by Melissa Eskue Ousley

Whether you are publishing independently, working with a small publisher, or one of those rare authors contracted with a rock star publishing house, you will have to participate in promoting your book. Hosting an online contest and giving a copy of your book as a prize is one of the most effective promotions. With Goodreads, arguably the largest online book recommendation site and reading community, you have access to a large pool of contestants (aka readers and potential buyers of your book), and your cost is minimal. That’s key when you have, as we all do, a limited marketing budget.

Goodreads is one of the best online marketing resources, for four reasons, the last of which, the giveaway, I focus on in this article.

1. This is where the readers are. And not only readers but bloggers and fellow authors. These are people who can help you. These are your potential friends and fans, your army of allies who will help spread the word about your book. If you’re not on Goodreads, get there. Set up a profile, add at least fifty books to your shelves, and then apply to be a Goodreads author. Be social and play nice.

2. You can use Goodreads to enhance what you are already doing with your blog and social media like Twitter and Facebook. Already have a following on Twitter? Invite them to be your friends on Goodreads. Just got a five-star Goodreads review from a book blogger? Post about it on Facebook, and don’t forget to add an excerpt from that review to your author website.

3. It’s free (mostly). The Author Program on Goodreads offers a number of free resources for authors, from adding your book to your author page to hosting Q&A sessions about your writing.

4. The giveaway feature requires a little spending on your part, but it is one of the best features Goodreads offers. Let’s talk more about hosting a successful giveaway.

A giveaway is your opportunity to connect with thousands of readers with minimal effort and expense. Goodreads users will be able to see the cover of your book, read a short description of the book and the details of your giveaway, and can choose simply to enter the drawing for your book or also to add your book to their to-read shelf. You have to offer at least one book in the giveaway, and then you have to mail it to the winner.

Based on my own experimentation with my books and Goodreads giveaways, here’s what you need to know to end your giveaway as the author of one of the most requested titles in all genres for the day. (In my most recent giveaway, I finished as the #5 most requested title with 3,100+ entries. Not too shabby for a first-time author working with a small, independent publisher. I share this not to boast, but to show you what is possible on a tiny, out-of-pocket marketing budget.)

Offer Additional Prizes: Although you need only offer one copy of a paperback or hardcover (no ebooks, per Goodreads’ rules), you can offer as many as you like. Goodreads recommends offering at least ten. However, in running several giveaways, I found that offering more than one book did not result in more giveaway entries or more people adding my book to their to-read shelf. Offering an additional prize did. In addition to offering a copy of my book, I offered a $10 gift card to Amazon, and I saw an increase both in entries and in my book being added to other people’s shelves. Two caveats to this: First, you must offer the same number of prizes as the books you give away, so that each prize package is equal. Second, please know that my experiment was not scientific. It may be that I had greater success with this because I began offering additional prizes with later giveaways, so my earlier marketing efforts may also have had an impact. Still, I believe this did help my book stand out from comparable titles.

Have a Great Cover: Another way to make your book stand out from the droves of books listed on Goodreads is to have an outstanding cover. If your cover has an image that is beautiful or striking, you will hear good things about it. You also need to use font that is crisp and easy to read. Nothing screams amateur like an unprofessional cover. Sometimes authors don’t have a say in covers, but your cover does matter. Of course, what’s inside your cover matters more.

Sign Your Copies: It makes no difference if you are offering an advance review, or reading, copy (ARC) or a published copy of your book. In either case, sign it and state that the book is signed at the top of your giveaway information. Readers want a signed copy. I saw better results when I did this.

Share Awards/Praise: After you’ve stated that your book is signed, list a blurb from a review or list an award you’ve been nominated for or received. The information for the giveaway should be a little different from the description you’ve posted on your book’s page on Goodreads. You can still include the copy from the back of your book’s cover, but dress it up a little with praise from reviewers. This is your opportunity to catch people’s eyes so they will add your book to their shelves, and hopefully, take that next step to purchase it.

Go Global: This is another potential expense. If you list your book for an international giveaway, you will have to pay more in postage if the winner lives outside the United States. However, you may also increase your number of entries significantly by introducing your book to readers and reviewers globally.

Have Great Timing: You will see the biggest spikes in the number of entries when your giveaway first opens and when it’s about to end. Because of this, I see no advantage to month-long giveaways over week-long giveaways. You may actually see better results by offering a few shorter giveaways in a row rather than one longer giveaway. On the other hand, you don’t want to annoy people, so you may want to alternate between short and long giveaways, perhaps with a long giveaway for an ARC leading up to a book’s launch date and then a short giveaway for the published book during release week. Experiment and see what works best for you.

Pick a Smart End Date: Be selective about when your giveaway ends. Look at the site’s most requested titles, and pick an end date different from theirs. If you all leap forward in number of entries at the same time, you will remain in your place in the pack, and this doesn’t bump you forward in the list for being most requested. Over two thousand giveaways may be listed at any given time, so the closer you are to the top of the most requested list, the easier it will be for readers to find you if they search by most requested title. Try for an end date that is in the middle of the week rather than at the start or end of the week. It may seem logical to close your giveaway at the end of the month, on a holiday, or on the weekend when people have free time to browse. Other authors will agree with that logic, and that’s why you’ll be competing with them for entries. Take the road less traveled for better results.

Happy marketing and best wishes for a kick-butt giveaway!

Melissa Eskue Ousley lives in the Pacific Northwest of the United States with her family and their Kelpie, Gryphon. When she’s not writing, Melissa can be found hiking, swimming, scuba diving, kayaking, or walking along the beach, poking dead things with a stick. Before she became a writer, she had a number of educational jobs, ranging from a summer spent scraping road kill off a molten desert highway, to years spent conducting research with an amazing team of educators at the University of Arizona. Her interests in psychology, culture, and mythology have influenced her writing of The Solas Beir Trilogy. Melissa has a giveaway going right now that ends February 5, and she’ll likely do another one for an ARC before the launch of The Rabbit and the Raven on March 15. She will posting about giveaways and the launch on her website and on Goodreads. If you have questions about Goodreads, you are welcome to contact Melissa via her Goodreads account.