If you’ve been on the writer/reader social network recently purchased by Amazon, you’ll probably have seen the “Giveaways” section. 

Goodreads Giveaways are a great way for authors to connect directly to readers, generate interest in their books, and get users of the site to add their book to virtual “to-read” shelves. 

To makes things even better, it’s completely, 100% free.  Listing a giveaway isn’t going to generate a million 5-star reviews and launch your career into stardom, but it’s a simple, free, and elegant way to make that extra connection with potential readers. 

Let’s start from the beginning. 

Joining the network is easy, fast, and free, and if you’re not already on it, go sign up now. While you’re at it, add me as a friend! Once you’re there, take a look around the site. You’ll see a lot of book covers, many, many reviews, and lots of user discussion forums, author Q&A, and other book-related goodies. 

Take some time and browse through the recommendations section, too. It’s one of my favorite areas to find information about books the site thinks I’d like, based on my past reviews and books that I’ve read. It’s essentially a Netflix of books, and it works quite well. 

Once you’re familiar with the site, start adding some friends. Search for authors you like, and request them as a friend. As you start using Goodreads more and more, people will request friendship with you as well, and you’ll start to build a list of followers and a network of fellow readers. Nothing is better for an aspiring author: people who will anxiously await any new releases from you!

On to the Giveaways

Again, the Giveaways section is exactly what it sounds like: a section where Goodreads authors can give away a free copy of their book. Here’s my latest one.

There are a few catches: 

  • First, the author must send a printed copy of the book. Paperback or hardcover, no ebook formats.
  • Second, the author must pay all costs. It will cost a few dollars to send it via snail mail, and the author is on the hook for that.
  • Third, the author must agree to the Terms and Conditions, found here

Goodreads is only offering a connection engine; they’re allowing authors and readers to connect with one another through the site. It’s up to the author, therefore, to complete the transaction once a book has been requested. 

How does it work, then? 

First, the author chooses what dates to host the giveaway. This is basically the dates between which users can request a copy of the book. Second, the author posts a short description of the book and what the giveaway actually is giving away (“2 signed copies,” “1 ARC,” etc.). Then the author chooses a few descriptive keywords and categories for the giveaway to listed in, and submits the listing. Goodreads staff will (hopefully) approve it, and it will go live on the chosen start date. 

When the reader comes across the Goodreads Giveaway page, they’ll be faced with numerous pages of books and descriptions, posted in “Ending Soon” order starting with the book closest to expiration (the date the book is no longer available for request). That means that new books are added to the end of the list. 

Readers can browse through categories as well, choosing only those categories that they’re interested in, and once they find a book (or ten), they can simply click a button to request the book. 

When the contest is over, the author will be emailed a list of winners. They are then in charge of packaging and shipping the book to the winner(s), and the winners are encouraged to leave a review. 

So, how can you use Giveaways to promote your book? 

The simple answer is to follow the steps on the Giveaways page and submit your book for a contest. However, there are a few things you can do to “tweak” your listing so that’s it noticeable, and so more people will request your book. 

Here’s what I’ve experimented with to generate hundreds of requests and adds (when a user adds your book to their “to-read” list). I’ve also used this system to ensure that a new book launch receives some glowing initial reviews. This step is crucial if you’re interested in advertising through a larger venue that requires a certain amount of favorable reviews. 

1. Set your book up for success

The most important aspect of any book launch goes almost without saying: make sure your book looks great. Work on a great cover design (we can help with that!), great book layout (we can help with that, too), and awesome editing (yep, you guessed it).  Make sure your cover looks great as a thumbnail image, and that you can read the title and author name at that size. 

In addition, know your target readers’ genres. What categories are they interested in? Brainstorm a list of keywords that people might use to search for your book, and start asking people who’ve read the book what they think it’s about. 

2. List your Giveaway

Most of the Giveaway stuff is self-explanatory, but there are a few things you can do to “hack” your listing so that it stands out better. The first thing you’ll notice on the Giveaways page is that there are a lot of books being given away. 

Many of the giveaways are two to three months long, and most have at least a hundred or so requests. Go through these lists and try to get a feel for what’s common about these listings. You want to stand out, but you don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Just because it’s different to do a one-day giveaway doesn’t necessarily mean it’s smart!

3. Follow up

While you can’t (according to Goodreads’ TOS) email people who have signed up for your giveaway except for the winners, and it’s bad form (and not to mention quite tedious) to send individual messages to everyone, there is still something you can do to keep you and your book front-and-center in people’s minds. See below for the how-to, but here’s the basic idea: 

Send them an email. If you include a link to a signup form on your Giveaway, a certain amount of people who see your listing and are interested will click through and give you their email address. This is a great opportunity for you, as they’re probably the people who are most interested in hearing from you anyway. 

Hacking Giveaways

If you’re interested in taking Goodreads Giveaways to the next level, read on. 

I tested the following tips and tricks using my own and clients’ books, and have found these strategies to be the most beneficial for total user interest, downloads, and email signups. As always, your mileage may vary: 

1. Use great imagery

This goes without saying, but make sure your book stands out. I created an “ad”-like box that I knew would stand out against other authors’ books. Here’s what it looked like

Goodreads Ad

Instead of a simple book cover on the left, title and description on the right, my book description was actually this image. 

Much more attractive, right? 

What’s more, very few authors are doing this. 

Take a look at this screenshot of the Goodreads Giveaways “Thrillers” category: 


Which book stands out the most? 

Pretty simple, really. 

What’s not simple (or at least intuitive), is how to get your description to show an image like this. 

As it turns out, Goodreads does allow you a limited amount of HTML tags (code inside of <> brackets) when you create your listing. Images, line breaks, bold/italic font, and a few other simple tags are allowed. 

They will read and edit your listing to follow their guidelines, but they shouldn’t punish you for doing something that’s against their rules. Experiment a little and see what you can do!

Here’s an example of what you might type in the description box if you wanted to try this out. Just replace text in the [] brackets with your information:

<strong>Hot New Book from [your name]!</strong>

<br /> [This is a simple line break]

<a href=”[URL, if you want the image to link somewhere else]”><img src=”[URL of your cool image]” /></a>

<br />

<p>Download the book for FREE <a href=”URL to your email signup page (see below)”>here!</a>

A few points: 

Again, Goodreads reserves the right to change/alter your listing in any way before it’s live. They’ll usually email you and let you know that it’s ready, but make sure you read over it and check the links before you go live with it. If you need to make changes after it’s live, they’ll need to un-publish it and put it through their verification process again. 

The last line of code is basically a sentence with a link it. This text got changed in my listing so that it removed the word “FREE,” but they kept the link intact. My guess is that they did this because my free book download, while allowed, competed with the actual free book giveaway on their site (hope that makes sense). 

I’m giving the book away free to anyone who visits that listing and clicks through to my site, but I have a standard procedure for that which I use most of the time. Feel free to copy as needed: 

They’ll land on a “landing page” (a simplified page on my website) that features nothing but: 

1. A brief paragraph from me that says something like this: 

“Hi, Goodreads user! I’m excited you’re interested in my book, and while I can’t afford to send a free paperback copy to everyone interested, I can certainly afford to send a free ebook to you via email! I’m collecting your email address because I’d like to also ask you a favor: when you’re finished reading it, I’d love for you to post an honest review on Amazon with your thoughts. While I won’t ever spam you, I’ll send a reminder email in a couple weeks with a link to the book’s Amazon page.” 

2. An email signup form. I usually only ask for their first name and email address, but it’s up to you what you want to do. I use Aweber now, but MailChimp is free up to 2,000 users, and it’s a fantastic service. 

That’s it! You can include a link to this page on your Giveaway listing and watch the subscribers roll in!

2. Run your listing for a long time. 

A lot has been written guiding authors to run listings for one, two, and three months, but my research has shown that the longer a listing runs, the better. 

Since there’s an aspect of social proof involved (the phenomenon of people signing up or doing something because they see others doing it) with the number of people signed up for your giveaway, so take advantage of that. Every day your listing is live is another day for people to see it and see your numbers going up. 

It seems like Goodreads limits us to about a year out, so that’s what I’ve done in the past. It’s not a remarkable difference, but I’d guess that’s it’s the difference between 200-300 signups. 

3. Promote the Giveaway!

It seems like another common sense thing, but tell people you’re giving away a copy of your book! 

Promote your giveaway on Twitter, Facebook, and your own networks, as well as any other social media platform you’re on. Blog about it, write some guest posts and include your giveaway in your call-to-action at the end, and consider other ways to get the word out. 

If you have a mailing list, use it! Your current subscribers are your biggest fans already, and they’d probably jump at the chance to win your signed book for free. 

(By the way, give away a signed copy — it might seem vain, but it’s sort of the expectation. I don’t have any hard numbers on the difference between a free copy and a signed free copy giveaway, but I’d bet the signed ones attract a better crowd). It’s not hard and it doesn’t cost you anything more. 

Anything else?

I hope this all makes sense — it’s a lot of information, but it works. Use these tips as needed, and let me know how it goes. 

Also, what did I forget? Leave a comment below and let me know what’s worked well for your Goodreads Giveaways! And don’t forget to sign up to receive a free signed copy of The Depths!