The Goodreads giveaway learning curve

A few posts back I mentioned that I was holding a Goodreads book giveaway for A Housefly in Autumn. That giveaway has come and gone. Here is what I learned.

Submit your giveaway at least a week before you want it to begin. It’s supposed to take Goodreads a couple of days to approve your giveaway. Mine took about a week. I had scheduled my giveaway to begin the day after I submitted it and run for a month. Consequently, I lost about six days off the front of it. I wouldn’t have minded so much losing six days in the middle, but what I didn’t know is the first few days and the last few days of a giveaway are the most important.

There are tons of giveaways on Goodreads. Most folks who are interested in them look in two places: the list of new giveaways and the list of giveaways about to end. When my giveaway was finally approved, it was already six days old. My listing, when it showed up, was already deeply buried with in the new list. Only giveaway hunters with great perseverance would dig that deep. I missed out a good number of entries because of this.

giveaway pitch

According to the site, the average giveaway garners 825 entries. When you miss the first week or your own giveaway, you get fewer.

The middle of a month-long giveaway is the doldrums. The book is prominent on neither of the lists people search. Hence, the number of entrants drops sharply. Only after I had set up my giveaway did I find good advice about ignoring the Goodreads recommendation for longer giveaways. A long middle does no good. It’s best to jump directly from the new list to the about to end list. A week seems plenty long for a giveaway.

I offered autographed copies. This was another mistake. Autographed copies meant I would have to mail them myself, which led me to yet another mistake. I limited my giveaway to the U.S. because I didn’t want to have to pay huge amounts to ship books overseas. If I had not offered autographs, I could have bought the books online and had them shipped directly. Who knows how many entrants I cut myself off from by limiting the giveaway like this?

There are two main goals in offering a giveaway. The first is to get members to add the book the their “to-read” lists. The mistakes already mentioned hindered my efforts in this direction. As it was, 525 people entered, of which 228 added the book to their personal lists. Many of those people have more than 1,000 books on their “to-read” lists; some have tens of thousands. This means there are thousands of books on lists that will never be read.

The second goal of a giveaway is to garner reviews. Goodreads say that around 60% of people who win giveaway books write a review. Most commentary I’ve read suggests this is overly optimistic. I gave away six books. By Goodreads numbers, I should receive at least three reviews. I would love for this to happen, but one thing I’ve learned in this self-publishing biz is not to hold my breath.

The review police cast a wide net

A few years ago, the complaints about fake reviews on Amazon reached a level Amazon could not ignore. They tightened their reviewing policy and purged reviews that smelled funny to them.

Having seen enough fishy reviews on Amazon’s pages, I thought this was a good move. I feel like I can pick out insincere reviews, but, apparently, not everyone can. Besides, they can get to be annoying, when they are not entertaining, behind their veneer of deceit.

I wasn’t affected by the purges, so I never bothered to learn how Amazon determined which reviews were frauds. Time went by and I didn’t much consider the issue.

Amazon reviews can be very helpful in promoting your book. In spite of this, I decided I would try to avoid the temptation to ask for reviews with A Housefly in Autumn. The really valuable reviews are the ones people are inspired to write by their experience with the product itself. I didn’t want anyone writing a review because they felt obliged to do it.

So far I have stayed true to my intention. I have not asked anyone for a review. Consequently, after nearly a month, I have few reviews. I would have had one more, except the Amazon purge has finally struck me.

I kicked off my book with a release party. Not wanting to be alone at my party, I invited people I know. They humbled me by the way they gladly turned out. One of the attendees is a co-worker. She paid her hard-earned money for a copy, took it home and read it.

She liked it. She liked it a lot. Without any prompting, she wrote a review on Amazon. It was a short review, but it was heartfelt. I felt honored by it.

It was also short-lived. Within a day, Amazon purged it. She inquired about this and was told that she was not eligible to review this item.

They didn’t say why she was ineligible. I suspect it is a combination of her not having reviewed much on Amazon previously, the shortness of the review, the fact that it was not a “verified” Amazon purchase (she bought it at my party), and the fact that she lives in my town.

The official rules. Did the review in question violate them?

The official rules. Did the review in question violate them?

I’m disappointed at losing her review, but I am not irate with Amazon. I know they mean well and they can’t investigate every review on its own merits.

I feel as though this was an honest review. The reviewer paid for the book. No review was solicited of her, and she was in no way compensated for it. She has no economic interest in the book. The only connection she has is that she knows the author.

I hope Amazon does not consider proximity to be too much an indicator of fraud. After all, who will the non-famous author market to first, if not his own community. I would discourage family members from reviewing my books, but how far away from me must that line be drawn?

What do you think? Was this a valid review? Should people who know the author be prohibited from reviewing his books? Where should Amazon draw the line?

Welcome to my new and improved “web presence”

Every fiction writer needs a web presence. That’s a rule now. I don’t know who makes the rules, but whoever they are, they made this one. Just go ask anybody who knows the rules for fiction writers; they’ll tell you about this rule, just like they told me.

I’m still not sure if it’s a law or just a rule, but I’m a good boy, so rules are enough for me.

My previous web presence left much to be desired. It was a static web page that I’d built myself. It was the only web page I’ve ever built, and it looked like it.

As a DIY project, it had its charms, and if it were a rec room in my basement, I might have been satisfied with it. But it was something that needed to be impressive to more than just my kids. It had to compete with a world filled with pretty sites, loaded with bells and whistles. It didn’t compete very well.

welcome to the 20th century

My old website was just a bit behind the times.

I’d taught myself enough Dreamweaver and HTML to put words and images on the screen and edit them to make things look reasonably uniform, but it was not anything you would call fancy, or interactive. The free hit counter I downloaded stopped working one day, and I never could find the time or know-how to get it fixed.

It was built from the same template that I’m sure 10 million other amateur web designers used to hobble together their soap-box-derby sites.

But it had a nice blue background color. So there’s that.

Meanwhile, I began a parenting/humor blog on WordPress for fun and to document the childhoods of my boys. With so much less effort, I created a web presence that was so much more attractive than my writing site. My for-fun project was a neat, well-apportioned home, while my “professional” web presence was a shack. I could tell how many people visited my parenting blog, and they could even leave notes for me if they desired. At my writing shack, visitors could not interact with me at all. They were probably too busy brushing cob webs out of their hair anyway.

I rolled along in this situation for an alarmingly long time; inertia is such a comfy ride sometimes.

But enough is enough. Hence, this blog.

I’m getting ready to publish my first book since I created my web “empire” and other than the fact that getting ready to publish a book is intensely time-consuming, that makes this the perfect time to upgrade my web presence into something that could be useful.

So here it is: my second WordPress blog. It’s a little daunting right now, and it’s a work in progress, but so is everything I touch.

I hope you find it somewhat inviting. Feel free to leave a comment. You can do that now.