In a couple of months I'm going to post a road map of what I've been doing in the last two years to get my books into the hands of readers. Some of it will be a 'I wish I had done this sooner' and part of it will no doubt be 'I wish I had avoided this sooner'.
Today's 'I wish I had done this sooner' is doing a Goodreads Giveaways. Goodreads is a social media and networking site all about books, authors, and readers. There are forums, opportunities to connect with authors, and a place to find the next book that has the power to twist your mind around out and leave you clamouring for more. The giveaway section is where an author runs a competition and the winner receives a free paperback. Sounds pretty straight forward and yet I avoided it for nearly two years.
At first I couldn't see much of an advantage in giving away a paperback. They are horrendously expensive. The books are printed in the US, I live in Australia, and the winner could be anywhere in the world. In theory, holding a competition where I have to pay for a book to have a round the world trip seemed cost-prohibitive, especially when there is only a 25% chance of getting a review. Furthermore, the competition is open to anyone, so the winner might be someone who just went click-happy looking for free shit and they're not going to read the book even if it's hand delivered to them.
The two blogs that turned me around were:
Kudos to them. It turns out I was looking at the giveaway from the wrong angle. The focus was not on that 1 person who won the book but on everyone entering the competition who might end up being interested in reading the book. Goodreaders are able to add a book to their to-read pile. One day, hopefully, the book I've written will climb to the top of their to-read pile and they actually read it, like it, and tell others about it. The point of the giveaway is to gain some worth while interest from hundreds or thousands of people.
Some folks have 30,000 books added to their to-read list. Clearly, any indie book is likely to be lost in that sea. But some readers have less than 100 books added. After doing a stupid amount of research I settled on a simple assumption that 10% of those who added the book to their to-read pile *might* actually read it some day. It would be great if the other 90% did, but not even I am able to get through all the books I've bought, despite them sitting on my bookshelf for years. So, that 10% is my target.
It's still quite cost-prohibitive, though. Each book costs $27 to print and ship to Australia, only for me to autograph it and ship it probably back to the States for another $14.40. On one of the blogs above they mention that you can ship it directly from CreateSpace and bypass that extra $14.40, so I might try that in the future, but you do lose the ability to say AUTOGRAPHED COPY! in the giveaway. Those tend to get the better results. Just how cost-prohibitive is it? You can get Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper as an ebook for 99 cents. In order to break even I would need to sell 120 copies per giveaway. Thankfully the other books in the series get a better royalty rate and I'd only need to sell 15 to break even. But, still, by the end of this promotion run I will need to have sold 360 copies of the first book and 45 of the following. That's a big ask for someone who has only broken the double-digit-in-a-month barrier in sales once in the last 18 months.
(Spoiler: I sold 12 Grim Reapers and 5 of the others.)
I ran six giveaways from the end of January to the beginning of April. 3 were for Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper (as it is the first in the series) and I did 1 each of the following 3 books.
I varied the length of each promo and usually overlapped one book with another so that entrants would notice that there was a series going on and not just standalone books. I made sure the post was advertised with AUTOGRAPHED COPY! so that readers would know that their book has travelled halfway around the world and back again.
For my first Grim Reaper giveaway I took a 'let's see what happens' approach. It ran for 9 days and received 1,497 entrants. Better still, I ended up with almost a thousand people adding it to their to-read pile!
The Bank of Limbo ran for 10 days, received 973 entrants, and got 365 to-reads. Not bad for a sequel.
The second Grim Reaper giveaway ran for 21 days, received 1,885 entrants, and got 250 to-reads. My goal here was to make it to the most requested page and I did! With 1 hour before the competition expired!
The Arena of Chaos ran for 22 days, received 968 entrants, and got 358 to-reads. That's pretty damn close to its predecessor, which is good to see.
The Starlight Muse ran for 9 days, received 626 entrants, and got 245 to-reads. Hmm. Something weird happened there if the second and third books had 350 more entrants and 110 more to-reads. For this one I mentioned: 'Ideal for fans of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.' Perhaps that had something to do with the lower results. Either that or people didn't like the cover.
The third Grim Reaper giveaway ran for 21 days, received 1,981 entrants, and got 200 to-reads. My goal was to reach 2,000 entrants. I *almost* got it. I'm not disappointed by any stretch of the imagination and it was good to see the numbers go up from one giveaway to the next.
The results were far better than I expected. 1,577 unique readers had seen my books and spent some time to add it to their collection. I also gained 60 followers on Goodreads, a few on Facebook, I got a couple of reviews there and on Amazon, a couple of ratings, and best of all I ended up selling 17 books. Certainly the start of any promotional campaign is not going to show much progress, but at least I saw *some* progress. It's encouraging to set a new personal best in terms of sales and with any luck this trend of people finding me continues. I'm going to let the giveaways rest for a while and try again when my next book (a zombie story titled Last Words) comes out. I'll double up on the Grim Reaper and Last Words for a while and see how that goes.
What I wish I knew beforehand:
These books are heavy. The Grim Reaper and the Bank of Limbo are just under 500 grams. The Arena of Chaos and the Starlight Muse are just over 500 grams. I was able to sweet talk the Australia Post lady and get the 504 gram Arena of Chaos down to 499 grams but I couldn't do it for the Starlight Muse. It was 540 grams and I arrived at a busy time of the day when flashing some man cleavage didn't work. Instead of costing $14.40 to ship I was met with a new bracket: $35. So the winner just won a $62 book about the silly antics of Kingston, Death, and Satan as they chase a deranged muse across the world. There is certainly a disadvantage in running giveaways for meatier books. I'm assuming the cut off point in terms of weight for these CreateSpace printed books is 360 pages. Anything less and you're okay. Anything more and staging a giveaway becomes too stupidly expensive.
Want to see what grabbed 1,577 people's attention?