Goodreads e-book giveaway program now open to self-published authors

Goodreads e-book Giveaway

While visiting with one of my favorite millennials recently, we discovered that we both listen to a lot of audiobooks.

“My absolute favorite this year was A Man Called Ove,” she declared.

“Me, too!” I replied with surprise.

We started to compare notes on other books when she said, “Are you on Goodreads? I’m going to connect with you there!”

It was yet another reminder of how book lovers use the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. Studying reader behavior there as a reader yourself can give you insights into how people discover and recommend books like yours.

New e-book giveaway program for KDP authors

I was reminded of this conversation with my younger friend last week when I saw the news that  on January 9, Goodreads is opening up its new-ish e-book giveaway program to self-published authors using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

I expected authors to be more excited than they were, however. One author was so annoyed that she wrote to the Authors Guild to complain about the program, saying, “it’s time this whole thing was discussed and exposed.” Others offered some version of, “I’m done with Goodreads.”

Many said the $119 price for up to 100 copies (either Kindle e-book or print book) was more than they would spend for the service. (Note that there’s a special introductory rate of $59 between January 9, 2018 and January 31, 2018.)

That’s partly because many of those I heard from said that they expected their giveaways to generate reviews, and that didn’t always happen.

Others were concerned that people entered print giveaway events so they could sell the books on Amazon.

“Will I just be feeding more copies out into the world to be sold used, with a premium because these ones will be signed?” asked one author. She did a giveaway on her own after her publisher did two of them — one before publication and one immediately after.

Others did giveaways to build awareness without expecting lots of reviews. As one author said, “I think the main benefit was with my self-published book, in just raising awareness that it existed at all.”

What Goodreads is saying about the new program

Goodreads e-book giveaway 2

Kyusik Chung, Goodreads

I asked Kyusik Chung, vice president of authors services at Goodreads, a few questions about this. My goal was to help you better understand whether the new KDP e-book giveaway might fit into your marketing plans.

Here are excerpts from our e-mail conversation.

This service has already been available to publishers. What have you learned about the books and authors who will have the most success with this program?

We’ve learned that Kindle e-book giveaways are fantastic for generating reviews quickly.  Because you can give away up to 100 copies for the same flat fee, publishers have gotten more copies in more reviewers’ hands and, ultimately, more reviews on their book pages.

And because those books are fulfilled automatically and instantly at the end of the giveaway, readers are able to read the book immediately rather than waiting for the books to be mailed to them.  We think KDP authors will love this aspect when they use Kindle e-book format giveaways.

I wonder if this is more helpful for fiction than nonfiction. What’s your take on that?

One of the strengths of Goodreads is that you can find fans of every type of book category from military history to paranormal romance to personal finance in our community of 70 million readers. We see authors and publishers of every type of book having success with driving awareness and interest through giveaways. Of course, results will vary depending on readers’ interest in a book.

What best practices can you recommend to authors considering this service?

What Goodreads is good at doing is amplifying the success of a book at launch, and giveaways are one of our book marketing tools you can use to drive discovery and buzz for a new book.

Four key things to focus on with giveaways are:

  1. The description in the giveaway needs to get readers’ attention and persuade them to want to read the book and enter your giveaway. Really think about what makes your book stand out and spend time on that all-important first sentence. If you already have reviews, look for what readers are saying they liked most about your book to help you craft this.
  2. Offer as many copies as you can. This will increase the number of people who have the chance to read the book, and it also increases the number of entries as people know they have a higher chance of winning.
  3. Have a strong bio in your Goodreads author profile. Goodreads displays the first few sentences of your bio plus a “Follow Author” button on the Giveaway’s custom landing page so you want those opening sentences to be engaging.
  4. Run your first giveaway for a book several months ahead of publication. This allows time to start building up those crucial early reviews so your book page already has reader perspectives once your book is out. You can also time a Giveaway around your publication date to create more excitement in that critical period.

What do you say to authors who say that this is just another way to rip off authors?

Indie authors are an important part of the Goodreads community and there are several ways authors can engage with readers on Goodreads for free, including sharing what you are reading yourself (Maggie Stiefvater,  Rick Riordan, and Roxane Gay are three great examples of authors who do this), using our “Ask the Author” feature, and providing additional content about your books with our Kindle Notes & Highlights on Goodreads feature (see how Emma Chase shared notes on her book, Royally Screwed, which led to some great interactions with her fans – authors should contact our author team if they are interested in doing something like this too).

You can find tips on all of this and more on our Author & Advertisers Blog. We also recommend authors sign up for our Authors Newsletter to stay informed about Goodreads and get case studies and advice.

The cost of our giveaway package options reflects the marketing value we are providing to help authors drive interest and awareness of their books.

Goodreads giveaways are a special type of advertising campaign. A Goodreads giveaway is much more than just getting your book into the hands of a group of readers. It includes building awareness through placement on Goodreads’ highly-trafficked pages, social amplification through stories in the Goodreads updates feed, notifications to your followers, and reviews. All of this helps build your audience and drive discovery of your book.

In addition, many indie authors only have Kindle e-book editions and were asking Goodreads for the ability to run giveaways for Kindle e-books — this was previously not available to them.


What do you think?

If you have a traditional publishing contract, you probably won’t have much trouble convincing your publisher to do a Goodreads giveaway.

If you’re self-published, I’d encourage you to calculate what you’ve spent or plan to spend on:

  • Facebook advertising
  • Book deal newsletters
  • Tables at book fairs
  • Other common marketing tactics that cost money

You might find that a $119 fee for visibility on this site that readers use and love is worth considering, especially considering Chung’s observation that giveaways generate reviews. I see it as a platform-building tool for writers who are in it for the long term.

Before you spend money on a giveaway or any other tactic, though, make sure you’ve got a great book. Write a book that generates the kind of conversation I had with my friend about A Man Called Ove and other books we’ve both read and loved this year.

If you don’t, it won’t matter how much money you spend to support it.

What do you think about this new Goodreads Giveaway program? Please share your thoughts in a comment. 


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Sandra Beckwith is an award-winning former publicist who now teaches authors how to market their books. Three groups have recognized her BuildBookBuzz.com site as an outstanding resource for authors, so you know her advice is author-tested.

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27 Responses to Goodreads e-book giveaway program now open to self-published authors
  1. Gary Guinn
    December 6, 2017 | 12:00 pm

    Hi, Sandra.
    I’ve been following the discussion on Goodreads with great interest. I’m afraid I agree with the overwhelming response from independent authors (not just self-published, but also those with small publishers) that the return is unlikely to pay off. When Goodreads says, “The cost of our giveaway package options reflects the marketing value we are providing to help authors drive interest and awareness of their books,” the statement rings hollow for most independent authors. The cost they have attached to giveaways is prohibitive for many/most individuals, and the return in terms of both reviews an sales is unattractive.
    Thanks for exploring this issue.

    Gary

    • Sandra Beckwith
      December 6, 2017 | 5:37 pm

      SO, just between us, Gary, I suspect that Goodreads doesn’t expect to be overwhelmed with self-published authors clamoring to pay them for this service. There are plenty of traditional publishing companies that will see this as teeny tiny small change and will happily pay it.

      I also think that this could be a good fit for some self-pubbed authors. They aren’t the “I’m writing a book because I can” people, of course. They’re career authors and writers who can or do make a living from their writing and the opportunities that come their way because of their success.

      Thanks for your thoughtful feedback.

      Sandy

  2. Kathy Steinemann
    December 6, 2017 | 12:50 pm

    Yikes. Add the cost of books and shipping, and soon $119 increases to over $1000 for a 100-book giveaway. How many books would an author have to sell to recoup that expenditure?

    “That’s partly because many of those I heard from said that they expected their giveaways to generate reviews, and that didn’t always happen.”

    Agreed. I learned the hard way.

    Aren’t the giveaways creating traffic for Goodreads? I understand that they must charge something–to discourage people from taking advantage of the feature, but …

    • Sandra Beckwith
      December 6, 2017 | 5:33 pm

      Kathy, if you’re self-published with KDP, you can now do up to 100 E-BOOK giveaways — vs print — big difference in cost.

      Goodreads doesn’t need giveaways for traffic.

      Sandy

    • Dianne
      December 12, 2017 | 1:21 pm

      Agreed! I get to pay to giveaway my book for a review or two? Not worth the trouble and I thought Amazon was against paid reviews.

  3. Kathy Steinemann
    December 6, 2017 | 12:57 pm

    Cost is too high.

  4. Conda Douglas
    December 6, 2017 | 1:20 pm

    Okay, once again authors are being charged for a service that was free? Adding “Ebooks” to the giveaway really doesn’t add much value. Ebooks are already very inexpensive, unless you’re published by a biggie. And adding an automatic add to a TBR list if a reader enters the contest will annoy the readers.

    I’ve been researching the giveaways for some time. It appears that the successful giveaways are by already well-established and well-selling authors. Even mid-listers have not had much luck or any with giveaways. And this was when it was free. Too many authors, too much noise to stand out.

    IMO, once again authors, whether self-published or published with a small press or a hybrid, are looked at as another revenue stream. So many are desperate to sell that they don’t consider ROI. So many don’t consider that the main problem is that there are now millions of titles out there and millions of authors promoting their work.

    • Sandra Beckwith
      December 6, 2017 | 5:31 pm

      Conda, I hope as many self-pubbed authors do as much research as you did. Very smart!

      Sandy

  5. Denise Baer
    December 6, 2017 | 2:42 pm

    “We’ve learned that Kindle e-book giveaways are fantastic for generating reviews quickly.” I don’t know how they’ve “learned” this because 100 free downloads doesn’t equate to reads and reviews. That’s a known fact. Plus, authors can run eBook giveaways on Amazon.

    What does the best practice have to do with considering the service? “Offer as many copies as you can. This will increase the number of people who have the chance to read the book, and it also increases the number of entries as people know they have a higher chance of winning.” This is also not true. There are plenty of discussions on Goodreads regarding the number of copies. People enter giveaways for many reasons, such as the book interests them, some enter all available giveaways, and some enter to win and sell the book, etc. The length of time you run a giveaway and the number of copies has little to do with the number of people interested in entering.

    “What do you say to authors who say that this is just another way to rip off authors?” Too bad he doesn’t actually answer the question. He talks about the other benefits of being a member of Goodreads—free benefits.

    “The cost of our giveaway package options reflects the marketing value we are providing to help authors drive interest and awareness of their books.” This means that they decided to make money off their site. The cost doesn’t reflect the so-called ‘new’ benefits of the giveaway. It doesn’t even include the author’s expense of shipping the book.

    I’m an indie author who relied on these giveaways. Now I’m looking into other avenues to put my books in the hands of the ‘proper’ audience.

    • Sandra Beckwith
      December 6, 2017 | 5:30 pm

      Denise, I can’t speak for Goodreads, but the option for self-published authors to do an e-book giveaway is new and hasn’t started yet, so there’s no data to draw from on that. E-book giveaways have been available for Amazon Publishing authors while the program was in beta mode and more recently — since May — for all traditional publishers. I would imagine there’s data from those giveaways but in general, I’d have different expectations for a self-published book giveaway. Authors with publishers aren’t necessarily going the DIY route as you would be — they often have a professional marketer guiding the process. Also, the cost to send out 100 free e-books doesn’t compare to 100 print books, right?

      It’s interesting that you relied on these giveaways before. “Relied on” suggests that you did a giveaway more than once — which also suggests that you found value in the service. But there wasn’t enough value to encourage you to pay for it now? What were your overall results?

      Thanks for weighing in.

      Sandy

      • Denise Baer
        December 7, 2017 | 12:59 pm

        “the option for self-published authors to do an e-book giveaway is new and hasn’t started yet, so there’s no data to draw from on that. E-book giveaways have been available for Amazon Publishing authors”

        Yes, you’re right it is new, BUT Amazon, itself, has offered eBook giveaways for quite some time.

        ““Relied on” suggests that you did a giveaway more than once — which also suggests that you found value in the service. But there wasn’t enough value to encourage you to pay for it now? What were your overall results?”

        Yes, I did run several giveaways that resulted in a few reviews on Goodreads, and in running the giveaways, put my books on people’s shelves. But I didn’t make any sales after the giveaways.

        There isn’t enough value to do it now because what they’re charging for isn’t necessarily going to garnish reviews or sales. Indie authors mainly run giveaways for the sake of reviews. And there’s also the risk of those winning the books, selling them on the web. The giveaways are not geared toward each books intended audience.

        Giveaways do not cost Goodreads anything, but they want to make a profit off running them. They expect authors and publishers to pay $119 for majority of the so-called things that are in the current model, PLUS pay for the book and shipping costs.

        The giveaways are great to get people to shelf your book, maybe get a few reviews, but it in no way puts your book in the proper hands. I’m better off joining an association for a yearly cost of $129, which will provide far more benefits than what Goodreads will in the long run.

        • Sandra Beckwith
          December 7, 2017 | 1:24 pm

          Thanks so much, Denise. I hope others will give this as much thought as you have before spending the money. You’re making an informed decision — not everybody does that.

          The one thing that struck me was your comment that “The giveaways are not geared toward each books intended audience.” I would definitely want my giveaway offer to show up in front of people who read the kinds of books I write — not a mass audience. This is one thing that the deal newsletter services like BookBub do so well — subscribers sign up to receive emails on discounted or free books in the genres or categories they read. It makes sense all the way around.

          Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your feedback is helpful.

          Sandy

        • Dianne
          December 12, 2017 | 8:12 pm

          The fact is, the only ones who really stand to gain from this is Amazon which seeks to get new subscribers by offering Independent authors’ books for free, and now they want to charge Indies for doing it. The idea that we need to give our books away, after spending our time and money writing those books, putting hours into research, honing our craft, editing and rewriting and editing again, sometimes it takes years. Some of us spend hundreds of dollars creating our books with covers and formatting and editing. We’re encouraged to give our hard work away. Readers have become so accustomed to ‘free books’ that it’s almost impossible to even sell one or two. If wasn’t so passionate about what I wrote I would wonder if its even worth the effort. It would be nice to get some real help from companies like Goodreads or Amazon, rather than trying to suck us dry.

  6. Amber Polo
    December 6, 2017 | 4:44 pm

    I wonder if Goodreads is considering “weighting” requests for ebooks (like NetGalley) to members who are active on the site, not just looking for free books?
    Way back (before it was Amazon)I think they did something like that. After all their computer programs can do just about anything, right?

    Also “Indie authors are an important part of the Goodreads community and there are several ways authors can engage with readers on Goodreads for free, including sharing what you are reading yourself (Maggie Stiefvater, Rick Riordan, and Roxane Gay are three great examples…” These are NOT indie authors.

    • Sandra Beckwith
      December 6, 2017 | 5:21 pm

      Good question about weighting, Amber. As for the examples, self-published authors don’t need to limit themselves to their peer group for good examples. There’s nothing wrong with using traditionally published authors as role models — in fact, I’d consider it (as long as the authors are successful).

  7. Debbie Richardson
    December 6, 2017 | 5:25 pm

    I have to agree with the overwhelming response from indie authors about the lack of return on investment from many online marketing strategies, not just Goodreads. There is also a high cost for some (not all) email blasts/promos that don’t generate sales.

    It’s not that I expect authors NOT to pay to promote, but I’m growing more and more concerned that these marketing strategies are turning into gambling habits.

    Strategies that are developed by marketing people no less, who are skilled in buyer behaviors.

    I also agree that we should start questioning and sometimes calling out these high priced promos that guarantee results but fail. No other product on the market can make that claim and get away with a non-committal shoulder shrug.

    Sorry, this has become a long comment, but I am seeing a trend that is scary. Indie authors keep putting money into the slots and get nothing in return. Then we’re told the fault lies with the blurb or the cover or the lack of reviews. Sometimes true. Sometimes not. This is how bad cultures start. (And maybe great fodder for dystopian writers).

    Alas, someone is making money from these high cost ventures, but it isn’t me and I doubt it’s the majority of indie punters.

    I’ll stick to my budget and try to avoid getting swept up in the frenzy of the ‘golden ticket’.

    Thank you for letting my voice my opinion.

    • Sandra Beckwith
      December 6, 2017 | 5:47 pm

      Thanks, Debbie. I didn’t see anything in the Goodreads announcement that guarantees any results. That aside, I’m suspicious of any promotional tool that guarantees a specific result — there are too many variables. A blast email provider can guarantee how many people are on its list, but it can’t promise how many of them might buy your book.

      For some, $119 is a high price. For others, it isn’t.

      Thank you for your perspective! I’m glad you took the time to comment.

      Sandy

  8. Grace Allison
    December 6, 2017 | 5:33 pm

    Send out 100 free books, are you kidding me? No way. I have participated in Amazon’s Book Giveaway where I gave away 5 EBooks and 150 people signed up to follow me. On Goodreads, I paid for 5 paperback books for a free giveaway and received the names of those who won. I contacted them by email and requested a review. Not one review.
    For an indie author like me, not a good deal.
    Grace Allison

    • Sandra Beckwith
      December 6, 2017 | 5:48 pm

      Thank you for the feedback, Grace. I’m glad you’ve learned what works for your books.

      Sandy

  9. Vincent Berg
    December 7, 2017 | 10:10 am

    I hate to say it, but your interview didn’t offer diddly to the debate, as you simply allowed a shill to parrot the company line without asking a single insightful, penetrating question. It merely shows that goodreads doesn’t give a damn about independent authors, and aren’t concerned with their opinions at all.

    For large publishing houses, who already have a stable of reliable reviewers, $199 is a minor way of providing review copies to those reviewers. For those of us without the ear of those same reviewers, we’re being asked to pay to give a handful of random readers, who’ll never reference the book in any meaningful way and won’t need to purchase the book themselves. Essentially it’s a lose-lose-lose relationship, with no upside except making goodreads richer for helping the mainstream publishers.

    • Sandra Beckwith
      December 7, 2017 | 10:17 am

      Thank you for the feedback, Vincent.

      It’s probably worth noting that Goodreads doesn’t owe independent authors anything. It’s a platform for readers.

      FYI, the fee is $119, not $199.

      Sandy

  10. Leanna Englert
    December 7, 2017 | 5:52 pm

    After just one experience with “free” on
    Amazon, I’m done with free and discount promotions. I had about 5,500 downloads of free and 99-cent ebooks in August. Probably have gotten 7-8 reviews and virtually no bounce after the campaign ended. I plan to put my energy into writing articles that relate to issues in my novel.

    I was glad to see your Booksie award, Sandra. Definitely deserved. I’d love to see a post about how to reach book clubs.

    • Sandra Beckwith
      December 7, 2017 | 6:08 pm

      Aw, I’m frustrated for you, Leanna. With Amazon (vs. Goodreads), I think the real value in free novels comes when you have a series. Hook people with the first one (or one in the series that is freestanding, where reading out of sequence doesn’t matter), and they start buying the others. Re. writing articles — I love it! — have you seen my blog post on tip sheets? You might want to think about that: https://buildbookbuzz.com/how-to-create-a-book-publicity-tip-sheet/

      And here’s an article on book clubs: https://buildbookbuzz.com/authors-and-book-clubs/

      With book clubs, it helps to have your book in libraries — so many want to borrow, not buy.

      Thank you so very much for your kind words about the Booksie recognition. I really appreciate it — especially today. I just got smacked upside the head by a hater on LinkedIn, so it’s nice to counter that with a virtual hug. THANK YOU!

      Sandy

  11. W. M. Raebeck
    December 7, 2017 | 7:35 pm

    Congratulations on your recognition, Sandra. You work hard to help authors, and generously.

    • Sandra Beckwith
      December 7, 2017 | 8:50 pm

      Thank you, Wendy. That’s very kind of you.

      Sandy

  12. Cari Noga
    December 8, 2017 | 12:11 pm

    How picky (and expensive) is BookBub these days? My experience is dated (2014) but then I got far more downloads/Amazon reviews/value from a BB giveaway than a Goodreads paperback giveaway. For what it’s worth, I evaluated all of my promotional efforts a year after self-pubbing here: http://www.carinoga.com/?p=2116

    • Sandra Beckwith
      December 11, 2017 | 11:35 am

      Cari, rates are listed on the BookBub site. They depend on the category and whether the book is free or discounted. Getting a slot remains a competitive process because the ads are so successful.

      Sandy

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