Can a Goodreads Giveaway Help with Book Promotion?

| Posted in Book Marketing |


A while back, we debated whether it is, in this new world of e-publishing, still worthwhile to create print versions of our self-published books. That’s up to each author to decide, but, if you do have paperbacks made, it can be helpful with book promotion. You can send review copies to book bloggers who don’t accept ebooks, make gifts of signed paperbacks to contest winners, and list giveaways over at Goodreads.

Just in case you didn’t know, Goodreads is a big social media site just for readers. Tons of people hang out there, interacting with other readers (and sometimes authors) and reviewing books they’ve finished.

If you’re an author, hoping to make more people aware of your work, it can be helpful to have folks over there reviewing your books. As I said, this is a social site, and those reviews show up in people’s activity logs, something all of their Goodreads friends can see. Even having your book in someone’s to-read list can be a little free advertising

Listing a Goodreads book giveaway

Any author can give away a book at Goodreads, and it doesn’t cost you anything (other than a paperback + shipping). You simply create an author account and start a giveaway.

Goodreads suggests these be new releases or advanced reader copies, but there’s nothing in the rules to say you can’t give away copies of a book that’s been out a while. To celebrate the release of my fourth Emperor’s Edge book (and maybe get some new people into the series, eh?), I’m running a giveaway of the first over there right now. I’m also planning to do a giveaway for Encrypted later this month (with that one, the ebook has been out over a year, but I’m just getting around to creating a paperback version).

Why bother with Goodreads?

You may think you can simply run a giveaway on your blog or perhaps on your Facebook page and “build buzz,” but the reality is that Goodreads has a lot more visitors than your author sites. It’s the difference between selling something at a garage sale and listing it on eBay (where millions of people have a chance to find it).

Here are a few of the possible perks of running your giveaway on Goodreads:

  • More visibility — People who’ve never heard of you may browse the giveaways page, decide your book sounds interesting, and sign up. They may also list the book in their to-read list where their friends can see it, friends who might think, “Hey, that sounds like something I might like too.” Those friends might add it to their to-read lists where their friends might see it, and so on. If you’ve heard the term viral marketing, this is it.
  • Reviews — We all know that reviews are important, as they help new readers decide if a book might be worth a try. If you don’t have many reviews yet, this can be a way to get some. Jane Friedman, quoting a Goodreads newsletter, wrote: “If your goal is to get reviews, it makes sense to give away a lot of books. Nearly 60 percent of giveaway winners review the books they win, so the more books you offer, the more reviews you are likely to get.”
  • A way to connect with potential buyers — When I ran my first Goodreads giveaway last year, I didn’t think to try this, but Robin Sullivan of Ridan Publishing mentioned that you can contact all of the entrants after the giveaway is over. Apparently you can say something like, “Thanks for entering and sorry you weren’t selected, but, if you’re interested, here’s a coupon to grab the ebook at Smashwords for half price.” Because I give away the ebook version of the first book in my series anyway, I could forgo the coupon and just give them a link to grab the digital version for free.

So, does all this work? When I did my first Goodreads giveaway, I didn’t measure sales, but I’d definitely say it helped make more people aware of my work (at the least). I had close to 1,000 people enter to win a copy. That was before I had much of a fan base, so those were mostly people who found the book via Goodreads. I’ve seen people writing in more popular genres receive even more entrants. Considering it only costs about $10 (an author copy of your paperback + media mail shipping), it seems like a no-brainer.

Here’s a link to that Jane Friedman article again (she has some giveaway pointers on there that are worth reading). As to where I heard Robin Sullivan talk about the giveaways, she’s been interviewed a number of times for podcasts (I’m afraid I’ve forgotten which one specifically this was mentioned on), and you can find those by doing a search for her name under podcasts in iTunes.

Any thoughts? Have you tried a Goodreads giveaway, and did it help you with book promotion? Or are you thinking of trying one?

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Comments (41)

I’m currently running on Goodreads right now for my SF novella, Lyon’s Legacy, so this is a timely post for me. Thanks for the information. I may add a couple more copies to the giveaway based on what you’ve said here. Is there a way to get a list of the entrants to contact them afterward the giveaway is over?

When the deadline closes, GR will send you a list of the emails of the people who won your giveaway copies. BUT it is not a good idea to retain these and contact them again – that is against the rules as I understand them.


Actually GR doesn’t send you the winners’ email addresses, Library Thing does that for their ebook giveaways. And you are correct, along with the list of email addresses you will get a firm admonishment not to use the addresses for any reason other than distribution of your ebook.

However, because GR giveaways are for physical books, they send you a list of winner’s mailing addresses. They also provide (on their site), a list of all the names of GR members that entered the giveaway. You can click on each name and view that person’s profile. Email addresses are not included, but you are able to send these members messages via GR.

GR (for obvious and very good reasons) doesn’t want authors spamming their members, so there is a strict limit on the number of messages any one member can send each day. It is unpublished, but fairly low (much less than 20, I think). If you abuse the message system by excessive use, I understand they first reduce the number of messages you’re allowed to send per day, and ban you completely for repeat offenses. (I’m not sure about that, as neither has ever happened to me). All it takes to attract attention is for one member to report you to a GR Librarian.

Another thing to remember about the GR giveaways is that there are large numbers of readers who enter absolutely every giveaway, regardless of whether or not they might be interested in the book. I suppose the attraction of getting books in the mail for free is great, and I’m sure they make great gifts for friends and family.

For example, when I reviewed the profiles of folks requesting my own book, fully half of them appeared to be a poor match for my book, at least based on reported reading habits. I didn’t bother contacting those folks. Neither did I contact members who never seemed to review books, or otherwise interact with other GR members.

That left me with a short list of about 200 members, and each day I sent a dozen short messages via GR, thanking them for entering my giveaway, offering them a free ebook, and inviting them to email me via my website with their email address. Note that among the folks I contacted this way were several GR Librarians, many of whom responded positively, so I’m pretty sure they considered my approach to be acceptable.

I got about 100 requests, along with a few emails from members saying they didn’t have ereaders but thanking me for the offer all the same. From those free ebooks distributed, I got 29 reviews and 66 ‘ratings’ (which is when readers give your book a ‘star’ rating without writing a full review). The average was +4 stars. Most of the GR members who reviewed on GR also cross posted the review on Amazon and elsewhere.

So basically, you CAN contact GR members as long as you’re respectful and not pushy, but you CAN’t spam them. Mining the data and examining each and every reader profile to determine good potential fits, then sending the messages individually, is quite time consuming, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy. If you behave professionally, you’ll find acceptance from the GR members. If you’re spammy about it, they’ll shut you down in a heartbeat.

Hope this helps.



Thanks, Bob. This helps a lot.

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience, Bob!

That’s about how I figured it would go. It’s definitely a matter of hand-selling things rather than mass emailing folks, but that seems to be what we have to do early on as authors.

JJ & Lindsay,

You’re most welcome. I appreciate you sharing your own experiences as well.

I love the give away program. It’s pretty close to free advertising when you think of all the readers who will at the very least see your cover and become aware of your book. Hundreds or thousands of people will put their names in in an attempt to win it. The cost to you is one measly copy of your book. Kind of a no-brainer in my view.

Oops, I meant to say I’m running a Goodreads giveaway right now…


Thanks for a great blog.

I did a GR giveaway for 3 signed copies of Deadly Straits (and BTW, I’ve been told that mentioning signed copies increases the response). I only ran it a week, but had 700 responses. I followed Robin Sullivan’s advice about followup contact, and offered ebooks to non-winners. I ended up with 29 reviews.

And don’t forget Library Thing. I also did a Library thing giveaway (which is all ebooks) and got 54 requests, which produced 17 reviews.

Note that in almost all cases, both GR and LT reviewers also posted their reviews on Amazon.

Thanks for letting us know how yours went, RE! That’s a nice number of reviews to pick up, and it’s great when GR folks cross-post the reviews on Smashwords and/or Amazon too (I’ve had it happen from time to time).

I’ve used the giveaway program twice and had a pretty strong response both times with 500+ entries both times. Not sure if that translated into more ebook sales, but I’m willing to continue using that tool. As always, great post!


It is hard to measure whether people adding you to their to-read lists (or other GR lists) truly translates to sales, but I figure any extra publicity is good publicity, and it’s such a small expense to do a GR giveaway that it seems worthwhile for anyone with paperbacks.

Thank you!

I’m still so new to indie publishing, and there’s so much I don’t know!

I’m planning on making a POD edition of my novel this summer, and *now* I know one of the first things to do with it: run a GoodReads giveaway. The tip about coupons makes great sense. I’ll definitely try that.

I’m in the situation where, right now, no one knows about my story. Maybe the giveaway will change that!

You’re welcome, JM. It’s probably not something that’s going to turn you into an overnight success, but every little bit helps when you’re first getting started!

Aargh! I wish I had know about Robin’s advice when I did my Goodreads promotions. Robin and Michael Sullivan are super savvy, and wonderful people as well.

The few copies I gave away led to good reviews on Goodreads and maybe one on Amazon. Lots of visibility but I don’t think it earned very many sales for me.

I have some physical copies I’d love to give away but it looks like Goodreads has a 6 month window after the book comes out which I’m well past now.

Hi David,

Where do they mention the window? I’m running EE right now, and it’s been over a year since I published that. I’ve also heard other folks mention that they had no problem giving away books they’d already had out for a while.

On the author page: “Listing your book for a giveaway is a great way to get free exposure for a book before and during its launch. List any title that is not yet released or was released during the last 6 months.”

I was going to do more giveaways but got caught up helping family through a crisis and fell outside the window. I assumed since it had been more than six months since the print version came out and since they ask when the book was released that I was out of luck.

But it hasn’t been more than 6 months for your print version, right?

I might try it. Worse case is that the system says no, your books has been out too long. Don’t really know why it would matter if it has.

No, it’s been more than six months. I don’t remember the form even asking about a release date, other than the optional pull-down button with 2012/2013 in there.

You’re right. It is an optional question, though I could have sworn it used to ask for a more specific date.

And while the author page does say 6 months, it doesn’t list that anywhere else or in the terms or conditions. May be an artifact from the way it used to work, or a guideline but not a rule.

Anyway, I started a new giveaway!

Funny, I was just going to do a post on this.

We’re running our first one. Almost 400 entrants so far, which imo means 400 people have seen the Raventide cover. This is good! Hopefully half of those people read the description and actually entered because they wanted it. I’d even be excited about a quarter of them.

Yeah, I ran into the same problem as David did with the 6-month window on Goodreads, but I did a giveaway on Library Thing, and the response was great. I definitely recommend giveaways as a means to get reviews–the sites strongly encourage reviewing, because it keeps the freebies coming! In addition, just e-mailing back-and-forth with people to find out what format they wanted turned out to be an good opportunity to learn why they were interested in the book.

Can you do these giveaways with ebooks? Or is it just print only on Goodreads?

Just print 🙂

But with Library Thing, it’s just e-books.

Good to know, too!

I did a giveaway on Goodreads. I offered 25 copies of my first eBook (Ovolution) and over 50 people requested it. When I sent out the 25 Smashwords coupons for the eBooks, only 12 downloaded it and I got just one review.

I never sent a follow-up email to any of them, as that was against the rules.

PS I’m not sure now whether I used GR or LT for this giveaway.

Goodreads only allows print giveaways, unfortunately. So you used Library Thing.

Right, David. I knew there was a problem with eBooks on one of the sites.

I ran a Goodreads giveaway and can attest to what you say, Lindsay. My memoir has been out for a few years but had been marketed in only one state, so Goodreads was a way to raise awareness among a much broader audience. I had 700+ sign up for it.

A tip I learned subsequently was that it it’s better to give away fewer books for shorter periods of time, e.g. 1 or 2 in two-week contests rather than 3 for a month contest to take advantage of the Goodreads ‘just listed,’ ‘almost over’ lists.

I appreciate Bob’s insight into maximizing follow up within the bounds of Goodreads rules.

Thanks for the tip, Carol. I wouldn’t have guessed that (in fact, I think Goodread suggests you let the giveaways run for longer durations!, but it makes sense.

That is a great idea, Carol. I’m running a giveaway for my book, Glimmers, through Goodreads until May 20th. Like Lindsay said, Goodreads suggested running your giveaway for longer periods.
I have over 500 people interested and was wondering how to contact them. Thanks for the post, Linday.

I really believe that Goodreads is a great tool for any author because the books get promoted everytime somebody adds them to their list. I love the giveaways there exactly BECAUSE everybody who enters them are encouraged to add the book to their to-read list.

I just wanted to pop in as a reader and thank those of you who do giveaways. I am a high school librarian and I do enter lots of the giveaways, but it’s so I can introduce these books to lots of students and teachers. Our school system does inter-library loan, so one book given to my high school can potentially be seen by 2600+ teenagers, plus faculty and parents. Lots of my students that are avid readers will buy a book if they read it from my library and loved it. We’re also big on author collections here, so if one book is great (or free!), we’re more likely to consider them for purchase when their new books come up.

Thanks for taking the time to comment, K! Being a librarian must be a great job for a book lover!

I wasn’t keen on a GoodReads giveaway at first, because I had a bad experience with a LibraryThing giveaway (very few reviews for the number of books sent out, and then mostly from people who disliked it ;-; ). But after reading the positive testimonials here, I thought, “What the hey.” The damage has already been done, and I have ten paperbacks sitting in a box that I have no plans to do anything with, anyway. So I just listed one of them, pending staff approval, and we’ll see where it goes.

I also had the idea of mentioning my last KDP Select promotion in the description, which is not-so-coincidentally the day after my giveaway will end. Yes, I signed up for KDP Select. What can I say? I was young and naive three months ago. But if I’m gonna do it, I might as well go whole hog, right?

KDP Select was a wonderful experience for me, but I’m dropping out as the terms end. Not as beneficial as it used to be.

I’m about to do a LibraryThing giveaway. I plan on gifting Kindle editions.

Did you use Smashwords coupons? That seems to be the standard practice most people use. And most report that a lot of winners don’t download the books they won. There seems to me to be a connection there. I don’t think the average book winner wants to create a Smashwords account or buy books there. I know I wouldn’t want to.

I’ve found that to be true as well. If they already use Smashwords, it’s no problem, but if they’ve never heard of it before, they’re less interested. You could always email copies of the books to the winners.

It’s too bad Amazon doesn’t let us give away gift copies without paying for them.

Two solutions with Amazon.

1) Midnight madness! Reduce price of Amazon copy to $.99 at midnight and gift away, then return price to normal.

2) Take the hit. A $5 book only costs you $1.50-ish to giveaway once you get the profit back. Still much cheaper than mailing print books. I can live with 10 giveaways for $15.

One benefit is that Amazon gifted copies do count as sales. Does B&N do gifted books? I know iBooks doesn’t.

[…] your book and get people to add it to their “to-read” lists. And then, as authors like Lindsay Buroker were suggesting less than a year ago, you could contact everyone else who entered the contest and offer them a free […]

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