns. I have a day job and I need help when it comes to marketing my books (most of which are co-written with my co-writer Nathan Scheck). Our freelancer is a friend of mine and great at what she does, but isn’t necessarily a fiction book marketing expert. But, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, just know that you’re not alone. She and I feel overwhelmed at times, and we have over 40 years of marketing experience. But, that’s why I’m writing this article. To help you! She did help us with this Goodreads Book Giveaway.
  2. Our Self-published Book. The book we tested the giveaway with, Death of a Bounty Hunter, was essentially self-published. It was published by the Reclamation Society, which is a nonprofit independent production company that I started with Nathan. Nathan, our freelancer, and I do 100% of the publishing and marketing, so we’re essentially self-publishing.
  3. Our Timing. We ran our test during Goodreads’ Book Giveaway Month (i.e., August 2021). This is an important variable, and I’ll get to why later.
  4. The Type of Book Giveaway. With any Goodreads Book Giveaway, you have two options: (1) give away Kindle copies (up to 100), or (2) offer printed books (as many as you want to fulfill). Because Goodreads is owned by Amazon, they handle the Kindle distribution of copies to giveaway winners. But if you choose to offer printed books, you’ll have to fulfill those yourself.
  5. The Type of Giveaway Package. You also have to choose the Goodreads Book Giveaway “package” you want to purchase. Both the Kindle version and the printed book version have two options: (1) the Standard option for $119, and (2) a Premium option for $599. (I’ll explain the differences below.) In August, because it was Goodreads’ Book Giveaway Month, we did receive a discount (all publishers and authors did).
  6. Our Promotional Plan. We promoted the giveaway through social media and email, but didn’t purchase any advertising or use any other marketing channels to promote the giveaway. Everything we did was free (besides the giveaway itself).
  7. Fiction vs. Nonfiction. Our book, Death of a Bounty Hunter, is fiction. Non-fiction books are a completely different animal for many reasons. (I might need to write an entire article about it.)

Definition of Success

Let’s start by defining what “success” looks like for a Goodreads Book Giveaway. In my mind, the reasons doing a book giveaway could be:

  • Increase awareness of your book. Make more of the Goodreads users aware your book exists.
  • Increase awareness of your author profile. Introducing yourself to more Goodreads users by promoting your work.

Now, you would hope that a Goodreads Book Giveaway would increase sales or even get you more book reviews… but that’s a downstream goal that could require some extra work.

The reason I mention this is that I believe a Goodreads Book Giveaway requires additional effort in order to sell more books and get better reviews. (I’ll explain why at the end of this article.)

Cost Breakdown

The first question to ask yourself is:

How much am I willing to pay?

If you’re not guaranteed to get any book sales, does that make the Goodreads Book Giveaway untenable? It’s an important question because in my experience, it might cost you more to get better results. Let’s explore this some more so that you can see how the return on your investment needs to work.

Maybe all you’re looking to do is break even—meaning you want to get your money back, but you’re okay with not making a profit. Is that an option?

SCENARIO #1:

A fiction book (novel) using the Kindle copies option for the giveaway…

Let’s assume your book is priced at $10 and that every Kindle copy you sell gets you around $5.00. Depending on the publishing service you’re using, these numbers can vary, but let’s assume it’s somewhere close. Our book’s numbers are pretty similar for the Kindle version.

If you purchase the Standard Goodreads Book Giveaway at $119, and you want to recoup that cost, you need to sell 24 books ($119 divided by $5). If you purchase the Premium Goodreads Book Giveaway at $599, then you’ll need to sell 120 ($600 divided by $5) books to break even.

If you know your exact numbers, here’s the Kindle giveaway formula (it’s super simple even if you hate math):

[Goodreads Book Giveaway Option Price] / [Profit Per Book Sold]

*NOTE: This assumes that when people purchase, they’ll buy your Kindle version, but we had about an equal number of Kindle copies and paperback copies purchased. Our Kindle version is priced at $9.99 and our paperback version is priced at $14.99. The profit margin on both is about the same.

SCENARIO #2:

A non-fiction book using printed copies for the giveaway…

For this example, we’ll assume your book is priced at $24, and that you earn $12 for every printed book sold. And, because you’re the one that needs to do the fulfillment of the printed book, let’s pretend that each printed book costs you $7.00 to print, and that mailing each book costs $3.00 (that’s low for shipping and handling, but you can adjust as needed). We’ll also assume that you’ve chosen to give away 10 books.

If you purchase the Standard Goodreads Book Giveaway at $119, and you want to recoup that cost, you need to sell 19 books [$119 + $100 in fulfillment costs = $219. Then divide that by $12 in revenue per book sold]. If you purchase the Premium Goodreads Book Giveaway at $599, then you’ll need to sell 59 books to break even.

Here’s the slightly more complicated formula if you want to plug your own numbers in:

[Goodreads Book Giveaway Option Price] + [# of Printed Books Given Away] X ([Cost Per Printed Book] + [Fulfillment Cost]) / [Profit Per Book Sold]

Obviously, each author will have drastically different numbers based on their marketplace, topic, earnings, etc.

Standard vs. Premium Options

Now that we’ve taken a look at costs, ask yourself this:

Should I choose the Standard giveaway option ($119) or the Premium option ($599)?

Here’s my thinking…

First off, the only difference between the two options is that when you choose the Premium package, your book will be “featured” (i.e., listed at the top of and highlighted) in the giveaways section and you get to send an email (through Goodreads) to people who entered the giveaway but didn’t win.

Second, it depends on (1) how strong your presence on Goodreads is and (2) how well you can reach people outside of Goodreads. If you have a strong social presence, if you’ve built a strong blog or email list, or if you have another way to get the word out, the Standard package might be worth while. But, the Standard package means that Goodreads isn’t going to do any promotion for you. Could readers stumble across your book? Yes. But, they’ll see the featured books first. And then, when they don’t win, they won’t get a personalized email encouraging them to purchase. If you’re well known and have an audience, you can buy the Standard package and drive people to it outside of Goodreads. If you’re not well known and don’t have a large reach, then you might want to choose the Premium package. We chose the Premium package.

Third, it also depends on how many other authors/publishers are promoting their giveaways at the same time you choose to. We set up our book giveaway during Goodreads’ Book Giveaway month. That meant we had a lot of competition. Competition makes getting “featured” a whole lot more valuable for exposure because the number of options for Goodreads users is much higher.

If you’re not as well known and will be listing your giveaway in a competitive category, consider the Premium package. But if people know you and you don’t have much competition in your category, the Standard package might be sufficient.

Our Numbers

Now, we’ll take a closer look at our numbers:

  • Death of a Bounty Hunter retails for $9.99 on Kindle. It’s a genre-bending weird western (i.e., supernatural, steampunk, western, and dark fantasy), so it’s not a wildly popular genre like romance, mystery, or even science fiction.
  • We chose the Kindle Goodreads Book Giveaway option (we didn’t want to have to deal with fulfillment) and chose to give away 100 copies.
  • We also chose the Premium Goodreads Book Giveaway package (I believe it was on sale for $499 instead of $599 during the month of August).
  • We promoted the giveaway in Facebook Groups (5–6 of them), on our personal social media profiles (none of us are celebrities, so we don’t have thousands of followers), and via our email list (which was around 460 subscribers at the time).
  • We ran the giveaway from August 3 through August 31 of 2021. I’m guessing it was a popular month for Goodreads authors to host a giveaway, so we likely had a lot more competition than someone might in other months.
  • We ended the giveaway with 1,453 Goodreads users entered to win the giveaway.
  • Since August 31, 2021, we’ve had 6 total sales and we’ve received 10 ratings and reviews on Goodreads.

My Assessment: Should You Offer a Goodreads Book Giveaway?

I want to help authors (especially self-published or independent writers) be as successful as possible. Now, the question you should ask yourself is…

Should I pull the trigger and offer a Goodreads Book Giveaway?

Obviously, our results (6 sales and 10 ratings/reviews) aren’t fantastic. Especially when we spent $499. But, we’re only about a month-and-a-half past the end of the Goodreads Book Giveaway deadline (August 31). And, it’s still on the “to read” shelf of close to 1,500 Goodreads users. In retrospect, I think our strategy could have been better, but it also would have cost us a lot more.

Here’s my Goodreads Book Giveaways strategy for the future:

  1. A Bigger Plan. I would likely make the Goodreads Book Giveaway part of a larger marketing plan (which would cost a lot more money, but also be more likely to get better returns). In fact, I might run (simultaneously) my own print book giveaway to collect email addresses, then email new subscribers promoting the Goodreads giveaway as well. The Standard plan doesn’t give you the option to email Goodreads users. The Premium plan only gives you one shot to tell entrants they didn’t win. But a complex, strategic marketing plan would require way more touch points than that. Plus, if you buy the Premium plan, you can reference the print giveaway in that email… that would be fantastic.
  2. Advertising and Email. I would probably use paid advertising (Facebook) to promote the book giveaway. Imagine this: deliver an ad to a targeted audience highlighting your print book giveaway. To enter that giveaway, they need subscribe to your email. When they subscribe, you also refer them to the Goodreads Book Giveaway. Then, in your email to Goodreads users who didn’t win, you offer them a chance to win the print version (which would require making sure they’d let you in that email — they have specific rules for what you can and can’t do). After the giveaway, the hope would be that you would have a big email list to target to purchase the book. You could also run remarketing ads on Facebook to those who clicked through to your landing page. That would likely give you a significant boost in post-giveaway sales.

Now, what I just described probably increases the cost of the advertising campaign exponentially, but it’s the best possible marketing plan I can think of given all the other constraints. Granted, I have no idea if it would work, but it feels like a much stronger plan.

Re-think Offering a Goodreads Book Giveaway If:

I don’t think Goodreads Book Giveaways are for everyone (especially not every self-published author). I wouldn’t recommend a Goodreads Book Giveaway strategy if:

  1. You’re not going to promote it. You’ve got to do your best to get the giveaway in front of people, even if you pay for the Premium package.
  2. You need to make all the money back. If you need to make all your money back, especially if you need it back quickly, then it may be too risky for you to invest in a Goodreads Book Giveaway.
  3. You don’t have a longer-term strategy. Ultimately, just running a Goodreads Book Giveaway likely isn’t enough. In order to convert more people into readers, you’ll have to invest in more tactics and different strategies over a long period of time.
  4. You haven’t tested your book with an audience. The last think you want is to pay to promote a book that people hate. Not everyone will like your book, and that’s totally fine. Very few books are for the general marketplace anyway. Before you pay for a Goodreads Book Giveaway, make sure you understand your target market. A worst-case scenario would be that the people who win the giveaway, read your book, hate it, and then review it say it’s terrible. Some people will likely do that regardless, but make sure your book has a solid target market (that’s on Goodreads) before doing a Goodreads Book Giveaway.

There are likely more reasons not to do a giveaway through Goodreads, but these are some of the bigger ones.

Conclusion

There you go! That was our experience with Goodreads and our book giveaway. I’m still processing it and still wondering how to really get more out of the service in the future. We definitely spent more than we got back. But, we are also getting more ratings and reviews, which are essential to long-term success.

Have you run a Goodreads Book Giveaway in the past? What has your experience like? Let me know in the comments!

[Jay’s Bio]

Jay Sherer co-wrote the full cast audiobook and novel, Death of a Bounty Hunter, and the time travel adventure serial story, Timeslingers.

Support Jay on Patreon and get access to more resources for writers and storytellers! And make sure you subscribe to his YouTube channel and podcast (both titled How Stories Work with Jay Sherer) where he breaks down popular stories and highlights the work of great storytellers. And don’t forget to follow him on here on Medium and on Goodreads.

Jay’s channels and works are produced by the Reclamation Society (a nonprofit production companies he currently operates).

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I love storytelling. I write novels and screenplays. My latest book, DEATH OF A BOUNTY HUNTER, is out now!

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Jay Sherer

Jay Sherer

I love storytelling. I write novels and screenplays. My latest book, DEATH OF A BOUNTY HUNTER, is out now!

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